Wednesday, January 24

Bhar Do Jholi Meri vitamin for droopy spirits

Last year I featured the movie version (sung by Adnan Sami for Bajrangi Bhaijaan) but when I visited YouTube this morning I noticed some commenters politely asked that the poster (T Series) include a credit to the legendary Sabri Brothers, who composed the qawwali and first sang it. In the Sabri version the traditional slow prelude, which fidgety moderns have difficulty sitting through, might be a tad longer than the movie version but the Sabri Bothers get to rollicking soon enough. Here's both versions, to blow away the cobwebs of political squabbles and the daily grind of war news. 

By the way I think I mentioned last year that Adnan isn't a qawwali singer, but all agree he did a great job with "Bhar Do Jholi Meri."  A true singer, it's been said, can sing anything. That would certainly apply to Adnan Sami because it's no easy task to do justice to a qawwali.       

Sunday, January 21

Operation Olive Branch. The Responsibility to Protect doctrine eats its own tail

From a headline today at the (U.K.) Daily Star, "Turkey INVADES Syria – tanks and soldiers cross the border: TURKISH military forces are invading Syria after pounding the war-torn country with airstrikes" and backs up the report with a photo (above) and video footage of Turkish tanks rolling across the border.

Given that the British military, as part of NATO, initially invaded Syria on trumped-up charges and did so under protest from Damascus, one has to take the Daily Star's umbrage with a grain of salt. The headline from Russia's Sputnik is more sanguine but couldn't resist highlighting the irony of Ankara's labeling of the invasion: "Operation Olive Branch: What Happened in Syria Today?"
A summary of the first day of a globally-disputed military operation launched by the Turkey against Kurdish organizations in Syria:
On January 20 Turkey made good on threats that it would begin a military operation against Kurds in Syria, as Turkish jets bombed targets around the Kurdish-populated Syrian city of Afrin.
The attacks, curiously dubbed ‘Operation Olive Branch' by Ankara, were announced by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
"From this moment, the heroic Turkish Armed Forces have launched an air operation to destroy the PYD/PKK and Daesh elements in Afrin," Yildirim said.
Yildirim's announcement was later followed by remarks from President Recep Tayiip Erdogan.
"The Afrin operation has de-facto been started on the ground," Erdogan said in a televised speech, adding that, "this will be followed by Manbij," referring to another Kurdish-controlled Syrian town.
The operation is thought to be targeting Kurdish organizations Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its affiliates Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People's Protection Units (YPG).
The Turkish Foreign Minister stated that Turkey had notified Russia, Syria, the UN and the US about the operation.
"We are notifying the Syrian regime, as well as all other sides, including the United Nations, about the operation in written form," Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu said, quoted by the NTV broadcaster.
The Syrian regime is having none of it:
Officials in Damascus, however, denied that Erdogan notified them of the operation and declared it to be a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
"Syria completely denies claims by the Turkish regime that it was informed of this military operation," a Syrian foreign ministry source told state news agency SANA.
Note, however, that the Turkish minister didn't actually say his government had already notified Syria's.  He said, implied, that they were in the process of preparing a notification in writing. 

As to what the Turkish invasion has actually accomplished thus far, the answer depends on which spokespersons you're willing to believe. Sputnik reports:
The results of the initial strikes were announced in a statement of the Turkish General Staff.
"Out of 113 designated targets of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) Kurdish Syrian terrorist group, 108 have been destroyed as of 18:30 [15:30 GMT]. All the killed and wounded people, who have been sent to hospitals, are members of terrorist groups," the statement asserted.
The later statement was refuted by Rojahat Roj, press secretary of the Kurdish Self-Defense Forces YPG in Afrin. Talking to Sputnik, he said that Turkish air Forces hit some 100 positions in the Afrin area, but did not injure any YPG staff.
From the Daily Star:
Turkey has claimed the massive movement of military hardware into the country is simply to create a 30km-deep "safe zone" in the north of the country.

It came just hours after Turkey [launched] airstrikes in Afrin, with the military claiming it had hit 153 targets so far, including shelters and hideouts used by Kurdish militants.
But the YPG – which is backed by the United States but classed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey – said they had killed six civilians and three of its fighters.
Turkey has dubbed the action "Operation Olive Branch", which has seen them carry out relentless airstrikes yesterday.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, wrote on Twitter: "In its second day, Olive Branch Operation continues to ensure peace and security for our people, protect Syria's territorial integrity and eliminate all terrorist elements in the region.
"Turkey expects its allies to support its fight against terrorism in all of its forms."
But the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia has denied there is a full-scale invasion underway, claiming forces clashed in Afrin but Turkish soldiers were beaten back.
YPG official Nouri Mahmoudi, said "all the Turkish military's ground attacks against Afrin have been repelled so far and they have been forced to retreat."
One claim, however, can be taken as perfect truth, which is that YPG is indeed backed by Turkey's fellow NATO member, the United States. And so, I will assume, it's also backed by NATO member Britain. This would explain the Daily Star's outrage and also Turkey's attempt to brand a clear attack on Syria as a peacekeeping operation.

This is not the first time we've seen the snake eating its own tail in the Syrian War; in fact the entire invasion of Syria, conducted largely by proxy forces, has been based on untruths ranging from exaggerations to outright lies.  

As to where this has led if we don't count the destruction of the country's infrastructures and God Knows how many Syrian innocents killed -- for one thing, it's led to a recent claim by Qatar's government that they never actually supported the Muslim Brotherhood; no, the government of the United States of America supported the Brothers and  Qatar simply went along with the support to please the Americans.

To my knowledge no spokesperson for Al-Thani's regime has come right out and told such a big lie; they've done it through cutouts. But there you have it: once again, the United States of America is left holding the bag. 

However, given that U.S. machinations in Syria have been predicated on one untruth after another, and that the U.S. government indeed gave at least some support to the Brothers for many years (and, it has been argued, initially helped create the organization), Qatar considers it okay to place blame on the American government for the Muslim Brotherhood's predations in Syria and elsewhere.

Just as Ankara considers it okay to betray its alliance with NATO in the name of defending a "safe zone" in Syria. But that excuse puts Turkey in line with the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. 

That the doctrine is by now rejected by observers with integrity, on the basis of solid evidence it can be used by liars as an excuse for invading a country and toppling governments -- the rejection came too late in the day for the Libyans and Syrians. Only Al-Thani's incredible financial wealth, and skill in using it for defense, saved Qataris from the same fate. 


Sunday, January 14

The smart way to finance U.S. Mexico Wall

From Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis (A Coupla Things, January 12):
1.  A couple of Border Patrol/ICE people tell me that the US does not effectively charge an entry fee to non-US citizen individuals seeking to enter the US legally across the southern border.  The point made by these border and immigration professionals is that the money would enable the construction and installation of more and better border barrier systems.  They make the point that where border barrier systems have been installed the flow of illegal migrants is much reduced.  Mexico evidently collects such a fee in the San Diego sector.  My question for the lawyers is whether or not such a fee would be legal if put in place under an EO or would this require legislation?
I'll be darned. There's been a smart way to finance the wall, all along.  


Uganda's Ministry of Health tries to put down a panic

"We are in control. We know everything. ... There is no cause for alarm."

What with the story about a wrong-button pusher in Hawaii this is a very bad week for governments to attempt to assure the public they are in control -- although I must say Dr Atwine's wonderfully emotional declamation should get a prize for Most Convincing Assurance that government is leaving no stone unturned. 

So is this is a new, highly infectious deadly disease, or an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever?  Either way, the incident underscores that officials trying to cover up or downplay an infectious disease outbreak is so last century. In this century of globalized 24/7 news and social media, governments the world over are being forced to the realization that they must somehow thread the camel through the needle: keep the public well informed about a possible infectious disease outbreak but without setting off or adding to a panic.  

The U.K. Star, which has made itself a clearing house for tales of infectious disease outbreaks, has a report on the Uganda situation. (See also their slide show report on recent globalized deadly disease outbreaks): 

Black Death TWO: Girl, 9, drops dead as strange 'eye-bleeding fever' spreads
By Anthony Blair
January 13, 2018

A NEW disease is feared to become even more deadly than the Black Death that killed thousands in 2017 after it killed a nine year-old 

She had contracted the bizarre new disease with similarities to the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.

This disease — usually spread by tick bites or contact with infected livestock — can cause muscle pains, headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding.

And panic is spreading after the sudden death of a girl in the Nakaseke District of Uganda.

A rapid response health team was rushed from the local hospital with a body bag to collect her and prevent any possible outbreak.

Health teams disinfected the girl's home after her death on Thursday night local time, but didn't give her grieving family any details about when they could have her body back. [read on]


Local district Health Officer Dr Badru Ssesimba confirmed that blood samples from the girl's body had been handed over to the Uganda Virus Research Institute, but wouldn't give more details.

Authorities at the hospital — who didn't want to be named — said that the body would be buried by health teams due to the "sensitivity" about a further outbreak.

Four people have now died in Uganda this week from the 'eye-bleeding fever'.

But local officials in the East African country — which has been plagued by similar outbreaks recently — said this could be a completely new disease.

Last week Uganda's Ministry of Health denied claims by local officials in Nakaseke that Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic fever had broken out.

But Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health Dr Diana Atwine confirmed that fluid and blood samples from the dead child are being tested to find out exactly what she died from.

This week MPs in Uganda's Parliament claimed there was a cover-up of a deadly plague outbreak in Uganda by the government.

Recently there were fears that a tribal 'Cleaning of Corpses' ritual in Indonesia could lead to a fresh Black Death outbreak.

And the World Health Organisation warned last week that an extra £3 million was needed by April to stop the return of Black Death.



Friday, January 12

U.S. remains determined to unseat Assad at any cost

"In Washington last month, I was told that a main strut of U.S. Syria policy going forward would be marshalling America’s international and regional allies to isolate the Assad regime economically. America is meant to play a key leadership role in this effort, reinforcing international consensus on an economic blockade of Assad. The idea is to use economic leverage on the regime and its ally Russia, in parallel with diplomatic pressure, to push for a transition and Assad’s removal."

The quote is from Sam Heller's What an unfolding humanitarian disaster in a U.S.-protected enclave in Syria tells us about American strategy in Syria, published November 20 at War on the Rocks. But you'd have to read to the last part of the report to find the quote. At the time the U.S. was making noises about allowing Assad to stay on as head of the Syrian government. By the end of December, however, the U.S. had again showed its true face. From Heller's latest Syria analysis (January 8) for War on the Rocks (America in search of un-Geneva for Syria):
“We are confident that the fulfillment of these [Geneva] talks will produce a Syria that is free of Bashar al-Assad and his family,” wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in The New York Times on Dec. 27. As I argued recently for the Century Foundation, this will not work.
In short, nothing has changed about U.S. involvement since 2011 in the attempts to remove Assad from power, and it's demonstrated a willingness to see Syria reduced to ruins in order to accomplish the goal. Yet one never hears about the U.S. attempting to remove the Baathists from power. This is curious given that much of the Syrian opposition is actually against the Baathists, who were in power long before Bashar al-Assad was installed as the figurehead leader of the party. 

So why the ongoing American focus on removing Assad? Because Assad is completely committed to Syria's government remaining secular, as are most Syrians, and Al Saud can't tolerate a genuinely secular society in the Middle East -- one that puts Sunni Islam on par with other religions and Islamic sects. To whatever extent possible the United States serves Saudi interests.
Any other American reasons for wanting Assad removed are distant seconds. All things being equal, Assad would still have to go because he stands as a bulwark against sectarian rule of Syria.


Tuesday, January 2

Mr Trump, Iran is not Selma, Alabama circa 1960s

(For readers who don't know the significance of Selma for the American civil rights movement, here's some background.)  

Dear President Trump -- I don't like being the bearer of bad news, but just because young people in foreign countries are marching in the streets, waving signs, and shouting 'We shall overcome,' this does not not necessarily mean they are protesting for causes dear to American hearts -- liberty, justice for all, civil rights, etc.  The protests can mean quite the opposite. Take, for example, the mass street protests that began December 28 in Iran:
However, it may actually turn out that the protests are driven by Iran’s hardliners and Islamic conservatives, who are challenging the presidency of Rouhani, who is considered a “moderate”politician in the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian city of Mashhad is one of the places where the protests initially started.  [Ahmed Al-Burai, a lecturer at Aydin University in Istanbul] explained that it is actually a “stronghold of Rouhani’s major competitor” at the last presidential elections, Ebrahim Raisi. 
Raisi is the son-in-law of the Mashhad Friday prayer leader and Grand Imam of Imam Reza shrine, Ahmad Alamolhoda.
The politician also enjoys the support of the Iranian conservative circles. He advocates gender segregation and even sees sanctions imposed against Iran as a sort of opportunity. Notably, fighting corruption and creating jobs were his major election promises during the last presidential campaign.
In the meantime, the US seems to pay no attention to the real situation on the ground. On Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence promised full support to the Iranian protesters by saying, “We must not and we will not let them down.”
The quotes are from RT's Jan 1 report "Trump's support will not be welcomed by Iranian protesters", which begins by pointing out the obvious, which is that many Iranians -- including many of the protesters -- positively hate the United States. In fact, so widespread is the hatred that Rouhani was probably not talking through his turban when he claimed that "foreign provocations" are a factor in the protests -- although he admitted what is also obvious, which is that "domestic problems" are also in play in the protests.  

(Ali Shamkhani, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, went even further by fingering the Usual Suspects -- U.S., U.K, and Al Saud -- as instigators of the Iranian protests, and pointed out:
“Based on our analysis, almost 27 percent of the new [social media] hashtags directed against Iran have been generated by the Saudi government” ...
Now it would be exaggeration to say that American intelligence agencies and think tanks couldn't correctly analyze the doings in so much as a foreign chicken coop. There are some very knowledgeable American and foreigners working for the U.S. government who are skilled analysts of foreign affairs. 

The caveat is that their hard work is often ignored by factions in Congress and the American Administration, which are usually so busy squabbling about each others' agendas that finally no one can untangle what is actually happening in the situations under analysis. 

Upshot: The U.S. wades blindfolded into situations in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, making a mess that it then tries to 'fix,' which makes a bigger mess.

I emphasize that in the Middle East the U.S. generally doesn't wade in alone; it's works in tandem with NATO members, notably U.K. and/or France, and allies in the Arab oil countries, and with Israel sometimes bringing up the rear but more often complaining that nobody is listening to their advice.

The most annoying part for Americans, at least those Americans who have some idea of what is actually going on, is that despite the group effort, it's invariably the United States that is left holding the bag when the messes turn into crises.

Some will argue that U.S. defense policymakers are very clear about what is really going on in Iran but that even if the political hand behind the current protests is Iranian Islamic hardliners, the optics of the protests fit well with American propaganda against Tehran's regime.

I'd reply to such people by asking what century they believe this is.

The weaponization of street protests by foreign powers is so well known in this era -- recently one American analyst sarcastically referred to the tactic as "renta rallies" -- that the smart move for an American administration is to completely distance itself from even a hint of involvement in foreign protest rallies.  

But that would mean getting a handle on factions in Congress which are infamously known as instigators of phony democracy revolutions to install U.S. puppets in power. In the Herculean task I would wish President Trump, and any American president, the very best of luck and a tripled security detail.