Archives for February 2012

Syria’s uprising is being crushed but Assad cannot escape his fate

Fares Chamseddine writes: The fall of Baba Amr, when it happens, will be a serious blow to the morale of protesters throughout Syria and abroad. The Baba Amr district of Homs has come to symbolise the Syrian people’s defiance against the dictator, and if President Bashar al-Assad manages to crush this centre of urban revolt he may feel emboldened to carry on wherever else mass protests threaten his rule.

In fact, Assad’s army has been methodically crushing each urban centre of protest that has emerged over the past year. It began with a ruthless military campaign against the city of Deraa. At the time Syria’s artists and actors still had the self-confidence to organise such efforts as “Milk for Deraa” and to call for an end to the armed campaign.

In those days there was still a naive hope that Assad was a reasonable man who could be appealed to. Of course, those days are long gone and we saw last summer how, during Ramadan, Assad’s forces began shelling the city of Hama for daring to field demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people.

Over the course of an entire month, Hama was subjected to a systematic campaign of brutal repression. The result is we hardly see any demonstrations from that city any more; certainly none that are near the size of the early demonstrations. Rastan, Latakia, and Deir al-Zour, all shared the same fate, each in their own way, but it is Homs that has remained defiant, and it is Homs has been a thorn in Assad’s side throughout the uprising.

Soon, this will no longer be the case. At the time of writing there are reports that more than half the district is now under the control of Assad’s divisions, who are conducting door-to-door searches. It would have been naive to expect that the elements of the Free Syrian Army, and any other local militias, would have been able to hold out against Assad indefinitely, but this is not the end of the revolution.


How one Syrian adventure became a nightmare

Stephen Starr, an Irish freelance journalist, arrived in Syria five years ago and stayed until “the horrors of the country’s incipient civil war drove me away this month.”

Conversation dies after 11 months of unrest. “What can we talk about?” a state employee asked me. “The news? We’d rather talk about anything else.” Many are not afraid to criticize the regime, but most are too frightened to take to the streets.

Syria’s minorities are frozen in fear. Christians spend hours watching the television station run by Adnan al-Arour, a Salafi Syrian cleric based in Riyadh who broadcasts videos of rebels shouting Islamic slogans and issues threats to pro-Assad minorities while calling for the establishment of an Islamic government. “Who will protect us?” one Christian woman asked me recently. “Will they make us wear Islamic dress?”

Ultimately it was the scenes at Saqba in eastern Damascus that prompted me to leave. An English journalist in Syria on a temporary visa asked whether I was interested in visiting to search out an underground, activist-run hospital. Frustrated at hearing of other journalists making it to Homs, I could not turn down the opportunity.

I saw six bloated bodies hidden under pine trees inside a schoolyard, some missing eyes, lips, noses. Another dead man blackened by fire. They were hidden by locals so that their families could bury them in dignity at a later time, when the regime’s forces left.

I feared that if the Syrian security forces found out what I had seen, they would not hesitate to silence me — perhaps blaming the “armed gangs” for doing so.

As the sound of shells thudding into the Damascus suburbs kept me awake, I got a taste of many Syrians’ fears of the regime’s pervasive security forces. Every morning I held my breath when turning the ignition of my car. Footsteps on the stairs outside my door made me sit upright on the sofa.

The regime remains strong, say many.

State employees are still being paid on time each month. Police can still be seen at their traffic-light posts every morning. Families continue to turn out in droves to eat sandwiches at the few city malls where electric generators help maintain a semblance of normalcy.

Damascenes have lived with this regime for decades and know it only really understands the way of the gun. It is a regime that scoffs at political ideals, a family fiefdom forged long ago in an absurd tribal pride that values a misplaced honor and personal ego over all. It can smuggle and steal, and it is not afraid to shoot and kill –but it will not negotiate or compromise. [Continue reading…]


The Syrian uprising in the eyes of Lebanese Islamists

Serene Assir writes: [A]ccording to Syrian Islamists in Tripoli, the uprising has nothing to do with sectarianism. Sheikh Zoheir Abazi arrived in Tripoli from Deraa, the cradle of the Syrian uprising, six months ago. He speaks proudly of his city’s struggle against Assad’s regime, and of the way in which protests in many areas of Syria saw Sunnis, Alawis, Christians, and Druze calling for dignity and freedom together.

“People who say that the revolution is Islamist are wrong. People who say the revolution is turning sectarian are also mistaken,” he said in an interview, adding, “It is a revolution against oppression, backed by values and principles of freedom and humaneness that all people can sympathize with, regardless of their beliefs.”

That is why, Abazi believed, the uprising was so quick to spread across many parts of Syria. The reason why the regime remained in power 11 months into the uprising, he added, was because of the brutal repression it has employed to try and quell dissent.

Abazi also ascribed the rise of sect-based Islamism to the regime’s violent suppression of protests. “It is the regime, led by Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, that invented the mirage of radical Islamism. From the start of the uprising, it accused protesters of being al-Qaeda terrorists,” he said.

“But it isn’t true. Unlike the Lebanese, the Syrians are not a sectarian people,” he added.

But the Syrian uprising’s increased Islamization, fueled by US pawns Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is fast becoming a fait accompli. For lack of better friends in Lebanon, ongoing violence in Syria has also pushed activists like Abazi into forging unlikely alliances with people whose motivations are more sectarian than revolutionary.

Among the latter is Sheikh Zakaria al-Masri, the voice behind weekly calls for post-Friday prayer protests. He is the president of Lebanon’s Islamic Sahwa (Awakening) Council. Al-Masri regularly calls on people attending Friday prayers at the Hamza mosque in Tripoli’s Qebbe district, to take part in protests that kick off as soon as prayers are over.

Al-Masri derives his legitimacy from the pulpit, and focuses on prayer-goers and their faith – less so their politics – to get people onto Tripoli’s streets. A statement issued by the Sahwa Council referred to Assad’s secular Baath Party as “atheist.” It also said the Syrian regime follows Russia and China’s “socialist” and “communist” leads.

The uprising, the statement added, came about when “God Almighty removed from the people their fear.” The people “then decided to start demanding their freedom of belief” through demonstrations sustained over the past 11 months. As such, to the Lebanese Sahwa Council, the Syrian uprising is Islamic in character. [Continue reading…]


Why Islamists will just keep winning

Rami G Khouri writes: A persistent question we have heard during each Arab uprising across the Arab world in the past year has been, “What happens after the regime falls? Who takes over power?” This is usually asked with a tone of foreboding, with concern that bad or unknown political forces will assume power. Most worry revolves around the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamists assuming power, on the grounds that they are the best organized political groups.

Sometimes this leads frightened people to conclude that it is better to stick with the governments we have – despite their flaws – rather than risk the unknown or an Islamist takeover of power. We hear the same thing said about Syria these days, as many ponder the possible or, I sense, likely, fall of the Assad family dynasty of 42 years.

It is time for analysts to get over their worries and adjust to the overwhelming lesson from the first year of the ongoing Arab uprisings: The transition from autocracy to democracy, and from authoritarianism to pluralism, in the Arab world must necessarily pass through a phase of Islamist rule or of coalition governments in which Islamists play a role.

This is one conclusion we should draw from the track record of the past year, during which time Islamists have won pluralities or majorities in every election held (Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Kuwait, most significantly, with others to follow in Libya, Yemen and elsewhere). The victory of Islamists in Kuwait’s parliamentary elections last month was the most telling performance, providing useful insights into why we need to get used to the fact that Islamists will hold executive power in many countries for some years ahead.

The Feb. 2 Kuwaiti elections followed the emir’s dissolution of Parliament after repeated public protests demanding a parliamentary investigation of the prime minister for alleged corruption and bribery. In line with the rest of the Arab world, Kuwaitis gave the opposition – dominated by Islamists – 34 of 50 seats in parliament. Wealthy and stable Kuwait is a world away from the poverty and social stresses of Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, yet here the Islamists also emerged as the leading voice of the citizenry. [Continue reading…]


Arabia awaits its spring

Saad al-Faqih writes:‘Let us strangle the last king with the guts of the last priest,” the French 18th century philosopher Denis Diderot said. The same phrase is now widely repeated across Arabia – or Saudi Arabia, as it is currently named under the dynastic autocracy. It is only a matter of time before the revolutions that have swept the Arab world in the past year reach the Saudi kingdom.

Most of the factors that led to the Arab uprisings are present in Arabia. The Saudi regime holds tens of thousands of political prisoners, most without charge – just one example of the oppression people suffer. The scale of corruption is staggering. In the most recent budget alone, $100bn is unaccounted for. In this country with its huge oil revenue, unemployment rates are soaring (currently more than 30%), the average salary is less than $1,300 (£820) a month, with a huge discrepancy between classes, and 22% of the population live in poverty. As a result of corruption, the oil wealth has had little impact on the quality of life of the average citizen, as is the case in neighbouring Gulf countries.

What is worse is that the royal family continues to treat the country and its people as its private property. Instead of attempting to provide the citizens with the strong identity people long for, they have reinforced the subjugation to the royal family of Al-Saud.


Syrian army assault on Homs — Baba Amr will be ‘cleaned’

The Associated Press reports: Syrian troops advanced Wednesday on a key rebel-held area in the central city of Homs, where three Western journalists are among 100,000 residents trapped by a government assault that has raged for weeks. The forces appeared to be starting a ground operation to retake the area that has become a symbol of the uprising to oust President Bashar Assad.

Government forces have been heavily shelling Homs, and particularly the rebel-controlled Baba Amr neighborhood, for more than three weeks with tanks, artillery and rockets. The announcement by a Syrian official of the new troop advance indicated a ground assault was beginning to recapture Baba Amr, home to about 100,000 people.

A Syrian official vowed Baba Amr would be “cleaned” within hours. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Homs, Syria’s third-largest city with a population of about 1 million, has become the major center of both anti-government resistance and reprisal, fueled in part by increasingly bold army defectors who want to bring down Assad’s autocratic regime by force. The U.N. warned Tuesday that Syria’s conflict looks increasingly like a civil war.

Four Western journalists — two of them wounded — had been trapped in Baba Amr since last week, when two other foreign reporters were killed there by a government attack. On Tuesday, Syrian rebels smuggled out Paul Conroy, one of the four journalists, and whisked him safely across the border into Lebanon. Activists said 13 Syrians involved in the rescue operation were killed during it.

Activists said regime forces discovered a nearly 1.5 mile-long tunnel that was used by activists to smuggle people, food and medicine into Baba Amr. The activists said it was not clear whether the regime would blow it up.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said electricity has been cut on the rebel-held Homs neighborhoods of Bayadah and Khaldiyeh and the military redeployed some forces in what could be preparation for an attack on those areas as well.


Diplomacy may yet break Syria’s deadlock, and avoid a military crisis

Abdel Bari Atwan writes: Two weeks ago I met the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu and we talked about the efficacy of the high-powered Friends of Syria gatherings – the latest of which took place in Tunis last weekend – in finding a solution to the present crisis, compared with that of the Friends of Libya. Davutoglu pointed out that the Friends of Libya had been established after the Nato-led military intervention against Gaddafi. Was Davutoglu implying that there would be a similar intervention in Syria? He declined to answer.

The truth is that there is no consensus because nobody knows what to do about Syria – particularly given the outcome of Nato’s intervention in Libya. The options now are much the same as they were then; the difference is that these days we are more “clear-eyed” about the possible consequences, as Hillary Clinton put it following the Tunis meeting. The accumulated risks associated with each option for intervention – military, political, diplomatic – become more evident as time goes by, and lessen the momentum to act.

Should the international community arm the opposition, as Qatar and Saudi Arabia propose? The problem here is that there is no single, identifiable, unified opposition to negotiate with, let alone arm. The rush to adopt the Libyan Transitional Council as the legitimate opposition to Gaddafi has not resulted in a stable post-revolutionary government, and the Syrian National Council is already split on key issues.

There are several militias apart from the Free Syrian Army: should one or all be armed? Post‑Gaddafi Libya is in disarray with rival heavily-armed militias vying for power. In addition, only a recently emerged splinter group from the Syrian National Council supports arming the resistance – the remainder would not endorse such a move.

Arming the opposition increases the risk of sectarian conflict leading to all-out civil war. Syria is a demographic tinderbox comprising, among others, Kurds, Druze, Christians, Alawites and Arab Sunnis. However, a new leadership drawn from the Sunni majority and antipathetic to Iran would be more useful to the Gulf states and the west than the current (Shia) Alawite regime with its friends in Tehran, Baghdad and Hezbollah.

While I do not doubt that Qatar is acting out of abhorrence for the daily massacres committed by the Assad regime, the emirate has not forgotten Syria’s refusal – under instructions from Moscow – to allow it to build a gas pipeline through its territory to supply Europe.


The dilemma for Syria’s neighbours

Alia Brahimi and George Joffe write: [T]he growing chorus of international condemnation against Assad is counteracted by anxieties, in western and Arab capitals alike, over what a post-Assad Syria would look like. Additionally, in the worsening conflict in Syria, great power politics are mapping dangerously onto regional power struggles, which are in turn underpinned by sectarian ones. What, then, does this unstable dynamic mean for those states surrounding Syria that are directly affected by its domestic repression?

Those most immediately affected are, perhaps, its allies – Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and curiously, Iraq. At one level, these alliances are sectarian in nature since they bring together Shia in Iran and Hezbollah, as well as the Shia-dominated Maliki government in Iraq, with the admittedly heterodox, but Shia Alawi regime in Damascus. In reality, however, the sinews of the alliances reflect shared political and diplomatic objectives, especially for Iran. Syria and Iran were first united by the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) through their shared detestation of the Saddam Hussain regime.

Hezbollah, as an Iranian client and a Syrian dependant, was an automatic partner, even though it has lost popular support in Lebanon and the wider Sunni Middle East because of its continued support for Syria over the past year. That, in turn, incidentally, has sparked pro- and anti-Syrian clashes along the two countries’ common border recently. The Lebanese government, however, is desperate to keep out of the conflict inside Syria itself for, should the conflict spill over, the threat of renewed civil war would loom terrifyingly large.

Iraqi diplomatic support reflects the influence of Iran inside Iraq, particularly over the Shia majority, as well as ties between the Iraqi premier and Syria where he spent much of his exile as al-Dawa’s representative in the 1980s and 1990s. It does not yet appear to have included material support to the Assad regime as well. One adverse consequence of this is that elements amongst the Iraqi Sunni population, some of them extremist and linked to al-Qaeda which has openly endorsed the opposition to the Assad regime, now actively support the Syrian opposition.

The real key, of course, is the Syrian-Iranian alliance – the core of the Jordanian King Abdullah’s “Shia arc of extremism”. The importance of this alliance between states is crucial to Iran’s project of challenge to moderate Sunni Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, particularly in the Gulf.

Certainly, that power struggle has recently intensified, owing to the military departure of the US from Iraq and the shifting political and ideological sands of the Arab Spring. The “new regional cold war”, as Rami Khoury labels it, aligns in both politics and perceptions with a broader and more historical Sunni/Shia tension. In the words of one Saudi official, “Iran is a direct and imminent threat not only to the [Saudi] kingdom, but to Sunnis across the region.” [Continue reading…]


Syria’s sectarian fears keep region on edge

The New York Times reports: Abu Ali fled his life as a Shiite cleric and student in Homs, the besieged Syrian city at the center of an increasingly bloody uprising, but it was not the government he feared.

It was the rebels, who he said killed three of his cousins in December and dumped a body in the family garbage bin.

“I can’t be in Homs because I will get killed there,” he said from this religious city in Iraq where he has taken refuge. “Not just me, but all Shiites.”

Like his fellow Shiites in Iraq, Abu Ali, who used his nickname to protect his family back in Syria, said he regards the Syrian rebels as terrorists, not freedom fighters, underscoring one of the complexities of a bloody civil conflict that has persisted as diplomatic efforts have failed. In spite of President Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to unleash a professional military on a civilian population, with lethal results, Mr. Assad retains some support at home and abroad from allies, including religious and ethnic minorities who for decades relied on the police state for protection from sectarian aggression.

“What the government is doing is trying to protect the people,” Abu Ali said, echoing the Assad government’s propaganda. “They are targeting terrorist groups in the area.”

The insurrection in Syria, led by the country’s Sunni majority in opposition to a government dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiism, is increasingly unpredictable and dangerous because it is aggravating sectarian tensions beyond its borders in a region already shaken by religious and ethnic divisions.

For many in the region, the fight in Syria is less about liberating a people under dictatorship than it is about power and self-interest. Syria is drawing in sectarian forces from its neighbors, and threatening to spill its conflict into a wider conflagration. There have already been sparks in neighboring Lebanon, where Sunnis and Alawites have skirmished.

And here in Iraq, where Shiites are a majority, the events across the border have put the nation on edge while hardening a sectarian schism. As Abu Ali discovered, Iraq’s Shiites are now lined up on the side of a Baathist dictatorship in Syria, less than a decade after the American invasion of Iraq toppled the rule of Saddam Hussein and his own Baath Party, which for decades had repressed and brutalized the Shiites.

“This is difficult,” said Sheik Ali Nujafi, the son of one of Najaf’s top clerics and his chief spokesman, of the Shiite support for Mr. Assad. “But what is worse is what would come next.”

The paradox, of Shiites supporting a Baathist dictator next door, has laid bare a tenet of the old power structure that for so long helped preserve the Middle East’s strongmen. Minorities often remained loyal and pliant and in exchange were given room to carve out communities, even if they were more broadly discriminated against.

As dictators have fallen in neighboring countries, religious and ethnic identities and alliances have only hardened, while notions of citizenship remain slow to take hold. The fighting in Syria has exacerbated that, as Shiites worry that a takeover of Syria by its Sunni majority would herald not only a new sectarian war but actually the apocalypse.

People here say that is not hyperbole, but a perception based in faith. Some Shiites here see the burgeoning civil war in Syria as the ominous start to the fulfillment of a Shiite prophecy that presages the end of time. According to Shiite lore, Sufyani — a devil-like, apocryphal figure in Islam — gathers an army in Syria and after conquering that land turns his wrath on Iraq’s Shiites.


Saudi Arabia arming Syrian opposition. What could possibly go wrong?

Jonathan Schanzer writes: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah scolded Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week for failing to coordinate with Arab states before vetoing a United Nations resolution demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down. Emboldened by the lack of international action, Assad’s forces are now slaughtering civilians in the streets at an even greater rate. Referring to the bloodshed, the king ominously warned Medvedev that Saudi Arabia “will never abandon its religious and moral obligations towards what’s happening.”

The last time the Saudis decided they had a moral obligation to scuttle Russian policies, they gave birth to a generation of jihadi fighters in Afghanistan who are still wreaking havoc three decades later.

According to news reports confirmed by a member of the Syrian opposition, Riyadh currently sends weapons on an ad hoc basis to the Syrian opposition by way of Sunni tribal allies in Iraq and Lebanon. But in light of recent developments, more weapons are almost certainly on their way. After his delegation withdrew in frustration from last week’s Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said that humanitarian aid to Syria was “not enough” and that arming the Syrian rebels was an “excellent idea.” Soon afterward, an unnamed official commented in the state-controlled Saudi press that Riyadh sought to provide the Syrian opposition with the “means to achieve stability and peace and to allow it the right to choose its own representatives.” Meanwhile, Saudi clerics are now openly calling for jihad in Syria and scorning those who wait for Western intervention. One prominent unsanctioned cleric, Aidh al-Qarni, openly calls for Assad’s death.

Other Sunni Gulf states, principally Qatar, may be contributing weapons. On Monday, Feb. 27, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said, “We should do whatever necessary to help [the Syrian opposition], including giving them weapons to defend themselves.” The positions of other regional actors are less clear. But whether or not they supply weapons to the Free Syrian Army — the armed opposition composed of defectors and local militia — all these Sunni states now want the Assad regime to crumble because it is an ally and proxy of their sworn Shiite enemy, Iran, which destabilizes the region with terrorism and nuclear threats. [Continue reading…]


Video: The high price of materialism


Science confirms link between wealth, greed, and selfishness

The Guardian reports: A raft of studies into unethical behaviour across the social classes has delivered a withering verdict on the upper echelons of society.

Privileged people behaved consistently worse than others in a range of situations, with a greater tendency to lie, cheat, take things meant for others, cut up other road users, not stop for pedestrians on crossings, and endorse unethical behaviour, researchers found.

Psychologists at the University of California in Berkeley drew their unflattering conclusions after covertly observing people’s behaviour in the open and in a series of follow-up studies in the laboratory.

Describing their work in the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, social psychologist Paul Piff and his colleagues at the Institute of Personality and Social Research claim that self-interest may be a “more fundamental motive among society’s elite” that leads to more wrongdoing. They say selfishness may be “a shared cultural norm”.

The scientists also found a strong link between social status and greed, a connection they suspect might exacerbate the economic gulf between the rich and poor.

The work builds on previous research that suggests the upper classes are less cognizant of others, worse at reading other people’s emotions and less altruistic than individuals in lower social classes.


Homeland Security kept tabs on Occupy Wall Street

Rolling Stone reports: As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street,” dated October of last year, opens with the observation that “mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas.” While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that “large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement.”

The five-page report – contained in 5 million newly leaked documents examined by Rolling Stone in an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks – goes on to sum up the history of Occupy Wall Street and assess its “impact” on everything from financial services to government facilities. Many of the observations are benign, and appear to have been culled from publicly available sources. The report notes, for instance, that in Chicago “five women were arrested after dumping garbage taken from a foreclosed home owned by Bank of America in the lobby one of the bank’s branches,” and that “OWS in New York staged a ‘Millionaires March,’ from Zucotti Park to demonstrate outside the homes of some of the city’s richest residents.”

But the DHS also appears to have scoured OWS-related Twitter feeds for much of their information. The report includes a special feature on what it calls Occupy’s “social media and IT usage,” and provides an interactive map of protests and gatherings nationwide – borrowed, improbably enough, from the lefty blog Daily Kos. “Social media and the organic emergence of online communities,” the report notes, “have driven the rapid expansion of the OWS movement.” [Continue reading…]


Gen. McCaffrey privately briefs NBC execs on war with Iran

Glenn Greenwald writes: In 2009, The New York Times‘ David Barstow won the Pulitzer Prize for his twopart series on the use by television networks of retired Generals posing as objective “analysts” at exactly the same time they were participating — unbeknownst to viewers — in a Pentagon propaganda program. Many were also plagued by undisclosed conflicts of interest whereby they had financial stakes in many of the policies they were pushing on-air. One of the prime offenders was Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who was not only a member of the Pentagon’s propaganda program, but also, according to Barstow’s second stand-alone article, had his own “Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” deeply invested in many of the very war policies he pushed and advocated while posing as an NBC “analyst”:

Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.

Few illustrate the submerged complexities of this world better than Barry McCaffrey. . . . General McCaffrey has immersed himself in businesses that have grown with the fight against terrorism. . . .

Many retired officers hold a perch in the world of military contracting, but General McCaffrey is among a select few who also command platforms in the news media and as government advisers on military matters. These overlapping roles offer them an array of opportunities to advance policy goals as well as business objectives. But with their business ties left undisclosed, it can be difficult for policy makers and the public to fully understand their interests.

On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.

Despite Barstow’s Pulitzer, neither Brian Williams nor anyone else at NBC News ever mentioned any of these groundbreaking stories to their viewers (even as Williams reported on other Pulitzer awards that year); the controversy over the Pentagon propaganda program was simply suppressed. And NBC continued to feature those same ex-Generals as “analysts” — including McCaffrey — as though the whole thing never happened.


Video: Israel’s “new West Bank”


Israel increases pressure on U.S. to start a war against Iran

The Wall Street Journal reports: Complaints from Israel about the U.S.’s public engagement with Iran have pushed the White House to consider more forcefully outlining potential military actions, and the “red lines” Iran must not cross, as soon as this weekend, according to people familiar with the discussions.

President Barack Obama could use a speech on Sunday before a powerful pro-Israel lobby to more clearly define U.S. policy on military action against Iran in advance of his meeting on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, these people said.

Israeli officials have been fuming over what they perceive as deliberate attempts by the Obama administration to undermine the deterrent effect of the Jewish state’s threat to use force against Tehran by publicly questioning the utility and timing of such strikes.

The Israeli leader has told U.S. officials that he wants Mr. Obama to outline specifically what Washington views as the “red lines” that Iran cannot cross, something the administration is considering as it drafts the president’s speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and sets the agenda for his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu.

Some administration officials said that if Mr. Obama decides to more clearly define his red lines, he is likely to do it in private with Mr. Netanyahu, rather than state it in his AIPAC speech.

Mr. Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials also are pressing for Mr. Obama to publicly clarify his insistence that “all options are on the table” in addressing the Iranian nuclear threat.

Mr. Netanyahu recently conveyed his displeasure with the administration in separate meetings in Jerusalem with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and a group of U.S. senators, said people involved in the meetings.

He complained that comments by senior U.S. officials have cast Israel as the problem, not Iran, and only encouraged Tehran to press ahead with its nuclear program by casting doubt over the West’s willingness to use force.

Israeli officials were particularly alarmed when Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described Iran as a “rational actor” in a CNN interview after a recent visit to Israel.

That General Dempsey calls Iran a rational actor certainly runs counter to the “mad mullahs” narrative that many warmongers favor — a narrative upon which many of the arguments in favor of war utterly depend.

If Israeli officials are alarmed about Iran being described in this way by America’s top military official this would either be because they believe Demspsey’s wrong, or, because they think that although his characterization is accurate it is tactically counterproductive to openly express this fact. Either way, this unwillingness to publicly acknowledge that Iran behaves rationally, shines light on Israel’s motives for pushing for Obama to set “red lines” that Iran must not be allowed to cross.

If Iran is a rational actor then such red lines could serve as a deterrent in persuading the Islamic republic not to move closer to the development of nuclear weapons. But if, as the Israelis apparently insist, Iran is not a rational actor then the red lines being sought are designed to have more effect on the Obama administration than Iran. In other words, Israel is intent on forcing the United States into a corner so that it becomes politically impossible for this or any other U.S. president to refuse to attack Iran.

Will Obama bow to such pressure? To judge by his performance so far, this is a president who has yet to face any pressure that he is willing to resist. And this is the experience that Netanyahu is relying on: push Obama hard enough and he will almost always yield.


The Pentagon’s lies about Afghanistan — ‘the truth has become unrecognizable’

Douglas Wissing writes: If observers had any doubts about the failure of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, the past several days should have put them to rest. Since Feb. 21, anti-U.S. protests have erupted in virtually every major Afghan city over the revelation that American personnel had burned Qurans at Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. installation in the country. The demonstrations have at times turned violent, claiming the lives of at least seven Afghans. This wave of protest is just the latest example of how the United States has botched its attempt to win “hearts and minds” in Afghanistan, and another indicator that its war effort is heading toward failure.

But that’s not the message you would hear from U.S. officials. To hear them tell it, the United States has already taken action to prevent such shocking displays of cultural insensitivity from happening again. “When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them,” U.S. General John R. Allen, the commander of the international force in Afghanistan, said in his apology. “We are thoroughly investigating the incident and we are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again.”

If this episode sounds familiar, it should.

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis has traveled over 9,000 miles across Afghanistan to learn a simple lesson: public statements made from podiums in Washington and Kabul bear little resemblance to the reality of the Afghan war. The 17-year U.S. Army veteran spent most of his time in the insurgency-enflamed provinces in the east and south, and was shaken to discover the U.S. military leadership’s glowing descriptions of progress against the Taliban insurgency did not jibe with the accounts of American soldiers on the front lines of the war.

Davis then did a remarkable thing for a U.S. Army officer: He went public. In January 2012, he began a singular campaign to bring his findings to the attention of the American people. Davis wrote two reports, classified and unclassified, that aimed to expose the failures of the Afghan war while not endangering lives in the process. “I am no WikiLeaks guy Part II,” he wrote.

Davis’s reports have become one of the most damning insider accounts of the U.S. military’s handling of Afghanistan. In his unclassified report, he wrote that U.S. officials have so thoroughly misinformed the American public “that the truth has become unrecognizable” and that, during his recent year-long deployment, he saw “deception reach an intolerable low.” In his view, the divergence between the upbeat accounts offered by the top military leadership and the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan has undermined U.S. credibility with both allies and enemies, cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, and inflicted death, disfigurement, and suffering on tens of thousands of soldiers with “little or no gain to our country.”


Music: Late