Sunday, October 23, 2016

Peace Coalition Forms to Stop War in Syria

  By Reginald Johnson


   As violence continues in Syria and tensions rise between the United States and Russia, a large number of anti-war groups have banded together to lobby for peace and head off a catastrophic war between the two superpowers.

   Some 30 organizations and about 20 prominent leaders of the peace movement have joined to form the “Hands Off Syria Coalition.”
   A statement put out by the coalition said,  “Our objective is to create the broadest possible united front for peace and justice by peace activists and organizations in the U.S. and around the world to fight for an end to all violence, intervention and sanctions against Syria, which is now threatening world peace.

  Among the organizations which have pledged to work in the coalition and signed a “Points of Unity" statement are the U.S. Peace Council, the International Action Center, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Syria Solidarity Movement, the United National Antiwar Coalition, and Women Against Military Madness (WAMM).

   Some of the prominent signers of the statement include Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney and human rights attorney, Gerry Condon, national board vice president, Veterans for Peace, Margaret Kimberly, editor and senior columnist, Black Agenda Report, Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and Presidential briefer, Colleen Rowley, retired FBI agent, and Cindy Sheehan, anti-war Gold Star Mother.

  In the Points of Unity statement, members of the coalition say that the continuation of the war in Syria is the “result of a U.S.-orchestrated intervention by the United States, NATO, their regional allies and reactionary forces, the goal of which is regime change in Syria.”
   The policy of regime change --- clearly illegal under international law --- has threatened the security of the region and the world and “has increased the danger of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia, with the potential of a nuclear catastrophe for the whole world,” the statement said.

  The coalition has called for an “immediate end to the U.S. policy of forced regime change in Syria” and an “immediate end to all foreign aggression against Syria and serious efforts toward a political resolution to the war.”

   The group also demands that the U.S., NATO and regional allies stop providing military, financial or other support to “foreign mercenaries and extremists” in the Middle East region.

   Henry Lowendorf of New Haven, a member of the U.S. Peace Council and the Greater New Haven Peace Council, said that the groups came together due to the urgency of the moment. He said that the risk of a  world war breaking out in Syria is growing, with two nuclear-armed nations --- the United States and Russia --- edging closer and closer towards a military confrontation.

  “There’s been a paralysis in the peace movement around Syria. That means the peace movement has been doing nothing about war,” said Lowendorf.

  “The statement was meant to get people off the dime” and start taking action, he said.

Henry Lowendorf and Deborah Taylor demonstrate for peace in New Haven

  One of the actions being discussed is an anti-war demonstration at the time of the presidential inauguration in January. “We know whoever gets elected on Nov. 8, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and is inaugurated in January, is a hawk, one way or another,” Lowendorf said.

   Also being planned are congressional lobbying efforts and a statewide peace conference at Middlesex Community College in Middletown on Nov. 12.

  Lowendorf expressed disappointment that some large peace organizations, like United for Peace and Justice, have so far chosen not to join the new coalition. But he said renewed efforts will be made to persuade them to come on board.

  All totalled, some 861 people have now signed on endorsing the coalition's Points of Unity and demands for a change in the U.S. Syria policy. 

(For more information on the coalition, go to

Thursday, September 1, 2016

                                  Final Snub?

By Reginald Johnson

 Don’t have time to really check this out now, but it appears the Connecticut Post --- formerly the Bridgeport Post-Telegram --- is bailing out of Bridgeport.

  A Cushman and Wakefield “For Sale” sign has appeared just above the entrance to the Post building at 410 State Street. If there was an announcement about the Post leaving previously, I missed it. I did hear from a former Post reporter over a year ago that plans were underway for the city’s only daily newspaper to ditch Bridgeport, and move to Norwalk. 

  Apparently the Post’s owner, the Hearst Corporation, would like to streamline operations by being more centrally located in Fairfield County, since they also own the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time, as well as many weeklies.

The Post’s departure represents a final slap in the face to Connecticut’s largest city. The paper under different corporate owners has been gutting city news coverage for years, and previously dropped “Bridgeport” from its name as “The Bridgeport Post,” changing it to “Connecticut Post.” Before that, the morning edition, The Telegram --- where I worked --- was folded.

   This is a sad state of affairs, but not much to be done about it. Such is the world today when newspapers and other media are owned by big corporations who really don’t care about the center cities and just care about the bottom line.

  I’m not about to leave Bridgeport and know many other loyal people aren’t about to, either.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Relentless Push for War


By Reginald Johnson

    Visiting the Pentagon shortly after the Sept. 11th terror attacks in 2001,  retired 4-star General Wesley Clark was shocked to learn from a former colleague that plans were being drawn up to invade Iraq.

   “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” Clark asked.

“I don’t know,” said his friend, another general. “I guess they don’t know what else to do,” Clark recounted, in an interview on Democracy Now.

  The general then told Clark that even though the U.S. had no information linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the 911 attacks, top officials were still bent on making war.

  “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments,” he said, adding, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

   Clark came back to see the same officer in November, and by that time the U.S. had already started bombing Afghanistan, the home base of the al-Qaeda terrorists who allegedly carried out the 911 attacks.

   “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” Clark asked.

  “Oh, it’s worse than that,” the general replied. Pulling up a piece of paper, he said, “I just got this down from upstairs --- the Secretary of Defense’s office --- today. This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

 The document, of course, was classified. A year later when Clark saw the same individual, he reminded him of the memo. The man replied, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”

  In the 15 years since former General Clark heard the sweeping plan for regime-change abroad, the scenario has in large part become reality.

 Iraq’s government was removed by force by an American invasion and a brutal multi-year war. Libya’s government was also changed at the point of a gun in 2011  after American and NATO forces bombed the country and gave support to a group of insurgents. Long-time leader Mohamed Ghadafi was murdered and a new government formed.

  In Syria, the U.S. and its allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been working for five years to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. and the other nations have been funneling lethal aid to the insurgent coalition, which includes al-Nusra, an Qaeda spin-off, and other jihadists. U.S. planes at the same time are bombing parts of Syria, purportedly to knock out the terrorist group ISIS.

  Making the situation potentially very dangerous, is the fact that Russia is actively involved in assisting Assad, with Russian planes conducting bombing raids against rebel targets.

   The U.S. is also either engaging in or sponsoring military activity in Somalia and Sudan, in order to shape the direction of those countries.

  The effect of this succession of wars and interventions has been staggering. In the Iraq War alone, 4,400 U.S service members were killed. Another 32,000 were injured, with many military personnel having lost legs or arms, making everyday life a struggle.

 Iraqi casualties in the conflict were immense. While estimates vary, several organizations put the Iraqi death toll at over 500,000.

  According to the UN, more than 3 million Iraqis were displaced internally just in the first 3 years of the war. The infrastructure in Iraq --- prior to the war one of the mid-east’s most advanced nations --- has been decimated.

   The dollar cost of the war for the U.S. is astronomical --- $1.6 trillion --- and the figure keeps rising, as on-going costs such as veterans’ medical care, are factored in.

The war in Syria is still not over, but consider the human toll so far: between 300,000 and 500,000 Syrians killed, depending on estimates; 7 million people internally displaced; and 4 million people forced to flee the country, desperately trying to find safety in Europe and the United States.

  Considering the terrible impacts of wars and interventions perpetrated by the United States, you would think that there might be a growing consensus here that there’s been enough war, enough conflict, enough foreign “crises” and it’s time to start building bridges.

  But that’s not the case.

 While polling does show that a majority of the American people are weary of war and oppose sending more troops into hot spots like the Middle East, political and media elites and officials of the State and Defense Departments have other ideas.
 While Obama administration officials have talked of making a cease-fire work in Syria and finally bringing peace to that country, the reality is that they keep providing aid to the anti-government groups, and in some cases are advocating direct U.S. air attacks on the Assad forces.
 Recently, a so-called “dissent cable” was circulated in the State Department calling for U.S. strikes against the Syrian military as a means of ending the conflict and forcing Assad out. Signed by 51 diplomats, it was called a dissent memo since it didn’t reflect the  publicly-stated views of Secretary of State John Kerry.

  However, as national security writer Gareth Porter noted in an article in Consortium on June 26 entitled “The Dissent Memo that Isn’t,”  the signers of the memo knew that Kerry --- the one-time Vietnam War critic --- has been privately advocating open military strikes against Assad’s forces since 2013. His plan for air attacks has been rejected so far by Obama.

  But should Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, win the November election, direct American attacks against Syria may become reality. Robert Parry, the editor of Consortium News who’s covered American foreign policy for 30 years, said that a Hillary Clinton administration “is expected to authorize an illegal invasion of Syria --- under the guise of establishing ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe zones’ which will mean the slaughter of young Syrian soldiers.”

  The publication of the memo by The New York Times coincided with the release of a report by a Washington think tank with close ties to Hillary Clinton, Porter said. The Center for New American Security (CNAS) report called for a U.S. policy to ‘threaten and execute limited strikes against the Assad regime’ and for dispatching ‘several thousand’ U.S. troops to Syria.

  The CNAS study group that wrote the report was co-chaired by CNAS co-founder Michele Flournoy, a former high-ranking Defense Department official. According to Porter, Fournoy  “is now regarded as the most likely choice for Defense Secretary in a Hillary Clinton administration.”

   Any further involvement by the U.S. in terms of bombing Assad’s forces carries the obvious risk of touching off a confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

 But the possibility of creating a wider war with Russia --- possibly a nuclear war which could end life on the planet --- doesn’t seem to faze many foreign policy officials in Washington.

  Parry said of State Department officers: “These hawks are so eager for more war that they don’t mind risking a direct conflict with Russia, breezily dismissing the possibility of a clash with the nuclear power by saying that they are ‘not advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia.’ That’s reassuring to hear.”

  The possibility for more war also exists in another theatre --- in the  Ukraine and the Baltics.

  American leaders and their colleagues in NATO --- the anachronistic military alliance dating from the years of the Iron Curtain --- seem to be itching for a fight with Russia.

  Declaring that Russia represents some new kind of menace in Europe based on cooked-up charges of “aggression” in Crimea, U.S. and NATO military leaders have taken some unusual and highly provocative actions this year. In June, NATO undertook its largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, with tens of thousands of soldiers from 24 countries taking part in war games in northern Poland. NATO officials said member countries had to prepare for a possible attack by Russia.

  In Romania, the U.S. and NATO recently set up an $800 million missile defense shield, which could intercept incoming missiles. NATO officials claimed the system was designed as protection against missiles from “rogue states” like Iran, but the system is really aimed at Russia, and the Russians took it as such. Russian officials said that NATO was trying to achieve “military and political containment” of their nation.

   Romania is a particularly sensitive area for Russia, since it borders the Black Sea, where the Russian naval fleet is based.


 Many of the people who are driving the current foreign policy related to the Middle East, Russia and China as well are neo-conservatives. This group believes that the U.S. must use its power aggressively to protect its interests around the world and maintain U.S. dominance. This may include the use of  “preventive” force, to overthrow a regime deems as a problem. Such was the case with the invasion of Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was seen as an unstable and uncontrollable leader who threatened U.S. and Israeli interests in the region.

  Neo-conservatives appear to view both Russia and China as “threats” --- even though there is little hard evidence of this --- and are backing  confrontational tactics in dealing with both those nations.

   There are a number of “neo-cons,” as they are known, in the Obama administration, both in the State Department and Defense Department. There are also many neo-con voices in the media, particularly at The New York Times and Washington Post.

  The Times and the Post have run numerous editorials criticizing Russia for “aggression” in taking over Crimea in 2014 --- even though a huge majority of Crimeans voted in a referendum, understandably, to break away from the neo-fascist coup government in Ukraine and rejoin Russia. The papers have also run a number of hit pieces demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  With her Senate vote in favor of the Iraq War, her push as Secretary of State for the illegal Libya intervention and now as a presidential candidate supporting a possible military intervention in Syria, Hillary Clinton is considered closely aligned with neo-con views.

  Clinton’s pro-war views have gotten far too little attention during the election campaign. The media for the most part has steered away from asking tough questions about foreign policy and exactly what she advocates going forward.

   Her opponent, Republican Donald Trump, has raised some valid points about the failures of U.S. foreign policy and suggested we should extend an olive branch to Vladimir Putin and try to work with Russia. He’s also said we should now pull back from overseas interventions. This is a welcome approach, and should be taken seriously.

  But Trump has gotten little traction with his comments on foreign policy, due to anger over the numerous backwards positions he’s taken on domestic issues, such as immigration and the rights of Muslims.

  Trump has also undermined his case for a less confrontational foreign policy by advocating a “stronger military.” The U.S. military is already far and away the strongest on earth. The U.S. spends $600 billion a year on the military --- we don’t need to spend more or enlarge our forces.

  As the presidential election campaign proceeds, it is crucial that the media ask the hard questions of both Clinton and Trump about exactly what their foreign policy is, where they stand with respect to both Syria and Russia, and whether they would consider new military interventions.

  The stakes couldn’t be higher.

 The United States and the world can ill afford more war.



Monday, May 16, 2016

Media Bias on Syria


 By Reginald Johnson

    Over the past several years, traditional rules of journalistic fairness and objectivity seem to have disappeared on the subject of Syria.

  American reporters and commentators repeatedly present just one side of the conflict --- the American side --- and little else. Syrian leader Bashar al—Assad is portrayed as a demon, carrying out a brutal campaign to retain power in a fight with rebel forces, who are being aided by the United States.

  When terrible things happen in this conflict, such as civilians getting bombed or poisoned, the blame is always laid at the doorstep of the Syrian government. Claims of misdeeds by Assad’s forces are spit out almost word for word from State Department releases. There’s rarely any attempt to seek comment or get the Syrian side of the story.

  In these reports or commentaries, there’s rarely any mention of the fact that the United States has been involved in Syria for five years, first covertly aiding the anti-Assad forces, some of whom are al-Qaeda spinoffs, and now bombing areas held by the terrorist group, ISIS. There’s no mention in the reporting that the American presence is completely illegal under international law, since Syria never attacked the U.S., the United Nations never authorized any intervention, and Syria never gave permission to the Americans to conduct bombing raids against ISIS in its sovereign territory.

  The United States is simply there in Syria, along with its “NATO allies” because it thinks it has the automatic right to be there, and the terrible Mr. Assad and ISIS, must be removed.

  The New York Times on April 29 ran a piece entitled “Divided Syrian City Plunges Back Into War as Hospital Is Destroyed,” which was an example of the one-sided reporting. The story described the carnage that resulted from an air attack on the al-Quds hospital in Aleppo, which resulted in 27 deaths, including children and staff. The article, written by a reporter in Beirut, simply said that “government forces” had carried out the attack, according to “witnesses and health workers.” There was no comment from the government.

  The bombing of a hospital is certainly a terrible crime, and it is in fact a war crime. It may well be true that Assad’s forces are guilty of this horrendous attack. But isn’t it incumbent on the newspaper reporting this information to get a response from the alleged perpetrator? Just because they are likely to deny the claim doesn’t mean you don’t try to get their side.

  The article later said that “groups such as Physicians for Human Rights” maintain that they had tracked “a deliberate targeting of health services by government forces.”

   Now this is a sweeping claim, that the government is deliberately bombing health facilities, committing multiple war crimes. It cries out for additional verification, statements from other named sources, any witnesses or corroboration by an independent journalist who investigated the charges. It also demands a response from the government. But none of that was in the Times’ story.

  Also left out of this article was context. There should have been some background given --- that this is a five-year-old conflict, with rebels aided by the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, attempting to overthrow Assad, and the government, aided by Russia (whose help Assad requested) and Hezbollah and Iran trying to keep Assad in power.

   Another one-sided report came surprisingly in a piece by Chris Hayes of MSNBC, on May 5.  Taking the word of the State Department that the Syrian government was responsible for the al-Quds hospital attack, Hayes blasted the Assad regime for what he said were repeated human rights violations.

   Hayes said the Syrian leader had “engaged in one of the most ghastly campaigns of slaughter and war crimes in this century and there is no just solution or any solution for the horror of Syria that does not hold him accountable.”

  Hayes' statement seemed to mirror the Obama administration's position that there could be no settlement in Syria unless Assad is removed.

   Hayes, like the Times, didn’t provide any response from a Syrian representative and failed to mention that the United States was deeply involved in the Syrian conflict, funneling arms to anti-government forces, and prolonging the war.

The MSNBC commentator noted with disgust that the Syrian government had been responsible for 183,827 deaths since the conflict began, without breaking that number down between combatants and civilians, and without giving a source.

 But a lot of other people have been killed in this conflict, also. According to the UN, about 100,000 government or pro-government fighters have been killed by the U.S.-backed forces, but that fact apparently wasn’t worth mentioning in Hayes’ report. Are members of the government military not people too?

  CNN has often presented a slanted view on foreign affairs, and their Syrian coverage has fit the pattern. The network has consistently aired reports giving a pro-America, rebel perspective, while casting Assad and his allies, like Russia, in a negative light.
  Just last week Wolf Blitzer ran a segment on Russia’s continuing involvement in Syria, months after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his nation was going to withdraw some of its forces. While showing a video captioned “Russia still has a strong military presence in Syria,” a reporter said that “Violence still rages in most of the countryside. Conciliation seems nowhere in sight and neither is an end to Russia's involvement in the conflict.”
   Neither the reporter nor Blitzer bothered to note America’s continuing involvement in Syria --- that U.S. planes have been bombing the Syrian countryside since last fall, that 250 special forces were recently sent to Syria allegedly to fight ISIS, and that U.S. proxies Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been giving weaponry to the anti-Assad forces for years.
  I’m wondering if CNN will ever run a news video with the caption “America still bombing Syria.”
   I don’t think so.