Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Targeting Syria

By Reginald Johnson

 It’s a like bad movie that keeps coming back.

 The first time you saw it, you said, ‘I never want to see this again.’

 But it keeps getting shown because, unfortunately, it’s on the news. You don’t want to watch it, but you’re forced to. And every time, you get the same sick feeling.

 The movie is actually part of a long-running series that might be called “America Makes War on a Bad Country.”

The latest installment is now playing. It’s called “America Makes War on Bad Syria.”

 It is probably number 20 in the movie series involving different nations. Or is it 30, or 40? I’ve lost count.

 In a script similar to the other shows, America says it doesn’t like Syria because its leader, Bashar al-Assad, is bad to his people. His regime has committed human rights violations. Locking up dissenters and allowing torture in his prisons. Indeed, there is independent verification to support this claim.

 Now America --- because its own human rights record is so good (talk to Pakistani or Afghan villagers following bombing attacks, or men waterboarded in U.S. prisons, they’ll tell you) --- feels so strongly about bringing freedom to the Syrian people, that it’s begun an urgent campaign to get rid of the Assad government.

 Through other countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the U.S. is supplying weapons to the rebels in Syria. CIA personnel have been sent to Turkey to train the insurgents, according to the New York Times.

 This indirect, war-by-proxy against a sovereign nation is illegal under international law, because it’s not sanctioned by the UN, and the U.S. has not been attacked by Syria. But who cares about international law? The U.S.A has done this so many time before, hardly anyone blinks an eye.

 Led by their constitutional lawyer and now President, Barack Obama, America is still trying to get some sort of resolution through the UN to authorize a wider military action against Bad Syria, but things are a bit slow because Russia and China, allies of Syria, keep balking.

 While the UN stalls, the U.S. has turned to Old Faithful --- NATO--- to get more pledges of support. Yes, just as Britain and France helped out with the humanitarian bombing campaign against Libya last year, these loyal allies from the days of the Cold War, plus Turkey, have come to the rescue again. Like the U.S., they care deeply about human rights and have the records to prove it --- just ask the Irish and Indians about Britain, or the Algerians about France, or the Kurds or Armenians about Turkey, and they will all sing praises.

 As noted, the freedom-loving monarchy of Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, have also joined in this noble effort.

 Just call this the “Coalition of the Benevolent to Help Syria!”

 In another echo from previous movies in the series, friendly media outlets in the U.S. have joined in the campaign to justify action against this year’s bad country. CNN has helped by running screaming reports every night, showing footage from opposition cell phone videos showing alleged Syrian government massacres. No real effort has been made to obtain a government response to the claims of indiscriminate violence.

 The movie on Syria is still in progress, and we don’t know for sure how it will end. But there’s a good chance that Assad will suffer the same fate as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi did last year --- lying in a roadside ditch with an American bullet in his head.


 OK, let’s turn on the lights, turn off the propaganda that passes for news and take a critical look at the situation in Syria.

 The conflict there has nothing to do with human rights or alleged atrocities by the Assad regime. It has everything to do with a geopolitical power struggle over who controls the oil-rich region of the Middle East.

 Syria is allied with Iran, which sits on the world’s third-largest supply of oil. Through the insurgency it is supporting, the U.S. aims to topple the Assad regime in Syria, get a more friendly group in power, and isolate Iran, which the U.S. has been at odds with for sometime. From the springboard in Syria, the U.S. can more easily bring down the government in Iran, either through constant pressure tactics or direct military action.

 Then the U.S. will have primacy in the Middle East and control over the flow of oil --- the most critical resource in the world, a resource which is getting more scarce by the year.

 This is the game plan.

 But it is game plan fraught with risk.

 Russia and China, which covet oil just as much as we do, are not going to sit idly by while the Americans take control over so much of the planet’s most vital resource.

 That’s why the two countries are resisting strong action on Syria at the UN, and why Russia has been arming Syria.

 It would be potentially catastrophic if the U.S. and its NATO partners unilaterally take military action against Syria.

 Undoubtedly, the U.S. will continue to try to get some sort of UN resolution condemning Syria for human rights abuses together with a provision for limited intervention. That will provide cover for an open, Libya-style attack.

 The Security Council is due to meet Wednesday to discuss Syria, and new allegations of civilian killings by Syrian government forces.

 People need to stand up and speak out about American duplicity in Syria.

 The American press has to do a better job of investigating the truth about allegations of mass killings and brutality by the Syrian government and be more questioning about America’s motives in connection with Syria.

 It is well known and absolutely true that the Syrian regime for a number of years has been committing human rights abuses against its citizens. Assad, like Gaddafi, is a despotic leader. The UN Human Rights Council last fall condemned Syria for a number of abuses. Many Syrian citizens have legitimate grievances against the government.

 It’s also true that the Syrian government military has sometimes been brutal in its effort to quell the rebellion.

 But opposition forces have been guilty of brutality against innocent people as well in a civil conflict which is pitting different sectarian groups against one another.

 Reports of “massacres” by government forces have been exaggerated. In May there were accusations of a slaughter of 100 people by the government in the village of Houla. The opposition group, the U.S. backed Free Syrian Army, repudiated a UN truce plan on the grounds that the government had used the ceasefire to carry out the attack.

 But according to an analysis on Syria in the World Socialist Web Site, the leading German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, reported that “multiple eyewitness accounts of the killings in Houla reported that the massacre was actually carried out by FSA fighters who had targeted minority Shiites, Alawites and Christians who had refused to join the Sunni-based opposition.”

 The German story got no attention in the U.S. press.

 In conclusion, Americans do need to speak about human rights abuses wherever they occur, whether at the hands of our government or at the hands of another. But we cannot allow our government to manipulate democratic uprisings in various countries and pretend we are siding with a certain group to achieve a more humane condition for people, when in fact the goal is far different.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's Victory is Not a Mandate for Anti-Labor and Austerity Agenda

By Reginald Johnson and Anna Manzo

(Originally published June 6, 2012)

“Live to fight another day” – is an old saying, often used in sports.

 Despite conservative and centrist pundits pronouncing Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the unprecedented recall election a smashing victory over labor and the Democrats, it’s really not. Nearly half of all voters in Wisconsin casting ballots in the special election voted against Walker. That’s not a ringing endorsement for the incumbent, and gives him only a weak mandate, if you can call it a mandate, to proceed with his anti-labor and cost-cutting policies.

 Consider that the Republican’s effort to beat back the recall was aided by a record-breaking infusion of money. Over $63.5 million was spent by all candidates and independent groups; $45.6 million had been spent on Walker's behalf, compared with about $17.9 million for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracked spending.

  Walker was able to reap the benefits of 2010's Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, which allows corporations to donate unlimited campaign funds via super- PACs without public disclosure. Walker had enough money to buy almost every vote in Wisconsin!

 And, he managed to evade recall, despite a two-year "John Doe" corruption investigation into his days as a county executive. Just days before his recall election, he had transferred $100,000 of campaign money to his legal defense fund, seemingly acknowledging that he is the center of the probe, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel and Salon.com.

 But he got 53 percent of the vote; 46 percent of Wisconsin voters said emphatically they’ve had enough of his retrograde ideas, and want him and his philosophy to go away.

 They’ll keep fighting and this battle is far from over.

 It was heartening to see the enthusiasm and determination with which the recall backers worked this past year. Though the goal was not reached this time, the collective effort on the part of so many provides momentum for future struggles.

 What was disheartening was the anemic support national Democrats, like Barack Obama, gave to the recall effort. (Obama's only public endorsement was an "11th-hour" tweet in support of Walker's opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.) They should be ashamed. A little more high-profile support from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden – and more money from the Democratic National Committee – and this thing could have been won.

 Progressives keep hoping that Obama will suddenly turn into a fighter and work hard for their causes, but it’s never going to happen. He’s too much of a centrist, business Democrat. He probably silently agrees with Walker and some of his anti-union, austerity-oriented policies.

 Obama doesn't seem to understand how to rekindle his grassroots, populist base of 2008, and it's clear he will have a big fight ahead. Economist Robert Reich notes that financial, retail and oil giants such as JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, WalMart, BP and Chevron, have joined billionaires David and Charles Koch in launching a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign falsely blaming him for the national debt.

 Charles P. Pierce of Esquire magazine warned of a worst-case scenario if Walker prevails:

 "...assuming he doesn't go down in the ongoing John Doe investigation in Milwaukee, I predict that he will have an 'exploratory committee' set up in Iowa within the month, and he will suddenly discover a deeply held desire to spend a lot of time in places like Nashua and Manchester. Make no mistake: If he hangs on, he will be the biggest star in the Republican party."

 Grassroots movements can eventually push the likes of Scott Walker out of the way, but it’s clear they can’t look to most national Democrats for help.

 And it's obvious from the huge influx of campaign funds into this battleground state, the only mandate in this recall election came not from Main Street, but the likes of Wall Street.

Related links:

• "Analysis: Walker's win in Wisconsin boosts conservatives," Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2012

• "The Walker Vote Earthquake," American Spectator, June 7, 2012

• "Walker Survives Wisconsin Recall Vote," New York Times, June 6, 2012

• "10 Numbers You Need to Know on Scott Walker Recall Day," Mother Jones, June 5, 2012

• "A Wisconsin Recall FAQ," The Nation, June 5, 2012

• "What Happens If Scott Walker Wins Is No Good at All," The Politics Blog, Esquire, May 16, 2012

• "Scott Walker’s “John Doe” scandal, explained," Salon.com, June 1, 2012

• "Walker campaign sends $100,000 to John Doe legal fund," Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel, May 29, 2012

• "Republican Super PAC’s Spending Big In 2012," ABC News blog, May 30, 2012

• "Scott Walker Promised $500K Donor He Would 'Divide and Conquer' Unions," The Nation, May11, 2012

• "John Nichols: Walker aligns with nation's top 'union buster'," The CapTimes.com, May 30, 2012