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An ANZAC day reflection.

A Death in the Family
Having volunteered for Iraq, Mark Daily was killed in January by an I.E.D. Dismayed to learn that his pro-war articles helped persuade Daily to enlist, the author measures his words against a family’s grief and a young man’s sacrifice.
By Christopher Hitchens October 3, 2007 12:00 am

I was having an oppressively normal morning a few months ago, flicking through the banality of quotidian e-mail traffic, when I idly clicked on a message from a friend headed “Seen This?” The attached item turned out to be a very well-written story by Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times. It described the death, in Mosul, Iraq, of a young soldier from Irvine, California, named Mark Jennings Daily, and the unusual degree of emotion that his community was undergoing as a consequence. The emotion derived from a very moving statement that the boy had left behind, stating his reasons for having become a volunteer and bravely facing the prospect that his words might have to be read posthumously. In a way, the story was almost too perfect: this handsome lad had been born on the Fourth of July, was a registered Democrat and self-described agnostic, a U.C.L.A. honors graduate, and during his college days had fairly decided reservations about the war in Iraq. I read on, and actually printed the story out, and was turning a page when I saw the following:
“Somewhere along the way, he changed his mind. His family says there was no epiphany. Writings by author and columnist Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him … “

I don’t exaggerate by much when I say that I froze. I certainly felt a very deep pang of cold dismay. I had just returned from a visit to Iraq with my own son (who is 23, as was young Mr. Daily) and had found myself in a deeply pessimistic frame of mind about the war. Was it possible that I had helped persuade someone I had never met to place himself in the path of an I.E.D.? Over-dramatizing myself a bit in the angst of the moment, I found I was thinking of William Butler Yeats, who was chilled to discover that the Irish rebels of 1916 had gone to their deaths quoting his play Cathleen ni Houlihan. He tried to cope with the disturbing idea in his poem “Man and the Echo”:
*Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot? …
Could my spoken words have checked
That whereby a house lay wrecked?*

Abruptly dismissing any comparison between myself and one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, I feverishly clicked on all the links from the article and found myself on Lieutenant Daily’s MySpace site, where his statement “Why I Joined” was posted. The site also immediately kicked into a skirling noise of Irish revolutionary pugnacity: a song from the Dropkick Murphys album Warrior’s Code. And there, at the top of the page, was a link to a passage from one of my articles, in which I poured scorn on those who were neutral about the battle for Iraq … I don’t remember ever feeling, in every allowable sense of the word, quite so hollow.

I writhed around in my chair for a bit and decided that I ought to call Ms. Watanabe, who could not have been nicer. She anticipated the question I was too tongue-tied to ask: Would the Daily family—those whose “house lay wrecked”—be contactable? “They’d actually like to hear from you.” She kindly gave me the e-mail address and the home number.

I don’t intend to make a parade of my own feelings here, but I expect you will believe me when I tell you that I e-mailed first. For one thing, I didn’t want to choose a bad time to ring. For another, and as I wrote to his parents, I was quite prepared for them to resent me. So let me introduce you to one of the most generous and decent families in the United States, and allow me to tell you something of their experience.

In the midst of their own grief, to begin with, they took the trouble to try to make me feel better. I wasn’t to worry about any “guilt or responsibility”: their son had signed up with his eyes wide open and had “assured us that if he knew the possible outcome might be this, he would still go rather than have the option of living to age 50 and never having served his country. Trust us when we tell you that he was quite convincing and persuasive on this point, so that by the end of the conversation we were practically packing his bags and waving him off.” This made me relax fractionally, but then they went on to write: “Prior to his deployment he told us he was going to try to contact you from Iraq. He had the idea of being a correspondent from the front-lines through you, and wanted to get your opinion about his journalistic potential. He told us that he had tried to contact you from either Kuwait or Iraq. He thought maybe his e-mail had not reached you … ” That was a gash in my hide all right: I think of all the junk e-mail I read every day, and then reflect that his precious one never got to me.

Lieutenant Daily crossed from Kuwait to Iraq in November 2006, where he would be deployed with the “C,” or “Comanche,” Company of the Second Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment—General Custer’s old outfit—in Mosul. On the 15th of January last, he was on patrol and noticed that the Humvee in front of him was not properly “up-armored” against I.E.D.’s. He insisted on changing places and taking a lead position in his own Humvee, and was shortly afterward hit by an enormous buried mine that packed a charge of some 1,500 pounds of high explosive. Yes, that’s right. He, and the three other American soldiers and Iraqi interpreter who perished with him, went to war with the army we had. It’s some consolation to John and Linda Daily, and to Mark’s brother and two sisters, and to his widow (who had been married to him for just 18 months) to know that he couldn’t have felt anything.

Yet what, and how, should we feel? People are not on their oath when speaking of the dead, but I have now talked to a good number of those who knew Mark Daily or were related to him, and it’s clear that the country lost an exceptional young citizen, whom I shall always wish I had had the chance to meet. He seems to have passed every test of young manhood, and to have been admired and loved and respected by old and young, male and female, family and friends. He could have had any career path he liked (and won a George C. Marshall Award that led to an offer to teach at West Point). Why are we robbed of his contribution? As we got to know one another better, I sent the Daily family a moving statement made by the mother of Michael Kelly, my good friend and the editor-at-large of The Atlantic Monthly, who was killed near the Baghdad airport while embedded during the invasion of 2003. Marguerite Kelly was highly stoic about her son’s death, but I now think I committed an error of taste in showing this to the Dailys, who very gently responded that Michael had lived long enough to write books, have a career, become a father, and in general make his mark, while their son didn’t live long enough to enjoy any of these opportunities. If you have tears, prepare to shed them now …
In his brilliant book What Is History?, Professor E. H. Carr asked about ultimate causation. Take the case of a man who drinks a bit too much, gets behind the wheel of a car with defective brakes, drives it round a blind corner, and hits another man, who is crossing the road to buy cigarettes. Who is the one responsible? The man who had one drink too many, the lax inspector of brakes, the local authorities who didn’t straighten out a dangerous bend, or the smoker who chose to dash across the road to satisfy his bad habit? So, was Mark Daily killed by the Ba’thist and bin Ladenist riffraff who place bombs where they will do the most harm? Or by the Rumsfeld doctrine, which sent American soldiers to Iraq in insufficient numbers and with inadequate equipment? Or by the Bush administration, which thought Iraq would be easily pacified? Or by the previous Bush administration, which left Saddam Hussein in power in 1991 and fatally postponed the time of reckoning?

These grand, overarching questions cannot obscure, at least for me, the plain fact that Mark Daily felt himself to be morally committed. I discovered this in his life story and in his surviving writings. Again, not to romanticize him overmuch, but this is the boy who would not let others be bullied in school, who stuck up for his younger siblings, who was briefly a vegetarian and Green Party member because he couldn’t stand cruelty to animals or to the environment, a student who loudly defended Native American rights and who challenged a MySpace neo-Nazi in an online debate in which the swastika-displaying antagonist finally admitted that he needed to rethink things. If I give the impression of a slight nerd here I do an injustice. Everything that Mark wrote was imbued with a great spirit of humor and tough-mindedness. Here’s an excerpt from his “Why I Joined” statement:

Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me).… Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.

And here’s something from one of his last letters home:
I was having a conversation with a Kurdish man in the city of Dahok (by myself and completely safe) discussing whether or not the insurgents could be viewed as “freedom fighters” or “misguided anti-capitalists.” Shaking his head as I attempted to articulate what can only be described as pathetic apologetics, he cut me off and said “the difference between insurgents and American soldiers is that they get paid to take life—to murder, and you get paid to save lives.” He looked at me in such a way that made me feel like he was looking through me, into all the moral insecurity that living in a free nation will instill in you. He “oversimplified” the issue, or at least that is what college professors would accuse him of doing.

In his other e-mails and letters home, which the Daily family very kindly showed me, he asked for extra “care packages” to share with local Iraqis, and said, “I’m not sure if Irvine has a sister-city, but I am going to personally contact the mayor and ask him to extend his hand to Dahok, which has been more than hospitable to this native-son.” (I was wrenched yet again to discover that he had got this touching idea from an old article of mine, which had made a proposal for city-twinning that went nowhere.) In the last analysis, it was quite clear, Mark had made up his mind that the United States was a force for good in the world, and that it had a duty to the freedom of others. A video clip of which he was very proud has him being “crowned” by a circle of smiling Iraqi officers. I have a photograph of him, standing bareheaded and contentedly smoking a cigar, on a rooftop in Mosul. He doesn’t look like an occupier at all. He looks like a staunch friend and defender. On the photograph is written “We carry a new world in our hearts.”

In his last handwritten letter home, posted on the last day of 2006, Mark modestly told his father that he’d been chosen to lead a combat platoon after a grenade attack had killed one of its soldiers and left its leader too shaken to carry on. He had apparently sounded steady enough on the radio on earlier missions for him to be given a leadership position after only a short time “in country.” As he put it: “I am now happily doing what I was trained to do, and am fulfilling an obligation that has swelled inside me for years. I am deep in my element … and I am euphoric.” He had no doubts at all about the value of his mission, and was the sort of natural soldier who makes the difference in any war.

At the first chance I got, I invited his family for lunch in California. We ended up spending the entire day together. As soon as they arrived, I knew I had been wrong to be so nervous. They looked too good to be true: like a poster for the American way. John Daily is an aerospace project manager, and his wife, Linda, is an audiologist. Their older daughter, Christine, eagerly awaiting her wedding, is a high-school biology teacher, and the younger sister, Nicole, is in high school. Their son Eric is a bright junior at Berkeley with a very winning and ironic grin. And there was Mark’s widow, an agonizingly beautiful girl named Snejana (“Janet”) Hristova, the daughter of political refugees from Bulgaria. Her first name can mean “snowflake,” and this was his name for her in the letters of fierce tenderness that he sent her from Iraq. These, with your permission, I will not share, except this:

One thing I have learned about myself since I’ve been out here is that everything I professed to you about what I want for the world and what I am willing to do to achieve it was true. …
My desire to “save the world” is really just an extension of trying to make a world fit for you.

If that is all she has left, I hope you will agree that it isn’t nothing.

I had already guessed that this was no gung-ho Orange County Republican clan. It was pretty clear that they could have done without the war, and would have been happier if their son had not gone anywhere near Iraq. (Mr. Daily told me that as a young man he had wondered about going to Canada if the Vietnam draft ever caught up with him.) But they had been amazed by the warmth of their neighbors’ response, and by the solidarity of his former brothers-in-arms—1,600 people had turned out for Mark’s memorial service in Irvine. A sergeant’s wife had written a letter to Linda and posted it on Janet’s MySpace site on Mother’s Day, to tell her that her husband had been in the vehicle with which Mark had insisted on changing places. She had seven children who would have lost their father if it had gone the other way, and she felt both awfully guilty and humbly grateful that her husband had been spared by Mark’s heroism. Imagine yourself in that position, if you can, and you will perhaps get a hint of the world in which the Dailys now live: a world that alternates very sharply and steeply between grief and pride.

On a drive to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and again shortly before shipping out from Fort Bliss, Texas, Mark had told his father that he had three wishes in the event of his death. He wanted bagpipes played at the service, and an Irish wake to follow it. And he wanted to be cremated, with the ashes strewn on the beach at Neskowin, Oregon, the setting for his happiest memories of boyhood vacations. The first two of these conditions had already been fulfilled. The Dailys rather overwhelmed me by asking if I would join them for the third one. So it was that in August I found myself on the dunes by an especially lovely and remote stretch of the Oregon coastline. The extended family was there, including both sets of grandparents, plus some college friends of Mark’s and his best comrade from the army, an impressive South Dakotan named Matt Gross. As the sun began to sink on a day that had been devoted to reminiscence and moderate drinking, we took up the tattered Stars and Stripes that had flown outside the family home since Mark’s deployment and walked to his favorite spot to plant it. Everyone was supposed to say something, but when John Daily took the first scoop from the urn and spread the ashes on the breeze, there was something so unutterably final in the gesture that tears seemed as natural as breathing and I wasn’t at all sure that I could go through with it. My idea had been to quote from the last scene of Macbeth, which is the only passage I know that can hope to rise to such an occasion. The tyrant and usurper has been killed, but Ross has to tell old Siward that his boy has perished in the struggle:
*Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt;
He only lived but till he was a man;
The which no sooner had his prowess confirm’d
In the unshrinking station where he fought,
But like a man he died.*
This being Shakespeare, the truly emotional and understated moment follows a beat or two later, when Ross adds:
*Your cause of sorrow
Must not be measured by his worth, for then
It hath no end.*

I became a trifle choked up after that, but everybody else also managed to speak, often reading poems of their own composition, and as the day ebbed in a blaze of glory over the ocean, I thought, Well, here we are to perform the last honors for a warrior and hero, and there are no hysterical ululations, no shrieks for revenge, no insults hurled at the enemy, no firing into the air or bogus hysterics. Instead, an honest, brave, modest family is doing its private best. I hope no fanatical fool could ever mistake this for weakness. It is, instead, a very particular kind of strength. If America can spontaneously produce young men like Mark, and occasions like this one, it has a real homeland security instead of a bureaucratic one. To borrow some words of George Orwell’s when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, “I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”

I mention Orwell for a reason, because Mark Daily wasn’t yet finished with sending me messages from beyond the grave. He took a pile of books with him to Iraq, which included Thomas Paine’s The Crisis; War and Peace; Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (well, nobody’s perfect); Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time; John McCain’s Why Courage Matters; and George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. And a family friend of the Dailys’, noticing my own book on Orwell on their shelf, had told them that his own father, Harry David Milton, was “the American” mentioned in Homage to Catalonia, who had rushed to Orwell’s side after he had been shot in the throat by a Fascist sniper. This seemed to verge on the eerie. Orwell thought that the Spanish Civil War was a just war, but he also came to understand that it was a dirty war, where a decent cause was hijacked by goons and thugs, and where betrayal and squalor negated the courage and sacrifice of those who fought on principle. As one who used to advocate strongly for the liberation of Iraq (perhaps more strongly than I knew), I have grown coarsened and sickened by the degeneration of the struggle: by the sordid news of corruption and brutality (Mark Daily told his father how dismayed he was by the failure of leadership at Abu Ghraib) and by the paltry politicians in Washington and Baghdad who squabble for precedence while lifeblood is spent and spilled by young people whose boots they are not fit to clean. It upsets and angers me more than I can safely say, when I reread Mark’s letters and poems and see that—as of course he would—he was magically able to find the noble element in all this, and take more comfort and inspiration from a few plain sentences uttered by a Kurdish man than from all the vapid speeches ever given. Orwell had the same experience when encountering a young volunteer in Barcelona, and realizing with a mixture of sadness and shock that for this kid all the tired old slogans about liberty and justice were actually real. He cursed his own cynicism and disillusionment when he wrote:
*For the fly-blown words that make me spew
Still in his ears were holy,
And he was born knowing what I had learned
Out of books and slowly.*
However, after a few more verses about the lying and cruelty and stupidity that accompany war, he was still able to do justice to the young man:
*But the thing I saw in your face
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit.*

May it be so, then, and may death be not proud to have taken Mark Daily, whom I never knew but whom you now know, and—I hope—miss.

Qatar crisis will Trump sell out democracy in the old realist style?

Some people have pointed out that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is central to the cultural and political ‘swamp’ that delivers terrorists to Macron led France and the rest of us westerners.   Is the KSA still run by Assad type mass murdering tyrants in the making?   It is true they are the born to rule rats that own the KSA but no doubt they occasionally worry about when their Saudi Nasser will emerge and dispose of them.  After all they know there used to be a Shah in Iran and a King in Iraq and Egypt.  They keep their military strong but perhaps not to strong.  They are similar to the Syrian and the military thugs of Egypt in their hatred of democracy and a free press.  They have fallen out over Syria because of the sectarian divide.  But they have always done business in the past.  With Egyptian support they are making war in Yemen and bringing on a mass murder from starvation there as a result.

Not much has been said at Strangetimes about this war but it has reached catastrophe levels lately and is regularly in the MSM.  Clearly it’s part of the sectarian region wide war and the great Islamic divide.  There is no analysis that I am aware of -nothing any left can be proud of- that people have brought to my attention over these last few years. NADA.  I, having kept focused mostly on Syria, know little about it. But I wonder if Yemen is now going to drag in the West.

The rulers of the KSA regularly kill their political opponents and are none to keen on a western style free press.  Half their own country is in effect enemy territory with a sullen oppressed Shia population that this leadership in Wahhabi style hate.  Brutal in that Wahhabi tradition, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali points out they are very much Daesh style in killing those in their way, right down to the public head lopping.

These born to rule rats, started demanding that democracy in Qatar be wound back in the manner that the Egyptians have and that the Turks have resisted!   Together with the UAE born to rule and their propped up Sunni rulers of Shia in Bahrain they sprung a crisis on the US over Qatar. Trump may have wanted to go the way of the old realists that he so admires but the Turks under Erdogan stepped in as the regional leaders of the democratic changes and said NO.

Consider the list of actionable demands that the US forced the KSA led anti democrats to deliver.  The 13 demands in full.

1  Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.

2  Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.

3  Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.

4  Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

5  Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.

6  Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.

7  Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.

8  End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.

9  Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.

10  Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.

11  Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.

12  Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.

13  Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

So the military coup leaders from Egypt and the born to rule reactionaries of the KSA are demanding that the Muslim Brotherhood types be sold out.  Well most of this is what Trump would either want or think ‘he’ could live with; but this is not good for the big picture of draining any regional swamp and that much is clear.  The Turks stepped in.

The peoples of the gulf are all no doubt siding with Qatar because they are mostly Shia people that hate their KSA overlords like in Bahrain where the US led by Obama  let the Arab spring be crushed by the KSA army rolling in and keeping the people in their place.

Importantly both Turkey and Iran are going to back Qatar so the ‘parting of the ways’ is next.

The people of Kuwait are going to side with the country of Qatar but I wonder what the rulers of Kuwait will do in the longer run?

The Shia led government of Iraq is going to back Qatar -if Qatar at least does more over Al Qaeda and other Sunni terrorists and that will be required by everyone so they will IMV make a big show of stepping up over this issue.

Democracy is the solution and that now requires Muslim Brotherhood type Islamist governments like Turkey and what was previously won or almost won in Egypt.

The new leader of the KSA is quite obviously ‘modernising’ and at a rapid rate but he has a big job ahead.    What ever he does the swamp is not going to remain static and the blatant oppression of the Shia peoples is central.  BUT the big fly in all this is still Syria where the HIRISE dominated by the ‘Shia’ are the big problem led and protected from the West by Russia.

The West has now clearly had a gut full of Russia so more complex revolution is on the way.

 

What will the Western cow do?

Assad’s troops are – one year on from the ineffective Trump cruise missile attacks – again using chemical warfare and consequently bringing on some form of western attack. What will it be?  Well we can guess that it will be more effective because the last attack was not meant to be effective and Trump has been insulted when he was talking about going home!

So IMV

  1. Trump has no choice other than to do something more this time.

The HIRISE cow was obviously not interesting in stopping Assad’s mob from doing this kind of attack and we ought to assume that the main players rather than attempt to block it, accept this latest build up of chemical actions (there had been a steady build up over a few smaller attacks) as some necessary cost of doing business. After all didn’t HIRISE accept the price last year and didn’t it all blow over and they continue to make substantial gains ever since? The whole world saw that the attacks were ineffective and at least most of the world have been able to admit that the counter revolutionary HIRISE cow has made those gains in the intervening period.

The Assad policy of building rubblestan and sending refugees north in the tens of thousands are the policies that have been there all along.  HIRISE has enabled that war to continue. The territory opportunistically re-controlled in the last year -as Daesh was destroyed by the US led cow – absolutely against the will of that western cow – has been substantial and the control manpower has been found and the ‘ethnic’ clearing systematic in some areas but not along the Euphrates.  Sufficient HIRISE troops to hold the current footprint that they have established ARE on the ground provided they don’t go up against a Western US led cow.  The HIRISE are weakest along the Euphrates and ought never have been permitted to occupy this territory in the first place.  But Trump was not then interested in the punch up that he has now become interested in.

2. Now even just because of the explicit Russian threat there will be more than just cruise missiles and the attacks will unfold over some time rather than the short sharp and useless stunt of last year.  I also note that even more A10’s were the other day sent to Incirlik and McCain is clear  https://www.nbcnews.com/video/mccain-calls-for-us-airpower-in-syria-43835971887 but that was 6 years ago.

3. The longer this goes on and the closer to their so called ‘vital interests’ this is seen to come the more sure we can be that the Russians will either shoot something down or hit some launch site or it will be humiliated as unable to stand up to the US/West.  Obviously it is therefore now in a lose, lose situation so how will it choose to lose least is the question that Trumps advisor’s must consider? There is no good option.

The context of all this is that Putin’s audacity has continued to the point where the West has even had a chemical attack carried out in Britain. In order to achieve what? was the question that people were pondering before they apparently shrugged and moved on.  (North Korea’s dictator carried out a spectacular poisoning against a 1/2 brother and got away with it.) Trump recently indicated the US led cow had done the job and he was wanting to go home! That was not a possible choice at this stage so we can ask why, but because it is Trump it becomes imponderable.  The point is this problem of Vlad and his HIRISE mates is worse now than last year and it was bad then.

4. It follows that the world is now caught in a spiral where nobody planned to be.  The West led by Trump is going to strike – that is for sure – and if the Russians hit back directly the US will escalate.  It would therefore be better for the US/West to attack the other members of the HIRISE cow and hope the Russians don’t get silly or that if they do they fail on every occasion.  I can hope but can’t see how they will.

I conclude that in the McCain context of a fightback position being adopted by the Donald something like the opportunity to drive the enemy back across the Euphrates where the US killed a couple of hundred Russian ‘contractors’ recently and thus start the attacks on the Iranians must be a big temptation.

 

Russian plane shot down; good thing or bad?

It’s now 2 years and 5 months down the killing tracks launched by Vlad the honest.  Arthur recently said; ‘I still expect a negotiated transition from the Assad regime, facilitated by Russia and Iran.’ and Barry pressed the like button.  David has remained mute while posting on safe ground.  None have attempted to complete the 1/2 theory.

If any of these three are still claiming that the Russian bombers are in Syria to bring the war to an end – with a plan of ending the Assad regime – bringing about elections and thus the democratic opposition to power in all of Syria, then there is no hope for any useful debate.   Naturally Arthur has not produced any MSM articles, trumpeting this now self evidently wrong insight. Instead there has been an ongoing refusal to debate and systematically concede any points to others who had worked on StrangeTimes as a collective blog.  The charge of wrecker is irrefutable.

No the Russians didn’t turn up to do what Arthur thought.  The 1/2 theory was only ever a half theory leading nowhere, a dead end. And, no, this is not just a matter of timing! Russians turning up has been an unmitigated disaster for the Syrian democratic revolution.

Arthur further said; ‘As far as I can make out the opposition does not view itself as defeated and reports that it has been are from the same media that goes on about “the Russia thing” in the US.’  The correct reply to this is so what?  That has nothing to do with the views expressed against the 1/2 theory on this site by me.  This site got very active trying to work out what was going on in September 2015 when the Russians turned up and Arthur took a position that was measurable and was disputed and then was systematically argued against.  I told you at the time that the Russians were there to kill the side that I was backing and they did and are.  I also told you that Putin was not doing something brilliant but rather the opposite.  The democratic revolution has been set back but not defeated.

Arthur went on to say ‘…Certainly I was not expecting those gains and it confirms my complete inability to get a handle on timescales….’   and I say; the expedient of not having a meaningful time line for any events at all is simply a device to ensure he would be unable to be proven wrong over anything, so naturally, Arthur clutches for this life preserver.  But all were told years ago, that Assad will be moved along as required but not in the near future.

We were also told by Arthur that ‘Obama would be able to claim success’ well that is a time-line and Obama could not make the claim now could he?

Munich style documents were waved aloft in triumph and they had time-lines, and 1/2 theorists were told point blank and at the time, that the documents would be dishonoured, and they were.

Time lines are in the picture and they only emphasise how clear the dispute is.

100’s of thousands of refugees later, all the deaths, and rubble and apparently Putin still showed up to end the regime and consequentially bring democracy!  That is really what has been and still is argued! But now it is just waffle about how Iran and Russia can’t possibly believe… and ‘6.  The territorial gains by the regime could, if they are suicidally inclined, be preparation for an ongoing war in which they hope to remain in charge. … But I see no sign that they are inclined towards suicide and no sign that they are gaining forces rather than just territory that will cost them a continued depletion of forces if they choose to keep fighting.’  Who said they would win?  Not me!  What I said was that Russians would turn the tide and kill the revolutionaries.  They did that!  Arthur thought (scoffed) that there were obviously not enough of them.  I showed where the troops would come from.   Arthur was wrong because there was enough of them!  I expected their bloody gains but Arthur didn’t.

We can already see that when a political solution does show up the half theory will be able to lay claim to it.  There you go I told you so will be the claim!  HIRI(S)E turned up to end the regime (S) and bring about a political solution and that will require elections.  But what you were told was that enclaves were going to be cut out and Syria not put back together (at least in any near future).

The current maps do reflect a great deal of reality.  They even show in great detail just how the process unfolds.

People are also still deluding themselves that the self obsessed wrecking conduct was acceptable behaviour in dealing with someone (me) who not only disagrees, but apparently, writes far too much about why they disagree. Perhaps people might tell the world why they had to (and ought to) smash a debate by first refusing to hold it; and then complain that others won’t shut up and just read their great insights; and, or play idiotic ‘collect links’ with them, till they get bored and move on because “nothing can be done” anyway! What utter tosh!

Actually, after all the brazen scoffing people have just had to resort to silence.

Naturally nothing can be done now about any MSM article that was threatened but never delivered. All quite predictable, and predicted.  Totally unacceptable behaviour in refusing to debate a perfectly disputable 1/2 theory is all justified because the other side was too verbose.  Nothing to back-down about at all.

What else could people expect from collectors of links who just knew – from that very first month – that the Russians had turned up to end the regime and end the war.

Let us not forget the ongoing distortion that is now essential in anything to do with the Syrian 1/2 theory and justifying the recidivist, base behaviour of pathetic wrecking.

Well here is a problem for these comrades with a ML background.

The war is not ended, the maps have altered, and the FSA types have been killed in large numbers by the HIRISE, these are the material circumstances.

There is a functioning coalition of the wicked anti-democrats and they are not in Syria to bring democracy to Syrians.

I am in favour of Al Qaeda being defeated root and branch. Yet, I am in favour of, for example, the latest Russian plane being shot down.  The pilot was then involved in a shoot out on the ground and died.  This is good IMV because only the west in co-operation with Turkey can bring about a progressive occupation of Syria.

I think Erdogan is furthering the democratic struggle in uniting with the FSA, and I understand why the Turks will fight the PKK, in whatever form they appear in, until a return to a negotiated progress is under-way and that will not begin (sadly) until the Afrin issue is dealt with to the extent of the Kurds having to move east of the Euphrates. (I admit to being utterly conflicted over this issue, and instinctively wanting to side with the Kurds)

I have great sympathy for the Kurds, but I can’t deny that they have conducted themselves badly in this nth west region against the FSA etc., as they have collaborated with the Assadists.

With no expectation of reasonable conduct I repost the following as proof that a debate was reasonable at the time and that I was the one that conducted myself properly.

patrickm

1. De l’audace, may well be a motto that Putin finally turns to when it’s time to settle on a plan. We have seen him and his sort operate plenty of times before; encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace. He is after all at the start of this bold new in your Western face action doing the audacious whatever else it is. For Marxists there are the five more ponderous constants of war in the strategic background; for supermen types there is blitzkrieg to smash democratic revolution; kill the democrats and terrorise the masses. Putin is an action man anti-democrat with a faltering economy no less. Putin is Assad’s big untrustworthy brother.

2. Obama once said “What I could not support was a dumb war, a rash war, a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics”. So we can’t hope for audacity from this man. From him we got a self promotional book ‘The Audacity of Hope’ and for the next 470 days there is for the West, if not no hope, very little. But audacity? Well I don’t think we have to worry about any precipitate overreach from the affronted superpower for that period. “No, what’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics–the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.” BO “Right…is that the time? Shit I have a Paris climate conference to get to.”

3. Anyway the Putin plan unfolds and while the think tanks scramble to offer leadership to the Western leaders which is fair enough when even the best of them started with; “To be frank, I still don’t see any clarity in Russia’s stance on Syria”; we Australian Communist commentators can at least formally mark off the parts that have unfolded.

4. The enemy works to a broad plan to fight a new phase of this old war with his new COW. In short, regardless of the now moot if not futile think-tank search for THE Putin plan – the actual fresh troops turn up every day and go to work on their part of it, so we can tick the boxes and people can propose corrections as events move further along. This anti-democrat’s plans may not work in the long run but as Keynes said…all dead by then.

5. The urgent systematic killing by Russians of FSA types is working to that set Russian plan that sooner or later will also incorporate the ‘transitioning’ of Assad but only as, if and when required and that is very far from urgent.

6. The urgent warning-off of Turkey, the regional power capable of intervening is a part of the plan. Turkey had no choice but to threaten to shoot down any other over-flying Russians, with the clear implication that you stay to your side and we will stay to ours and we Russians will use all of the Syrian air space because we are working for the lawful Assad government!

7. Urgently making NATO NFZ war, and the establishment of safe zones a no longer viable option, by declaring all those in armed revolt against the Syrian ‘government’ terrorists – and subjecting them from day one to barrel bombing is a big part of the full plan.
http://billkerr2.blogspot.com.au/2015/08/syria-needs-no-fly-zone.html
http://billkerr2.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/how-syrians-can-return.html

8. The elimination of any fatal US red line ‘veto’ was long ago achieved by noticing that one was feebly declared then pushing it to the utter limit before, and with the all important intervention of big brother, surrendering that WMD stockpile for the US to dispose of. No choice and so it was no longer a useful stockpile by that point anyway. Thus Obama was played then and this was just an earlier phase of this same war. Current planning of this ongoing war developed with this very important background. The Russians had gotten themselves involved and had supposedly delivered to Kerry and Obama a US ‘win’. Spare us all from such wins that ought to have been an instant hot war when the line was crossed and the Russians ought to have been shown the door and the US cruise missiles smashed Assad’s airports and his command and control etc., the NFZ declared there and then with the Russians dramatically warned off as they had failed and were not a Mediterranean power anyway. Not to be. So the conclusions were that the US were not serious about fighting and that is the vital background.

9. The inclusion of Hezbollah troops – now with a considerable footprint, Iraqi Shiites, and Iran is a big part of the plan and they are in and involved in what is a region wide power play. So cruise missiles are thrown across their air space no less!

10. A deal is dangled for the Kurds that gives them what the leaders of Turkey didn’t want to see them get.

11. Whatever the US and the Europeans thought last month, this month their concern is to warn Putin that they will fight to protect Turkey’s borders only.

12. Putin wants to now get zones in Syria’s fight against Daesh terrorism. They have told the US to get out of the way.

13. They have declared war on the Western supported forces and humiliated not just the US but all of NATO and the local Sunni states.

So with all those boxes ticked the clock ticks along as well.

14. People can add to that list as the days go on but just saying this can’t be happening because Russia is not a Mediterranean power capable of doing it – and if fought it could not- is no longer very relevant.

15. The other day I thought ‘The current lot [Western political leaders] will have to wait to get told what to do about this crisis. Western leaders have no intention of leading.’ and some people are leading their analysis with what appears to me as something, something, something, ‘and exclude both Bashir and the Takfiris without chaos and slaughter in Damascus?’

IMV it is clear that Putin has built a region wide coalition to fight the other region wide gang. There is a red line.

16. I have no problem engaging in ‘suppose’ questions unlike those who imagine they really will require a quality environment to produce work in! ‘10. Then why couldn’t a second stage follow an initial regime change with some sort of Geneva style negotiations for an orderly transition to a transitional regime that excludes…’

17. Because Iraq and Syria these last few years demonstrates to the locals that a massive war is required to rid this region of what even barely democratic types in it are up against. Bashir types and the Takfiri types are very good at killing, causing terror and consequent flows of refugees. So people who have fought them over all this time by now ought to think like the allied leaders of WW2 that no amount of power sharing will work in an environment where it is so easy to slaughter Shiite peoples’ and that only unconditional surrender is viable. That is not viable without the separation that the Kurds have long enjoyed. They have been the standout success. They have, in other words policies of population separation. In the WW2 case the killing went on all the way to the bunker.

18. I agree that;
1. World politics currently does not revolve around a clash between two superpowers; however this now up and running region wide conflict is between the 2 Islamic sides that are slipping into murderous sectarian war backed by the 2 regional powers Iran on the 1 side and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the other. So Putin has joined on the one side. He joins as more than just a CEO leading a former superpower. Russia and him personally has a massive history of dealing with Islamic issues and currently he has public support for his brand of De l’audace, so he will try to sustain that support by reminding people of Beslan school type of reasons to deal with the swamp. The Daesh side is providing plenty of Nazi like conduct to remind people of ‘why they fight’. Putin I think also believes in a swamp theory, but ultimately his solution is the same as the Egyptian ‘solution’ just a form of rotten ‘realism’. No solution at all really just gangsterism that might be self-talked by both these mere mortals into a case of best they be leading ‘benevolent’ dictatorships.

19. With all Putin’s problems, Russians no doubt have a dogged nature, so he can for now and for some time formulate this grand move as an unavoidable effort to deal with the worst of the worst. And on the other side…well let us just say a big COW are attacking Daesh from the air without follow up ground forces, while the revolting Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) strikes out in all directions (Yemen) and has a deep state structure where support for Daesh and all round Sunni supremacy is not able to be prevented. Thus Putin plays as a special player on the new team rather than throws Russian weight around as if this were one superpower v another. Obama plays on the other team thus ensuring Daesh can’t form heavy columns and the Russians are in sufficient strength to turn on any big Saudi effort that might get sent North in due course. Putin believes he has some time to establish the best solution map and that other players particularly Turkey are going to be distracted by their own problems while he does so. Also Israel keeps dividing the other team’s effectiveness and Putin has no such Albatross. Putin has a realistic goal with his team and it includes moving Assad along when and as that is required. I along with most of the world think it will be required but not right now. Keeping a client or vassal type state going, with the core being the Alawite people of the former Syria in as big a chunk as is realistic, is I believe seen to be viable. The breaking of eggs bit is dumping millions of refugees for resettlement. The region is renowned for this but actually it is a major issue from the history of Putin’s region as well.

20. Just because ‘Russia was not a Mediterranean Great Power at all and “Moscow simply cannot deploy the kind of forces to Syria that could meaningfully change the arithmetic of the war and save the regime.” He can ONLY come and play on the side that requires his special talents as a kind of defensive full back. High speed counter attacks are launched by the fullback, momentum and audacity could be his calculation.

21. I also think ‘Putin is not an imbecile and knows that.’ So, he has a team view and an assessment of the other team as in disarray with his conclusion being disunity is death for them. Now not surprisingly some people who don’t play in teams haven’t got a clue and constantly play the role of wrecker. This Putin fellow is nothing but an ‘Us and Them’ type captain blood.

22. As for Obama the clock is now 470 days and his policies having in fact made the whole situation catastrophically worse than it needed to be, he will thus not have a chance to undo this and ever look successful even to his supporters. Despite having avoided more US blood and treasure in Middle East wars. Clinton will try to clean up the mess. But IMV the American prestige will not return to any great extent and the only thing that can do prestige building is a return to the revolutionary path of America, and no bourgeois leadership has the vigor for that unavoidable people’s struggle for democracy. The US will remain on the side of the angels but the greatest gift they could manage was to STOP being the swamp making blockage. The unblocking of tyranny is hard work for the revolutionary masses in the region. They are faced with a vast war that is terrible to contemplate, yet obvious to the ME masses who are seething with hatred. The US superpower status is now gone and is not coming back. The revolution must go on without being led by US ground forces.

23. yes ‘There are people within the Assad regime who believe they cannot win and face death if they don’t end the war.’ and they have had their spirits lifted from the depths of this depression for now. How long their mood stays up will depend on progress on the ground as the reserves turn up and reverse the battlefield direction. But ultimately if not enough reserves turn up and not enough of their FSA type enemies are killed, and not enough of the demographic problem that they have are driven off as refugees then that mood will return. So I guess lots of killing and Shiite troops and refugees in all directions are proposed by captain blood.

24. I accept ‘The Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah and the US, not being imbeciles also think that the Assad regime cannot win.’ So, they are probably all impressed that he has slaughtered his way into this almost holding pattern that has perhaps with a little more big power help, could perhaps establish another monstrosity that would have the Netanyahu type feel about it. If the Israeli forces can do this type of thing… I think that is delusion, as the world has changed and this is second time as farce, but I am not them and there is this region wide split that is at war anyway so they might feel something can be done about a Shiite crescent better placed to fight the Sunnis till a regional solution is eventually found after this required test of strength.

25. Assad did not draw the correct lessons from Libya, nor the whole issue of the Arab spring and just retire for a peaceful good life. That choice was, at the time, available to him and is not now. Who knows what will become of him.

26. Putin and the Ayatollahs still want to come out being winners ‘despite having been responsible for supporting a totally failed catastrophic policy’

27. It is to me extraordinary that there are STILL people in the West who believe in allying with the Assad regime, but I guess they are now very few and the vast majority of people believe that he must go and therefore can accept anything that is presented as him going. The people that count in policy making circles all know he must go. Thus all the transitioning out talk. But the Iraqi leadership after long and painful experience, and Kurds in Syria, and most leaders in Iran and even Vlad the audacious wants new maps. So despite the contradictions and conflicting interests Baathist Assad ended up being semi supported by the Iraqi Shiites and hence the new deep state gangster elite that runs big chunks of that divided country where the Iranian’s back all manner of functioning militia.

28. “And it’s safe to assume that those in power would think longer and harder about launching a war if they envisioned their own sons and daughters in harm’s way.” BO I think a bit like Obama in that Putin struck because of his central insight that leadership was MIA and the liberals that he did face now had become complacent and bureaucratic with US Democratic policy makers more obsessed with not fighting wars and playing with drones and the killing of individuals like Bin Laden. Obama wrote “The conservative revolution that Reagan helped usher in gained traction because Reagan’s central insight – that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic, with Democratic policy makers more obsessed with slicing the economic pie than with growing the pie – contained a good deal of truth.”

We are all cruise missile something or others now even just for the theater! But the important thing is those Russian helicopters are now at work as the ground assault is rolling against our ‘FSA’ types!

 

Arthur

Ok I appreciate that you are now at least attempting to respond to points I have made so it could be productive to engage. Unfortunately I simply don’t have time due to other factors and will still just try to produce a coherent publishable article (which I also don’t have time to do) and still not engage other than indirectly through series of links, notes, and drafts working towards publishable articles not directly engaging with this stuff.

END

Well IMV, not engaging with “this stuff”, has proved to be not so good for Arthur and the half theory supporters!

What now?

What do Marxists make of current developments in and around Syria?

Since direct Russian intervention in Syria was sprung on the world in 2015, sufficient events have unfolded to permit a general stock-take. There has been 15 months of very ‘strange times’ so where do the issues currently stand?

I presume a rethink of what I called the 1/2 theory – is self evidently required because Obama is departing his leadership role without any ability to claim success for his policies (even being publicly blamed by Kerry for being the real problem for why the US finds itself where it currently does) and short of a lucky bomber Assad will still be around!

Turkey has just declared that they are about to force the Kurds out of the (‘SDF’ Manbij pocket) http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/24-december-pres-erdoan-says-al-bab-phase-about-to-be-completed

Pres. Erdoğan says Al Bab phase about to be completed in Syria, next step will be Manbij and then Raqqa. More than just send Kurds east of the Euphrates I think, because the Turks are also declaring that no new state will be permitted in northern Syria http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/24-december-erdogan-no-ways-to-establish-any-new-states-in;  and that after Manbij they are going to Raqqah.

http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/24-december-sdf-released-many-civilians-in-manbij-sdf-arrested,  is being reported.
http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/24-december-erdogan-i-informed-the-us-russia-and-iran-that

The coming period will however see more than just the liberation of all territories in both Iraq and Syria controlled by Daesh. Complexity is being heaped upon more complexity and a wider war is still not unthinkable.

The September 2015 intervention required urgent analysis from those of us that have developed and argued consistently for our ‘draining the swamp theory’. It was analysed – and with very different conclusions drawn.

That period of flat out disagreement can now be summed up. Barry, Dave and Arthur thought that what was unfolding would end the regime and end the war. That theory collapsed in the face of what I have called the HIRISE Coalition of the Willing – Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Iraq (shia militia), Syria (Assad +), Egypt – war making.  What next?  What do people now say is happening? Are there any sites where a serious and respectful discussion is taking place? Are there any Main Stream Media (MSM) articles that others want to draw attention to?

Just for starters; if the Turks are soon going to Raqqa how are they going to get there?  Literally what will be the route of the Turkish forces if they have come to blows with the SDF/Kurds in the Manbij pocket?  I hope the Kurds back out of this but it’s not very promising at this point.  I think the Turks are already facing a HIRISE red line west of the Euphrates. I hope the US can get a deal done at this late stage to bring them south east of the river.  But the Turks are serious about no ‘new state’ in the nth and everyone knows Assad can’t rule in peace so after Daesh territory is removed from the map over the next few months or if the fight breaks out with the Kurds after a few months more, what comes next?

A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

We have been asked to put this up for critical discussion.  We are in no sense promoting a criminal like Kissinger.

 

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.

By  Henry A. Kissinger  Oct. 16, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.

The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.

These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.

On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.

Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.

American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.

The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.

Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.

American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.

A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?

Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.

But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.

Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:

  • So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.
  • The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.
  • The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.
  • As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.
  • The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
  • In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.

The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.

Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-path-out-of-the-middle-east-collapse-1445037513-lMyQjAxMTI1MjE2NzIxMDcwWj

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/us-needs-new-plan-for-middle-east/story-fnay3ubk-1227573426194

The general commander of People’s Defense Units (YPG) in an interview with SOHR, “We view al- Hasakah as a nucleus of the new democratic Syria

From the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)
October 1 2015
For those on Face Book the SOHR has a regular update on clashes and casualties etc..

“Daesh is a force of darkness, it bears no relation to Islam and the humanity, and we appeal to our Arab brothers, who left their villages and towns, to go back home”.

“The war may continue for ten years; it is the nations’ game on my the land of my country, where the victim in this war is my people”.

In these words, Siban Hammo the general commander of People’s Defense Units (YPG) concluded his interview with SOHR.

People’s Defense Units, known by YPG too, established a military force in the last four years, where the number of its fighters reached to 50000. The nucleus formation began in the Syrian Jaziar with the end of 2011, where it was able to achieve victories against “Islamic State” as well as its clashes with the regime forces, Jabhat al- Nusra (al- Qaeda in Levant) and Islamist factions in successive periods. It military formations have distributed in three main region where the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is combined with People’s Defense Units (YPG) within the Democratic Society System, declared the establishment of 3 districts of al- Jazira, Efrin and Kobani in the late January 2014.

YPG has gained world-wide fame during IS attack on Ayn al- Arab (Kobani) and seizing more than 356 towns, villages and farms that guided to the military alliance between YPG and US-led coalition. SOHR could interview the general commander of YPG Siban Hammo, where the main points on the Kurdish and Syrian arena in general.

First of all, how do identify YPG?

“best definition of it is its name People’s Defense Units, its fundamental pillar is the young Syrian Kurdish men who are militarily disciplined, while its mission is to protect the people in Rojava in all its constituents under these deadly mess in the cantons of Rojava”. Rojava is an expression for the regions inhabited mostly by Kurdish people in Syria.

Is it faction from the Krilla forces – the military wing of PKK? And does it fight on Turkish territories with PKK?

“YPG is a military force belongs to the Democratic Self- Management in Rojava, and it is fighting in fierce battles to protect its regions, so YPG has no interest to open a front with Turkey expanding to hundreds of kilo meters, this is a military suicide, and what is said on the contrary of this is meaningless and does not merit a response.

What is your response to the accusations of recruiting children?

“We have issued a lot of statement in response to these allegations but it seems that some people insist on repeating this just to defame the good reputation gained by YPG, we all know who recruit children as fighters and suicide bombers by the name of Jihad.”

What is the relationship between the Self- Defense Forces, which was announced some time ago, and YPG? Is it an attempt to increase YPG personnel obligatorily? And is it a permanent or temporary step?

“The Self- Defense is a step to organize a permanent protection, where the society in all its constituents protects its self, and to that time YPG stays the most experienced in defending our areas. For this reason, the Self- Defense is a goal we seek to reach to, and its first step was YPG.”

Now, let talk about the hottest event, what is the story behind the last clashes in al- Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo?

“To answer this question, we have to see the whole picture, provocations have started by attacking our areas in the villages of Deir Ballout and Diwan as well as kidnapping civilians and banditry; the last one was the attempt of arm-twisting by their attack on the neighborhood of al- Sheikh Maqsoud believing that it is the weakest link because it is far from the center of gravity Efrin and due to the difficulties of ensuring logistic support, as the neighborhood besieged for more than a week and the humanitarian situation there is so bad specially because the neighborhood is inhabited by more than 250000 civilians from all society constituents.

We also draw attention to the point that the national members in the opposition were disturbed about this attack on the neighborhood of al- Sheikh Maqsoud, I, in turn, wondered and would you like you to wonder like me, who benefit from this attack? And who benefit from opening a front against the kurds? What is the advantages?

“Simply, Jabhat al- Nusra, al- Soltan Morad Brigade and Ahrar al- Sham Movement are agents for another force in fighting Kurds, and this force or the third-party gave them the orders to open this front.”

What is the prospect of the battle in Aleppo, is it a defensive or offensive measure?

“From our side, the battle is defensive, we respond to the sources of fire and protect the outskirt of the neighborhood. But if the same situation continue surely we are going take more stringent measures, and we are going to change the battle into the offensive position, I do not say that we are going to control more areas but I assure that we are going to hurt them and targeting their held areas.”

Do you think that Ahrar al- Sham, Jabhat al- Nusra, al- Zinki and other factions may alley themselves to attack Efrin?

“Jabhat al- Nusra believe in Bay’ah (in Islamic terminology, is an oath of allegiance to a leader) and does not believe in alliances simply because it does not believe in partnership, it endeavors to control all the factions exist in its-held areas whether by force or enticement by lining the pockets.

In addition, it is practically controls Nour al- Din Zinki Movement, part of al- Shamiyyah Front like al- Sham Legion and even with Soqor al- Jabal battalions supported by US. However, anyone refuses to join Jabhat al- Nusra is going to be assassinated as what happened to Hazem Movement, the Syrian revolutionaries Front and the Division Jabhat al- Nusra is unveiling the reality of its method that is assassination or control, and after that it will mobilize against Efrin. Here, I want to add something, it saddened us that there are some people in the Free Syrian Army who do not differ from Jabhat al- Nusra in their actions.”

Is the truce in Kefrayya and al- Fu’ah in the countryside of Idlib will have negative effect on Efrin particularly on Atmah and Jandirs front?

“We do not count very much on this agreement as it is a periodical and tactical one, we hope to be a success to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of civilians, women and children on both sides. However, as realistic reading, we do not expect it to be a success especially after a lot of breaches occurred in the past 2 days. Concerning Jabhat al- Nusra, we are enemies and what made the situation getting worse is the declarations issued by it several times that when they finish fighting in al- Fu’ah they are going to attack Efrin. Regardless al- Zabadani – al- Fu’ah agreement, the war between us has been declared for a time sometimes directly and sometime indirectly.”

How do you evaluate the current the situation in al- Hasakah, and what is your goal in the area?

“From the military aspect, the situation from al- Hasakah to Kobani is a defensive one. So, after expelling Daesh from al- Hasakah, Kobani and Tal Abyad our units are deployed defensively to repel any possible attack carried by IS militants.

“We view al- Hasakah as a nucleus of the new democratic Syria. For this reason, we are working on establishing joint councils includes Kurds, Arabs and Syriacs, and on increasing the communication among all constituents. So, the success of our project in al- Hasakah is the motivation to fine similar solution that could be applied on the whole Syria where Syria will be free and democratic for all people.

What about the ongoing military actions in the countryside of Ayn al- Arab (Kobani)?

“The military operation in the countryside of Kobani is under the military operation room of Burkan al- Forat that includes YPG and some factions of the Free Army, so this operation is going to continue until we reach al- Raqqa and expel Daesh from it. YPG is committed to providing all kinds of support to the factions of the Free Army affiliated to the military operation room of Burkan al- Forat in order to defeat Daesh and retake al- Raqqa.”

Were you going to achieve these glory victories in Ayna al- Arab (Kobani) without US-led coalition support?

“To be realistic, we cannot deny the role offered by US-led coalition in Koabani battle but frankly speaking, I confirm that the legendary resistance and courage of our fighters as well as their ability to scarify their blood were behind these victories. So, US-led coalition had an important role but it is not the basic one.

Under these victories, there are some parties accuse you of seeking to secede from Syria in order to establish a Kurdish entity.

“These are false accusations, the Turkish government underlies them where it tries to portray any Kurdish strife as if it is a secessionist movement. Rather, those who repeat these accusations should communicate with us and see our project, then they will discover that our main project for Syria is establishing a pluralist parliamentary democratic system, and that it is Syrian project par excellence for all the constituents of Syrian people. It is the real guarantee for the unity of Syria, so stop repeating Erdogan speech like parrots. I would like also to ask them, is the stay of Daesh in Jarablos and the countryside of Aleppo is a guarantee for the unity of Syria?!”

What is your response about that YPG displaces the Arabs from their regions?

Frankly speaking, we got bored of these blatant lies and falsehoods, we issued a formal statement about that, as well as many human rights organizations have refuted these allegations. In war, it is very normal that the civilians will leave the clashing areas towards safer places, and that what happened in all the clashing areas in Syria from Horan to Qameshlo, but those who have been disturbed by our victories and tolerance and humanity turned to confuse what we have achieved. In addition, we have repeatedly launched appeals for the citizens to return to their homes, and allow me to reiterate the call from your rostrum to all citizens on order to come back to their homes.”

Too much talk about your relation with the regime especially after al- Hasakah clashes, how do you explain this relation if any?

“These accusations are the same of accusations of seeking to secede, so those who repeat such accusations have closed their minds on two ways, whether to be with me or with the regime. I said to them we the are the third line. Our revolution against injustice and tyranny has its own special way that is nor similar to anything. We are convinced of the impossibility of the military solution for the Syria crisis but it should be a cultural, intellectual and political one. Therefore, we depend on ensuring protection to the citizen who will build new democratic Syria; the peaceful Syria. We are friends of people and friends of all those who want democracy and equality.

Earlier, you held a truce with Jabhat al- Nusra and other Islamist factions, if there is any mediation are you going to hold a truce with “Islamic State”?

“Our conviction is that Daesh is a force of darkness, it bears no relation to Islam and the humanity, even it is criminal force established to destroy all what is human. In my opinion, there is no big difference between Jabhat al- Nusra and Daesh but the war with al- Nusra is a little bit complicated because there are a lot of Syrians in its ranks and because there are some parties attempting to burnish its image on media. As for the truce, there was no truce between only Jabhat al- Nusra and us but it always was with several factions and Jabhat al- Nusra was signing with them on the truce.”

Lastly, what is your vision for the realistic solution of Syria crisis?

Unfortunately, what is happening in Syria, we can call it clashes of titans; it is more like a third world war, where the major powers are fighting to divide the zones of influence in the world.”

“The solution is not in the hand of Syrian now, it is related with the contesting powers, we see it a war of change of maps, divisions, agreements and mentalities that are hundreds years old. Syria is also a conflict center and the solution of disputes will be on its land. Unfortunately, our point of view is that the war may take dozens of years, and all what the Syrian people can do is having the will and the attempt to achieve a joint project that protects them, reduce the losses and help them to promote strongly at the end of war.”

“The war will not stop in Syria but it will extend to all the Middle East and my extend more than that, and then will see a reverse migration from all countries towards Syria which will be the safest country.”

Russia back on the frontline

I have been asked to publish this for discussion.

by TOM SWITZER

The Australian

September 30, 2015 12:00AM

Since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine 18 months ago, the West has indulged in the rhetoric of moral indignation, punished Moscow with economic sanctions and treated Vladimir Putin as a pariah in world affairs. “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters,” President Barack Obama declared in January. “That’s how America leads — not with bluster but with persistent, steady resolve.”

Somebody forgot to tell the Russian President. Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly this week, following his lightning military deployment to Syria, marks Russia’s resurgence on the global stage. The Russians, far from being marginalised in international relations, are playing a weak hand rather skilfully and are being allowed to do so because of considerable ineptitude and vacillation on the part of the Obama administration.

The upshot is that Washington will have to take the Kremlin far more seriously in the future. This is not just because Putin’s support for the embattled Assad regime will help degrade and destroy Islamic State jihadists in a four ­year civil war that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives and displaced more than nine million people. Rather, Russia’s intervention in Syria shows how rational Moscow’s concerns over Western policy in the Middle East are, and that the Obama administration had better start treating it like the great power it still is.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Moscow voluntarily jettisoned the Warsaw Pact and acquiesced in the expansion of NATO and the EU on to the frontiers of the former Soviet Union. But the limits of Russia’s post ­Cold War retreat have been evident since the Western ­backed coup against a pro-Russian ally in Kiev in February last year. Putin has played hardball to protect what Russia has deemed as its sphere of influence in the Baltics long before Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin appeared on the scene. And in the Middle East it is determined to protect what it perceives as its vital interests.

Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone. That is why he has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority.

And by reaching an understanding with Syria as well as Iraq and Iran to share intelligence about Islamic State, Putin is positioning Russia again as a key player in the Middle East, and one that is more willing than the West to defeat Sunni jihadists. In the process, he has exposed the shortcomings of the White House’s policy towards Syria.

Until recently, the prevailing wisdom held that the Assad regime — the nemesis of Sunni militants was on the verge of collapse, an outcome that Washington, London and Canberra had enthusiastically encouraged for much of the past four years. And although Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now recognise that Assad must be part of any negotiated political solution, the Obama administration continues to insist that any resolution of the conflict must lead to the exit of the dictator.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia’s continued support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict” and will undermine “our shared goal of fighting extremism”. British Chancellor George Osborne goes so far as to say the West’s aim should to be to defeat both Assad and Islamic State. But given Washington’s futile attempts to destroy the Sunni jihadist network during the past year, most seasoned observers of the Syrian crisis are entitled to think that such strategies are manifest madness.

The consequences of removing Assad would be dire. The regime would collapse and its Alawite army would crumble. Sunni jihadists such as Islamic State and al­Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al­Nusra, also known as al­Nusra Front, would exploit the security vacuum and dominate all of Syria. The ethnic minorities — the Alawites, Shi’ites and Syrian Christians — would be massacred. And there would be the flight of millions more refugees into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

If we are to avoid these horrific outcomes, Russia will have to play a central and positive role. It has had significant influence in Damascus during the past half century; indeed, many Syrian military officers have received training in Moscow. Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast. And Moscow has recognised that notwithstanding Assad’s brutal conduct, his regime is fighting the jihadists that Western leaders repeatedly say pose a grave and present danger to the world.

Obama says the US would work with any nation to end the fighting in Syria. But to engage Russia, the West needs to change its policy approach substantially. Alas, the prevailing Russophobia in Washington and Brussels remains a serious obstacle in the path of reaching accommodation with Moscow.

The problem in Ukraine is not related to a revival of the Soviet empire, as some hyperventilating politicians and pundits argue. The problem is the widespread Western failure to recognise an old truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad. Take Ukraine: it is a conduit for Russian exports to Europe and covers a huge terrain that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Crimeans are glad to be part of the country they called home from Catherine’s rule to that of Nikita Khrushchev.

From Moscow’s standpoint, the expansion of NATO and the EU into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, taken together with efforts to promote democracy, is akin to Moscow expanding military alliances into Central America. Some may respond by saying that Ukraine, however ethnically and politically divided it remains, has every right to join the West. But did communist Cuba have a right to seek political and military ties with the Soviet Union in 1962? Not from Washington’s perspective. Does Taiwan have a right to seek nationhood? Not from Beijing’s perspective.

This is a shame, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Not only does Putin know it, he calculates that a weak, inept and cautious Obama administration won’t push the issue despite the dire threats and warnings from congress and the Pentagon.

And so it was inevitable that the Russians would push back in the Baltics, first to secure the Crimean peninsula, the traditional home of the Russian Black Sea fleet (which Russian intelligence feared would become a NATO base), then to destabilise Ukraine with the aim of persuading Kiev’s anti ­Russian regime to protect the minority rights of ethnic Russians and maintain its status as a buffer state.

As for Syria, the problem here is not the Russians — or even Iran’s Shia crescent of Damascus, Baghdad, Hezbollah and the Yemeni rebels. After all, they’re committed to fighting Sunni jihadists. The problem is that US ­British aligned Sunni states — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs — have aided and abetted the Sunni rebellion that has morphed into Sunni jihadism.

Yet these reactionary regimes still have the temerity to call for Assad’s ouster. Following regime change, we’re told, a US­ led coalition of Arabs and Turks can create a peaceful and prosperous Syria.

Leave aside the fact Assad’s support stems not just from Moscow and Tehran but also from Syria’s military, political and business elites, including many urban Sunnis. Assad is a brutal tyrant. He has used chemical weapons against his own people. And he has launched relentless barrel bombs in rebel areas. But he is more popular than ever in the one ­third of Syria his regime still controls (which happens to be the major cities and the coastland). That is largely because many know his demise would lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.

The idea that Assad’s fall would lead to something approaching a peaceful transition of power is as delusional as the neo­conservative views about Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011 respectively. The downfall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, it was onfidently asserted, would lead to viable democratic states. If anything, both post­Saddam Iraq and post­Gaddafi Libya are failed states that have attracted terrorists like flies to a dying animal.

As in the case of Iraq, Syria is an artificial state and an ethnically divided society created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In both nations the invasion and civil war, respectively, have unleashed centrifugal forces that are eroding political structures and borders that have prevailed since the end of World War I.

In Iraq, the 2003 invasion ended the nation’s sectarian imbalance between the minority Sunni and majority Shia communities. Ever since, the Shia have been more interested in seeking revenge against their former Sunni tormentors than in building a nation. The result: a Sunni insurgency that has morphed into a plethora of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.

In Syria, the Arab Spring in 2011 encouraged the Sunni majority to challenge and destroy the minority Alawite regime. The result: centrifugal forces that threaten the viability of Syria as we have known it for nearly a century.

As unfashionable as it is to acknowledge, partition is the likely outcome of the civil war. According to Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria observer and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, many Syrians, and Alawites in particular, privately acknowledge that the prospect of outright military victory against the Sunni militants is highly unlikely and that it would be impossible to coexist with Sunni fanatics.

For Syria, partition would most likely mean an Alawite Shia state in the regime’s western heartland and a Sunni state to the southeast. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, this is the emerging reality on the ground.

As long as the regime endures, it at least prevents Sunni jihadists from consolidating their hold over the whole nation and creating a strategic sanctuary along Syria’s coasts.

The moral and political problems posed by Syria’s civil war during the past four years have been real and extremely difficult ones. Assad heads a brutal regime that, according to The Washington Post, has killed about seven times as many people as Islamic State in the first six months of this year.

But the cold, hard reality is that if the US and its allies are serious about defeating the Sunni jihadists, and not merely determined to feel virtuous and moralistic, we will need to tone down our anti­Russian bombast, restore a dialogue with Putin and recognise the madness of regime change in Damascus.  And if that means accommodating Putin’s power play in the Middle East, so be it.

Tom Switzer is a research associate with the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. His interview with Joshua Landis airs on Between the Lines on the ABC’s Radio National on Thursday at 7.30pm and Sunday at 10am.

 

The following pic is from Radio Free Syria and is an image of Russian bombs near Roman ruins and Kafranbel Oct. 1st. 2015

Russiabombs2

Syrian Links

Drop any links that you think may be useful for getting to grips with ‘Syrian issues’ in this thread.

Here is a sample .

 

 

 

Tunisia’s revolutionary model

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki embraces Tunisia’s outgoing Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh,

Tunis, Jan. 9, 2014. Laarayedh resigned on Thursday to make way for a caretaker administration as part of a deal with his opponents to finish a transition to democracy. (photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s revolutionary model

For Tunisia, its political transition is like its revolution: full of surprises. Less than a month ago, most local and international media asserted that the transition was stuck in place and facing an unsolvable problem. But today, most are praising the “Tunisian model.”

The biggest accomplishment of the new Tunisian constitution is not its content, but the fact that Tunisians have abided by the democratic process by which it was made.

Author Chukri Hamad Posted January 23, 2014
Translator(s)Rani Geha

Original Article اقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية

Compared with Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain, Tunisia seems to be on the right track. The “national dialogue,” the concessions by the ruling coalition (the “troika”), international pressure, and civil society’s vigilance and actions regarding the splits and unrest that disappeared as fast as they appeared led to the Constituent Assembly going back to its proper work.

It looks like the constitution will be adopted before the end of this week. Moreover, the Islamist government formally resigned and a new government of “independent technocrats” run by former Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa has been named.

An independent supreme body was formed to supervise the upcoming elections. In such circumstances, we should not spoil the party or put pressure on painful points. But we should examine what looks like a miracle. What model are we talking about regarding the “Tunisian example”? Aside from the democratic transition rhetoric, which ranged from slander to praise, analyzing the revolutionary process that started in December 2010, it appears that political progress in recent months cannot hide the doubts about the dynamic that was started by people calling to bring down the regime. This progress represents a solid foundation for a new social contract whose basic pillars are the state and representative institutions.

Toward a democratic Tunisia

Adopting a new constitution was a central demand for the Tunisian revolution, as expressed during the second Kasba events (February-March 2011), during which the movement was joined by the General Union of Tunisian Workers and some political parties, including Ennahda, demanding the departure of the interim government, dissolving the Democratic Constitutional Rally (President Ben Ali’s party) and the formation of a constituent assembly.

The new constitution is supposed to organize power distribution, the relations between the public authorities, and to identify the basic rights and freedoms in accordance with the revolutionary spirit that produced the Constituent Assembly.

It’s good that the new constitution provided for the freedom of opinion and expression, the freedom of conscience, the freedom to publish, academic freedom, judicial independence, equality between male and female citizens (which is not quite the same as equality between men and women), the right to work and the separation of powers.

All these provisions are effective guarantees for a democratic Tunisia where Tunisians have equal rights and duties, and where abuse of power and the law of the strong are prevented.

A modern and secular constitution?

But the Tunisian model did not adopt a modern and secular constitution. Despite the joy of secularist and progressive Tunisians and foreigners, who share a deep hatred of political Islam, it doesn’t matter whether the constitution proves its “modernity” or “traditionalism” (noting that both are fake concepts), or whether it ensures the neutrality of the state in religious affairs. The media’s focus on referring to a religious text or Sharia in the constitution, or its equivalent, i.e., the debate about women’s rights, ignores the social reality of Tunisia and the Arab world. It is also an artificial palliative for the fears and imaginations about the “Islamist devil” and its allies.

Focusing attention on individual freedoms, especially for women, restores, whether consciously or unconsciously, former leader Habib Bourguiba’s simplistic ideas about Tunisia. (Bourguiba was supposedly “the builder of the new Tunisia and the emancipator of women,” according to the official slogan, while in fact he was the founder of the authoritarian regime.) This is a way to hide the abuses practiced by the Ben Ali regime and women in the name of secularism and universal values​.

That regime is the one that created inequality between men and women in inheritance, in the Personal Status Law of 1956. In fact, that “Green Tunisia,” which the “modern” ​​Bourguiba built, is discriminatory and unfair toward women and toward the weak and disadvantaged classes.

The frustrated hopes for a social democracy

A child joins demonstrators protesting against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi outside the Libyan Embassy in London

The constitution by itself is but one of many revolutionary demands. Economic and social rights and protecting vulnerable groups are still the least important part of the ongoing process of making a new constitution, despite the fact that those were basic demands in the first days of the revolution.

Perhaps this explains why many Tunisians from the lower classes are uninterested in the work of the Constituent Assembly, just as they are uninterested in the negotiations that preceded the national dialogue. For them, the text produced by the political elite did not achieve the social democracy they aspired to and whose importance and meaning they very know very well.

They also know that without the political will of the establishment for fair and democratic institutions, the constitution will remain just ink on paper. They know that adopting such a constitution will by itself not change Tunisian society, which has multiple splits and is founded on an exclusivist economy.

Thus, finding jobs for unemployed university graduates, comprehensive social security and providing protection for social risks — in short, a state that protects the people — is still a fantasy as long as there is no serious public debate about them. In the same token, transitional justice and holding former torturers accountable have so far been done with a lack of professionalism and with political calculations, despite recently adopting a special law for that matter.

The Constituent Assembly is at the heart of the revolutionary process

In the face of all these objectives, the work of the Constituent Assembly was an occasion for the middle and upper classes to reflect their concerns, both real and fake. So it was not easy adopting a constitution that satisfies most political forces, both those represented in the Council and those outside it such as labor unions, employers or the Tunisian League for Human Rights.

Since Jan. 3, 2014, there have been debates about the constitution’s articles as they were being voted on one by one. These debates have been very enthusiastic, even violent at times. But they did reach some kind of agreement. This includes an agreement on the powers of the prime minister (Article 90) and the independence of the judiciary (Article 103 ), on which much was written.

The debates have shown that despite the lack of a sense of responsibility on the part of the political elite, both Islamist and opposition, which is ready to mobilize on minor issues and exacerbate tensions to the point of threatening the political transition itself, the Constituent Assembly was consecrated as the only legal framework for debate and for building the next social contract.

Publicizing the work of the Constituent Assembly in the media (the sessions were broadcast live) has fueled aggressive behavior and speeches by MPs. Despite that, the Council’s work was steadily gaining effectiveness. Its critics have long demanded its dissolution since October 2012. But the distribution of the specialized committees, namely the consensus committee, and the prior preparation for the different versions of the constitution, have shown that the Council’s work was monumental and that success was possible. This success, though not yet complete, enhances the confidence of Tunisians in their institutions and ultimately in the state, which for the people still represents both their main fears and hopes.

In conclusion, two lessons can be drawn from the Tunisian revolutionary experience.

The first is that this experience shatters the myth that Islamic and Arab countries are averse to democracy.

That myth, which is pervasive in the West and among the Arab authoritarian elites, has been revived by the frustrations experienced by the revolutionary movements, especially in Egypt and Syria. On the contrary, the peaceful transfer of power, ensuring freedom of expression, even if violent at times, respecting legal institutions, although their legitimacy is incomplete, and adopting rules of the game that are fair and respected by all, are entrenching a culture of democracy in Tunisia.

The second lesson is that we should not forget that political progress in recent months has been limited to the political field. Much work remains in order to translate the words “jobs, freedom, and national dignity” into something concrete that would form a coherent political program that the people would support.

Pending that, we must rejoice in the “democratic celebration,” with the hope that the road map set by the “national dialogue” will be respected by all the revolution’s components.

The above article was translated from As-Safir Al-Arabi, a special supplement of As-Safir newspaper whose content is provided through a joint venture of As-Safir and Al-Monitor.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2014/01/tunisia-revolutionary-model-constitution.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=7640220ef5-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-7640220ef5-93145129##ixzz2rMRcMwZ6

A “hooglie” Summer Solstice to all.

Armenian woman 106 with machinegun

Please note that the Ed. is laid up with a broken foot, and with only intermittent internet/computer connection.

The good news for the end of 2013, is that jailed Pussy Riot activists were released from Russian prisons, and 28 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons.

I noted that the ABC reporter of this news was standing in front of a portrait of Marwan Barghouti with the message FREE MARWAN BARGHOUTI as street wall art – I’m hoping that’s more than serendipity.

Also wishing that Strange Times readers, one and all, have a safe and productive 2014, and that the hearts and brains of “Israeli settlers’ ” grow a few sizes in the coming year.

Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks

Omidyar Ebay founder privatises secrets

http://bit.ly/17WKj1v

By Mark Ames
On November 27, 2013

Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Think about other famous leakers: Daniel Ellsberg neither monetized nor monopolized the Pentagon Papers. Instead, he leaked them to well over a dozen different newspapers and media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and to a handful of sitting senators — one of whom, Mike Gravel, read over 4,000 of the 7,000 pages into the Congressional record before collapsing from exhaustion. The Papers were published in book form by a small nonprofit run by the Unitarian Church, Beacon House Press.

Chelsea Manning, responsible for the largest mass leaks of government secrets ever, leaked everything to WikiLeaks, a nonprofit venture that has largely struggled to make ends meet in its seven years of existence. Julian Assange, for all of his flaws, cannot be accused of crudely enriching himself from his privileged access to Manning’s leaks; instead, he shared his entire trove with a number of established media outlets including the Guardian, New York Times, Le Monde and El Pais. Today, Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison, while the Private Manning Support Network constantly struggles to raise funds from donations; Assange has spent the last year and a half inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, also struggling to raise funds to run the WikiLeaks operation.

A similar story emerges in the biggest private sector analogy — the tobacco industry leaks by whistleblowers Merrell Williams and Jeffrey Wigand. After suffering lawsuits, harassment and attempts to destroy their livelihoods, both eventually won awards as part of the massive multibillion dollar settlements — but the millions of confidential tobacco documents now belong to the public, maintained by a nonprofit, the American Legacy Project, whose purpose is to help scholars and reporters and scientists fight tobacco propaganda and power. Every year, over 400,000 Americans die from tobacco-related illnesses.

The point is this: In the most successful whistleblower cases, the public has sided with the selfless whistleblower against the power- or profit-driven entity whose secrets were leaked. The Snowden case represents a new twist to the heroic whistleblower story arc: After successfully convincing a large part of the public and the American Establishment that Snowden’s leaks serve a higher public interest, Greenwald promptly sold those secrets to a billionaire.

He justified this purely on grounds of self-interest, calling Omidyar’s offer “a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity.” Speaking to the Washington Post, Greenwald used crude careerist terminology to justify his decision to privatize the Snowden secrets:

“It would be impossible for any journalist, let alone me, to decline this opportunity.”

News about Greenwald-Poitras’ decision to privatize the NSA cache came just days after the New York Times reported on Greenwald’s negotiations with major movie studios to sell a Snowden film. This past summer, Greenwald sold a book to Metropolitan Books for a reportedly hefty sum, promising that some of the most sensational revelations from Snowden’s leaks would be saved for the book.

Indeed what makes the NSA secrets so valuable to Greenwald and Poitras is that the two of them have exclusive access to the entire cache. Essentially they have a monopoly over secrets that belong to the public. For a time, it was assumed that Snowden had kept copies of the leaked documents, possibly on a number of laptops he was carting around the world. Greenwald and Poitras were simply conduits between Snowden’s cache and the public. In late August, Greenwald disclosed for the first time in a statement to BuzzFeed:

“Only Laura and I have access to the full set of documents which Snowden provided to journalists.”

Later, from his hideout in Russia, Snowden released a statement claiming he had left all the NSA files behind in Hong Kong for Greenwald and Poitras to take. A third Guardian journalist in Hong Kong at the time, Ewen MacAskill, confirmed to me on Twitter that only Greenwald and Poitras took with them the full cache. Even the Guardian was not allowed access to the motherlode.

Clearly, in a story as sensational and global and alluring as Snowden’s Secrets™, exclusive access equals value. And for the first time in whistleblower history, that value has been extracted in full through privatization.

It is one thing for Greenwald to maintain that exclusivity — or monopoly — while working with the Guardian, a nonprofit with institutional experience in investigative journalism. It is quite another for him to sell them to a guy with a history of putting profits before public interest. As Yasha Levine and I wrote at NSFWCORP, Omidyar invested in a third-world micro-loans company whose savage bullying of debtors resulted in mass suicides. Rather than acknowledge this tragedy, Omidyar Network simply deleted reference to the company from his website when the shit hit the fan.

This — this? — is the guy we’re supposed to trust with the as-yet unpublished NSA files? He’s the one we’re relying on to reveal any dark secrets about the tech industry’s collusion with the NSA? Let’s hope there’s nothing in there about eBay. Whoops! Deleted!

Since we first raised our concerns, Yasha and I have been swamped with responses from Greenwald’s followers. The weird thing is, not all of those responses have been negative: even Wikileaks — Wikileaks! — responded that, “We have not [fallen out with Greenwald] but @Pierre is seriously compromised by Paypal’s attacks on our organisation and supporters.”

Greenwald’s leftist and anarchist fans have always had an almost cult-like faith in his judgment, seeing him as little less than a digital-age Noam Chomsky. But now they’re reeling from cognitive dissonance, trying to understand why their hero would privatize the most important secrets of our generation to a billionaire free-marketeer like Omidyar, whose millions have, in some cases, brought market-based misery into some of the poorest and most desperate corners of the planet.

A Greenwald-Omidyar partnership is as hard to swallow as if Chomsky proudly announced a new major venture with Sheldon Adelson, on grounds that it’s a “once-in-a-career dream academic opportunity.”

WikiLeaks’ concern about Omidyar can be traced back to PayPal’s decision in December 2010 to blockade users from sending money to WikiLeaks. PayPal (founded by Pando investor, Peter Thiel — more on that below) is owned by eBay, where Omidyar has served as the chairman of the board since 2002. Before the blockade, PayPal was the principal medium for WikiLeaks donations, according to the Washington Post.

As the single investor, founder and CEO of “NewCo”, Omidyar’s self-professed helplessness at eBay doesn’t extend to his new journalistic venture.

More troubling for fans is that Greenwald has repeatedly provided cover for Omidyar, claiming that he “had nothing to do with [the blockade]” despite his board status. Whether or not eBay’s chairman really was ignorant of his company’s most controversial decision in years, there’s no denying that Omidyar is also eBay’s largest shareholder. At nearly 10%, his stake is worth billions and is more than twice as large as that of the next largest shareholder.

By Greenwald’s reasoning, even though Omidyar is the founder, largest shareholder, and chairman of the body responsible for eBay/PayPal management oversight, he had “nothing to do with” its policy towards Wikileaks. Zero. None. He was as helpless as you, me, Batkid, or Grumpy Cat.

Fortunately, as the single investor, founder and CEO of “NewCo”, Omidyar’s self-professed helplessness at eBay doesn’t extend to his new journalistic venture. With that level of autonomy, no one — not even Glenn Greenwald, who has admitted that Omidyar’s money is irresistibly persuasive — can tell him which secrets to publish on his new site, and which should remain hidden forever.

We can all rest easy in our beds, then, knowing that Omidyar is in charge of our secrets. Information of national importance, such as which major tech companies colluded with the US government to spy on private citizens, will be published at the discretion of the founder and largest shareholder of one of those companies.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul (and Mark). An important footnote about Peter Thiel and Pando, by Paul Carr

When NSFWCORP’s acquisition by Pando was announced, Greenwald raced to Twitter to accuse us of hypocrisy because Peter Thiel (another billionaire whose previous business dealings could fill a book, and who sold PayPal to eBay in the first place) once invested $200,000 in PandoDaily, through his Founders Fund.

That’s absolutely true. Founders Fund’s investment is disclosed here on Pando’s main about page, along with the names of the other investors who collectively invested the remaining $2.8m raised by Pando.

The difference between us selling our company to a media outlet that once received a minority investment from Founders Fund and Greenwald being personally hired by Omidyar should be obvious to anyone with a brain. But at the risk that category excludes Glenn’s most ardent supporters, we’re happy to spell out the difference (apart from the monetary difference of $249,800,000 between Thiel’s $200k and Omidyar’s $250 million, of course):

Peter Thiel has no involvement with the running of Pando. Zero. He doesn’t make hiring or firing or any other kind of decisions (nor do any other investors), Founders Fund isn’t Pando’s only (or even closest largest) investor and no one from Founders Fund has a board seat, voting rights or any other input in business or editorial policy. In other words, Thiel has less ability to dictate editorial policy here, in fact, than the guy who cleans the coffee cups (at least that guy has a key to the office).

Pierre Omidyar is personally hiring the journalists for his new project, starting with Greenwald himself. He is the venture’s sole backer. But, you know what? All of that would still be OK if Greenwald would make a simple, unequivocal, public pledge: to cover any bad behavior by Pierre Omidyar in the same way that he would cover someone who wasn’t backing him with millions of dollars.

Should be a simple thing to promise, right?

Here’s our absolute, unequivocal pledge: we will cover Peter Thiel and Pando’s other investors just as fiercely as we cover Pierre Omidyar or anyone else. In fact, it’s likely due to proximity that we will cover Pando’s investors even more fiercely. That’s how we always worked at NSFWCORP — and it’s how we’ll work here. Our past coverage of Thiel can be found all over the web, including here, here and even right here on Pando. Or see how we’ve covered NSFWCORP/Pando investors CrunchFund and Vegas Tech Fund.

When we asked Glenn to make that same pledge about his single investor, in light of our coverage of Omidyar, he responded simply: “I can’t speak for Omidyar Network,” adding he had “no idea” about Omidyar’s involvement in micro loans.

We contacted Omidyar Network for comment on this story but neither had responded at press time. We’ll update here if they do.

Illustration by Brad Jonas.

Free Pussy Riot protesters

Imprisoned Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova has reportedly disappeared following a transfer to a new prison facility 10 days ago. Tolokonnikova was moved from a Mordovia prison camp and since then, her family says, they have been unaware of her whereabouts.

“No one knows anything,” Tolokonnikova’s father Andrei told BuzzFeed. “There’s no proof she’s alive, we don’t know the state of her health. Is she sick? Has she been beaten?” On Friday, her father and husband said they last knew her precise whereabouts on 21st October.

The 23-year-old Tolokonnikova was then transferred out of her Mordovia prison colony without explanation from Russian officials. The Pussy Riot member had launched a hunger strike to protest horrific prison conditions and had written an open letter condemning the “slave-like” labor camp.

Tolokonnikova’s husband, Petya Verzilov, had been regularly protesting outside of the prison camp and prison hospital with a band of supporters, angering local officials. “We think they moved her to a big city to hide her,” Tolokonnikova’s father said. “It seems they got sick of these protests.”

“They want to cut her off from the outside world,” Verzilov told BuzzFeed, indicating that the transfer decision came from Moscow officials. “This is basically the only way they have to punish Nadya — ‘let’s cut her off from the outside world,’” he said.

Tolokonnikova was transferred by train from the Mordovia camp and spotted by a fellow passenger as the train pulled into Chelyabisnk, in the Ural mountains, on 24th October, said Verzilov. According to his sources, Tolokonnikova was kept there overnight, with nothing heard of her since.

Verzilov and Tolokonnikova’s father said prison authorities had promised to inform them of Tolokonnikova’s whereabouts 10 days after she was moved. Verzilov indicated that his wife could be anywhere, saying:

“When they moved [political prisoner Mikhail] Khodorkovsky, he was also kind of absent for two weeks. Nobody knew where he was, then he suddenly appeared in Chita,” 1,000 miles east of Moscow.”

Tolokonnikova and her Pussy Riot bandmate Maria Alyokhina are slated for release in March next year. The two were sentenced to a two-year prison term on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” following an anti-Putin protest in a Moscow church.

(Via BuzzFeed)

 

 

 

High turnout as Nepal voters defy bombing, threats

Prachanda

Prachanda

By Ammu Kannampilly (AFP) – 9 hours ago

Kathmandu — Millions of Nepalis defied low expectations and threats of violence to vote Tuesday in elections seen as crucial in stabilising the country and breaking its political deadlock seven years after a civil war ended.

A bombing in the capital Kathmandu early Tuesday injured three children, but the explosion and a campaign of intimidation by a hardline Maoist splinter group did not prevent a high turnout, according to election officials.

Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety told a press conference late Tuesday that preliminary figures showed a 70 percent turnout.

At this level it would be higher than the 63.29 percent turnout recorded during the country’s first post-war elections in 2008, when it voted for a constituent assembly tasked with writing a new constitution.

“Voters have given their decision and it clearly points towards a constitution. I hope this is the last election for a constituent assembly in Nepal,” Uprety said.

Since 2008, five prime ministers have served brief terms, the country had no leader for long periods, and the 601-member assembly collapsed in May 2012 after failing to complete the peace process.

“My vote is for the future of youngsters and the new generations,” 101-year-old voter Lal Bahadur Rai told AFP in a phone interview from a polling station in northeastern Sankhuwasabha district.

Many analysts had judged the national mood to be downbeat as threats of violence and intimidation added to years of political infighting and drift.

Hopes of political unity to complete the peace process were dashed when a 33-party alliance, led by the splinter Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), announced it would boycott polls and intimidate voters.

In recent days, protestors have torched vehicles and hurled explosives at traffic, leading to more than 360 arrests and one death.

In Kathmandu, a crude bomb explosion in a middle-class residential neighbourhood was the only major violent incident amid a security crackdown which saw 50,000 soldiers and 140,000 police deployed.

“I was passing by when I saw three children lying on the ground, crying for help,” 28-year-old eyewitness Saroj Maharjan told AFP at the scene.

“One of the children, whose face was covered in blood, fainted in my arms as I carried him to a nearby hospital,” he added.

Home ministry spokesman Shankar Koirala told reporters late Tuesday: “25 people were injured in election-related clashes across the country”.

The Maoist party, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known better by the nom-de-guerre Prachanda, swept the first constituent assembly polls in 2008, two years after signing a peace deal.

Prachanda, the former rebel leader whose lavish lifestyle has alienated many core supporters, voted in the southern district of Chitwan in the morning wearing a shirt and Western-style black suit.

Logistical headache

Organising the election has been a logistical headache in a country home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, requiring helicopters, horses and porters to deliver ballot boxes to remote areas.

“Some of the voters have trekked for five hours to reach here. They include elderly as well as young first-time voters,” Gitachari Acharya, an official at the nearest polling station to Mount Everest, told AFP.

Nepal’s political deadlock in the last five years has had a severe impact on the economy, with annual GDP growth tumbling from 6.1 percent in 2008 to 4.6 percent last year, World Bank figures show.

With 39 percent of the country aged between 16 and 40, according to government data, jobs are a major issue for young first-time voters like Urmila Maharjan.

The 22-year-old Kathmandu-based student told AFP she hoped “the new assembly will address issues like unemployment”.

Voters at one central Kathmandu polling station applauded and chanted “victory to Nepal” as election officials packed up ballot boxes.

More than 100 parties, including three major ones — the Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists — are fielding candidates for the constituent assembly, which will also serve as a parliament.

The anti-poll alliance had said the vote could not be held under the interim administration headed by the Supreme Court chief justice and wanted elections to be postponed until a cross-party government was put in place.

“Had the anti-poll groups organised peaceful protests, they could have questioned the legitimacy of the elections,” Akhilesh Upadhyay, editor in chief of The Kathmandu Post, told AFP.

“How can they gain political traction while even children have been brutally attacked?”

Election officials said the counting of votes would begin at midnight and preliminary results would emerge within three days.

Full results will be announced in about ten days, the chief election commissioner said.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gmK-hIOX7WM_cUZP_GQqpOIz6mvw?docId=b8f04837-7dbc-459a-a611-9bd0634d28cd

Why we should definitely Occupy Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and more – response to “Don’t Occupy Sydney”

I’ve been involved with the online organising for Occupy Brisbane. Yesterday I noticed a post on Tumblr getting some attention from people I knew, people who are definitely not rich.

This is my response:

The original post is in bold, my response is in plain text.

At the moment in the US there is a collection of affiliated protests, centred on New York city. As with all “grass roots” protest movements, some of the protesters are unemployed or students who enjoy shows of unity and demands for change as a recreational sport.

Really? How do you know this?

Some of them are people who have found themselves with a low quality of life for no other reason than they have declined to work to improve it. They see that other people have a high quality of life and are demanding the same.

Really? How do you know this?

These groups of people are the minority. The majority of protesters, and the theme of the protest, is the idea of a (figurative) 99% of America who may or may not be well educated, but work hard, and still have a quality of life that compares better to developing countries than the United States. Some are drowning in student debts that are all but impossible to service. Some have been through processes of being laid off or having pay reductions in corporate cost cutting exercises and earn only as much or in many cases significantly less than they did several years ago – while costs continue to inflate. Many or most have no access to healthcare were they to require it – not being able to afford access to the user-pays American system.

The 99% are real, and it’s frightening. Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy, professionals with undergraduate degrees in corporate roles who are choosing between making student loan payments and eating dinner. One to two generations of Americans who are fed up to hell with an economy that came about largely because of a finance industry which managed to somehow overthrow the rules of capitalism; an industry that instead of winning or losing based on market supply and demand, took home its profits, and managed to get its debts paid by taxpayers. The entirety of Wall St is like Nick Leeson, the derivatives trader who worked for Barings making a tonne of highly profitable transactional trades, all the while putting the debts from the disastrous failed trades into an “error account” (numbered 88888) until they totalled $1.4 billion and were discovered. Barings was sold to ING for £1.00

Australia is different. Australia is a country with universal subsidised healthcare, subsidised tertiary education with an efficient and fair loans scheme which is paid at an acceptable rate only out of the money you earn, near universal employment and an expansive welfare system that can sustain the unemployed for years if that’s what the situation requires (unlike the US’ time-limited unemployment benefits scheme).

This is true, in itself. But what about those “Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy”? You don’t think we have those in Australia? I’ve lived most of my life an illness away from homelessness. I’ve waited for over four hours to get treated in a hospital emergency room because local doctors don’t take on any more patients because that healthcare system isn’t subsidised enough. As for “near-universal employment”, there’s a trick the government do, which is to regard anyone working for even one hour a week as employed. The underemployment rate (measuring the number of people who want more hours but aren’t getting them) was around 7% last year in Australia. And what if the money you are earning is at a job that eats away at your self-respect and dignity every day you do it?

Those are just the sorts of things that have affected me personally, that I can talk about with experience. I wonder how many other people, even in a fairly well-off country like Australia, are feeling ground down by these sorts of problems – or other problems that I’m lucky enough to miss out on.

Our banks are strong and to a large extent highly ethical. The lack of speculative, nonsensical finance products bought and sold in Australia by our highly liquid and well regulated financial institutions, means our economy didn’t only not plunge into recession in the GFC, we largely didn’t even feel its effects beyond those from exposure to overseas markets. Our average wage is about 150% of the US’, our minimum wage is $15.51 to the $8.00 in Los Angeles. It’s not perfect but when an Australian retires, they will absolutely have some retirement benefits due to a pension system and the superannuation guarantee.

Australians NOW struggle if they have to rely on just the pension. I don’t see that situation easing up much in the next twenty years. And what happens to people who are due to retire on their superannuation just after a stock market crash? Their plans might have to be put on the shelf, and they might have to work a lot longer than they hoped. Those people are feeling the results of the recent financial crisis now. I wonder how they feel about the fairness of the retirement system.

We have our problems. We have people who are mentally ill who aren’t getting help.

I’ve been one of those people. Have you? If you have, then I say I have too and my opinion on the Occupy protests is just as valid as yours. And if you have not, it’s not your place to use an illness I’ve had to tell people they shouldn’t get involved with something I agree with.

We have indigenous communities that just aren’t thriving.We have a nation gripped with an absurd fascination with people who crawl onto our beaches having escaped whatever hasn’t been bombed into a vapour in their home country. We have a polarised national debate about the global environment and how to minimise our effect on it, and that debate is birthing a sociological crisis in the way groups of Australians interact with each other, their government, and the media.

A group of people coming together because they are angry with the way things is one of the best chances we’ve had in years to start talking about these problems, and many others. Telling people not to get involved in Occupy protests because of these problems is ridiculous. We need to work out how to unite many different areas where people are fighting for their rights – and if people at the Occupy protests are politically mature enough to, for instance, deal respectfully with Aboriginal people, we have the chances to form some new alliances.

I also think that most of the big problems of the world today are closely linked to the way our economy is set up. If we start digging closely into any issue, we come up against one similar problem each time – a government not prepared to raise the taxes needed. And that’s because governments have been answering to the 1% – and not even pretending to work for ordinary people – for the last three decades and more. The 1% don’t want more of “their” money going on taxes, so it doesn’t.

These problems don’t get fixed with the solutions the Americans are demanding. “Occupying” Sydney or Melbourne and demanding the “end of corporate greed” is putting a bandaid on your forehead to deal with a headache. With the lack of relevancy the “occupy” movement has in Australia, the only people left are the unhygienic, mouth breathing Socialist Alliance, Citizen’s Electoral Council and other limpet organisations that try to inseminate their agenda into any group of people larger than about twelve individuals. You want to occupy something in Australia?

Firstly, using the “those people I disagree with are dirty” argument is childish and hateful. Wrong ideas need to be defeated in debate, not called “dirty”.

Secondly – is this actual analysis? Or just name-calling using the names of two groups you vaguely know you dislike? Do you know for a fact that the Socialist Alliance and Citizens Electoral Council are the main groups dominating the Occupy Sydney protest? I saw that a Socialist Alternative (not Alliance) rep was scheduled to speak on Channel 7’s Sunrise on Monday morning. Do you know the difference between the two groups? If not, I won’t rely on your assessment of who is dominating Sydney’s protest.

Occupy your local member’s office and discuss how the mentally ill can get the help they need.

Occupy a soup kitchen and use your labour to give the homeless that we do have, a hot nutritious meal.

Occupy a dinner party and explain the scope and substance of our “refugee crisis” to your friends in clear, respectful language.

Occupy a talkback radio station for 5 minutes on the phone, and ask the shock jock why it’s a bad thing for the government to make polluting more expensive for companies.

The Occupations can and should discuss all these questions:

Why won’t the government spend enough money on mental health services? I know of one person at Occupy Sydney who is losing out big-time because of cuts to mental health services, and it’s a big motivation for him to get involved.

Why is housing so expensive that more and more people are homeless or very close to it? Why are meal centres mostly very horrible places to eat at? (I’ve had my share of meals in them)

Why is our society so inward-looking and fearful that a few thousand “illegal” boat-arrivals are seen as a major existential threat?

Will the carbon price/tax/whatever help to create a massive renewable energy industry in Australia? Or are there other ways to do it?

And one final question that’s worth thinking about:

We’ve suffered so many defeats at the hands of the 1% in the last few decades. When people start to come together because they want to see change, they are scoffed at by people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from successful Occupations. How on earth do we change that?