Friday, August 19, 2016

The Liberation of Hypocrisy in Aleppo

Lies & Liberation

As Syrian government forces looked poised to encircle the rebels in east Aleppo by breaking their last remaining supply line, the selective humanity that so often accompanies aggressive interventions, which provides the veneer of humanitarianism to solely pragmatic and selfish acts, began to abound.

The UN’s humanitarian chief could not stress “how critical the situation is” to the Security Council.  “This is medieval and shameful,” he said, “we must not allow this to happen.”  “If nothing is done to stop the advance,” warns the Guardian, “disaster seems imminent.”  “Russia shoulders particularly great responsibility,” said the Germany's Foreign Minister, “on account of its support for the Syrian army and air force.”  The media explained this would be “the beginning of a new, humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented proportions in Syria,” and therefore “Aleppo’s siege must be urgently lifted.”

Of course, such “medieval and shameful” acts are nothing that the US would ever contemplate today.  “You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion,” John Kerry reminded us after the reunification of Crimea into Russia.  The lesson, of course, was lost upon the people of Yemen, who were backwards enough to think that such principles were meant to apply universally, and not only to our enemies.

As the world was “failing to protect” against the horrors in East Aleppo, another siege was being laid, not to a section of a city, but to an entire nation. 

The Saudis have instituted a naval, land, and air blockade on Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, preventing the bulk of commercial shipping of which they are dependent from entering.  Yemen imports more than 90% of its food supply.  This has caused a “desperate shortage of food, water and medical supplies,” and has “choked a fragile economy already staggering under the impact” of war. 

The blockade has crippled “the country’s electricity supply,” forcing “the mass closure of hospitals and schools.”  Oxfam estimates the total without access to drinking water or sanitation at 16 million, nearly two thirds of the population, causing “dire implications for the spread of disease.”  At the same time 14.4 million people, more than half of the population, are food insecure and facing the possibility of famine.  The UN has decried this as a “humanitarian catastrophe”, estimating that “nearly 20 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance – 78% of the entire population.” (For comparison, it’s estimated that 18 million people in Syria, or 66% of its population, are in need of aid.)

Who cares?  Certainly not most informed opinion.  After initially reporting on the horrors, the UN and international organizations have largely abandoned the effort, as has the media.  Disciplined intellectuals realize that concern over such lives does not expedite the policies of concentrated power, and so are dutifully quiet on the subject.  One would be hard pressed to find the average person who even realizes there exists a siege on Yemen.

That person, given that they had but glanced at the news recently, would undoubtedly be aware of Aleppo, and the incarnate of evil that is Assad.  Yet if Assad is a monster, what is Saudi Arabia?

The Saudi invasion, which is really a US-Saudi invasion, was precipitated by a likely power-sharing agreement among the various warring factions.  Only it did not include Saud’s favorite puppet, the former President Hadi, who had been ousted by the Houthis after having balked on past commitments to institute power sharing mechanisms, instead choosing to consolidate his rule.  The Saudi’s then erased any possibility of a peaceful settlement and bombed, in an attempt to reinstate Hadi and thus their control over the country.  They predictably blamed all of this on Iran, yet that pretext was never backed by any evidence.  Instead, Iranian involvement increased as a result of the attack, the extent of its influence however remaining negligible.

In Syria, the US and its allies have instigated a proxy insurgency from abroad.  “In early 2011, Turkey and Saudi Arabia leveraged local protests against Assad to try to foment conditions for his ouster. By the spring of 2011, the CIA and the US allies were organizing an armed insurrection against the regime”, Jeff Sachs explains.  This armed insurrection included the sponsoring of some of the world’s most powerful terrorist organizations

Given these cases, who has the sounder argument for the use of force, Syria or Saudi Arabia?

Without a sense of irony however, as the plight of Yemenis was disregarded, the suffering of east Aleppo was paramount on everyone’s minds.

It is true that there exists real pain and suffering in east Aleppo, civilians are daily slaughtered by bombs of the Syrian and Russian air force, causing untold misery and catastrophe.  Shortages of medicine, food, as well as basic supplies and services abound.  Most of the structures have been destroyed, while poverty runs rampant.

Yet is this the only reason why they are suffering?  If your humanity is conditioned upon the interests of imperialism, then yes, however when one looks further something different emerges.

In actuality, the people of Aleppo never welcomed, nor wanted the rebels to be there, the overwhelming majority of them supporting Assad.  When the rebels began to take control of eastern Aleppo in 2012 they admitted that they did not have the support of the population.  “Around 70% of Aleppo city is with the regime,” one rebel commander said.  “It has always been that way.  The countryside is with us and the city is with them.” 

This did not stop the rebels from conquering the city all the same, with dire consequences for the population.  A year later residents would implore visiting journalists about the “malicious revolution” that reached them and the misrule of the Free Syrian Army who “started taking bread by force.”  They hoped that Assad would drive the militants out and defeat what they described as a scourge of “terrorism.”  The majority would complain of the suffering and lawlessness endured in the face of the abuses, banditry, and general looting being carried out by the violent militias.  They complained of their vulnerability and lack of security, and the lack of access to basic necessities like water, bread, and electricity.  They blamed the rebels for the city’s desperate conditions.

This was what was hailed as the “liberation” of Aleppo.

The media describing the city as a bastion for “revolutionary civil society.”

An FSA commander described it more accurately: “We liberated the rural parts of [Aleppo] province. We waited and waited for Aleppo [city] to rise, and it didn’t. We couldn’t rely on them to do it for themselves so we had to bring the revolution to them.”

This is the picture reported by journalists who visited the city.  In 2016 Stephen Kinzer of the Boston Globe wrote that “The coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.”  He explained the situation as such: “For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: 'Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.' Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.”

The people, however, “finally [have] seen glimmers of hope,” as the Syrian army was successfully driving the militants from the area.  The fighters then began “wreaking havoc as they are pushed out of the city by Russian and Syrian Army forces.”  “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars,” one local resident wrote.

Given this sordid reality most of the residents fled, relocating to the government held parts of the city.  When Martin Chulov of the Guardian visited the area in 2015, one of the only reporters to actually have done so, he reported that “roughly 40,000 from a prewar population estimated at about a million” still remained.

As all current reports estimate a figure of 200-300,000, Chulov defended his original figure, explaining that “whole suburbs were emptied even then [in 2015].  Most of the east [has been] uninhabitable for a long time.  No water or power… the number is nowhere near 300,000.”

Setting the Trap

As the conquest of eastern Aleppo evolved, as did the historiography of the coverage that accompanied it, an observation by Malcom X comes to mind.  “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”  In this case, those doing the oppressing are al-Qaeda, who came to rule east Aleppo along with other radical extremists.

It is “primarily al-Nusra who holds Aleppo,” explained the spokesman for the US operation against ISIS, Col. Steve Warren.

This, however, did not stop the major human rights organizations from claiming that extremists are only a “minority in the opposition.”  As for the newspapers, they would have you believe that the city is a hub of the “mainstream armed opposition.”  We are only wonderful people after all, and unlike our loathsome enemies, would never support terrorists.

Yet Col. Warren’s assessment corroborates prior Pentagon assessments going back to 2012, and is further backed up by investigative reporting.

Drawing on an extensive range of local sources, journalist Gareth Porter shows a list of evidence which makes clear that every single rebel group in Aleppo “is engaged in a military structure controlled by Nusra militants.”  Soon after the Wall Street Journal would report that the rebels “are now dominated by hard-line Islamists determined to tear down all regime institutions.”

These kinds of things are best left hidden, however, and thus are buried deep within the doctrinal narratives.  Also hidden are explanations as to why events like this are currently taking place to begin with.  Here, however, there was a dedicated effort to deceive, something far from mere negligence.

The recent hostilities were a result of the failed ceasefire agreement, which looked very promising at first, holding for longer than most had expected.  It was agreed upon as a consequence of the shift in momentum that resulted from the Russian intervention.  Despite having the initiative, the Russians halted their advance before reaching Turkey’s border and before sealing the important Turkish supply lines.  Instead, they used their leverage to force upon the Americans a ceasefire agreement, and the pursuit of a political settlement. 

That is something you are not supposed to say however, instead this all is supposed to be understood as Russia “setting a trap” for us, as them being intransigent and dishonest in their commitments. 

Yet in reality this led to the peaceful cessation of hostilities that saw an end to the majority of the fighting, the US lacking the leverage to continue in its obstinacy and forced to pursue negotiations.  The problem was that the Russian intervention had such devastating success at routing the opposition that the US objective of overthrowing Assad lay in tatters unless the tide of war could be reversed.

Realizing the paramount importance that al-Qaeda played in the success of this strategy, John Kerry attempted to formally protect them under the ceasefire.  When this was rejected by Russia, a different strategy was adopted.

From the very beginning it was clear that powerful factions within the US establishment wanted the agreement to fail, and for a resumption of hostilities to occur.  The US and its allies then utilized the pause in fighting to rearm the al-Qaeda dominated insurgency, the weapons passing quite directly from the CIA-rebels to al-Qaeda.  A ubiquitous propaganda campaign began to proliferate the narrative that Russia would likely break the ceasefire.  This functioned as a means to prime public opinion to eventually blame the upcoming collapse on Putin and Assad. 

After stalling Russia at the negotiation table with far-from-serious talks of trying to “separate” the CIA’s rebels from their “comingling” with al-Qaeda, a known impossibility, the US-backed groups teamed up with al-Qaeda and launched a major offensive in Aleppo that broke and disintegrated the ceasefire for good.  The call to trigger this kind of large-scale resumption of hostilities was something that undoubtedly originated from the backers of the various groups.

This event was reported at the time, but immediately afterwards vanished from the narrative, the important facts deleted from subsequent reporting and therefore from public consciousness altogether.  The media distorted the reality, and the common knowledge now holds that it was Russia and Syria who had broken the agreement, like everyone always predicted they would.

It is in this deception that we find the genesis of the recurrence of fighting in Aleppo, which eventuated in the Syrian army’s capture of the Castello road supply line and the siege of al-Qaeda controlled East Aleppo.

Gareth Porter explains that “The lesson of the Syrian ceasefire episode is clear: The most influential news media have virtually complete freedom to shape the narrative surrounding a given issue simply by erasing inconvenient facts from the storyline.”  Yet it would not end there.

Immediately after the siege began, the falsities and propaganda campaigns began as well.

Days prior to the siege it was widely reported that eastern Aleppo had stockpiled at least 3 months of supplies.  As the siege began, immediately those inconvenient facts were wiped from the storyline, supplies were reported to be quickly drying up, and a near humanitarian catastrophe was imminent.

When Russia announced that it was opening up humanitarian corridors for the besieged civilians to escape through, the main human rights organizations tried to denounce the effort and to argue against it, saying that it wouldn’t be good enough because “many civilians may be unable or afraid to leave.” (emphasis added) 

These organizations may have not realized that they were running interference and propaganda for al-Qaeda. 

The reason that civilians were afraid and unable to flee was because the rebels were preventing them from doing so.  One resident reporting that rebels were shooting at those trying to leave.  After all, with all the civilians evacuated there would be nothing left to stop the Syrian Army from starving and defeating the occupiers.

The world played along, the US taking center stage.  The State Department denounced Russia’s evacuation corridors, made no mention of the rebels preventing civilians from fleeing, and argued that “the innocent people of Aleppo should be able to stay in their homes.”  This all despite the fact that the civilians lucky enough to have escaped expressed utter joy at having made it out alive.  “Thank god we can’t believe we’re out.  May you never have to go through what we have been through.  They made us suffer.  No water, no electricity.  They robbed us.”  Another said “They made us suffer.  No food or anything…  They were cruel.  They broke my leg.  They killed my sons.”  When asked about how they were received in the government-held area, one said “They’ve been very good to us.  They provided us with everything.  Here is much better.  God preserve the president.”

Yet while the horrors of those still trapped within the city were the focus of everyone’s attention, another deadly siege was being imposed that was murdering countless more innocent lives, and nobody cared to talk about it. 

What Manbij?

One could be forgiven for not remembering the outcry from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, and the UN… because there simply wasn’t any.

The US has been besieging the ISIS-held city of Manbij for months.    

The strategy was described as a “scorched earth policy” in which “the attacking militias and the international coalition have dealt with Manbij civilians, who are estimated to be around 3,000 in number, as if they were terrorists or ISIS supporters.”

The thousands of civilians held under siege were trapped as all routes out of the town were cut, while ISIS as well prevented them from leaving, just as al-Qaeda did in Aleppo.

As a result, residents were extremely malnourished and at risk of starvation, reporting that the village had run out of bread and water, some not eating for days.  Electricity as well had been cut.  One AFP reporter saw a young boy begging on the streets for bread from passing cars.  Their condition was dire.

None of this, however, elicited any cries from the UN or human rights organizations, only one tepid UN report warning that the hostilities could displace civilians from their homes.  The daily pain and suffering inflicted upon the population was not enough to illicit an international outcry.  Indeed, it only after the coalition launched the deadliest single air assault on civilians of the entire war, which massacred at least 73 in a single strike, mostly women and children, that Amnesty expressed “alarm” over something so horrific that it could not have possibly been ignored.  Residents said there were no ISIS fighters in sight.  In a more recent strike the coalition murdered another 25 civilians, earning the US-led effort the sordid distinction of having launched “three of the deadliest single air attacks” on civilians out of the entire 5+ year war.

The response from the director of Human Rights Watch?  A tweet saying that “ISIS hold on Manbij… looks increasingly precarious.”  Nothing more.

Eventually the operation was completed, and ISIS was pushed from the city.

The situation however is hardly dissimilar from Aleppo.  In both instances the towns were held by radical extremists, al-Qaeda hardly being different from ISIS.  Both operations were aimed at liberating the city from jihadists, yet whereas the civilian suffering in Manbij was met with silence, an international outpouring engulfed the media for those in Aleppo.  The difference, of course, is that one is expected to view the Syrian government’s siege as being brutal and aimed primarily against civilians, and thus to call for its end, while the US-imposed siege is to be viewed as an effort to liberate civilians from evil, the massacres and scorched earth policy could conveniently be placed aside and forgotten. 

When put into perspective, the efforts of the media, international human rights groups, the US, and the UN all appear aimed at mobilizing support for a halting of the Syrian Army’s advances, and thus to protect the al-Qaeda-led opposition which they are attacking.  Human lives are of no concern, except for when their suffering could be utilized for the furtherance of US interests.

There is, however, another major difference, namely that the US has no right to be bombing in Syria. 
It might appear strange to read those words, yet one could imagine that in a world where law is not continually usurped by the leading hegemonic power that it might make a difference that the US has, against international law, and without the permission of the Syrian government, invaded Syrian lands with their warplanes and murdered scores of civilians in the process.  The United Nations has indeed authorized the use of force against ISIS and al-Qaeda, but only under the conditions that both international law as well as national sovereignty be respected.  The US, as the world’s leading rogue state, has done neither.

Russia, on the other hand, has a full mandate from the UN, and has been invited by the Syrian government, and is in complete accordance with international law. 

The distortions of these inconvenient realities are typical, however.  They recall, as Chomsky explains, “Orwell’s observations on the “indifference to reality” of the “nationalist,” who “not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but … has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them” in the first place.

We are the good guys, after all.  Facts notwithstanding.

A Very Different Track

The current rebel offensive to lift the siege of Aleppo had been planned for months in advance. 

Since the beginning of the year the US and its allies have been shipping thousands of tons of weapons to the opposition.

Russia had warned in April that large amounts of weapons were crossing from Turkey into Syria, and that thousands of al-Qaeda fighters were gathering for an offensive.  Nusra itself said that the attack had been planned “months ago.”

The preparations were accompanied by a smokescreen of diplomacy, in which John Kerry feigned to have offered a proposal to Russia about jointly fighting al-Qaeda which he knew they would refuse.  This also allowed the Saudis and Turks to rebrand their favorite al-Qaeda proxies, which as of yet has failed to exonerate their image or their ties to al-Qaeda.

The genesis of all of this was revealed back in May when John Kerry warned that unless Assad voluntarily steps down by August 1st, he was asking for “a very different track.”  That “very different track” was indeed realized on August 1st when the rebels launched one of the biggest offensives of the war to date, aimed at breaking the siege. 

One could imagine what the response would be if Assad, Russia, and Iran had organized, armed, and financed a major ISIS offensive to break the US siege of Manbij, yet for the not-so-different al-Qaeda, they were the “liberators of Aleppo” as they attempted their offensive to break the siege.

This Aleppo “liberation” push was indeed led and organized by al-Qaeda, and from the start has been aimed at imposing a new, much more deadly siege on the government-held area.  Government-held western Aleppo houses 1.5 million Syrians, as opposed to the east’s 40-50,000; thus the logical conclusion of the international outcry to “liberate” the siege was to impose a completely new one on 1.5 million others.

The rebels have repeatedly cut off the water supply to these 1.5 million civilians, which is deceptively reported as being the result of “escalated fighting” with no mention as to who is responsible.  They have as well continuously showered civilians with US-supplied rockets, mortars, and hellfire cannons.  A doctor on the ground explains “there are not only tens of mortars every day which fell on the western part of Aleppo, but hundreds, and every day we have hundreds killed or wounded.  And nobody spoke about it.”  The attacks consist of “a rain of mortars” which send 20 to 30 injured people to overcrowded public hospitals at a time.  Lacking in staff and equipment, when there are “ten severely wounded persons arriving at the same time,” by the time care arrives “a victim has time to die.”

Perhaps not-surprisingly then is the fact that the al-Qaeda led rebels named their offensive after Ibrahim Youseph, who former Sunday Times reporter Hala Jaber explains is deemed a hero “for separating Sunnis from Alawites and apostates and executing 80 of them” in 1979.  The rebels now pledge to do the same “blessed” thing from the lands they take from the government.  They announce that they will “kill all Alawites and desecrate their bodies.”  This not only was announced by the al-Qaeda fighters leading the battle, but as well by the wider coalition participating in the attacks, which includes the CIA-backed “moderates.”

In typical jihadi fashion the offensive was launched with suicide bombers exploding themselves over government positions.  The bombers are told they will go to “paradise” where they will be given 72 virgins whose kisses will “fill your mouth with honey and honeycomb.” 

The “liberation” of largely deserted eastern Aleppo is a radical jihadi attempt to besiege and conquer the 1.5 million residing in the west while ethnically cleansing and genociding the Alawites “and apostates” they find there.  If successful, the rebels will put under siege more civilians “than all those besieged by the regime nationwide,” and initiate a “wave of repression” and “terrorism” like that which characterized the initial conquest of Aleppo in the first place.

We indeed have “a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about” the “atrocities committed by our side,” as well as those we are soon likely to commit.

The reason is that all of this is hidden within the “humanitarianism” one finds in the newspapers, which is solely defined by its proximity to the furtherance of policy interests, even going so far as for a chief correspondent to be seen praising the radical jihadis at the UN, saying they have emerged as “heroes on the ground.”

As the rebels look poised to potentially fully break the siege and in turn lay siege to millions more, it appears obvious that under the false guise of humanitarianism, which is so commonly an opportunistic effort to mobilize support for policy with no basis in principles, the western press has conducted a massive propaganda effort to clear the way for an al-Qaeda victory in Syria, and to impede the popular, secular forces fighting against jihadi terrorism, which we have officially expressed to be our most hated of enemies.

The “logic” of imperialism is indeed truly wondrous to behold.


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