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William Blum asks the question: where is the evidence for Russian troops in the Ukraine?

Posted on November 23rd, 2014 in War by Robert Miller
William Blum

William Blum

William Blum, author of “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II—Updated Through 2003” and “Rogue State: A guide to the only world’s superpower” asks the question: where is the evidence that Russian troops are present in the Ukraine? Given all of the press hype that we are getting from the administration and the major news outlets, I have reproduced Blum’s article in its entirety here.

Make no mistake about it, the Obama administration is in hot pursuit of the neoliberal/neocon agenda to diminish the power of Russia and continue with its plans to encircle Russia with NATO allies. But we will need strong states if we are going to face the most serious threat our civilization has yet encountered—the apocalyptic threat of global climate change.

Russia invades Ukraine. Again. And again. And yet again … using Saddam’s WMD

“Russia reinforced what Western and Ukrainian officials described as a stealth invasion on Wednesday [August 27], sending armored troops across the border as it expanded the conflict to a new section of Ukrainian territory. The latest incursion, which Ukraine’s military said included five armored personnel carriers, was at least the third movement of troops and weapons from Russia across the southeast part of the border this week.”

None of the photos accompanying this New York Times story online showed any of these Russian troops or armored vehicles.

“The Obama administration,” the story continued, “has asserted over the past week that the Russians had moved artillery, air-defense systems and armor to help the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. ‘These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway’, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said. At the department’s daily briefing in Washington, Ms. Psaki also criticized what she called the Russian government’s ‘unwillingness to tell the truth’ that its military had sent soldiers as deep as 30 miles inside Ukraine territory.”

Thirty miles inside Ukraine territory and not a single satellite photo, not a camera anywhere around, not even a one-minute video to show for it. “Ms. Psaki apparently [sic] was referring to videos of captured Russian soldiers, distributed by the Ukrainian government.” The Times apparently forgot to inform its readers where they could see these videos.

“The Russian aim, one Western official said, may possibly be to seize an outlet to the sea in the event that Russia tries to establish a separatist enclave in eastern Ukraine.”

This of course hasn’t taken place. So what happened to all these Russian soldiers 30 miles inside Ukraine? What happened to all the armored vehicles, weapons, and equipment?

“The United States has photographs that show the Russian artillery moved into Ukraine, American officials say. One photo dated last Thursday, shown to a New York Times reporter, shows Russian military units moving self-propelled artillery into Ukraine. Another photo, dated Saturday, shows the artillery in firing positions in Ukraine.”

Where are these photographs? And how will we know that these are Russian soldiers? And how will we know that the photos were taken in Ukraine? But most importantly, where are the fucking photographs?

Why am I so cynical? Because the Ukrainian and US governments have been feeding us these scare stories for eight months now, without clear visual or other evidence, often without even common sense. Here are a few of the many other examples, before and after the one above:

  • The Wall Street Journal (March 28) reported: “Russian troops massing near Ukraine are actively concealing their positions and establishing supply lines that could be used in a prolonged deployment, ratcheting up concerns that Moscow is preparing for another [sic] major incursion and not conducting exercises as it claims, US officials said.”
  • “The Ukrainian government charged that the Russian military was not only approaching but had actually crossed the border into rebel-held regions.” (Washington Post, November 7)
  • “U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove told reporters in Bulgaria that NATO had observed Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian combat troops enter Ukraine across a completely wide-open border with Russia in the previous two days.” (Washington Post, November 13)
  • “Ukraine accuses Russia of sending more soldiers and weapons to help rebels prepare for a new offensive. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied aiding the separatists.” (Reuters, November 16)

Since the February US-backed coup in Ukraine, the State Department has made one accusation after another about Russian military actions in Eastern Ukraine without presenting any kind of satellite imagery or other visual or documentary evidence; or they present something that’s very unclear and wholly inconclusive, such as unmarked vehicles, or unsourced reports, or citing “social media”; what we’re left with is often no more than just an accusation. The Ukrainian government has matched them.

On top of all this we should keep in mind that if Moscow decided to invade Ukraine they’d certainly provide air cover for their ground forces. There has been no mention of air cover.

This is all reminiscent of the numerous stories in the past three years of “Syrian planes bombing defenseless citizens”. Have you ever seen a photo or video of a Syrian government plane dropping bombs? Or of the bombs exploding? When the source of the story is mentioned, it’s almost invariably the rebels who are fighting against the Syrian government. Then there’s the “chemical weapon” attacks by the same evil Assad government. When a photo or video has accompanied the story I’ve never once seen grieving loved ones or media present; not one person can be seen wearing a gas mask. Is it only children killed or suffering? No rebels?

And then there’s the July 17 shootdown of Malaysia Flight MH17, over eastern Ukraine, taking 298 lives, which Washington would love to pin on Russia or the pro-Russian rebels. The US government – and therefore the US media, the EU, and NATO – want us all to believe it was the rebels and/or Russia behind it. The world is still waiting for any evidence. Or even a motivation. Anything at all. President Obama is not waiting. In a talk on November 15 in Australia, he spoke of “opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine – which is a threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot-down of MH17”. Based on my reading, I’d guess that it was the Ukranian government behind the shootdown, mistaking it for Putin’s plane that reportedly was in the area.

Can it be said with certainty that all the above accusations were lies? No, but the burden of proof is on the accusers, and the world is still waiting. The accusers would like to create the impression that there are two sides to each question without actually having to supply one of them.

William Blum


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The antiwar President starts a war of his own

Posted on November 9th, 2014 in War by Robert Miller

ISISWhen Obama was elected President in 2008, he campaigned on the idea that the war in Iraq was the bad war while the war in Afghanistan was the good war, primarily because it was targeting those that committed the atrocities of 9/11. Of course it didn’t matter that Al-Qaeda, the presumed 9/11 perpetrator, was vanquished across the Pakistani border and our troops in Afghanistan were then fighting the Taliban who were not responsible for the stateless crime of 9/11; when we invaded Afghanistan we precipitated a regime change. Subsequently our enemy in Afghanistan has been the people we dispossessed:  the Taliban are interested in taking back what we took away from them when we invaded their country. But two years into his second term has President Obama thinking more like the militarist he replaced. Indeed, it seems that he has taken a page out of the necon handbook and, beginning first with the avoidable crisis in Ukraine, has now started an unwinnable war against the Islamic State (IS; which also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is an unrecognized state and a Sunni jihadist/Al-Qaeda group active in Iraq and Syria. In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control, beginning with territory in the Levant region, which includes Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and part of southern Turkey. It is a brutal organization that prefers to publicly behead their captors, especially if they are American or British; they do not recognize the normal international entitlements of “journalists.”

As Obama immerses himself and the country into another war in the Middle East (Iraq and Syria), with an uncertain coalition to provide boots on the ground, it  has the ear marks of a military solution that cannot succeed and was poorly thought out to begin with: it’s more like we are going to war because that’s what we do best. Will the new, more intense drone war achieve the goals Obama has in mind, or will it merely widen the war in the Middle East? When you have allies such as we do in the Middle East who are conflicted over who the enemy is, it is surely time to try the diplomatic hand rather than choose war as the preferred option. It is only natural I suppose that the very people who helped engineer our disaster in Iraq have urged the President to double down and do it all over again. Indeed the neocons came out of the woodwork to support this new war while at the same time claiming no responsibility for creating the conditions that gave rise to ISIS in the first place and when they use the bullhorn of Fox News, they have a media outlet to instantaneously convince millions of Americans, especially those who suffer from amnesia about the Iraq war of 2003, that this is another good war. There is no doubt that Bush’s war on “terror” is responsible for starting the reactionary movement of Jihadist cells throughout the region that collectively form ISIS. Each Jidhadist I have seen interviewed claims that our reaction to 9/11, which was thinly disguised as a war against Muslims, is the reason why ISIS has emerged to threaten the region with a new form of terrorism in which Muslims who don’t convert to their brand of faith can be killed on the spot; already ISIS has killed thousands of Muslims for this reason.

A quick review of the gnarly circumstances that created the disaster in Iraq is worth the effort, even if it only serves to clean our whistles, so we that we can blow into them again when another war starts. First, we, Americans, acting through our agents GW Bush and Dick Cheney created ISIS. It first started with our illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. When Bush appointed Paul Bremer as the head Iraqi authority in May, 2003, he was given the authority to rule Iraq by decree, just as if we had installed royalty in the form of an ordinary white guy.  Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 1 was to disband the Ba’ath party in all forms. The Ba’ath party was the political party that Saddam Hussein used in his rise to power in Iraq. Bremer’s second Coalition Provisional Authority Order was to dismantle the Iraqi army. This was followed by Paul Bremer’s attempt to illegally sell off the Iraqi assets, as if our invasion had given us control of all the Iraqi assets to sell as we saw fit. But, no one was going to buy the Iraqi assets as everyone invited to the fire sale concluded that what Bremer was doing was against International law, which it was: you don’t invade a country for the purpose of disposing of its wealth! The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was first and foremost about oil: only a fool would suggest otherwise. Yes Saddam Hussein was a gruesome dictator who ruled with an iron fist. But we helped arm him and encouraged his disastrous war with Iran, primarily to get even with the ruling regime because they stole the oil deal we had worked out with the Shah. Saddam was going to be our man in Tehran if he ever got there.  Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki was installed as the prime minister of Iraq under the Bush administration. He had been a long-time member of the Dawa party and was under a death  sentence by Saddam before leaving Iraq in 1979. He was brought back and placed into power as a Shiite prime minister of Iraq in 2006, a position he held until he was forced to step down in 2014. What al-Maliki proceeded to do was continue with de-Bathfication in Iraq, which meant firing Sunnis who worked in the government, followed by killing large numbers of Sunnis, especially when Al-Qaeda reappeared in Iraq in 2013.

When American troops left Iraq in late 2011, al-Maliki came to the United States to  acknowledge ceremoniously the event. During that visit Obama waxed on about how Iraq was now a stable, democratic and inclusive government, none of which was true. While al-Maliki was in the United States, he received a phone call warning that one of his own cabinet members, Vice President of Iraq,  Tariq al-Hashimi, was planning assassinations against his government; he relayed this information to President Obama and was told that he needed to solve this problem on his own using the legal means available to him. That was the key that led al-Maliki to conclude that Washington was not going to interfere with his actions.  As soon as the last American soldier left Iraq, al-Maliki announced a death sentence against Tariq al-Hashimi who by then had fled to Qatar. Al-Maliki increasingly waged a secular war against the Sunnis, purging those that were in parliament and replacing them  with Shiite members that he felt he could trust. As he carried out his own murderous practices against the Sunnis he became increasingly paranoid that he would eventually fall to former Bathists (this must have been particularly troublesome for al-Maliki as he ordered the execution of Saddam Hussein). As he carried out more killings of Sunnis, his popularity grew among his fellow Shiites.

In the meantime, the decimated members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq,  entered the war in Syria against Assad’s regime. It was there that Al-Qaeda got reinvigorated as a force and began to make headway through successful military operations and improved recruiting. They captured oil wells and began to have a stable source of income that fueled the purchase of armaments. Their rise to prominence as a fighting force appealed to the Sunnis in Iraq as they continued to be persecuted by al-Maliki. In December 2012 al-Maliki accused his finance minister of plotting against him and had his body guards arrested. To many in al-Miliki’s cabinet this was the last straw that confirmed al-Maliki had gone over the edge. In the spring of 2013 the black flag of Al-Qaeda began to appear in Sunni occupied cities, which made al-Maliki rush into a confrontation, killing hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. It was about that time that this group began to refer to themselves as ISIS. Within 12 months ISIS became a powerful and effective military organization.   When Al-Qaeda re-entered Iraq they received a warm reception from the Sunnis, many of whom joined forces with Al-Qaeda which not only swelled the ranks of ISIS, but former Bathist military leaders assumed positions of military leadership in ISIS and helped forge the group into an even more effective military juggernaut.

One of the key victories of ISIS was in taking Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with a population of 1.8 million. A group of 800 ISIS members went into Mosul intent on liberating prisoners, but to their surprise, they found that the Iraqi armed forces gave little resistance and surrendered immediately, after which they were all bound and shot and their bodies dumped into the Tigris river.  For al-Miliki it was too late to reverse his course and while he initially did not agree to step down as the Iraq Prime Minister, he was forced to do so, though no one knows for sure what arguments were made to induce him to change his mind.   When the GW Bush government became aware of the sectarian nature of al-Maliki’s rule, advisers to Bush suggested that al-Maliki should be forced out, but Bush liked al-Maliki and allowed him to stay on and continue with his purging activities against the Sunnis. When the Obama administration became aware of the sectarian damage that al-Maliki had done, at first Obama wanted to let him stay on and see if he couldn’t fix the problem, but finally al-Maliki was forced out in August, 2014 with the title Vice President of Iraq. ISIS has waged a propaganda war against al-Maliki, referring to him as an “underwear salesman” and  stating he “lost a historic opportunity for your people to control Iraq, and the Shiites will always curse you for as long as they live.” In response to the gains by ISIS, perhaps threatening Baghdad itself, Obama has initiated a drone war against ISIS and taken the gloves off. In this new war there are no civilians killed by drones because, by definition, anyone killed by a drone attack against ISIS must be in collaboration with ISIS forces: end of story.

The incompetency of Bush and Cheney in managing the affairs of Iraq has created ISIS. Obama’s choice to initiate drone strikes against ISIS is waging war against the very forces that need to be brought into the government to make Iraq whole again. In the meantime drone strikes, largely against Sunni forces makes little sense since these are the very people that should be treated more inclusively in the government. First al-Maliki killed Sunnis and now we are going to kill more Sunnis to stop ISIS. Right now the murderous nature of ISIS prevents any discussions of reconciliation, but it seems clear that eventually Sunnis will have to be brought back into the government if Iraq can be saved from internal disintegration. There were no car bombs in Iraq until we invaded the country in 2003. Now they are almost a daily occurrence and with ISIS controlling oil assets, coupled with their capture of American weapons, and the resources to purchase new ones, they seem poised to engage the U.S. in a very long, protracted war.

The new conditions in Iraq represent is a tragedy of epic proportions. A well-meaning President tried to end a war that should never have been started. But his insistence on not interfering with the war in Syria allowed ISIS to grow and become more formidable and now our reluctant warrior President has started a war of his own that will undoubtedly require troop commitments that he wants to avoid. Today an article in the NY Times points out that he is committing an additional 1500 troops to help in the war. Perhaps he can avoid sending huge numbers of additional troops, but does it make sense to go to war against the people that you are trying to bring back into the government?

The new Iraqi prime minister is Haider al-Abadi; he has already taken steps to be more inclusive towards the sectarian diversity in Iraq. His cabinet includes a Shia politician as interior minister, a Kurdish politician as finance minister, and a Sunni, who had formerly served in Saddam’s army, as defense minister. The challenge is formidable. To succeed he will have to overcome the efforts of Bush, Cheney, Bremer and al-Maliki to make the country whole again. My vote is that it can’t be done, that we will have to live with ISIS for many years to come and even then  the best we might achieve is to have Iraq divided into three sectors, including a Shia centered in Baghdad, the Kurds with their capital in Erbil and ISIS centered in Mosul. This solution would only work if ISIS stopped its pathological need to kill those not willing to accept their religious interpretations. Is there yet a diplomatic solution to this carnage?


PS: if you are interested in knowing what happened in Iraq after the American troops left, an excellent documentary on the subject is available from FRONTLINE

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