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Syria

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This is quite the bombshell delivered by two CHP deputies in the Turkish parliament and reported by Today's Zaman, one of the top dailies in Turkey. It supports Seymour Hersh's reporting that the notorious sarin gas attack at Ghouta was a false flag orchestrated by Turkish intelligence in order to cross President Obama's chemical weapons... Read More
…though, to be accurate, loyal readers of China Matters knew the skinny as it happened, three years ago and the Western media is now playin’ ketchup. From today’s Guardian: As the Guardian ruefully points out, most of the quarter-million fatalities and millions of refugees were generated after early 2012. The total death toll in early... Read More
The big news today is that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are clubbing together to overthrow the Assad regime. Actually, this is old news. What happened today is that the news embargo was lifted and the AP’s Desmond Butler got to print the scoop. It was apparent for a couple weeks that something along these lines... Read More
I note with interest that Thomas Friedman, the premier moral imbecile of American journalism, is spitballing the idea of using ISIS to roll back Iran. Friedman is still an outlier. The moderate voice in hawkish Middle East policy today, on the other hand, belongs to analysts calling for supporting al Qaeda as the preferred US... Read More
Today the Guardian in its trademark handwringing fashion is marking the fourth anniversary of the Syrian conflict: 200,000 dead, 3.5 million refugees. The Guardian should also commemorate three and a half years of bloodshed, destruction, and misery inflicted upon Syria by the United States, the EU, and the GCC—make that murder, war crimes, and collective... Read More
From my ever interesting and amusing twitter feed @chinahand, with some minor edits: China Matters crystal ball tells me:  1) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is switching from jihadi strategy to great power negotiations in response to IS fiasco 2) KSA is saying, "OK, we'll help clean up our IS mess, but Assad's gotta go. Syria's... Read More
[Subsequent to e-mailing this piece to China Matters subscribers, I went back and added a paragraph about the "28 pages" and the legal jeopardy they might pose to Saudi Arabia in US courts, and some thoughts about the "anti-IS campaign" as a harbinger of a new US approach to pursuing limited goals in the region.... Read More
Though an anti-war type I am not on the same page with many anti-war types when it comes to poo-pooing President Obama’s call for military action against the IS caliphate.   The caliphate is a big deal, in my opinion, a big bad transnational deal with significant consequences throughout Asia, and something should be done.  “Something”,... Read More
No, We’re Not Here to Help…We’re Here to Stir the Sh*t
I believe that President Obama tipped his hand as to the basic US strategy for IS in Iraq and Syria when he stated that the US goal was to reduce IS to “a manageable problem” . Once the appalling implications of this apparent endorsement of a permanent presence for the transnational, decapitation-happy caliphate sank in,... Read More
[China Matters will be on vacation hiatus until July 14, 2014. It will be interesting to see how this piece on ISIS holds up in the interim. Best summer wishes, and thanks to all our readers.] Apparently ISIS is a business, a bloody and illegal business, sort of like the Mafia. That’s what I gleaned... Read More
I was rather beguiled at first by President Obama’s commencement speech at West Point. Not just because everybody else dumped all over it, and I wanted to exercise my contrarian’s prerogative to defend the indefensible. It’s because the central premise—what I call the Obama Doctrine—is rather attractive to me: President Obama’s unwillingness to employ military... Read More
Uh-oh. Looks like things are getting somewhat Ides-of-Marchy within the Obama administration. I think the coterie of Hillary Clinton supporters and enthusiasts have something to do with it. From today’s LA Times: I should say I’m pretty much on board with President Obama’s hesitations about using military force, which I would gloss as “Don’t use... Read More
Seymour Hersh has an important piece up at the London Review of Books implicating Turkey in the August 2013 sarin gas incident that almost triggered a US attack on Syria.  I wonder how much traction it will get.   Specifically, will it get more traction than the recent clandestine Youtube release of the confab between the... Read More
A year ago there was a certain amount of back and forth as to what it meant that Saudi Arabia had pushed Qatar out of the leadership position on Syria and whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was going to go along with the Syria peace process. I was of the opinion that the Kingdom... Read More
Over the last year or so, I’ve taken the bet  that Saudi Arabia is pursuing a strategy of regime collapse in Syria. In practical terms, this means that the KSA won’t support a Syria peace process that achieves a measure of accommodation between the Ba’athist ruling party (with or without Assad) and the opposition, popular,... Read More
Do you remember the end of history?   I do. You know, when the collapse of Soviet communism signaled the final triumph of American style democratic republican politics and free market economics…the victory that underlies the somewhat more scientific brand of American exceptionalism practiced by President Obama and excuses the often extralegal and violent insertion of... Read More
The way Secretary of State John Kerry backed into the proposal that Assad surrender his chemical weapons has convinced me he’s some kind of anti-war idiot savant. To me, he’s a Futurama mash-up: the iron-jawed obliviousness of Bender combined with the hapless shlubbishness of Zoidberg and the ever-victorious loserman vibe of Fry. I only hope... Read More
[I got my Defcons flipflopped in the original post.  Herewith corrected.  According to Wikipedia, the US military has only gone to Defcon 2 once, for the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Even 9/11 was only Defcon 3.  The different levels also have catchy descriptions, like "Cocked Pistol" and "Double Take", that are used during exercises.  So if... Read More
My working assumption about international affairs is that people in mortal peril are careful and clever. On the other hand, people with plenty of money, power, and impunity are often arrogant and sloppy. This outlook colors my perspective on various US dustups with adversarial nations, most recently Syria. That’s why I’m unwilling to rule out... Read More
In the back and forth about Syria, there is surprisingly little discussion about Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar. Even though Bandar apparently took over the Saudi covert account last year and has driven the Kingdom’s hard line against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. It’s also clear that Saudi Arabia has... Read More
Reuters has a good article by Ben Blanchard on China’s frustrations in the Middle East. Since it is unable to project power in the Middle East, the PRC has been forced to stand by as the U.S. makes a royal cockup of the region. Unfortunately, I feel the article delivered a clanger in its conclusion—that... Read More
Did the Syrian rebels trap President Obama into military action by using his own words, specifically his definition of use of chemical weapons as a "red line"? I, for one, am somewhat skeptical of the idea that the Assad regime decided to mount a chemical weapon attack against a Damascus suburb just as a UN... Read More
As Attentive Reader knows, I’ve been pushing a couple ideas about the diverging aims of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar ever since the reboot of the overseas Syrian opposition at Doha in November 2012. First, the logical endgame for the increasingly radicalized and bloody Syrian insurrection is not victory; it is a clubbing together... Read More
Today, China Matters wins the Internet…or at least the North Korea/Syria contrarian sub-category… A couple items that demonstrate the value of close and impartial reading of news reports…or dumb luck? We report, you decide. First, North Korea. On February 28, I wrote: In my current piece for Asia Times Online … I argue that the... Read More
…here’s today’s headline from the Los Angeles Times print edition For the webversion, the LAT went with the more conventional and presumably more accurate presentation: Syrian radicals of the non-Islamist extremist persuasion can, I suppose, breathe a sigh of relief that they do not occupy the “kill on sight” overlap region of the Arab/radical/Islamist extremist... Read More
Readers of this blog know I have been promoting the ideathat Saudi Arabia, in particular, will not be interested in negotiating an end to the bloodshed in Syria that involves anything less than an overthrow of Assad and a triumph by the largely Sunni rebels. That’s because I believe Saudi Arabia has its eyes on... Read More
My post on the competing strategies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar received a considerable amount of thoughtful comment and pushback by e-mail and on the Web, more than I’m accustomed to receive for a non-China post from somebody who has only an informed layman’s interest in the Middle East. Maybe I came up with something... Read More
With all the reams of reporting on Syria, I am surprised that relatively little is written, in English anyway, about the divergence of aims between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Qatar backs the Muslim Brotherhood and, it appears, would not object to a brokered deal to end the insurrection that allows the MB to get its... Read More
[This piece originally appeared at Asia Times Online on November 17, 2012.  It can be reposted if ATOl is credited and a link provided.] According to Russia's TASS news agency, a grim milestone was achieved in Syria a few days ago: several peaceful demonstrators in Aleppo were massacred. [1] The twist is that the demonstrators... Read More
Over the last couple days the Syrian army has moved into the Baba Amr district of Homs. The action is Syria’s Tiananmen. The Western shorthand for Tiananmen is “authoritarian regime reveals its true monstrous face to the world and its own citizens by trampling on helpless pro-democracy demonstrators.” Maybe so, but in the Chinese official... Read More
The stupid Attack Iran meme seems to have infected virtually all discourse on the Middle East. Marc Lynch said something stupid…then Amnesty International said something stupid…and how about those stupid Islamic terrorist plots? I have already written about Marc Lynch’s rather terminal and embarrassing misunderstanding of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the... Read More
Laura Rozen reported on a piece of Syria-related chinstroking by Marc Lynch at the Center for a New American Security titled Pressure Not War: A Pragmatic and Principled Policy Towards Syria. The CNAS page promoting the study tells us: (plus a variety of other sanction/diplomacy squeeze tactics). In the report, the ICC option is presented... Read More
The conventional picture of US policy in the Middle East is of a hellbound train rushing toward war with Iran, pulling burning coaches filled with European passengers howling praise of Western values out the windows at horrified bystanders. Actually, I think it’s more like a monster truck exhibition. Lots of sound, fury, testosterone, and bravado,... Read More
What went down at the UN: As a riposte to the Arab League initiated, US/EU backed “Assad must step down” resolution, Russia proposed a resolution calling on both sides to pull back forces and negotiate. Pretty reasonable proposal.  But reasonableness is not part of the program on Syria. Instead, a Security Council vote was called... Read More
There is an emerging picture of an embarrassing dilemma for Turkey on Syria. Eager for regional leader cred and anxious to establish itself as an equal partner with the Western powers in the ongoing Middle East make over, Turkey got out in front in supporting the Syrian rebellion. Maybe too far in front. Western military... Read More
The Syrian revolution—a broad-based, non-sectarian, democratic anti-despot national movement—has failed. Mass demonstrations never materialized in Damascus and Aleppo. The military and security forces didn’t crack. The Alawite on Sunni crackdown (Alawites form the backbone of the army/security forces/irregular goon squads) fomented sectarian divisions, with most non-Sunnis minorities cleaving desperately to the Assad regime. Prosperous Sunnis... Read More
The October 13 BBC headline read: Clashes in Syria leave 19 dead – rights activists. That gives the impression that the brutal Syrian army killed 19 Syrian demonstrators. Not quite. The story continues: That’s nine Syrian government soldiers. According to Syrian government reports, 1100 Syrian government forces have been killed since the uprising began. Anti-government... Read More
It is looking more and more like game over for Bashar al Assad in Syria. Ironically, this is in spite of the fact that Bashar has apparently demonstrated that an authoritarian regime, left to its own devices, can often do a good job of crushing determined domestic dissent. Especially if the insurgents lack a safe... Read More
I have a piece up at Asia Times today about the Palestinian application for full state recognition at the UN, Palestine: Mission Accomplished for China. The affair is a big black eye for President Obama, who gets to look like Israel’s rent boy. The Chinese government is rather happy, since the Palestinian bid has shifted... Read More
The Syrian government has banned foreign and, I would imagine, anything but state-media reportage on the ongoing unrest. So I guess that foreign journos have little to chew on except reports relayed by dissidents and their own, understandable resentment at Bashar al-Assad’s attempt to dominate the news cycle. Even so, I think The Independent’s Alastair... Read More
Is Saudi Arabia Showing George W. Bush How to Run the Regime-Change Table in the Middle East? Saudi Arabia has engaged in some extremely public and forceful pushback against Middle East unrest in general and Iran in particular. In some quarters, it’s being called the Saudi counter-revolution. Is the pro-Iran/pro-Hezbollah Assad government in Syria the... Read More
The Great Awakening Gets Closer to China I have an article up at Asia Times that’s a bit more torn from the headlines than usual: Syrian sauce for the Chinese gander. My ongoing interest in writing about Syria as the authoritarian Middle Eastern analog to China dovetailed with the explosion of protests in the southern... Read More
At the invitation of Japan Focus, I wrote an article about the alleged nuclear facility in Syria. Since the Syrians steadfastly deny that there was a reactor at al Kibar and the physical evidence has been bombed, buried, and dismantled into oblivion, I ended up writing more about the creaky Non-Proliferation Treaty regime that the... Read More
The Saga of Syria's Nuclear Plant
There is a goodly amount of spin surrounding American allegations that North Korea assisted Syria in the construction of a nuclear reactor. If the report is true and the pictures are not some Hail Mary neocon forgeries, Syria's motives and judgment are certainly open to question. But in the context of Syria's stated nuclear ambitions,... Read More
In the wake of the release of the Iran National Intelligence Estimate debunking the claims of a ongoing nuclear weapons program--claims that served as the justification for our campaign to isolate, sanction, and weaken Iran--China Matters reminds an astounded world that we predicted the collapse of the Bush administration’s strategy of confronting Iran back in... Read More
With apologies to Steve Clemons, maybe it’s the reality based SCUDs in Syria community—and not the nukes in Syria crowd—that’s getting “Judith Miller’d”. Looking at an actual immediate security threat by North Korea and Syria that could justify a pre-emptive strike by Israel, my money’s always been on SCUDs not nukes. But, based on the... Read More
This looks about right. Via Laura Rozen, Intelligence Online reports on the probable target of the Israeli raid on Syria in early September: This confirms the version that Raw Story reported a week ago. As an aside, North Korea is prohibited from exporting spare parts for missile systems under the UNSCR 1718 sanctions. If there's... Read More
The Israeli censors have finally approved reporting on the fact of the raid, but nothing about target, results, or consequences. A couple possible data points. AP via Talking Points Memo: BBC via Syria Comment: To continue musing about Stratfor’s speculation about a North Korean sellout of Syria, maybe North Korea revealed details of its SCUD-related... Read More
Via the Marmot’s Hole via Tom Coyner’s blog via Stratfor via God’s lips to our ears, interesting speculation that North Korea demonstrated its sincerity in denuclearization by revealing its list of buyers, presumably including Syria, to the United States, that Washington tipped off Tel Aviv, and Israel thereupon bombed the bejeezus out of some Nork-equipped... Read More
Further Parsing the North Korean Nuclear Weapons in Syria Allegations
Judging from a couple of items by Syria Comment, China Matters is entitled to a little preening. Concerning the target of the September 6 Israeli raid on Syria, I wrote yesterday: Per Syria Comment, Raw Story reports: Israel did not strike a nuclear weapons facility in Syria on Sept. 6, instead striking a cache of... Read More
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PastClassics
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The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?