Syria October Update: Father Dave Smith.

Vietnam war memorial
Vietnam war memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted October 3, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

The following is Father Dave Smith’s latest post on the situation in Syria, from his website fatherdave.org.

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I’m writing to you from the lovely town of Narooma on our state’s south coast. Our family is taking a few days off at Ange’s parents’ house and, as you can see from the pic below, the children are frolicking in the sunshine and enjoying the great outdoors!

Enjoying the great outdoors!

Enjoying the great outdoors!

I’m afraid that since we last spoke I seem to have been bogged down in desk work and other clerical duties, though I have been keeping myself up-to-date with Syria. Indeed, I’ve been finding myself increasingly mired in the ongoing information war.

I hope that you saw my article on “How Obama lost the first battle for Damascus”.  It got quite a wide circulation and can now be found on onlineopinion.com.au, orientalreview.org, and counterpunch.org, as well as on my own Syria blog – prayersforsyria.com.

My aim in the article was to try to unravel some of the rhetoric that was being used to prepare the ground for open war. Since writing, I’ve been made even more aware of just how deep and dirty this war of words really is!

The Battle for Hearts and Minds

Some of us are old enough to remember the only war in human history that was ever brought to a close due to popular demand – the war in Vietnam (1955-75). The reason the Vietnam War was so unique and was concluded in such a unique fashion was that it was the only war to have ever been televised by an independent media!

The power-brokers learnt their lessons from Vietnam. Mainline media is no longer so independent, and reporters are no longer allowed to move freely around the front lines. They are now safely ‘embedded’ at well-determined vantage-points.  The makers-of-war lost control of the narrative in Vietnam and determined not to lose their grip again. Then along came the Internet, and with it, the threat of the true democratization of information!

This where Obama came unstuck, I suspect. He announced that Assad had committed a crime that warranted his country being invaded and a million bloggers cried foul!

From what I could see, the mainline media did very little to question the official government narrative, just as they completely failed to notice that every sector of the church across the globe had united in opposition to US intervention. Even so, the multiple voices of dissent could not be kept below the surface. There were too many of them, and too many people had the capacity to hear them!

It would be interesting to do a detailed comparison of the various lies that have been used to justify wars and see how this latest set compares. Even putting to one side the obvious lies concerning Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and his supposed links to Al Qaeda, we could push back a little further and compare:

  • The stories told by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, in April 2011, about how Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was issuing Viagra to his troops to encourage the systematic rape of civilians – a charge that was later investigated by both ‘Doctors Without Borders’ and ‘Amnesty International’, and shown to be without foundation (see here).
  • The eerily similar 1993 story of an unnamed Serbian General who commanded his troops to “Go forth and rape”. It made the front page of the New York Times and helped grease the wheels for NATO’s intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The paper later published a small correction saying that “the existence of “a systematic rape policy” by the Serbs “remains to be proved.”” but this received little attention.
  • The Kuwaiti girl who testified before Congress in 1990 that she had seen Iraqi soldiers storm the hospital where she worked and dump newborn babies out of their incubators. She turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, if you remember, and the whole ‘baby-killer’ story turned out to be the brain child of an American marketing firm, but nobody questioned the story until well after it had played its role in justifying the first invasion of Iraq.
  • George Bush I’s outlandish depiction of Manuel Noriega, accompanied by the transparently false claim that American lives were at risk in Panama, used to justify the invasion of 1989, cynically named “Operation Just Cause”!
  • The outrageous lies told by Ronald Reagan back in 1983 to justify the invasion of the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada – claiming that the tiny country was being developed into a Cuban-Soviet military base that would be used to launch communist attacks against the US!
  • The staged “The Gulf of Tonkin” incident that launched America into a full-scale war in Indochina in 1964!

Most of us are too young to remember this last incident, but recently declassified documents reveal quite unambiguously that the “unprovoked attack” by North Vietnamese vessels on the USS Maddox on the night of August 4, 1964, never actually took place!

In short, government lies are nothing new and they are rarely particularly sophisticated. You get the impression that the great powers assume that their voting public will believe anything that comes from the top, and history shows that generally we do!

I think the reason for this is simple. The papers inevitably report what our leaders say. If there is a denial of the leader’s statement, it’s nestled somewhere deeper in the paper, on the pages that most people never reach.

But nowadays the counter-narrative is in your face! It’s coming at you through your smart-phone, and it’s all over Facebook and Twitter before the papers carrying the official narrative are even printed! This must be causing those who reap the big profits from war and human misery to panic!

The Machinations of Propaganda

It’s macabrely fascinating to watch the way the power-players are handling these latest developments.

On the one hand we see the relatively sophisticated US propaganda machine try to reframe the argument for war and refocus us on other issues (using their full arsenal of ‘weapons of mass distraction’ as Chomsky calls them). On the other hand we see basic thuggery and intimidation being used in the Arabic press!

One saga that has gripped me has been the unraveling of an article published in Mintpress News on August 29 that was the first to claim eye-witness accounts of the gas attacks in Ghouta! According to the two Jordanian journalists to whom the article was attributed, it was actually the Saudis who were behind the attack!

Since the publication of that article, one of the journalists seems to have disappeared and the other is trying to distance herself from the work completely. Apparently she’s under pressure from … (you guessed it) … the Saudi’s! (see the full story here).

In the middle of all these machinations is our own dear Mother Agnes, who published a lengthy study of her own that disputes the official US version of the gas attacks. This has earned her praise from some quarters and ridicule from others. Mother Agnes’ study can be downloaded here.

Mother with Mairead and myself in Beirut

Mother Agnes with Mairead and myself in Beirut

I found it difficult to study Mother Agnes’ report in detail as it contains multiple images of apparently dead and suffering children, and it is hard to look at such images analytically. Even so, I appreciate that if we are to take these children’s suffering seriously we must investigate these crimes scrupulously, and this is what Mother Agnes has done. If you’d prefer an abbreviated version, this RT News article draws directly on Mother Agnes’ work and makes it clear that at least some of the videos used by the US to justify the proposed attack on Syria cannot be trusted!

And so, as Mother Agnes tries to unravel the propaganda, she becomes a target of propaganda herself! Media sources from Russia and other countries that oppose foreign intervention in Syria have been praising her while those in favour of intervention pillory her.

The effort from Australian mainline media seem particularly pitiful. One recent article published in the Melbourne Age that was straightforwardly critical of Mother Agnes turned out to be a simple cut and paste job done on an article that appeared in the New York Times. The interesting thing is that the New York Times article is actually far more balanced. The Australian version has all the balanced bits cut out!

And now ‘Human Rights Watch’ have come out in opposition to Mother Agnes! This might sound like a damning indictment, but it probably says more about ‘Human Rights Watch’ – an organisation whose objectivity has been under suspicion for some years – than it does about Mother Agnes. Read this article published on the ‘Ron Paul Institute’ site if you’d like to know more about this

A Solution for Syria?

And while the propaganda war rages, a solution to the actual war on the ground may be nearer than we had thought!

One consequence of the proposed intervention that the Americans may not have anticipated was that it has further fragmented the Syrian opposition, many of whom hate the Americans even more than they do Bashar Al-Assad!

One the one hand this has led entire units of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ to defect to Jabhat Al Nusra – the largest of the Islamist groups – who are by no stretch of the imagination fighting for a free and democratic Syria! Conversely, those Syrians who are still fighting for reforms to their homeland are now considering teaming up with government forces to help throw out the foreigners!

Robert Fisk reports that secret meetings between FSA and government officials have already taken place and that we may well soon see a complete reshaping of the conflict! If this happens I expect that the war in Syria will end pretty quickly. There will be no way that the US will be able to justify arming Al Qaeda against an all-Syrian coalition who are defending their country from foreigners. And once support for the opposition dries up from the US and its allies (the Saudis, Qatar, Israel and Turkey) it will not take long before the insurgents will be in full retreat!

I pray that this will happen quickly, as I would much rather return to Damascus when this is all over there than go there as a human shield. Even so, things are by no means resolved as yet, and the propaganda machine still has plenty of fuel left in the tank.

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Syria Solution: Three Natural Gas Pipelines.

Natural gas production by countries (Romania i...
Natural gas production by countries (Romania in red) in cubic meters per year (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted September 25, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

Syria’s war and humanitarian crisis has gone on for over two years. Every rational man and woman on Earth realizes that the catastrophe must end. Because of the mafia-like competition for energy markets in Europe, which includes the killing of civilians by all mafia groups/nations, millions of innocent Syrians are suffering tremendously. War is insanity, plain and simple.

It has become obvious to me that the crisis in Syria and the Middle East region is all about control of the natural resources in the region, namely natural gas and oil, gaining market share in regions where customers buy those energy resources, and maximization of profits. When business competition degrades to the point where hundreds of thousands-millions of innocent people are murdered, become refugees, and entire nations are destroyed and lie in ruins-humanity must stop and consider making great changes.

Many have far more expertise on the Middle East than I, and we hope that reasonable suggestions will come forward soon to finally bring peace to that important energy-rich region of the Earth. The analyst in the following video points out the major players in this natural gas market competition gone insane: Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States, Russia and Syria.

A number of other countries have stakes in the natural gas industry as well, to a lesser extent than those mentioned, including France and China. All have stakes in the competition for natural gas market share and profits from the people and countries of Europe as well as nations east of the Middle East region.

The video is from a September 15 program called “The Debate” where a man by the name of Zaid Hamid is interviewed about Syria, the Middle East, the Project for a New American Century, American neo-conservatives, and what is really going on in Syria. It is the first time I have ever heard of “The Debate” or Zaid Hamid. My best guess, I am not certain what country this program originates from, is that it originated in Iran or Pakistan.

While listening to this interview a thought came to mind that perhaps three pipelines to Europe would be a possible solution.

Iran would run their pipeline through Iraq and Syria allowing their natural gas to eventually be sold in Europe.

Qatar would run their pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria allowing their natural gas to eventually be sold to Europe as well.

Israel would run their pipeline across the Mediterranean allowing their natural gas to be sold to Europe as well.

Is such an idea for a solution to the present humanitarian crisis, which is obviously because of the competition for a multi-billion dollar, perhaps 500 billion dollars per year, market, doable and possible? What steps and actions would be needed to bring the major players to the negotiating table to hammer out an agreement which would be agreed upon by all? How could such an agreement come about and be implemented so that each party becomes convinced that it is fair and honorable for the people of each country?

One thinks about the auto industry, where competition is present between automakers from the United States, Germany, Japan, South Korea and other nations. Do these corporations resort to war and killing to gain market share and profits? Some will consider the competition in the auto industry as “dog-eat-dog” and stiff, yet, without knowing what really occurs of a shady nature in the auto industry as well as other major industries on Earth, there is no killing of millions of people to gain sales and profits.

What separates the energy industries from the auto industry with regard to the horrific lengths the war for energy control exhibits, seen in the destruction of entire countries and populations, compared to the much more peaceful competition between automakers? Here is the question which goes to the heart of the matter. Who are the people who initiate wars and killing in the quest for control, wealth and power, and what are their motivations?

Do those who start wars and killing have the health and well-being of the people of the Earth at the center of their motives, or is the love of money truly the root of all evil?

Why is it that we rarely never hear from members of the Rothschild family or the Rockefeller family regarding the situation in Syria, the Middle East, and other war-torn countries and regions of the Earth? Why have we not seen and heard Queen Elizabeth and members of the “Royal Family”, as well as “Royalty” from all countries, speak about solutions for the Syria crisis, and solutions for war-torn countries and regions?  How do these individuals, who represent the wealthiest families on Earth, who control unimaginable amounts of stock in corporations covering a vast expanse of essential industries, stay completely out of the news and media, when their views could enlighten the world regarding the activities of the corporations and governments they control?

Has humanity come to a point where the phenomenon of “Royalty” is no longer acceptable? Where individuals and families around the world hold wealth in the hundreds of billions-trillions-of dollars while a large percentage of the human race tries to survive on $1/day? Humanity has come to a profound awareness that this historic reality, where royals and the ultra-rich were once seen with a sense of admiration and respect, is not able to assure the greatest health and well-being of men, women and children of the world, that in fact the actions of so-called “Royals” and ultra-rich have greatly damaged the health and well-being of people, and have done so for centuries.

Gore Vidal once gave credit to the aristocracy for their ability to remain “invisible”, to the point where the people of the world are almost totally unaware of their existence.

The concept of bringing peace through war is rapidly losing its appeal to the people of the Earth.

Humanity is witnessing the beginning of the end for war.

How will the competitive drives of each player in this geopolitical Superbowl, if you will, be shaped to change from the cut-throat, military tactics and strategies to ones where fair and honest competition is realized, where no innocent civilians suffer harm or are killed?

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Hold Your Ground In Second Battle For Damascus.

Posted September 21, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

(Source: This article was published at counterpunch.org)

How Obama Lost the First Battle for Damascus

by FATHER DAVE SMITH

A good propaganda system aims at controlling the public dialogue, and in the marketing of war one technique that has proven very successful in recent years has been to encourage public debate about a proposed war, but to do so within a framework that already assumes the basic dogmas that you are trying to sell.

So, for instance, in preparation for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, healthy debate was encouraged over the question of whether the ‘liberation of Iraq’ would cost the US too much and whether it would solve all the problems for Iraq and for the world that it aimed to solve. Assumed within this framework, of course, was the highly debatable contention that the US had the moral and legal right to invade Iraq, whatever the invasion’s purported aims!

We face a similar situation now with Syria. Healthy debate has been encouraged over whether Bashar Al-Assad should be ‘punished’ for his use of chemical weapons. We are encouraged to think about what will happen if he is not punished, and what will be the consequences if he is. Within the framework of this debate though there are lots of highly debatable contentions that are being assumed!  One is that Assad is guilty. Another is that the US has the right to act as the world’s moral policeman. And within this second maxim lies an even more basic assumption – namely, that the US is trying to act morally. Personally I don’t believe Mr. Obama gives a tinker’s cuss about the morality of his latest war, any more than he does about Assad’s guilt or any apparent use of chemical weapons!

That chemical weapons are not the real issue should be obvious to a decently educated teenager. A glance at history reveals quite clearly that the worst offenders when it comes to the use of chemical weapons have been the US and its allies.

The scourge of Agent Orange comes immediately to mind.

Agent Orange is a toxic herbicide that was used extensively by the US during the Vietnam War to destroy trees and crops with the supposed aim of flushing out the enemy. Between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 US gallons (76,000,000 liters) of this deadly chemical over a full twelve per cent of the total landscape of South Vietnam, at an average concentration of thirteen times the recommended rate for domestic use!

The result, according to Vietnamese figures, was that 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and half a million children were born with birth defects. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to one million people are disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange.

More recent US use of chemical weapons would have to include Depleted Uranium (DU), used extensively by the US and NATO in the 1991 Gulf War, the Bosnia war, the bombing of Serbia, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

DU weapons produce clouds of poison gas on impact. These clouds of aerosolized DU are laden with billions of toxic sub-micron sized particles that can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested. DU exposure has been linked to a various cancers and birth defects, as well as to chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Hodgkin’s disease and other immune system disorders.

Arguably the most terrible use of chemical weapons in living history took place during the waning years of the Iran-Iraq war, where Saddam Hussein used both mustard gas and sarin against Iranian troops. Recently declassified CIA documents make clear that this happened with full knowledge of the Reagan administration which backed Hussein to the hilt!

Similar US complicity can be seen more recently in the use of white phosphorous by America’s closest Middle Eastern ally, Israel. White phosphorous is a toxic chemical that burns through both human tissue and bone, and, according to Amnesty International, was used extensively by the IDF against the civilian populations of Gaza and Southern Lebanon.

We could draw on other examples, but these are more than sufficient to illustrate the hypocrisy of any ‘red line’ the US claims to draw over the use of chemical weapons. Successive US administrations have employed chemical weapons liberally when it has suited their purposes. Conversely, they have no real proof that Bashar Al-Assad actually used them. Even John Kerry admits that Assad’s guilt is based on ‘common sense’, while those members of Congress who attended the ‘classified briefings’ say that while they can’t reveal the details of the evidence they were presented with, it was not convincing enough to stand up in any court of law.

Let us dispense with further discussion of chemical weapons. Far too many crocodile tears have been shed by the world’s power-players over the dead in Ghota, and I find it nauseating to see these people’s suffering used as a political tool aimed at generating further suffering! The gas attacks are not the issue! They never were the issue! For those in power, they never were more than a propaganda device!

The real issue is simple – US and Israeli control over the entirety of the Middle East. This has always been the agenda, and despite all recent efforts at re-embroidering the Emperor’s new clothes, Obama’s guise is looking increasingly transparent.

The contours of the plan for US Middle-Eastern hegemony were leaked quite plainly by General Wesley Clark in his book of 2003, “Winning Modern Wars”. Clark recounts “As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.”

The program is behind schedule, certainly, but the systematic destruction of independent governments across the Middle East has been as brutal as it has been thorough. We’ve watched the dominoes fall, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya and now Syria and Lebanon, with Iran not far behind, and as each domino falls the cries of millions of suffering human beings fades into the background as we move on to the next target.

Even if Clark had not spelled out the grand plan, the actions of the US speak for clearly enough. The game is one of domination and control of the oil-rich Middle East. It is the predatory activity of empire-building, where the US follows the same murderous course of all the great empires that have gone before it. The US Empire is entirely predictable in its actions as it is no different from any of its predecessors, except perhaps in the sophistication of its war marketing.

Having said that, the reality we have just witnessed was the failure of Obama’s war- marketing machine – a failure that lost the President the battle for Damascus!

Too many people started asking the wrong questions – questions that fell outside of the accepted framework! Instead of keeping to the intended dialogue over whether Assad should be punished and what the consequences of that punishment would be, ordinary people everywhere strayed from the script!

Led by the Pope and church leaders as well as by rival politicians, people everywhere questioned whether Assad was guilty and whether the US had the right to act as the world’s moral policeman. Not many went so far as to ask the truly off- limits questions as to what US intentions in the region really are. Even so, the propaganda machine stumbled and crashed, and Obama’s war edifice collapsed with it! This was a great victory for humanity!

Even so, while this battle for Damascus may have been lost, the war (for both Syria and Obama) is far from over. Since chemical weapons were never really relevant to US war plans to begin with, we should not expect war to be abandoned even if chemical weapons are taken off the agenda entirely. There most surely is a B-Plan!

We notice even now how the US administration is trying to reframe the dialogue.

On the issue of UN jurisdiction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, John Kerry is saying that there will be ‘consequences’ if the proposed UN oversight isn’t conducted satisfactorily and the Syrian government doesn’t keep to its ‘obligations’.

The framework for a new public dialogue is being laid out, where the appropriate questions will be ‘is Assad keeping to his obligations?’ and, if not, ‘does the US have any choice but to force his compliance through re-igniting the war machine?’ We only have to remember the US demands placed on Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction, where whatever the Iraqi dictator did was interpreted as non-compliance, to see how this scenario plays out.

And so the groundwork has been laid for the second battle for Damascus. The question now is whether the church and peace activists around the world will continue to be able to hold their ground against a renewed assault in rhetoric!

Father Dave Smith is Parish Priest, professional boxer, human-rights activist and father of four. He was part of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) delegation to Syria in May 2013. Join Dave’s mailing list via his main website – http://www.fatherdave.org – and read his updates on Syria on http://www.prayersforsyria.com

Syria Debate Goes On.

Posted September 14, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

While the United States and Russia try to work out a deal for controlling the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stocks, the media debates continue. What follows is a recent episode of an RT news program “Worlds Apart” with host Oksana Boyko and Australian politician Gareth Evans, one of the architects of the so-called “R2P” doctrine. R2P stands for “right to protect”, a more theoretical than legal doctrine which gives states-countries the right  to take action when innocent lives are at risk in another country. It evidently was invoked during the defeat of Qaddafi, through air strikes against Libya. This exchange between Ms. Boyko, one tough-nosed journalist, and Mr. Evans is one of the most to-the-point, interesting television broadcasts I have come upon yet regarding the Syria crisis.