President Erdogan

Turkey may have stepped into its own ‘endless war’ in Syria

“The Turks have always pursued an unhappy policy in regard to native populations,” wrote German Gen. Erich Ludendorff of his World War I Ottoman allies. “They have gone on the principle of taking everything and giving nothing. Now they had to reckon with these people (Kurds, Armenians and Arab tribes) as their enemies.” The Turkish army, driven out of Syria after four centuries in 1918 by the British and “native populations,” is back. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s involvement in Syria reverses the policy of the republic’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, that kept Turkey out of the Arab world. Ataturk looked westward and saw the futility of returning to lands that had rejected Turkish rule.

That arrangement worked for Turkey until 2011, when the uprising in Syria opened the way to foreign interference. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were backing assorted militias in their effort to depose Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Erdogan would not be left out. His border with Syria offered the most extensive terrain for infiltrating fighters and war materiel. Moreover, his Justice and Development Party had a long friendship with Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, whose attempt to depose al Assad’s father, Hafez al Assad, in 1982 ended with the infamous massacre in Hama. Erdogan looked to the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots to play a leading role in the resistance to the younger al Assad. In 2012, a Syrian former Cabinet minister told me that Erdogan had asked al Assad to put Muslim Brothers into his Cabinet. When al Assad refused, the former minister said, Erdogan made clear that he would back all efforts to remove the president and replace him with Islamists…

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Beirut City

Avoiding War in the Middle East Could Begin in Lebanon: A Scenario

Israel’s new government, whatever form it ultimately takes, can move toward ending one war right now without firing a shot. At a stroke, Israel only has to offer to withdraw from a mere 5,000 acres of scrub that U.N. mediator Terje Roed-Larsen once called “a worthless piece of land.” In this sequence of events, Israel’s war with Hezbollah, which has brought it nothing but grief since its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, would be over. And there would be a bonus for Israel: Iran would lose the strategic threat of thousands of Hezbollah rockets pointed at Israeli cities.

Deft diplomacy could then dismantle, one by one, other areas of confrontation between Iran and its adversaries — among them Iran’s nuclear program, the Yemen war and U.S. sanctions against Iran — that threaten to engulf the United States in a regional war.

Let me explain…

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Kashmir

The Question That Never Gets Asked About Kashmir

In 1998, the CIA subjected India to strict surveillance to ensure it was complying with its commitment not to test nuclear weapons. The agency used satellites, communications intercepts and agents to watch the nuclear facility at Pokhran in Rajasthan state. India could not detonate warheads, which would inevitably lead Pakistan to follow suit, without the United States knowing in advance. Or so the United States thought.

Washington went into shock on May 11, 1998, when Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that his country had just detonated not one, but five nuclear warheads at Pokhran. “India is now a nuclear power state,” Vajpayee declared. R. Jeffrey Smith reported two days later in The Washington Post that CIA analysts responsible for monitoring India’s nuclear program “had not expected the tests and were not on alert, several officials said. They were, according to one senior official, asleep at their homes and did not see the (satellite) pictures until they arrived at work in the morning.” U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby called the negligence “the biggest failure of our intelligence-gathering agencies in the past 10 years or more.”

Pakistan responded by testing five of its nuclear bombs on May 28. Pandora’s box was wide open, threatening mass destruction to the Asian subcontinent if the Pakistani and Indian armies squared off along the Line of Control that separated their forces in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. That happened a year later when Pakistani paramilitaries masquerading as indigenous Kashmiri rebel jihadists penetrated the Line of Control in Kashmir’s Kargil region. The Indian army confronted them, and U.S. intelligence detected Pakistan moving tactical nuclear weapons onto the battlefield. American diplomat Bruce Reidel wrote in his informative book, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, “The last war that India and Pakistan fought, over Kargil, threated to expand to a nuclear conflict.” It didn’t go nuclear, following U.S. President Bill Clinton’s demand that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif withdraw his forces. It was a close call…

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Children in Tal Serdam camp, Fafin, northern rural Aleppo.

The Syrian Civil War Grinds On, Largely Forgotten

While the United States and Iran risk all-out war with their game of chicken in the Persian Gulf, their proxy war is still playing out in Syria. Iranian ally and Syrian President Bashar al Assad won the war two years ago, but his victory was incomplete. Al Assad secured his throne, but two large swaths of the country remain beyond his reach. The Turkish army and rebel militants control the northwest. The mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by a small but unspecified number of U.S., British and French special forces, hold the area northeast of the Euphrates River near the Syria-Turkey-Iraq border triangle. Al Assad has said he will not give up the struggle until both areas revert to his dominion. The only other part of the country under foreign occupation is the Golan Heights, but al Assad is in no position to expel the Israelis.

Combat rages on the periphery of Idlib province in Syria’s northwest, where hundreds of civilians have lost their lives and as many as 300,000 have fled to relative, if uncomfortable, safety since the Syrian army launched its latest offensive two months ago. Rebel leaders told Reuters that Russian special forces were fighting alongside Syrian troops, although Russia has yet to comment on the allegation. What is known is that Russian warplanes from the Hmeimim air base have bombed towns in the rebel-held areas. On the rebel side, dependence on Turkish army protection, logistics, communications, ammunition and other supplies balances Russian help to al Assad. The Turks expelled the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units and Kurdish civilians from Afrin province near Idlib last year. That left a large zone abutting government-held areas around Aleppo, Hama and Latakia under Turkish occupation with local and foreign fighters to sustain pressure on al Assad’s forces…

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Why Good Reporting Isn’t Dead

Sometimes old journalists like myself feel for the Roman captives who called out to Emperor Claudius, “Ave Imperator, morituri te salutamus — Hail, Emperor, we who are about to die salute you.” Sometimes, though, a great scoop comes along to give our profession a stay of execution. It has just happened in Brazil, where disclosures published by The Intercept Brasil have severely wounded the country’s new political establishment. In case you missed it, reporting by Intercept journalists Andrew Fishman, Rafael Moro Martins, Leandro Demori, Glenn Greenwald and Amanda Audi has exposed Brazil’s much-vaunted anti-corruption investigation, “Operation Car Wash,” to accusations that it was, in large measure, a political tool used to rig last year’s presidential elections. For Brazil, it is Watergate times 10.

Internal documents and Telegram text messages acquired by The Intercept appear to demonstrate collusion among prosecutors to prevent former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from running in the election against Jair Bolsonaro and then to damage the campaign of his successor as Workers’ Party candidate, Fernando Haddad. This scoop came courtesy of a whistleblower who has put himself at risk in a country whose National Federation of Journalists recorded 135 acts of violence against journalists, including the murder of four, in 2018. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented the murders of 42 Brazilian journalists since 1992 and reports that Brazil’s Intercept staff “have received threats on email and social media following their publication of politically sensitive stories this month.” It takes a brave soul to provide evidence of official criminality to journalists not only in Brazil but in most of the world. The risks are murder, torture and imprisonment for the leaker as well as the journalist…

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From the Somme to the Persian Gulf, Lessons on Shows of Force

When farmers in this part of Northern France plow their fields, they unearth relics of the war that ended here just over a century ago: shell casings, gas masks, skulls. The tranquil landscape, as flat as the plains of Kansas, belies the memory of the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, when 21,000 British soldiers died charging across a few hundred yards of shell craters, weeds and barbed wire into German machine guns. That futile offensive raged until the following November, when death had claimed 1.5 million lives on both sides of the trenches. The war’s architects had not envisioned such slaughter when they mobilized young recruits in August 1914 on promises of an easy victory.

The historian Christopher Clark depicted the statesmen who led Europe into the Great War as men walking blind in their sleep through an open window. In his magnificent book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Clark wrote, “The conflict that began that summer mobilized 65 million troops, claimed three empires, 20 million military and civilian deaths, and 21 million wounded.” That had not been the intention, any more than the treaty ending the war was supposed to produce another cataclysm 20 years later that would claim a further 60 million lives…

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Julian Assange

Julian Assange Languishes in Prison as His Journalistic Collaborators Brandish Their Prizes

While Julian Assange languishes in south London’s maximum security Belmarsh Prison, a British court is weighing his fate. The 48-year-old Australian founder of Wikileaks is serving time for the minor crime of jumping bail by taking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden. His fear at the time was that the Swedes, with a track record of assisting rendition of suspects sought by the U.S., would send him straight across the Atlantic. Now that he has lost his diplomatic refuge, 70 British members of Parliament have petitioned to dispatch Assange to Sweden if prosecutors there reopen the case they closed in 2017. The greater threat to his liberty is the United States Department of Justice’s extradition demand for him to stand trial in the U.S. for conspiring with Chelsea Manning to hack a government computer.

The U.S. insists Assange will not face the death penalty. If he did, Britain, in common with other European states, would not be able to send him there. The maximum sentence for the hacking offense is five years, but there is no guarantee that, once he arrives in the U.S., he will not face additional charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 that President Barack Obama used against nine individuals for allegedly leaking secret information to the public. The sentence for that offense could be death or life in prison. If Assange ends up in the U.S. federal judicial system, he may never been seen again.

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The Danger of Judging by Appearance and the Power of Reaching Out

They call themselves the OWGs, Old White Guys. The oldest is 78, the youngest 65. Their profile fits the pundits’ picture of Trump voters: white, Christian and born before the Vietnam War. Their home is Raleigh, North Carolina, in the old Confederacy, which allegedly breeds bigots. But these white senior citizens are doing more than the police or social services to oppose the bigotry that breeds violence between races and religions. It started with three murders on their doorstep.

It was just after 5 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2015, prosecutors allege, when a 46-year-old white male named Craig Stephen Hicks entered his neighbors’ apartment in Chapel Hill, about 30 miles from Raleigh, and shot dead three unarmed university students. The victims were sisters Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha and Yusor’s husband, Deah Barakat. The women were 21 and 19. Deah, a lanky 6-foot-3-inch basketball lover, was 23. Photographs taken while they were alive portray three healthy, smiling young Americans who happened to be Muslim. Before Deah and Yusor had completed their dental studies at the University of North Carolina or Razan could earn her architecture degree, they were dead. Hicks is expected to face trial on murder charges this summer.

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Ruins at Zamalka, Ghouta, Syria, 22nd Feb 2018

Tell me how this ends

In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

Rob Malley, President Barack Obama’s senior Middle East adviser and Harvard Law School classmate, denied the charge. “That can’t be true,” the fifty-­five-­year-­old scholar insisted when we met in his office at the International Crisis Group in Washington. “We provided comprehensive memoranda to the incoming team, though we can’t know if they read them. We definitely had a long one on Syria, on all aspects of the conflict.”

I have observed the Syrian conflict off and on since it began, in 2011, filing stories from Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Palmyra, the Turkish border, and other zones of contention. But the story as seen from inside Syria seemed as incomplete as the Trojan War without the gods. In the conflagration’s eighth year, I flew to the Olympian heights of Washington to ask the immortals what they were doing while an estimated half million of Syria’s twenty-­three million inhabitants were dying, millions more fled the country, and some of civilization’s most precious monuments were destroyed…

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Destruction in Homs

Syria: A Savage Peace

Workmen throughout Syria are erecting bronze, stone, and concrete statues in what the government calls “liberated areas.” Some of the monuments are newly cast, while others have been in storage since the conflict began in 2011. At that time, protesters in rebellious cities like Dera’a and Homs were desecrating the sculptures of longtime president Hafez al-Assad, his successor Bashar, and Bashar’s older brother, Bassel, the designated heir who died before ascending the throne. It was perhaps an omen of the rebellion’s destiny that popular legend had a massive bust of Hafez in Idlib killing two demonstrators as it crashed to earth. Seven years on, the effigies, like the regime they embody, are back. The war isn’t over, but the postwar era has begun.

Outright victory remains elusive. The Syrian army controls about 60 percent of the land and 80 percent of the resident population of about 16.5 million people, leaving three sectors of the country yet to be “liberated”…

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