28 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. Well I’ll start this off on the issue of the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria.

    A recent article “JAMES O’NEILL. Verdict First, Evidence Later: How the Australian Media Misrepresent Geopolitical Events” Posted on 7 April 2017 on John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations [http://johnmenadue.com/?p=9992] questions the apparently generally accepted view that Assad was responsible for the latest gas attack in Syria.

    The lead-in para is: “The reporting of the tragedy from Syria is but the latest illustration of an all too common phenomenon: a pre-determined verdict on little or no evidence.”

    I’m generally happy to accept the lead in para as an attention getting mechanism but I object to the word “Misrepresent” in the article’s title.

    Leaving semantics aside, while I am prepared to accept the general view that Assad was responsible I would like some reassurances that (1) reporters filing their stories on the atrocity were aware of the alternatives and (2) they went through some formal process of assessing the information before coming to their conclusions. I would like to think the journos didn’t just work off press releases from somewhere.

    Somebody once said “Truth is the first casualty of war.” and we have enough experience even just since the illegal Iraq war that our side is just as likely to tell lies of fact or omission as the other side.

    Perhaps what we need is headlines once per day instead of every minute so journalists can do their jobs more thoroughly.

  2. The source is “ever-changing”. We are still awaiting the confirmation of the cause of the 2003 Iraq debacle which with the appropriate enabling legislation could still yet see the criminal prosecutions of Howard etc. A typical tactic for accused criminals is to await the passage of time and the passing of witnesses and those surviving witness’ memories. So-called journalists not being embedded may rely on dubious sources like the USA military which learned its lesson of the democratisation of reporting of the USA’s invasion of Vietnam when the Yanks got another hiding. The US intervention in Syria in another illegal invasion putatively to protect and deter the Syrian government’s maltreatment of insurgency by and amongst its citizenry should be seen in the context of its own maltreatment of its back citizenry. Would this justify a pre-emptive strike by a foreign source upon the USA ?

    The Gulf of Tonkin and the weapons of mass destruction are to be remembered when assessing credibility.

  3. Let’s go back to taws. For non-Australian readers, who might need it, that is slang for “Let’s go back to basics.”

    1. Did the recent alleged gas attack under consideration even happen?

    Most sources I check all accept it really happened. These are sources that variously take each side or neutral positions on who perpetrated the attack. It seems the fact of the attack is not under serious question and maybe not under any question.

    2. If it happened, who had the most to gain by such an attack?

    The World Socialist Website claims and/or theorises as follows;

    “First, there is the question of motive. Who benefits from such a crime? Clearly, it is not the Assad regime, which, with the aid of Russia and Iran, has largely vanquished the Islamist “rebels” that were armed, financed and trained by the CIA and Washington’s regional allies in the bloody six-year-long war for regime change. The government now rules over 80 percent of the country, including all of its major cities, with the Islamists’ hold reduced to largely rural areas of Idlib province. Under conditions in which the Trump administration had been signaling a shift in focus from toppling Assad to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), why would Damascus carry out such a provocative attack?

    The CIA-backed “rebels” themselves, however—along with their patrons in the US military and intelligence apparatus—have every interest in staging such a provocation as a means of thwarting the government’s consolidation of its rule throughout Syria. Moreover, numerous investigations, including by the UN’s own chemical disarmament agency, have made it clear that these forces, dominated by the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate, the Al Nusra Front, have carried out similar attacks using both chlorine and sarin gas, which they have received from their regional backers in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey and which they themselves have proven capable of manufacturing.”

    What credence should we give this claim? I don’t have an answer at this stage and maybe not ever.

    3. Are there any moral actors?

    This is a highly charged question with realpolitik ruthlessness the looming bête noire (black beast) in the wings. I would say, in my typical worldly cynical way, “At these levels, with a meat-grinder on the ground and high real or perceived geo-strategic stakes globally, there are NO moral actors at the levels high and low where wars are prosecuted. Expunge that illusion from your mind. Every actor, or at least all the desperate actors, will fight as dirty as they can get away with and in ways which they believe (often wrongly) will not lead to any imminent blow-back on them. Pun maybe intended since we are talking about gas attacks. Nut I mean blow-back in a much wider sense too.

    4. What can we do about it? As voters in democratic polities (I guess for the most part) the most we can do is vote against our war-monger parties which here in Austalia fully include the Coalition AND Labor. Morally, you should never vote for them. This goes for the refugee issue too. Of course, you can’t vote for the Hansonites or the minor right-wingers. This leaves maybe the Xenophonites, Wilkie-ites and of course the Greens and the Socialists. Have you got the moral fibre to register a moral vote on this at the next election? This is the real question.

    Now I will sit back and wait for the apologias for the major alt-right parties, Coalition AND Labor, in Australia.

  4. I follow the Middle East conflict fairly closely, and have experience in intelligence analysis.

    The case for use of gas by the Syrian regime remains open, in my view. Chemical weapons were stockpiled throughout Syria, and many fell into rebel hands. Expertise in their manufacture and use is also widespread among the rebels (considerable numbers of army personnel defected in the early stages of the rebellion).

    People have been exposed to chemicals on several occasions. In some cases the chemicals were probably nerve agents (eg sarin); in others chlorine. In some cases the rebels definitely used chlorine. In a good many claimed cases, later tests showed no chemical weapons use – just the ordinary, if horrible, side-effects of conventional weapons (dust, acrid smoke etc).

    The evidence of exposure in the latest case is not unequivocal. If any of the parties has direct evidence of guilt, it has not been has produced any so far (eg intercepts of orders to use chemical weapons, or discussing the effects of their use, or querying the decision or similar). The rebels have not, AFAIK, produced casings from chemical weapons munitions, and not all victims show the same symptoms.

    The Syrian and Russian claim is that a conventional bomb hit a rebel storage facility. The rebels claim deliberate use. There are other, wilder (but not totally implausible) explanations out there.

    At this stage, we don’t know. The press has mostly made up its mind without hesitation, as per usual. So too did Washington, but that’s for other reasons.

  5. I agree the media often jump in too soon. But this BBC report seems to have good evidence it was a sarin attack. And as the article says it is unlikely the rebels have sarin (though they may have chlorine). And if they did have the precursors of sarin stored in their warehouses, a bomb landing on the warehouse wouldn’t produce sarin.

    Also I heard yesterday a report from a reporter on the scene who said that the warehouse next to the scene of the deaths showed no evidence that it had stored weapons.
    Aslo I hear yesterday

  6. So the windfarm commissioner — 200 000 for him, a research assistant, a manager and a part-time customer service officer… about a million a year, say? — has recieved over 2016 a total of 90 complaints. From an undisclosed number of complainants, so it’s not 90.

    Strikes me that a thousand dollars for each complainant would be cheaper.

    Please observe the no coarse language policy. Future comments that violate the policy will be deleted – JQ

  7. The BBC has not been reliable on the conflict. Basically my view is that it’s simply too soon – the UN teams are very good and, unless nobbled politically, usually get near the truth.

    I have seen reports that the rebels do have sarin, and have used it on at least one occasion.

  8. I posted this link on the other post, interesting interview with probably the minor author of the two MIT academics who debunked the New York Times article on the 2013 Ghouta delivery system.
    It also has links to Sy Hersh’s articles and the Turkish politician who outed Turkish involvement


    There’s also an interesting interview with Philip Giraldi here on the recent CW attack


    In my view the BBC is hopelessly biased on Syria and the ME in general as well as on Russia Ukraine. I listen to BBC world service every morning from around 5.45 to 6.20 and have done so for many years. It was better back around 2001 with 9/11 but now its coverage is dreadful in my view. The guardian is the same. It had good journalism around 9/11 and Arundhati Roy’s “the algebra of infinite justice” bears re-reading now but its IR (international relations) journalism on middle east and russia now is abysmal. It gained a lot of currency with US readership around 9/11 and it has open access. I am not sure how the scott trust works now or how it funds itself but I suspect it has been “bought” by neoliberal/neocon interests.
    There’s a link here to what seems to me a fraudulent bbc panorama programme on syria


    ex MI6 Alastair Crooke’s own blog Conflicts Forum is a bit neglected in recent years, there is sometimes a dump of articles every one or two months and he contributes on other sites. Recent article on Consortium News where he talks about the failure of western intelligence agencies. A lot of the commentary is quoting others, but I think he has always been more interested in humint than sigint.


    Robert Parry writes on Consortium News too and is worth reading.

    I looked at the john menadue link. I must say I have always been a bit surprised over Paul McGeough’s take on the syrian civil war, he wrote that book on Netenyahu’s failed assassination attempt on Khalid Meshal the Hamas leader last time Netanyahu was president, but I guess its hard to be certain about anything coming out of syria.

  9. On my reading there is good evidence that sarin was released. How, though is disputable.

    Eyewitness accounts are that there were three bombs dropped from a Syrian air force jet, with two large explosions and a smaller third one, after which a cloud of gas rose over the landing site. This is perfectly consistent with both the media’s story (that the third bomb was a chemical one) and with the Syrian one (that the plane was bombing a rebel dump of ordnance captured years ago at the beginning of the war, and that this included some sarin shells).

    So if the eyewitnesses can’t resolve it then you have to ask what’s in it for the Syrians. And they would have to be absolutely crazy to do a single militarily insignificant chemical attack, especially as they have actually been winning the war lately. Of course it’s quite possible there was a really dumb local commander, or (even more likely) that it was a simple stuff-up (“Abdul, didn’t we get an order to send all those old bombs with the funny markings back to Damascus? Better get rid of it before HQ finds out – load it onto the plane”).

    But there’s no way that Assad wanted this. And post-Iraq there is no reason to trust western journalists’ word on this any more than his.

  10. Most, probably all, of the MSM/US narrative about the recent Syrian incident – as well as so many other stories we are fed as being true – come from “sources”, “information” or “reports” and is believed without question.

    Cuts both ways:

    ” Russia has information of a possible incident similar to the one in Idlib province, possibly targeting a Damascus suburb, President Vladimir Putin says. The US accused Damascus of using chemical weapons in Idlib province, which Syria denied.

    “We have reports from multiple sources that false flags like this one – and I cannot call it otherwise – are being prepared in other parts of Syria, including the southern suburbs of Damascus. They plan to plant some chemical there and accuse the Syrian government of an attack,” he said at a joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Moscow.

    The incident has not been properly investigated as yet, but the US fired dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in a demonstration of force over what it labeled a chemical attack by Damascus.

    “President Mattarella and I discussed it, and I told him that this reminds me strongly of the events in 2003, when the US representatives demonstrated at the UN Security Council session the presumed chemical weapons found in Iraq. The military campaign was subsequently launched in Iraq and it ended with the devastation of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat and the appearance of Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] on the world stage,” he added. “

  11. As just one example of the MSM’s complete lack of self-awareness or irony, the UK “Independent” report on Putin’s claims has this:

    “Without offering any proof to support the assertion, the Russian President made reference to strikes on suburbs in the south of the Syrian capital….”

    Proof? Apparently sometimes you need it, sometimes you don’t…depends.

  12. Two “interviews” and written article, non MSM perspective.

    Ray McGovern (ex CIA and member VIPS – veteran intelligence professionals for sanity) on RT talking on Khan Shaykhun chemical attack ,and before US missile response. He makes a lot of sense.

    Stephen F Cohen (ex Princeton/NYU – Russian expert) on CNN, talking on US Russia relations, post US missile response. He has finally popped up on MSM, otherwise regular interviewee on John Batchelor show, but has sensible and informed opinion on Russia.

    and Robert Parry on resurgent neocons in Washington


  13. We have dozens of eyewitnesses saying that the chemical attack was the result of a bomb drop and they have featured on high quality current affairs shows like Foreign Correspondent. We have seen on TV, including the ABC and SBS and there flagship current affairs programs, locals taking camermen to the bombed warehouse where the Russians say the rebels may have had the sarin gas. The warehouse contained little besides rat poo and some grain. We have had groups that the Left usually applauds, like Amnesty International, confirm the “Mainstream Media” account. We have tests that apparently confirm sarin gas is the culprit. We know the Assad regime has produced sarin gas. We have see left wing papers like the Guardian sift through the evidence and point the finger at Assad.

    But on this website all of the usual suspects (Megan aka D, Ikonoclast, Derrida derider etc..) have swallowed the Kremlin line put out by Russia Today and its hundreds of affiliates that this is or may be a “false flag”. The Left hasn’t been this deranged since it was cool to defend the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The alt-Right scares me because of Breitbart and Trump. The alt-Left scares me because it really does believe that Putin and Assad are mother’s blue-eyed boys. Is the internet leading the gullible into extremist and parallel universe perceptions of reality? Where’s the sick bucket?

  14. @Monty

    “Where’s the sick bucket?”

    You spend too much time at the really sick site Monts to be making this sort of comment.

    And it’s not that teh left as represented by the people you cite are deranged and imagine that Putin and Assad are mother’s blue eye’d boys lol but that they are also not the font of all the ‘evil in the world.

    Do you get that idea Monst? It isn’t a clear cut war between alt right and loony left there are nuances and complexity.

    Treading on rakes again are you?

  15. @Monty

    I will let the others named defend themselves but Monty you have completely misunderstood and misinterpreted what I said. Where did you get the absurd idea that I thought the Putin and Assad regimes were squeaky clean?

    With regard to the World Socialist Website’s claims and theories which I called “claims and theories” I wrote: “What credence should we give this claim? I don’t have an answer at this stage and maybe not ever.” Does this sound like I give blind credence to this view?

    With regard to the morality of various actors I wrote: “At these levels, with a meat-grinder on the ground and high real or perceived geo-strategic stakes globally, there are NO moral actors at the levels high and low where wars are prosecuted. Expunge that illusion from your mind. Every actor, or at least all the desperate actors, will fight as dirty as they can get away with and in ways which they believe (often wrongly) will not lead to any imminent blow-back on them.”

    Does this sound like I think Assad and Putin are “blue-eyed” innocents or that I swallow the Kremlin line?

    Really Monty, before you blindly flail into people who don’t agree with you on absolutely everything, you should read what they actually write. You’ve made up your mind what I wrote either without reading it or without comprehending it. So which is it?

  16. @Ikonoclast

    You chose to take seriously a conspiracy theory you found on a junk website that is loaded with conspiracy theories. I spent some time checking the bona fides of the author of the article and could find no evidence of special expertise that might elevate this particular conspiracy theory above the ones that involve the lizard people.

    Anyway, be careful what you say, the Illuminati may be watching.

  17. This is just bulldust, Monty. Neither I nor the others expressing scepticism have gone in for conspiracy theories. The point is we have no evidence at all of how the sarin got released (selected eyewitnesses of a town under bombardment are hardly likely to have a cool military assessment of what happened, and the “warehouse” was shown to the journalists by an interested party – enemies of the Syrian government).

    Absent any trustworthy evidence, it is perfectly reasonable to ask who has an interest in releasing sarin. And that is very clearly NOT Assad; he’s winning, remember? But pretty well every one of the many interested parties in the conflict has an interest in lying about this incident – it’s just that the journos seem not to realise that and have swallowed “our” lies whole.

  18. Is there anything constructive to be done about the North Korea issue or is it just another “wicked problem” of geopolitics?

    “A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of the term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.” – Wikipedia.

    I tend to think it is an insoluble wicked problem in the sense above. Do nothing and they become a fully-fledged 3rd tier nuclear power… like Israel for instance. Funny how the Western hawks remain quiet about that issue. However, The N. Korea regime is likely much less stable and reliable than Israel in these matters.

    The whole thing is a Mexican standoff. The USA cannot attack N. Korea as N. Korea holds Seoul hostage with huge quantities of artillery and rockets over the DMZ border trained on Seoul with conventional, incendiary and chemical weapons. Seoul would go up in the biggest city-wide firestorm history has ever seen. The civilian casualties alone would be horrendous.

    Equally, N. Korea cannot attack the USA or any of its assets or key allies. If N. Korea did attack, particularly with a nuclear weapon, there would be only one result. N. Korea would cease to exist. Whoever pushes the button first suffers massive retaliation. If USA push the button they condemn millions in Seoul to death. If Kim Jong Un pushes any serious button then he dies and North Korea ceases to exist as anything that could be called a nation. With “dial-a-yield” weapons, the USA can tailor its response. Kim Jong Un and his cronies must know this.

    It’s a Mexican stand-off. If everyone remains logical and self-interested, nothing should happen.

  19. The best deal offered so far in the conflict with North Korea came from China. It is : abandon your nukes and we will offer you protection. This gives the North what it wants – protection from externally-imposed regime change, is credible – China does want a buffer between itself and the west and, most importantly, prevents huge possible loss of life in the North and South and in Japan. It gives time and incentives for internal reform of the wayward North. The US approach is to ramp up threats against the bully (who is using nukes entirely to protect itself). This either will not work because the incentives are misalligned or will end in a bloodbath.

    On this issue China is showing leadership whereas the US is moving to antagonise further the obnoxious Great Leader.

  20. ‘Managing’ the north Korea problem has just undergone another logical/illogical twist with the apparent failure of the putative nuclear capable intercontinental rocket. Although I/we have yet to see any evidence of what the US is claiming as a failure of the ‘anniversary’ missile. it has a ‘peace’ dividend at least until the next time tensions threaten to boil over. Pyongyang suffers a bit of humiliation while Trump can point to the US Navy fleet ‘standing down’ after a successful bit of brinkmanship. China too can say their call for calm has paid off. Kim Jong Un can probably dress the failure as a huge public propaganda success while a few heads roll in the rocket shop. These guys are the really successful losers.

  21. Yes, China’s offer looks most sensible. Use carrots instead of sticks. N. Korea can sit under China’s nuclear umbrella. N. Korea can start feeding, housing and educating its people properly instead of running a permanent war economy. If only N. Korea and USA had leaders wise enough to see that this was the best realistic deal all round.

  22. But a permanent war economy suits Dear Leader perfectly fine, Ikonoclast. It’s what keeps the population united behind him and him in power. Of course that’s also true of plenty of other Dear Leaders outside NK’s.

    China has badly mishandled things. It assumed NK would continue to be happy to play the crazy young nephew to China’s sagacious and cautious family patriarch – “of course we would never go to war with Japan just because they started rearming, but I dunno if we’d then be able to keep young Kim under control. He’s crazy you know”. They wanted to be able to turn the craziness on and off at will using economic clout – in fact they probably WANTED sanctions in order to increase NK’s dependence on them.

    But young nephew wasn’t happy with that role and turns out to have nuked up as much to deter uncle as to deter the family’s enemies; which uncle should have anticipated. He’s undoubtedly now whispering to China “if I have to start throwing nukes around don’t think I won’t save a couple for you before I go under. So I suggest you get these outsiders off my back”. Getting back under the Chinese nuclear umbrella is the last thing he’d want.

  23. A new book: “Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers” by Joel Whitney.

    An essay at: http://www.investigaction.net/en/the-cia-reads-french-theory-on-the-intellectual-labor-of-dismantling-the-cultural-left/#sthash.7c6Ea7le.dpuf

    in part:

    “This is extremely important for understanding the CIA’s overall strategy in its broad and profound attempts to dismantle the cultural left in Europe and elsewhere. In recognizing it was unlikely that it could abolish it entirely, the world’s most powerful spy organization has sought to move leftist culture away from resolute anti-capitalist and transformative politics toward center-left reformist positions that are less overtly critical of US foreign and domestic policies. In fact, as Saunders has demonstrated in detail, the Agency went behind the back of the McCarthy-driven Congress in the postwar era in order to directly support and promote leftist projects that steered cultural producers and consumers away from the resolutely egalitarian left. In severing and discrediting the latter, it also aspired to fragment the left in general, leaving what remained of the center left with only minimal power and public support (as well as being potentially discredited due to its complicity with right-wing power politics, an issue that continues to plague contemporary institutionalized parties on the left).

    It is in this light that we must understand the intelligence agency’s fondness for conversion narratives and its deep appreciation for “reformed Marxists,” a leitmotif that traverses the research paper on French theory. “Even more effective in undermining Marxism,” the moles write, “were those intellectuals who set out as true believers to apply Marxist theory in the social sciences but ended by rethinking and rejecting the entire tradition.”

    It all worked a treat! The Empire is winning because our ‘left’ is crooked.

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