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The West’s missile strike: chaos in place of policy; symbolism in place of action

All the West has achieved is expose its fear of the Russian military, its lack of a plan for Syria, and its contempt for international law

Alexander Mercouris

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Over the last few days the word has been the witness of one of the most grotesque and shameful episodes in the history of international relations.

Three nuclear powers, one of them the US, the world’s erstwhile “hyperpower”, and the other two like the US permanent members of the UN Security Council, after days of dithering and argument, launched a military strike on Syria which (depending on whose reports you believe) either failed dismally or which was preplanned to achieve nothing.

They launched this strike in utter disregard of international law, which vests the power to launch strikes of this sort exclusively with the UN Security Council.

In Britain’s case the strike was also launched contrary to a well-established constitutional convention, and in the US’s case it was launched contrary to the US constitution (see this discussion in The Atlantic following the very similar Al-Sharyat attack last year).

As to how the strike violates international law, I can do no better than quote Craig Murray’s brilliant demolition job of the British government’s pitifully inadequate and wholly unmeritorious arguments justifying the strike

……this “legal argument” cites no authority. It does not quote the UN Charter, any Security Council Resolution or any international treaty or agreement of any kind which justifies this action. This is because there is absolutely nothing which can be quoted – all the relevant texts say that an attack on another state is illegal without authorisation of the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Nor does the government quote any judgement of the International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court or any other international legal authority. This is important because rather than any treatment, the government makes a specific claim its actions are justified by customary international law, which means accepted state practice. But the existence of such state practice is usually proven through existing court judgements, and there are no judgements that endorse the approach taken by the government in its argument.

The three “tests” set out under para 3 as to what is permitted under international law are not in fact a statement of anything other than the UK’s own position. These “tests” are specifically quoted by Ola Engdahl in Bailliet and Larsen (ed) “Promoting Peace Through International Law” (Oxford University Press 2015). Engdahl notes:

The UK position, that it is permitted to take coercive action under a doctrine of humanitarian intervention when certain conditions are met, is a minority view and does not reflect lex data on the prohibition of the use of force in international relations as expressed in article 2(4) of the UN Charter.

That is undeniably true, and as it is equally undeniably true that a minority view cannot be customary international law, the British government position is utterly devoid of merit……

……the government’s argument is entirely hypothetical, because as the liberal intervention doctrine is not customary international law these arguments cannot justify intervention.

But the evidence that Assad used chemical weapons against Douma is non-existent, and the OPCW did not conclude that the Assad government was responsible for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun. There is no evidence whatsoever that military action was urgently required to avert another such “immediate” attack. Nor is it true that the UK’s analysis of the situation is “generally accepted” by the international community, as witness China and Russia voting together in the Security Council yesterday to condemn the attack.

So the British government sets up its own “three tests” which have no legal standing and are entirely a British concoction, yet still manages to fail them.

If the strike was plainly illegal, it was also utterly immoral.

The purported pretext of the strike was the incident which took place in Douma on 7th April 2018.

The Western powers insist it was a chemical weapons attack.  The Syrians and the Russians furiously deny that it was.

The Western powers – as they admit themselves – have no access to the site of the incident, and have produced no evidence to justify their claims (they claim their evidence is “classified”, which means that it is evidentially worthless).

The Russians by contrast are physically present and in control of the site and say that they have verified from eyewitnesses and by taking samples that no chemical weapons attack took place.

The Syrians and the Russians have also invited a team of investigators from the OPCW, who have just arrived in Syria to investigate the incident.

By launching their strike the Western powers have not only pre-empted the investigation; they have purported to impose ‘punishment’ before there is actually proof of a crime.

Indeed as I have suggested previously, there are strong reasons to think that the entire purpose of the strike was to prevent a proper investigation of the incident which might expose the ‘witnesses’ the West typically relies on in Syria as unreliable by staking the prestige and authority of the Western powers behind a finding of Syrian guilt which the OPCW might be afraid to go against.

I was fascinated to see that the Russian Foreign Ministry in a Statement published yesterday expresses exactly the same view

This step was designed to intimidate and was taken under an absolutely contrived pretext of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government in the city of Douma on April 7. The facts presented by the Syrian government and the Russian side showing that the incident had been deliberately and cynically staged have been ignored. The missile strikes were made just as inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were about to head to Douma with a mission to find out the truth. There is every reason to believe that the objective behind the attack on Syria was to obstruct the work of the OPCW inspectors.

(bold italics added)

However all of this – extremely bad as it is – is eclipsed by the abject handling of the strike itself.

I have repeatedly said in article after article for The Duran that Russian warnings of military action by Russia if Russia’s red lines in Syria are crossed are not bluff, and the US military is under no illusions that they are.

My latest article in which I discussed this was published only days before the 7th April 2018 Douma incident and just a week before the strike.

Quite simply, as the events of October 2016, April 2017 and June 2017 show, the US military is not prepared to take on the Russian military in Syria and risk a full scale armed confrontation with Russia there.

I discussed all this in my article in which I discussed the Russian response to the US’s shooting down in June 2017 of the SU-22 fighter bomber in eastern Syria

The fact that the Russians have installed a powerful air defence system in Syria incorporating advanced S-400 and S-300VM Antey 2500 missiles means that the US is unable to confront the Russians directly unless it is prepared to risk possibly very serious casualties.

That is an option neither the US military nor the civilian officials of the Obama and Trump administrations are prepared to face.  This is because they know the extraordinary dangers such a clash with the armed forces of a nuclear superpower would risk.  They also know US public opinion is strongly opposed to the US becoming drawn into such a clash.

This is what explains the US’s failure to intervene in the fighting in East Ghouta.

On three prior occasions – in October 2016, in April 2017 and in June 2017 – the US has appeared to come close to an armed clash with the Russian military in Syria.

Following Russian warnings and counter-moves it has on each occasion backed off.

The same thing has now happened in relation to the fighting in East Ghouta.

Talk of US intervention has again resulted in Russian warnings, which have again caused the US to back off…….

What is the source of much confusion is the persistent claim – made for example in the article in Guardian which I quoted above – that the Russian warnings against US military action are no more than bluff.

Those who make this claim have lately taken to citing the supposed Russian failure to respond to the following incidents

(1) the cruise missile strike on Al-Sharyat air base in April 2017;

(2) the Israeli attack on the Syrian air defence system in February 2018 following the shooting down By Syria of an Israeli F-16 fighter; and

(3) the US air strike in eastern Syria in February 2018 in which a number of Russian mercenaries were killed.

The first of these alleged examples of Russian inaction in response to attacks on Syria is in fact obviously wrong.  The Russians did respond strongly to the US cruise missile strike on Al-Sharyat air base.  They switched off the deconfliction hotline, causing a drastic cut in US air operations over Syria (see above).

As to the other two examples, they are based on the fallacy that the Russians have committed themselves to responding to every attack on the Syrian military by the US and its allies however minor such an attack might be, and that their failure to defend Syria from every such attack is therefore in some way ‘proof’ of their inability or unwillingness to defend Syria when it is attacked…..

As I have repeatedly pointed out, the Russians will not let themselves get drawn into unnecessary confrontations with the Western powers over minor attacks on Syrian military units which have no bearing on the course of the war.   The Israeli strike in February 2018 in retaliation for the Syrian shooting down of an Israeli F-16 fighter was exactly such a minor attack.

To be clear, the Israeli strike – part of a decades long conflict between Israel and Syria in which Russia is not a party – neither interfered with Syrian military operations against the Jihadis nor did it threaten the existence of the Syrian government.  The Russians accordingly were not concerned by it.

By contrast the Russians most certainly are concerned about the fighting in East Ghouta.

Not only is the Battle of East Ghouta a key battle which the Syrian military must win if the Jihadi threat to Syria is to be eliminated, but the Russian military is itself heavily involved in the battle, with the Russian Aerospace Forces actively involved in the fighting, and the Russian military brokering withdrawal agreements with the Jihadis which are paving the way for the Syrian army’s eventual victory in the battle.

Given that this is so, the US and its allies can be under no illusions that a US military intervention in the fighting in East Ghouta will be anything other than fiercely resisted by the Russians.

That guarantees that no such intervention will take place, which is why of course it has not happened.

Rarely have my words been more rapidly or conclusively confirmed by subsequent events.

Not only did the Western powers make sure that their strike was launched only after the Battle of East Ghouta was over and the Jihadis there had been comprehensively defeated, but their efforts to calibrate their strike to a level where it neither threatened the existence of the Syrian government, nor interfered in Syrian military operations, nor risked the lives of Russian military personnel in Syria, have been quite simply extraordinary to behold, and have resulted in a strike so symbolic and empty of meaning as to be completely ineffective.

Needless to say such a strike – one which tells the Russian military how frightened the West is of them – cannot possibly deter.

If the purpose of the strike was to deter President Assad from using chemical weapons – as the Western powers say – then on any objective analysis its utter ineffectiveness can only have the opposite effect.

If President Assad really were the blood-thirsty power mad psychopath the West says he is such a strike could not possibly deter him; it would only embolden him.

For once the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall – liberal interventionist and arch war-hawk that he is – has got the essence of it right.

Lamenting the token nature of the strike, and talking of President Putin rather than of President Assad, he complains bitterly

Dismayed, too, will be those in the west and in Syria’s opposition who hoped sustained military intervention would finally halt the pitiless slaughter of civilians.

Despite their angry protestations, Moscow and Tehran will be content with this outcome. It could have been a whole lot worse.

Putin’s propaganda and disinformation machines will continue to deny responsibility for Douma, preposterously blaming it on a British government determined to avenge the Salisbury nerve gas attack. Russia will cynically use the UN to claim the US and its allies are aggressors, in breach of international law.

But there will be no direct Russian military retaliation. There is no need. Putin has got away with it, again.

As for a coherent plan for Syria, a military strike which has no military effect cannot possibly advance any plan the US may have in Syria, though it is actually impossible to see a US plan.

Thus on one day the President of the United States talks about withdrawing US troops from Syria “very soon”.  Days later his officials talk of keeping them there.

Since the presence of the Russians means these troops cannot march on Damascus, what exactly they are supposed to do – other than become eventual targets of the Syrian anti-US insurgency which is likely to come – is left unexplained.

Perhaps – as Simon Tisdall’s comments suggest – the real target of all these manoeuvres is not Syria at all.

Perhaps the phoney Syrian confrontation is being cranked up to a further level of hysteria in order to justify sustaining the West’s grand geopolitical conflict with Russia.

If so then both the means used – and the objective – are sordid and unworthy of countries which call themselves Great Powers.

The day may soon come when the events of the last few days are seen as a further sign of their decline.

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European Court of Justice rules Britain free to revoke Brexit unilaterally

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Britain can reverse Article 50.

RT

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Via RT…


The UK is free to unilaterally revoke a notification to depart from the EU, the European Court has ruled. The judicial body said this could be done without changing the terms of London’s membership in the bloc.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) opined in a document issued on Monday that Britain can reverse Article 50, which stipulates the way a member state leaves the bloc. The potentially important ruling comes only one day before the House of Commons votes on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU.

“When a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has done, that Member State is free to revoke unilaterally that notification,” the court’s decision reads.

By doing so, the respective state “reflects a sovereign decision to retain its status as a Member State of the European Union.”

That said, this possibility remains in place “as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that Member State has not entered into force.” Another condition is: “If no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU.”

The case was opened when a cross-party group of British politicians asked the court whether an EU member such as the UK can decide on its own to revoke the withdrawal process. It included Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and David Martin, Scottish MPs Joanna Cherry Alyn Smith, along with Green MSPs Andy Wightman and Ross Greer.

They argued that unilateral revocation is possible and believe it could provide an opening to an alternative to Brexit, namely holding another popular vote to allow the UK to remain in the EU.

“If the UK chooses to change their minds on Brexit, then revoking Article 50 is an option and the European side should make every effort to welcome the UK back with open arms,” Smith, the SNP member, was quoted by Reuters.

However, May’s environment minister, Michael Gove, a staunch Brexit supporter, denounced the ECJ ruling, insisting the cabinet will not reverse its decision to leave. “We will leave on March 29, [2019]” he said, referring to the date set out in the UK-EU Brexit deal.

In the wake of the landmark vote on the Brexit deal, a group of senior ministers threatened to step down en masse if May does not try to negotiate a better deal in Brussels, according to the Telegraph. The ministers demanded that an alternative deal does not leave the UK trapped within the EU customs union indefinitely.

On Sunday, Will Quince resigned as parliamentary private secretary in the Ministry of Defense, saying in a Telegraph editorial that “I do not want to be explaining to my constituents why Brexit is still not over and we are still obeying EU rules in the early 2020s or beyond.”

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Seven Days of Failures for the American Empire

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


On November 25, two artillery boats of the Gyurza-M class, the Berdiansk and Nikopol, one tugboat, the Yany Kapu, as well as 24 crew members of the Ukrainian Navy, including two SBU counterintelligence officers, were detained by Russian border forces. In the incident, the Russian Federation employed Sobol-class patrol boats Izumrud and Don, as  well as two Ka-52, two Su-25 and one Su-30 aircraft.

Ukraine’s provocation follows the advice of several American think-tanks like the Atlantic Council, which have been calling for NATO involvement in the Sea of Azov for months. The area is strategically important for Moscow, which views its southern borders, above all the Sea of Azov, as a potential flash point for conflict due to the Kiev’s NATO-backed provocations.

To deter such adventurism, Moscow has deployed to the Kerch Strait and the surrounding coastal area S-400 batteries, modernized S-300s, anti-ship Bal missile systems, as well as numerous electronic-warfare systems, not to mention the Russian assets and personnel arrayed in the military districts abutting Ukraine. Such provocations, egged on by NATO and American policy makers, are meant to provide a pretext for further sanctions against Moscow and further sabotage Russia’s relations with European countries like Germany, France and Italy, as well as, quite naturally, to frustrate any personal interaction between Trump and Putin.

This last objective seems to have been achieved, with the planned meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 in Buenos Aires being cancelled. As to the the other objectives, they seem to have failed miserably, with Berlin, Paris and Rome showing no intention of imposing additional sanctions against Russia, recognizing the Ukrainian provocation fow what it is. The intention to further isolate Moscow by the neocons, neoliberals and most of the Anglo-Saxon establishment seems to have failed, demonstrated in Buenos Aires with the meeting between the BRICS countries on the sidelines and the bilateral meetings between Putin and Merkel.

On November 30, following almost two-and-a-half months of silence, the Israeli air force bombed Syria with three waves of cruise missiles. The first and second waves were repulsed over southern Syria, and the third, composed of surface-to-surface missiles, were also downed. At the same time, a loud explosion was heard in al-Kiswah, resulting in the blackout of Israeli positions in the area.

The Israeli attack was fully repulsed, with possibly two IDF drones being downed as well. This effectiveness of Syria’s air defenses corresponds with Russia’s integration of Syria’s air defenses with its own systems, manifestly improving the Syrians’ kill ratios even without employing the new S-300 systems delivered to Damascus, let alone Russia’s own S-400s. The Pantsirs and S-200s are enough for the moment, confirming my hypothesis more than two months ago that the modernized S-300 in the hands of the Syrian army is a potentially lethal weapon even for the F-35, forbidding the Israelis from employing their F-35s.

With the failed Israeli attack testifying to effectiveness of Russian air-defense measures recently deployed to the country, even the United States is finding it difficult to operate in the country. As the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War confirms:

“Russia has finished an advanced anti-access/area denial (A2AD) network in Syria that combines its own air defense and electronic warfare systems with modernized equipment. Russia can use these capabilities to mount the long-term strategic challenge of the US and NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East, significantly widen the geographic reach of Russia’s air defense network. Russia stands to gain a long-term strategic advantage over NATO through its new capabilities in Syria. The US and NATO must now account for the risk of a dangerous escalation in the Middle East amidst any confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.”

The final blow in a decidedly negative week for Washington’s ambitions came in Buenos Aires during the G20, where Xi Jinping was clearly the most awaited guest, bringing in his wake investments and opportunities for cooperation and mutual benefit, as opposed to Washington’s sanctions and tariffs for its own benefit to the detriment of others. The key event of the summit was the dinner between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump that signalled Washington’s defeat in the trade war with Beijing. Donald Trump fired the first shot of the economic war, only to succumb just 12 months later with GM closing five plants and leaving 14,000 unemployed at home as Trump tweeted about his economic achievements.

Trump was forced to suspend any new tariffs for a period of ninety days, with his Chinese counterpart intent on demonstrating how an economic war between the two greatest commercial powers had always been a pointless propagandistic exercise. Trump’s backtracking highlights Washington’s vulnerability to de-dollarization, the Achilles’ heel of US hegemony.

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn. The struggle between the Western elites seems to be reaching a boil, with Frau Merkel ever more isolated and seeing her 14-year political dominance as chancellor petering out. Macron seems to be vying for the honor of being the most unpopular French leader in history, provoking violent protests that have lasted now for weeks, involving every sector of the population. Macron will probably be able to survive this political storm, but his political future looks dire.

The neocons/neoliberals have played one of the last cards available to them using the Ukrainian provocation, with Kiev only useful as the West’s cannon fodder against Russia. In Syria, with the conflict coming to a close and Turkey only able to look on even as it maintains a strong foothold in Idlib, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States are similarly unable to affect the course of the conflict. The latest Israeli aggression proved to be a humiliation for Tel Aviv and may have signalled a clear, possibly definitive warning from Moscow, Tehran and Damascus to all the forces in the region. The message seems to be that there is no longer any possibility of changing the course of the conflict in Syria, and every provocation from here on will be decisively slapped down. Idlib is going to be liberated and America’s illegal presence in the north of Syria will have to be dealt with at the right time.

Ukraine’s provocation has only strengthened Russia’s military footprint in Crimea and reinforced Russia’s sovereign control over the region. Israel’s recent failure in Syria only highlights how the various interventions of the US, the UK, France and Turkey over the years have only obliged the imposition of an almost unparalleled A2AD space that severely limits the range of options available to Damascus’s opponents.

The G20 also served to confirm Washington’s economic diminution commensurate with its military one in the face of an encroaching multipolar environment. The constant attempts to delegitimize the Trump administration by America’s elites, also declared an enemy by the European establishment, creates a picture of confusion in the West that benefits capitals like New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran who offer instead stability, cooperation and dialogue.

As stated in previous articles, the confusion reigning amongst the Western elites only accelerates the transition to a multipolar world, progressively eroding the military and economic power of the US.

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Is Silicon Valley Morphing Into The Morality Police?

Who gets to define what words and phrases protected under the First Amendment constitute hate — a catchall word that is often ascribed to any offensive speech someone simply doesn’t like?

The Duran

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Authored by Adrian Cohen via Creators.com:


Silicon Valley used to be technology companies. But it has become the “morality police,” controlling free speech on its platforms.

What could go wrong?

In a speech Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Hate tries to make its headquarters in the digital world. At Apple, we believe that technology needs to have a clear point of view on this challenge. There is no time to get tied up in knots. That’s why we only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division and violence: You have no place on our platforms.”

Here’s the goliath problem:

Who gets to define what words and phrases protected under the First Amendment constitute hate — a catchall word that is often ascribed to any offensive speech someone simply doesn’t like?

Will Christians who don’t support abortion rights or having their tax dollars go toward Planned Parenthood be considered purveyors of hate for denying women the right to choose? Will millions of Americans who support legal immigration, as opposed to illegal immigration, be labeled xenophobes or racists and be banned from the digital world?

Yes and yes. How do we know? It’s already happening, as scores of conservatives nationwide are being shadow banned and/or censored on social media, YouTube, Google and beyond.

Their crime?

Running afoul of leftist Silicon Valley executives who demand conformity of thought and simply won’t tolerate any viewpoint that strays from their rigid political orthodoxy.

For context, consider that in oppressive Islamist regimes throughout the Middle East, the “morality police” take it upon themselves to judge women’s appearance, and if a woman doesn’t conform with their mandatory and highly restrictive dress code — e.g., wearing an identity-cloaking burqa — she could be publicly shamed, arrested or even stoned in the town square.

In modern-day America, powerful technology companies are actively taking the role of the de facto morality police — not when it comes to dress but when it comes to speech — affecting millions. Yes, to date, those affected are not getting stoned, but they are being blocked in the digital town square, where billions around the globe do their business, cultivate their livelihoods, connect with others and get news.

That is a powerful cudgel to levy against individuals and groups of people. Wouldn’t you say?

Right now, unelected tech billionaires living in a bubble in Palo Alto — when they’re not flying private to cushy climate summits in Davos — are deciding who gets to enjoy the freedom of speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and who does not based on whether they agree with people’s political views and opinions or not.

You see how dangerous this can get — real fast — as partisan liberal elites running Twitter, Facebook, Google (including YouTube), Apple and the like are now dictating to Americans what they can and cannot say online.

In communist regimes, these types of folks are known as central planners.

The election of Donald Trump was supposed to safeguard our freedoms, especially regarding speech — a foundational pillar of a democracy. It’s disappointing that hasn’t happened, as the censorship of conservative thought online has gotten so extreme and out of control many are simply logging off for good.

A failure to address this mammoth issue could cost Trump in 2020. If his supporters are blocked online — where most voters get their news — he’ll be a one-term president.

It’s time for Congress to act before the morality police use political correctness as a Trojan horse to decide our next election.

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