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INTERNATIONAL LAW VS IMPERIALISM: the new phase of war in Syria

The war is now a contest between foreign powers obeying international law along with their Syrian partner, versus foreign powers with open imperial ambitions.

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Around the time of the Syrian victory in the Battle of Aleppo, the fact that the government of Syria would not fall has been more or less assured.

Recent events have made this a virtual certainty. Because of this however, a new kind of proxy war is taking place with its own unique unspoken rules.

As The Duran’s Alexander Mercouris writes,

“…with the US and the Russians anxious to avoid coming to blows with each other, both sides also look to contain the conflict by trying to keep it within its current curious rules.  Basically these are that neither side sets out to attack the other, and that whoever gains control of territory from ISIS first is allowed to keep it.

That explains why the manoeuvres the two sides carry out against each other are never spoken of in that way, and it also explains the conciliatory language (“the Coalition does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them”) in today’s statement.

No doubt over the course of the next few hours the telephone lines between the Russian command in Khmeimim air base in Syria and the US command in Amman in Jordan will be buzzing with discussions as the militaries of the two sides search for ways to limit the damage so as to keep the conflict confined with its present rules”

The event Alexander Mercouris is referring to is the illegal shooting down of a Syrian aircraft by a US aircraft in Raqqa Governorate. While this event is a war crime according to international law, it is a move that conforms to the cynical rules of engagement that are as unspoken as they are now clear.

Put another way, the ‘race to liberate Raqqa’ is now the race to take Raqqa and beyond that the race for Raqqa is rapidly being overshadowed by the race for Deir ez-Zor which is now in many ways a bigger ISIS ‘hot-spot’ than Raqqa.

On top of this it’s a matter of a land-grab, something made all the more devastating by the fact that one of the parties is looking to grab back land which was always legally its own: Syria. The United States and the Kurds clearly have other ideas, to pretend otherwise at this point would simply be naive.

The nature of US mission creep means that America never likes to leave a conflict empty handed. Since the main prize of toppling the Syrian government is off the table, the new prize for the US is simply put, as much of eastern Syria as they can get their hands on, ostensibly so they can prepare for a US dependent Kurdish autonomous region or even a state of Kurdistan which would be something of a US client state.

In September, Kurdish Iraqis will hold a referendum on establishing a Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. While both Iraq and Turkey are strongly opposed to this, America may well allow it to happen and use it as a pretext for linking it up with a Kurdistan carved from legal Syrian territory. The fact that Iraqi and Syrian Kurds have serious local political differences in many cases, will hardly matter to the United States who is a friend to both.

There is no doubt that Iran and Russia will both want to receive a kind of preferential position in Syria after the war and even less doubt that such offers will be on the table. Russia and Iran are fighting with Syria as partners, not adversaries and the post-war partnership will certainly continue.

But America is not a partner of any of the states surrounding the conflict in eastern Syria. Damascus is seen by the US as an enemy in all but name. Turkey and the US are on totally opposite sides of the equation now that the US has put its full military and geo-political weight behind Kurdish forces. However dependant Iraq is on the US, its government is an ally of Iran and Syria for reasons that have in some cases a more ancient background than the very existence of the United States.

From the American perspective, this is all the more reason to create a reliable pro-American client state in the region.

Israel is of course a big factor here. Depending on one’s perspective, Israel either dictates much of America’s Middle East policy and from other perspectives, Israel is the 51st state of the USA.

Israel makes no secret of its hatred towards the Syrian government. Israel and Syria have been enemies since a time when most people thought of an Egyptian goddess when they heard the word ‘ISIS’.

Israel and Hamas are on the same side in the war. Hamas fights with anti-Syrian jihadists while Israel continually attacks Syria and her allies, particularly the Lebanese Resistance Hezbollah and now even the pro-Israel Wall Street Journal confirms that Israel is aiding terrorists who are fighting the government in Damascus.

To add to these layers of imperial ambition, Israel is a long time regional ally of separatist Kurds and now that Turkey has backed Qatar in the current Gulf dispute, Saudi Arabia has come out with pro-Kurdish sentiments. This latter-most development fits into Donald Trump’s ambitions to formalise an Israel-Saudi alliance that in terms of the foreign policy ambitions of each state, already exists. Saudi and Israel have the same regional enemies, they want to destroy the same foes and now they want to cultivate the same regional would-be allies.

Therefore, it is fair to say that the US, Israel and the Saudis are pushing further towards open advocacy of a Kurdish client state in the region while Iran and Russia simply want to preserve Syria as she is currently comprised while maintaining their alliance with the legitimate government in Damascus.

According to the authority of international law, it is clear that Russia and Iran are the ‘good guys’ and America and her regional friends are the imperialist ‘bad guys’. In this case, it really is as simple as that.

When one looks to Turkey, things are by contrast, far more complicated.

Turkey in many ways, cooked its own goose by consistently funding, arming and fighting beside anti-government jihadists in Syria. Had Turkey remained neutral in the conflict or even switched to a position of neutrality before 2016, Turkey would have been able to have a very legitimate position from which to speak against the creation of a Kurdish state in both Syria and Iraq.

But because Turkey illegally invaded and occupied both Syria and Iraq at various times, Turkey’s position is deeply compromised.

Turkey’s position boils down too, “We want Turkish imperialism to bring down the government in Damascus in favour of jihadist extremists, but at the same time the US is wrong to turn the Kurds into imperial clients”. The position is as intellectually untenable as it is the blatant new reality.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said that he wants to bring Saudi Arabia and the United States into the Astana Peace Talks. While he may have had many reasons for wanting this, it is almost certain that his goal would be to minamise US and Saudi ambitions to create a Kurdish state.

In Astana Turkey is generally supported by Iran in its opposition to a Kurdish state and Russia while having good contacts with many Kurdish leaders, would never advocate for a Kurdish state at the expense of Syria. 

READ MORE: 4 reasons Erdogan has invited US and Saudi Arabia to Astana Peace Talks

In reality, America would probably never participate in the Astana format anyway as it is difficult to see American diplomats sharing any kind of peace table with Iran at the present time. 

In trying to have the best of both worlds, Turkey now has the worst of each. Assad will stay and he’ll never forgive Turkey. Simultaneous to this, the Kurds have been embolden by the United States who clearly has no consideration for Turkish sentiments on the issue. The Turkey–US alliance which was strong for much of the 20th century and even before, may now take decades to fully recover.

For Syria, the fight is about dignity. The Syrian government now easily controls Syria’s big population centres, what many call ‘useful Syria’, the kinds of places that to put it bluntly, people would want to live in and tourists would want to visit.

Still, Syria does not want to lose any of its territory after having objectively won the war. And why should it? International law dictates Syria MUST retain its territory–every inch of it.

For Russia ,it is a matter of balancing its partnership with Syria against not wanting a confrontation with the United States. Iran is in a similar position, though many in Iran would not so secretly like an opportunity to ‘teach the US a lesson’.

Turkey will do anything it can to stop Kurdistan from becoming a reality, though its options are far more limited than they would have been if Turkey had stayed out of the conflict from the beginning.

All the while, America, Israel and Saudi want whatever piece of the Syrian pie they can illegally get their hands on.

This is now beyond the ‘race for Berlin’, its more like an old fashioned imperial war of a bygone age, but one fought with 21st century military hardware.

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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