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Turkey, the Kurds and the US debacle in North East Syria

US policy in north east Syria has hugely complicated and exacerbated the situation there, setting the Turks and the Kurds against each other, and provoking threats of US military action in support of a misconceived policy that has not been thought through.

Alexander Mercouris

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The war in Syria has been described as a game of three dimensional chess played by nine different players.

I don’t think this is really true.  The main part of the war is a straight contest between the Syrian government and its Jihadi opponents who are trying to overthrow it.  As our contributor Afra’a Dagher has written, these Jihadis often use different names; however in terms of who they are and what they represent who are their external sponsors, they are always the same.

The situation in north east Syria is however more complex than elsewhere in Syria, so I will try to explain it in more detail.  Whilst it is highly dangerous, as I will show the danger here comes not from what Erdogan and Turkey are doing, but from the US, which has experienced in this area a major debacle.

Turkey and the Kurds

There is much confusion about the Turkish incursion which led to the capture of the previously ISIS controlled border town of Jarablus. 

The key point to understand about this incursion is that its intended target is not the Syrian government but the Kurdish militia known as the YPG (the “People’s Protection Units”).

What has upset the situation in north eastern Syria, provoking fighting between the Syrian army and the YPG and the Turkish incursion that has led to the capture of Jarablus, is the dynamic expansion of the territory in north east Syria which is controlled by the YPG.

This map gives an idea of how the area under YPG control expanded in 2015

With US support the YPG – disguising themselves the “Syrian Democratic Forces” – have recently captured from ISIS the town of Manbij, which is located west of the Euphrates river. 

This was the key event that provoked the Turkish incursion.

Most Kurds live in Turkey where they may account for anything between 10% to 20% of the population (opinions differ).  Turkey has had a long running problem assimilating its Kurdish minority and there has been a long history of conflict, with some Kurds during some periods of recent Turkish history fighting insurgency wars against the Turkish government and seeking outright secession from Turkey and the formation of an independent Kurdish state. 

In light of this Turkey considers the Kurdish problem an existential problem for Turkey, one that places in jeopardy the very existence of the Turkish state, at least in its present form.

During the recent period of rule in Turkey by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Erdogan relations between the Turkish authorities and the Kurds have known periods of improvement.  However they have recently sharply deteriorated, and there is now an ongoing insurgency situation in eastern Turkey pitting the Turkish military and Kurdish insurgents led by the PKK (the Kurdish Workers Party).

The Turkish government accuses the YPG of being in league with the PKK.  It therefore vigorously opposes the establishment of any Kurdish YPG controlled zone within Syria along the border with Turkey.     

The Turks have previously made clear that they consider the Euphrates a “red line” beyond which they will not tolerate expansion by the YPG.  The YPG captures of Manbij meant that the YPG had crossed this “red line”.

Manbij lies immediately south of Jarablus.  Had the Kurds advanced north from Manbij and captured Jarabulus and its surrounding areas, they would have connected two Kurdish-held YPG controlled areas in northern Syria, creating precisely the sort of autonomous YPG controlled Kurdish zone along Turkey’s border with Syria that Turkey is determined at all costs to prevent.

The Turkish move towards Jarablus is intended to pre-empt the YPG’s capture of the town and this from happening.

The YPG and the Syrian government

The YPG and the Syrian government have been uneasy allies in the Syrian war. 

The ideology of the YPG is secular, Kurdish nationalist and leftist – the diametric opposite of the Wahhabi Jihadist ideology of the Syrian government’s opponents.   That by definition makes the Kurds and the Syria’s government’s Jihadi enemies, enemies of each other.  On the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” that has forced the YPG into an uneasy alliance with the Syrian government.

The YPG’s focus is however not on the survival of the Syrian government but on securing its control of the Kurdish populated areas of northern Syria.  Its alliance with the Syrian government its therefore purely a function of the fact that the two have the same Jihadi enemies in common.

In the longer run it is why relations between the Syrian government and the YPG might fall into conflict.  Ultimately the YPG is pursuing a Kurdish nationalist agenda within Syria, which is very far from that of the Syrian government, which wants to re-establish the Syrian state’s authority over the whole of Syria.

The fragility of the alliance between the Syrian government and the YPG was recently exposed when the YPG, emboldened by the capture of Manbij, acted to consolidate its control of north east Syria by seeking to oust the Syrian military and Syrian government from the town of Al-Hasakah at the eastern end of the belt of territory the YPG controls. 

This led to armed clashes in Al-Hasakah between the YPG militia and the Syrian army, which spilled over into fighting in Aleppo between Syrian troops there and the YPG militia which is participating in the siege of eastern Aleppo.  There were even reports that for a short period the YPG briefly shelled Syrian army positions on the Castello road.

These moves have been interpreted in both Damascus and Ankara as the YPG preparing to take full control of the Kurdish populated territories in north east Syria.  Both Damascus and Ankara strongly oppose this, Damascus because it threatens the unity of Syria, Ankara because it considers the YPG to be an extension of the PKK, and does not want a YPG controlled independent Kurdish region on its border which could act as a safe haven for the PKK.

Turkey’s Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’

The Turkish incursion and the capture of Jarablus were intended to pre-empt the YPG’s intended capture of Jarablus. 

Erdogan and his government have made this quite clear.  The name of the Turkish operation is “Euphrates Shield”, which clearly refers to Turkey’s “red line” against the Kurds along the Euphrates river.  Moreover it seems the YPG did attempt to advance on Jarablus on Monday 22nd August 2016, and were shelled before they got there by the Turkish army.

The Kurds and the YPG for their part have made it quite clear that they understand that the Turkish incursion is ultimately targeted at them.  Redur Xelil, a spokesperson for the YPG, has denounced Turkey’s incursion as an act of “blatant aggression.”  Salih Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), has written on Twitter that Turkey is now in the “Syrian quagmire” and will be defeated like ISIS.

Turkey and the unity of Syria

What is perhaps most striking fact about this latest episode is that Erdogan has now come out publicly as the champion of Syria’s unity.  He is reported to have said on Wednesday 24th August 2016 that

“Turkey is determined for Syria to retain its territorial integrity and will take matters into its own hands if required to protect that territorial unity.”

This is in fact completely logical.  Given that Kurdish separatism is for Turkey an existential question, Turkey – whether led by Erdogan or his opponents – will always prefer to have north east Syria controlled by whatever regime is in power in Damascus – even if that regime is led by Bashar Al-Assad – than have it controlled by the YPG.

What that means is that for the first time since the start of the Syrian war there is a commonality of interest between the Turkish and Syrian governments.  That does not mean that there is a rapprochement underway between them, or that the Turkish government has changed its policy of wanting the overthrow of the Syrian government.  It does however mean that the Syrian government is not as hostile to the Turkish move towards Jarablus as it might otherwise have been, which explains its relatively mild reaction to the Turkish move.

I understand that there are some people who think Erdogan is lying about wanting to preserve the unity of Syria and that his ambitions extend far further and that what he is really aiming at is the conquest of large belts of northern Syria up to and including the city of Aleppo.

I have to say that I doubt this is true.  Conquering these territories and assimilating them into Turkey looks frankly beyond Turkey’s power.  It would antagonise the Arabs to the south and the Russians and Iranians to the north and east.  It would not serve the interests of the US; and potentially, by adding large Arab and Kurdish populations to Turkey, it would only exacerbate Turkey’s already complex internal problems. 

Of course Turkey could expel these people from their lands, but doing so would simply create another set of problems and would surely only worsen further the already difficult situation Turkey has with its own Kurds in Turkey itself. 

Frankly this project looks like a recipe for endless war, which Turkey in its present state simply cannot afford.

Erdogan is many things but he is not stupid, and I am sure that he understands this.  His objective in Syria is not the conquest of its northern regions by Turkey or Syria’s partition.  It is the conversion of Syria into a Turkish satellite state by the establishment of a government friendly to Turkey in Damascus.

The Turkish incursion and the Battle of Aleppo

Erdogan remains committed to President Assad’s overthrow and publicly supports Jabhat Al-Nusra, the strongest Jihadi group fighting the Syrian government in the battle of Aleppo. 

Nothing Erdogan has said or done since the failed coup attempt suggests that he has modified this strategy in any way.  He continues to allow Jihadi fighters and supplies to cross the Turkish border into Idlib province en route to the fighting in Aleppo.  All suggestions that Erdogan is preparing to ditch the rebels in Syria and to reconcile with President Assad is simply wishful thinking.

There are widespread fears that Erdogan’s plan is to create some sort of rebel “safe area” in north east Syria that the rebels can use as a launch pad to support their ongoing offensive against  Aleppo and that is what the advance on Jarablus is all about.

Again I have to say that I doubt this is true.  North east Syria is a bitterly contested area in which the dominant force is not the rebels but the YPG.  It does not look like a credible “safe zone” for the rebels or a credible launch area from which to launch attacks on Aleppo.  On the contrary an attempt to create a rebel “safe zone” in this area would antagonise the YPG, and would restore the alliance between the Syrian government and the YPG to full working order, leading to constant fighting in the area of the so-called “safe zone” between the Syrian rebels and the YPG.  That would surely defeat the whole purpose of the “safe zone”, rendering it unsafe and effectively worthless as a “safe zone”.  

Of course the Turkish military could try to garrison the area to defend whatever “safe zone” it created inside it.  That would however require an incursion into Syria that went far deeper than the one to Jarablus, and which would risk the Turkish army becoming bogged down in a lengthy guerrilla war on Syrian territory with the YPG.  I doubt Erdogan, the Turkish military or the US would want that.

I should say the US warning that it will shoot down aircraft that threaten US troops in the area also does not look to me like support for the setting up by Erdogan of a rebel “safe zone” in this area. 

Firstly the US warning is simply standard US practice where the US has troops on the ground, as it is known to have in this area.

Secondly the US troops in question were backing the YPG – the same group Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ is targeted against – which as I have said would be bitterly opposed to the setting up of a rebel “safe zone” in this area. 

A warning whose effect was to protect the YPG from air attack by the Syrian air force does not translate into a warning intended to back the setting up by the Turkish army of a rebel “safe zone” in an area against the strong opposition of the YPG.

Besides it is not obvious that the rebels actually need a “safe zone” in this area.   They already have a corridor to send men and supplies to Aleppo through Idlib province, which they already control.  Why add to the problems of setting up a “safe zone” much further away in north east Syria when the rebels already control territories so much closer to Aleppo?

Overall, seeing this Turkish incursion as somehow intended to influence the outcome of the battle of Aleppo looks misplaced.  There are sufficient reasons for it based on concerns about the danger to Turkey – real or imagined – posed by the YPG.  One should not look for more reasons for a move when the already apparent reasons are fully sufficient to explain it.

The US, Turkey and the Kurds

The US is the prime backer of the YPG.  It was US bombing that made the YPG’s capture of Manbij possible.  It was the US that probably encouraged the YPG to turn against the Syrian government in Al-Hasakah, and which may have encouraged the YPG to push on and try to create an autonomous role within Syria.

As I have said previously, this is very much in keeping with classic US “third force” strategies, used by the US in many wars of which this is just the latest example.

What is fascinating about this whole affair is how quickly the US has acted to dump the YPG. 

Given the choice between Turkey and the YPG, the US has unhesitatingly supported Turkey.  Not only are US aircraft providing support for the Turkish military in Operation “Euphrates Shield” but Vice-President Biden, on a fence-mending trip to Turkey, has publicly said that the YPG must withdraw to the eastern side of the Euphrates or risk losing US support.  This was it was all explained by a US official speaking to the Wall Street Journal

“We’ve put a lid on the Kurds moving north, or at least doing so if they want any support from us, which I think is a fairly significant piece of leverage.  So for the moment I think we’ve put a lid on the biggest concern that the Turks have, which I think gives us some breathing space to make sure this operation in Jarabulus [sic] is done the right way and that we and the Turks do it together.”

More remarkable still is that Biden is also reported to have backed Erdogan’s call for the preservation of Syria’s unity.  RT reports him saying at joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim

“No (Kurdish) corridor. Period. No separate entity on the Turkish border. A united Syria.”

This incidentally all but proves that despite tensions between Turkey and the US since the coup attempt, the two countries remain allies.  As I have said previously (see here and here) expectations of Turkey switching alliances, quitting NATO and driving the US out of Incirlik are wrong.

Summary

This crisis in north eastern Syria is a case study in the violence and chaos that flows from the contradictions of US policy in Syria.

The US officially brands Jabhat Al-Nusra a terrorist organisation but denies that the YPG is one.  Turkey – the US’s primary ally in this region – denies Jabhat Al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation but insists the YPG is one.

The US is prepared to defend the YPG if it is attacked by the Syrian military.  However it will not defend the YPG if it is attacked by the Turkish military.  On the contrary it will act to facilitate the Turkish military’s attack – as it is in fact doing.

The US backed the YPG when it attacked Manbij, which lies west of the Euphrates.  However it now insists that the YPG must withdraw back to the eastern side of the Euphrates – which means it must evacuate Manbij – or forfeit US support.

The US appears to have incited the YPG to attack the Syrian military in Al-Hasakah so that it could consolidate its control of the territories in which it operates and form an independent zone there.  Following protests from Turkey it now says the YPG cannot have an independent zone there under its control.

It is impossible to see any coherent strategy here.  Rather it looks as if CIA and military officials on the ground in Syria have been going their own way, encouraging the YPG to expand as fast as it can, heedless of the larger consequences. 

The political leadership in Washington, when it finally woke up to what was happening, then had to take disproportionate steps to bring the situation back under control. 

In the process two US “allies” – the Turkish military and the YPG – have practically come to blows with each other, and Turkey has suddenly discovered a commonality of interest with the Assad government in Damascus to block the setting up of an autonomous YPG controlled Kurdish region in north east Syria, probably sending the deputy head of its military intelligence service to Damascus to coordinate policy there.

It is this very lack of coherence in US policy which however is what is so dangerous about this whole situation. 

The US has pursued a policy in north eastern Syria that led it to give a warning of military action a few days ago.  However it is now clear that this policy was never properly thought through. 

To say that this is an irresponsible and reckless way of going about things in a conflict situation where the Russians are also involved is a gigantic understatement.  Yet there is no public debate or discussion about it either in Washington or in Western capitals.

If US policy is being made on the hoof in Syria in such a careless and irresponsible way then the danger of something going catastrophically wrong is hugely magnified.  Yet it is clear that that is precisely the situation we are looking at, and be it noted that this is before the hawkish Hillary Clinton has become US President.  It is impossible to look at this situation without being seriously worried.

  

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BBC producer admits Douma attack was false flag that nearly sparked Russia – U.S. hot war (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 176.

Alex Christoforou

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BBC producer Riam Dalati believes that the scenes caught on video from a hospital in Douma, Syria were staged, all in an effort driven by jihadist terrorists and White Helmet “activists” to draw the U.S. and its allies into full on confrontation with Syria, and by extension Russia.

The viral images caused a media firestorm in 2018, showing children allegedly suffering from chemicals, as main stream media channels, like the BBC itself, called for war with Assad.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the BBC producer’s stunning admission, after a 6 month investigation, that reveals the “‘chemical attack” hospital scenes in Douma were completely staged.

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Via RT


Emotive scenes of Syrian civilians, among them crying, choking, half-naked children, dominated the airwaves in April last year after rebel-affiliated mouthpieces reported yet another “chemical attack by the Assad regime” in the town of Douma. Disturbing reports, including some from the controversial White Helmets, claimed scores of people had been killed and injured.

Mainstream media quickly picked up the horrific (but unverified) videos from a Douma hospital, where victims were treated after this “poison attack.” That hospital scene was enough to assemble a UN emergency session and prompt the US-led ‘coalition of the willing’ to rain down dozens of missiles on Damascus and other locations.

But Riam Dalati, a reputable BBC producer who has long reported from the Middle East, took the liberty of trying to sift through the fog of the Syrian war.

He believes Assad forces did attack the town, but that the much-publicized hospital scenes were staged.

After almost 6 months of investigations, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged. No fatalities occurred in the hospital.

Anticipating further queries, he said no one from the White Helmets or opposition sources were present in Douma by the time the alleged attack had happened except for one person who was in Damascus.

Dalati also says that an attack “did happen” but that sarin, a weapons-grade nerve agent, was not used. He said, “we’ll have to wait for OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] to prove chlorine or otherwise.”

However, everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.

The journalist said Jaysh al-Islam, an Islamist faction that fought the Syrian army there, “ruled Douma with an iron fist. They co-opted activists, doctors and humanitarians with fear and intimidation.”

Dalati’s revelations could have become a bombshell news report, but instead it was met with a deafening media silence. His employer preferred to distance itself from his findings. The BBC told Sputnik in a statement that Dalati was expressing “his personal opinions about some of the video footage that emerged after the attack but has not claimed that the attack did not happen.” 

After a while, Dalati restricted access to his Twitter account which is now open only to confirmed followers.

Interestingly, his previous inputs did not sit well with the official narrative either. “Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative,” he said in a tweet which he later deleted over “the breach of editorial policy.”

In all, Dalati is not a lone voice in the wilderness. The Intercept has recently run a story that also cast doubt on the mainstream coverage of Douma, although it doesn’t doubt that the attack itself happened. While a veteran British reporter Robert Fisk suggested there was no gas attack at all, saying people there were suffering from oxygen starvation. Witnesses of the “chemical attack,” for their part, told international investigators the story was a set-up.

Moscow, which supports Damascus in its fight against terrorists, has long stated the Douma incident was staged, calling for an international OPCW inquiry. Last year, the Defense Ministry presented what it said was proof the “provocation” was to trigger Western airstrikes against Syrian government forces.

This time, the military recalled a similar 2017 incident in Khan Sheikhoun, where an alleged chemical attack took place. The ministry’s spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Friday that a closer inspection of footage from that location clearly shows this was a set-up as well.

Now the Foreign Ministry has suggested Dalati is being silenced for voicing inconvenient views, with spokeswoman Maria Zakharova asking on Facebook: “A telling story. How about Western advocates of rights and freedoms? Had they accused BBC of censorship and pressuring the journalist?”

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President Trump schools liberals with National Emergency declaration

President Trump skillfully defeats Democrat naysayers, by increasing support for the border wall prior to declaring a National Emergency.

Seraphim Hanisch

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President Trump signed a continuing resolution to keep the US government fully running through the rest of the 2019 fiscal year. The CR contained a $1.374 bn allocation for US border security, and that money includes and pays for the completion of some fifty-five miles of border fence (or wall, or barrier, or “not-a-wall” depending on one’s preferential phrasing.) He also declared a National Emergency, theoretically freeing at least another $8 bn for the continued construction of the border wall.

Yes, it is a wall. And, yes, it is being built right now. And yes, it will be completed. The President of the United States has made this abundantly clear.

Some news reporters talk about this matter still as though there is in fact no wall now, and that there is no construction in progress on any wall. To that we can say, please watch this:

This section of the wall is going up near Santa Teresa, New Mexico. It augments a very well-designed 18 foot wall stretching from west of Santa Teresa, NM to Tornillo, Texas. If someone wants to cross the border without having to negotiate this barrier they have to go very far off the beaten path to do it. President Trump wants to make it even more difficult; in fact, he wants to have the barrier run the entire length of the US-Mexico border.

This second video says a bit more about the situation:

His campaign to get this has been brilliant in terms of getting the American people informed that there is a problem. How did he do this with a press that hates him?

Easy. He made an issue out of it, knowing that the news media has no choice but to cover the President’s every antic, and in so doing, while seeking fodder for criticism, they actually ended up reporting on the actual problem.

This has been an interesting flow of events:

  • Mainstream news slamming the President’s every statement about the need for a wall
  • The fury of Democrat leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles “Chuck” Schumer in their 100% opposition – their own temper tantrum whilst blaming that tantrum on Trump, who actually acted more like a strict parent than a bratty teenager
  • The very public presentations of Border Patrol experts that Trump arranged, the purpose being to listen to their own expert assessment of the actual needs at the border

This last issue marks a need for even the conservative press to have a wake-up call. Daniel Horowitz wrote a piece in The Conservative Review excoriating President Trump’s signing of this present deal as a “sell out”, noting that:

Trump originally demanded $25 billion for the wall. Then he negotiated himself down to $5.6 billion. Democrats balked and only agreed to $1.6 billion. This bill calls it a day at $1.375 billion, enough to construct 55 miles. But it’s worse than that. This bill limits the president’s ability to construct “barriers” to just the Rio Grande Valley sector and only bollard fencing, not concrete walls of any kind.

Daniel’s point is great for rhetoric because, of course, the President originally did promise a big beautiful concrete wall running the entire length of the border.

However, he missed the point about using bollard-style walls that can be seen through – the Border Patrol agents themselves said this kind of wall is to their advantage. A solid wall prevents natural visibility and the agents were getting rocks thrown at them from people they could not see on the other side. A see-through capability means that people approaching the wall on the other side can be seen and tracked.

This marks an example of conservative ideology being too strongly fixed, just as the liberals’ ideology is fixed at the level of a four-year old child refusing to let someone else play with his toys.

They both do not understand that President Trump is not concerned with ideology. He is concerned with useful results, which he got in this deal.

Now about that National Emergency. Is this really the constitutional crisis Trump’s detractors say it is?

Probably not.

It has been widely reported that the US is currently running under some 31 other national emergencies, and that the one President Trump declared makes it number 32. The rhetoric from the news media and Democrats is centered around the idea that no President has ever used this power to get money that only the Congress can allot.

We also probably already know that this is an irrelevant point – the President is in charge of the national security of the nation, and he can and must do what he can to ensure it. The huge numbers of illegal crossings, nearly half a million in 2018 were largely apprehended and released into the United States, rather than deported. Half a million is far less than the 1.6 million that came through in 2000, but it is also not zero. Half a million is the size of the city of Atlanta, Georgia.

The distractors in the Democrat party and media do not want anyone comprehending this fact, so they try to divert and dissuade. But President Trump has not let any of this get past him. In a media event, the President had parents and relatives of people who were murdered by illegal aliens in a direct face-off with none other than CNN’s provocateur-in-chief Jim Acosta, and the reporter was forced to listen to what these family members had to say about their convictions that the president was correct in his:

Trump pointed to angel moms in attendance, asking them for their thoughts.

“You think I’m creating something? Ask these incredible women who lost their daughters and their sons,” Trump said. “OK, Because your question is a very political question because you have an agenda. You’re CNN. You’re fake news.”

Trump told Acosta the statistics he provided were “wrong” and told him to take a look at the federal prison population for proof.

“See how many of them,percentage-wise, are illegal aliens,” Trump said. “Just see, go ahead and see. It’s a fake question.”

Acosta was subsequently confronted by the angel moms in attendance, after the press conference. As angel moms confronted the CNN reporter, he invited them to appear on the network in the background of a live shot.

“There is no attempt whatsoever to diminish what they’ve gone through, or take away what they’ve gone through, but as you heard in that question that I had with the president … it was really about the facts and the data,” Acosta said on CNN following his exchange with Trump. “Some of these folks came up to me right after this press conference … they’re holding up these pictures of loved ones who lost their lives.”

An angel mom then discussed that a previously deported illegal alien murdered her son.

“President Trump is completely correct on this issue, we need to protect this country,” the angel mom told Acosta.

Acosta actually was a victim of his own passions when he went to the border to a place where the bollard wall presently stands and reported that nothing was happening there. It seemed that he was expecting that there were supposed to be angry mobs on the other side trying to get through. However, no one was there, because it is rather pointless to try to get over this wall at this place. Even liberals were forced to acknowledge Mr. Acosta’s strategic miscalculation.

The new national emergency is about getting results. If we were concerned only with smooth and impressive politics, we could only remark on the President’s success in maneuvering the Democrats (not all of them were slavishly going with the Pelosi-Schumer stance) and his ability to do what he does best – getting his message to the American people, and giving them information with which to decide what they want.

This campaign is not over, but this particular battle appears to have been won with a lot of hard work.

Slowly, oh, so slowly, it would seem that the forces of common sense are making some headway in America.

 

 

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“This is America” reveals a shocking vision of the United States

The Grammy Award winning Song and Record of the Year feature the very darkest vision of what America has become.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Grammy Awards are the second of the three most significant musical achievement awards in the United States. Two of the anticipated awards that many fans of this event look forward to learning are the Song of the Year and the Record of the Year.

The Song of the Year is awarded to the songwriters of a given song, where the Record of the Year goes to the artists, producers and engineers involved in crafting the recording (the “record”) of a song. Both categories are huge and both usually go to an artist or organization responsible for a pop song.

It also happens to be that usually the song that is picked is beautiful and in most cases, reflects the character of beauty (whether in music or lyrics or both) for that year.

This year was quite different. Both awards went to Donald Glover, a.k.a. “Childish Gambino” for his song This is America.

This song features a radically different tone than previous winners going back for many years. Though rap remixes are usually less musical, the Grammy winners among these mixes have nevertheless retained some relatively positive, or at least attractive, aspect.

This is America is very different, especially when watched with its video.

Musically, it is genius, though the genius appears to have gone mad. Glover paints a picture of some very positive segments in American life, but then destroys it with his audible form and message that says absolutely nothing positive, but even more so – it doesn’t make sense unless one knows the context.

That context is revealed in the video with frightening images: someone getting their brains blown out (we see the blood fly), a gospel choir shot up with an automatic rifle while they were singing, and cannabis, front and center, being smoked by the artist himself.

This is America?

For Glover, this song and others on his album do seem to reflect that point of view.  Feels like Summer, one of Glover’s other recent songs, also reflects this sense of hopelessness, though it is far more musically consistent. The video gives the most clear contextual information that one could ask for, and while the video is not violent, it features degradation in society, even though the people depicted appear to be trying to make the best of their life situations.

The image Mr. Glover paints of America is a far cry from that which was known to most Americans only twenty years ago, and in fact, in many parts of the country where cannabis is still illegal there is a corresponding sense of positivity in life that is absent in Childish Gambino’s California-esque view of life.

There is a massive change that is taking place in American society. Our music and art reflects this change, and it sometimes even helps drive that change.

The United States of today is at a crossroads.

How many times have we read or heard THAT statement before?  But does it not seem so now? The attempt of identity politics to separate our nation into groups that must somehow fight for their own relevance against other groups is not the vision of the United States only twenty years ago.

Further, the normalization of themes such as drug-use and racism, the perpetuation of one in reality and the other as a mythological representation of how life “really is” in the US is radically bizarre.

In discussions with people who do not live in the United States, we found that sometimes they believed that white-on-black racism really was happening in America, because the media in the US pumps this information out in a constant stream, often with people like Donald Trump as the scapegoat.

But it is not true. Anyone in America’s new “accused class” of white, Christian, European-descent males (and some women who are not feminists), will note that they are not racist, and in fact, they feel persecuted for their existence under the new mantra of “white privilege.”

But it does not matter what they say. The media pumps the message it wants to, and with such coverage it is easy to get to halfway believing it: I know I am not this way, but I guess things are getting pretty bad elsewhere because all of those people seem to be getting this way…

This is the narrative the press promulgates, but upon conversations with people in “those places” we find that it is not true for them, either, and that they may in fact be thinking this is true about us.

Made in America is a visionary song and video. However, the vision is not a dream; it is nothing that anyone in the country would sincerely hope for. Even in Donald Glover’s case – as one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, and as a big success in music, he is far from being one of the “boys in the ‘hood.” In fact, Time Magazine in 2017 named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Certainly his musical work creates a powerful influence, but it also must raise questions, with the main ones being:

  • Are we really like this?
  • Is this what we really want to be as a country?
  • Is this the kind of image we want our children in the US to adopt?

In fact, if Mr. Glover’s work was viewed with care (rather than just as something that is “cool” because the media says it is), it might help us steer away from the cliff that many Americans are in fact heading towards.

We have elected not to link to the video because it is too disturbing for children. It is even too disturbing for many adults. For that reason we are not making it one-click-easy to get to.

Parents reading this opinion piece would do well to screen the video by themselves without the kids around first, before deciding what they want to do. Even though the video is probably something that they have already seen, the parents still stand as the guides and guardians for their children through all the perils of growing up.

These times call for great guardians indeed.

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