Saturday, April 21, 2018

How Clinton and Obama helped Assad kill and ISIS grow

I want to take you back to a long forgotten time when the Syrian civil uprising that began with anti-government graffiti on the 6th of March 2011 and the massive 15 March "Days of Rage" protests was only a few weeks old and the death toll still numbered in the dozens.

When thousands marched in the Daraa "Day of Dignity" protest on 18 March, Assad regime forces did open fire with live ammunition, killing four, but they still relied mainly on water cannon to disperse the protesters. That "first Friday" saw massive protests in Damascus, Daraa, Homs, Baniyas, Qamishl, Deir ez-Zor and many other Syrian cities and towns. To disrupt the funeral protest for those killed the next day in Daraa, the regime used tear gas and killed another six with live fire. How distant those days seem now. At the time it was called a brutal crackdown simply because the regime was using live ammo against peaceful protesters and killing unarmed civilians the way Israel does at its Gaza containment fence today.

Still Assad must have felt strong international constraints on his use of force. On that very day, 19 March 2011, NATO country warplanes, with UN authorization, made their first strikes against Gaddafi's armored columns approaching Benghazi. In the coming days, NATO forces would initiate a countrywide air campaign against Libya government forces that would involve more than 9,700 strike sorties before they few away. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was therefore understandably concerned that if he was seen as "going too far," in the eyes of the US and the other members of the "Responsibility to Protect" coalition, he too might be subjected to "the Gaddafi treatment."

Anti-government protest in Daraa, 26 March 2011
Perhaps because stepped up regime violence was seen as a dangerous option, as the protests continued to build in those early days in spite of the crackdown, we saw important indications that the government might be willing make some concessions. The day after French jets hit Gaddafi's tanks, 20 March 2011, Assad sent a delegation to offer condolences to the families of those killed in Daraa. The next day he ordered the release of the teenagers detained since 6 March for writing "the people want the regime to fall" on walls across Daraa, and removed the provincial governor responsible for the arrests, Assad cousin Faisal Ahmed Kulthum. But Assad also sent troops to Daraa. On 22 March, the UNHCR called for an investigation of the deaths of six protesters it said were killed that month by Syrian security forces. The next day the Chicago Sun-Times put the death toll in the Syrian conflict at 22. How innocent of the carnage to come we were! But it was climbing quickly already, on the next day, a reinforced Syrian army may have killed as many as 37 in Daraa.

Still, the people would not be intimidated! On 24 March in Daraa, 20,000 people attended the funerals of nine protesters killed the day before, and the next day, Friday, 25 March 100,000 protested the Assad regime in Daraa. There were also large demonstrations in Latakia, Homs, Damascus, Hama, Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa. The next day, a Saturday, protesters in Daraa celebrated as the regime released 200 political prisoners.

That Sunday, 27 March, the Assad regime announced that it was conceding one of the main demands of the protesters. The government said it was going to cancel the draconian "State of Emergency" law that had been in effect for 48 years!

Hillary Clinton's "No" to Humanitarian Intervention

But that same Sunday something else happened that would have a dramatic impact on the course of the Syrian conflict. Hillary Clinton, in her official capacity as Secretary of State for the United States of America let Bashar al-Assad know that he didn't need to even worry about being given the "Gaddafi treatment." She did this in a Sunday morning Face the Nation interview with Bob Schieffer:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Madam Secretary, let me start with you. Tens of thousands of people have turned out protesting in Syria, which has been under the iron grip of the Assad for so many years now, one of the most repressive regimes in the world, I suppose. And when the demonstrators turned out, the regime opened fire and killed a number of civilians. Can we expect the United States to enter the conflict in the way we have entered the conflict in Libya?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Each of these situations is unique, Bob. Certainly, we deplore the violence in Syria. We call, as we have on all of these governments during this period of the Arab Awakening, as some have called it, to be responding to their people’s needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests, and begin a process of economic and political reform.

The situation in Libya, which engendered so much concern from around the international community, had a leader who used military force against the protestors from one end of his country to the other, who publically said things like, “We’ll show no mercy. We’ll go house to house.” And the international community moved with great speed...

BOB SCHIEFFER: But, I mean, how can that be worse than what has happened in Syria over the years, where Bashar Assad’s father killed 25,000 people at a lick? I mean, they open fire with live ammunition on these civilians. Why is that different from Libya?

Well, I --
There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer. What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning, but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities [how ironic these words sound today!!] and then police actions, which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.
The headline that shot around the world was that unlike Libya, there would be no military intervention in Syria. This piece in The Express Tribune was typical:
No US military action planned on Syria for now: Clinton

27 March 2011
Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday said that the United States currently has no intention of launching a military intervention in Syria, despite its brutal crackdown that has left dozens of protesters dead.

Asked on CBS television's "Face the Nation" programme if Washington is planning military action similar to that launched in Libya, Clinton answered that it is not. "No, each of these situations is unique."
In the Qatari daily newspaper The Peninsula, the headline was even more blunt:
No attack on Syria: Clinton
The message was well received by Assad. The government organized pro-government demonstrations the next day, and on 29 March pro-Assad demonstrations were held in Damascus, Aleppo, Hasaka, Homs, Tartous and Hama. Many workers were given two hours off to attend, and school children were given the day off.

The next day, 30 March 2011, Assad gave a speech in which he rescinded his promise to lift the state of emergency and blamed foreign conspirators for causing the uprising. The people were expecting the speech to announce the lifting of the emergency laws. When they took to the streets to protest in Latakia, the security forces killed five with gunfire. The next day they killed 25. After Hillary Clinton's statement, the Assad regime killing started its dramatic climb and the term "blood bath" was coming into common usage. He began using the army against protesters regularly. By the end of March, al-Balad, a rebellious neighborhood of 15,000 in Daraa had been surround by the Syrian army, cut off and facing famine, the first of a great many Syrian communities to be subjected to this treatment in coming years. Now that Assad knew there would be no pesky no-fly zones in his future, he commenced with the slaughter we now have come to know. By 24 May 2011, less than two months after Hillary Clinton called Assad a "reformer" and told him the US would not be entering the conflict militarily, the civilian death toll went from dozens to over a thousand, the first of 500 thousand that were to follow them to the grave in coming years.

The day after the Assad speech, Emre Dogru, an analyst at the Stratfor Global Intelligence private spooks company sent an email to his team. It was published by Wikileaks. In it he wrote:
Let's don't get bogged down in details. What I'm arguing is basically the following. Since Mubarak has gone and Gaddhafi is under fire, Assad has more than enough reasons to be concerned about Syrian regime's survival. Regardless of what our Syrian contacts tell us about Assad's confidence, we know and Assad knows that he is on the thin ice and needs US/Saudi support for survival. US/Saudi (and by proxy, Qatar) back Assad not because they fear things may get worse in Lebanon. Indeed, they think this is the best time to put pressure on Assad to give concessions in Lebanon due to his current weakness. Don't you really find it a bit unusual that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United States did not even hesitate throwing their support behind Assad at the very beginning? Washington could have easily sent a warning to Damascus by saying that "Libya-like treatment for Syria is one of the options". France was already willing to get engaged in Syria. But US did the contrary.
Barack Obama's "Red Line"

It may have taken weeks for the Syrian conflict to claim its first one hundred victims, but by the time President Barack Obama made his infamous "Red Line" proclamation on 20 August 2012, the body count was rising at the rate of a hundred a day, and the new total was around 25,000. At least 44 Syrians, including two children, were killed in Daraa that very day, but when Chuck Todd raised the question of Syria with President Obama at the White House Press Conference that day, he did not concern himself with the slaughter of children, his question echoed narrow American interests:
Mr. President, could you update us on your latest thinking of where you think things are in Syria, and in particular, whether you envision using U.S. military, if simply for nothing else, the safe keeping of the chemical weapons, and if you're confident that the chemical weapons are safe?
Then he asked something about Romney's tax returns as his second question. After first dealing with the Romney question, The President of the United States responded:
On Syria, obviously this is a very tough issue. I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down. So far, he hasn’t gotten the message, and instead has double downed in violence on his own people. The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into civil war he should move in the direction of a political transition. But at this point, the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant.
I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.

All right, thank you, everybody.
At the time, few Americans noticed the impromptu promise the President had made to the Syrian people in our name. I know of none that objected, although that would have been the time to do so, when the promise was made in our name, not when the terms had come due.

The people who did notice were those on all sides in the Syrian conflict, but chemical weapons were not a fetish for them, so that aspect was of little importance. In the 17 months since Secretary Clinton had taken away even the threat of US military intervention, Assad regime violence against Syrians that opposed him had grown at an ever accelerating rate. Assad had graduated from forcing his police to use live ammunition on unarmed protesters to using tanks and machine guns against protesters, pouring artillery and rocket fire down on resistive communities or using his helicopters and jets to drop everything but chemical weapons on them, including conventional HE bombs, napalm, white phosphorus and barrel-bombs filled with shrapnel. Now the US President had drawn a red line in the sand. Now he had told Assad his limits. He could continue to do all he was doing, and more, to brutally suppress any opposition to his dictatorship, and so long as he didn't mess with the US fetish, it was all good! The promise made by his Secretary of State when the uprising was less than a month old would still hold. That was the message that was received in the region. Many, including Syrian Revolution Digest, Susan Ahmad, a Syrian activist, Dr. L. Brnd on Ynet News and Linux Beach, called Obama's "red line" a "green light" to continue, and even step up, the killing by conventional means.
The real import of Obama's "red line" statement was so widely recognized and popularly called out as a "green light" to Assad's continue slaughter, that the Syrian President was forced to respond to it directly in a rare public statement only seven days after Obama's proclamation, saying:
The truth is that Syria doesn't need a green light when dealing with it's internal affairs, neither from our allies or our enemies. [03:42]
In the following week Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [SOHR] estimated 320 people were killed in Daraya in five days. Anwar Saadedine, a former Syrian Arab Army brigadier general that had deflected to the Free Syrian Army told the Daily Beast:
“A month ago, 100 to 200 people were dying a day. Before that it was 50. Now it’s between 300 and 400. Syrian people are being slaughtered every day, and the world is watching.”
Near the end of August, when French President, Francois Hollande called on Assad's opposition to unite and form a provisional government, the Obama administration called the move "premature." Abdelbaset Sieda of the Syrian National Council slammed him for that.

Obama also positioned the CIA in Libya and Turkey to ensure that Assad's opposition got no access to the one thing that could have prevented Assad's aerial slaughter, effective anti-aircraft missiles, i.e. MANPADS, like the ones found in Gaddafi's liberated arsenal. Had the FSA been able to stop Assad's aerial assaults in this period before the Russians came to his rescue, there may have never been a Syrian refugee crisis, or at least not so much. Maybe Assad would be on trial in the Hague already. [His day will come yet!]

SOHR put the death toll at over 42,000 from 18 March 2011 to 6 December 2012. CW wasn't being used, but such nasty weapons as cluster bombs filled with napalm were, and already there were signs that Assad was preparing to use chemical weapons.

In December, to accommodate Assad, Obama moved his "red line" back. It no longer covered the movement of chemical weapons, only their use. By the middle of December even the Associated Press was reporting "some human rights groups and Middle East experts say Obama's "red line" has given Assad a green light to launch attacks on his own people through other conventional means." Assad was already firing Scud missiles at his own people with impunity!

On 23 December 2012 we saw the first reports of a "sarin-like gas" being used by the regime, but only seven people in Homs were killed so, presumably, it didn't yet cross Obama's "red line."

Bashar al-Assad used both sarin-type and chlorine-type chemical weapons multiple times in small attacks, and massacred over 100,000 of his fellow Syrians before he flouted Obama's "red line" in a way that could not be ignored by killing over 1300, including about 300 children, with sarin in a Damascus suburb on 21 August 2013, within about 7 hours of being precisely a year after Obama's infamous "red line" statement.

Barack Obama helps ISIS grow

It is well known what happened next. Obama reneged on his promise to strike Assad militarily if Assad ever used chemical weapons in a way that couldn't be denied. If the truth be revealed, Obama only meant his "red line" statement to be a green light for Assad. Since Assad was massacring people just fine without using CW, Obama could hope he wouldn't have the audacity to use the likes of sarin. Now Assad, with Putin standing behind him, had called his bluff.

It wasn't just Obama that betrayed the Syrian people, since he put it to a congressional vote, and many influential voices on both the Right and the Left spoke against any military action, it is safe to say America reneged on her promise. Obama even stopped the French from taking their own independent action and in September, Obama joined Russian and China to block an ICC war crimes prosecution of Assad. For close observers, it was becoming increasingly clear which side the United States was really on.

Back on 27 March 2011, the same Sunday Bouthaina Shaaban announced the Assad regime would be rescinding the state of emergency, and Hillary Clinton announced the US was rescinding any R2P with regards to Syria, Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, wrote about the ongoing NATO intervention in Libya:
[W]e should acknowledge what could be happening in eastern Libya right now had Qaddafi’s forces continued their march. The dozens of burned out tanks, rocket launchers, and missiles bombed at the eleventh hour on the road to Benghazi would have devastated the rebel stronghold if Qaddafi’s forces had been able to unleash them indiscriminately, as they did in other, smaller rebel-held towns, like Zawiyah, Misrata, and Adjabiya. Qaddafi’s long track-record of arresting, torturing, disappearing, and killing his political opponents to maintain control suggests that had he recaptured the east, a similar fate would have awaited those who supported the opposition there. Over a hundred thousand Libyans already fled to Egypt fearing Qaddafi’s assault; hundreds of thousands more could have followed if the east had fallen. The remaining population, and those living in refugee camps abroad, would have felt betrayed by the West, which groups like Al Qaeda would undoubtedly have tried to exploit.
Veterans for Peace marching side-by-side with Assad's flag
That, in a nutshell, is what happened in Syria. While the white Left celebrated a great victory for the anti-war movement when Obama elected not to strike Assad after the big 2013 sarin attack, the effect in Syria was quite different. It gave an immediate boost to a regime whose fortunes seemed to be flagging at that point. Assad had been trying the bomb the opposition out of East Ghouta for a year before he assaulted it with sarin. Two weeks before that sarin attack, he'd lost Menagh, a major air force base, near Aleppo. With all his Russian and Iranian backing, he hadn't gained much ground since Qusayr. He was still bogged down around Homs and his Aleppo offensive was fizzling.

He used chemical weapons here as he has other places before and since, to get at people hiding from his bombs in basements. When he has already turned the buildings above them into rubble by conventional means, but the people are still holding out by going underground, heavier than air poison gases become a very attractive weapon. This military reality is refused by the Assad apologists that always ask, after any Syria CW attack big enough to make the news: But why would he use CW when he is already winning without them? They've been asking that for five years now!

These weapons also terrorize the people, they kill children first, and they feed the West's CW fetish. This last may be the real motivation behind these news making attacks, because the West has made a fetish of these attacks, turning them into whodunits, as a way of ignoring the daily slaughter everyone knows Assad is responsible for. The white Left has especially cultivated this fetish.

With the CW deal brokered by Putin, Assad agreed to give up all the CW he was willing to admit to having. Obama settled for this in lieu of airstrikes; Assad was being rehabilitated as a player in international affairs. The threat of NATO military action had been removed, and most importantly, his military fortunes were improving on the ground in Syria, at least partially because of Obama's inaction after the Ghouta sarin attack.

While the lack of US action was a big plus for Assad, the effects on his opposition were otherwise. This is a side of the question that received very little consideration in the US debate, although the ramifications were to be huge. My friends in the Syrian American Council told me that it is hard to overestimate the negative effect on the morale of the opposition of Obama's failure to take military action. Jami Dettmer, writing in The Daily Beast put it this way in early 2015:
the "already high skepticism over American policy toward the war in Syria" among the opposition "skyrocketed when the Obama administration failed to enforce in 2013 its “red line” against Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and the skepticism has merely grown since."
Obama's betrayal dealt a body blow to the revolutionary opposition. They understood that his "red line" threat offered them no protection from the regime's daily slaughter. Now they found out the even the promise to do something if Assad ever used chemical weapons was an empty one. A revolution is always short on air power. The most powerful "weapon" it has is the fighting spirit of the people. The demoralization that set in in Syria, while the US anti-war movement was celebrating its victory, was tremendous.

The democratic and progressive forces, both among the fighters and in civil society, saw their positions undermined. Their people were being slaughtered, and nobody in the West, not even the so-called Peace Movement, was coming to their aid. Those reactionary forces that always counseled distrust of the West and western ideas, reversion back to old ways of thinking and old ways doing things, of falling back on religion in the face of abandonment by the so-called 'sons of liberty' to the brutal savagery of the regime, had a powerful new talking point. Many fighters left the FSA and joined Islamic extremists groups, principally Da'ish, others just dropped out, went home if they could, or more likely, joined the refugee stream. Few noticed at the time, but Obama's betrayal was already contributing to a Syrian refugee stream that would become overwhelming in a few years. What was 525,000 Syrian refugees in December 2012, grew to 1 million as of 6 March 2013. By the end of 2013 that number had swelled to 2 million, half of them children. By 2016, the number of Syrian refugees had grown to 5 million.
Raqqa, Syria well illustrates the changes that took place in the wake of Obama's betrayal. Raqqa is best known in the West now as the former headquarters of ISIS or Da'ish. They have now been driven out by a campaign led by Kurdish-Arab forces with US air support that killed 1,800 civilians.

Members of Civil Society, a youth group, painting on a wall in liberated Raqqa
Before ISIS took over Raqqa, it was the center of the revolution. When the government forces were driven out on 4 March 2013, it became the first provincial capital and only urban center to come under the control of Assad's opposition. A city council was quickly elected. Lawyers, doctors and journalists organized themselves. Women's groups were established. The Free Youth Assembly was founded, as was the movement "For Our Rights" and dozens of other initiatives. A free press started to development with many small publications springing up. Sarah Birke visited Raqqa soon after it was liberated and she described the changes in the New York Review of Books, 27 December 2013:
When I visited that month, the city was ruled by a coalition of militias, and it was possible to move around as a woman without a headscarf. I met with an Alawite nurse who worked alongside Sunni peers. And I talked to Abdullah al-Khalil, a prominent lawyer before the war, who as head of the local council continued to pay street cleaners salaries and was trying to secure enough money to keep other services going.
After America's betrayal, ISIS was able to take over when the 14 chiefs of the largest clans gave an oath of allegiance to Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This was proceed by the kidnapping and murder of hundreds of Raqqa activists by ISIS and several suicide car bomb attacks on the FSA brigade headquarters. This was in late October 2013.

About the same time, 18 October 2013, Mohammed Alaa Ghanem of the Syrian American Council wrote a paper with the lengthy title "America’s Arms-Length Approach to Syria is Backfiring. Nominally Western-supported opposition groups are rapidly losing members and losing ground, due in large part to ambivalent American policy." Trying to explain why the newly issued Communiqué No. 1 called for the consolidation of the revolution "under an Islamic framework ... with Sharia as the main source of legislation,” he wrote:
First, the chemical weapons debate in the West following the regime’s August 21 attack against the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta made it clear to Syrians that the international community wasn’t concerned with how many people were killed in Syria, but only in what way people were being killed. They heard President Obama describe the Syrian crisis as a “civil war we should not get involved in,” and were disillusioned with the president’s bungled response, adding to the sense that the West’s policy of seduction and abandonment left little hope for Western support to end the war.

Second, the communiqué reflects a split between Islamists and extremists on the ground. Although it explicitly denounces the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces – or Etilaf as the opposition umbrella group is known – the communiqué sends an indirect message to al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) – the worst of the extremist groups – that ISIS will be isolated. Instead of fighting Assad, ISIS recently declared war on the Free Syrian Army (FSA)....Most analysts ignore the co-dependency between the Assad regime and ISIS, highlighted by the fact that few ISIS positions have come under aerial bombardment by the regime, which has aimed its bombs on FSA positions and civilians instead.

Communiqué No. 1 arose due to a variety of factors on the ground, and a confused U.S. policy towards Syria has made clear that the West has no intention of helping Syrians end their struggle against more than four decades of one family’s rule. Without addressing their underlying grievances, Washington risks further alienating rebel forces in Syria, thereby hurting its long term interests in the country and the wider region.

ISIS was on a roll now. It captured Fallujah, Iraq on 4 January 2014. It consolidated its military hold on Raqqa on 14 January 2014, and it took Mosul, Iraq on 10 June 2014. These gains were only made possible by the recruitment ISIS was able to do in the aftermath of Obama's decision, with America's blessing, not to honor his word.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul is a doctor from Chicago and a member of the Syrian-American Medical Society. He had been to Syria to treat the wounded and dying. He met President Obama at a reception in 2013, two months before the big sarin attack. In February 2016, SAMS issued a 62 page report, A New Normal: Ongoing Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria, that documented 161 such attacks resulting in 1,491 deaths, 69 CW attacks in 2015 alone. Later in 2016, he told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now about this meeting with Obama:
I told him that his legacy will be determined by what he does and what he does not do in Syria. He laughed, and he said that, "But my legacy will be determined by other things." I told him, "Mr. President, your legacy will be determined—the most important factor will be Syria." I still believe that Syria will determine his legacy. And the fact that President Obama did not follow on his pledges when he had these red lines and did not enforce it, I think this is what is causing the chaos and the extremism and the refugee crisis that we are facing right now.
Now President Donald Trump, for all his hatred of Barack Obama, and all of his frenzied attempts to overturn everything Obama even touched, is nevertheless steadfast in carrying forward Obama's policy of leaving Assad in charge. In spite of a few harmless air attacks against an empty airfield and abandoned CW facilities, coordinated with the Russians in advance to insure that no real harm came to them or their allies, Trump is moving forward with the same US policy of leaving the Syrian people at the mercy of the fascist Assad dictatorship. Although the white Left has for years given US imperial support for Assad cover with the ridiculous charge that the US has been engaged in a policy of "regime change" in Syria, Trump has dropped even the call for Assad "to step down." Last December Robin Wright did a piece in The New Yorker about Trump's policy of now openly stated "regime retention" in Syria:
Trump to Let Assad Stay Until 2021, as Putin Declares Victory in Syria

11 December 2017
Despite the deaths of as many as half a million people, dozens by chemical weapons, in the Syrian civil war, the Trump Administration is now prepared to accept President Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule until Syria’s next scheduled Presidential election, in 2021, according to U.S. and European officials. The decision reverses repeated U.S. statements that Assad must step down as part of a peace process. ...more
I am sure that the Trump Administration would work to make sure the next election is fair. We all know how Trump feels about rigged elections. Those on the white Left that have complained for years about humanitarian intervention needn't get their panties in a bunch, Trump has every intention of allowing the murderers to continue their grisly work unimpeded. He repeated this policy again on 29 March 2018, when he told a rally "we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now." The "other people" are the Russians, the Iranians and the Assad regime, precisely those forces that are most responsible for the killing of over a half-million Syrians and counting.

The tragedy that has become Syria could have only happen with America's forbearance, that imperial "neglect" is grounded in white supremacy and the white Left has led the way.

Child killed by Assad missile in Idlib | 15 July 2013

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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Dedicated to my friend Eddie

Obituary for Edgar (Eddie) Edinger (for LA Times)

Edgar (Eddie) Edinger, Sept 8, 1919 – April 13, 2018.

Edgar (Eddie) Edinger was born in Budapest, Hungary, and moved to Vienna, Austria in early childhood. He grew up in Vienna, and always considered himself Austrian. In 1938, when Hitler took over Austria, he was 18, Jewish, and prime draft age. He went to Switzerland, where he stayed for more than a year, giving him an abiding affection for Switzerland. He and his mother were able to emigrate to the United States, sailing on the last ship to leave France before the war began. He enlisted in the US Army and volunteered for overseas duty. The Army sent him to India, where he spent the remainder of the war years. Upon his return to the US in 1946, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lived for the rest of his life. He spent more than 10 years working in the clothing industry, and helped organize unions in some of the shops where he worked. He later was employed by the LA Department of Water and Power, until his retirement in 1980. Eddie was a proud member of Veterans for Peace, and of his union (IBEW, Local 18). He was active in a number of other groups working for peace, social justice, and the environment, including the Unitarian Church, the ACLU and the Sierra Club. He loved folk music, both playing it and hearing it. He sang and played the guitar, and was a founding member of Songmakers, since their beginning in Griffith Park. He sang in the Swiss singing society Harmonie for more than 25 years. Having grown up in Austria, he loved the mountains, and continued to ski into his 80’s.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Iris, his daughter Karen Edinger Belkic (Dzevad), his sons Steven (Maricruz) and Evan (Jennifer), and six grandsons (his “raskie-boys”) ranging in age from 23 to 10.

Eddie passed away peacefully with his wife and son by his side. Everyone remembers Eddie for his friendliness, cheerfulness, and his love of all that life has to offer.

A celebration of Eddie’s life will be held at 2 PM on Saturday, May 5, 2018, at Emerson Unitarian Church, 7304 Jordan Ave., Canoga Park, 91303. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory are requested for Veterans for Peace, or to an organization of one’s choice.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Baked Alaska, the racist blogger who disrupted the SMCRJ before going to Charlottesville resurfaced yesterday to support Assad with the LA white Left!

If you have followed this blog for a while, you are already familiar with this Southern California neo-Nazi. I first ran into Baked Alaska when he came to Santa Monica on 6 August 2017 along with 25 or 30 other plainclothes klansmen and attempted to disrupt the regular meeting of the Santa Monica Committee for Racial Justice. It turned into quite a ruckus!

Less than a week later he turned up in the infamous Friday night tiki-touch march in Charlottesville, were was slated to speak to the "Unite the Right" rally. After that he was kicked off The Discord, and went rather quiet.

Yesterday, he resurfaced, protesting the air strikes against Assad in Perishing Square with his new friends in the white Left like the Answer Coalition.

The white Left - Right convergence is reaching new lows.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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Arrested for being Black in a "City of Brotherly Love" Starbucks!

Clearly racism is on the rise in the era of Trump, and now it is starting to look like we are going to have fight even the lunch counter battles of the early 1960's all over again as two African American men are arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks for trespassing. They were waiting quietly to meet a friend, who happened to be white. They were refused the use of the restroom because they hadn't ordered anything. No problem, they continued to wait. Starbucks ordered them to leave and when they refused, the Starbucks store manager called the police, who arrested them for trespassing just as their friend was arriving.

I suppose, if you want to use the restroom or wash your hands before you eat at a Starbucks, you had better place your order first, so that you can gain access to their restroom facilities, and then get your food and drink. I don't think Starbucks is really setup that way. I don't think you will have an issue if you are white. I'm not and I won't be using Starbucks for a long time.

#BoycottStarbucks! here's the skinny

I delivered The Philadelphia Inquirer as a boy growing up in the pre-Trump Atlantic City. It is reporting:
Black men's arrest at Philadelphia Starbucks prompts city probes amid national outcry

By Patricia Madej, Joseph N. DiStefano & Jacob Adelman
14 April 2018
Philadelphia’s mayor’s office and Police Department have begun separate investigations into the arrest of two African American men waiting to meet an acquaintance at a Center City Starbucks on Thursday after a video of the incident was widely shared on social media, triggering national outrage.

Mayor Kenney said in a statement Saturday afternoon that the city’s Commission on Human Relations has been asked to examine Starbucks’ policies and procedures, including whether its training includes safeguards against “implicit bias,” or unconscious stereotyping.

“We are reaching out to Starbucks to begin a discussion about this,” he said.

READ MORE >> Starbucks CEO wants to apologize ‘face-to-face’ to black men arrested at Philly store

A police spokesman, meanwhile, said the department’s internal affairs unit is probing the incident at the coffee shop at 18th and Spruce Streets. Police Commissioner Richard Ross said earlier Saturday that officers had acted appropriately.

The video, which was posted by Philadelphia-based author Melissa DePino on Thursday, shows at least six Philadelphia police officers taking the two men into custody without resistance. By 5 p.m. Saturday, the video had gathered nearly 4.3 million views.


The Washington Post reported:
Two black men were arrested waiting at a Starbucks. Now the company, police are on the defensive.

By Alex Horton
15 April 2019

Starbucks, which has touted its progressive values and its “social impact” agenda, faces fierce criticism and calls for a boycott after two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia store, sparking accusations of racial profiling over what the company’s chief executive called a “reprehensible” incident.

In a statement, CEO Kevin Johnson offered “our deepest apologies” to the two men on Saturday, who were taken out of the store in handcuffs by at least six officers. A store manager had asked the two men to leave after they asked to use the bathroom but had not made any purchases, police said. The men declined to leave and said they were waiting for a friend, their attorney later said. The manager then called 911 for assistance, the company said.

The confrontation was captured on a video viewed more than 8 million times on social media, fueling the backlash, which drew responses from Philadelphia’s mayor, the city’s police commissioner and now the chief executive of the biggest coffeehouse chain in the world. More...
From the New York Times we have:
Starbucks C.E.O. Apologizes After Arrests of 2 Black Men

By Matt Stevens
15 April 2018
Two black men walked into a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon and sat down. Officials said they had asked to use the restroom but because they had not bought anything, an employee refused the request. They were eventually asked to leave, and when they declined, an employee called the police.

Some of what happened next was recorded in a video that has been viewed more than eight million times on Twitter and was described by the chief executive of Starbucks as “very hard to watch.” Details of the episode, which the authorities provided on Saturday, ignited widespread criticism on social media, incited anger among public officials and prompted investigations.

The video shows the men surrounded by several police officers wearing bicycle helmets in the Center City Starbucks. When one officer asks another man whether he is “with these gentlemen,” the man said he was and called the episode ridiculous.

“What did they get called for?”
asked the man, Andrew Yaffe, who is white, referring to the police. “Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?”

Moments later, officers escorted one of the black men out of the Starbucks in handcuffs. The other soon followed. More...

More, Later...

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

One Person’s Terrorist? Reflections on Zohra Drif’s Memoir of the Algerian Revolution

Originally published in The Nation on 2 February 2018. Republished with the author's permission. My reflections follow Bill's article.

One Person’s Terrorist? Reflections on Zohra Drif’s Memoir of the Algerian Revolution

Is the civilian population of a colonial-settler regime ever a legitimate military target?
By Bill Fletcher Jr.

I have seldom felt compelled to write a review or an essay after reading a book. I am often inspired, saddened, or reflective after finishing a book, but normally I don’t feel compelled to publicly think through issues that emerged for me in the course of reading someone’s work.

Zohra Drif’s Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter left me in a very different place. I grew up inspired by the Algerian national liberation war against France and had, along with thousands of other activists of my political generation, seen the famous Gillo Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers—and Drif played a key role in some wrenching scenes depicted in it. What I failed to grasp was how close the film had actually been to the facts, at least as described by Drif.

Yet Drif’s book is striking less because of its connection with the Pontecorvo film than because it is the story of a woman who, in the very conservative climate of colonial Algeria, became a revolutionary in the cause of Algeria’s freedom. Drif had to overcome the reluctance that existed within her own family, in addition to the repression carried out by the French authorities.

These issues, in and of themselves, would be enough to lead one to appreciate Drif’s story. But it is her discussion of the armed activities in which she was involved, including the bombing of civilian targets, that sent chills up my spine and caused me to stop and reflect.

Anyone who has seen The Battle of Algiers will remember that the urban guerrillas of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) carried out bombings of civilian targets in retaliation for the torturing and killing of Algerians by French troops and terror attacks against Algerian civilians by French colonists. Every time I have watched those scenes—and I have seen the film multiple times—I have been deeply unsettled at the sight of settler civilians killed and wounded. I wondered how Drif would handle this question in her book. To some extent I was surprised by her direct and unapologetic approach.

Drif’s description of the Algerian Revolution can be more fully appreciated when one looks at the entirety of the situation and, especially, the treatment to which the Algerian people were subjected. Algeria was among those colonies of Europe that could be defined as “settler states” or “settler colonies.” These were colonies where the Europeans not only controlled the territory and seized its resources but where there had been a conscious decision to settle Europeans. Other such settler states included Ireland, Kenya, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, South Africa, Palestine/Israel, Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand.

There are many noteworthy things about settler states. One is how often God is referenced, as having allegedly given those territories to the European settler population. That was particularly true in Ireland, South Africa, Israel, and the United States.

A second is the manner in which the settlers psychologically and physically displace the native population and redefine themselves as the legitimate population of that territory. In the United States we are familiar with this, and the ramifications for the American Indians. In Algeria the French encouraged poor southern Europeans to migrate to Algeria and settle. As far as the settlers were concerned, they were now the Algerians, or, more specifically, the French Algerians. The indigenous Algerians were the equivalent of chopped liver.

The poor southern Europeans who settled came to be known as the pieds-noirs (black feet). They arrived after the French military had defeated the indigenous forces and seized the best land—a conquest that began in 1830. The settlers proliferated, and the indigenous Algerians became their servants. Whenever the Algerians rose in revolt, they were brutally suppressed.

The French government felt a special bond with the territory of Algeria, ultimately declaring it to be a part of France. This distinguished Algeria from many other territories occupied by France, as well as territories colonized by other European powers. It was along the lines of the way the United States claims Puerto Rico, after having seized it from the Spanish in 1898.

The indigenous Algerians—a population made up of a broad mixture of African peoples including Arabs and Berbers—had a different point of view, of course. They engaged in various forms of both violent and nonviolent resistance to colonial oppression over the many decades of French colonization. The forms of resistance mattered little to the French government and the pied-noir administrations. Resistance was forbidden.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, a war during which France was occupied by Nazi Germany, the Algerian people rose in protest. On May 8, 1945, French authorities carried out massacres in the Algerian cities of Sétif, Guelma, and Kherrata, targeting thousands of unarmed Algerians. By 1954, a wing of the Algerian independence movement—the FLN—chose to move toward armed struggle as the only means of achieving total liberation from France and the elimination of the settler-colonial regime.

When the oppressed are jailed, tortured, and murdered in settler-colonial systems, the oppressor force treats this in one of several ways. There may be outright denial, e.g., “No, we would never have….” The incidents may be explained away, e.g., “We had to take these steps because the natives were out of control.” The actions of the oppressor state may be treated as an accident or as collateral damage, e.g., “We didn’t mean to shoot those children on the beach; we thought they were terrorists.” The incidents may also be ignored, with no explanation ever given.

There is an additional response from the oppressor group that overlaps each, which can be summed up as, “So what? Things happen.” In other words, the lives of the so-called natives, be they racially, nationally, or colonially oppressed, are in no way comparable to the lives and experiences of the oppressor population. The suffering that befalls the oppressor is always treated as of qualitatively greater significance than anything that happens to the oppressed, at least according to the settler/colonial framework.

That settler/colonial framework was of course at stake in the Algerian Revolution, as it is in every national liberation movement. In the debased morality of such a framework, to what extent can the oppressed be understood as human beings, as opposed to an unidentifiable black, brown, or yellow mass? To what extent should their pleas for freedom be understood as eloquent demands for emancipation rather than the inarticulate moans of suffering?

The Algerian Revolution encountered this challenge on multiple levels. After numerous acts of brutality on the part of the pieds-noirs and/or the French authorities, including but not limited to a particularly ignominious terrorist attack against Algerian civilians by a pied-noir group known as the Ultras, the FLN decided to retaliate. Their view was that such attacks on Algerians would continue and the world would hear nothing and do nothing until and unless the settlers suffered in like manner. As a result, Drif and others made the fateful decision to place bombs where pied-noir civilians congregated.

It was at that moment in the book that I paused. I had to think about the implications. I have always been someone who has felt very strongly that civilians should never be the target of military operations. Yet, here was one of the greatest national liberation movements of the 20th century, and they made a very different decision.

I found myself reflecting upon Native Americans/American Indians who, in their battles with the expanding white settler populations of North America, engaged in warfare that sometimes included kidnapping and/or killing white settlers. With their backs to the wall, was there another option? When white settlers, either formal military or militia, carried out massacres against the Native population, which they would later claim as military victories—massacres that were commonly celebrated by the white civilians—did the indigenous have any options?

The FLN bombings shook the settler population of Algeria in ways that they had never expected to be shaken. The national liberation war was now a reality that hit very close to home. The settlers were no longer safe. And they certainly no longer had the luxury—if they ever did—of remaining neutral, since, by their very presence, they were asserting their right to the land, and control over the people, of Algeria.

Military actions by the FLN throughout Algeria contributed to the ultimate victory but, as the film The Battle of Algiers illustrated at the end, it was mass actions by native Algerians throughout the country that made colonial Algeria ungovernable. Finally, in 1962, to the pleasure of most of the world, Algeria achieved independence.

Yet the moral/political conflict inherent in the decision to hit civilian targets was not resolved, though the FLN members seemed comfortable that they had made the correct decision. Drif certainly believes that the decision was correct and not to be confused with jihadist violence that we have seen in the more recent past around the world.

How does an emancipatory struggle gain world attention? How does it point out to the oppressor group, whether settlers or simply occupiers, that there can be no normality? And, most controversial, when does a so-called civilian population become not merely an instrument of an oppressive regime but an intrinsic and crucial weapon of control?

The FLN saw their actions as retaliatory violence, and the settler population as part of the enemy. This conclusion seems neither illogical nor irrational.

The FLN saw their actions as retaliatory violence. But they also saw the settler population as part of the enemy. This conclusion seems neither illogical nor irrational. The overwhelming majority of the pieds-noirs believed in what they called “Algérie Française.” On more than one occasion the settlers came close to creating a civil war within France, including through the establishment of a notorious crypto-fascist organization, the OAS (in English, the Secret Army Organization), in order to permanently secure Algeria to France.

Yet in striking at civilians, the challenges for the FLN included not only the intrinsic ethical dilemmas posed by such attacks but also the response of world opinion and the legacy they would have for future generations. Though the mass base of the FLN may have supported hitting civilian targets as a form of retaliation for state torture and pied-noir terrorism, the reality is that much of the rest of the world either did not agree or did not understand. As far as much of the rest of the world was concerned, these were civilian establishments that were not engaged in the war and, therefore, should have been considered off limits.

The battle against settler regimes is a unique fight because the settlers are, in most cases, an unofficial component of the army of occupation. In this sense, the pieds-noirs were never a neutral civilian population that had to make a choice between two sides (as every population ultimately does during war). Certainly individual settlers made choices, including the minority of settlers who chose to enlist with the FLN. (Frantz Fanon, originally from Martinique but a hero of the Algerian Revolution, devoted a chapter in his book A Dying Colonialism to the European minority and made the point that they were not a monolithic bloc.) That said, the mass of settlers’ presence in a colonized land represents an act of aggression, an invasion.

Settlers actually know this, if only subconsciously, which is why they try so hard to claim or mythologize that there was allegedly no one on the land before they arrived, as in the settler’s tales in South Africa, Israel (“a land without a people for a people without a land”), and the United States. The admission that there was a population in existence, even if the justification is that the population was “primitive,” raises myriad questions about how and why the land was expropriated. The fact that settler-colonial states generally go further and ensure that the settlers are armed, have military training, and can frequently be enlisted in military operations by the settler-colonial state is only the icing on an already toxic cake.

In settler states the settlers have access to weapons, while for the natives it is generally prohibited. Settlers have a racial or national privilege that separates their existence from that of the natives, whether in the form of housing, access to water, utilities, freedom of movement, or education. The settler is living a completely different life from that of the native, and attempts by natives to assert their humanity and demand even a modicum of equality are perceived as threats to settler privilege. The settlers, as a group, never see themselves as aligned with the interests of the natives but rather fight to assert their settler privilege, even going so far as to proclaim themselves “nationalists,” insofar as they want the settler state to remain a settler-dominated formation, no matter how that state might change in formal terms.

To those not directly involved in a conflict with a settler regime, the civilian settler is perceived not as an extension of the repressive apparatus of the occupying regime but as a simple civilian and, as such, a non-combatant. The conflict is perceived as being a formal one between the apparatus of the occupier, on the one hand, and the organization(s) of the native, on the other. In such a scenario, the civilian settler is frequently perceived as being a neutral party who only wishes to live well and be left alone.

While such a scenario is false on its face, it is what is often believed and, in the Western media, what is frequently portrayed. The oppressed are not given any “permission” to retaliate against atrocities—often not even against the occupier’s military forces—while any attack by the armed forces of the oppressor are viewed as legitimate acts of self-defense.

The acts on the part of the FLN were historically understandable but politically problematic, a point that must be reflected upon in similar such struggles and which goes toward the legacy of the Algerian Revolution. Liberation struggles never take place in isolation, and they never involve only two sides. Surrounding any conflict are “invisible” forces that interact with and influence the parties directly engaged in the struggle. In some cases, such forces are very active, for example US establishment support for the ongoing Israeli colonization of Palestine. In other cases, they may initially be neutral but then come to be engaged, for example, the USSR in the Algerian Revolution (initially neutral but later supportive of the national liberation struggle). The activities of the other parties can be influenced by various factors, including but not limited to the nature of the actual fight itself.

Though an anti-settler movement can legitimately argue that the settlers are complicit in oppression, in each case the movement must determine the consequences of identifying targets. What, for instance, will be the impact on potential allies—including not only other governments but solidarity movements abroad—if civilians are targeted? Will potential allies recognize a legitimate right of retaliation, or will they look at such acts as terrorism?

During the so-called Troubles in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s through the mid-1990s, the Irish Republican Army generally took great pains to distinguish hard targets (military or government targets) from soft targets (civilians). This did not mean that civilians were not killed—there were some horrendous exceptions to this policy—but rather that they were generally not the targets of military activity. This, in fact, distinguished the IRA from the loyalist paramilitary organizations, which disregarded the soft target/hard target distinction and were quite comfortable attacking nationalist/Catholic civilians. Such an approach made it difficult for the British to successfully portray the IRA as terrorists, though the British media worked overtime in support of the London government on this issue.

The example of Ireland also illustrates an additional complication. During the Troubles, the British would establish military installations in or near civilian establishments, which I witnessed first-hand in 1988, during a visit to Northern Ireland. This meant that if the IRA were to carry out a military attack on a British installation, there was a good chance that civilians would be killed or injured, and the British could describe the attack as an act of “terrorism.” The fact that the British created this situation was generally missed by the media.

During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the African National Congress took a similar approach toward military actions. The basic policy was that civilians were not to be targeted, though there was always a recognition that civilians might be killed or injured as a result of an attack on a military or government target.

The fundamental challenge in decolonization struggles and national liberation movements against settler-colonial regimes is that the dilemmas of the oppressed are almost never given contemporary equality with those of the oppressor. On the other hand, when viewed retrospectively, actions by an oppressed or “righteous” group, including against civilians, often receive some degree of legitimation.

Thus, the question of the FLN’s campaign in Algiers must be viewed in the context of the 1950s. What were the ethical considerations, and to what extent would targeting settler civilians hurt the cause of Algerian liberation? To what extent would it stop the French and/or pieds-noirs from further atrocities against the Algerians? And, what would be the lingering impact on the Algerian Revolution itself of authorizing attacks on civilian targets?

At the same historical moment, the Vietnamese left made a very different decision. In both the war against the French and, later, the war against the US puppet regimes, the Vietminh, and later the National Liberation Front and the Vietnamese People’s Army—in comparison with the apparatus of the respective regimes they fought—worked to distinguish between hard targets and soft targets, not always successfully. Their behavior had a major impact on the manner in which the Vietnamese national liberation struggle was perceived internationally.

The Algerian FLN won and Algeria became free. An outstanding question, besides one of morality, is again, one of legacy and, specifically, the conclusions arrived at by other movements for national freedom. Were there specific challenges in the Algerian Revolution—in comparison with other anti-colonial and anti-settler movements—that necessitated a turn toward the killing of settler civilians?

Other movements in similar circumstances made very different choices. This is not a matter of passing judgement, but an assessment. Did the killing of civilians in Algeria’s anti-colonial war legitimize, in the minds of those who became jihadists years later, the blurring of the lines between hard targets and soft targets? Did it lead some to conclude that through terror against a population one could force that population to make certain choices?

These are the issues that Zohra Drif opens for consideration in her critically important memoir. In her actions as a militant, Drif casts aside the romanization of revolution. One need not agree with her conclusions in order to appreciate her courage and that of her other comrades in the FLN, who fought what many people assumed at the beginning of the struggle to be an unwinnable war of national liberation.

Bill Fletcher Jr. is a former president of TransAfrica Forum, writer, and trade unionist. He can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, and at

I have always thought that one of the great Catch-22 in the modern world is that while almost everyone recognizes civilians' right to self-defense, the minute they pick up weapons, they are no longer considered civilians. This was the predicament that those that rose up against tyranny in Libya and Syria found themselves faced with. While the whole world was appalled when Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, ordered the army to open fire on unarmed protesters, as soon as they armed themselves to take on the fascist regimes on their own terms, many where quick to brand them as the terrorists.

For the revolutionaries, the decision to take up armed struggle comes with its own set of compromises and contradictions. I am presenting this essay by Bill Fletcher Jr. as an important contribution to that discussion. I have much more to say on this question but I have already held up this republish long enough trying to put the words together.

Friday, February 2, 2018

After a week of Hype the Trump-Nunes Memo turns out to be a Nothing Burger

Finally, The MEMO that the White House, Fox News, and Russian bots have been shouting about for a week, has been released and it turns out to be a big Nothing Burger. 
Although the long hyped and just released Trump-Nunes Memo is only 4 pages long, they make it very easy to focus in on its most important point because it is the only phrase rendered in bold type. It reads:
For example, in September 2016, Steele admitted to Ohr his feelings against then-candidate Trump when Steele said he "was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president."
Steele was hired by Fusion GPS in investigate Trump's Russian connections in June 2016. September 2016 was after Christopher Steele had conducted his investigation. That in no way shows that Steele entered his investigation of Donald Trump with a bias, although he might well have in as much as he didn't need to be a seasoned British spy to be aware of Trump's long history of racism and misogyny. It only shows that he "was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president," after he had spent months investigating Trump, his sexual perversions, and his ties to the Putin gang in Russia. What would you expect? BREAKING NEWS would have been if Steele still thought Donald Trump would make a suitable president while knowing even just the parts of his dossier that have been verified.

I'll bet Elliot Ness was passionate about sending Al Capone to prison after learning of his many, then unproven, crimes, but you didn't hear any Republicans screaming that he should be denied warrants and pulled off the case.

Another item:
The initial FISA application notes Steele was working for a named U.S. person, but does not name Fusion GPS and principal Glenn Simpson, who was paid by a U.S. law firm (Perkins Coie) representing the DNS... 
As if the Judge couldn't have asked for more details on the "named U.S. person" if he thought it relevant to the warrant application. Maybe he considered Steele a trusted source. Judges regularly hear from private investigators who are paid by someone with a vested interest in the case, that isn't exactly breaking news either. What is important are the facts presented, and nothing in this Trump-Nunes Memo impeaches those facts, the backlash may be that this Memo does help to impeach the president.

More updates to come as this news develops.....

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