Category Archives: politics

Voluntary media censorship is ethically wrong

Reporting the Syrian war has become very partisan. Some established media simply do not cover aspects of the war or limit their coverage to one side. The concerned person cannot, and should not, rely on a single media source to get reliable information.

I am not asserting there is organisational censorship – far from it. Just that censorship often operates by omission. For example, Al Jazeera never covers the facts of civilian deaths in western Aleppo because they have no reporters in that city. Whereas they closely cover (alleged) civilian deaths in the eastern part of the city held by “rebels”/”terrorists.” They seem to have reporters embedded in the “rebel”/”terrorist” militia – or simply uncritically pass on the information provided to them by “activists” involved in the fighting. Almost every night they seem to pass on video and reports from the “White Helmets” – a very suspect organisation with links to Al Qaeda.

But the video above provides another example of how voluntary media self-censorship works in the war.

The speaker is the Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Dr Bashar al-Ja’afari. I have written before about him, saying that he:

“impresses me with the clear and concise arguments he makes. It is a pity  he is not given the coverage on our mainstream media that his position should demand. He makes a lot more sense than the US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power.”

Now, I think I know why he gets no coverage. The media self-censors when it comes to his press conferences.

If you do not have time to watch the whole video fast forward to about 49 minutes and 30 secs. Here he describes what happens when he gives press conferences alongside Security Council meetings. Such press conferences are commonly given by the ambassadors to update media on the views and stance of government’s.

Bashar describes how  when his turn comes to speak to the accredited reporters – an audience of about 50 – 100 who have the opportunity to put questions to the speaker – 50% of the reporters get up and leave! I was aware that ambassadors from unfriendly countries (like USA, France, and the UK) do this – leave the security council meetings – when the Syrian Ambassador speaks. But the media!

As Dr al-Ja’afari says,  these reporters not only self-censor by omission when they leave – they cannot report the information they do not receive – they also self-censor by removing the obligation to report from such press conferences.

I think that is morally wrong and violates any reasonable concept of reporting ethics.

The speech is well worth watching through to the end. It is very informative and interesting. He explains the background the 9/11, describes the nature if secularism in Syria, and exposes some of the underhand methods used in the UN to cover up the UN commission’s report of the claims of weapons if mass destruction in Iraq. He also relates the story of how the issue of chemical weapons and their use in Syria was mishandled.

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“Humanitarian” intervention and war crimes

As far as I am concerned the people in the US can have their elections – I just wish weren’t being bombarded with the inane comments coming from the two main candidates.

I have absolutely no irons in that fire but must admit that every time I see the video clip above it gets up my nose. Clinton glorifying and making fun of a shocking incident in the Libyan war – the lynching of the president by rebel forces.

Now, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has said there are ‘serious suspicions’ that the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was a war crime (see Gaddafi death ‘may be a war crime’, says chief prosecutor at The Hague). He has written to the interim Libyan government on the issue and has said any involvement by the ICC will depend on their reaction. The ICC only steps in if national authorities are unwilling or unable to act.

What a pathetic choice facing US voters – either a buffoon or someone who glorifies war crimes.

But, more importantly, shouldn’t we have learned by now the anti-human consequences of “humanitarian” intervention – regime change – by the US and NATO?

Yet we seem to have governments – and US Presidential candidates – who seem willing to repeat the fiasco again in Syria.

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Crocodile tears over Syria at UN security council


This cartoon may seem harsh but it represents completely my feelings after watching the proceedings of the UN Security Council this morning.

The council “put to rest” two draft resolutions on the Syrian conflict. I can only describe it that way because the proceedings did not involve any proper consideration or discussion. Instead, representatives used the draft resolutions as a platform to make political statements and promote their own attitudes towards the Syrian conflict and the Syrian government.

In particular, supporters of the French/Spanish draft resolution advanced their arguments for “regime change.”

I couldn’t agree more with the current President of the Council, Ambassador Churkin, who described the fiasco as a complete waste of time. To present revolutions knowing they would not be accepted (even if only because of the veto power of the permanent members) is just political grandstanding. A complete diversion from what should be the council’s real work – attempting to reintroduce a cessation of hostilities and kick-start a political settlement. And that requires negotiation and compromise, not grandstanding.

Mind you, perhaps I should be patriotic and admit I saw something positive in the role of the New Zealand delegation. Although the New Zealand ambassador’s speech was nothing to be proud of I was pleased with the Council president’s comment that behind the scenes New Zealand had attempted to hammer out a compromise between the two resolutions which, if accepted, may have won approval.

It is hard to feel anything positive about the UN after watching this cynical political grandstanding. But the behind-the-scenes diplomacy, like that of New Zealand, attempting to drag a compromise resolution out of the geopolitical stands does hold out the possibility that the UN could play a more positive diplomatic role now that the US has postponed involvement in joint US-Russian negations for a ceasefire.

What were the draft resolutions about?

I have not seen the texts but news media have described the central feature of the French-Spanish draft as a ban on all flights over Aleppo. In effect, a unilateral ceasefire by the Syrians and Russians as there was no obligation the “rebels”/”terrorist’ to stop any activities.

The Russian draft basically supported the offer of the UN Syrian Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to personally escort al-Qaeda-linked fighters out of Aleppo. This would have removed any need for aerial bombing of the area. Unfortunately, the “rebel”/”terrorists” would have seen this as a unilateral ceasefire on their part – although the plan involved them keeping their own personal weapons and moving to another part of Syria (or Turkey).

Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front) have formally rejected de Mistura’s offer. Presumably, they still do not yet see their situation as desperate enough for this – despite a string of defeats as the Syrian armed forces and their allies move into “rebel”/”terrorist”-held areas of Aleppo. (ironically, Ait activity by the Syrians and Russians has all but stopped at the moment as they put their efforts into the ground fighting.


Al Nusra’s formal reject of UN offer to allow evacuation of their fighters from east Aleppo. Image Credit: Jihadist rebels reject UN offer of safe pass from east Aleppo

So, the UN Security Council seems incapable of doing much on Syria at the moment. But it’s President denied that this means all diplomatic efforts have stopped. He said:

“No, no, it is just the end of another very strange UN Security Council meeting. No, this is not the end of diplomacy.”

I guess the ball is back in the court of bilateral negotiations between the Russians and US. Let’s hope the damage done by recent bruising exchanges at the UN and elsewhere do not prevent such negotiation recommencing.

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Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White Helmets

Victim of “rebel”/”terrorist” attack on government-controlled Aleppo. Our media rarely covers these and there are no White Helmets in sight. Source: Dr Tim Anderson

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently met with people from Syrian opposition groups – including the “first responders” – the White Helmets. Somebody recorded the discussion and it has now been leaked (see Audio Reveals What John Kerry Told Syrians Behind Closed Doors).

The discussion is quite revealing, for a number of reasons, including divisions within the US ruling political circles and Syrian opposition beliefs that the US is not doing enough for their cause. But here I will just concentrate on aspects relevant to the anti-Syrian propaganda our news media seems to be saturated with.

The propaganda

I think this is important because there is a section of the US political system lobbying for military intervention, such as attacking Syrian armed forces or  attempting to enforce a no-fly-zone. Kerry, who originally supported military intervention, pointed out that the US people did not have an appetite for this. However, as we saw with Libya, such an appetite can be promoted by carefully playing the card of suffering civilians (and especially children) and arguing for “humanitarian intervention.”

That is certainly happening at the moment. One could be excused for believing that the Syrian war is all about the government and their allies, the horrible “Russkies,” purposely attacking civilians, destroying civilian buildings and, particularly, burying young children in rubble.

This image is typical of what we are exposed to – and news services like Al-Jazeera seem to present variants of this image almost every day.


Typical media photo of White Helmet “first responders” rescuing children in a ‘rebel”/”terrorist” held area of Syria.

Of course, if this was the true intention of Syria and its allies the war would be over by now. But in fact, the Syrians and their allies are fighting armed “rebels”/”terrorists,” very many of them from outside the country. Armed and financed by external powers directly or indirectly. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, USA, UK and other NATO countries.

Civilian casualties, including children. may, at times, be an accidental by-product of this sort of war (what the US calls “collateral damage”) and can be caused by either side. But it is disingenuous to portray this as the intention of Syria and their allies. On the other hand, let’s not forget that terrorists very often deliberately target civilians, including children.

Aleppo has become the Middle Eastern Stalingrad. I sometimes wonder what sort of propaganda the German citizens at home were served with during the Stalingrad battle in World War II. Did they get images of children being pulled out of the rubble and hysterical complaints about those horrible Russians bombing and shelling the city indiscriminately – perhaps purposely bombing hospitals, schools and civilians? That sort of propaganda seem ludicrous to us now – but how different is it to what we are currently fed by most of our media?

And how often does our media cover the civilian casualties caused by “rebel”/”terrorist” attacks on areas under government control? Very rarely – and when they do we are often still left with the impression that the guilty parties are Syrians and Russians and not the terrorists. A recent classic example was UK newspaper, The Independent, report of the death of  a Syrian Olympic swimmer  and her brother in Aleppo (See Syrian swimmer and her 12-year-old brother killed by shelling in Aleppo). These deaths were originally reported as a result of Russian and Syrian bombing – but many readers protested because the swimmer was killed in the government-held part of Aleppo during a terrorist missile attack. The Independent backed away (slightly), adding this sentence:

“A number of commentators claimed the deaths were a result of a rebel-led attack, although those claims could not be verified.”

But their report still claimed the deaths occurred “amid a sustained assault on the city by pro-Assad forces backed by Russian warplanes.”

Images and videos  like those produced by the White Helmets are very effective. News readers are inclined to weep and it is hard not to empathise. After all, these are children. And the “first responders” rescuing them, the White Helmets, must be angels. Hell, they have even been recommended for the Noble Peace Prize and who would deny them that?

Well, I would – but more of that below.

Kerry’s concern about this propaganda

The Syrian opposition people referred Kerry to images videos like this as reasons for the US to become more involved – to impose a fly-free-zone in Syria. But  the US officials present pointed out that these images and videos were of no use to them. If these opposition people have video cameras around to film such events they should be filming the attack itself. Providing evidence that it is specifically the Syrians or Russians who are attacking civilians. These officials believed such information would be more useful to their cause.

The US officials also directed this critique at the White Helmet coverage of the attack on the humanitarian aid convoy in Aleppo province. A White Helmets’ spokesperson fronted images of burning trucks, claiming the attack was by Syrian helicopters, barrel bombs, and Russian bombers (he didn’t seem to want to miss anything out). But the officials’ response was that coverage was not useful – they need images of the attackers themselves. They need evidence of the munitions used.

Incidentally, the White Helmet spokesperson in this report leads a double life – see below.

As an aside, this plea for evidence, especially the munitions used, shows how hypocritical is the US claim it was the Russians who were responsible for the  attack on the aid convoy. Unfortunately, such unfounded (or at least evidence-free) claims from John Kerry and other US spokespersons are not new to us. But also, unfortunately, this claim is being used specifically to justify breaking off diplomatic negotiations on Syria and to argue for “Plan B” – the military option of a fly-free-zone or outright attacks on Syrian armed forces.

Who are the white Helmets?

This brief video from The Friends of Syria in Australia provides some information and background on the White Helmets organisation.

If nothing else, the fact that the group operates only in areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists” (despite claiming in its propaganda that it is neutral) is telling. The fact they receive funding from anti-Syrian governments including the US and the UK (despite claiming they don’t) is also telling. Their spokespeople also never seem to miss any chance to attribute all the damage and loss of life to “the regime,” barrel bombs and the Russians – often in hysterical tones.

I referred above to the White Helmet coverage of the humanitarian aid convoy attack. The image on the right is taken from the White Helmet report video. That on the left shows that the same guy is also involved in an armed “rebel”/”terrorist” group.

white-helemets Armed “rebel”/”terrorist” in Aleppo dons white hat and becomes an unarmed member of “aid” group – the White Helmets – reporting the attack on the humanitarian convoy. Image Source Friends of Syria.

Investigators have published on-line a number of similar images portraying White Helmet people in action as “first responders” but also of the same people posing with rifles and along with other “rebels”/”terrorists.”

There are also plenty of images and videos online showing members of the White Helmet group cooperating with “rebels”/”terrorists” in demonstrations They are easily seen in groups where Al Nusra flags are flying. And this video shows a White Helmet member participating in the assault on a prisoner captured by “terrorists.”

And isn’t this revealing, although not surprising considering where the White Helmets are active. A spokesperson for the Al Nusra front (recognised by the UN as a terrorist group) describes the White Helmets as Mujahideens

Another charge sometimes laid against the White Helmets is that some of their videos are staged and involve actors. News media often reenact actions from wars (although they usually acknowledge their video is a reenactment). The report “White Helmet” “Save Aleppo” Protest Proves How Easy it is to Dress Up Actors as “War Victims” shows how easy it is to make such staged videos to promote as news.


Actors staging a typical White Helmet “rescue” during anti-Syrian protests in Europe.

Of course, that  charge is also easy to make and hard to prove. But there has been at least one official complaint to the BBC about them running videos of staged scenes in their programmes about Syria.

I find it suspicious that the White Helmets always seem to go into action with a sizable camera crew in attendance – or at least with mobile phones recording the events. And there seems to be a common elelementf a guy, wearing a white helmet and White Helmet logos or uniform, carrying a child and urgently rushing forward or away from the camera. I can’t help feeling such videos are contrived.

Contrived or not the White Helmets’ videos are certainly emotively picked. They know what works. And our media goes along with the game – ignoring the children and civilians injured and killed  by “rebel”/”terrorist” missiles in government-held areas.

The above video shows the aftermath of a “rebel”/”terrorist” attack in west Aleppo. Not a single White Helmet in sight!


The video and photographic propaganda promoted by the White Helmets is not “proof” of their claims – but it is very effective in  promoting a narrative. A narrative which can be used  to justify direct military attacks by the US and NATO on the Syrian forces and their allies. (Yes, the US and NATO  already illegally bomb Syria and have armed forces on the ground – but so far these have not intentionally been directed at Syrian forces).

That narrative fits in with the  agenda of a section of the US political establishment promoting “humanitarian intervention” aimed at regime change. It fits in with the often repeated chant of politicians in the US and other NATO countries that “Assad must go!”

We saw what this led to in Libya – it was disastrous. And considering the support Assad has in Syria this regime change, or attempted regime change, would be much worse.

Pentagon: Russia S-300, S-400 Air Defense Deployment Grounded US Jets in Syria

Russia is deploying advanced S-300 and S-400 Air Defense systems in Syria. An attempted Libyan-style “regime change” by the US and NATO would be disastrous.

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Shyness of anti-fluoride election candidates

Why do anti-fluoride candidates standing for District Health Boards (DHBs) shy away from proper discuss of community water fluoridation? After all, they have usually raised the issue themselves – and often claim that those supporting CWF avoid the discussion.

In my article Fluoridation & democracy: Open letter to DHB candidate Andrew Buckley I raised this with Andrew Buckley who is standing for the Waikato DHGB. Despite writing an article on the issue on his webpage he refused to allow any proper discussion of the issue there. He allowed slavishly anti-fluoride comments but nothing from anyone who specifically disagreed with his (often incorrect) claims. My open letter to him  was an attempt to get that discussion going. I even offered him the right of reply and space here – but he refused. He effectively ran away from an issue he had raised himself.

Now this is also happening with Stan Litras, a candidate for Capital and Coast DHB. Stan is a well-known anti-fluoride campaigner – often producing anti-fluoride press releases from his astroturf one-man group “Fluoride Information Network for Dentists” (FIND). He is clearly standing on an anti-fluoride ticket and the discussion on his campaign Facebook page makes that clear.

For example:


Notice specifically his claim of knowing the subject and claiming he can “defend” his “opinion.” Also, notice his claim that supporters of CWF “cannot defend their views in an open discussion with any reliable evidence.”

That is completely misleading. I have often critiqued his claims and have particularly taken issue with his misrepresentation and distortion of the science. I have always offered him a right of reply and he has always rejected it. If he can “defend” his “opinion” why does he run away from such discussions?

This post of his is typical of the way he distorts the science:


Preventing discussion and banning critics

Far from welcomin g discussion of their claims these candidates actually do everything to prevent proper discussion. Andrew Buckley banned any comments from me (and presumably anyone else critical of his claims) on his page. And now Stan Litras has done the same. He removed some comments taking issue with his claims (one of them was mine) and has presumably banned the commenters. Hehas certainlyy banned me from further comments.

This is how he justifies his actions.


So he is backing  away from claims that are still on his page and labelling anyone critical of his misinformation as a “pro-fluoride zealot!”

And isn’t it hypocritical for him to label others as “pseudoscientific” and blame them for the fact that he is standing specifically as an anti-fluoride candidate?

Oh, here are some of my articles on Stan’s misrepresentations and distortions – and I have always offered him the right of reply to these:

Anti-fluoridation campaigner, Stan Litras, misrepresents WHO
Cherry-picking and misinformation in Stan Litras’s anti-fluoride article
Anti-fluoride campaigners cherry-pick irrelevant overseas research but can’t find relevant New Zealand research
Anti-fluoridation cherry-pickers at it again
Misrepresentation of the new Cochrane fluoridation review
Fluoride Free NZ report disingenuous – conclusion
A challenge to anti-fluoridationers to justify their misrepresentation of New Zealand research
Fluoridation: News media should check press releases from anti-fluoridationists

Have you voted yet?

I know how confusing it is so hope you haven’t been fooled by any of these anti-fluoride candidates.

A Spinoff article Quack hunt: Our vital tool for stopping anti-science crackpots infiltrating your DHB is useful guide to the candidates for DHB positions.

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Syria & the fog of war


BBC’s Radio 4 has talkback on Syria – the mainstream media message doesn’t fool everyone.

I believe our media is currently feeding us biased propaganda – formulated to tweak our emotions – on the war in Syria. One would think that the Syrian government and the Russian aerospace forces were fighting only civilians, hospitals and, especially, children. There is hardly any mention of jihadist terrorists.

If that scenario were true the war would have been over in days. Instead, Syria and its allies are fighting extremist Islamist jihadists, armed to the teeth and funded by external countries, and using foreign fighters. The emotions raised by videos showing children being pulled out of the rubble (notice how this only happens in areas controlled by terrorists according to our media) is diverting attention away from the real causes of the conflict. And hence we have a “fog of war” which blinds us to the political actions necessary to bring an end to this conflict.

So – I was pleased to hear this discussion on  BBCs Radio 4 programme Any Answers. If only our talkback programmes could be this sane.

Clearly, the contributors were chosen to provide balance – but most of them are rational, thoughtful people. This suggests that many people in the UK are not fooled by this “fog of war” promoted by the media.

It’s worth listening to – for the whole 28 minutes. It’s also worth listening to soon as it is available for only 28 days.

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Any Answers?, Syria

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But will it stand up in court?


MH17 tragedy. Arguments remain about the model of missile used, the location where it exploded and its launch site

The joint investigation team (JIT) responsible for the criminal investigation of the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014 have delivered the preliminary results of their investigation.

Wilbert Paulissen, the head of the Dutch National Detective Force announced their findings at a press conference in the Dutch city of Nieuwegein, saying:

“We have no doubt whatsoever that conclusions we are presenting today are accurate.”

The important question, though, is not the beliefs or conviction of the JIT spokesperson – but whether or not a court of law will accept these conclusions.

The scenario

The JIT has often been accused of deciding on the scenario they would investigate early in their investigation and subsequently restricted their investigation to that scenario – despite claims to the opposite. In other words, not giving proper consideration to other possibilities.

The presentation is online at Presentation preliminary results criminal investigation MH17 28-09-2016.” It  asserts:

“The BUK-TELAR that was used was brought into Eastern Ukraine from the territory of the Russian Federation.”

They rely on “intercepted telephone conversations and videos and photographs on the social media” for this assertion. Readers who have followed the social media discussion will not be surprised to find this scenario is exactly the same as that advanced by Bellingcat – a controversial site run by British journalist and blogger Eliot Higgins (formerly known Brown Moses). This site is well known for advancing apparently plausible but cherry-picked information promoting Higgin’s political arguments against Syria and Russia.

The problem is that having decided on this scenario last year, the JIT’s search for evidence involved the presentation on social media of a video outlining the scenario and asking residents in the area if they could contribute any evidence. It seems no other credible scenarios were  investigated.

The Ukrainian Army had many BUK systems and missiles in the area. I would have thought these should have been given at least as equal consideration – especially compared with an implausible scenario which involved very tight movement of  a system from the Russian Federation and its return to account for the fact that intelligence agencies had reported just days before the crash that the separatist groups did not have any such missile systems (see Flight MH17 in Ukraine – what do intelligence services know?)

As it stands a court may consider the sort of evidence promoted by Bellingcat and the JIT regarding this scenario as circumstantial at the best. Especially if JIT continues to base their scenario on “classified” US information they cannot reveal to the court. And how will the JIT respond to defence lawyers asking if they had catalogued all the BUL systems and accompanying missiles in possession of the Ukrainian Army at the time?

The other press conference

For some balance, I checked out another press conference occurring at a similar time today – that given by technical experts from the manufacturer of the BUK missile system – Almaz-Antey. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to see that press conference on our main-stream media.

Here is a video from this press conference – I appreciate it is hard to follow technical information presented in a foreign language and relying on translators – but it is worth watching and thinking about.

Credit: MH17 Malaysian Facebook feed.

Almaz-Antey, of course, does not have any responsibility to determine what the real scenario was and who was responsible. But they do have the technical skills to evaluate conclusions being drawn about the missile system, its detonation near the aircraft and its launch site.

Here they repeat data presented last year evaluating the conclusions drawn by the Dutch Safety Board in their final report. They also carried out an experiment testing these conclusions using a real missile and aeroplane fuselage. They found  that the Board was mistaken – holes and marks on the experimental fuselage did not correspond to those on the MH17 wreckage – and concluded that the missile used was actually an older version (not in the current Russian service but still used by the Ukrainians), that the detonation took place differently to what the Board had concluded and, therefore, the launch site could not be in the region the Board had concluded.

The primary radar data discussed was new – having been recently found among calibration data stored by a subsidiary company. This data could not find any record of a missile on a trajectory assumed by the Dutch Safety Board – and their estimate was that if a missile had been on that trajectory for the required time the chance of it being recorded in the primary radar data is more that 99%.

Unfortunately, that primary radar was not capable of recording any signal from the different trajectory and launch site indicated by the Almaz-Antey analysis of fuselage damage on MH17.

The company has passed on this information to Russian investigators who, I understand, have in turn passed it on to the JIT.


So, I am not convinced that the JIT has produced a case that will stand up in court. if they included further information – such as a survey of the BUK systems known to be in Ukraine at the time, and actual satellite data the US claims to have – then their circumstantial case may be more credible.

As for the Almaz-Antey information – I find it technically credible. But of course, that can only be tested by people with the same level of expertise. Until that is done it should not be rejected out of hand as the Dutch safety Board (and the JIT) appear to have done.

Let’s note that Wilbert Paulissen said: “there was conclusive evidence that a missile from the Russian-made Buk 9M38 missile system downed the passenger flight on July 17, 2014.” This relates to the missile system and should not be opportunistically interpreted to mean the JIT has “conclusive” evidence for the Bellingcat scenario they are pursuing.

I think most people now accept that a BUK missile system was the most likely weapon used. Tthe arguments are about the model of the missile, the detonation point and the launch site. I cannot see any credible argument from the JIT for their claims on these aspects to be conclusive.


Here is the video of the JIT presentation referred to at the beginning of the article. It is quite difficult to follow (foreign language, translators and the problem of sound levels of each) but I managed to stick with it to the end.

The first half essentially follows the text linked to above (Presentation preliminary results criminal investigation MH17 28-09-2016) but the last parts are interesting with statements from the countries involved (illustrating the political nature of the event) and the questions.

The video confirms for me that the JIT investigators had started with a preferred scenario and are not willing to consider others. I can’t see this standing up in court – if it ever gets to a reputable court.

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Syria UN Ambassador makes sense of the war in Syria

A brief interview with the Syrian Ambassador to the UN Dr Bashar al-Ja’afari.

With the breakdown of the US-Russia brokered the cessation of hostilities in Syria we are now being bombarded with claims and counter claims of who was responsible. There is also a propaganda barrage coming from the US and its allies suggesting to me they are more concerned about the impending defeat of the “rebels”/”terrorists’ in east Aleppo than they are with humanitarian suffering.

Dr Bashar al-Ja’afari  impresses me with the clear and concise arguments he makes. It is a pity  he is not given the coverage on our main stream media that his position should demand. He makes a lot more sense than the US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power.

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The shaky Syrian ceasefire agreement staggers on – or does it?

Video Source: On the Ground News TV

The current Syrian cessation of hostilities agreement, and its problems, are making it harder to pretend that Syria’s’ problems are caused by the “regime.”

We are getting the usual story that the Syrian “regime” is preventing humanitarian aid convoys getting to besieged cities but the facts are becoming harder to hide. “Rebel”/”terrorist” groups like the Free Syrian Army are refusing to leave their positions controlling part of the Castillo highway which the ceasefire agreements designate as “demilitarised.” This is preventing aid convoys from Turkey getting into eastern Aleppo. That part of Aleppo our media concentrates on because it is held by “rebels”/”terrorists” and has been besieged by the Syrian army and its allies. Syrian forces cooperated with the agreement by pulling back from the Costello road but have had to return when “rebel”/”terrorist” militia fired on Red Crescent and Russian marine checkpoints.

Meanwhile the “rebels”/”terrorists” in east Aleppo organised demonstrations against the transport of humanitarian aid along the Castillo road (see video above). The video shows protesters  carrying flags used by the Al Nusra Front (Jabhat Al Nusra or Jabhat Fatah Al Sham) terrorist group.

So we can see the propaganda round humanitarian aid runs along the lines:

  1. Call for humanitarian aid while the Syrian army is advancing
  2. Reject humanitarian aid while there is a ceasefire
  3. Blame the Syrian government for forcing people to starve in Aleppo

And our main stream media often goes along with that narrative.

Russian – US tensions

Meanwhile, tensions between the Russians and the US – the powers which brokered this cessation of hostilities agreement – led the Russian side to demand the text of the agreements be made public so that it can be discussed and supported by the UN. The US has so far resisted this (which led to abandonment of a Security Council discussions on the agreement) and one begins to wonder at their reasons for this lack of transparency

One possibility is internal conflicts about the agreements in the US, primarily between the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. The US undertaking to coordinate with the Russian Federation in attacking Daesh and Al Nusra has its opponents. Many in the military oppose the exchange with the Russians of intelligence information about locations of “rebel”/”terrorist” forces this requires.

The US undertaking to enforce separation of their proxy “moderate rebels” from their terrorist fighting partners, like Al Nusra, appears to be dead in the water. Either because the US military is unwilling to do this. Or because they are unable – the “moderate rebels” seem happy to continue fighting alongside Al Nusra and are effectively giving the US “the fingers.”

There is also the feeling that neocons are inhibiting fulfilment of the agreements so as to prevent any progress on resolving Syrian problems until after the presidential election when they believe they will have more influence with a Clinton administration.

US bombing threatens to kill the ceasefire

So, the ceasefire agreements seem very shaky at the moment. Despite the fact that most observers do not see any alternative realistic opportunity to  defeat Al Nusra and Daesh and to move towards a political settlement. Even if those aims seem a long way off the immediate problem of getting humanitarian aid to besieged areas relies very much on the agreements working.

And then, as if there were not problems enough, war planes from the US military and their allies (including Australia) have attacked a Syrian Army group fighting to lift the Daesh siege of the city of Deir Ezzor. The attack with phosphorus bombs caused over 200 casualties with reports of 60 to 80 deaths. It was followed by a Daesh ground attack leading to the terrorists gaining ground. This was a critical battle as the position held by the Syrian military were vital to the airdrops supplying the besieged city

Whether intentional (many observers claim is was – given the US policy of regime change and the defeat of the Syrian army) or accidental (the US command called off their attack when the Russian military warned them of what was happening) this is a huge set-back to the co-operation required to make the cessation fo hostilities agreement work. An urgent US Security Council meeting called to discuss this attack lead to angry recriminations between Russian and US diplomats and increased calls for the text of the agreements to be released.

Te Syrian military command has now announced the ceasefire is over. They are engaged in intensified fighting around Aleppo as “rebel”terrorist” militia have launched a new attack on the south-west part of the city.

Actions threatening ceasefire illustrate the need for the ceasefire

On the one hand, all these factors damage any possibility for the ceasefire to hold and for the next stage of cooperation to defeat terrorism to start. But, on the other hand, these events surely underline the urgent necessity of the cooperative and coordinated actions called for in the agreements.

  • Exchange of intelligence and cooperation between the US and Russia in military attacks on the terrorist groups of Daesh and Al Nusra is sorely needed and, if allowed to go ahead, will be very effective.
  • Separation of “moderate rebels” (who should welcome a ceasefire and the opportunity to participate in the future political process) from the officially declared terrorist groups of Al Nusra and Daesh is essential. Until now, cooperation between “terrorist” and “moderate” rebels has been an obstacle to defeating terrorism and has led to a constant complaint from the US that the Russian aerospace forces are actually bombing the US proxy groups.
  • The agreement to include so-called “moderate” rebels which refuse to disengage from their cooperation with Al Nusra and Daesh in the common targeting by the US and Russia is necessary. And, after all, if a “moderate” rebel group fights alongside a terrorist group, refuses to participate in a ceasefire and continues to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching civilians there is surely no reason to treat them differently to terrorist groups.

As the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said last year in  response to a question about identifying which groups are terrorist:

“If it talks like a terrorist, walks like a terrorist and acts like a terrorist – then it is a terrorist.”

Let’s treat them like terrorists, then.

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When will they ever learn?


So, now we have a new Parliamentary Report from the UK which is sharply critical of the 2011 intervention in Libya. This follows on from the Chilcot report which was sharply critical of the 2003 intervention in Iraq.

I wonder if a few years down the track we will see a similar report sharply critical of the UK, French and US intervention in Syria?

The summary of the Libyan report reads in part:

“In March 2011, the United Kingdom and France, with the support of the United States, led the international community to support an intervention in Libya to protect civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. This policy was not informed by accurate intelligence. In particular, the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element. By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change. That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya. The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa. Through his decision making in the National Security Council, former Prime Minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy.”

In Syria, we have seen the same interventionist approach. Hell bent on regime change, politicians in the UK, USA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO countries have blindly repeated the mantra “Assad must go.” They have exaggerated the suffering resulting from actions of the Syrian government (or more correctly, attributed all the suffering solely to the government). Recognise the clause above for Libya:

“This policy was not informed by accurate intelligence. In particular, the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element.”

By backing armed anti-government militia those advocates of “regime change” have ignored the inevitable anarchy and spread of terror that would result if their campaign is successful.

Again, recognise the clause above for Libya:

“That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya. The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.”

When will these politicians learn these lessons from history?

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