Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why Did Obama Appoint Caroline Kennedy As U.S. Ambassador To Japan?

Joseph P. Kennedy’s granddaughter and JFK and Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s daughter—Caroline Kennedy—neither spoke much Japanese nor possessed much diplomatic experience in 2013 Yet in June 2013 Caroline Kennedy was appointed by Democratic President Obama to be the U.S. government’s Ambassador to Japan.

A June 26, 2013 RT News article, however, indicated why the Democratic Obama White House may have felt that it was politically appropriate to name Caroline Kennedy to be its Ambassador to Japan:

“Since Obama’s reelection, top diplomatic posts in Spain, Belgium, Italy and the UK have been given to top donors. According to Bloomberg no fewer than 26 of the administration’s serving and nominated ambassadors were major Democratic campaign contributors….

“More recently, the announcement this week of Caroline Kennedy as Ambassador to Japan also indicates a preference for using prestigious diplomatic appointments as rewards for help on the campaign trail. As the only surviving child of former president John F. Kennedy and the torchbearer of that political dynasty, Caroline Kennedy’s early 2008 endorsement of Obama helped propel his campaign forward against his formidable challenger, former first lady and later secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

“It was Caroline Kennedy’s 2008 piece for The New York Times entitled 'A President Like My Father' which lent Obama major support from the family, along with an endorsement from former Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy…”

But the same RT News article also noted:

“…Although Ms. Kennedy is trained as a lawyer, her lack of political experience has led some critics to question whether she is up to the task…Clyde Prestowitz, the current president of the Economic Strategy Institute in Washington and the man who led US trade negotiations with Japan, questioned why the administration chose to appoint both Kennedy and her predecessor John Roos, a technology lawyer and a top Obama donor, neither of whom speak Japanese…David J. Rothkopf, the CEO and Editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine, as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a scathing review of her appointment on Thursday.

“`The Kennedy nomination is perhaps the first time in history that an individual has been nominated for a top ambassadorial post primarily for having written an opinion column,’“ wrote Rothkopf.

“Likewise, members of the foreign service have previously expressed irritation that top diplomatic missions have gone to`“campaign bundlers’ rather than career diplomats.

“`Now is the time to end the spoils system and the de facto “three-year rental” of ambassadorships,’ the group's governing board wrote in a 2012 statement.

“`The appointment of non-career individuals, however accomplished in their own field, to lead America’s important diplomatic missions abroad should be exceptional and circumscribed, not the routine practice it has become over the last three decades,’ they added.”

According to the all-gov website, “Caroline Kennedy has contributed more than $55,000 to party candidates and organizations, including $5,500 to the Democratic National Committee, $5,000 to Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, $4,600 to his 2008 campaign, $4,600 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary run, and $5,000 to her 2006 senatorial campaign.” And according to a 2011 Center for Public Integrity website article, “the American Foreign Service Association…believes these appointments should go mostly to career diplomats;” and “the organization cites the 1980 Foreign Service Act, which states that appointees should have a `useful knowledge of the language … and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions and the interests of that country.’”

The same Center for Public Integrity website article also noted:

"The 1980 federal law...states that political contributions `should not be a factor' in picking ambassadors, though presidents of both parties have all but ignored that.

"Passing over career diplomats in favor of mega-donors amounts to `selling ambassadorships,' said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association. She said it runs contrary to the law and is unethical, yet,`“That hasn’t stopped anybody.'”

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Kennedy Dynasty Rep. Joe Kennedy III: 23rd Richest Member of U.S. Congress?

The Kennedy Dynasty’s current Massachusetts representative in Congress, Rep.Joseph P. Kennedy III, is the son of former Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, the grandson of RFK and nephew of JFK and the late long-time U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy. And like previous representatives of the Kennedy Dynasty in the U.S. Congress or White House, Rep. Joe Kennedy III apparently doesn't have to worry too much about having to work for a living in order to come up with next month’s rent or mortgage payment. As Ted Nesi observed in a column:

“……Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III isn't just one of the youngest members of Congress. He's also one of the wealthiest.

“Kennedy, D-Mass., had a personal fortune of at least $15.2 million in 2012… That makes Kennedy the 23rd-richest congressman or U.S. senator.
The 32-year-old owns several trust funds worth $500,000 to $1 million and owns stock in a number of major corporations…”

But in the same column, Nesi also noted that “The Kennedys haven't been on Forbes’ list of the nation’s 400 richest families since 1994,” although “the magazine estimated the family’s combined fortune peaked at $850 million in 1990, which would be almost $1.5 billion in today’s dollars.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

Kennedy Dynasty Wealth In 1998 Revisited

Although both JFK and RFK were eliminated from U.S. establishment presidential politics during the 1960s, in the late 1990s younger members of the Kennedy Dynasty still apparently had access to a lot of inherited wealth. As a February 1, 1998 New York Daily News article, titled “Glimpse Inside The Kennedy Fortune,” noted:

“The front entrance to Suite 1710 at 500 Fifth Ave. is adorned very simply. In addition to four brass-coated numerals, a single piece of 81/2-by-11-inch paper is taped to the laminated door panel. The message in black lettering `J.P.K. Enterprises' is more concealing than revealing. The door shields the public from the headquarters of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises Inc., a holding company for a far-reaching financial empire started more than 50 years ago by the patriarch of one of America's most famous families.

“Kennedy's fortune has allowed his children and their heirs to live in comfort and style while choosing less-driven careers of their own making…While the Kennedy family was back in the news last week with an announcement about their plans to sell the historic Merchandise Mart in Chicago and several other commercial real estate properties for $625 million, management of the family fortune remains shrouded in secrecy. Joseph Kennedy made certain that would be the case….

”…The family patriarch amassed a fortune in liquor, B-grade Hollywood movies, oil and gas, insider trading and real estate….From behind closed doors, accountants and attorneys have managed and supervised the fortune, checking on investments and dispensing profit checks to the heirs….Joe Kennedy invested heavily in Manhattan real estate. A partner in several of those deals contended years ago that Kennedy made more than $100 million in New York real estate alone, including his sale of some of the land where Lincoln Center now sits. Often, Kennedy bought property without putting up much of his own money…
“As he aged…Kennedy divested the New York properties and began protecting his equity....Joe Kennedy established at least four trusts in 1926, 1936, 1949 and 1959. His wife, Rose, set up other trusts, including separate ones for each of her children in 1953. Their children, in turn, set up trusts for their offspring….Edward Kennedy, Eunice Shriver, Patricia Lawford and Jean Kennedy Smith will each net about $75 million from the sale of the Merchandise Mart and related properties. In the case of JFK's heirs, his two children Caroline Schlossberg and [now-deceased] John F. Kennedy Jr. generally receive 50% portions of their father's estate, as well as their mother's. With $465 million of the Merchandise Mart deal in cold cash, Caroline and JFK Jr. may receive in excess of $38 million each….

“The Mart and the other commercial properties have served as the most reliable cash cow for the Kennedy heirs, producing in excess of $50 million in net operating income annually, which has been distributed on a regular basis from the Fifth Ave. office… Officials said the sale, expected to close in the second quarter of 1998, includes $465 million cash, $50 million of Kennedy debt assumed by Vornado, and $110 million in Vornado partnership units issued to established Kennedy trusts. By receiving a stake in Vornado, one of the nation's largest Real Estate Investment Trusts, the Kennedy heirs will be able to defer a substantial chunk of the sale's capital-gains tax….The family decided to sell for two reasons: The value of the Mart properties had skyrocketed in recent years….

“…Under terms of the various trust funds, and as individuals, the Kennedys still own oil and gas leases, interests in investment firms, Blue Chip stocks, shares in Planet Hollywood, interest in a venture capital fund and, of course, a steady flow of income and dividends from the myriad trusts…Each of the Kennedy heirs has also shared in another legacy of the patriarch's fortune: The May 1995 sale of the family's estate in Palm Beach for $4.9 million.” 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Epilogue: July to December 2014 Period

Between July and December 2014, the Democratic Obama Administration intervened militarily in Syria in a more overt and direct way. As the secular left Syrian Communist Party noted in a Sept. 24, 2014 statement, “in the early morning of Sept. 23, 2014,” the U.S. war machine “with its allies and agents began…armed actions on the territories of Syrian Arab Republic.” According to this same Syrian Communist Party statement:

“…These actions are flagrant violation of international law that prevents the violation of independent state national sovereignty…All pretexts of US imperialism, even the fighting of terrorism, cannot justify national sovereignty violation….”

A Dec. 17, 2014 Reuters article also noted that between late September and Dec. 15, 2014, “the United States carried out 488 air strikes in Syria…according to U.S. military data;” and although “Lieutenant General James Terry…told reporters that the strikes had hurt the Islamic State” (which armed foreign Islamist fighters are attempting to set up in Syrian territory they've occupied in recent years), Baath regime leader Bashar “Assad said this month the U.S.-led campaign had made no difference and Islamic State supporters in Syria say the air strikes have helped the group win support among residents and recruit fighters.” Between Sept. 23 and Nov. 21, 2014, however, more than 900 people, including around 50 civilians, were killed in Syria by the air strikes of the Pentagon and its allies, according to the data collected by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that politically opposes Assad’s Baath regime.

The armed right-wing group of religiously sectarian Islamic fundamentalist fighters in Syria—ISIS--continued to attack the city of Kobane in the Kurdish-populated northwestern region of Syria between July and December 2014. But according to an Oct. 12, 2014 statement by the secular left Tudeh party of Iran, “the struggle of the Kobane people” was “not only against the ISIS’s professional murderers, but Kobane” was “also indirectly under attack from the reactionary regimes in region, and” was “paying for” the “refusal to align themselves with the policies of the Turkish government and the Arab Kingdoms in the Persian Gulf, led by the United States, for toppling the ruling government in Syria.” The Tudeh Party’s Oct. 12, 2014 also stated:

“Over the past few years, the people of Kobane have not cooperated with the global imperialism’s policy of `regime change’ in Syria. By keeping their relative sovereignty and as an autonomous community, in which green shoots of popular democratic currents could be found, and while advancing the struggle for democracy and national rights, the Kobane people had been opposing the United States’ plan for `regime change’ in Syria… Kobane’s militant women and men are single-handedly fighting a struggle for the survival of their community against the attacks of one of the most reactionary and destructive forces, which has been borne out of imperialist policies of aggression, and nurtured by the local reactionary regimes. The role of women in the resistance movement of the people of Kobane is significant and exemplary. The tragedy in Kobane exposes the inhumane role of those who claim to be the`champions of democracy and human rights’, and above all, the United States and Britain that in recent years, by using various forces in the spectrum of the so called `political Islam’, directly or indirectly have destroyed the popular movements… Erdogan, Turkey’s President, has…allowed the transportation and concentration of Salafist and Jihadist forces and ISIS terrorists through the border, and their bloody war against the Syrian government.

“On Oct. 2 [2014], the world’s media reported the United States Vice-President Joe Biden’s statement clearly indicating that the US allies, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have played an essential role in the creation and strengthening of ISIS by pouring billions of dollars of money, arms and equipment… Tudeh Party of Iran calls for the immediate and direct involvement of the United Nation in equipping, facilitating and transfer of international peace-keeping forces (instead of NATO) for saving Kobane, and replacing the NATO forces under American leadership by that of the United Nation’s…”

In a November 2014 speech, the Deputy General Secretary of the secular left Lebanese Communist Party, Marie Nassif-Debs also asserted that since September 2014 the U.S. war machine was actually “bombing the cities in Iraq and Syria not to defeat ISIS but to keep the two conflicting powers” in the Syrian conflict “ able to fight and destroy” and “at the same time the multinational petrol companies, on their head the American ones, buy petrol which is seized by the fascist religious forces in Iraq and Syria and big part of this petrol is smuggled through the Turkish system.”

Between July and December 2014, the total number of people in Syria who have been killed, wounded or compelled to become refugees since March 2011 (and since the U.S. government began to covertly train armed Syrian rebels in 2011) has continued to increase. As Reuters reported in a Dec. 17, 2014 article by Alexander Dziadosz:

“More than 120,000 fighters supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been killed in the country's civil war since it began in 2011, a group monitoring the war said on Wednesday…In total, more than 200,000 people have been killed and millions more have fled their homes….Some 11,000 members of government forces and loyalist militias had been killed in the five months since Assad delivered an inauguration speech for a third presidential term [in July 2014]…The United Nations estimated in August [2014] more than 190,000 people had died in the conflict.”

In a Dec. 19, 2014 Reuters article, Oliver Holmes also noted that “one million people have been wounded during Syria’s civil war and diseases are spreading as regular supplies of medicine fail to reach patients, the World Health Organization’s Syria representative said;” and that “the United Nations” has recently “called…for more than $8.4 billion to help nearly 18 million people in need in Syria and across the region in 2015.”

(end of epilogue)

Monday, December 22, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Conclusion: July 2013 to June 2014 Period

During 2013 and 2014, the foreign government-backed Syrian rebel groups’ attempt to violently overthrow Bashar Assad’s historically undemocratic Baath regime continued. In a Sept. 2, 2013 message “to all Communist Parties and Unions around the world,” the secular left Syrian Communist Party (Unified) group indicated, from its point of view, what had happened in Syria between late 2011 and the fall of 2013, in the following way:

“You know that our country- Syria- has been being exposed for more than twenty months, to a war lunched against it by scores of imperialist states, besides other countries that move round them as satellites.

“Their aim is to destroy the Syrian state that stands as an obstacle on the road of those trying to impose the plan of a `greater Middle East’, after breaking down the states in the region and replacing them with small entities fighting one another, to impose absolute domination on the oil and gas resources; to eliminate the Palestinian problem in a way extremely opposite to the interests of the Palestinian people.

“These countries manipulated the mistakes and shortcomings of the regime on the one hand, and the popular movements opposing these shortcomings. The movements were peaceful at first, later they turned into armed ones, which received support on a wide scale from the alliance that emerged consisting of U.S.A, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Turkey occupied the border exits with Syria, to help weapons being smuggled, the entrance of thousands of mercenaries calling themselves as Jihadists who built camps for training supporters and allies…These actions are flagrant violation of the international law which prohibits any country to use its territories to attack its neighbors. We know that Turkey, alone, can never do these things without American, European and Gulf States support….

“Syria never believes that the solution of the problem is a military one, rather, it has ever since the birth of the problem called for a peaceful and political solution through a comprehensive national dialogue…. Importantly enough, the Syrian government has declared a new peaceful initiative.

“The initiatives, farther, emphasize the need for democratic reforms, a new constitution, besides a new general and national pact which is to be prepared by all forces including the opposition….Unfortunately, the initiative has been refused instantly by the armed… groups and those who support it and demand that violence…continue…

“So far the Syrian people have paid a very heavy price, tens of thousands of innocent civilian have been killed. Today Syria is exposed to a human catastrophe.
About three millions Syrian citizens have fled their houses and become internally displaced refugees in neighboring countries living in unbelievably miserable conditions needing food and medicine….”

Estimates of the number of Syrians who have been killed since the initial non-violent street protests began in March 2011 are varied.

As of July 2013, United Nations officials estimated that over 100,000 people in Syria had been killed during the post-March 2011 uprising and armed conflict in Syria, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC]’s website; while a Wikipedia entry indicates that estimates of the number of people killed during the uprising and armed conflict in Syria between March 2011 and May 2014 vary from 108,000 to 162,000.

Of the people in Syria killed between March 2011 and early 2014 during the uprising and armed conflict, an estimated 30,000 to 37,685 of the slain were members of the Assad Baath regime’s Syrian military and police forces, and an estimated 23,000 more were members of Syrian militias that are loyal to the Baath regime, according to the same Wikipedia entry; while an estimated 42,000 to 62,000 of the dead—including an estimated 13,500 slain foreign Islamic fundamentalist fighters—were members of the armed Syrian insurgent groups attempting to overthrow Assad’s Baath regime.

United Nations officials also estimated that--by the beginning of 2014--of the estimated 22.4 million people who lived in Syria in early 2010, around 2.4 million Syrians had fled from Syria due to the post-March 2011 uprising and armed conflict; and that 75 percent of the refugees from Syria were women and children, according to the CBC’s website. In addition, the same website also noted that United Nations officials estimate that since March 2011, over 4 million people still living within Syria’s own territory have also been displaced, due to the impact of the uprising and armed conflict.

But the history of people who live in Syria seems to indicate that neither Turkish, UK, French, or Israeli military occupation or bombing of Syrian territory--nor the continuation of covert or overt foreign government funding and arming of secular or religiously sectarian armed rebel groups--has ever brought much democratization, freedom, economic justice or domestic peace for the majority of the people who have lived in Syria during the last 150 years.

(end of conclusion. Epilogue to follow.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 29: January to June 2013 Period

According to a timeline of Syria’s civil war by Thomas Plofchan that was posted on May 14, 2014 on The Cairo Review of Global Affairs website, in the Syrian parliamentary elections that were held on May 7, 2012 which were boycotted by Syrian opposition groups, “reports say that ruling Baath Party and allies won 60 percent majority, with most of the other seats going to pro-regime independents.”

Yet by the middle of 2013, the Democratic Obama administration was apparently involved in an even deeper way in providing arms training and weapons directly to the armed Syrian insurgent groups than it was in 2011. As the Los Angeles Times noted in a June 21, 2013 article by David S. Cloud and Raja Abdulrahim, titled “U.S. has secretly provided arms training to Syria rebels since 2012”:

“CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders.

“The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey, along with Obama's decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels, has raised hope among the beleaguered Syrian opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well…. The training has involved fighters from the Free Syrian Army, a loose confederation of rebel groups that the Obama administration has promised to back with expanded military assistance, said a U.S. official, who discussed the effort anonymously because he was not authorized to disclose details.

“The number of rebels given U.S. instruction in Jordan and Turkey could not be determined, but in Jordan, the training involves 20 to 45 insurgents at a time, a rebel commander said…The two-week courses include training with Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter antitank rifles, anti-tank missiles and 23-millimeter antiaircraft weapons, according to a rebel commander in the Syrian province of Dara who helps oversee weapons acquisitions and who asked that his name not be used because the program is secret.

“The training began in November [2012] at a new American base in the desert in southwestern Jordan, he said. So far, about 100 rebels from Dara have attended four courses, and rebels from Damascus, the Syrian capital, have attended three, he said.

`Those from the CIA, we would sit and talk with them during breaks from training, and afterward they would try to get information on the situation’ in Syria, he said….

“Since last year, the weapons sent through the Dara rebel military council have included four or five Russian-made heavy Concourse antitank missiles, 18 14.5-millimeter guns mounted on the backs of pickup trucks and 30 82-millimeter recoil-less rifles…Asked Friday about the CIA training, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. had increased its aid to the rebels in the Free Syrian Army, but he refused to provide details…

"CIA officials declined to comment on the secret training programs, which was being done covertly in part because of U.S. legal concerns about publicly arming the rebels, which would constitute an act of war against the Assad government….

“Brig. Gen. Yahya Bittar, who defected as a fighter pilot from Assad's air force last year and is head of intelligence for the Free Syrian Army, said training for the last month or so had taken place in Jordan.

“The training, conducted by American, Jordanian and French operatives, involves rockets and anti-tank and antiaircraft weaponry, he said.

“Between 80 and 100 rebels from all over Syria have gone through the courses in the last month, he said, and training is continuing. Graduates are sent back across the border to rejoin the battle…”

(end of part 29)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lawrence, Massachusetts `Not Seasonally Adjusted' Jobless Rate: 10.4 Percent In October 2014

Eight major Massachusetts cities had “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rates in October 2014 that exceeded the national “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for that month of 5.5 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data:

1. The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate in Lawrence, Massachusetts was 10.4 percent in October 2014;

2. The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate in New Bedford, Massachusetts was 8.9 percent in October 2014;

3. The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Fall River, Massachusetts was 8.2 percent in October 2014;

4. The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Springfield, Massachusetts was 8.4 percent in October 2014;

5. The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate in Brockton, Massachusetts was 7.1 percent in October 2014;

6. The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Worcester, Massachusetts was 6.3 percent in October 2014;

7. The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate in Lowell, Massachusetts was 6.3 percent in October 2014; and

8. The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Lynn, Massachusetts was 6.1 percent in October 2014.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Boston, Massachusetts was still 5.3 percent in October 2014.

According to the Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development’s December 18, 2014 press release, between October and November 2014 “Construction lost 400 (-0.3%) jobs over the month” and “Information lost 200 (-0.2%) jobs over the month.”

In October 2014, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data, 187,300 workers in Massachusetts were still unemployed; and nearly 50,000 of these officially unemployed workers lived in Boston, Brockton, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Springfield or Worcester.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 28--section 2: January to December 2012 Period

A few weeks after armed Syrian rebel groups gained control of Aleppo, Syria on July 18, 2012, a Reuters article by Mark Hosenball, titled “Exclusive: Obama authorizes secret U.S. support for Syrian rebels”, revealed on Aug. 1, 2012 some more details about the U.S. government’s covert and overt support for the armed insurgency in Syria:

“President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

“Obama's order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence `finding,’ broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad…Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not previously reported, could not be determined…A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

“Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad's opponents.

“This `nerve center’ is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence….Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment.

“European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels…Current and former U.S. and European officials previously said that weapons supplies, which were being organized and financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were largely limited to guns and a limited number of anti-tank weapons, such as bazookas….Separately from the president's secret order, the Obama administration has stated publicly that it is providing some backing for Assad's opponents….Recent news reports from the region have suggested that the influence and numbers of Islamist militants, some of them connected to al Qaeda or its affiliates, have been growing among Assad's opponents…”

According to a 2013 Amnesty International human rights group report, in Syria during 2012, “government forces…carried out indiscriminate attacks on residential areas using aircraft, artillery shells, mortars, incendiary weapons and cluster bombs” and “together with their support militias, they arrested thousands of people.” In addition, “at least 550 were reported to have died in custody, many after torture,” others were extrajudicially executed” and “security forces’ snipers continued to shoot peaceful anti-government demonstrators and people attending public funerals.”

But the same 2013 Amnesty International report also noted that in Syria during 2012, the “armed groups fighting against the government also committed gross abuses, including war crimes,” “tortured and/or summarily killed government soldiers and militia members after taking them prisoner and carried out indiscriminate bombings that killed or injured civilians.”

The 2013 Amnesty International report described how the lives of many people in Syria were impacted by the continued foreign government-backed armed revolt against Assad’s Baath regime in 2012:

“…Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes; the UN estimated that over 2 million people were internally displaced and living under conditions of extreme hardship within Syria, and that since the beginning of the conflict almost 600,000 had fled as refugees to neighboring countries, where conditions were often harsh….A bomb attack in the capital Damascus on 18 July, for which the Free Syrian Army [FSA] claimed responsibility, killed the Defense Minister and his deputy, the Assistant Vice-President and the Head of the National Security Bureau. Two days later, armed opposition groups launched an offensive that spread the armed conflict to Aleppo, Damascus and elsewhere….

“Armed groups fighting against the government, including some linked to the FSA, …carried out suicide and other bomb attacks, and at times fired imprecise weapons such as artillery and mortars in densely populated neighborhoods, used inherently indiscriminate weapons such as anti-personnel landmines, and prepared or stored munitions and explosives in residential buildings, endangering civilian occupants…By the end of the year, armed opposition groups were reported to be increasingly threatening and attacking minority communities perceived to be pro-government…

“Government forces and militias routinely used lethal and other excessive force to quell peaceful protests calling for the `fall of the regime’. Hundreds of people, including children and bystanders, who posed no threat to the security forces or others, were killed or wounded by government snipers during protests and public funerals of “martyrs”. ..At least 550 people, including children, were reported to have died in custody, most apparently as a result of torture or other ill-treatment. Many of those who died were suspected government opponents…

“Government forces launched frequent, indiscriminate air strikes against opposition-controlled areas, prompting almost all residents of these areas to flee. Others, particularly those from minority groups, also fled their homes fearing attacks from armed opposition groups. Many camped in the countryside or sought refuge in caves; others went to live with relatives or left the country. Refugees from elsewhere resident in Syria, including Palestinian refugees, faced particular difficulties in accessing safety…By the end of the year, thousands of people were living in camps beside the border with Turkey in dire conditions…”

But the 2013 Amnesty International Report also noted that in 2012, “in February, the government held a referendum on a new Constitution that ended the Baath party’s long monopoly on power, but fell short of opposition demands for sweeping political reforms,” “parliamentary elections were held 90 days later,” and Assad’s Baath regime “announced general amnesties in January and October” of 2012.

(end of section 2 of part 28)

A People's History of Syria--Part 28--section 1: January to December 2012 Period

According to a Mar.9, 2012 article, titled “The Bloody Road to Damascus: The Triple Alliance’s War on a Sovereign State,” by The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack author and Binghamton University Sociology Professor James Petras, there was “clear and overwhelming evidence” by 2012 in Syria “that the uprising to overthrow President Assad of Syria” was “a violent, power grab led by foreign-supported fighters who have killed and wounded thousands of Syrian soldiers, police and civilians, partisans of the government and its peaceful opposition;" and that “the outrage expressed by politicians in the West and Gulf State and in the mass media, about the killing of peaceful Syrian citizens protesting injustice’” was “cynically designed to cover up the documented reports of violent seizure of neighborhoods, villages and towns by armed bands, brandishing machine guns and planting road-side bombs.” In Professor Petras’s view:

“The assault on Syria is backed by foreign funds, arms and training….An objective analysis of the political and social composition of the principle armed combatants in Syria refutes any claim that the uprising is in pursuit of democracy for the people of that country. Authoritarian fundamentalist fighters form the backbone of the uprising. The Gulf States financing these brutal thugs are themselves absolutist monarchies…The armed groups infiltrate towns and use population centers as shields from which they launch their attacks on government forces. In the process they force thousands of citizens from their homes, stores and offices which they use as military outposts. The destruction of the neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs is a classic case of armed gangs using civilians as shields and as propaganda fodder in demonizing the government.

"These armed mercenaries have no national credibility with the mass of Syrian people… The kings and emirs of the Gulf States bankroll these fighters. Turkey provides military bases and controls the cross-border flow of arms and the movement of the leaders of the so-called `Free Syrian Army’. The US, France and England provide the arms, training and diplomatic cover. Foreign jihadist-fundamentalists, including Al Qaeda fighters from Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, have entered the conflict…This is an international conflict pitting an unholy triple alliance of NATO imperialists, Gulf State despots and Muslim fundamentalists against an independent secular nationalist regime. The foreign origin of the weapons, propaganda machinery and mercenary fighters reveals the sinister imperial, `multi-national’ character of the conflict….

“…The Western backed militias have seized neighborhoods by force of arms, destroyed oil pipelines, sabotaged transportation and bombed government buildings. In the course of their attacks they have disrupted basic services critical to the Syrian people including education, access to medical care, security, water, electricity and transportation. As such, they bear most of the responsibility for this `humanitarian disaster’…A majority of Syrians prefer a peaceful, negotiated settlement and reject mercenary violence. The Western-backed Syrian National Council and the Turkish and Gulf States-armed `Free Syrian Army’ flatly rejected Russian and Chinese calls for an open dialogue and negotiations which the Assad regime…accepted. NATO and Gulf State dictatorships are pushing their proxies to pursue violent `regime change’, a policy which already has caused the death of thousands of Syrians. US and European economic sanctions are designed to wreck the Syrian economy, in the expectation that acute deprivation will drive an impoverished population into the arms of their violent proxies…”

According to Thomas Plofchen’s May 14, 2014 timeline on The Cairo Review of Global Affairs website, on Jan. 23, 2012 the Al-Nussra Front (Jabbat Al-Nursa)—a Syrian opposition armed rebel group affiliate of the Al-Qaeda group—announced its formation. And in an article by Eric Schmitt, titled “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition,” the New York Times reported the following on June 21, 2012:

“A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

“The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks…The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.

“The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington’s attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria…The United States and its allies have…turned to…aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Mr. Assad from power.

“…`C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,’ said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts…The struggle inside Syria has the potential to intensify significantly in coming months as powerful new weapons are flowing to both the Syrian government and opposition fighters…Spokesmen for the White House, State Department and C.I.A. would not comment on any intelligence operations supporting the Syrian rebels, some details of which were reported last week by The Wall Street Journal

“The State Department has authorized $15 million in nonlethal aid, like…communications equipment, to civilian opposition groups in Syria…What has changed since March is an influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels. The increasingly fierce air and artillery assaults by the government are intended to counter improved coordination, tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, according to members of the Syrian National Council and other activists.

“Last month, these activists said, Turkish Army vehicles delivered antitank weaponry to the border, where it was then smuggled into Syria….The United States, these activists said, was consulted about these weapons transfers….The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, has recently begun trying to organize the scattered, localized units that all fight under the name of the Free Syrian Army into a more cohesive force…”

(end of part 28--section 1)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 27: May to December 2011 Period

According to an article by Sibel Edmunds that was posted on Nov. 21, 2011 on the website, in late April or May 2011 a “joint U.S.-NATO secret training camp in the U.S. air force base in Incirlik, Turkey, began operations…to organize and expand the dissident base in Syria,” “weekly weapons smuggling operations” were “carried out with full NATO-U.S. participation since” May 2011 and, subsequently, deserters from the Baath regime’s army such as “Col. Riad al-Assad” and “several other high-ranking” defecting “Syrian military and intelligence officials” were then “added to operations’ headquarters in the U.S. base.”

Coincidentally, according to a timeline of Syria’s civil war by Thomas Plofchan that was posted on May 14, 2014 on The Cairo Review of Global Affairs website, on July 29, 2011 “defectors from the Syrian Army announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army, led by former Col. Riad Al-Assad;” and in 2011 James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings observed that “Syrian opposition leaders” said “that, should they remove Bashar al-Assad from power, they will reorient Syria toward the United States and the West and away from Iran.”

So, not surprisingly, in 2011 “the United States and the European Union both imposed their own escalating sets of sanctions on Syria.” On Aug. 17, 2011, for example, the Obama Administrations “Executive Order 1358” banned “Syrian oil imports and new U.S. investments in Syria and” blocked Syrian “government property in the United States,” according to Thomas Plofchan’s timeline on The Cairo Review of Global Affairs website.

According to a May 13, 2013 internet article by Musa al-Gharbi, “Wikileaks cables reveal that the U.S.” government “had begun cultivating opposition groups against the al-Assad regime, inside Syria and around the world, as early as 2006” and “these policies continued under” the Obama Administration. As an Apr. 18, 2011 Reuters article, titled “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition: report,” noted, The Washington Post reported on Apr. 17, 2011 that the U.S. “State Department has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks” and “the cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million since 2006 to a group of Syrian exiles to operate a London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, and finance activities inside Syria.”

According to the Apr. 17, 2011 Washington Post article by Craig Whitlock:

“The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad…Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles….The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus…

“The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush…in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama...The cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department...The State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables or answer questions about its funding of Barada TV…

“Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad’s removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as `liberal, moderate Islamists’ who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood…Several U.S. diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funneled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit….Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said the Middle East Partnership Initiative has allocated $7.5 million for Syrian programs since 2005. A cable from the embassy in Damascus, however, pegged a much higher total — about $12 million — between 2005 and 2010.

“The cables report persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington….”

According to Musa al-Gharbi’s May 13, 2013 internet article, “as conflict erupted in Syria” after March 2011 “the U.S. attempted to create a shadow government (the Syrian National Council), comprised largely of expatriates, pro-Western ideologues, and Washington insiders, handpicked years before;” but “due to America’s obvious imprint, both this government and its successor enjoy little credibility with the Syrian people or the opposition forces on the ground” and “even should Bashar be deposed, it seems implausible that `a football dad from Texas’—Ghassan Hitto, the Syrian-American IT Executive from Dallas who is now the SNC’s prime minister—will end up governing Syria.” In Musa al-Gharbi’s view:

“As with Libya and Iraq, the U.S. believed Syrians loathed Bashar, the rebellion was popular, and the regime’s collapse was inevitable and imminent. In fact, none of these were true. Yet the U.S. designed their Syrian strategy around these falsities, relying on half-measures and `light footprints,’ believing these would be sufficient to topple the regime. They interfered with negotiations within Syria, saying there could be no dialogue until Bashar resigned. As a result, U.S. involvement in Syria propagated and escalated the violence, rather than stopping it.”

According to a 2012 Amnesty International human rights group report, Assad’s undemocratic Baath regime responded in 2011 to street protests that called for the democratization of Syrian society, the relinquishment of power by Assad or the overthrow of the Baath regime in the following repressive ways:

“Government forces used lethal and other excessive force against peaceful protesters who took to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand political reform and the fall of the regime…More than 4,300 people reportedly died during or in connection with the protests and during funerals of demonstrators, most apparently shot by members of the security forces, including snipers. Tanks were used in military operations in civilian residential areas….The protests spread rapidly as government forces tried to quell the protests by brute force, including by using snipers to shoot into peaceful crowds while claiming that shadowy `armed gangs’ opposed to the government were responsible for the violence.”

But the 2012 Amnesty International Report also noted that in 2011:

“…Bashar al-Assad announced various reforms in response to the protests. In April, he lifted the national state of emergency that had been in force continuously since 1963, abolished the notoriously unfair Supreme State Security Court that had jailed thousands of critics and opponents of the government, and decreed that some members of the Kurdish minority should receive Syrian citizenship…A new Peaceful Assembly Law was introduced under which only demonstrations `properly licensed’ in advance by the authorities are considered lawful. In March, June and November, the President granted five separate amnesties for different categories of prisoners; among those freed were prisoners of conscience and people detained during the protests, although the vast majority of such detainees remained behind bars. Laws covering new Parties, elections and the media were passed in August [2011]...”

(end of part 27)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 26: March to May 2011 Period

The initial incident which sparked a new wave of resistance by opposition political groups in Syria in 2011 to the undemocratic Baath regime of Bashar Assad was the arrest on Mar. 6, 2011 of ten to fifteen Syrian children under the age of 16 in Daraa, Syria—for spray painting “Down with the regime [nizan]” on a wall—by local Syrian police.

Only about 200 to 350 people had initially joined a “Day of Rage” demonstration in Damascus on Mar. 15, 2011 in which Syrian political opposition groups demanded that Assad’s Baath regime rescind the Emergency Law of 1963 and release all remaining Syrian political prisoners. But when the families of the arrested schoolchildren in Daraa then held a street protest on Mar. 17, 2011 to demand the release of the ten schoolchildren, local Syrian security forces “opened fire” and killed several of the protesting family members, according to James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings; and, in response to the shooting down of these non-violent Syrian protesters, the following events happened in Syria after Mar. 17, 2011, according to the same book:

“…The next day [Mar. 18, 2011], their funeral procession brought out 20,000 demonstrators who chanted anti-government slogans and attacked government buildings…Protests erupted the same day far to the north in the coastal city of Banias…Protests soon spread to other cities including Latakia, Homs, Hasaka, and Qamishli, as well as to the small towns surrounding Damascus…”

Initially, the Baath regime cited the Emergency Law of 1963 as its legal basis for using its security forces and soldiers to attempt to violently suppress the initially non-violent opposition political groups’ street demonstrations of the post-March 2011 uprising in Syria, by overruling the Syrian constitution and detaining and arresting demonstrators indefinitely.

But on Apr. 16, 2011, the Baath regime agreed to repeal the Emergency Law of 1963, as demanded by the Syrian opposition groups coordinating the post-March 2011 Syrian uprising. In addition, to win more popular support for the Baath regime from Syria’s Kurdish minority, Assad’s regime also had agreed on Apr. 6, 2011 to grant citizenship “to 250,000 Kurds who, it maintains, had crossed into Syria from Turkey illegally in the early sixties,” according to The Arab Uprisings.

The same book also characterized the Syrian opposition political groups which were seeking to democratize or overthrow Assad’s Baath regime during 2011 in the following way:

“The opposition in Syria consists of 5 main components. The…spontaneous, mostly peaceful crowds…A variety of pro-democracy, pro-human rights, and social media groups…These groups have not been particularly successful at mobilizing substantial numbers…The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood…has been present only at opposition conferences outside Syria because it is illegal in Syria…Once the uprising broke out, however, the brotherhood declared its support for pro-democracy protesters, and called for a multiparty democracy.

“The final group that has participated in the uprising is deserters from the [Syrian] army and their support networks. Included among the latter are merchants and smugglers, who have armed those who abandoned the [Syrian] military without weapons…and the Turkish government, which allowed deserters to establish a cross-border presence in Turkey…”

The Arab Uprisings indicated why some of the lower-level conscripted Syrian soldiers—without needing any U.S.-NATO encouragement—might have started to desert from the Syrian Army after the post-March 2011 uprising against the Baath regime began: “Sunni conscripts, repelled by the level of violence their Alawite officers were willing to inflict on protesters, began to defect from the army in increasing numbers.”

(end of part 26)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 25: 2004 to February, 2011 Period

Although Bashar Assad’s Baath regime released over 100 more Islamist and other political prisoners—“some of whom had been held since 1987,” according to Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom—in November 2001, the economic performance of the Baath regime apparently did not improve between 2001 and 2011, especially after the regime began introducing in 2005 an “economic reform plan” for Syria that the International Monetary Fund [IMF] had devised. As James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs To Know recalled in 2011:

“…In 2005 he [Bashar Assad] introduced what he called a `social market economy.’…In large measure, the IMF drew up the blueprint for the `social market economy.’…Syrians found two aspects of the `social market economy’ repellent: first, the…replacement of…across-the-board subsidies for food and fuel, with targeted subsidies; second, privatization of government assets…Privatization led…to crony capitalism…Rami Makhloaf, Bashar al-Assad’s first cousin…is not only principal owner of the mobile communications giant Syriatel; his empire also includes holdings in real estate, transport, banking, insurance, construction and tourism…”

The economic situation of many people in Syria also deteriorated more between 2005 and 2011 because of droughts in Syria. As the same book observed, “Syria was self-sufficient in wheat production until 2006, after which there were 4 consecutive years of drought.”

By early 2011 large numbers of people in Syria were more poverty-stricken than in previous years and large numbers of Syrian youth were apparently still unemployed under the undemocratic Baath regime of Bashar Assad. The Arab Uprisings described the economic situation experienced by people in Syria in early 2011 in the following way:

“In Syria, youths under 25 constitute 59 percent of population…Youths in Syria make up the bulk of the unemployed: 67 percent of young males and 53 percent of young females in the labor pool are unemployed. On the average, 81 percent of [Syrian] college graduates spend at least 4 years looking for work before landing their first job…Thirty percent of Syrians currently live below the poverty line, 11 percent below the subsistence level. This is because in Syria about 48 percent of household income is spent on food…The `new poor’…includes the 1.3-1.4 million Syrians who have left the countryside for nearby cities because of the drought…”

So, not surprisingly, large numbers of impoverished or unemployed Syrian youth were apparently willing to join the non-violent demonstrations organized by political opposition groups which called for the democratization of Syrian society in the months after March 2011—after people in Tunisia and Egypt showed--in late 2010 and the first two months of 2011--that street demonstrations and strikes by students, youth and workers could eventually force the leaders of undemocratic and unpopular regimes (like former Egyptian president Mubarak) to relinquish power.

(end of part 25)

Monday, December 15, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 24: 2000 to 2003 Period

After the leader of the undemocratic, post-1970 Baath military coup regime from 1970 to 2000—Hafez al-Assad—died on June 19, 2000, his son—Bashar al-Assad—became the Baath Party secretary-general on June 17, 2000 and the next president of Syria on July 17, 2000. Coincidentally, “after the elder Assad died,” the Syrian Baath regime’s “parliament amended the constitution, reducing the minimum age for” Syrian “president from 40 to 37—which was, not coincidentally, Bashar’s exact age,” according to James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs To Know; and “soon after acceding to power, Bashar oversaw the brief `Damascus Spring,’ a period of time when the government took a rather benign view of unsupervised political organization and full expression,” according to the same book.

Yet according to Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom, under the Baath regime’s economic and political system in 2001, the unemployment rate in Syria was between 25 and 30 percent and the illiteracy rate for Syrian females was still 39 percent. The same book also noted that in 2000 around 74 percent of Syria’s then-population of 16.7 million people were Sunni Muslim in religious background, around 12 percent were Alawi Muslim in religious background, around 3 percent were Druse, around 10 percent were Christian—mostly Greek Orthodox—in religious background, and 9 percent of Syria’s population was Kurdish--including 200,000 to 360,000 stateless Kurds.

In addition, around Damascus was a community of 400,000 Palestinian refugees; and between 1946 and 2000 the number of Syrians of Jewish religious background who still lived in Syria had decreased from 30,000 to only 100 by 2000. 

But Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom also observed that at the beginning of the 21st-century the Baath regime was still “secular” and included “key figures from all of Syria’s main communities,” although “its core, especially in the security and military service,” was still Alawi in religious background. The same book also indicated how the Baath regime apparently initially responded positively to some of the Syrian secular political opposition’s demands for democratization of Syrian society, after Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as Syrian president, during the `Damascus Spring” of 2000:

“In the second half of 2000…the [Syrian] authorities took a series of steps which were seen as a response to the rising clamor for reform. In June and July [2000] dozens of Islamists and leftists were freed from prison. Most were members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood that had openly confronted the regime in the early 1980s, and the Communist Action Party. On Nov. 15 [2000] [Bashar] Assad issued a decree releasing 600 political prisoners, of whom 380 were Muslim Brotherhood members and most of the rest were leftists, including 22 from the Communist Action Party…Four days later Assad decreed the closure of the notorious Mezzeh prison in Western Damascus;…built by the French in the 1920s. On Nov. 22, 2000 a sweeping general pardon for non-political prisoners was announced…”

According to Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom, at the beginning of the 21st-century, Syria was still “essentially an agricultural country,” with the main crops grown being cotton, wheat, barley, fruit and vegetables; and 32 percent of Syria’s labor force was involved in farming. In addition, “half of the 16.7 million Syrians in 2001 were rural dwellers,” according to the same book; and “textile and food processing plants” were still “the main section of Syrian manufacturing,” in which only 13 percent of Syria’s labor force worked, compared to 27 percent of the Syrian labor force that worked in Syria’s public sector.

But between the early 1980s and 2000, the oil industry of Syria began to play a more important role in Syria’s economy. As Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom observed in 2003:

“…The most significant recent structural change in the economy…has been the expansion of oil output following the development of major new oilfields in the Euphrates valley in the 1980s. Oil revenues in recent years have accounted for 60 to 70 percent of export and 40 to 50 percent of the [Syrian] state budget.”

During the month following the release of some of Syria’s political prisoners and the general pardon for Syria’s non-political prisoners by Bashar Assad’s Baath regime in November 2001, the Baath Party’s Regional Command then announced on Dec. 2, 2000, “the approval of plans to establish the country’s first private bank and a stock market and to float the local currency, marking the end of a 40-year state monopoly on banking and foreign exchange transactions” in Syria, according to the same book.

By 2001, however, Bashar Assad’s Baath regime began repressing and arresting some Syrian civil society and Syrian ngo activists in Syria. Yet Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom characterized the level of popular support which then existed for Syrian civil society groups and ngos in 2003 in the following way:

“…However much one may admire the ideals and courage of the [Syrian] civil society movement, it would be foolish to pretend that it commands wide support. The regime denigrates the activists as a tiny minority of middle-class intellectuals, and plainly they are—although that does not mean that their ideas will not eventually triumph. For most Syrians, the priority is the daily struggle to make ends meet. It is on its economic performance rather than its record on democracy or human rights that the regime is most vulnerable.”

(end of part 24)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 23: 1982 to 1999 Period

Between 1982 and 1994 anti-imperialist secular left parties apparently provided the main political opposition to Hafez Assad’s Baath regime. As an essay titled “The Syrian Opposition at the End of the Assad Era,” which appeared in the 1994 book Contemporary Syria, that Eberhard Kienie edited, observed:

“In the post-Hama era some secular parties…constituted the only political opposition of importance inside the country. One of the most active among them is the Party (formerly Association) of Communist Action (PCA) which, like many other leftist opposition parties, recruits many of its activists from among the Alawis and other minorities. The PCA, however, did not join the National Democratic Gathering, a leftist alliance…The Gathering’s leading parties are the CP-Politbureau and the oppositional wing of the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) led by Jamal al-Atassi, who at the same time figures as the chairman of the Gathering at large. Apart from these two parties the Gathering also comprised the Revolutionary Workers’ Party, the pro-Jadid (and anti-Assad, anti-capitalist left faction of the] Baath Party and the pro-Jadid [anti-Assad]…oppositional wing of the Movement of Arab Socialists [MAS]…The Marxist-oriented…PCA…has for some years…been closely cooperating with the Gathering, which is dominated by its rival, the more reformist CP-Politbureau…In 1991 the CP-Politbureau ceased publication of its underground paper nidal al-Sha’b (“People’s Struggle”) in favor of a common publication of the Gathering, al-mauqif al-aimu grati (“Democratic Point of View”) which has since been regularly distributed inside Syria, an operation which continues to be dangerous.”

Yet between the early 1980s and the early 1990s the number of Syrians who were members of Hafez Assad’s Baath Party had increased from 374,352 to 1,008,243, according to Allan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom; and during the same period, the number of Syrians who worked in the public sector of Syria’s economy had increased from 757,000 to 1.2 million, including the 530,000 Syrians who were members of the Baath regime’s military or state security agencies in the early 1990s, according to the same book.

In May 1991, Assad’s Baath regime also enacted Law No. 10 which, “strongly” encouraged “Syrian, Arab and even foreign investment in areas” of the Syrian economy which had been “reserved for the public sector” in the previous decade, according to Eberherd Kiene’s introduction to Contemporary Syria. Yet during the 1990s, Syria’s public sector was still dominant in oil, banking and construction, while in agriculture (which accounted for 28 percent of the Syrian economy’s gross domestic product), tourism and domestic and foreign trade, Syria’s private sector was now dominant, according to an essay by Nabil Sukkar that appeared in the same book.

(end of part 23)

Friday, December 12, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 22: 1980 to 1982 Period

When Syria’s political prisoners were still not released by the end of April 1980, “Aleppo and Hama experienced renewed demonstrations and strikes on a smaller scale in May and June” of 1980; and the Syrian opposition to Hafez Assad’s regime “now comprised both religious and secular elements,” according to Dilip Hiro’s Holy Wars. Then, according to the same book, the following happened in Syria between late June 1980 and Aug. 11, 1980:

“…On June 25 [1980]…an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on [Hafiz] Assad in Damascus…Over the next several days the [Syrian] security forces executed more than 100 imprisoned [Muslim] Brothers. When political prisoners in Palmyra [a/k/a/ Tadhmor Palmyra] attempted a jail break, the Defense Brigade soldiers massacred between 200 and 300 of them. On July 7, 1980 [Syria’s] parliament passed a bill which made membership or even association with the Muslim Brotherhood a capital offense…On Aug. 11 [1980] all 80 inhabitants of a house in the old city of Aleppo from which a shot had been fired at [Syrian] security forces, were pulled out of their apartments and executed instantly…”

In response, Syria’s “Muslim Brotherhood leaders reassessed their tactics and strategy,” “decided to ally with smaller Islamic organizations” and helped to create “in October 1980, the Islamic Front of Syria,” according to Holy Wars; and “once fundamentalist leaders in Syria had forged the Islamic Front, hammered out a common program and charter, and reorganized their cadres, they resumed the jihad in August 1981,” with “the Combat Vanguard of Fighters now operated as commando units equipped with light arms and shoulder-held rockets,” according to the same book.

Then, as Robert Dreyfuss’s Devil’s Game: How The United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam observed, in November 1981 “a massive car bomb in Damascus killed 200 people;” and, according to the same book:

“To carry out such sophisticated operations…the Muslim Brotherhood depended on support from both Jordan and Israel. The two nations did not try very hard to keep their support secret, establishing training camps for Muslim Brotherhood fighters in Lebanon and in northern Jordan, near the Syrian border. Israel funneled support for the Muslim Brotherhood through Lebanon, part of which went to the [Israeli military-aligned] Free Lebanon Forces, a private army…run by…Major Saad Haddad.”

Armed Islamic Front fighters and their political supporters next staged a revolt in Hama in early February 1982 and for several days were successful in resisting the attempts by the security forces of the Baath regime to recapture that Syrian city. But eventually the following Assad regime response to the revolt in Hama happened:

“[Hafez] Assad dispatched 12,000 soldiers to Hama, a city of 200,000. After cordoning it off, they used helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery to defeat the insurgents. It took them two weeks to gain full control. In the process...between 5,000 and 10,000 people—including about 1,000 [Syrian] soldiers—were killed. Unlike in March 1980, the rebellion did not spread to other [Syrian] cities.”

So, according to James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs To Know, after the 1982 Armed Islamic Front revolt in Hama was crushed by Hafez Assad’s Baath regime, Syria’s Muslim “Brotherhood” redirected “its focus away from overthrowing the regime to making peace with it” between late 1982 and 2011, although “its members” were still “subject to repression inside” Syria.

(end of part 22)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 21: 1978 to 1980 Period

In response to the 1976 decision by Hafez Assad’s Baath regime to intervene militarily in Lebanon’s civil war on the side of the pro-imperialist right-wing Lebanese groups, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood began to express its opposition to Assad’s Baath regime in more violent ways. As Dilip Hiro’s Holy Wars recalled:

“…In June 1976 Assad intervened militarily in the year-old Lebanese civil war on the side of Maronite Christians against the alliance of Lebanese Muslims and Palestinians. This shocked and alienated large segments of Syrian society…The Brotherhood, now led by Adnan Saad al Din (a one-time member of the Egyptian brotherhood) accused Assad of acting as an agent of Maronite, Israeli and American interests…Soon after Assad’s intervention in the Lebanese civil war, the Brotherhood decided to wage a jihad against his regime…During the first half of the jihad the Brotherhood’s military units—called Combat Vanguard of Fighters—carried out assassinations of Baathist officials, Alawi leaders, security agents and informers…”

Yet by the late 1970s, many more Syrians were still members of Syria’s ruling Baath party than were members of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. In 1978, for example, 200,000 Syrians were members of Syria’s Baath party but only 30,000 Syrians were members of the Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, according to the same book.

But in 1979, during “the second phase of the” Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s “jihad the Brotherhood’s military units combined attacks on police stations, Baath Party offices, army units and government buildings with large-scale demonstrations and strikes...,” according to Holy Wars; and “they heralded this phase with a daring assault on the Aleppo Artillery School on June 16, 1979” in which “the Brotherhood fired machine-guns and lobbed hand grenades at an assembly of some 200 Alawi cadets, killing 83 of them.”

In response, Syrian government authorities then arrested 300 Muslim Brotherhood activists. But on Aug. 31, 1979, “the Damascus Bar passed a…resolution demanding the lifting of the State of Emergency, the release of all political prisoners and freedom of association” in Syria, according to Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom.

Yet according to Nabil Sukkar’s “The Crisis of 1986 and Syria’s Plan for Reform” essay in Contemporary Syria, “between 1979 and 1982 the situation” in Syria “came close to that of a civil war,” “open clashes occurred between government forces and armed supporters of the Islamist-led opposition” and “in February 1982, these confrontations culminated in an uprising in the city of Hama which was quelled by government troops, leading to the destruction of most of the city.” As Holy Wars recalled:

“…In early March [1980]…the merchants of Aleppo, protesting against price controls, declared an immediate general strike…In Hama, the third largest city, the local residents demonstrated for free elections, a liberalized economy and a jihad…Soon the national syndicate of lawyers, engineers, doctors and academics issued statements demanding the lifting of the state of emergency (which had been in force since 1963), the release of political prisoners and an end to sectarianism.”

But in response, on Apr. 6, 1980 the Assad regime ordered “11,000 troops” of Syria’s “Special Units under their commander, Ali Haydar, to Aleppo;” and these Syrian government troops “cordoned off the city, undertook house-to-house searches,” “marched off thousands of residents to detention centers” and “killed or executed several hundred people,” according to the same book. And similar methods of repression were used by Syrian troops to end the protests in Hama.

In addition, the executive councils of the Syrian professional syndicates were dissolved by Hafez Assad on Apr. 9, 1980 and 5,000 more Syrian opponents of the Baath regime were imprisoned. As Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom observed:

“Parallel to Islamist terrorism, the regime faced…criticism from intellectuals, professionals and activists from secular opposition parties. Protest strikes were organized by…doctors’ and engineers’ associations…While responding to the Islamists’ terrorism with mounting brutality of its own, the regime also moved to crush its non-violent and non-Islamist opponents. The lawyers’, engineers’ and doctors’ associations were disbanded in 1980 and their leaderships imprisoned. Thousands of Islamist suspects were detained, but so were hundreds of intellectuals and activists from secular opposition parties…”

But according to Holy Wars, Hafez Assad’s regime “coupled the clamp-down” of April 1980 “with promises to release all” Syrian “political prisoners and respect the rule of law;” and, according to Nabil Sukkar’s essay in the 1994 Contemporary Syria book, in 1980 the Baath regime “ordered a massive pay-rise for” Syrian “workers and employees in the public sector.”

(end of part 21)