The Unraveling of Obama Syria Policy

“Only two days ago, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the Syrian rebels, retired Marine Gen. John Allen, explained confidently that the U.S. would help to train and equip Western-backed fighters to become a credible force that would compel the Assad regime to negotiate a political deal and end the four-year-long civil war.

Yeah. Right. The Obama administration’s plans have little or nothing to do with what is unfolding all too rapidly on the ground: Rebel brigades are demoralized, disintegrating, and fighting among themselves.”

Read full dispatch here at the Daily Beast

Enduring Assad’s Prisons

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — “She wrestles with demons. The memories of her nine-month imprisonment and the beatings and abuse she suffered at the hands of a Syrian interrogator still burn inside her. Now that she’s in southern Turkey. She works as a journalist under an assumed name. And she prefers living with other women who understand the humiliation she went through. Others, as she knows only too well, suffered worse than she did the harsh regime of Bashar al-Assad’s prisons and secret detention centers…

Rowaida Yousef, as she calls herself, used to be a math teacher and citizen journalist in Damascus…

In Adraa prison Yousef had the opportunity to hear the stories of more than a hundred women. “I heard many accounts of women being raped in Damascus by Shabiha after they had been picked up at checkpoints or at buildings they controlled, and before they were handed over to the security branches,” says Yousef. “But I didn’t hear accounts of rapes in the official security detention centers in Damascus.” The picture is different in Homs and Aleppo, she says.”

You can read my dispatch for the Daily Beast here.

Terror-Bonding or Cynical Manipulation?

My take last night on a new twist in the cynical media operations of the so-called caliphate with a hostage ‘reporting’ from the embattled town of Kobani on Syria’s border.

“British hostage John Cantlie, who was abducted by jihadists alongside American journalist James Foley, was featured in a new propaganda video posted Monday night reporting from inside the besieged town of Kobani. He scornfully rejects Western media coverage of the battle for the Syrian border town, saying the militants of the Islamic State are not on the retreat and are now just mopping up…

The video then homes in on a healthy-looking Cantlie, who is dressed in black—like an ISIS fighter—in contrast to the orange jumpsuit of a prisoner he was seen wearing in five episodes of jihadist propaganda films called ‘Lend Me Your Ears.’ His hair has grown out and his skin color is less pale, suggesting that the previous videos were shot several weeks ago, around the time ISIS beheaded Foley and another American reporter, Steven Sotloff.

In the “Lend Me Your Ears” series, the British freelance photojournalist emphasizes that he is a prisoner of the Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, and doesn’t know whether he will live or die. But in Monday night’s five-and-a-half minute clip, titled “Inside Ayn al-Islam” (the Arabic name for Kobani is Ayn al-Arab), the 43-year-old Cantlie makes no reference to his captivity, raising questions about whether he has crossed the line and is now a willing propagandist for the jihadists behind the camera.”

You can read the full article here.

I quote also a British security official saying: “The video is troubling. Was this filmed under duress? Volunteered and suggested? Is this Stockholm Syndrome? Does it cross a line? Is he playing them?”

Old Cold War Stuff

The Guardian’s Martin Kettle writes about the public release of official files (heavily redacted) of British intelligence’s surveillance of historians Christopher Hill, AJP Taylor and Eric Hobsbawm saying the monitoring of the academics shows how deeply penetrated academia was by the Cold War.

The penetration wasn’t all one way. He surely should have noted why Communist Party-linked Oxbridge academics prompted the concern (rightly) of the prosaic minds of MI5: and it can be summed up in four names, Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt. Also, my own expose a decade ago with David Rose of the HVA Stasi’s recruitment targeting of UK academics provides some more context. Although it does strike me as a bit mad to target the three for so long.

On a side note: I remember literary scholar Q.D. Leavis hurling the door open to me for a tutorial at a her home in Cambridge the day after art historian Anthony Blunt was exposed as the “fourth man” and waving The Times in my face angrily and saying: “Of course, he was the fourth man. Look at his weak chin — a chin of a traitor.”

Bring Back UK Sedition Law

Listening to a recent posted video of the crude Anjem Choudary calling for the forceful overthrow of the established political order in the UK it is hard not to conclude that the 2010 abolition of the old sedition laws rather than their updating was foolish.

 

 

And Aleppo?

From my Daily Beast dispatch this weekend:

“A battle is taking shape that could decide the fate of the Obama administration’s strategy for defeating ISIS, and it’s not around the Kurdish town of Kobani. It’s for the future of the second biggest city in Syria, ancient Aleppo, besieged on three sides by the forces of the tyrant Bashar Assad and the murderous zealots of the so-called Islamic State holding part of the other side.

For the relatively moderate Syrian militias to whom the Obama administration already is funneling arms, the neighborhoods of Aleppo where they still hold ground are a last redoubt inside the country. And in the next few hours or days their last supply line to the outside very likely will be cut.”

You can read the full report here.

The Things They Say

On October 15 the Islamic State released a video featuring several foreign fighters, including a British national named Abu Abdullah. The men say coalition airstrikes against IS are considered cowardly by the jihadists because they avoid face-to-face confrontation. Yes, it is so more manly cutting the throat of a journalist or aid worker or enslaving a woman who doesn’t share your religion.

The Battle for Kobani

Suruc

From my VOA dispatch last night:

“The days of battle are falling into a pattern.

The mornings start off quietly, but by lunchtime a crescendo builds of furious small-arms fire and airstrikes only to subside.

Then the battle resumes in early evening as the sun begins to fall – the nights are full of fury, explosions and intense gunfire.

This week Islamic State militants tried to bomb their way through Kurdish defenses by using suicide bombers. There have been nearly a dozen efforts.

In low-lying Turkish villages and hills along a 15-kilometer stretch of the border facing Kobani, refugees from the town and local Kurds have been watching the raging battle unfold with a mixture of feelings.

They cheer when an airstrike sends black plumes of smoke into the sky and crane to see where the ordnance struck. They seesaw between hope and despair, expressing one moment confidence the town won’t fall and then conceding they don’t know how the outgunned and outnumbered defenders can hold out.”

Full story here.

Turkish President and ISIS Share Hatred of Lawrence of Arabia

Gaziantep

My Daily Beast piece yesterday on President Erdogan’s remarkable rant against T.E. Lawrence and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Turkish leader appears oblivious to the fact that Lawrence did all he could to sabotage the Anglo-French deal and kill it at birth.

Article Here

Can We Afford Such Success?

Gaziantep

According to The Hill newspaper, the White House says its war on ISIS is succeeding: hate to see what failing would look like.

Let’s do a quick rundown: ISIS is advancing in Iraq’s Anbar province, they are close to taking Baghdad airport or at least are in range to bomb it; they are launching suicide bombing runs on the capital; for all the favorable Western press the Pesh (and Iraqis) have made no serious advances since the Mosul Dam; the Iraqi army (which we spent a fortune on) remains in disarray; Kobani is holding on by dint of an extraordinary stand by YPG fighters; the Turkish-Kurdish peace process is on the brink of collapse; Assad is taking advantage; the Syrian rebels are demoralized and ignored; the Syrians feel they are being sacrificed, which they are. Did I leave anything out?