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Syria wrap: Grumbling This won’t be easy, NYT’s Bill Keller suits up for another Mid-East war

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Notes on the burgeoning conflict in Syria. First, chemical weapons. The U.S. has of course asserted that the Syrian regime has used them. But Reuters says the rebels may have used the nerve gas sarin:

U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday.

The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.

At the New York Times, Bill Keller, who pushed the Iraq war, advises, “Syria Is Not Iraq,” and that “getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.” The columnist ascribes great power to the U.S. to be able to fix things over there– on what basis? 

“I don’t mean to make this sound easy. It might well be that the internal grievances are too deep and bitter to forestall a bloody period of reprisals. But that outcome is virtually inevitable if we stay out.”

“How do they do it?” writes a friend. “Give completely wrong advice in a matter involving hundreds of thousands of deaths, look back on it with regret (but not remorse), and then do it again. Keller’s learned authorities are Hillary Clinton, David Petraeus, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.”

At Lobelog, Robert E. Hunter, former ambassador to NATO, says Syria is just like Iraq, and the U.S. should abandon the hubris of believing that it can do something positive with the situation.

What is happening in Syria is radically different from what happened in the so-called “Arab spring” in Tunisia, Egypt, or even Libya. This is not primarily a matter of whether a leader who stayed too long and was too repressive will go; but whether a particular minority will continue to be able to dominate the rest of the population, or, with “regime change,” whether there will be a bloody free-for-all competition for power. None of the other three regime changes were about that.

More relevant is what happened in Iraq, when the US and partners, by invading in 2003, overturned centuries of admittedly unjust domination of a majority (Shi’ite) by a minority (Sunni). Or what is happening, or rather not happening, in Bahrain, where the situation is just the reverse but has been kept in check by military power, much of which has been applied by neighboring Saudi Arabia, with the US, concerned about its base in Bahrain for the Fifth Fleet, at best “turning a blind eye.”

It’s therefore hard to see what the United States, or any combination of outsiders, could usefully do — not to help overthrow Assad and his Alawite-dominated military (that can be done) — but to help “shape” a future in Syria that won’t lead to even more bloody chaos before something approaching “stability” could ensue…

There should be no indulgence in the nonsense that all could be accomplished by providing more lethal arms to the rebels, imposing a no-fly zone, or using air power directly….

So what is to be done at this juncture of “no good options?” The best to be hoped for now is for President Obama to keep his nerve (backed by the US military leadership) and continue resisting attempts to drag the US even more deeply into Syria. At the same time, the US must avoid the temptation to perceive another looming chance to experiment with “nation building”; Iraq and Afghanistan should have inoculated us against that.

As a cardinal principle, the US should internationalize whatever is done — by the United Nations, NATO, the European Union and Arab League — and not regard Syria as a test of US “leadership,” as asserted in the aforementioned White House letter (“strengthen our leadership of the international community.”) It should put out the word in very clear terms to other states in the region to stop meddling in Syria, and in particular, to rein-in their nationals who are engaged in spreading Islamist militancy in Syria (and elsewhere), with both ideas and arms.

More claims and counter-claims. The Sunday Times is reporting that Israel, aided by the U.S., has reached a deal with Turkey to take on Iran; but the international Turkish site, Hurriyet Daily News, denies it as propaganda. From the Times:

ISRAEL is preparing to agree a defence co-operation deal with Turkey and three Arab states aimed at setting up an early warning system to detect Iranian ballistic missiles.

The proposal, referred to by the diplomats involved as “4+1”, may eventually lead to technicians from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan working alongside Israelis in joint command-and-control centres.

From the Turkish site, Hurriyet Daily News:

The Turkish Foreign Ministry today dismissed a British newspaper report suggesting a role for Turkey in a regional cooperation against the “fundamentalist crescent,” which consists of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.

“These are manipulative reports which have nothing to do with the reality,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Hürriyet Daily News.

Thanks to Annie Robbins.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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38 Responses

  1. gingershot on May 6, 2013, 9:10 am

    Keller’s comments coming as they do as contemporaneous with revelations about the Israeli/Neocon False Flag-style attack against the US, with Israel and her Neocons now being caught having lied to the US about Sarin gas use by the Syrian government, is just priceless

    It reminds me of Bernard Henri Levi’s article in Israeli papers about the most moral army in the world being up on websites the same morning when it was revealed the Israelis had just attacked the Mavi Marmara.

    • marc b. on May 6, 2013, 11:03 am

      they are revolting, keller, slaughter, demint, all of the cheerleaders for more blood. we can drop them into Syria, slim pickens’ style, if they want to effect ‘regime change’.

  2. gamal on May 6, 2013, 9:52 am

    “overturned centuries of admittedly unjust domination of a majority (Shi’ite) by a minority (Sunni).” eh?

    most of the Arab Shia of Iraq are recent converts from Sunni Islam, one of the reasons for the mass conversions was a protest by formerly Sunni Arab pastoralists at their treatment by their (Sunni) Ottoman rulers, Shi’ism really took off in the mid-1800’s in Iraq, after the Ottomans took a closer interest in Iraq after some Georgian guys had been running it, anyway some American guy covers some the reasons the above is just wrong and stupid
    and tiresome. The Shia Persians fled an Afghan, the aptly named Nadir Shah, who just took most of the Shia Ulema’s stuff, they were warmly greeted by the Ottomans and allowed to establish colonies in, of course, Najaf and Kerbela, Kufa and finding themselves in touch with Sunni Arabs they proceeded to preach, these revolutionary Arab Shia became communists and socialists in the early 20th,
    Why not read on from page 219 its free and improving, (its not that i am in anyway trying to imply that Iraqi’s or any other Arabs are not reprehensible scoundrels its just that this mindless repetition of the sunni/shia/kurd bullshit grates after a time, if you dont know about Iraqs history its probably better not to guess.)

    “Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq”
    By Nicolas J. S. Davies


  3. annie on May 6, 2013, 9:55 am

    The Sunday Times is reporting that Israel, aided by the U.S., has reached a deal with Turkey to take on Iran

    that would be Uzi Mahnaimi out of Tel Aviv . the sunday times happens to be one of the favorite dumping grounds for ‘breaking’ lies that then get picked up by the US press. albeit there may be some truth in something about it.

    • American on May 6, 2013, 11:10 am

      90% of the press is nothing but planted psyops for the agendas and to mislead the public anyway.
      Half of what we read today attributed to ‘officals” of this and that will be denied tomorrow by officials of this and that.

  4. lproyect on May 6, 2013, 10:03 am

    Just a word on this business about the FSA using Sarin. The charge is made by Carla Del Ponte, whose background is quite shady.

    Carla Del Ponte investigated over illegal evidence

    Former war crimes prosecutor accused of allowing bullying and bribing of witnesses in trial of alleged Serbian warlord Vojislav Seselj

    Ian Traynor, Europe editor
    The Guardian, Wednesday 18 August 2010 13.12 EDT

    Carla Del Ponte, the former war crimes prosecutor who put Balkan warlords and political leaders behind bars, is to be investigated over claims she allowed the use of bullying and bribing of witnesses, or tainted evidence.

    Judges at the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague today ordered an independent inquiry into the practices of Del Ponte and two prominent serving prosecutors, Hildegard Ürtz-Retzlaff and Daniel Saxon, after complaints from witnesses that they had been harassed, paid, mistreated and their evidence tampered with.

    It is the first time in the tribunal’s 17 years in operation that top prosecutors have faced potential contempt of court rulings.

  5. Justpassingby on May 6, 2013, 10:10 am

    (In majority)
    What drove US to attack Iraq? Israel
    What drives US to attack Syria? Israel
    What drives US to attack Iran? Israel

    • Citizen on May 6, 2013, 2:33 pm

      @ Justpassingby

      Yeah, it’s very obvious for anyone who has studied the patterns in the Middle East.

    • Bandolero on May 6, 2013, 4:49 pm


      There is more:

      What drives US to attack Yugoslavia? Israel
      What drives US to attack Afghanistan? Israel
      What drives US to attack Libya? Israel
      What drives US foreign policy? Israel

      “‘America is something that can be easily moved. Moved to the right direction.They won’t get in our way'” Benjamin Netanyahu

      • shachalnur on May 6, 2013, 7:48 pm

        To Bandolero,

        Yugoslavia,Afghanistan,Lybia were ignited by Al-Qaida.
        Al-Qaida was created as a friend of the US during the Russia -Afghanistan conflict in the 80’s.

        Who exactly created and controls Al-Qaida is open to discussion.
        But for sure it’s Saudi’s and CIA/MI6,and probably Mossad.

        Why should Israel drive the US to attack Yugoslavia?
        It’s the country of the Partizans,that fought the Nazi’s.
        Albania ,Nazi allies in ww2,were the one that profited from the Balkan war.

    • kalithea on May 6, 2013, 11:26 pm


  6. American on May 6, 2013, 11:04 am

    Let us not forget that Saudi armed the rebels to begin with. Recent reports say the rebels cash has dried up so could be that Saud has quit funding since ALQ joined in.
    The best thing the US could do is let the rebels lose. This was never a ‘popular peoples revolt’….it was a Sunni Islamist revolt.
    The US doesn’t know how to be a ‘super power’, it lets it’s ‘client states’ stir shit and then has to go clean up their messes.
    Bandar appointed new Saudi spy chief

    The sociable Prince Bandar, 63, who vanished from public view when he was recalled from Washington by King Abdullah in 2005 after notching up 22 years as the kingdom’s ambassador there, will immediately be thrust into a Middle East crisis.

    “He’s just the right person for the right time in Saudi. They have a more hawkish foreign policy and he’s the leading hawk of the House of Saud,” said David Ottaway, Bandar’s biographer and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

    The US’ closest Arab ally is a supporter of the Syrian rebels now battling in Damascus to oust president Bashar al-Assad and is mending fences with Washington after a disagreement over last year’s Arab uprisings.

    “Bandar is quite aggressive, not at all like a typical cautious Saudi diplomat. If the aim is to bring Bashar down quick and fast, he will have a free hand to do what he thinks necessary. He likes to receive an order and implement it as he sees fit,” said Jamal Khashoggi, an influential Saudi commentator.

    Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has described arming the rebels as “a very good idea”. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are believed to be funding and sending weapons to the Syrian insurgents, Arab officials say.

    As Syria’s crisis enters a potentially decisive stage in the aftermath of Thursday’s assassination of top security chiefs in a bomb blast, Riyadh is concerned about blowback from Assad’s allies in Iran.

    With Syria in flames, Iraq still weak and Egypt navigating an uncertain transition towards democracy, Saudi Arabia now stands alone as the Arab world’s most stable major nation.

    Mr Ottaway said Bandar had previously negotiated with both Syria and Iran, as well as with Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council that has vetoed resolutions against the Assad government written by Riyadh.

    “He wants to see Saudi Arabia flex its muscles, particularly if the Americans are there with him,” he added.”

  7. lysias on May 6, 2013, 11:12 am

    If it’s the rebels, did they cross a red line?

    • kalithea on May 6, 2013, 11:28 pm

      They crossed it some time ago with other terrorist and brutal acts against civilians.

  8. Shingo on May 6, 2013, 11:30 am

    Also, with respect to the Saron story, there’s this:

    Turkish doctors say no nerve gas in Syrian victims’ blood

    “These are manipulative reports which have nothing to do with the reality,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Hürriyet Daily News.

    That sounds ominous to me. The evasiveness of this response, as opposed to denial, suggests there’s some truth to it. In which case, it’s a very disturbing development.

  9. on May 6, 2013, 12:22 pm

    There is no such thing as a bad war in the Middle East for the Zionist-owned rag called the New York Times. Having said that, I wouldn’t be opposed to Keller dunning on a military uniform and rifle and leading the way into Syria himself.

  10. HarryLaw on May 6, 2013, 12:38 pm

    If the US genuinely wanted to end the bloodshed it would call for a cease fire, Assad has already offered reforms, to be negotiated with all representatives of the opposition, unfortunately the opposition do not want anything other than a military victory and are prepared to destroy or dismember the country in order to do it, the US/Israel will go along with that, it might even be the preferred option, I remember during the Iraq/Iran war in the 80’s some US Politicians saying it was a pity they couldn’t destroy each other, that’s how cynical American foreign policy is.

    • fillmorehagan on May 6, 2013, 3:26 pm

      I think it was Harry Truman who said the same thing about the Soviet-Nazi war before the US entered the fray.

  11. gingershot on May 6, 2013, 12:56 pm

    Israel and the Neocon geopolitical calculation is to co-opt the Arab Spring, turn into bloody armed conflicts, and avoid a Palestinian Spring

    Israel will do everything it can to instigate (by hoaxing the US or by setting it off itself) a major Middle East WWIII to further throttle the Arab Spring – in Jordan, Bahrain, and especially, in Palestine

  12. sydnestel on May 6, 2013, 12:57 pm

    So, reading the Robert Hunter quote above, isn’t this a good argument against a “one state solution” in Palestine/Israel. Seems like multi-ethnic states in the ME end up as having one ethnic group unfairly lording it over the others, or else bloody civil war.

    Just askin’.


  13. atime forpeace on May 6, 2013, 1:51 pm

    With Twitter and all the other internet sources out there releasing real time breaking news i do not know how the msm ( Matthew, Maddow, Hayes, Wolf etc) will be able to keep trying to pump lies down the throats of the ever gullible us populace.

    The stenographers for the State need to catch a clue, they are necked before the world.

    • lysias on May 6, 2013, 2:59 pm

      The White House is doubling down on its lies, and the MSM stenographers report their lies without any skepticism.

      CBS: W.H. on Syria sarin gas claim: Look to regime, not rebels:

      The White House says it’s highly likely that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, not the rebel opposition, was behind any chemical weapons use in Syria.

      On Monday a U.N. panel looking into war crimes in Syria said it has not found conclusive evidence of chemical weapons use, backing away from a member’s claims that there are indications rebel forces used the nerve agent sarin.

      . . .

      At a press briefing today White House spokesman Jay Carney said there is certainly evidence that chemical weapons have been used, but that the U.S. is highly skeptical of claims that rebels put them in play.

      Carney says the U.S. is still looking for conclusive evidence about chemical weapons use. He says there’s no timeline for the investigation.

      NPR: UPDATE: White House Doubts Syrian Rebels Used Sarin:

      At the White House this afternoon, spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. is “highly skeptical” of the comments made over the weekend by international prosecutor Carla del Ponte, who said there are “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that rebels in Syria have used sarin gas.

      We’ve been covering del Ponte’s comments, and the reaction to them, through the day.

      Funny. I had NPR news on on my radio this morning, and I don’t recall any mention of del Ponte’s comments.

    • on May 7, 2013, 9:48 am

      Never underestimate the power of ignorance of people herded into large groups.

  14. atime forpeace on May 6, 2013, 2:50 pm

    Justin Raimondo tweets about the takedown of Huffpost piece.

    Justin Raimondo ‏@JustinRaimondo 1m
    RECORD TIME Huffpo piece on UN claim rebels used sarin gas taken down in 5 mins. replaced by piece saying UN “distances itself” from claim.

  15. DICKERSON3870 on May 6, 2013, 3:36 pm

    ● RE: “Notes on the burgeoning conflict in Syria. First, chemical weapons. The U.S. has of course asserted that the Syrian regime has used them. But Reuters says the rebels may have used the nerve gas sarin” ~ Weiss

    ● SEE: “Former Bush administration official: Israel may be behind use of chemical arms in Syria”, by Chemi Shalev, Haaretz, May 4 2013

    [EXCERPT] Retired US Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, believes that the chemical weapons used in Syria may have been an Israeli “false flag” operation aimed at implicating Bashar Assad’s regime. Wilkerson made his astounding assertion in a May 2 interview on Current TV’s Young Turks program. Current TV, once owned by Al Gore, was recently purchased by al-Jazeera. Wilkerson said that the evidence that it was Assad’s regime that had used the chemical weapons was “flaky” and that it could very well have been the rebels or Israel who were the perpetrators. Asked why Israel would do such a thing, Wilkerson said:

    I think we’ve got a basically geostrategically, geopolitical inept regime in Tel Aviv right now. I think we saw really startling evidence of that in the fact that Obama had to tell Netanyahu ‘Pick up the phone, you idiot, call Ankara and get yourself out of this strategic isolation you’re in right now. Israel’s situation is as dangerous as it’s been since 1948. Obama has got to be very circumspect about what he does in exacerbating that situation. Netanyahu is clueless as to this. I hope Obama gave him a lecture in geostrategic realities. . .

    SOURCE –

    “Britamgate: Staging False Flag Attacks in Syria”, [original source – Oriental Review (Russia)], 2/04/12

    [EXCERPTS] On January 22 a telling leak cropped up in the Internet. British defense contractor’s BRITAM server was hacked and megabytes of classified internal files of the firm were released to the public. . .
    . . . The key finding is a mail dated December 24, 2012 sent by Britam Defence’s Business Development Director David Goulding to Dynamic Director of the firm Phillip Doughty, who is a former SAS officer:


    We’ve got a new offer. It’s about Syria again. Qataris propose an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved by Washington.

    We’ll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell from Libya similar to those that Assad should have.

    They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?

    Kind regards David

    To clarify the things, CW is a standard abbreviation for Chemical Weapons; ‘g-shell’ is a bomb consisting of an explosive projectile filled with toxic gas.
    Taking into account the memorable Barack Obama’s warning that the ‘use or even transportation of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would represent a “red line” that would precipitate military intervention’, a message he reiterated last month after the election to the second term, the plotted operation, if carried out, would provide an ideal pretext for the foreign intervention into Syria. Israel has voiced the same warnings last week.
    Who would perpetrate the video-recorded delivery of CWs to Homs? The text of mail clearly indicates that they would use Britam’s Ukrainian personnel for forging videos. . .
    . . . Summing up these facts we can conclude that a provocation in Syria is the only option left for the war-mongers. Having exhaustive information on the real situation in Syria and being aware of inability of the corrupted rebel group to make any significant change in Damascus, they have nothing to do but hire a second-rate British PSC for another round of dirty job. We have no doubt that numerous tragic ‘revelations’ of atrocities committed by ‘pro-Assad army’ that were repeatedly hitting YouTube for the last two years, were also ‘ordered’ for enormous fee to the former British ‘berets’. The latest leakage deserves thorough investigation and consideration on the top international political level. . .


  16. Empiricon on May 6, 2013, 3:39 pm

    “Kill Bill” Keller at it again, huh?
    “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry for blood, more vengeance. More desolation.” — William Tecumseh Sherman

  17. lysias on May 6, 2013, 3:46 pm

    Sibel Edmonds has a new piece on the role of the neocons in this Syria business: Uber-Neocons: The Main Architects of Post-Assad Syria at Work.

  18. DICKERSON3870 on May 6, 2013, 4:07 pm

    RE: At the New York Times, Bill Keller, who pushed the Iraq war, advises, “Syria Is Not Iraq,” and that “getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.” The columnist ascribes great power to the U.S. to be able to fix things over there . . . ~ Weiss

    MY QUESTION: Has perchance a new baby recently been fathered by Bill Keller? Enquiring minds mimes want to know!”

    SEE: “Bill Keller still doesn’t know now what we all knew then…”, by Lizzy Ratner, Mondoweiss, 9/22/11

    [EXCERPTS] It’s been several days since I finally got around to reading former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller’s hymn of self-justification – I mean, sober and self-reflective mea culpa – for his early, eager support of the Iraq war, and I’m still smoldering, still spewing small mushroom clouds of rage from my ears. . .
    . . . Consider one of Keller’s first excuses, what I call his Daddy Defense, which he offers up just a few paragraphs into the piece. Sounding something like a neo-Gothic horror novelist, he writes, “I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter. Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism. By the time of Alice’s birth I had already turned my attention to Iraq . . .”

    SOURCE –

    P.S. Those men and their raging hormones! Perhaps it would be best if they stayed at home and looked after the children.

    • marc b. on May 7, 2013, 8:17 am

      keller’s a genuine zionist, politically and psychologically. a hiccup of anxiety, completely without rational foundation, had to be staunched with the blood of thousands of American troops and Iraqi civilians. sitting back and applying his long cultivated professional ‘caution and skepticism’ isn’t an option when his psychological well-being is at risk. what a friggin’ hysteric.

  19. justicewillprevail on May 6, 2013, 4:40 pm

    Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece on the hypocrisy of these cheerleaders for endless war:

    Robert Fisk has pointed out that the cover story of stopping missiles for Hezbollah has no credibility, or evidence. Nothing would surprise me about the machinations of Israel – an attempt to drag Iran into it, while Israel drags the US along will get them their desired war against Iran. It seems failed states and dictatorships are the entities israel favours most, since it has done so much to instigate them. While someone else pays the price.

  20. Walker on May 6, 2013, 7:10 pm

    This is in character. In 2002, when Keller was angling for the managing editor job at the Times, he wrote one of the most sycophantic profiles I’ve ever read. It was about Paul Wolfowitz , arch-promoter of the invasion of Iraq:

    I thought to myself “He’s got the job”. And he did.

  21. DICKERSON3870 on May 6, 2013, 7:44 pm

    RE – “Syria wrap: Grumbling This won’t be easy, NYT’s Bill Keller suits up for another Mid-East war”

    MY COMMENT: The “news” (in reality, most often infotainment) disseminated by the mainstream/corporate media in the U.S. has become the newest “opiate of the [American] people/masses”!

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