April 25, 2018

Book Review: Pierre Trudeau, Organized Labour, and the Canadian Social Democratic Left, By Christo Aivalis

The Constant Liberal

Pierre Trudeau, Organized Labour, and the Canadian Social Democratic Left

UBC Press

Pierre Elliott Trudeau – radical progressive or unavowed socialist? Christo Aivalis argues that although Trudeau found key influences and friendships on the left, he was in fact a consistently classic liberal, driven by individualist, capitalist principles.
Trudeau’s legacy is still divisive. Most scholars portray Trudeau’s ties to unions and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation as either evidence of communist affinities or as being at the root of his reputation as the champion of a progressive, modern Canada. The Constant Liberal traces the charismatic politician’s relationship with left and labour movements throughout his career. Trudeau worked with leftists in the 1950s to oppose right-wing Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis but against them as prime minister when workers and progressives were seen as obstacles to higher corporate profit margins.
While numerous biographies have noted the impact of Trudeau’s engagement with the left on his intellectual and political development, this comprehensive analysis is the first to showcase the interplay between liberalism and democratic socialism that defined his world view – and shaped his effective use of power. The Constant Liberal suggests that Trudeau’s leftist activity was not so much a call for social democracy as a warning to fellow liberals that lack of reform could undermine liberal-capitalist social relations.
Historians, political scientists, and political historians are the primary audience for this book, but it will also find readers among scholars of political economy, economics, industrial relations, and Canadian studies. It will appeal broadly to those interested in the life and thinking of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Canadian social democratic left, and liberalism/neo-liberalism.

April 24, 2018

Every armed conflict going on in Arab lands has its source and subsistence in and from the US, by Thomas Riggins

by Thomas Riggins, Editor of the former "Political Affairs, (CPUSA)


Amnesty report below: it fails to mention the "Saudi Arabia-led coalition" is actually enabled by the US which arms it and provides the aircraft that refuel the Saudi jets (US made) on their way to bomb Yemen. This slaughter of children is made in the USA and could not be going on without the US support both politically and materially.

Every moral outrage and condemnation the West has hurled at Assad and the Syrians is equally applicable to presidents Obama and now Trump, they and their supporters and defenders are no better (or worse) than those who support Assad and Putin -- and if Assad and Putin have blood on their hands so do Obama and Trump (not to mention every US president bar none since the end of World War II). The only difference between Assad and the Obama-Trump gang seems to be that the former is waging a defensive war against the latter who, just as in Yemen, are aggressively financing and supporting insurgent groups (including jihadists) trying to overthrow the Syrian government and are unnecessarily prolonging this terrible war. 

In fact every armed conflict going on in that part of the world -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon's border areas, the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Libya, Somalia, and beyond has its source and subsistence from the US -- the millions of deaths and refugees are all thanks to the policies of the US and our "American Democracy" -- our party has to be more militantly involved in denouncing the crimes of US imperialism and exposing the myths that the "other side" whether they be the Russians, North Koreans, Chinese, Syrians, Venuzuelans, Iranians, Cubans, and genuine rebels and revolutionaries everywhere opposing US imperialism are some how to be criticised for opposing, by any means necessary, the world's greatest purveyor of violence (MLK). 

AMNESTY STATEMENT

"Buthaina a five-year old-—" was pulled from the rubble of her family home in Yemen’s capital. Badly bruised, she struggled to pry open a swollen eye with her fingers, to look at a world that dealt her such cruelty Her uncle told an Amnesty investigator, “She had five siblings to play with. Now she has none.”
Buthaina’s entire immediate family was killed in their sleep when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition rained down bombs on their neighborhood overnight.In Yemen, Amnesty crisis investigators have documented airstrikes on schools and hospitals, as well as the use of internationally banned cluster munitions which have killed and maimed children. A staggering 80% of Yemeni children are in need of humanitarian assistance."

Serve the people - Our Young Communists’ work among the homeless, The Guardian, Communist Party of Australia

Issue #1818      April 18, 2018
Serve the people
Young Communists’ work among the homeless
Bob Briton *
Every week they’re there. Volunteers distributing between 100 to 150 free, nutritious meals to Sydney’s homeless. Clothes and information on services are available, too. Tea, coffee, fruit and bread to take away are piled onto several trestle tables. The stall at the Macquarie Street end of Martin Place is a happy place. Music plays and the homeless and the volunteers can’t help breaking out into the occasional, impromptu dance. Chats strike up between volunteers, regular customers and the increasing number of new faces.
Nothing exceptional in all this, you would think. Charities do this sort of thing all the time all over Australia as more and more people find themselves sleeping rough. But this group of volunteers is different. The Western Sydney Community Alliance (WSCA) is driven by a group of young progressives who, having learned from the Martin Place Street Kitchen, want to eventually launch similar programs in western Sydney. Their motto, carried on WSCA’s logo, is “Serve the People”.
The work, including the complex logistics, is unrelenting and hard. It should be wearing the group down, but they have plans to provide even more services to people spun off by an uncaring capitalist society. Rather than growing tired, they throw themselves into the task happily. They hold down demanding full-time jobs and study. CPA members see this labour of humanistic love as Party work in their community. They also do a prodigious amount of specifically Party work pasting up CPA recruitment posters and preparing for the various protests around Invasion day, Palm Sunday, solidarity with Syria and housing issues, supporting and feeding pickets, for example.
“Charity” or “political work”
You might wonder about the political value of this “charity work”. The young Marxist-Leninists involved regularly field these sorts of questions from more politically engaged onlookers. I spoke about this with several of the volunteers who all had serious Marxist politics. CPA member Jay, a mainstay of the operation, gave me his take on the politics of feeding the homeless.
“Communist Parties all over the world have always had a charitable element to their function. It’s community outreach that lets working class people know that the Communist Party cares about them, cares about their living conditions. The charity aspect isn’t all that we do, it’s part of what we do and it has the added advantage of drawing a lot of people who are enthusiastic to think about helping out the homeless, who care about social issues to form a good pool of potential allies who the party can talk with and find solutions together to the many political and social problems that face the Australian working class”, Jay said.
He’s right. Communist parties the world over have always had hands on programs to help neglected communities survive. The lower floor of the CPA’s first headquarters in George Street, Sydney, was open in the 1920s to the homeless to take shelter. The Communist Party of Indonesia sourced cheap seed for starving farmers. In Italy, the once mighty PCI was a vital part of serving working class communities. The vacuum that has been left is being filled by fascist groups like Casa Pound. In Greece, the fascist Golden Dawn provides food and other services to the needy for free – to Greeks only!
Friedrich Engels, co-author with Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto praised the work of the nascent Salvation Army. He said the capitalist ruling class would rue the day they allowed the formation of the army. He reasoned the work of restoring the dignity of desperately poor would allow them to re-join the organised working class and help it overthrow their oppression. The alternative was to abandon them to the ranks of the lumpen proletariat:
“The ‘dangerous class,’ the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution, its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.”
The Salvation Army did not live up to Engels’ expectations. It became a sectarian and reactionary group interested in keeping the “passively rotting mass” docile and fit for exploitation. Fascists and other right wingers are mobilising this “dangerous class” right now while the left mostly looks on.
Inspiration from a hard history
The volunteers are also inspired by the community programs of the Black Panther Party (BPP) active in the US during the 1960s and ‘70s. They organised breakfast, literacy and health care programs on a massive scale until they finally succumbed to a vicious campaign of disruption and violent repression at the hands of the FBI. Today, the scandalous techniques used against the BPP (and the CPUSA and the anti-Vietnam War movement) during the operation called COINTELPRO are in the public domain; safe now that the revolutionary potential of the times has been crushed or, taking a longer view, temporarily diverted.
“All these programs satisfy the deep needs of the community, but they are not solutions to our problems,” Huey P Newton, co-founder and chief ideologue of the BPP said at the time. “That is why we call them survival programs, meaning survival pending revolution. We say that the survival program of the Black Panther Party is like the survival kit of a sailor stranded on a raft.
“It helps him to sustain himself until he can get completely out of that situation. So, the survival programs are not answers or solutions, but they will help us to organise the community around a true analysis and understanding of their situation. When consciousness and understanding is raised to a high level then the community will seize the time and deliver themselves from the boot of their oppressors,” Newton concluded.
The volunteers of the WSCA realise they may not have the impact that the BPP had in many parts of the US, but they are doing what they can. Members are already volunteering to help struggling students at under-resourced schools. They cooperate with another community organisation in the distribution of cheap food hampers. They want to collect money for the defence of CFMEU officials being persecuted by the ABCC and the rest of the judicial system. They are challenged rather than daunted by the size of the problems facing underprivileged people.
Building comradeship
Jay continued with his assessment of the contribution of the CPA Youth:
“It’s also about having a team-building activity that we can go to every week. We see people on an ongoing basis develop deep relationships, which we wouldn’t really be able to do if we were simply turning up to meetings every two weeks and being alienated from each other outside of a shared collective experience that allows us to bond with each other but talk politics at the same time.
“On the one hand we want the public to know that Communists do think like this, Communists do care about social issues, Communists do work in the interests of those who are disadvantaged, who have been made homeless because of the capitalist system but we’re not only here to say that we are the replacement, that we are the solution. We’re saying that the system must be replaced, ultimately. If we can promote that message at the same time as providing a useful service, then people will see the worth of having a Communist Party operating in this country as the basis of future activity and eventually a revolution in Australia,” Jay concluded.
The CPA has become home for the work of the volunteers. The cooking has been done at the Party building lately. The group works intensively at the food prep while maintaining a high level of political chat. They start serving at 3pm and go right through until 9pm or until the food runs out. At the end of the night, they pack up and take their kit “back to the CPA!”.
If you are in Sydney and feeling crushed under the weight of the capitalist agenda being imposed on working people, the unemployed and homeless IRL (“In Real Life”) rather than online, pay a visit one Sunday and talk to the young Communists serving the people at Martin Place. You’ll come away inspired to fight on!
If readers are interested in helping the work of the Western Suburbs Community Alliance, contact Antonella at youth.nsw@cpa.org.au or visit the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/westernsydneycommunityalliance
* Bob Briton is General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia.

Marx 200: Carney, Bowles and Varoufakis, Michael Roberts, Apr 24, 2018

Marx 200: Carney, Bowles and Varoufakis



As the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth gets closer, a host of conferences, articles and books on the legacy of Marx and his relevance today are emerging – including my own contribution.  The most interesting was a speech last week by the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney in his homeland of Canada.
In his speech at a ‘Growth Summit’ to the Public Policy Forum in Toronto, Carney set out to be provocative and headline catching with a statement that Marxism could once again become a prominent political force in the West.  “The benefits, from a worker’s perspective, from the first industrial revolution, which began in the latter half of the 18th century, were not felt fully in productivity and wages until the latter half of the 19th century. If you substitute platforms for textile mills, machine learning for steam engines, Twitter for the telegraph, you have exactly the same dynamics as existed 150 years ago (actually 170 years ago –MR )– when Karl Marx was scribbling the Communist Manifesto.”
Just as the first industrial revolution in early 19th century Britain led to the collapse of traditional jobs and held down real wages for a generation in the first two decades of the 19th century, so in this current Long Depression globally, with the advent of robots and AI, a new industrial revolution threatens to destroy human labour and livelihoods.

In 1845, Engels wrote, The condition of the working class in England, which exposed the misery and poverty engendered by the replacement of manual skills with machines and kept real incomes stagnant.  Now, says Carney, Marxism might again be relevant with a new burst of ‘capital bias’ (ie a rise in machines relative to human labour power).

Automation may not just destroy millions of jobs.  For all except a privileged minority of high tech workers, the collapse in the demand for labour could hold down living standards for decades.

In such a climate, “Marx and Engels may again become relevant”, said Carney.
Without realising it, Carney was reiterating Marx’s general law of capitalist accumulation outlined in Volume One of Capital (Chapter 25), written some 160 years ago, that capitalist accumulation will expand and promote machines to replace human labour but this will not lead automatically to higher living standards, less toil and more freedom for the individual, but mostly to downward pressure on real incomes, not only of those losing their jobs to machines, but in general.  It would also lead to more not less toil for those with jobs, while leaving millions in a state of ‘precarious labour’ – a reserve army for capital to exploit or dispense with as the cycle of accumulation demands. (see Capital Volume One p782-3 and my new book, pp32-37).
Carney’s view of the robot revolution leading to massive job losses has much empirical backing.  However, as Marx pointed out in Capital, it is not a one-sided collapse in jobs.  Technology also creates new jobs and raises the productivity of labour and, depending on the balance of forces in the class struggle between capital and labour over the value created, real incomes can also rise.  This happens in periods when profitability is improving and more labour comes into the market.
Of course, this ‘happy’ side of capitalist accumulation is the one that mainstream economics likes to promote, contrary to Carney’s worries.  For example, Paul Ormerod, commented on Carney’s view of the relevance of Marx. You see, Marx was completely wrong on a fundamental issue.  Marx thought, correctly, that the build up of capital and the advance of technology would create long term growth in the economy.  However, he believed that the capitalist class would expropriate all the gains.  Wages would remain close to subsistence levels – the “immiseration of the working class” as he called it.”
In fact, says Ormerod, “living standards have boomed for everyone in the West since the middle of the 19th century.  Leisure hours have increased dramatically and, far from being sent up chimneys at the age of three, young people today do not enter the labour force until at least 18.”  Apparently prosperity is the order of the day: “every single instance of an economy which enters into the sustained economic growth of the market-oriented capitalist economies, from early 19th century England to late 20th century China.  Once this is over, the fruits of growth become widely shared.”
There are several points here that I have taken up in many previous posts.  First, Marx did not hold to a theory of ‘subsistence wage levels’.  As for the argument that capitalism has taken everybody out of poverty and reduced toil and misery, it is full of holes.  Note that Ormerod talks of “everyone in the West”, thus giving the lie to billions outside ‘the West’ that remain in poverty by any definitions.  See my detailed posts on the level of poverty globally here.
And contrary to Ormerod’s view (as that of Keynes before him), the rise of technology under capitalism has not led to much reduction in toil.  I have shown that most people in “the West” continue to have working lives (in hours per year) much as they did in 1880s or the 1930s; they may work less hours per day on average and get Saturdays and Sundays off (for some), but they still put in over 1800 hours a year and work longer overall (50 years or so).
Ormerod also argues that inequality of incomes and wealth is not getting worse and labour’s share in national income has stopped falling, contrary to Carney.  Well, there is a wealth of evidence that wealth and income inequality is not improving, both globally between nations and within national economies.
Ormerod is right, however, to question Carney’s one-sided model of capitalism.  Labour’s share of total value created can rise and fall in different periods depending on the balance of class forces and impact of accumulation; and Carney’s own graph shows that real wages did not just stagnate in the first industrial revolution or now, but also in the 1850s and 1860s; and in the first quarter of the 20th century.  So there is more to this issue than technology.  The current stagnation in real wages in the UK and the US is more a product of the Long Depression of the last ten years than robots or AI, which have hardly started to have an impact yet (labour productivity growth is low or slowing in most economies).  The profitability of capital itself and the strength of labour in the battle over value created are more relevant.
Unfortunately it is not just mainstream economists who either distort or dismiss Marx’s economic theory.  In an article for Vox, eminent and longstanding Marxist economist Sam Bowles writes on the legacy of Marx’s economic ideas in order to dismiss them.  He agrees with Keynes’ view that Capital is “an obsolete economic textbook [that is] not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application to the modern world” (Keynes 1925). And he agrees with 1960s mainstream economic guru, Paul Samuelson’s judgement that “From the viewpoint of pure economic theory, Karl Marx can be regarded as a minor post-Ricardian…and who in turn was “the most overrated of economists” (Samuelson 1962).
Bowles considers that Marx’s labour theory of value was “pioneering, but inconsistent and outdated”. According to Bowles, Marx’s labour theory of value as a representation of a general system of exchange and his theory of the tendency of the profit rate to fall “did not resolve the outstanding theoretical problems of his day, but rather anticipated problems that would later be addressed mathematically.”  Bowles reckons that mainstream economics, in particular neoclassical marginalism, went on to sort out Marx’s failures by replacing his value theory.  And this has also led to dropping the idea of social ownership of the means of production to replace the capitalist mode. “Modern public economics, mechanism design and public choice theory has also challenged the notion – common among many latter-day Marxists, though not originating with Marx himself – that economic governance without private property and markets could be a viable system of economic governance.”
Apparently, all that is left of Marx’s legacy is what Bowles calls “despotism in the workplace”, the exploitive nature of capitalist production; which is not due to the exploitation of labour power for surplus value; but the ‘power structure’ where moguls and managers rule the roost over the worker serfs.  Thus we are reduced to a political theory (and even that is not much in common with Marx’s political theory for that matter) as Marx’s economic ideas are ‘outdated’ or false.
Well, all Bowles arguments (and those of Keynes and Samuelson) have been taken up by me in various posts in the past, and more thoroughly in my new book, Marx 200.  In short, we can show that Marx’s value theory is logical, consistent and backed empirically.  It even provides a compelling explanation of relative price movements in capitalism, though that is not its main aim.  Its main aim is to show the particular form that the capitalist mode of production takes in exploiting human labour for profit;  and why that system of exploitation has inherent contradictions that cannot be resolved without its abolition.
Moreover, the Marxist critique of capitalism is based on economics and leads to revolutionary political action; so it is not (just) a moral critique of ‘despotism’ in the workplace or anywhere else.  The market economy (capitalism) cannot deliver the full development of human potential because despotism in the workplace is a product of the exploitation of labour by capital.
Yanis Varoufakis recognises this in his long article on Marx and Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party to promote his new introduction to that masterpiece.  Varoufakis writes a colourful, if over flowery, article emphasising one great message of Marx and Engels’ CM: that capitalism is the first mode of production that has become global.  Varoufakis sees this process as only being completed with the fall of the Soviet Union and other ‘communist’ states that blocked globalisation until then. That is probably an exaggeration.  Capitalism from the start aimed to expand globally (as Marx and Engels explain in the CM).  After the end of the depression of the 1870 and 1880s, there was startling expansion of capital worldwide, now named imperialism, based on flows of capital and trade.
While correctly recognising the powerful (happy?) effect of capitalism globally, Varoufakis also emphasises the dark side: of alienation, exploitation, imperialism and despotism: “While celebrating how globalisation has shifted billions from abject poverty to relative poverty, venerable western newspapers, Hollywood personalities, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, bishops and even multibillionaire financiers all lament some of its less desirable ramifications: unbearable inequality, brazen greed, climate change, and the hijacking of our parliamentary democracies by bankers and the ultra-rich.”
And, contrary to the conventional mainstream view, Varoufakis argues that Marx and Engels were right that class struggle under capitalism can be boiled down to a battle between capital and labour.  “Society as a whole,” it argues, “is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.” As production is mechanised, and the profit margin of the machine-owners becomes our civilisation’s driving motive, society splits between non-working shareholders and non-owner wage-workers. As for the middle class, it is the dinosaur in the room, set for extinction.”
And he sees that capitalism must be replaced, not modified or corrected for its faults.  “It is our duty to tear away at the old notion of privately owned means of production and force a metamorphosis, which must involve the social ownership of machinery, land and resources.   Only by abolishing private ownership of the instruments of mass production and replacing it with a new type of common ownership that works in sync with new technologies, will we lessen inequality and find collective happiness.”
Varoufakis recognises the ‘irrationality’ of capitalism as a system for human progress and freedom, but this self-confessed ‘erratic Marxist’does not present the material explanation for this irrationality, apart from growing inequality and inability to use new technology to benefit all.  Capitalism also suffers from regular and recurrent crises of production that destroy and waste value created by human labour.  These crises are of ‘overproduction’, unique to capitalism and regularly throw human development backwards.  This aspect of capitalism’s irrationality is missing from Varoufakis’ article, although it was expressed vividly by Marx and Engels in the CM.  See the striking passage in CM where Marx and Engels start by explaining “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe” and finishes with “paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises and diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented”.
And a theory of crises is important.  People can live with rising inequality, with relative poverty even, even wars etc, as long as, for them, things improve gradually each year without break.  But gradual improvement in living standards is not possible because capitalism has regular and recurrent slumps in production, investment and employment built into its system, which can last for a generation in depressions – as Carney’s graphs show.  That is a fundamental character of capitalism’s irrationality.
Marx’s economic theories are often trashed or disputed – fair enough in a debate for truth.  But when each critical argument is analysed, it can be found to be weak, in my view.  Marx’s laws of motion of capitalism: the law of value; the law of accumulation and the law of profitability still provide the best and most compelling explanation of capitalism and its inherent contradictions.  And I am leaving out the great contribution that Marx and Engels made to the understanding of human historical development – the materialist conception and the history of class struggle – that lie at the basis of human actions. “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
As the Manifesto says (and Varoufakis echoes in his article), capitalism has taken the productive forces of human labour to unprecedented heights, but dialectically it has also brought new depths of depravity, exploitation and wars on a global scale.  Marx’s legacy is to show why that is and why capitalism cannot last if human society is to go forward to the “free development of each” as the “condition for the free development of all”.  Marx’s ideas remain even more relevant in the 21st century than the 19th.  But understanding is not enough.  As the epitaph on Marx’s tomb in Highgate cemetery, London inscribes from Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it”.

April 22, 2018

Trump‘s Red Line by Seymour M. Hersh published after Ist Trump air strike year in 2017,Welt.de






Trump‘s Red Line

Von Seymour M. Hersh |  





Retaliation: Tomahawk missiles from the "USS Porter" on the way to the Shayrat Air Base on April 6, 2017Retaliation: Tomahawk missiles from the "USS Porter" on the way to the Shayrat Air Base on April 6, 2017
Retaliation: Tomahawk missiles from the "USS Porter" on the way to the Shayrat Air Base on April 6, 2017
Quelle: picture alliance / Robert S. Pri/dpa Picture-Alliance / Robert S.
President Donald Trump ignored important intelligence reports when he decided to attack Syria after he saw pictures of dying children. Seymour M. Hersh investigated the case of the alleged Sarin gas attack.

On April 6, United States President Donald Trump authorized an early morning Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat Air Base in central Syria in retaliation for what he said was a deadly nerve agent attack carried out by the Syrian government two days earlier in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite having been warned by the U.S. intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.
The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack,  including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.
Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president's determination to ignore the evidence. "None of this makes any sense," one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. "We KNOW that there was no chemical attack ... the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth ... I guess it didn't matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.“
Within hours of the April 4 bombing, the world’s media was saturated with photographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pictures of dead and dying victims, allegedly suffering from the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning, were uploaded to social media by local activists, including the White Helmets, a first responder group known for its close association with the Syrian opposition.





Seymour M. Hersh exposed the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam 1968. He uncovered the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and many other stories about war and politics
Seymour M. Hersh exposed the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam 1968. He uncovered the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and many other stories about war and politics
Quelle: Getty Images/Getty Images North America
The provenance of the photos was not clear and no international observers have yet inspected the site, but the immediate popular assumption worldwide was that this was a deliberate use of the nerve agent sarin, authorized by President Bashar Assad of Syria. Trump endorsed that assumption by issuing a statement within hours of the attack, describing Assad’s "heinous actions" as being a consequence of the Obama administration’s "weakness and irresolution" in addressing what he said was Syria’s past use of chemical weapons.
To the dismay of many senior members of his national security team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense briefings and decision-making. In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4. In an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction, U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter (the Russians speak on behalf of the Syrian military). This information is supplied daily to the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor the flights once airborne. Deconfliction’s success and importance can be measured by the fact that there has yet to be one collision, or even a near miss, among the high-powered supersonic American, Allied, Russian and Syrian fighter bombers.
Russian and Syrian Air Force officers gave details of the carefully planned flight path to and from Khan Shiekhoun on April 4 directly, in English, to the deconfliction monitors aboard the AWACS plane, which was on patrol near the Turkish border, 60 miles or more to the north.
The Syrian target at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Americans at Doha, was depicted as a two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town. Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The two groups had recently joined forces, and controlled the town and surrounding area. Russian intelligence depicted the cinder-block building as a command and control center that housed a grocery and other commercial premises on its ground floor with other essential shops nearby, including a fabric shop and an electronics store.
"The rebels control the population by controlling the distribution of goods that people need to live – food, water, cooking oil, propane gas, fertilizers for growing their crops, and insecticides to protect the crops," a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, told me. The basement was used as storage for rockets, weapons and ammunition, as well as products that could be distributed for free to the community, among them medicines and chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial. The meeting place – a regional headquarters – was on the floor above. “It was an established meeting place,” the senior adviser said. “A long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition.
One reason for the Russian message to Washington about the intended target was to ensure that any CIA asset or informant who had managed to work his way into the jihadist leadership was forewarned not to attend the meeting. I was told that the Russians passed the warning directly to the CIA. “They were playing the game right,” the senior adviser said. The Russian guidance noted that the jihadist meeting was coming at a time of acute pressure for the insurgents: Presumably Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham were desperately seeking a path forward in the new political climate. In the last few days of March, Trump and two of his key national security aides – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley – had made statements acknowledging that, as the New York Times put it, the White House “has abandoned the goal” of pressuring Assad "to leave power, marking a sharp departure from the Middle East policy that guided the Obama administration for more than five years.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told a press briefing on March 31 that “there is a political reality that we have to accept,” implying that Assad was there to stay.
Russian and Syrian intelligence officials, who coordinate operations closely with the American command posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was special because of the high-value target. “It was a red-hot change. The mission was out of the ordinary – scrub the sked,” the senior adviser told me. “Every operations officer in the region" – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA and NSA – “had to know there was something going on. The Russians gave the Syrian Air Force a guided bomb and that was a rarity. They’re skimpy with their guided bombs and rarely share them with the Syrian Air Force. And the Syrians assigned their best pilot to the mission, with the best wingman.” The advance intelligence on the target, as supplied by the Russians, was given the highest possible score inside the American community.
The Execute Order governing U.S. military operations in theater, which was issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  provide instructions that demarcate the relationship between the American and Russian forces operating in Syria. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are authorized to do,’” the adviser said. “We do not share operational control with the Russians. We don’t do combined operations with them, or activities directly in support of one of their operations.  But coordination is permitted. We keep each other apprised of what’s happening and within this package is the mutual exchange of intelligence.  If we get a hot tip that could help the Russians do their mission, that’s coordination; and the Russians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a command and control facility,” the adviser added, referring to the target in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it." “This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear. Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?”





This photograph by the Syrian opposition (Edlib Media Center) shows the aftermath of a strike against the town of Khan Sheikhoun. A large building was hit, but it’s unclear were the strike took place exactly
This photograph by the Syrian opposition (Edlib Media Center) shows the aftermath of a strike against the town of Khan Sheikhoun. A large building was hit, but it’s unclear were the strike took place exactly
Quelle: picture alliance / ZUMAPRESS.com/Shalan Stewart
The target was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before midnight in Washington. A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered  a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. According to intelligence estimates, the senior adviser said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist leaders, and an unknown number of drivers and security aides. There is no confirmed count of the number of civilians killed by the poisonous gases that were released by the secondary explosions, although opposition activists reported that there were more than 80 dead, and outlets such as CNN have put the figure as high as 92. A team from Médecins Sans Frontières, treating victims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clinic 60 miles to the north, reported that “eight patients showed symptoms – including constricted pupils, muscle spasms and involuntary defecation – which are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds.” MSF also visited other hospitals that had received victims and found that patients there “smelled of bleach, suggesting that they had been exposed to chlorine.” In other words, evidence suggested that there was more than one chemical responsible for the symptoms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syrian Air Force – as opposition activists insisted – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no percussive or ignition power to trigger secondary explosions. The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.
The internet swung into action within hours, and gruesome photographs of the victims flooded television networks and YouTube. U.S. intelligence was tasked with establishing what had happened. Among the pieces of information received was an intercept of Syrian communications collected before the attack by an allied nation. The intercept, which had a particularly strong effect on some of Trump’s aides, did not mention nerve gas or sarin, but it did quote a Syrian general discussing a “special” weapon and the need for a highly skilled pilot to man the attack plane. The reference, as those in the American intelligence community understood, and many of the inexperienced aides and family members close to Trump may not have, was to a Russian-supplied bomb with its built-in guidance system. “If you’ve already decided it was a gas attack, you will then inevitably read the talk about a special weapon as involving a sarin bomb,” the adviser said. “Did the Syrians plan the attack on Khan Sheikhoun? Absolutely. Do we have intercepts to prove it? Absolutely. Did they plan to use sarin? No. But the president did not say: ‘We have a problem and let’s look into it.’ He wanted to bomb the shit out of Syria.”
At the UN the next day, Ambassador Haley created a media sensation when she displayed photographs of the dead and accused Russia of being complicit. “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” she asked. NBC News, in a typical report that day, quoted American officials as confirming that nerve gas had been used and Haley tied the attack directly to Syrian President Assad. "We know that yesterday’s attack was a new low even for the barbaric Assad regime,” she said. There was irony in America's rush to blame Syria and criticize Russia for its support of Syria's denial of any use of gas in Khan Sheikhoun, as Ambassador Haley and others in Washington did. "What doesn't occur to most Americans" the adviser said, "is if there had been a Syrian nerve gas attack authorized by Bashar, the Russians would be 10 times as upset as anyone in the West. Russia’s strategy against ISIS, which involves getting American cooperation, would have been destroyed and Bashar would be responsible for pissing off Russia, with unknown consequences for him. Bashar would do that? When he’s on the verge of winning the war? Are you kidding me?”
Trump, a constant watcher of television news, said, while King Abdullah of Jordan was sitting next to him in the Oval Office, that what had happened was “horrible, horrible” and a “terrible affront to humanity.” Asked if his administration would change its policy toward the Assad government, he said: “You will see.” He gave a hint of the response to come at the subsequent news conference with King Abdullah: “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies – babies, little babies – with a chemical gas that is so lethal  ... that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line . ... That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact ... It’s very, very possible ... that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
Within hours of viewing the photos, the adviser said, Trump instructed the national defense apparatus to plan for retaliation against Syria. “He did this before he talked to anybody about it. The planners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evidence that Syria had sarin stored at a nearby airport or somewhere in the area. Their military had to have it somewhere in the area in order to bomb with it.” “The answer was, ‘We have no evidence that Syria had sarin or used it,’” the adviser said. “The CIA also told them that there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian SU-24 bombers had taken off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.” Everyone involved, except perhaps the president, also understood that a highly skilled United Nations team had spent more than a year in the aftermath of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syria, removing what was said to be all chemical weapons from a dozen Syrian chemical weapons depots.
At this point, the adviser said, the president’s national security planners were more than a little rattled: “No one knew the provenance of the photographs. We didn’t know who the children were or how they got hurt. Sarin actually is very easy to detect because it penetrates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sample. We knew there was a cloud and we knew it hurt people. But you cannot jump from there to certainty that Assad had hidden sarin from the UN because he wanted to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.” The intelligence made clear that a Syrian Air Force SU-24 fighter bomber had used a conventional weapon to hit its target: There had been no chemical warhead. And yet it was impossible for the experts to persuade the president of this once he had made up his mind. “The president saw the photographs of poisoned little girls and said it was an Assad atrocity,” the senior adviser said. “It’s typical of human nature. You jump to the conclusion you want. Intelligence analysts do not argue with a president. They’re not going to tell the president, ‘if you interpret the data this way, I quit.’”





President Donald J. Trump with some of his closest advisors at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, 2017 at a top secret briefing on the results of the missile strike on Shayat Air Base
President Donald J. Trump with some of his closest advisors at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, 2017 at a top secret briefing on the results of the missile strike on Shayat Air Base
Quelle: picture alliance/ASSOCIATED PRESS/AP Content
The national security advisers understood their dilemma: Trump wanted to respond to the affront to humanity committed by Syria and he did not want to be dissuaded. They were dealing with a man they considered to be not unkind and not stupid, but his limitations when it came to national security decisions were severe. "Everyone close to him knows his proclivity for acting precipitously when he does not know the facts," the adviser said. "He doesn’t read anything and has no real historical knowledge. He wants verbal briefings and photographs. He’s a risk-taker. He can accept the consequences of a bad decision in the business world; he will just lose money. But in our world, lives will be lost and there will be long-term damage to our national security if he guesses wrong. He was told we did not have evidence of Syrian involvement and yet Trump says: 'Do it.”’
On April 6, Trump convened a meeting of national security officials at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The meeting was not to decide what to do, but how best to do it – or, as some wanted, how to do the least and keep Trump happy. “The boss knew before the meeting that they didn’t have the intelligence, but that was not the issue,” the adviser said. “The meeting was about, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do,' and then he gets the options.”
The available intelligence was not relevant. The most experienced man at the table was Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who had the president’s respect and understood, perhaps, how quickly that could evaporate. Mike Pompeo, the CIA director whose agency had consistently reported that it had no evidence of a Syrian chemical bomb, was not present. Secretary of State Tillerson was admired on the inside for his willingness to work long hours and his avid reading of diplomatic cables and reports, but he knew little about waging war and the management of a bombing raid. Those present were in a bind, the adviser said. “The president was emotionally energized by the disaster and he wanted options.” He got four of them, in order of extremity. Option one was to do nothing. All involved, the adviser said, understood that was a non-starter. Option two was a slap on the wrist: to bomb an airfield in Syria, but only after alerting the Russians and, through them, the Syrians, to avoid too many casualties. A few of the planners called this the “gorilla option”: America would glower and beat its chest to provoke fear and demonstrate resolve, but cause little significant damage. The third option was to adopt the strike package that had been presented to Obama in 2013, and which he ultimately chose not to pursue. The plan called for the massive bombing of the main Syrian airfields and command and control centers using B1 and B52 aircraft launched from their bases in the U.S. Option four was “decapitation”: to remove Assad by bombing his palace in Damascus, as well as his command and control network and all of the underground bunkers he could possibly retreat to in a crisis.
“Trump ruled out option one off the bat,” the senior adviser said, and the assassination of Assad was never considered. “But he said, in essence: ‘You’re the military and I want military action.’” The president was also initially opposed to the idea of giving the Russians advance warning before the strike, but reluctantly accepted it. “We gave him the Goldilocks option – not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” The discussion had its bizarre moments. Tillerson wondered at the Mar-a-Lago meeting why the president could not simply call in the B52 bombers and pulverize the air base. He was told that B52s were very vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in the area and using such planes would require suppression fire that could kill some Russian defenders.  “What is that?” Tillerson asked. Well, sir, he was told, that means we would have to destroy the upgraded SAM sites along the B52 flight path, and those are manned by Russians, and we possibly would be confronted with a much more difficult situation. “The lesson here was: Thank God for the military men at the meeting,” the adviser said. "They did the best they could when confronted with a decision that had already been made."
Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles were fired from two U.S. Navy destroyers on duty in the Mediterranean, the Ross and the Porter, at Shayrat Air Base near the government-controlled city of Homs. The strike was as successful as hoped, in terms of doing minimal damage. The missiles have a light payload – roughly 220 pounds of HBX, the military’s modern version of TNT. The airfield’s gasoline storage tanks, a primary target, were pulverized, the senior adviser said, triggering a huge fire and clouds of smoke that interfered with the guidance system of following missiles. As many as 24 missiles missed their targets and only a few of the Tomahawks actually penetrated into hangars, destroying nine Syrian aircraft, many fewer than claimed by the Trump administration. I was told that none of the nine was operational: such damaged aircraft are what the Air Force calls hangar queens. “They were sacrificial lambs,” the senior adviser said. Most of the important personnel and operational fighter planes had been flown to nearby bases hours before the raid began. The two runways and parking places for aircraft, which had also been targeted, were repaired and back in operation within eight hours or so. All in all, it was little more than an expensive fireworks display.
“It was a totally Trump show from beginning to end,” the senior adviser said. “A few of the president’s senior national security advisers viewed the mission as a minimized bad presidential decision, and one that they had an obligation to carry out. But I don’t think our national security people are going to allow themselves to be hustled into a bad decision again. If Trump had gone for option three, there might have been some immediate resignations.”
After the meeting, with the Tomahawks on their way, Trump spoke to the nation from Mar-a-Lago, and accused Assad of using nerve gas to choke out “the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many ... No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” The next few days were his most successful as president. America rallied around its commander in chief, as it always does in times of war. Trump, who had campaigned as someone who advocated making peace with Assad, was bombing Syria 11 weeks after taking office, and was hailed for doing so by Republicans, Democrats and the media alike. One prominent TV anchorman, Brian Williams of MSNBC, used the word “beautiful” to describe the images of the Tomahawks being launched at sea. Speaking on CNN, Fareed Zakaria said: “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States.” A review of the top 100 American newspapers showed that 39 of them published editorials supporting the bombing in its aftermath, including the New York TimesWashington Post and Wall Street Journal.





The Tomahawk missiles only did little damage to the Syrian air base
The Tomahawk missiles only did little damage to the Syrian air base
Quelle: AP Photo/HM BH
Five days later, the Trump administration gathered the national media for a background briefing on the Syrian operation that was conducted by a senior White House official who was not to be identified. The gist of the briefing was that Russia’s heated and persistent denial of any sarin use in the Khan Sheikhoun bombing was a lie because President Trump had said sarin had been used. That assertion, which was not challenged or disputed by any of the reporters present, became the basis for a series of further criticisms:
     - The continued lying by the Trump administration about Syria’s use of sarin led to widespread belief in the American media and public  that Russia had  chosen to be involved in a corrupt disinformation and cover-up campaign on the part of Syria. 
     - Russia’s military forces had been co-located with Syria’s at the Shayrat airfield (as they are throughout Syria), raising the possibility that Russia had advance notice of Syria’s determination to use sarin at Khan Sheikhoun and did nothing to stop it.
      - Syria’s use of sarin and Russia’s defense of that use strongly suggested that Syria withheld stocks of the nerve agent from the UN disarmament team that spent much of 2014 inspecting and removing all declared chemical warfare agents from 12 Syrian chemical weapons depots, pursuant to the agreement worked out by the Obama administration and Russia after Syria’s alleged, but still unproven, use of sarin the year before against a rebel redoubt in a suburb of Damascus.
The briefer, to his credit, was careful to use the words “think,” “suggest” and “believe” at least 10 times during the 30-minute event. But he also said that his briefing was based on data that had been declassified by “our colleagues in the intelligence community.” What the briefer did not say, and may not have known, was that much of the classified information in the community made the point that Syria had not used sarin in the April 4 bombing attack.
The mainstream press responded the way the White House had hoped it would: Stories attacking Russia’s alleged cover-up of Syria’s sarin use dominated the news and many media outlets ignored the briefer’s myriad caveats. There was a sense of renewed Cold War. The New York Times, for example – America’s leading newspaper – put the following headline on its account: “White House Accuses Russia of Cover-Up in Syria Chemical Attack.” The Times’ account did note a Russian denial, but what was described by the briefer as “declassified information” suddenly became a “declassified intelligence report.” Yet there was no formal intelligence report stating that Syria had used sarin, merely a "summary based on declassified information about the attacks," as the briefer referred to it.
The crisis slid into the background by the end of April, as Russia, Syria and the United States remained focused on annihilating ISIS and the militias of al-Qaida. Some of those who had worked through the crisis, however, were left with lingering concerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,” the senior adviser to the U.S. intelligence community told me, referring to the flare up of tensions between Syria, Russia and America. “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”
The White House did not answer specific questions about the bombing of Khan Sheikhoun and the airport of Shayrat. These questions were send via e-mail to the White House on June 15 and never answered.   

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A timely reminder:: Seymour M. Hersh on the chemical attacks trail back to the Syrian rebels, 17 April 2014

Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels Vol. 36 No. 8 · 17 April 2014  London Review of Books pages 21-24 | 5870 words ...