Vladimir Putin writes

August 29, 2016

Aleppo, a city now in ruins thanks to Assad, Putin, Iran and Hizbullah – and some would add Obama. In what is almost the equivalent of Holocaust denial, the New York Times provided a prominent platform for Putin to claim that Assad was not responsible for the mass chemical attack that he carried out on Sunni civilians in 2013



[Note by Tom Gross]

Not only does the New York Times often invite anti-Israeli contributors to spread dangerous propaganda on its opinion pages, but it sometimes invites other propagandists too.

As a reminder of this, I attach a piece that the New York Times asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to write three years ago about Syria in support of President Obama.

I am sending it again now, at the time that the Russian airforce, backed up by thousands of Iranian and Hizbullah ground troops, continues to pound Syria’s biggest city Aleppo on behalf of the Assad regime, indiscriminately killing civilians. They are also encouraging the Assad regime to continue to use particularly destructive barrel bombs, and chemical weapons, on civilians.

Putin’s piece effectively helped President Obama (for whom the New York Times is a virtual mouthpiece) to make his case against stopping Assad after his previous chemical attacks on women and children. At that time it would have been relatively easy to set up a no-fly zone to prevent the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians by the regime and its allies. (Isis has killed only a relatively small number of civilians in comparison to Assad, and it has killed fewer since its inception than the Russian airforce have killed in Syria this spring and summer alone.)

Obama defied almost all his senior foreign policy team, including John Kerry, when he decided not to stop Assad at that time. As a result, hundreds of thousand have been killed and injured and millions more have fled into Europe and neighboring Arab states.

(Putin’s New York Times piece appeared online on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and in the print edition the next day.)

After that I attach a new piece by Lee Smith outlining the collusion by Obama (and by his cheerleaders in the American media) with the murderous Iranian regime over Syria and much else.

And finally I attach an obituary in The Economist magazine of Qusai Abtini, sit-com star of Aleppo, who has been killed by a missile, aged 14

(The Economist runs only one obituary each week. This is the same series my late father was featured in. Or here.)

-- Tom Gross



A Plea for Caution From Russia
By Vladimir V. Putin
New York Times
September 11, 2013


MOSCOW – Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization – the United Nations – was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack – this time against Israel – cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

(Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.)



Deal with the Devil
By Lee Smith
The Weekly Standard
September 5, 2016 edition

In an interview last week for his new book The Iran Wars, Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal told Andrea Mitchell that Iran in 2013 had threatened to pull out of nuclear talks if the United States hit Bashar al-Assad’s forces over the Syrian dictator’s use of chemical weapons. The Obama administration quickly denied this. “Not true,” tweeted White House aide Ned Price.

Of course it’s true. And if it weren’t, Barack Obama would have a lot of explaining to do. Why else did he allow Assad to violate Obama’s own “red line” with impunity? Why did he jeopardize American interests and endanger allies throughout the Middle East? Why else did he allow a refugee crisis to destabilize Europe? Why has he done nothing to stop the slaughter of nearly half a million Syrians?

Obama himself publicly acknowledged that he won’t interfere with Iranian interests in Syria. In a December 2015 White House press conference, the president spoke of respecting Iranian “equities” in the Levant. That means preservation of the Assad regime, a vital Iranian interest since it serves as a supply line for Iranian weapons earmarked for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The White House was so serious about respecting this particular “equity” that it repeatedly leaked details of Israeli strikes on Iranian arms convoys. Obama wanted to show the Iranians his bona fides as a negotiating partner.

A nuclear deal with Iran has been Obama’s foreign policy priority since he first sat in the Oval Office. The agreement would pave the way for a broader realignment in the Middle East – downgrading traditional American allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia and upgrading Iran – and thus allow the United States to minimize its footprint in the region. With so much at stake, including his hunger for a personal legacy, Obama didn’t dare risk alienating Iran by targeting Assad.

The real deal that Obama made with the mullahs has been clear for some time now: They got to keep their client in Syria, and Obama got his “historic” achievement. So why not just spin the press and claim that laying off Assad was part of the price America paid for Obama’s stunning diplomatic triumph? Indeed, last we heard from Ned Price, the White House aide was bragging to the New York Times Magazine about manipulating the media. “The easiest way for the White House to shape the news,” Price explained,
is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn’t want to name them – “ …“And the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”

So why won’t the administration just tap its “compadres” now and get the message out? Because of Omran Daqneesh. He’s the 5-year-old Syrian boy whose bloodied and shell-shocked visage was splashed across the international media last week. He was pulled out of the rubble left by a Syrian or Russian bombing run, and then sat in an ambulance in a nearly catatonic state as photographers snapped his picture. Omran instantly embodied the senseless waste of a five-and-a-half-year war that has taken nearly half a million lives, including thousands of children just like Omran. “The babies are dying in Aleppo,” wrote the New Yorker’s Robin Wright.

Sure – they’re dying. But who is responsible? Wright left that part out. Yes, the Islamic State has killed lots of people in Syria. Reports last week, however, showed that Russia has killed more civilians than ISIS, which doesn’t use planes to kill. Either the Assad regime or its Russian allies are dropping bombs that kill babies so as to prop up Iran’s ally, the one Obama left alone to seal his deal with Tehran.

And that’s why, in this one instance, the White House has been loath to reach out to its compadres and preen about the tough real-world choices Obama made to get his nuclear deal with Iran. Because those choices were gruesome, and they undercut the image of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize recipient as a man of reason, wisdom, courage, and compassion – an image the press coauthored.

In the narrative preferred by the administration and its media compadres, Obama heroically defied a gauntlet of warmongering Republicans who were akin to the hardliners of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in their opposition to the nuclear deal. The image of a 5-year-old Syrian boy covered in the rubble left by the IRGC and its allies points to an altogether different kinship. The regime Obama accommodated is party to the slaughter of infants. The only technique the White House has at its disposal in this case is to lie and deny the facts.

No one who used a position in the press to help sell the Iran deal wants to look very closely at the consequences. But these are the facts. Obama’s national security staff advised, almost unanimously, backing the anti-Assad rebels. Obama rejected their counsel. And he did so not out of a judicious desire to keep America out of another Middle East conflict but to make nice with Tehran. He supported the side waging a campaign of sectarian cleansing. The administration shared intelligence with units of the Lebanese Army controlled by Hezbollah. It forced Syrian rebel groups that the United States had trained and armed to sign documents promising they wouldn’t attack Assad, the despot ordering the torture and murder of their families and friends. In this way, Obama protected the man who bombs 5-year-olds.

Most tellingly, Obama gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief. The policy could have been to not return the money until Iran withdrew all forces from Syria and support for Assad. Obama could have said, I don’t care if only one American penny from these billions is used to save Assad’s scalp, we won’t be complicit in the murder of innocents. Iran gets no sanctions relief until they are out of Syria. But he didn’t. No, the White House talking points hold that the tens of billions in sanctions relief, as well as the $1.7 billion in ransom money paid in exchange for American hostages, was all Iran’s money to begin with. Money to do with as it wishes.

The price Obama paid to ink an agreement with Iran continues to mount. What’s certain is that to get that agreement, Obama made his peace with Assad ruling over Syria and prosecuting a war that has claimed half a million lives so far. For the White House and its surrogates in the media, the moral reckoning for that deal is still to come.



Qusai Abtini, sit-com star of Aleppo, was killed on July 8th, aged 14
The Economist
Aug 13, 2016

WHEN you saw Qusai Abtini on his TV sit-com, “Umm Abdou the Aleppan”, he appeared as the typical father-figure of a struggling Syrian household. Dressed in greasy blue overalls, he would trudge home from his workshop and throw a bag of shopping at his wife, Umm Abdou, ordering her to cook supper. More mellow afterwards, he would lounge in his white cap and dishdasha on the sofa, picking his teeth and patting his stomach while his wife served up his glass of coffee. As she carried on (for Umm Abdou, played by his 11-year-old schoolfriend Rasha, was wilful, beautiful, full of half-crazed ideas, and never stopped talking), he would keep a lordly silence, occasionally stroking an imaginary beard. Then, after an affectionate put-down, he would waddle off. Everything was exactly observed; and only the occasional too-broad bucktooth grin, or an unprofessional glance to camera, would betray the fact that patriarch Abu Abdou was a child.

He was one of around 100,000 children, roughly one-third of the population, in the eastern part of Aleppo, which for months and years has been fought over by the forces of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian rebels. Thousands have died. With the arrival of the Russians on the government side, fighting has intensified to break the rebel hold on the east of the city. Qusai was one of those for whom school had become intermittent and street football too dangerous, with days spent inside instead, watching TV when the power was on, or reading by candlelight when it went off. A lot of time was spent queuing for bread, and too much time dreading the barrel bombs that would bounce down across the blue sky. In June his house was hit by rockets, and his father badly wounded.

This war zone was the background of his sit-com, made by opposition activists and aired on the rebel channel Halab Today TV. Qusai and the other children had been recruited from the Abdulrahman Ghaafiqi school, where he had started acting in the seventh grade. All the filming took place in Aleppo’s Old Town, through ancient archways and narrow streets with cast-iron grilles. But the child-actors also scurried past piles of rubble and burned-out cars, sometimes ending at half-bombed buildings that seemed ready to fall about their ears. Abu Abdou’s “home” seemed cosy enough, with rich carpets draped on an ornate sofa and, in one episode, even fresh apples and carrots for him to gorge on. But a closer look showed wires dangling, paint peeling, the potted palms thick with dust and bullet holes in the walls. The sound of shelling, and sometimes of close explosions that made everyone jump, rumbled behind their chatter.

Qusai’s job, and Rasha’s, was to entertain Aleppans despite it all. Umm Abdou was forever complaining about the lack of power, lack of water (which meant she had to do all the washing by hand in a plastic bowl), lack of a signal for her large mobile phone, the state of the city, the Assad regime and the way no one seemed to be filming the bloodshed properly, “so that other countries can’t see what’s happening to us”. Abu Abdou was lazier and more stoical. Umm Abdou wanted to start a women’s rebel army; he deterred her by pretending to see a mouse under the sofa, reminding “you woman”, as he loftily called her, how easily terrified she was. When he briefly joined the rebels himself, he was ambushed by Assad’s men and limped home with a bandaged head — all his wife’s fault, for gossiping about his sortie to the neighbours.


Qusai already had half a foot in that world. He joined his first street protests when he was eight, sitting shouting on the shoulders of his elder brother Assad. In later demonstrations he strode fearless at the front, the fresh, cheeky face of Aleppo’s defiance. Assad joined the Free Syrian Army; Qusai signed up to a first-aider course at Jerusalem hospital. His acting career included video tours lamenting the state of ruined Aleppo, and school plays in which he played a rebel soldier in full fighting gear, drawing cheers from the parents for his speeches. In one theatre show he was “killed” by a sniper outside a bar and draped by his “mother” with a Syrian flag, the proper rites for a martyr.

By this year he was getting too old to play a child playing a man. The second series of the sit-com, made in June, starred a boy called Subhi in the part of Abu Abdou instead. Qusai was getting tall, and his schoolteacher noticed that his ambitions were growing with him, to be a serious actor and a star in his own right. Offstage, he went around in camouflage trousers and a hoodie that helped to disguise how young he was. Looking in the mirror, brushing his thick hair and practising a slighter, poutier smile, he was beginning to see the face of a celebrated fighter or a juvenile lead.

It was not to be, because as the battle worsened and Aleppo fell under seige his father decided to get him out. Subhi, his replacement, had already fled to Turkey with his family. By July, only one “humanitarian route” remained open out of the city. They took it, but a shell or a missile hit the car. His father survived; he did not.

He was mourned as the “little hero” who had made Aleppo laugh. His hopes had been for much bigger things, when he was really a man.


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