Bill Weinberg

Can Assad (and Putin) reconquer all Syria?

This week's recapture of the Wadi Barada enclave outside Damascus by the Bashar Assad regime's forces points to a deft strategy by the regime and its Russian backers. The valley had been excluded from the supposed "ceasefire" because of the presence there of a small number of fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham—the former Nusra Front, which was officially excluded from the ceasefire. This means, effectively, the ceasefire not only doesn't apply to ex-Nusra, but also does not apply to any forces that have (often of necessity) allied with ex-Nusra—or even that just happen to be near ex-Nusra and not actively fighting them. This strategy seems to have had the desired effect. Nusra's former ally, Ahrar al-Sham, is now reported to have turned on Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, sparking an internal civil war within rebel-held areas of Idlib governorate. (Al Jazeera, Feb. 2; Al Jazeera, Jan. 29)

White nationalist-Zionist alliance fraying already?

When we first noted the strange alliance of the Trump White House, we observed that we will now see how much overt Nazism conservative Jews and Zionists will be able to stomach in exchange for an aggressively pro-Israel position. Are things already approaching a breaking point? First, on Jan. 27, the White House issued a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that actually failed to mention Jews at all—prompting white nationalist mouthpiece Richard Spencer to applaud Trump's "de-Judification" of the Holocaust. And now, the White House has apparently warned Israel against further West Bank settlement building. Following Steve Bannon's ascension to the National Security Council, are the open Jew-haters on team Trump really starting to muscle out the ultra-Zionists?

Philippines strongman threatens martial law

In his latest outrage, the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte now threatened to actually impose martial law across the country if the drug problem becomes "very virulent." Reuters on Jan. 16 quoted him as saying: "If I wanted to, and it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law. No one can stop me." In a comment apparently directed at the Supreme Court and Congress, he voiced open defiance of legal norms: "My country transcends everything else, even the limitations."

Orwellian exploitation of Quebec mosque attack

President Trump's Jan. 28 executive order barring nationals of seven Middle East countries from entering the US was immediately followed by the burning of a mosque in the south Texas town of Victoria. Two days after that, six were killed and eight others injured when at least two gunmen opened fire at a mosque in Quebec City. The attack came as worshippers were gathered for evening prayers at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. (Montreal Gazete) Now, amazingly, the White House is exploiting the Quebec attack to justify the very policy that may have inspired it. "We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," press secretary Sean Spicer said at his daily briefing Jan. 30. "It's a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant, and why the president is taking steps to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to our nation's safety and security." (Toronto Star)

White nationalist to National Security Council

President Trump on Jan. 29 reorganized the National Security Council, elevating his chief strategist Steve Bannon and demoting the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Alt-right" mouthpiece Bannon will join the NSC's inner-core "principals committee." Access to the NSC for a White House strategist is unprecedented. Bannon will serve under National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, a recently retired general who is the Trump administration's most extreme Islamophobe. (NYT, NPR, BBC News)

Trump's Syria plan: 'safe zones' or kill zones?

President Trump said Jan. 25 that he "will absolutely do safe zones in Syria" for those displaced by violence, and a leaked draft of his impending executive order apparently directs the State Department and Pentagon to present a plan to him within 90 days. But this was presented in explicitly xenophobic terms—not humanitarian. In making the announcement, he dissed Europe's leaders for taking in Syrian refugees. Trump said that Germany and other European countries made a "tremendous mistake by allowing these millions of people... I don't want that to happen here." (LATReuters)

Trump approves pipelines, withdraws from TPP: contradiction?

President Trump on Jan. 24 signed orders giving the go-ahead for construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, which had been halted by the Obama administration. Obama's State Department rejected a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Army Corps of Engineers had ordered work halted on the Dakota pipeline after weeks of protests by Native American groups and their activist allies. In a signing statement, Trump said the Keystone XL project will mean "a lot of jobs, 28,000 construction jobs, great construction jobs." In its own statement, TransCanada, the company seeking to build Keystone XL, said it "appreciate[s] the President of the United States inviting us to re-apply for KXL. We are currently preparing the application and intend to do so."

Russia 'withdraws' from Syria —not

Remember the reports of a Russian "withdrawl" from Syria over the summer? They were immediately followed, of course, by a massive escalation of Russia's military intervention, with the destruction of Aleppo by Moscow's warplanes. Let's hope we are not in for a replay. With the departure of most of Russian's war fleet from Syria's coast—most prominently, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov—CNN last week reported: "Russia 'starts to withdraw' forces from Syria." The Interpreter, a neo-Kremlinologist website, flatly contradicts this. It finds that most Russian combat operations have been flown out of ground bases in Syria, not the carrier. At Hmeymim air base (also rendered Khmeimim and Hemeimeem) in Latakia governorate, Russia has now deployed Iskander ballistic missiles, capable of hitting anywhere in Syria and even beyond its borders. Far from withdrawing, The Interpreter says that Russia is "just getting started" with a military build-up in Syria.

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