Vietnam Now

22 April 1995

John Pilger reported the Vietnam War for a decade, right up until the last day. Twenty years on he returns to find a country facing a new battle. This time there are no bombs and there is no napalm. But already the civilian casualties are mounting again.

Vietnam is fashionable. At Saigon airport there are backpackers and conga lines of package tourists, and Taiwanese businessmen watching Mr Bean. They almost cancel nostalgia and the memory of fear, but not the absurd. At Cu Chi, a drive from the city, they descend on the scene of one of the war’s most remarkable chapters: the tunnels where soldiers of the National Liberation Front (Vietcong was an American term) crawled through insects and snakes with the technology of a ‘free fire zone’ rampant above them.

Now teenage girls dress up as wartime guerrillas, guiding tourists through the bomb craters and shooing them off the new grass. Like so much else in the new Vietnam, the army has turned itself into a business and runs the tunnels like a theme park. They have thoughtfully widened the tunnels for large tourists and put in a shooting range where, for a dollar a shot, Americans can relive all the fun of Rambo and Platoon. There is the choice of an American M-16 rifle or a Vietnamese AK-47. And if you hit a bullseye you win a genuine, black and white checked Vietcong scarf. People line up to do this.

There are no tourists at the American embassy in Saigon, which stands empty awaiting the return of the Americans. The other day I walked through its six floors. One fluorescent tube flickered; a time switch clicked on and off; a jammed lavatory flushed and flushed. The door of the embassy vault was open and a sign read: ‘This is a US Government Security Vault Door Class 5. In case of radiological attack it will close for 20 man-hours’. I climbed up to the helicopter pad on the roof, where there were two striking views: one of a giant Vietnamese flag, red with a yellow star, and the other, looking down, of the cesspool of the embassy swimming pool, the water unchanged for 20 years.

APRIL 29, 1975: Another Jolly Green Giant helicopter had just landed on the roof, the thudding syncopation of its rotaries invoking a menace I shall always associate with helicopters. Looking up from the courtyard, I could just see it through smoke billowing from an incinerator on the roof attended by silhouetted figures running to and fro with sacks. The surreal was guaranteed on the last day of the longest war this century. Now the sky rained money. Swept up in the draught of the rotary blades a snow storm of dollar bills fluttered down: tens, twenties, fifties, one hundreds. Former ministers in the Saigon regime, and generals and torturers, scrambled for their redundancy pay from the sky or sent children to retrieve the notes. An embassy official whispered that more than five million dollars were being burned. “Every safe has been emptied and locked again,” he said with a smile, “so as to fool the gooks when we’re gone.” His satisfaction was understandable. Several embassy staff had suggested that the ambassador, Graham Martin, might use the money to further delay the evacuation and buy time, literally, by bribing the fast approaching People’s Army of Vietnam into agreeing to a ‘decent interval’ so that the remnants of the American-supported regime might be accepted into an interim government. This would give America, the ambassador was said to argue, the fabled ‘peace with honour’ made famous by Richard Nixon and his Rasputin figure, Henry Kissinger.

From early morning the Marine at the embassy gates had a clipboard and a list. “Look, it’s me… let me in… thank you very much.” The shrill voice in the crowd laying siege to the embassy on April 29, the last day, belonged to Lieut-General Dang Van Quang, whose wealth was notorious in South Vietnam. To his American mentors, who loathed him, he was ‘Giggles’ and ‘General Fats’. He was on the list, and the marine helped him squeeze his bulk through, then retrieved his three Samsonite bags. Giggles was so relieved that he walked away, leaving his son in the crowd. Two packets of dollars sagged from his breast pocket; and when they were pointed out to him, he stuffed them back, joking, or not, that the Samsonites held more of the same.

Much of the drama of this gathering finale appeared not to invade Graham Martin’s sound-proofed, mahogany-panelled office on the sixth floor where the ambassador sat, often alone, with Nitnoy, his poodle. Whether the bribery story was true or mischievous, it was clear that Martin could barely bring himself to contemplate the ignominy of America’s departure from Indochina. A few days earlier he had made an extraordinary appearance on Saigon television at his own request. “I, the American ambassador,” he said gravely, “am not going to run away in the middle of the night. Anyone can come to my home and see I have not packed my bags… I give you my word.” The camera panned to a pointedly empty suitcase beside him.

The last proconsul was a private, strong-willed and complex man. His desk was dominated by a photograph of his son in uniform, who had died in the war nine years earlier. He was also sick; his skin was skeined grey from weeks of pneumonia; he chain-smoked, and conversations with him were frequently interrupted by bouts of coughing. For months he had tried in vain to convince Washington that its client state could survive with an iron ring of bombs laid around Saigon by B-52s flying in relays.

Graham Martin was the embodiment of America’s mission in Vietnam; he was one of those who had, as the historian Gabriel Kolko wrote in his seminal Anatomy of a War, a ‘penchant for illusions and symbolism that made them the only true ideologists of the war’. Martin’s symbol, as the end approached, was a tree: a great tamarind which commanded the lawns of his embassy. Unless it was cut down the Jolly Green Giant pilots, flying in from carriers in the South China Sea, would be unable to land and a full-scale evacuation would not be possible.

The ambassador had made it clear that once that tree fell “America’s prestige will fall with it”. When a pre-dawn meeting in his office on April 29 broke up without a decision on the tree, there were those who believed that the last proconsul was planning to burn with Rome. At 6.30am someone gave the order for the tree to be felled. (The CIA Station Chief, Tom Polgar, was the prime suspect.) Soon afterwards American Forces Radio broadcast the evacuation signal: Bing Crosby singing ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’. (Evacuees had been advised in writing to ‘bring along two changes of clothing, a raincoat, a sewing kit, an umbrella, a can opener, insect repellent, your marriage certificate, a power of attorney and your will . . . Unfortunately, you must leave your automobile behind.’) In the amazing aerial Dunkirk that followed some 7,000 people were lifted out of Saigon in less than 18 hours.

At 2.30am on April 30 Kissinger phoned Martin and told him to be out by 3.45. Within half an hour Martin emerged from his office with the Stars and Stripes folded in a carrier bag. He caught the lift to the roof and climbed the iron stairs to the Tarmac. “Lady Ace 09 in the air with Code Two,” crackled the Marine radio. Code Two was the call sign for an American ambassador. As his helicopter banked over Highway One, he could see the silhouettes of the tanks and trucks of the People’s Army of Vietnam, waiting. The war was over.

Ho Chi Minh’s nationalists had fought 30 years of war first against the French, whose tree-lined boulevards, pink-wash villas and Odeon terraces were the facades of an unrelenting exploitation; then against the Japanese, with whom the French colons duly collaborated; then against the British, who came to take the Japanese surrender and re-armed them so that they could put down the Vietminh and restore the French; then against the Americans; then against Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge who attacked from the west; then against the Chinese, Pol Pot’s protectors, who attacked from the north. All of them were seen off, at immeasurable cost. The story of Mrs Thai Thi Tinh is not untypical.

A diminutive, white-haired woman of 84, Mrs Tinh lives in an area of Hanoi that might have been laid out in the Middle Ages. There are streets of workers in ivory, brass and leather, streets of tinsmiths and coffin-makers, hatters and herbalists. These streets, not the spacious, French-built centre of the city, were the targets of the B-52s that Nixon and Kissinger sent during Christmas, 1972. Mrs Tinh’s house was not hit. She remembers only “the great roar” in the sky and the ground above the shelter “splitting open like an earthquake”.

Her life exemplifies the suffering and sacrifice of the Vietnamese in the 20th century. She lost five of her eight children, the first two in a meningitis epidemic for which there were no drugs. Her eldest son died at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which was decisive in driving the French out of Indochina. Her next son, Khang, was killed shortly afterwards in the liberation of Hanoi. Her husband, a doctor in Ho Chi Minh’s resistance, was killed evacuating the wounded from Hanoi. She had no idea then that America was ‘the next enemy’. Her youngest, Luong, was killed by the Americans in 1967. A few years ago she went to Cu Chi where Luong died and erected a dinh, a shrine, and prayed for him and the others, and wore their medals.

I FIRST met Thien Thi Tao in Saigon shortly after the end of the war, and I never forgot her words when she heard that it was all over. “My heart flies,” she said.

Then, at the age of 28, she walked with a limp. She had spent most of her youth in torture centres run by the South Vietnamese secret police, a terror organisation established, trained and run by teams from the CIA and Michigan State University. (According to Amnesty International, more than half the world’s known political prisoners in the early 1960s were incarcerated by the South Vietnamese regime.) Tao was 17 when she was first arrested. She was cycling home from school and taken to a villa run by the secret police. She was accused of being a communist and a member of the National Liberation Front. “I was neither,” she said. “Like most students I hated the regime, especially for bringing a foreign army to Vietnam. It is true I co-operated with the NLF and was prepared to fight for them. We all respected them. The police demanded NLF names; when I refused I was strung upside down and electrocuted, and my head was held in a bucket of water. Then I was sent to Cong Son Island and put in what they called the tiger cages. You couldn’t stand up in them, and, anyway, my legs were shackled; and every day they threw quicklime down on me. They had a place there that was full of cow and pig excrement, and for no reason they’d put you in it and leave you. This place was known as the coffin.”

Seven years ago, Tao married the NLF cadre who had courted her for 20 years. They lost touch during the war, thinking the other was dead. “Anyway, I couldn’t be sure about him; he was a communist,” she said dryly. “As a child I was told to run away from communists!” Four years ago she almost died during pregnancy; her kidneys had been damaged by the years of torture. Her son, Huynh, was born premature with a blood disorder; and Tao was told he had a “one per cent chance”. When I met her the other day on a bustling Saigon street, outside a nursery school, she was dropping off a lad unusually well-built for a four-year-old. “His name means golden spring,” she said.

Perhaps five million people died during the Vietnam war, the great majority of them civilians. My own introduction to the war against civilians was at the hospital at Can Tho in the Mekong Delta in 1967. American aircraft had been attacking VC strongholds nearby. This meant villages. “I guess he’s around 10 years old,” said the young American doctor, a volunteer. Before us was a child whose nose and chin had merged, whose eyes apparently could not close and whose skin, once brown, was now red and black and papery, like frayed cloth. I touched him, or her, and the skin stuck to my fingers. “Beats me how these kids live through all that shit out there,” said the doctor. “This one’s been burned with Napalm B. That’s the stuff made from benzene, polystyrene and gasoline. It sticks to the body and is impossible to get off, and either burns the victim to death or suffocates him by using up all the oxygen.” I went back to My Lai, the hamlet where Lieutenant William Calley’s ‘Charlie Company’ massacred more than 200 old men, women and children on March 18, 1968. It took them four hours to kill everyone, and that included a break for lunch which they ate within a few yards of a pile of fresh corpses, mostly women and infants. (There was one American casualty, a sergeant who shot himself in the foot).

I was here in 1974 and people were still afraid to talk to anyone resembling Calley and his murderers. What I had not realised at the time was that the Americans had declared most of Quang Ngai province a ‘free fire zone’ and that 70 per cent of the villages had been razed. When it was My Lai’s turn civilians were being killed at a rate of 50,000 a year. This was known as ‘collateral damage’.

Look closely at the famous photograph of the piles of dead in a ditch at My Lai, and there is a shadow in the grass to the left. This was Mrs Truong Thi Le, who survived beneath the bodies of her mother, daughter and grandson. Now 68, she bravely held the photograph and listed for me the others in the ditch who were her family: her brother, aged 30, her nephew, aged one, four nieces, all of them under 10, a total of nine. “It was six o’clock in the morning,” she said. “Suddenly this helicopter was manoeuvring above the house, then we saw soldiers come across the fields. They ordered all the families out and told us to march towards the ditch. If we walked too slowly, they prodded us with their guns. We came to an assembly point and huddled together; then they shot us one by one. I saw a little boat and used it to cover my son, and dead bodies fell down on me. I kept telling my son, who was six years old, “Oh, please don’t cry. They will hear us if you do”. When the Americans had finished and walked away, I waited, then stood up with my boy; I felt I was walking in the sky or somewhere else; I didn’t have any kind of feelings. I was covered in blood and pieces of human brain, which smelt terrible. On the way back we had to walk in the field because the pathway was covered with bodies; I saw a mother die here, children there. They even killed the animals like ox and buffaloes. When we got to our home, it was burned down. It was only then I realised a bullet had passed right through me, but I was still alive.”

In 1970 I went to the US and interviewed seven American soldiers who had taken part in mass murder in Vietnam. None had been charged. Each was adamant that he had been under orders to “kill everyone and everything”. “A village was a designated playground,” one of them said.

America had extended the nature of its own cities to Vietnam. Homicide, not military tactic, was the means of conducting the war. The US Ninth Infantry Division was said to be notorious. In fact, it was typical and did no more than carry out the orders of the military command at Dodge City in Saigon: orders dispensed by generals and colonels who made Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 an exemplary work of non-fiction.

In 1971 soldiers of the ‘Glorious Ninth’ were credited with a ‘body count’ of 11,000 of the enemy in a ‘pacification’ campaign called ‘Operation Speedy Express’. The flaw in this story was that only 700 weapons were found. Later an American official admitted that 5,000 ‘non-combatants’ had been killed. Mass slaughter. The magazine Newsweek had the story for six months but suppressed it, saying it amounted to a “gratuitous attack” on President Nixon. When it was finally published it bore little resemblance to the original.

Vietnam is said to have been the first ‘media war’ in which there was no censorship and nothing escaped the scrutiny of the television camera. There were more than 600 reporters in Vietnam at the time of the My Lai massacre. None of them broke the story. For more than a year after the event a soldier who had heard about it tried to interest Newsweek, and others, without success. Finally the story was broken by a freelance reporter based in the US, Seymour Hersh, who believed the murder of civilians by his country’s soldiers was news. Only then did many of the correspondents tell their own ‘atrocity stories’.

The walls of news organisations in Saigon had long been decorated with photographs of dismembered bodies, of GIs holding up severed ears and testicles and of actual moments of torture. In the Associated Press office someone had written on one of these: “This is what happens when you speak to the press.” To the question why these pictures had not been sent usually came the reply that the agencies would not distribute them, because newspapers would not publish them. There were outstanding, honourable journalists and photographers who fought against this.

The My Lai massacre eventually made the cover of Newsweek under the headline, An American Tragedy, which invited sympathy for America and deflected from two truths: that the massacre was, above all, a Vietnamese tragedy and that, far from being an “aberration”, as the army claimed, it accurately reflected the criminal nature of the war. This was never spelt out. That the war was a “series of blunders”, or a “quagmire” into which naive politicians and generals were “dragged” was the preferred media version and still is.

This myth endures alongside nonsense that reporters helped “lose” the war. Had the war been reported as an all-out assault on the Vietnamese people, regardless of whether they were communist or non-communist, northerners or southerners, this charge might have some validity. But it was never presented like that, rather as a Gladiators contest between ‘good’ teams and ‘bad’ teams. The Americans were on the side of the good team, the South Vietnamese, who were defending themselves against several bad teams of ?communists?. Not surprisingly, this version excluded the fact that the Americans had killed tens of thousands of their South Vietnamese ‘allies’ and had levelled half of all their forests, poisoned their environment and forced millions of them to leave their homes.

Neither did the news version ever really come to terms with who the ‘communists’ were. If the NLF, or Vietcong , were also South Vietnamese, how could they possible invade their own country, as President Kennedy claimed. Words had to be found to describe the actions of people resisting an American invasion. ‘Insurgency’ and ‘internal aggression’ were popular for a time.

The news version also had difficulty with the North Vietnamese, who were said to be attacking the south. There had been no North Vietnam and no South Vietnam until the Geneva Conference on Indochina in 1954 had temporarily divided the country to await national elections two years later. The record is clear that the Americans sabotaged these elections, for the good reason that they knew Ho Chi Minh would win hands down. “I have never talked with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs,” said President Eisenhower, “who did not believe that 80 per cent of the population would have voted for Ho Chi Minh.” The theme of the Vietnam war as an ‘American tragedy’ was picked up by Hollywood with a series of movies that have pitied the invader with a potent blend of Rambo-and-angst – sometimes crude (Rambo) and sometimes subtle (Platoon). In all of them the Vietnamese flit across the screen as bit players. When they are not Oriental barbarians and idiots (The Deer Hunter) they are victims (Platoon) and sentimentalised (Good Morning Vietnam), just like the Indians in all those matinee westerns of the past. The few films that have provided glimpses of the Vietnamese as human beings have merely added credibility to the distortion and enriched the purgative.

Many of the retrospectives leading up to next week;s anniversary have illustrated the stamina of these myths. On television, Hollywood is given yet another run; and the BBC, we are told with miraculous certainty, was “more impartial” in its coverage than the American media. There has been no reference to the Corporation’s blacklisting of the reports by cameraman Malcolm Aird and journalist James Cameron of the bombing of civilian targets in North Vietnam in 1965: a rare glimpse of the longest aerial bombardment in history.

With Vietnam fashionable again, nothing has changed. The ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teams are recalled, along with the venerable catch-all, ‘the communists’, which at a stroke relegates to the shadows the men and women who fought and died not as Asian Prussians under the spell of some blind faith, but as nationalists who developed their ingenuity and patience to the extremes of human limits, who built underground schools and hospitals and were united in their sense of history.

Former Defence Secretary Robert McNamara has used the anniversary to “confess all”, according to the Guardian. Well, not quite all. It was McNamara who bombed and bombed then tried to build an electrified fence across Vietnam. He now says that his “errors” were “not of values and intentions, but of judgment and capabilities”. This would be laughable if only the language of western power, and its devotion to minimising culpability, was not so insidious. Faithfully echoing McNamara, a BBC radio interviewer asked me, “Well how does an outside power impose order on a country that doesn’t want it?” Personally, I prefer Johnnie Rambo’s line: “Do we get to win this time?” Yes, of course you do: Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, the Gulf, etc.

Unless the Vietnamese beware, they too will join the list by another route now being marked out for them. After 1975 the US imposed a punishing embargo on them, covering trade and humanitarian aid. Friends joined in. One of Margaret Thatcher’s first acts on coming to power was to stop shipments of powdered milk to Vietnamese children. The blockade ended any hope of the Hanoi government lessening the dependence on the Soviet Union. For ordinary people, bitter years of austerity and repression followed. Former soldiers and servants of the old regime were sent to re-education camps, Vietnam’s gulag, and liberty was often measured by your standing in the Communist Party; and thousands took to the sea. New invasions from Pol Pot’s Cambodia and China were fought off with a standing army now totalling half a million men. Asked for humanitarian aid, President Carter made the extraordinary statement: “We owe them nothing. The damage was mutual.” When I was in Hanoi 10 days after the end of the war it looked as I had imagined the East End of London in Victorian times, even though visible poverty was controlled.

That began to change dramatically after 1986 when the government declared a policy called Doi Moi, which means ‘renovation’ or loosely ‘our way’. The ‘free market’ was embraced as a means of breaking down the embargo; and within two years the World Bank had arrived, followed by the Japanese and Europeans. Last year, President Clinton finally lifted the American embargo and appeared to put to rest the specious ‘MIA issue’. (No president ever mentioned the 200,000 Vietnamese MIAs).

Today, Vietnam is an open marketplace, and foreign ‘investors’ encouraged by a privileged coterie in the government, are achieving what years of bombs and Napalm failed to. As one American banker put it, “The circus is back in town.” It is both a strange and very familiar circus. In the bar of the Hoa Binh hotel in Hanoi, Joe, a former American helicopter pilot, says he now runs a fleet of corporate jets flying in American businessmen, many of them from companies that profited from the war. Next door are the new offices of the Bank of America, a pillar of the American war.

Alfonso L DeMatteis, from Brooklyn, New York, started the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi.

He sits in his office in front of a furled American flag and puzzles over why no one here bears him a grudge. I noticed on his desk a letter he had written to the government complaining about a proposed exhibition on the American bombing. He runs a construction company and is putting up a 15-storey building “complete with health club and running track”. Will the Vietnamese have use of it? “You’ve got to understand the rents are not cheap. In a word, John. Unlikely.”

Peter Purcell is an Australian version of Alfonso. He is building the Hanoi Club, where membership fees range from Dollars 6,500 to Dollars 15,000 and which “will only work if it’s exclusive”. With an initial capital of Dollars 14 million, he has probably already made Dollars 50 million, and he still has a vacant lot. He told me the story of a senior government official who asked him, on the quiet, to explain to him what a share was. “Is this a country waiting to be ripped off?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “It’s part of the education programme of converting into this wonderful world of capitalism.” Vietnam is being raped. The dollar has taken over from the Vietnamese dong, giving the US Reserve Bank effective control of the flow of currency. Japan dominates consumer money lending, Singapore the property market and Taiwan and Korea the sweatshops. The French and the Australians are doing nicely, too, with the British not far behind.

In January, Chancellor Kenneth Clarke came to Hanoi with a group of British businessmen, who were given a briefing document by the Department of Trade and Industry. This is admirably frank, almost ecstatic about the cheapness of people. “Labour rates,” it says, “are as low as Dollars 35 a month.” Moreover, the Vietnamese “can provide a new industrial home for ailing British products”. “Take the long view,” says the DTI, “use Vietnam’s weaknesses selfishly. Vietnam’s open door invites you to take advantage of its low standard of living and low wages.” I showed this to Nguyen Xuan Oanh, who until recently was senior economic adviser to the Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet. “We have inexpensive labour,” he said. “I don’t call it cheap labour. It allows us to be competitive on the international market.”

Thereupon he extolled growth rates, “tax holidays”, public expenditure cuts and the rest of the IMF deity. What is interesting about this man is that not only is he the architect of Vietnam’s “market socialism”, as he calls it, but he was deputy prime minister in the old Saigon regime. I said South Vietnam is remembered as having an economy based on a black market, drugs, prostitution and war profiteering.

“We had a bad administration,” he replied.

“But you were number two in that administration.”

“I tried very hard to help, but not successfully.”

I said that an American businessmen here told me that Vietnam would soon be capitalist.

“I hope so,” he replied.

The new, Vietnam, according to those like Dr Oanh, is to be found in the ‘EPZs’, which stands for Export Processing Zones. Visiting one of these on the Saigon river run by a Taiwanese company, I was struck by the likeness to photographs of the cotton mills of Lancashire. Ancient looms making towelling for export were attended by mostly young women, who get a basic rate of pounds 12 a month and can work a 12-hour day. If they fall behind a set target, they are sacked. The air is foul and the only protection is from a hair curler. One of them was taken away with an eye injury while I was there. “We got a medical centre for that sort of thing,” said the Taiwanese manager. Under Vietnamese law, there should be a union. “We haven’t got one of those yet,” he said. This brave new world is to be part of a kind of city state, with its own stock exchange, customs and dormitories for female workers. All the profits will be shipped out.

In Saigon the growth of a new, highly visible consumer class, sporting mobile phones and jeans, is at the expense of the majority. The tragedy of this is evident in the countryside where ‘market forces’ have all but wiped out the co-operatives. These once sustained the grain store, which ensured that no one starved in an emergency, the local health clinic, where babies could be born in safety, and the primary school. If development was measured not by Gross National Product, but a society’s success in meeting the basic needs of its people, Vietnam would have been considered a model. Its finest achievements were in education and health, producing a 90 per cent literacy rate, one of the highest in the world, and a child mortality rate comparable with that of rich countries. Today, malaria deaths are back, along with child malnutrition.

Education is being tailored to the new labour market, with fewer children staying on at school. As the health service is no longer free, the well off are meant to pay for the poor. In reality the system in many hospitals is now pay-or-die. Although the Tu Du hospital in Saigon is spruce and well managed the doctors lack the basic diagnostic and curative equipment to deal with the ‘foetal catastrophes’ that happen frequently as the genetic link between the poison Dioxin produces deformed babies and cancerous pregnancies. Dioxin was contained in the herbicide Agent Orange, which the Americans sprayed over South Vietnam in the 1960s. It is a thousand times more powerful than Thalidomide.

The point has yet to be passed when the Communist leadership becomes a captive of its ‘reforms’. But when that happens, and it becomes clear that there is once again the kind of foreign-imposed society that people sacrificed so much to get rid of, the pact between the Party and the peasants will be finally broken, and there will be a vacuum, and trouble. Perhaps that is why very poor people are swept off the streets of Saigon and put in detention centres; and why anti-government Buddhists, who bring to mind those who helped to topple the old regimes, are prisoners of conscience.

Yet what is so attractive about Vietnam is not just that a popular resistance won, but that the maxims of Ho Chi Minh have endured among ordinary people. He said that when the war was over “we shall make our country a thousand times more beautiful”. Millions of hectares of poisoned land have been reclaimed in a spectacular re-greening campaign. Every child plants at least one tree a year. In many parts of the country the sound of birds and the rustle of wildlife are being heard for the first time in a generation.

What I found most moving was the reconciliation between tens of thousands of boat people who have returned. Under a programme sponsored by the EC, people in the camps were first reassured by videotaped interviews with their relatives and friends at home. Then they were lent enough money to start again; and their community was also assisted. A fisherman, Mac Thi Nhan, who fled with his family to Hong Kong, was back in his village on beautiful Ha Long Bay with a new boat. “I was afraid at first, but everyone has been thoughtful to us,” he said. Michael Culligan, a former Irish banker who runs the EC programme in Haiphong, said, “I have travelled all over the country and met thousands of returnees, and I have not come across a single case of victimisation. The Vietnamese are a very kindly people. They were very sympathetic towards the boat people who came home, and they went out of their way to ensure they didn’t lose face. That is a civilised society.”

— source

Does Trump Stand to Profit Personally Off the Wars

On Friday, the stock price of the military contractor Raytheon briefly surged after the U.S. attack on a Syrian airbase, which used 59 of the company’s Tomahawk missiles, estimated to cost $1.4 million apiece. While the stock surge was brief, it called attention to the fact that President Trump himself has held personally—has been personally invested in Raytheon in the past. A 2015 Federal Election [Commission] disclosure, filed when Trump launched his presidential bid, reveals that he held Raytheon stocks worth $1,000 to $15,000 in value.

While the value is low, the revelations have raised additional questions about the lack of transparency in Trump’s financial holdings and the fact that he could potentially benefit from almost any military decision he makes as president. Overall, the stocks of military contractors, such as Boeing and General Dynamics, have increased since Trump’s election, further fueled by his promise of an “historic” tens of billions of dollars’ increase in U.S. military spending.

Bill Hartung talking:

as far as we know, Trump may still have shares in Raytheon, as reported in his financial disclosure. Of course, as with all things Trump, there’s a black box here, because he’s not reporting his tax returns, he hasn’t done a blind trust. As you said, virtually anything he does, not just in the military sphere, could benefit him, his family, his inner circle financially. And the only way to deal with that is release the tax returns, that people have demanded, and have a true blind trust that’s not run by his family. But it’s—no question, it’s an outrage to have the commander-in-chief profiting from a military contract in the middle of a conflict, however small the amount may be. And the fact that he’s not willing to disclose his current position, in some ways, makes it even worse.

there’s this sort of notion that, you know, the adults in the room are Mattis and McFarland—rather, McMaster, who are, you know, military people, they’ll be careful, they know the costs of war. But they’re also among the most hawkish generals of their generation. Mattis, “Mad Dog” Mattis – his self-described moniker, himself wanted to attack Iran during the Iraq War.

And he, you know, in the middle of that war, actually left the administration, because he wanted to attack them at the very same time they were negotiating to limit Iran’s nuclear options. So, they’ve already stepped up in Yemen—more special forces, more airstrikes. They’re still arming the Saudis, who are killing thousands with civilian bombings. So, they see that as a strike against Iran. Of course, Iran is not the problem there, but their worldview says it is. And now the step up in Syria, of course, Iran is allies with Assad, so it’s another kind of potential strike at Iranian concerns. Now the question is: Will they go further? And I think there, you know, Iran would have many ways to respond—through nonstate actors, through missile strikes. It’s not a small country. You know, invading Iran would make the Iraq War look like a walk in the park. So, how are these military people going to address this? But there’s certainly a danger of some sort of military action. And, of course, they’re not going to telegraph it. I mean, Trump apparently decided this on rather short notice, if we’re to believe the accounts. He saw something on TV, and he got exercised.

– MSNBC’s Brian Williams the night of the Tomahawk cruise missile attack.

it’s obscene to worship weaponry, whoever it’s targeted at. And on Raytheon’s webpage, where they’re advertising the cruise missile, they have exactly the same kind of pictures. So, to have them on MSNBC and CNN is all the publicity money could buy and more. And, of course, this has happened before in wartime, and even in the first Persian Gulf War under Bush the elder, where these kinds of displays have upped the images of these companies and almost made the weapons seem benign. There’s all these things about how accurate they are and how they’re not going to hit civilians, which has been disproved almost uniformly in the history of U.S. intervention in the Middle East. So there’s that. And also it’s a question of how it’s going to affect Trump’s push for his military buildup, because he’s going to sort of posture as the wartime president. You know, as Fareed Zakaria said, much to his detriment, he’s now the president; he’s proved he’s the president, because he can launch a military strike—which, again, to me, is not what this country should stand for.

William Hartung
director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. His latest book is Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

— source

The Pandora’s Box of War

War opens a Pandora’s box of evils that once unleashed are beyond anyone’s control. The invasion of Afghanistan set out to defeat al-Qaida, and nearly 16 years later, we are embroiled in a losing fight with the Taliban. We believed we could invade Iraq and create a Western-style democracy and weaken Iran’s power in the region. The fragmentation of Iraq among warring factions has left Iran the dominant Muslim nation in the Middle East and Iraq destroyed as a unified nation. We set out to topple President Bashar Assad in Syria but then began to bomb the Islamic insurgents trying to overthrow him. We spread the “war on terror” to Yemen, Libya and Syria in a desperate effort to crush regional resistance. Instead, we created new failed states and lawless enclaves where vacuums were filled by the jihadist forces we sought to defeat. We have wasted a staggering $4.79 trillion on death, destruction and folly as our nation is increasingly impoverished and climate change threatens us with extinction. The arms manufacturers, who have a vested interest in perpetuating these debacles, will work to make a few trillion more before this act of collective imperial suicide comes to a humiliating end.

In war, when you attack one force you implicitly aid another. And the forces we assist by striking the Assad regime are the forces we ironically are determined to eradicate—Nusra Front, al-Qaida and other Islamic radical groups. These are the same Islamic forces we, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait, largely created, armed and funded at the inception of the civil war in Syria. They are the forces that have responded to the chaos caused by our misguided military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. They are the forces that execute Western captives, slaughter religious minorities, carry out terrorism in Europe and the United States and collect billions of dollars from smuggling refugees into Europe. They are our sometime enemies and our sometime allies.

The jihadists’ savagery mirrors our own. The jihadists respond to our airstrikes and aerial drone attacks by using suicide vests and improvised explosive devices. They respond to our black sites and prisons such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo with basement cells that torture kidnapped captives. They respond to the ideology of Western secularism with an Islamic state. They respond to violence with violence.

The Islamic militants in Syria, after Russia intervened against them in September 2015, were losing territory, financial revenue and support in the six-year war. And they were the ones who rejoiced this week when the United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airfield, reportedly the launching site for a chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people, including at least 30 children, on Tuesday in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. The Syrian government says six people died in the U.S. missile attack.

The selective moral outrage of the United States, among both Democrats and Republicans, over the alleged chemical attack—I know from two decades of covering war that the truth is very murky and easily manipulated in wartime—ignores America’s primary responsibility for the wholesale carnage that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions as refugees, including 4 million from Iraq and 5 million from Syria. It ignores the 12,197 bombs we dropped on Syria last year. It ignores our role in creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and our role in arming and funding these jihadists in Syria. We have made sure that the Syrians—400,000 of whom have died and half of whom have been forced from their homes during the war—have many options when it comes to dying.

Syria had, and may still have, chemical weapons. It appeared to use them in 2013 in the Damascus suburb Ghouta, leaving anywhere from 281 to 1,729 dead. But the Syrians, in an international accord brokered by then-Secretary of State John Kerry with the Russian government, agreed to turn over their chemical stockpiles to the Russians following the attack. And one has to ask why Syria, which is finally winning the war, would use chemical agents now and risk U.S. retaliation. Syria says the deadly nerve agent sarin and possibly chlorine gas were released when a rebel depot holding the chemicals was hit in an airstrike.

Why the moral outrage now among Americans? Why have we stood by as Syrians died daily from barrel bombs, bullets, famine, disease and drowning off the shores of Greece? Why have we been mute as schools, apartment blocks, mosques and hospitals have been bombed into rubble? Where is the outrage about the deaths of the thousands of other children, including those we killed recently in Mosul when a March 17 coalition airstrike took the lives of as many as 200 civilians? Why are we not enraged by the Trump administration’s flagrant violation of domestic law by carrying out an act of war without approval from Congress or the United Nations? Why do we lament these deaths yet bar Syrian war refugees from entering the United States? Is American foreign policy to be dictated by the fickle emotions of Donald Trump, whose perception of reality appears to be obtained exclusively from a television screen?

The radical Islamists can always count on the West to intervene and resurrect them. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian radical, founded al-Tawhid al-Jihad in Iraq with about 100 former fighters from al-Qaidi in Afghanistan. His goal was a sectarian conflict with the Shiites. A unified Shiite and Sunni state in Iraq was an anathema to the Sunni jihadists. Zarqawi’s group became al-Qaida in Iraq in 2004. It declared its loyalty to Osama bin Laden, who had initially opposed Zarqawi’s call for a war with Shiites. Zarqawi was killed in 2006.

By 2010 al-Qaida in Iraq was a spent force. Then came the civil war in Syria. The United States, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey pumped weapons, money and resources to various rebel factions in Syria to overthrow the Syrian regime. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who took over the leadership of Zarqawi’s organization, changed the name of the group to the Islamic State of Iraq. He soon decamped to Syria. His group, like all jihadist organizations in Syria, was showered with weapons and resources. Baghdadi devoted his energy to attacking other jihadist and rebel groups. He gradually took control of an area the size of Texas in Syria and Iraq. Al-Nusra, the al-Qaida-affiliated group in Syria, merged with the Islamic State of Iraq. The new group became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. It attracted an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters—some 4,000 of whom held European passports. The group was estimated by The Wall Street Journal to earn $2 million a day in oil exports alone. As a trafficker of humans, it has made billions from the desperate refugees attempting to flee to Europe. It has executed religious minority members or forced them out of its territory. The newly formed self-described caliphate has also terrorized the Sunnis in the name of religious purity, as Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton point out in the AlterNet article “Is Trump Rescuing Al-Qaeda’s ‘Heartland’ in Syria?”

The rise of Islamic State has instilled pride and self-empowerment for many Sunnis, humiliated by the U.S. occupation. It has exposed the weak and corrupt ruling elites who have sold themselves to Washington. It is proof that the Western military forces are not invincible. These groups will suffer reverses, but they will not go away.

There is no clean or easy way to exit from the morass we created in the region. None of the insurgents in the region will willingly lay down their weapons until the U.S. occupation of the Middle East ends. The wars we started are complicated. There is a myriad of proxy wars being fought beneath the surface, including our war with Russia, Turkey’s war with the Kurds, and Saudi Arabia’s war with Iran. The civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen are the human fodder. This slaughter has already lasted nearly 16 years. It will not cease until the United States is exhausted and withdraws its forces from the region. And before that happens, many, many more innocents will die. So save your tears. We are morally no different from the jihadists or the Syrians we fight. They reflect back to us our own repugnant visage. If we wanted this to stop, we could make it happen.

— source by Chris Hedges

What We Know, What We Don’t, and the Dangers Ahead

Let’s start with what we don’t know. Experts remain uncertain what chemical(s) were involved in the horrific chemical attack, almost certainly from the air, on the village of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province in Syria. The nerve agent sarin, chlorine, and unknown combinations of chemicals have all been identified as possible, but in the first 48 hours nothing has been confirmed. We don’t know for sure yet what it was that killed more than 75 people, many of them children, and injured many more.

Crucially, we also don’t know who was responsible. Western governments, led by the United States, and much of the western press have asserted that the Syrian regime is responsible, but there is still no clear evidence. Certainly Damascus has an air force, has been known to use chemical, particularly chlorine, weapons in 2014 and 2015. So that’s certainly possible.

“A US military escalation against Syria (because we must not forget that US Special Forces and US bombers are already fighting there) will not help the victims of this heinous chemical attack, it will not bring the devastating war in Syria to a quicker end, it will not bring back the dead children.”

The Syrian military denies using chemical weapons. Their international backer, Russia, claims that the Syrian military did drop bombs in the affected area but that the chemical effect was not in the bombs dropped but rather from the explosion of an alleged chemical warehouse under the control of unnamed rebel forces. The same report by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that found Syrian government responsibility for chlorine attacks also found that ISIS had used another chemical weapon, mustard gas, and investigated at least three other chemical weapons attacks whose perpetrators could not be identified. So that could be possible as well.

For a variety of reasons, some of these possibilities don’t hold up so well if the chemical used this week was the sarin nerve agent — but we don’t know yet what it was.

There are some other, perhaps even more important things, that we do know. We know that in 2013, at the time of an earlier, even more deadly chemical weapon attack, similar accusations against the Syrian regime were widely made, assumed to be true, and used as the basis for calls for direct US military intervention in the civil war. And we know those accusations were never proved, and that it remains uncertain even now, almost four years later, who was actually responsible.

And we know that the bombing of Syria in 2013 was averted, despite President Obama’s “red line” being crossed, because an enormous US and global campaign against such a disastrous escalation made it politically too costly to launch a new US war. This was a president willing but not eager, or driven, to go to war. When Obama turned decision-making over to Congress, hundreds of thousands of people across the United States called and wrote and emailed their representatives, urging them to prevent a new war. In some offices calls were running six or seven hundred to one against a new bombing campaign.

And we know that President Obama turned it over to Congress in the first place because the British parliament, facing massive public opposition, made clear that the UK would not join its US ally in going to war against Syria. And eventually, when Congressional opposition became undeniable, Russia provided the US with a way out, arranging for international collection and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Chlorine was not included, and it is certainly possible that Syria didn’t declare all of its weapons, or perhaps the precursor chemicals to make them, and but that claim was never proven. Ultimately, though, a US attack was averted.

Much is different now from 2013. The state of the Syrian civil war is far different – in 2013, the war was still new and uncertain; today it is recognized as the world’s most devastating conflict. There is little chance of UK involvement in a military attack on Syria this time around, so the sudden resistance of a key US ally isn’t going to happen. Congress is not being consulted, and it is very unclear whether Congressmembers of either party are prepared to take on challenging a military campaign dressed up as a campaign for justice.

At the United Nations, Trump’s Ambassador Nikki Haley seemed to be channeling George W. Bush even more than her actual boss. She threatened that if the Security Council did not act according to US demands—meaning if it resisted authorizing military escalation in Syria—that the US was prepared to go alone. International law, the UN Charter, diplomacy be damned.

And this is a president, a cabinet, a White House with no military or diplomatic experience, with no understanding of the complications of the roiling Middle East conflicts or the consequences of war, and with a personal eagerness to demonstrate power. This is not a president accountable to a political party, to Congress and its constitutional role in military decision-making, and certainly less accountable to international law.

Trump’s incoherent reaction on Wednesday showed the lack of any strategic understanding in his foreign policy. He blames former President Obama for the crisis in Syria, while Trump of course had urged Obama not to attack Syria after the chemical bombing of 2013, tweeting in all caps “DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA — IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.” He continued that criticism of Obama, but then switched gears to brag about his “flexibility,” noting that “my attitude towards Syria and Assad have changed very much.” It was a clear implication he’s considering a military response, although he pulled back from any clarity on that as well. Asked what his message would be to the Iranian militias supporting the Syrian military, Trump first went off on an unrelated attack on the Iranian nuclear deal, eventually circling back to a threatening but vague “You will see what the message will be. They will have a message.”

And the anti-Trump resistance that rose so heroically from the first moments of this presidency faces new challenges on a daily, even hourly basis. The mobilizations—in the streets, at the airports, at the White House, at the Supreme Court and beyond—and the letters and petitions and sit-ins and teach-ins and more, have been incredibly powerful. Remobilizing those exhausted millions around an anti-war message will be a huge challenge for anti-war and indeed the whole range of social movements. As usual, much remains unknown.

But we know two crucial things, things that were true then, and remain true today. We know that using chemical weapons—of any sort, in any war, against any target—is a crime. And we know there must ultimately be accountability for those who use it, regardless of who they are. That will take time.

In the meantime we know another truth: that a US military escalation against Syria (because we must not forget that US Special Forces and US bombers are already fighting there) will not help the victims of this heinous chemical attack, it will not bring the devastating war in Syria to a quicker end, it will not bring back the dead children. It will not defeat ISIS or end terrorism, it will create more terrorists. It will almost certainly cause more casualties, more injuries, and more dead. Maybe dead children. There is still no military solution. This is what we know.

— source by Phyllis Bennis

The Spoils of War

In every type of government, nothing unites people behind the leader more quickly, reflexively or reliably than war. Donald Trump now sees how true that is, as the same establishment leaders in U.S. politics and media who have spent months denouncing him as a mentally unstable and inept authoritarian and unprecedented threat to democracy are standing and applauding him as he launches bombs at Syrian government targets.

Trump, on Thursday night, ordered an attack that the Pentagon said included the launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles which “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.” The governor of Homs, the Syrian province where the attack occurred, said early this morning that the bombs killed seven civilians and wounded nine.

The Pentagon’s statement said the attack was “in retaliation for the regime of Bashar Assad using nerve agents to attack his own people.” Both Syria and Russia vehemently deny that the Syrian military used chemical weapons.

When asked about this yesterday by the Globe and Mail’s Joanna Slater, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged an investigation to determine what actually happened before any action was contemplated, citing what he called “continuing questions about who is responsible”:

But U.S. war fever waits for nothing. Once the tidal wave of American war frenzy is unleashed, questioning the casus belli is impermissible. Wanting conclusive evidence before bombing commences is vilified as sympathy with and support for the foreign villain (the same way that asking for evidence of claims against Russia instantly converts one into a “Kremlin agent” or “stooge”).

That the Syrian government deliberately used chemical weapons to bomb civilians became absolute truth in U.S. discourse within less than 24 hours – even though Trudeau urged an investigation, even though it was denied in multiple capitals around the world, and even though Susan Rice just two months ago boasted to NPR: “We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”

Whatever happened with this event, the Syrian government has killed hundreds of thousands of people over the past five years in what began as a citizen uprising in the spirit of the Arab Spring, and then morphed into a complex proxy war involving foreign fighters, multiple regional powers, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Russia.

The CIA has spent more than a billion dollars a year to arm anti-Assad rebels for years, and the U.S. began bombing Syria in 2014 – the 7th predominantly Muslim country bombed by Obama – and never stopped. Trump had already escalated that bombing campaign, culminating in a strike last month that Syrians say destroyed a mosque and killed dozens. What makes this latest attack new is that rather than allegedly targeting terrorist sites of ISIS and Al Qaeda, it targets the Syrian government – something Obama threatened to do in 2013 but never did.

Leading Congressional Democrats – including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – quickly praised Trump’s bombing while raising concerns about process. Hours before the bombing commenced, as it was known Trump was planning it, Hillary Clinton – who has been critical of Obama for years for not attacking Assad – appeared at an event and offered her categorical support for what Trump was planning:

The Trump White House is preliminarily indicating that this was a limited strike, designed to punish Assad for his use of chemical weapons, rather than a new war to remove him. But such aggression, once unleashed, is often difficult to contain. The Russian and Iranian governments, both supportive of Assad, have bitterly denounced Trump for the attack, with a Putin spokesman calling it a “significant blow” for U.S.-Russian relations. Russia already announced retaliation in the form of suspending cooperation agreements.

Even if it is contained, there are endless implications from Trump’s initiation of military force against the Syrian Government. For now, here are ten critical points highlighted by all of this:

1. New wars will always strengthen Trump: as they do for every leader.

The instant elevation of Trump into a serious and respected war leader was palpable. Already, the New York Times is gushing that “in launching a military strike just 77 days into his administration, President Trump has the opportunity, but hardly a guarantee, to change the perception of disarray in his administration.”

Political leaders across the spectrum rushed to praise Trump and support his bombing campaign. Media coverage was overwhelmingly positive. One consummate establishment spokesman accurately observed:

New wars trigger the worst in people: their jingoism, their tribal loyalties, their instinct to submit to authority and leaders. The incentive scheme here is as obvious as it is frightening: great rewards await political leaders who start new wars. In Federalist 4, John Jay warned of all the personal benefits a leader obtains from starting a new war – which is the reason it was supposed to be difficult for U.S. Presidents to do it:

It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.

Trump is going to see – and feel – the establishment and media respect he craves, the sensations of strength he most lacks, by dropping bombs. Every person, let alone Trump, would be tempted to keep pursuing war as a result of this warped incentive framework. Indeed, Trump himself has long been aware of this motivation as he accused Obama in 2012 of preparing to start a new war in response to falling poll numbers:

Those who instantly fall in line behind Trump as he bombs people are ensuring that he will keep doing it. As the instantly popular post-9/11 George W. Bush showed, those praising Trump for bombing Syria are also building him up in general so that he becomes stronger with everything else he wants to do.

2. Democrats’ jingoistic rhetoric has left them no ability – or desire – to oppose Trump’s wars.

Democrats have spent months wrapping themselves in extremely nationalistic and militaristic rhetoric. They have constantly accused Trump of being a traitor to the U.S., a puppet of Putin, and unwilling to defend U.S. interests. They have specifically tried to exploit Assad’s crimes by tying the Syrian leader to Trump, insisting that Trump would never confront Assad because doing so would anger his Kremlin masters. They have embraced a framework whereby anyone who refuses to confront Putin or Assad is deemed a sympathizer of, or a servant to, foreign enemies.

Having pushed those tactics and themes, Democrats have painted themselves into a corner. How could they possibly do anything but cheer as Trump bombs Syria? They can’t. And cheering is thus exactly what they’re doing.

For months, those of us who have urged skepticism and restraint on the Russia rhetoric have highlighted the risk that this fixation on depicting him as a tool of the Kremlin could goad Trump – dare him or even force him – to seek confrontation with Moscow. Some Democrats reacted with rage yesterday at the suggestion that their political tactics were now bearing this fruit, but that’s how politics works.

Much as George H.W. Bush was motivated to shed his “wimp” image by invading Panama, of course Trump will be motivated to prove he’s not controlled by Putin via blackmail by seeking confrontation with the Russian leader. And that’s exactly what he just did. War is the classic weapon U.S. Presidents use to show they are strong, patriotic and deserving of respect; the more those attributes are called in question, the greater that compulsion becomes:

Trump is the prime author of his wars, and of this bombing in Syria. He, and he alone, bears primary responsibility for it. But Trump is not an island of agency; he operates in the climate of Washington. A major reason why it’s so dangerous to ratchet up rhetorical tension between two major nuclear-armed powers is because of the ease with which those tensions can translate into actual conflict, and the motivation it can create for Trump to use war to prove he’s a patriot after all.

Whatever else is true, Democrats – with very few exceptions such as Rep. Ted Lieu and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard – have refrained from criticizing Trump’s bombing campaign on the merits (as opposed to process issues). Indeed, Democratic Party leaders have explicitly praised Trump’s bombing. They will have to continue to do so even if Trump expands this war. That’s what the Democratic Party has turned itself into to; indeed, it’s what it has been for a long time.

3. In wartime, US television instantly converts into state media.

As it always does, the U.S. media last night was an almost equal mix of excitement and reverence as the bombs fell. People who dissent from this bombing campaign – who opposed it on the merits – were almost entirely disappeared, as they always are in such moments of high patriotism (MSNBC’s Chris Hayes had two guests on after midnight who opposed it, but they were rare). Claims from the U.S. government and military are immediately vested with unquestioned truth and accuracy, while claims from foreign adversaries such as Russia and Syria are reflexively scorned as lies and propaganda.

For all the recent hysteria over RT being a propaganda outlet for the state, U.S. media coverage is barely distinguishable in times of war (which is, for the U.S., the permanent state of affairs). More systematic analysis will surely be forthcoming of last night’s coverage, but for now, here is Brian Williams – in all of his military-revering majesty – showing how state TV functions in the United States:

And here’s Fareed Zakaria declaring on CNN that Donald Trump has now been instantly transformed into the President of the United States in all of the loftiest and most regal senses of the term:

4. Trump’s bombing is illegal, but presidents are now omnipotent.

It should be startling and infuriating that Trump is able to order a new attack on the Syrian Government without any democratic debate, let alone Congressional approval. At least when Obama started bombing Syria without Congress, he had the excuse that it was authorized by the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, since his ostensible targets were terrorist groups (even though ISIS did not exist until years after that was enacted and is hardly “affiliated” with Al Qaeda). But since there’s no self-defense pretext to what Trump just did, what possible legal rationale exists for this? None.

But nobody in Washington really cares about such legalities. Indeed, we have purposely created an omnipotent presidency. Recall that in 2011, Obama went to war in Libya not just without Congressional approval, but even after Congress rejected such authorization.

What happened to Obama as a result of involving the U.S in a war that Congress had rejected? Absolutely nothing, because Congress, due to political cowardice, wants to abdicate war-making powers to the President. As a country, we have decided we want an all-powerful president – one who can bomb, and spy, and detain, and invade with virtually no limits. That’s the machinery of the imperial presidency that both parties have jointly built and have now handed to President Trump.

Indeed, in 2013, Obama explicitly argued that he had the right to bomb Assad without Congressional approval – a precedent the Trump White House will now use.

5. How can those who view Trump as an Inept Fascist now trust him to wage war?

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the last 24 hours has been watching those who have vilified Trump as an Evil Fascist and Bumbling Clown and Unstable Sociopath suddenly decide that they want him to bomb Syria. Even if you’re someone who in the abstract wanted the U.S. to attack Assad, shouldn’t your view that Trump is a completely unstable and incompetent monster prevent you from endorsing this war, with Trump as the Commander-in-Chief?

What happened to all the warnings about Trump’s towering incompetence and core evil? Where are all the grave predictions that he’s leading the world on a path of authoritarianism, fascism and blood and soil nationalism? They all gave way to War Fever:

During the campaign, Trump explicitly vowed to commit war crimes: to torture detainees and purposely murder the families of terrorists. Back in April of last year, I summarized Trump’s mindset this way: “he favors fewer wars, but advocates more monstrous, war-criminal tactics for the ones US does fight.”
Given everything that has been claimed about Trump by his critics, how can any of them justify cheering for a bombing campaign led by him? Do they experience no cognitive dissonance at all in having spent months depicting Trump as a lying, deceitful fascist, only to now turn around and trust him to bomb other countries with care, humanitarianism and efficacy?

6. Like all good conspiracy theories, no evidence can kill the Kremlin-controls-Trump tale.

Central to the conspiracy theories woven for months by Democrats is the claim that Putin wields power over Trump in the form of blackmail, debts or other leverage. As a result, this conspiracy theory goes, the Kremlin has now infiltrated American institutions of power and controls the U.S. Government, because Trump is unwilling – indeed, unable – to defy Putin’s orders.

Yet here is Trump – less than three months after being inaugurated – bombing one of the Kremlin’s closest allies, in a country where Russia has spent more than a year fighting to preserve his government. Will any of this undermine or dilute the conspiracy theory that the Kremlin controls the White House? Of course not. Warped conspiracy theorists are not only immune to evidence that disproves their theories but, worse, find ways to convert such evidence into further proof of their conspiracies.

Already, the most obsessive Democratic conspiracists have cited the fact that the U.S. military advised Russia in advance of the strikes – something they would have been incredibly reckless not to do – as innuendo showing that Trump serves Putin. If Trump tomorrow bombed Red Square, Democrats – after cheering him – would quickly announce that he only did so to throw everyone off the trail of his collusion with Putin.

7. The fraud of humanitarianism works every time for (and on) American elites.

In the last two months, Trump has ordered a commando raid in Yemen that has massacred children and dozens of innocent people, bombed Mosul and killed scores of civilians, and bombed a mosque near Aleppo that killed dozens. During the campaign, he vowed to murder the family members of alleged terrorists. He shut America’s doors to Syrian refugees, and is deporting people who have lived in the U.S. since childhood despite committing no crimes.

Given all that, could American elites possibly believe him when he says that he is motivated by humanitarianism – deep-seated anger over seeing Syrian children harmed – in bombing Syria? Yes, they could, and they are. That’s because American elites always want to believe – or at least want others to believe – that the U.S. bombs countries over and over not out of aggression or dominance but out of love, freedom, democracy and humanitarian concern.

The U.S. Government does not wage war, and the U.S. military does not blow things up, out of humanitarianism. It does so when it believes there is some benefit to be obtained for itself. Again, Federalist 4 warned us: “nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it.”

If humanitarianism is what motivated the U.S. in Syria, it would take in massive numbers of refugees, but it hasn’t. If humanitarianism is what motivated the U.S. bombing of Libya, it would have given large amounts of aid to that country in the aftermath to help it deal with the ensuing anarchy and misery, but it didn’t. That’s because humanitarianism is the pretext for U.S. wars, not the actual motive.

But the psychological comfort of believing that the only reason your government bombs more countries by far than any other is because your country is just so uniquely devoted to humanitarian love is so powerful that it overrides all rational faculties. That’s why all wars – even the most malicious and aggressive – are wrapped in humanitarian packaging. And no matter how many times we see that this packaging is a lie – in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Libya – we keep wanting to believe that, this time, our bombs will be filled with love, help and freedom.

8. Support for Trump’s Bombing Shows Two Toxic U.S. Conceits: “Do Something” and “Look Strong”

Those who oppose Trump’s new bombing campaign – or any U.S. bombing campaign – are instantly met with the predictable objection: we must “Do Something” about Syria. This mentality is predicated on a terribly false, and terribly dangerous, premise: that the U.S. military can and should solve every world evil.

But sometimes, the U.S. lacks the ability to solve other problems. Often, having the U.S. drop bombs exacerbates suffering, rather than alleviates it. As upsetting as it is to accept, sometimes doing nothing is the least bad of all the options. Again, if humanitarianism really were the motive, there are many things the U.S. could do besides bombing Syria and killing civilians, such as giving refuge and humanitarian aid. But the idea that a war can be justified by appealing to the vague imperative that we must “do something” is incredibly irrational and immoral.

The same is true – indeed even more so – of this horribly toxic premise long endorsed by the world of U.S think tanks that a President must go to war to preserve “credibility” – meaning that he must drop bombs and kill people to show the world that he, and the country he leads, is “strong.” To see that hideous premise in action, look at how the New York Times gloriously depicted Bush 41’s senseless invasion of Panama in the above article, or how the NYT yesterday described the view of “experts” about Trump’s need to bomb Syria:

There may be some things more evil and immoral than starting a new war based on the desire to avoid “looking weak,” but it’s hard to think of many things that qualify. And yet this belief continues to be gospel among America’s war-loving think tank and Foreign Policy Community.

9. Obama’s refusal to bomb Assad hovers over everything.

Despite insisting that he had the power to do so without Congress, Obama resisted bipartisan demands to use military force against Assad. I personally view this as one of Obama’s smartest and best decisions and, according to today’s New York Times, so does he: “Mr. Obama said he was ‘very proud of that moment’ because he had stepped back from the Washington establishment’s warnings. Few of his top foreign policy advisers agreed.” Indeed, by the end of his presidency, the U.S. stopped claiming it was even seeking regime change.

But those who insist that the U.S. has a moral obligation to remove Assad or at least bomb him become tongue-tied when it comes to assessing Obama. If, as many claim, Assad is our generation’s Hitlerian figure – and recall how many recent foreign leaders were depicted as The New Hitler when some wanted them attacked – does that make Obama this generation’s Neville Chamberlain for his refusal to attack Assad? And does it mean that Trump has acted more morally than Obama by doing what Obama refused to do?

Again, I side with Obama in this dispute because I never believed that U.S. military had any positive role to play in Syria. But those who have long insisted that U.S. military action against Assad is morally imperative should follow those premises through to their conclusions when it comes to Obama and Trump.

10. None of this disproves, obviously, that Hillary Clinton was also a dangerous hawk.

Every time Trump drops another bomb, Democratic pundits declare vindication over those always-unnamed people who they claim argued during the campaign that Trump was more anti-war than Clinton:

Who are the people who argued that Trump would be more anti-war than Clinton? Their numbers were tiny; Maureen Dowd is one of the very people with a prominent platform to claim this. Trump expressly vowed to bomb more frequently and more aggressively, as was often pointed out.

It’s certainly true that any attempt by Trump to remove Assad would violate his oft-stated campaign vows. But whatever else is true, this specific bombing campaign is a bizarre instance to try to defend Clinton given that Clinton, for years – and again yesterday – endorsed this military action. Indeed, Clinton has long endorsed far more extensive military action in Syria than what Trump yesterday ordered, often advocating a no-fly-zone over parts of Syria – which would be a massive and incredibly dangerous military undertaking – and even yesterday calling for the destruction of Assad’s air force.

It’s certainly true that Trump vowed to involve the U.S. in fewer wars than Clinton wanted, and for a narrower range of reasons. And that may still end up happening. Indeed, many of Trump’s most vocal supporters yesterday were expressing anger even over this limited bombing campaign in Syria. But to take a military action that Clinton herself favored and try to use it to suggest that Clinton would have been less hawkish is just bizarre and deceitful beyond belief.

Ultimately, what is perhaps most depressing about all of this is how, yet again, we see the paucity of choice offered by American democracy. The leadership of both parties can barely contain themselves joining together to cheer the latest war. One candidate – the losing one – ran on a platform of launching this new war, while the other – the victor – repeatedly vowed to avoid it, only to launch it after being in office fewer than 100 days.

The one constant of American political life is that the U.S. loves war. Martin Luther King’s 1967 denunciation of the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” is more accurate than ever.

UPDATE: While Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday urged an investigation before any action is taken, once Trump’s bombs fell, he issued a statement expressing full support, directly contradicting his earlier statements: “President Assad’s use of chemical weapons and the crimes the Syrian regime has committed against its own people cannot be ignored.”

— source by Glenn Greenwald

The greatest purveyor of violence on Earth

– James Comey investigation

Noam Chomsky talking:

you can understand why the Democratic Party managers want to try to find some blame for the fact—for the way they utterly mishandled the election and blew a perfect opportunity to win, handed it over to the opposition. But that’s hardly a justification for allowing the Trump policies to slide by quietly, many of them not only harmful to the population, but extremely destructive, like the climate change policies, and meanwhile focus on one thing that could become a step forward, if it was adjusted to move towards serious efforts to reduce growing and dangerous tensions right on the Russian border, where they could blow up. NATO maneuvers are taking place hundreds of yards from the Russian border. The Russian jet planes are buzzing American planes. This—something could get out of hand very easily. Both sides, meanwhile, are building up their military forces, adding—the U.S. is—one thing that the Russians are very much concerned about is the so-called anti-ballistic missile installation that the U.S. is establishing near the Russian border, allegedly to protect Europe from nonexistent Iranian missiles. Nobody seriously believes that. This is understood to be a first strike threat. These are serious issues. People like William Perry, who has a distinguished career and is a nuclear strategist and is no alarmist at all, is saying that we’re back to the—this is one of the worst moments of the Cold War, if not worse. That’s really serious. And efforts to try to calm that down would be very welcome. And we should bear in mind it’s the Russian border. It’s not the Mexican border. There’s no Warsaw Pact maneuvers going on in Mexico. And that’s a border that the Russians are quite reasonably sensitive about. They’ve practically been destroyed several times the last century right through that region.

– Trump’s Threats Toward N. Korea Could Backfire

it’s kind of interesting to look at the record. The claim is “Well, we’ve tried everything. Nothing works. Therefore, we have to use force.” Is it true that nothing’s worked? I mean, there is a record, after all. And if you look at the record, it’s interesting.

1994, Clinton made—established what was called the Framework Agreement with North Korea. North Korea would terminate its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. would reduce hostile acts. It more or less worked, and neither side lived up to it totally, but, by 2000, North Korea had not proceeded with its nuclear weapons programs. George W. Bush came in and immediately launched an assault on North Korea—you know, “axis of evil,” sanctions and so on. North Korea turned to producing nuclear weapons. In 2005, there was an agreement between North Korea and the United States, a pretty sensible agreement. North Korea agreed to terminate its development of nuclear weapons. In return, it called for a nonaggression pact. So, stop making hostile threats, relief from harsh sanctions, and provision of a system to provide North Korea with low-enriched uranium for medical and other purposes—that was the proposal. George Bush instantly tore it to shreds. Within days, the U.S. was imposing—trying to disrupt North Korean financial transactions with other countries through Macau and elsewhere. North Korea backed off, started building nuclear weapons again. I mean, maybe you can say it’s the worst regime in history, whatever you like, but they have been following a pretty rational tit-for-tat policy.

And why are they developing nuclear weapons altogether? I mean, the economy is in bad shape. They could certainly use the resources. Everyone understands that it’s a deterrent. And they have a proposal, actually. There’s a proposal on the table. China and North Korea proposed that North Korea should terminate its further development of nuclear weapons. In return, the United States should stop carrying out threatening military maneuvers with South Korea right on its border. Not an unreasonable proposal. It’s simply dismissed. Actually, Obama dismissed it, too. There are possible steps that could be taken to alleviate which could be an extremely serious crisis. I mean, if the U.S. did decide to use force against North Korea, one immediate reaction, according to the military sources available to us, is that Seoul, the city of Seoul, would simply be wiped out by mass North Korean artillery aimed at it. And who knows where we’d go from there? But the opportunity to produce—to move towards a negotiated diplomatic settlement does not seem outlandish. I mean, this Chinese-North Korean proposal is certainly worth serious consideration, I would think.

And it’s worth bearing in mind that North Korea has some memories. They were practically destroyed by some of the most intensive bombing in history. The bombing—you should—it’s worth reading. Maybe you should read, people, the official Air Force history of the bombing of North Korea. It’s shattering. I mean, they had flattened the country. There were no targets left. So, therefore, they decided, well, we’ll attack the dams—which is a war crime, of course. And the description of the attack on the dams is—without the exact wording, I hate to paraphrase it. You should really read the—they were simply exalting, in the official histories, Air Force Quarterly and others, about the—how magnificent it will be to see this massive flood of water coursing through North Korea, wiping out crops. For Asians, the rice crops is their life. This will destroy them. It will be magnificent. The North Koreans lived through that. And having nuclear-capable B-52s flying on their border is not a joke.

But, most significantly, there’s a record of partial success in diplomatic initiatives, total failure with sanctions and harsh moves, and options that are on the table which could be pursued. Now, instead of concern about whether somebody talked to the Russians, this is the kind of thing that should be—that should be pursued very seriously. That’s what the Democrats or anyone hoping for some form of peace and justice should be working for.

– relationship is with China

one of the interesting incidents was a public discussion of significant security issues in the resort with people sitting around drinking coffee and having drinks. Maybe they keep the press out, but they didn’t seem to keep the guests out.

the relations with China are an extremely serious issue. China is not going to back down on its fundamental demands, concerning Taiwan, for example. And if Trump—a lot of what China is demanding, I think, is—it shouldn’t be—is not acceptable. It shouldn’t—it’s not internationally acceptable. But the reaction through use of force is just extraordinarily dangerous. I mean, you cannot play that game in international affairs. We are too close to destroying ourselves. You take a look at the record of—through the nuclear age, of near—of accidental—sometimes accidental, sometimes kind of irrational actions. It’s almost miraculous that we’ve survived.

And anything that—to get a good estimate of this, of the danger, take a look at the best monitor of the global security situation that we have as a simple measure—namely, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock. This is set every year, since the beginning of the nuclear age, 1947, by a group of serious specialists, scientists, political analysts and others, who try to give a measure of the danger that the human species faces. Midnight means we’re finished. In 1947, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, right after the U.S. and Russia tested hydrogen bombs, thermonuclear weapons, it went to two minutes to midnight. That’s the closest it’s been to total disaster. Right now, as soon as Trump came in, it was moved to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, both because of the nuclear threat, recognized to be serious, and the threat of environmental catastrophe, which was not considered in the earlier years, now is.

Now, those are, overwhelmingly, the most crucial issues that face us. Everything else fades into insignificance in comparison to them. Those are literally questions of survival. And two-and-a-half minutes to midnight means extraordinary danger. These should be the major focus of attention. And it’s kind of astonishing to see the way they’re ignored. Throughout the whole electoral campaign, practically no mention of them. Every Republican candidate, every single one, either—with regard to the climate, either denied what is happening or else said—the moderates, like Jeb Bush, Kasich, said, “Well, maybe it’s happening, but doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t do anything about it.”

– the U.S. just led the boycott at the U.N. of the nuclear ban talks.

It joined with the other nuclear powers, unfortunately. There are—there’s also the question of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. There are now three nuclear powers which have refused to ratify it: China, the United States and Israel. And if tests begin again, it’s an extremely serious danger. As I mentioned, it was when the first tests were carried out that the Doomsday Clock went to two minutes to midnight.

There’s the problem of the New START Treaty, a treaty—there has been inadequate, but significant, reduction in nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. The New START Treaty is supposed to carry it forward. Russia and the United States have the overwhelming mass of the nuclear weapons. And this would cut down the number, but also the more threatening ones, would reduce it. Trump has indicated—I don’t know—nobody knows what he means, but he’s indicated that is what he calls a bad deal for the United States, suggesting maybe we should pull out of it, which would be a disaster. I mean, these are major issues. And the fact that they’re barely being discussed is a shattering commentary on the level of contemporary civilization.

– comments in AlterNet that Trump admin could stage attack

actually, the statement I made was pretty muted. It wasn’t quite as strong as the headlines indicated. What I pointed out—and what everyone, I think, is aware of—is that sooner or later this con game is not going to work. People will understand he’s not bringing back jobs. He’s not going to recreate the partly illusory, partly real picture of what life was like in the past, with manufacturing jobs and a functioning society, and you could get ahead, and so and so forth. He’s not going to create that.

What happens at that point? Something has to be done to maintain control. The obvious technique is scapegoating. So blame it on immigrants, on Muslims, on somebody. But that can only go so far. The next step would be, as I said, an alleged terrorist attack, which is quite easy. It’s, in fact, almost normal to—like Condoleezza Rice’s mushroom clouds. That’s easy to construct, alleged attacks. The other possibility is a staged attack of a minor kind. And how hard would that be? Take the FBI technique, which they’re using constantly, of creating situations of entrapment. Well, suppose one of them goes a little too far, that you don’t stop it right in time. That wouldn’t be hard to work out. I don’t particularly anticipate it, but it’s a possibility. And this is a very frightened country. For years, this has been probably the most frightened country in the world. It’s also the safest country in the world. It’s very easy to terrify people.

– war with Iran

That’s been going on for years. Right through the Obama years, Iran was regarded as the greatest threat to world peace. And that’s repeated over and over. “All options are open,” Obama’s phrase, meaning, if we want to use nuclear weapons, we can, because of this terrible danger to peace.

Actually, we have—there’s a few interesting comments that should be made about this. One is, there also is something called world opinion. What does the world think is the greatest threat to world peace? Well, we know that, from U.S.-run polls, Gallup polls: United States. Nobody even close, far ahead of any other threat. Pakistan, second, much lower. Iran, hardly mentioned.

Why is Iran regarded here as the greatest threat to world peace? Well, we have an authoritative answer to that from the intelligence community, which provides regular assessments to Congress on the global strategic situation. And a couple of years ago, their report—of course, they always discuss Iran. And the reports are pretty consistent. They say Iran has very low military spending, even by the standards of the region, much lower than Saudi Arabia, Israel, others. Its strategy is defensive. They want to deter attacks long enough for diplomacy to be entertained. The conclusion, intelligence conclusion—this is a couple years ago—is: If they are developing nuclear weapons, which we don’t know, but if they are, it would be part of their deterrent strategy. Now, why is the United States and Israel even more so concerned about a deterrent? Who’s concerned about a deterrent? Those who want to use force. Those who want to be free to use force are deeply concerned about a potential deterrent. So, yes, Iran is the greatest threat to world peace, might deter our use of force.

– 50th anniversary of Dr. King giving his “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church, where he said the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence on Earth.”

that speech by King was very important, also other speeches he gave at the same time, which have, at the time, seriously harmed his reputation among liberal Northerners. He sharply condemned the war in Vietnam, which was the worst crime since the Second World War. The other thing he was doing was trying to create a poor people’s movement, a non-racially separated poor people’s movement.

Noam Chomsky
world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. He is institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. His new book comes out today, titled Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.

— source

Syria Has Become a Circus of Death

Syria, where at least 72 people have died, including 20 children, in a suspected chemical attack in the northern province of Idlib. It’s been described as the largest chemical attack in Syria since 2013. The United States, France and Britain have accused the Assad government of carrying out the attack and have proposed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning it. Meanwhile, Russia is claiming the gases were released after a Syrian airstrike hit a depot where rebels were making chemical weapons.

Dr. Rola Hallam talking:

it would seem that about 6:30 in the morning, there was an airstrike in a town that has—that resulted in hundreds of civilians, mostly children, I believe, about 50 percent of them, to exhibit signs of exposure to a nerve agent. So they were found to be either comatose, not breathing, foaming at the mouth, having spasms, vomiting. Many were rushed to nearby Rahma Hospital, as well as an MSF-based clinic, that were then also hit by an airstrike. And I believe the death toll now is at over a hundred civilians, with about 380 injured.

Syria has now become a circus of death. There are just so many incredible ways in which civilians are now being slaughtered. From—as a doctor, as an anesthesiologist, you know, the targeting of healthcare and of doctors in these last few years, over 340 facilities that have been attacked, nearly 800 of my colleagues—doctors, nurses and aid workers—who have been killed, for delivering aid. And now you’ve got this chemical weapons attack. I was actually in Syria when the last large attack happened in Ghouta in 2013. Those images yesterday, I have to say, paralyzed me for most of the day, as they brought back horrific memories of what I witnessed myself, not in Damascus with the chemical weapons, but of a similar aerial bombardment with an incendiary weapon, and children who also arrived unable to breathe because of their choking. And that’s obviously not even considering the over 1 million who are being starved to death. So, I think that, with this—with this circus of murder, that there is a need to uphold international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, and that’s protecting the medical neutrality as well as stopping these indiscriminate, murderous attacks on civilians.

what I find incredibly frustrating about all of these discussions is that, in a bid to kind of point the finger at whodunnit, we forget the civilians, and we forget the incredible, heroic work of the Syrian humanitarians. And we have had to get up and dust ourselves, day in and day out, as we get attacked, as our community and civilians get attacked. And then we’re not discussed, right? The suffering doesn’t get discussed.

There are now like hundreds of people who have lost their children, who have lost their wives, who have lost their husbands. There are now even fewer medical facilities, when we already know that 11 million people are in dire need of healthcare. What does that look like? We don’t talk about that. That means women are delivering on their kitchen floor with no healthcare workers. That means whenever there are the basic infections, there are no more antibiotics left in Syria. People are having to have surgery without anesthesia, or not having surgery at all. I find it really frustrating that we never really talk about these really incredible examples of suffering, which are really, really important to discuss.

As doctors and as humanitarians, we’re not interested in regime change and who’s in charge. What we are interested in is stopping the bloodshed and stopping this mass murder and massacre of civilians. I don’t think that it’s a very big change in policy, to be honest. I think it’s just now a little bit more honest than it was before.

And I’ll be speaking with the U.S. ambassador, Haley, at the summit this evening. And I look forward to speaking with her about what does the United Nations intend to do on these blatant disregard for various humanitarian laws and norms, because I think this is a really dangerous precedent that’s being set right now in Syria. When it becomes normal to target and bomb hospitals and use it as a weapon of war, when it becomes normal, after countless resolutions in the United Nations banning the use of these mass—agents of mass destruction, then what happens next? And what if—in another war in Europe, in the States, is it OK to start bombing your hospitals? I think that is an incredible, dangerous precedent.

I think Russia can do an awful lot, as we know. It supposedly brokered this chemical weapons deal back in 2013, which we know was just a stage. There’s been over 160 chemical weapons attack. And actually, there was one large one back in December using sarin gas, where nearly a hundred people were killed there, as well. So, I think there is a huge amount that they can do.

But, look, we’re not short on evidence in Syria, Amy. What we are short on is action. We’re short on leadership. It is—it is complex. But there are—I cannot believe that in—you know, we’re human beings. We’ve put man on the moon. We’re now talking about setting up colonies on the moon and Mars. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we actually can bring a political solution and stop this bloodshed. But it requires leadership, and brave leadership, and we seem to be short on that around the world.

the glimmer of hope in this real kind of scene of absolute devastation. So, the People’s Convoy was basically—it came out of the bombings of five hospitals in east Aleppo back in November. And I knew that so many people around the world, engaged citizens, wanted to show their love, care and support and solidarity with Syrian humanitarians, but didn’t know how to channel that. So that was where the People’s Convoy came. And over 5,000 people from around the world crowdfunded the first-ever hospital. And we then physically took the hospital equipment all the way to Syria, working with the Independent Doctors Association, our Syrian NGO. And they were just so incredibly moved by this happening from around the world. They’ve called it Hope Hospital. And today, Hope Hospital opened its doors to children in Aleppo area.

We have a huge deficit in the humanitarian aid that needs to be delivered there, and there are multiple reasons for that. Certainly, there’s over a million, as you know, in besieged areas that we cannot access. But the huge problem, Amy, is that we’ve got—it’s the local humanitarians, the Syrian NGOs, that are delivering most of the work. In fact, Local to Global Protection said we were doing 75 percent of the humanitarian work. But we are receiving a shocking less than 1 percent of the humanitarian funding. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the groups who have access, who are actually delivering the aid on the ground, do not have the funding, that therefore there are millions of people who are needlessly dying and suffering, because we’re not able to deliver the aid that is happening, that is there, to them.

there has just been so many signs by various international leaders that these war crimes are going to continue to occur with impunity. And that is what’s happening.

Dr. Rola Hallam
British-Syrian doctor speaking at the Women in the World Summit today. She’s the founder and CEO of the nonprofit CanDo.

— source