Allow me to offer a heretic's view of events in Syria.
I have always challenged the official wisdom that Assad bore responsibility for the original chemical attack on Ghouta. Yes, I've read the Human Rights Watch report; in previous posts, I have offered my reasons for dissent. Similarly, I doubt Assad's culpability in the case of the Idlib attack of April, 2017.
Regarding the current outrage: Although we don't yet have a full picture, this nation may regret the rush to judgment. Weren't Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles destroyed
while Kerry was Secretary of State?
Other players in the war could have deployed chemical weapons -- the Russians, for example. Moreover, it would not be difficult to spoof the electronic intelligence which has convinced world leaders of Assad's responsibility. For what it is worth, Syrian Girl
claims -- with some interesting video evidence -- that the victims were civilians from a pro-Assad town kidnapped and held hostage by an allegedly "moderate" Islamist force.
Our first and best question is always "Cui bono?" -- who benefits?
Assad has nothing to gain from staging an attack on civilians. How could he possibly benefit by filling television screens with images of dying children? With victory nearer than ever, why would he incur the wrath of the international community?
Russia, by contrast, has much to gain from staging a false flag attack. In order to insure that the Republicans do not lose control of the House later this year, Russia and Trump must stage a spectacle -- a bit of theater in which Trump seemingly confronts Putin and "wins." If Putin loses face, fine -- as long as a brief humiliation serves a greater end. A staged mano-y-mano
showdown with Putin will raise Trump's poll numbers and damage the collusion narrative.
What of Russia's ally, Assad? He is expendable. In chess, one may be required to sacrifice a bishop to gain a checkmate. From the Russian point of view, keeping Trump in power is more important than keeping Assad in power.
Assad's primary ally is Iran, which has done much of the heavy lifting in the civil war. The Trump administration has tied itself to Saudi Arabia, which considers Iran the Great Satan.
Unnoticed by most Americans -- and to be honest, unnoticed by me
until yesterday -- Russia has recently decided to switch sides in the Iran/Saudi Arabia conflict.
King Salman visited Russia in October
. He is, in fact, the very first ruler of that country to do so.
Moscow and Riyadh worked together to secure a deal between OPEC and other oil producers to cut output until the end of March 2018, helping support prices.
Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said Saudi Arabia was “flexible” regarding Moscow’s suggestion to extend the pact until the end of next year.
The message of further joint Saudi-Russia action on output helped push up oil prices on Thursday.
Raising oil prices is key; the Saudi royal family cannot stay in power if oil remains cheap. They need Putin's help. Last month, the two nations reached a new deal
Georgetown University Professor Angela Stent said it may be that Saudi Arabia believes Russia could help it with Iran, which it fears will develop nuclear weapons and is on the opposite side from Saudi in a proxy war in Yemen.
Croft said the United States has left a vacuum with its shifting Middle East policies. "I think our Iran policy, what happened in Syria, they did not think America was a stalwart. Then you have the Russians. They were willing to be more transactional with them," Croft said.
"Right now Russia and Saudi Arabia's relationship is becoming thicker than oil," Croft said. As for the Saudis, "I think they see themselves as trying to show the Russians they have a better friend in the Middle East (than Iran)."
Russia's new BFF is Saudi Arabia, which means that Putin now grooves with the goal of rolling back Iranian influence throughout the region. Assad's dismissal or death will serve Russia's larger purposes, especially if the world thinks that Trump engineered his downfall over Russian objections.
Putin doesn't like to look bad, but he also understands the larger picture. If he temporarily
receives an egg facial, Trump will be able to secure power.
Needless to say, I have just outlined a scenario which both the right and the left will consider Thoughtcrime Most Foul. You know me: I cannot be a happy man until I've contrived to piss off everyone
Did you see the war propaganda flooding MSNBC yesterday?
Disgusting! Throughout the day, they promulgated a ridiculous version of the Syrian Civil War which ignored a key fact: If Assad had fallen, a combination of ISIS and Al Qaeda would have taken power. The "Free Syrian Army" was never anything more than a grand fiction constructed to please an American audience; only the jihadis possessed sufficient muscle to challenge Assad.
Must I once again state for the record something which should go without saying? Perhaps I must. Assad is no angel; we need not shed a single tear if he goes down. Nevertheless, the choice has been clear since 2013: This civil war was destined to end with a victory for either Assad or the jihadists. There never was a viable third option. I have long agreed with the Christians in Syria, who consider Assad the lesser of those two evils.
John Bolton will spend the next little while pretending to excoriate Putin. Don't be fooled: It's all playacting and pretense. The Russia/Saudi oil deal tells the real
story, and all else is theater. After a brief period of faux conflict -- which will end in Trump scoring a much-needed foreign policy triumph (resulting in a Republican win in November) -- there will be complete harmony of purpose between Putin, Trump and the neocons.
Trump has often repulsed and frightened me, but never moreso than yesterday, when he ranted about the FBI raid conducted against his attorney (and fixer) Michael Cohen. Absurdly, Trump blamed a Democratic plot, even though Democrats had nothing to do with this affair.
Mueller -- not
a Democrat, although the right likes to pretend otherwise -- did not order the raid. The decision fell to the United States Attorney for Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, a Trump appointee and a Rudy Giuliani law partner.
Let me repeat that: He's a Trump appointee and a Rudy Giuliani law partner.
Berman was assigned this position temporarily. Until yesterday, he expected Trump to give him the job on a permanent basis. Thus, when Berman approved this raid, he did so knowing what he was sacrificing.
The obvious conclusion: The evidence which prompted this raid must have been explosive
. Only a major threat to our democracy and/or the rule of law would have compelled Berman to make a move so injurious to his career.
This nearly-unprecedented raid also received approval from a judge. A raid on a lawyer
is not a decision to be made lightly.
What prompted so extraordinary an action? Nobody knows. The Washington Post
suggests bank fraud and campaign finance violations, and many people believe that these listed motives point to the Stormy Daniels affair. But
Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records, including tax returns, as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, that person said.
In a dramatic and broad seizure, federal prosecutors collected communications between Cohen and his clients — including those between the lawyer and Trump, according to both people.
Berman obviously did not go to such lengths just to please Michael Avenatti. So far, the contretemps between Stormy Daniels and Trump is a purely civil affair. How could a civil lawsuit give rise to all of this
The Justice Department has extensive rules about seizing records of lawyers that could typically fall under attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors are required to consult with the the Criminal Division at Main Justice, and to get the sign off of the U.S. attorney overseeing the investigation or the relevant assistant attorney general. It’s also recommended that a special team of attorneys who are walled off from the prosecutors overseeing the inquiry be set up to review the potentially privileged documents.
“It’s procedurally cumbersome, it’s sensitive, it raises the hackles of the bar,” Sam Buell, a former prosecutor who worked on the Enron investigation, told TPM. “It’s not done on a fishing expedition. It’s only done when you’re reasonably confident that you’re going to find evidence of criminality and you need to do it with a search warrant.”
Investigators’ willingness to go the route of a high-profile raid, instead of a less intrusive subpoena or even a voluntary request for documents, suggested to outside experts that there’s at least some concern that Cohen could be withholding evidence.
Question: How would they know
that Cohen would hide or destroy evidence?
I smell a rat. That is: I think that someone formerly on Team Trump is functioning as an inside source. For what it's worth, Bill Palmer speculates that Giuliani is the rat
Unless you think Giuliani was fully exonerated in the Trump-Russia scandal by Robert Mueller prior to January, which seems incredibly unlikely that early on in the overall investigation, the other explanation would be that Giuliani cut a plea deal prior to January. Back in February, Palmer Report pointed out that Giuliani sounded very wary of what the FBI can do a criminal target, suggesting he’d already been through the ringer by then.
I've given Palmer a fair amount of gas over the past few months -- his rah-rah optimism just annoys the living hell
out of a natural-born cynic like yours truly -- but this particular theory may have merit.
Let's get back to Trump's reaction.
His rant was beyond bizarre. He used the raid as an opportunity to excoriate Mueller, even though Mueller did not order the raid. He insisted that Mueller should have looked into Hillary Clinton's imaginary "crimes," even though Mueller was not tasked with investigating Hillary Clinton (despite the nonsense you hear from the crackpot legions following Q-anon).
Trump then both slammed and praised Rod Rosenstein. I'll deal with both the attack and the kudos.
The attack concerned Rosenstein's approval of a FISA warrant against Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump. In 2013, FBI eavesdroppers learned that the FSB intended to recruit Page. (The Steele dossier played no role in this matter.) In 2016, Page made the bizarre decision to absent himself from the Trump campaign in order to visit Russia and meet with an important official
in Putin's government. Of course
a FISA warrant was granted to eavesdrop on Page! Not
approving that warrant would have been utterly irresponsible -- and I say that as someone who has devoted many a post to our right to privacy.
Trump's words of praise for Rosenstein were even more bizarre. The president gave Rosenstein a thumb's up for writing a report critical of James Comey. What Trump refuses to divulge is that this report chided Comey for being unfair to Hillary Clinton
. What bothered Rosenstein was Comey's public discussion of the Weiner laptop mess, for that discussion handed the presidency to Trump.
The Trump team opportunistically used Rosenstein's report as "cover" for firing Comey.
At first, Trump's pal Roger Stone
went with this cover story and decried Comey's unfairness to Clinton. Stone's actual tweet: "What Comey did to Hillary was disgraceful. I'm glad Trump fired him over it." Within a very short while, Trump himself
blew this cover story during his interview with Lester Holt, on which occasion Trump admitted that he fired Comey in order to deep six the Russia investigation. On cue, Roger the Dodger derided Comey as a Clinton co-conspirator.
Thus, neither Trump's praise of Rosenstein nor his words of condemnation bore much resemblance to the world of fact.
Nevertheless, I predict that he will soon fire Rosenstein, probably using the FISA canard as his grand excuse.