The one idea interventionists have to solve the Syrian conflict is to eliminate the Assad regime. Regime change is the solution to the humanitarian calamity, they reason, because the Assad is the one doing all the killing. As Sen. John McCain has repeatedly yelped, “The fact is Bashar Assad has massacred 100,000 people.”

Actually, he hasn’t. According to SOHR data cited by Micah Zenko and Amelia M. Wolf of the Council on Foreign Relations, “most of the reported deaths in Syria have not been committed by forces under Bashar al-Assad’s command.”

While noting “the potential bias and the methodological challenges” of the data, Zenko and Wolf show that, despite depictions of the Syrian civil war as a regime indiscriminately killing its civilians, “more pro-regime forces than civilians have been killed during the Syrian civil war.”


There are two noticeably provocative elements of SOHR’s estimates. First, while estimates for rebel force casualties were a separate category in SOHR’s previous estimates, SOHR has now included rebel force casualties (24,275) within civilian casualties, totaling 75,487. Above, rebel forces have been listed separately, which reveals that, according to SOHR’s estimates, more pro-regime forces than civilians have been killed during the Syrian civil war.

The Syrian civil war is a messy, multi-sided conflict in which civilians have been killed by all sides and in which combatants make up most of the reported deaths. Zenko made this same point back in September, when an earlier data set on the Syrian death count was released. “The types of interventions that proponents have endorsed for Syria…have almost nothing to do with how Syrian non-combatants are actually being killed,” he wrote.

Obviously, this does not excuse the Assad regime’s many war crimes or lessen its evil brutality, which does include killing and torturing civilians. But the indexed estimated death count paints a very different picture of the conflict than the one described by Washington’s most vocal interventionists. A common policy proposal to mitigate the mass suffering in Syria is for the U.S. to help the rebels and undermine the Assad regime, a scheme that just becomes ludicrous after looking at the data.

Update: This post should be absorbed along with the news that Syrian opposition fighters now have U.S.-made anti-tank missiles given to them by Saudi Arabia with Washington’s consent.

Kudos to Democracy Now for covering this:


When faced with ideas of non-intervention in foreign policy, the most common refrain among hawkish Republicans is that such notions are naive, immature, unrealistic, and “wacko.” In reality, it is the foreign policy worldview of the Republican establishment that has been thoroughly discredited as naive and unrealistic.

What is most odd is that the right-wingers on the attack against the small libertarian-leaning wing of the party that opposes rabid interventionism seem thoroughly unaware that what they call “naive” foreign policy is actually backed up by history and much of academia.

Rich Lowry, Editor of National Review, is miffed by Rand Paul’s foreign policy ideas. Rand’s “instincts,” Lowry writes, “sometimes seem more appropriate to a dorm-room bull session than the Situation Room.”

Specifically, Lowry is upset about a YouTube video from 2008 that resurfaced depicting Paul skewering Dick Cheney and his motivations for the invasion of Iraq. Here are the key excerpts:

There’s a great YouTube of Dick Cheney in 1995 defending [President] Bush No. 1 [and the decision not to invade Baghdad in the first Gulf War], and he goes on for about five minutes. He’s being interviewed, I think, by the American Enterprise Institute, and he says it would be a disaster, it would be vastly expensive, it’d be civil war, we would have no exit strategy. He goes on and on for five minutes. Dick Cheney saying it would be a bad idea. And that’s why the first Bush didn’t go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good idea to go into Iraq.

Paul continued:

The day after 9/11, [CIA chief] George Tenet is going in the [White] House and [Pentagon adviser] Richard Perle is coming out of the White House. And George Tenet should know more about intelligence than anybody in the world, and the first thing Richard Perle says to him on the way out is, “We’ve got it, now we can go into Iraq.” And George Tenet, who supposedly knows as much intelligence as anybody in the White House says, “Well, don’t we need to know that they have some connection to 9/11?” And, he [Perle] says, “It doesn’t matter.” It became an excuse. 9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.

Detractors like Lowry condemn Paul for arguing Cheney pushed for the invasion of Iraq solely to benefit Halliburton. That doesn’t really seem to be what Paul was saying. He seemed to be making the rather benign observation that Cheney’s experiences working the “revolving door” of government-corporate-military-energy sector over many years probably had a deep affect on his foreign policy views.

And the latter point about how the Bush administration cobbled together unrelated evidence post-9/11 in order to pursue a war in Iraq that had already been decided upon irrespective of real evidence is just about as accepted a take on early Bush policy as there is.

Paul Pillar, who was head of the CIA’s MidEast division during the march to war, has spoken extensively on this point. He has explained that “a policy decision clearly had already been made [to invade Iraq],” and “intelligence was being looked to to support that decision rather to inform decisions yet to be made.” This was the impression of the Bush administration’s counterparts in Britain, as well, as the famous Downing Street memo showed (“the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”).

But Lowry’s beef with Rand Paul’s foreign policy doesn’t end with these Iraq comments:


In a powerful testament to the value of Edward Snowden’s decision to leak, the Pulitzer Prize for journalism was awarded to the Guardian and the Washington Post. This came just days after the lead reporters on Snowden’s NSA stories – Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, and Ewan MacAskill – received the Polk Award for their journalism. Everyone involved in receiving these awards said they really belonged to Edward Snowden.

Snowden has been called a criminal, a traitor, a thief, a terrorist sympathizer, and worse. But these awards, along with the awards and international accolades Snowden himself has received, vindicate his actions and make fools out of those in Washington who can’t help but condemn him as a traitor. In a statement, Snowden said the award is “a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government.”

The Washington Post reports on its Executive Editor Martin Baron’s statement on the Pulitzer win:

“Disclosing the massive expansion of the NSA’s surveillance network absolutely was a public service,” Baron said. “In constructing a surveillance system of breathtaking scope and intrusiveness, our government also sharply eroded individual privacy. All of this was done in secret, without public debate, and with clear weaknesses in oversight.”

Baron added that without Snowden’s disclosures, “we never would have known how far this country had shifted away from the rights of the individual in favor of state power. There would have been no public debate about the proper balance between privacy and national security. As even the president has acknowledged, this is a conversation we need to have.”

Exactly. But not everyone feels that way.

Here’s a tweet from one of Snowden’s most aggressive critics, Rep. Peter King (R-NY):

King, remember, refuses to call the award winning journalists “reporters.” He calls them “accomplices.”

U.S. Army Spc. Tyler Meehan observes Kenyan trainees

U.S. Army Spc. Tyler Meehan observes Kenyan trainees

The U.S. is assembling the rudiments of imperial infrastructure throughout Africa, and hardly anybody knows about it. Hardly anybody knows about it because the government and military refuse to divulge much of U.S. foreign policy towards Africa. You see, U.S. foreign policy is really none of our business.

The Obama administration has been slowly – and very quietly – peppering the U.S. military throughout the continent and putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of government contractors to build the necessary infrastructure for a permanent U.S. military presence.

Washington has been increasing its support for African regimes, many with records of human rights violations, and boosting efforts to train African militaries to keep them dependent on the Pentagon. The U.S. is training and equipping militaries in countries including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia – not to mention operations in Libya, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, et al.

Reporter Nick Turse has been at the forefront of reporting on America’s gradual infiltration of Africa. He writes this week about, among other things, the difference between what military officials say about Africa policy when asked by reporters and what they tell U.S. contractors looking to do business for taxpayer money. To journalists, the Pentagon maintains that we’re hardly doing anything in Africa beyond “humanitarian assistance.” To the military industrial complex, they say America is “at war” in Africa and is looking for a “permanent footprint” throughout the continent.

Captain Rick Cook, the chief of US Africa Command’s Engineer Division, was addressing an audience of more than fifty representatives of some of the largest military engineering firms on the planet—and this reporter. The contractors were interested in jobs and he wasn’t pulling any punches. “The eighteen months or so that I’ve been here, we’ve been at war the whole time,” Cook told them. “We are trying to provide opportunities for the African people to fix their own African challenges. Now, unfortunately, operations in Libya, South Sudan, and Mali, over the last two years, have proven there’s always something going on in Africa.”

Cook was one of three US military construction officials who, earlier this month, spoke candidly about the Pentagon’s efforts in Africa to men and women from URS Corporation, AECOM, CH2M Hill and other top firms. During a paid-access web seminar, the three of them insisted that they were seeking industry “partners” because the military has “big plans” for the continent. They foretold a future marked by expansion, including the building up of a “permanent footprint” in Djibouti for the next decade or more, a possible new compound in Niger, and a string of bases devoted to surveillance activities spreading across the northern tier of Africa. They even let slip mention of a small, previously unacknowledged US compound in Mali.

Turse sums up some of the activities the U.S. is known to be engaged in: “Over the last several years, the US has been building a constellation of drone bases across Africa, flying intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions out of not only Niger, but also Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the island nation of the Seychelles.”

[The US military] now averages far more than a mission a day on the continent, conducting operations with almost every African military force, in almost every African country, while building or building up camps, compounds, and “contingency security locations.” The US has taken an active role in wars from Libya to the Central African Republic, sent special ops forces into countries from Somalia to South Sudan, conducted airstrikes and abduction missions, even put boots on the ground in countries where it pledged it would not.

Meanwhile, CNN is preoccupied with its 500th hour straight of the missing Malaysian airline coverage. Fox is busy with its perennial Benghazi conspiracy theories and antagonistic coverage of Russian policy in Ukraine. And MSNBC doesn’t dare cover anything but Obama’s benevolent domestic social policies. In the newspapers, one can find the occasional report of U.S. missions in Africa, but they hardly question the wisdom or legitimacy of such interventions (and hardly anyone reads the newspapers anyhow).

Mix this deficient news media environment with the Pentagon’s utter refusal to answer straight questions about U.S. interventionism in Africa, and you have a public that is completely uninformed about a growing chunk of U.S. foreign policy that will soon (as it already has) render dangerous unintended consequences.


The White House has just confirmed what had been reported in Russian media that CIA Director John Brennan was in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev over the weekend.

“Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is accusing the CIA of being behind the new government’s decision to turn to force,” AP reports. “But the CIA denies that Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations.”

One would have to be incredibly gullible to believe that the CIA Director was in Kiev for benign reasons, just to catch up and have tea with the new leadership.

Coming alongside this news is word from the State Department that, “the United States is considering supplying arms to Ukraine,” to fight against pro-Russian militias and protesters in the east.

This looks like the beginnings of a new proxy war. If the U.S. goes down this road, even in a limited fashion, Ukraine will descend into even worse chaos and Eastern Europe will become a resource sinkhole for an already indebted U.S.

The pull of getting involved in proxy wars is intoxicatingly strong for an obvious reason: proxies do all the work. Just provide surrogates cash and guns and voilà! The devil, as always, is in the details. Proxy wars are usually waged secretly and thus represent U.S. foreign policy that the American people (and indeed most of the U.S. government itself) has no say in. They usually involve supporting unscrupulous groups of people that often end up committing serious crimes (although, it’s by proxy so U.S. officials typically wiggle out of any responsibility).

Perhaps most importantly, research shows pretty clearly that when foreign powers meddle in a civil conflict-turn-proxy war, the conflict is prolonged and often becomes stalemated. Each side in Ukraine is already emboldened by their respective foreign backers and therefore neither has incentive to compromise.

Beyond all of those palpable reasons not to get involved in a proxy war, one question that is barely (if ever) asked in the mainstream is what business the U.S. has of getting involved in the Ukraine crisis in the first place. Ukraine is not a vital U.S. interest, even as defined by policymakers in Washington, D.C. who think virtually “every nook and cranny of the globe is of great strategic significance.”

Commentators left and right can holler all they want about Moscow’s transgressions, but it doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. has no right or legal sanction whatsoever to meddle in Ukraine.

If it’s true that Brennan was conducting tactical operations in Ukraine and that the State Department is going to send in weapons to Kiev, then Americans can wait for Ukraine to get much, much worse, as both eastern and western Ukraine become emboldened by their respective backers in Moscow and Washington, neither of which are apparently willing to back down themselves.