Next Cold War

Accusations of War Crimes in Syria and Yemen; Hillary Will “Take On” Putin

Next Cold War Roundup 10/11/16

Saudi coalition airstrikes on a large funeral in Yemen escalated the war and puts the US at risk of participating in war crimes. The Pentagon may retaliate for an alleged missile fired at a US warship off the coast of Yemen. Naval analysts claim the USS Mason fired missiles during the incident.

The US, UK and France accused Russia and Syria of war crimes in Syria and rhetoric and calls for military intervention continue to escalate. White House talks on intervention were delayed.Hillary Clinton says she’ll “take on” Putin and wants a no-fly zone.

Saudi Strikes on Funeral in Sana’a, Yemen

_ On Saturday, Saudi airstrikes on a funeral in Sana’a killed more than 140 people and injured more than 500.  There are reports of double and triple tap strikes, where the Saudis struck the funeral first then came back and struck first responders more than once. A UN report with information from local health officials said 140 were killed and 545 injured at the community hall where the funeral was in progress.

_ There were thousands of people at the very large community hall (also referred to as a wedding hall). Adam Baron: “scores of civilians, children were present &, judging from images like this, burned alive.”

_ The event was a funeral for the father of a Houthi-allied interior minister who was appointed by the man Yemen’s exiled president, Hadi.

_ Later on Saturday, the Saudis denied that they carried out the airstrikes.

_ Near midnight on the same day in Sana’a, Mohammed Al-Asaadi: “More airstrikes & massive house-shaking blasts. Sitting by my kids, so as soon as I hear missile sound, I cover them by my body.”

_ By Saturday night. the Obama White House, via the New York Times, was doing serious damage control. On Monday, journalist Samuel Oakford followed up with the White House: “US officials say American tankers did not refuel Saudi jets on Saturday, Oct 8 – day of the funeral strike – but continued Sunday.” It’s not clear why the American tankers didn’t refuel Saudi jets on their Saturday mission when they bombed the funeral. Oakford also reported that “there has been no change to US military/logistical support to Saudis.” There seems to be confusion about what the announced review of US support for the Saudis will be, and there may even be an increase in US personnel in the Saudi operations.

_ Sec. State John Kerry expressed “deep concern” about the Saudi massacre and welcomed the Saudi defense minister’s pledge to investigate. The Saudi defense minister, deputy crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, is running the bombing operation. In a phone call, Kerry “urged him to take urgent steps to ensure such an incident does not happen again.”

_ The Saudis will agree to a “renewable 72-hour cessation” if the Houthis agree to pull back from the Saudi border, and Kerry endorsed those terms and has backed the Saudis using framing about their right to defend their territorial integrity, even though the Saudis began the bombing campaign long before the Houthis retaliated with attacks across their border.  Earlier negotiations, where Houthis were required to unilaterally disarm, failed. There are reports of escalation on both sides since the attack on the funeral.

_ In a letter to the UN, Saudi Arabia expressed “deep regret of the attack,” but didn’t admit to doing it. They said they would share the results of the investigation of themselves with the UN.

_ Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), a colonel in the Air Force Reserves, and a “judge advocate general (JAG) lawyer, holds John Kerry accountable because of his support for the Saudi war on Yemen and wrote to US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, asking for an investigation. He had harsh words for Kerry and the atrocities occurring on his watch:

Lieu: “You now have a Saudi Arabian-led coalition that has conducted a massive number of strikes on civilians nowhere near military targets […] Leadership means you don’t support coalitions that are committing massive atrocities […] The bloodshed, I think most would agree, has simply gone on for too long. It has to stop. […] It’s obvious, I believe, to anyone looking at this issue that Saudi Arabia cannot fairly and independently investigate itself on atrocities in Yemen.”


“Legal Blowback” for Obama Administration for Support of Saudi War Crimes in Yemen

_ Jonathan Landay at Reuters has “emails and other records obtained by Reuters and interviews with nearly a dozen officials” on the subject of US arms sales and support for the Saudi bombardment of Yemen. The “Obama administration was warned last year of the the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign.” Government lawyers left the issue of whether the US could be considered a “co-belligerent” open, which would have required the US to “investigate allegations of war crimes.”

_ A 2013 ruling on the war crimes of Charles Taylor in Liberia found that “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” was enough to result in liability for war crimes.

_ State Dept. officials were worried that the Saudis would not be able to target Houthi militants without hitting civilians and civilian infrastructure due to their inexperience and weak intelligence.

_ Democratic congressman Ted Lieu said: “In the law of war, you can be guilty for aiding and abetting war crimes and at some point the … evidence is going to continue to mount and I think the administration is now in an untenable situation.”

_ In addition to the international laws of war, the recent JASTA legislation allows 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for their involvement and also could be used against the US for war crimes. A 9/11 family member said: “If we’re not funding terrorist organisations and killing people, then we don’t have anything to worry about.”

Yemen Escalation Likely in Retaliation for Saudi Airstrikes, Alleged Missiles Fired at US Ships

_ Ruptly published video of hundreds of Yemeni tribes rallying for battle against the Saudi-led coalition.  April Longley Alley, an analyst with the International Crisis Group told the New York Times:

Alley: “This really might be the watershed […] They killed and injured several important moderate leaders who were working with them, who wanted a deal.  “Now the desire for revenge is high, and militants will be empowered, which puts us in a situation where a compromise might not be possible.”

_ The USS Mason, a guided missile destroyer, reported that it “detected two inbound missiles over a 60-minute period while in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen. Both missiles impacted the water before reaching the ship,” according to a Pentagon spokesman. The attack originated in a land area controlled by Houthis.

_ Sen. Lindsey Graham issued a statement demanding that the White House “retaliate swiftly and decisively” against “Iran-backed” Houthis who allegedly fired missiles at the US warship. Those missiles sure were fired at a convenient time, from a Saudi point of view.  Is this another case of US partners or proxies failing to achieve their goals and wanting the US military to come in and win it for them or cripple their enemy so they can pretend they won? The Saudis, despite their great advantages in every way, are having one hell of a time defeating the Houthis.

_ The Houthis fired an anti-tank or anti-ship missile at and destroyed a UAE ship in early October in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait. The Saudi coalition has imposed a blockade on Yemen for 18 months and the UAE has participated in the blockade. The Houthis claimed credit for the strike on their website.  The Houthis and allied tribes “still control nearly all of the country’s Red Sea coast as well as chunks of territory around Sanaa” but have been pushed out of most of the south.

_ The Houthis denied firing missiles at the US ship. Jason Ditz characterizes the incident reported by the Pentagon as “very questionable.” We agree.

_ Sec. Defense Carter was asked if the US would retaliate. Carter: “We are very capable of taking action against anybody who takes action against our warships there or anyone else — anywhere else, sorry.” Carter pledged to “get to the bottom” of the incident and find the “origin” of the missiles. Carter was also asked if the US would change its “footprint” in Yemen and Carter answered but part of the answer was “inaudible”. Carter: “[inaudible]… adjusting our force posture in that area in reaction to the entirety of things that are going on in Yemen and the waters surrounding Yemen.”

_ On Tuesday, naval analysts at USNI News claim that the USS Mason did fire 3 missiles during the incident, one of which may have hit the missile incoming from the Yemini shore. The Pentagon did not confirm this. The analysts were excited about the types of missiles the US navy used.

“It might be the first time the SM-2 used against an actual threat for which it was designed […] It’s definitely the first time ESSM has been used… This is obliviously a huge deal.”

_ The US deployed 3 warships off the coast of Yemen after the incident with the UAE warship: ” USS Nitze (DDG-94), USS Mason (DDG-87) and the afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15).”

_ The USS Ponce is a “large floating base for commando teams” and is called a “mothership” for Navy SEALS. It was an aging warship that was converted into an “an Afloat Forward Staging Base” on a rush order. It ” can also serve as a docking station for several small high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEAL teams.” A laser weapon (LaWs) was deployed on the USS Ponce in 2014. It was “used operationally” in the Persian Gulf and the Navy now plans to test a new laser “directed energy weapon” on the USS Ponce that is 5 times stronger than the current one.

_ The USS Cole was attacked by al Qaeda on Oct. 12, 2000 while anchored in the port city of Aden, Yemen. “The blast created a hole in the port side of the ship about 40 feet (12 m) in diameter, killing 17 crewmembers and injuring 39.”


Meetings on Syria Intervention Postponed

_ The “fever pitch” for military intervention by White House hawks, reported by Josh Rogin, to great fanfare last week, seems to have slowed down, according to Rogin in an interview 4 days later with John Batchelor. Rogin told Batchelor that the Principals Meeting he said was scheduled for Wednesday was postponed, and the National Security Council meeting he said might happen by the weekend, has not even been scheduled.

_ In the new interview, Rogin also talked about action in Congress that is mired in “legislative and bureaucratic minutiae” and stalled by the Democratic leadership. Congress is on recess until after the Nov. 8 election. In a Washington Post article on Oct. 6, Rogin reported that the “White House is actually working to weaken a sanctions bill” against Syria, Russia and Iran and “secretly trying to water down” the Caesar Syria Civilians Protection Act, unilateral sanctions which might be a violation of the Iran deal. Rogin doesn’t mention anything about the meetings he hyped in his Oct. 4 article which spread across news media around the world and triggered a loud response from the Russian defense ministry. Rogin admitted to Batchelor that there is some left over resentment about the Iran deal wrapped up in this legislation, authored by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who fiercely opposed it, and Iran politics mixed up in the Syrian war politics.

_ On Oct. 9. Rogin wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post: “Putin and Assad could face justice for war crimes in Syria.”

Hillary Clinton Supports No-Fly Zone in Syria, Will ‘Take On’ Putin

_ Quotes from a Hillary Clinton speech in 2013, published by Wikileaks and referred to as the “Podesta Emails,” show that she is aware that a no-fly zone means destroying Syria’s air defense systems and would result in many civilian casualties. Nonetheless, during the presidential debate on Sunday night, Clinton reiterated her support for the no-fly zone strategy.

Hillary Clinton (2013): “To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defenses, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk— you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.” [Emphasis added]

Hillary Clinton, 2016 debate: “So I, when I was secretary of state, advocated and I advocate today a no-fly zone and safe zones […] I’ve stood up to Russia. I’ve taken on Putin and others, and I would do that as president.” [Emphasis added]


Headchopper Realignment in Syria

_ The longer version of the story of about a recent reshuffle of the headchopper variety of Syrian “rebels”  can be found in a series of tweets by war correspondent Elijah Magnier, beginning here, and “Walid” provides the tl;dr version:

_ When asked to explain the “ideological difference between ISIS and opposition groups like Ahrar Al-Sham and Jabhat Fath Al-Sham” (aka al Nusra, al Qaeda), Northeastern University professor Max Abrahams’ (also tl;dr) response was:

“There are head-choppers in Syria and then there are moderate head-choppers in Syria.”


Competing Resolutions on Syria Failed at Emergency UN Security Council Meeting

_ The UN Security Council resolution that Sec. State John Kerry was pumping when he called out a hospital strike (that was later found to have been a mistaken report) and called for a war crimes investigation, was brought to the floor for a vote by the French foreign minister, and vetoed by Russia. There were 11 votes in favor, 2 against, 2 abstentions. (Video of the UNSC vote.)

_ The competing resolution brought forward by Russia failed to the 9 yes votes that it needed to pass. (Video of the UNSC vote)

_ The US, UK and Ukraine representatives walked out of the Security Council chamber as the Syrian representative was given an opportunity to speak. The Syrian permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, began his speech (video) by responding to the walkout:

Jaafari: “Clearly, Mr. President, words of the truth does make the representatives of colonial powers go insane in this chamber. We see them leave the room when they hear the words of truth spoken. They prove then this way that they have colonial malicious intentions against my country and the people of Syria and that their diplomacy is the diplomacy of chaos, coercion, use of force, and not the diplomacy of valor and resolving conflict by peaceful means.”

Escalation Between US, UK, France and Russia

_ The Russian foreign ministry responded to Sec. State John Kerry’s call for a war crimes investigation by dismissing it and calling it propaganda. Maria Zakharova:

Kerry’s statement – this is propaganda.There are some very serious legal consequences behind this terminology, and I think that Kerry used all of these terms to inflame the situation […] If it comes to war crimes, US representatives should start with Iraq. And then move to Libya, and of course to Yemen – find out what’s there. I want to say that juggling these words is very dangerous, because there are indeed war crimes on the part of the American representatives.”

_ The Russian parliament approved a treaty with Syria that allows the Russian military to stay in Syria indefinitely at the Hemeimeem air base in Latakia.

_ Reuters is reporting that their analysis shows Russia has “built up its forces in Syria since a ceasefire collapsed in late September.” War correspondent Elijah Magnier had reported this some days earlier.  Reuters used the Bosphorous Naval news blog and the FlightRadar24 site to detect the increase in naval and air traffic in recent weeks.

_ Boris Johnson, the new war hawk in London, during his “debut at the House of Commons dispatch box,” was trying to rally anti-war activists to protest the Russian embassy.  Johnson: “Where is the Stop The War coalition at the moment? Where are they?” You can’t make this stuff up. All Boris has to do to figure out what the anti-war activists are doing, and a lot of others too, is to read the papers and the internet. They’re holding their breath hoping that the regime change zealots in US, UK and France, along with their Middle East allies arming extremists in Syria, don’t do some military intervention that leads to World War III.

_ Russian president Vladimir Putin cancelled a visit to Paris after French president Hollande started calling him a war criminal. Putin was scheduled to attend events “linked to the opening of a Russian religious and cultural center” but those events “fell out of the program.” Hollande had told a French TV station over the weekend that he was considering canceling the visit to pressure Russia on Syria.

Hollande: “If I receive him, I would tell him that it is unacceptable, that it is bad even for the image of Russia. What I tell them, is that these populations are populations that are today victims of war crimes and those who commit those acts will have to pay for their responsibility in front of the International Criminal Court.”

_ In the lead up to a House of Commons emergency debate on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, a British MP, Andrew Mitchell, compared Russia to Nazi Germany during the 1930s Spanish Civil War and called for intervention. Mitchell accused Russia of war crimes, citing the bombing of a humanitarian aid convoy in September, the use of incendiary weapons, bunker bombs and cluster munitions. Mitchell also accused Russia of destroying the UN as Nazi Germany and Italy crippled the League of Nations in the 1930s.


Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

_ On a BBC morning news radio show, Mitchell advocated taking action in Syria “anything that any of us can do… we should be doing”. The BBC also printed a large article headlined with the Nazi accusation: “Russia compared to Nazis ahead of UK Syria debate.” Mitchell acknowledged the risk of war with Russia and said “no one wanted to see a firefight with Russia or shoot down a Russian plane, but the international community had an avowed responsibility to protect that must be exerted.” [Emphasis added]

_ American neoconservative war hawks who have published plans for military intervention in Syria have also cited using the legal justification of “responsibility to protect” also known as R2P, a proposed legal framework. Brookings fellow and neoconservative war hawk Michael O’Hanlon cited R2P as a “sufficient” legal basis to “deconstruct” Syria.

_ Charles Lister, in a recent proposed plan for military intervention, also cites “protection” and “humanitarian intervention” as the legal basis, and he proposes forming a new extralegal council to circumvent Russia’s veto power in the UN Security Council.

_ President Obama has publicly stated that the US has no legal basis for military intervention against the Syrian government. John Kerry has privately told the Syrian opposition that there is no legal basis for intervention without a UN Security Council resolution.

_ Military interventionists, such as Samantha Power, who favor using humanitarian causes as justification for war and advocate changing laws and the UN charter to make it legal to wage war and occupy a country if you claim that you’re protecting its people.  R2P was endorsed by the UN as a principle in 2005 but it is not a basis for war under international law unless the UN Security Council authorizes the use of force, and it should only be used as a measure of last resort. That doesn’t stop interventionists from abusing it. In recent years, it has become the preferred vehicle for an alliance of extreme war hawks and so called humanitarians in the United States and the West.

US Fighter Jets Painted Like Russian Air Force

_ A Canadian journalist in Eastern/Central Europe, who writes for various publications, including the US official propaganda arm for foreign countries, Radio Europe/Radio Liberty, reported that US fighter jets are being painted with the same paint schemes that the Russian air force uses in Syria. The journalist notes that it’s done for training purposes, but finds it interesting.

_ The tweet drew many responses including some that speculated that the planes would be used to carry out a false flag attack.  Moon of Alabama added some more connected dots to the false flag speculation, citing the audio file leaked by the New York Times, with John Kerry talking to backers of the Syrian opposition, and telling them he needs confirmed video of Russian planes bombing civilian targets or he can’t help much. Given that the Pentagon paid a half billion dollars for the creation of fake al Qaeda videos in Iraq, these speculations are interesting.

Secretary of Defense Warmongering at Strangelove Levels

_ Harper, at Sic Semper Tyrannis, says that Sec. Defense Ash Carter “has revealed himself to be the 21st century’s answer to the original Dr. Strangelove” after he held a press conference last week in North Dakota, with a B-52 in the background, and “threatened that the US was prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend against the new emerging Russian threat in Europe.”

Hospital Strike Kerry Cited When Calling for War Crimes Investigation Didn’t Actually Happen, Didn’t Officially Call for War Crimes Investigation

_ Military expert Moon of Alabama (MoA) summarizes the situation with Sec. State Kerry’s call for a war crimes investigation based on a hospital strike that nobody can corroborate, not even his spokesman.  Kerry made these claims at a UN Security Council event, which MoA compares to Colin Powell’s fateful lies that helped sell the Iraq invasion. Kerry has some explaining to do. Will he retract the accusation?

_ Matt Lee, AP’s State Dept. reporter, questioned State Dept. spokesman Kirby about the hospital strike at the press briefing on details about the overnight hospital strike Kerry cited when calling for a war crimes investigation. State Dept. spokesman John Kirby said he thinks the secretary made a mistake and could not verify the strike.  More journalists began to pressure Kirby on whether Kerry is just “upping the rhetoric” or whether he’s really calling for an investigation, and they note that none of the countries involved are signatories to the ICC criminal court. (Video clip)

ISIS and al Qaeda Flags in East Aleppo; Civilians Can’t Leave; Rebel Snipers Shoot Civilians

_ An RT journalist and his crew on the ground in Aleppo filmed an ISIS flag flying in East Aleppo. Murad Gazdiev:

_ This RT news segment shows Gazdiev reporting from West Aleppo, and shows the al Nusra (al Qaeda) flag and an ISIS flag in the distance in East Aleppo. He also interviews a civilian saying they are not free to leave. The “rebels” prevent people from leaving and escape attempts are dangerous. He also interviews civilians in West Aleppo, claiming that there is a rebel sniper in the vicinity who shoots at civilians.


_ US presidential envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, did a special briefing (videotranscript) at the State Dept. on Oct. 7 — an “Update on the Campaign Against ISIL.”


_ Gareth Porter notes that US Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, just told leaders in Helmand province that “We are with you and we will stay with you,” as if the war in Afghanistan, which was in the process of drawdown, is now a permanent occupation. The Taliban penetrated Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helman province on Monday, “strategic southern city and opium trade center.” Two days before the Taliban offensive, Nicholson had visited local leaders along with the Afghan defense minister. The local forces are “really tired” after weeks of defending the city. The Taliban now controls 3/4 of the province. The Washington Post author, bureau chief in Afghanistan, goes on to provide stories of Afghanis pleading for help in saving their homes, which may be a signal that there will be a call for more troops in Afghanistan, perhaps from a new president, but the article portrays the situation as more dire than that.

War and Elections

_ The US director of national intelligence (DNI) officially blamed Russia for recent DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks election related email hacks:

“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”

_ The DNI said the probing of state election servers originated from a server in Russia but they can’t attribute that to the Russian government.

“Some states have also recently seen scanning and probin”g of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government.”

_ The owner of the Russian hosting company, King Servers, where some hacks originated said he is ready to assist US law enforcement, but they have never contacted him.

“We are ready to assist in probing this crime and consulting the FBI or other services on such issues. Hackers are a common threat and we must fight it together […] If the FBI asks, we are ready to supply the IP addresses, the logs,” he said.“Nobody is asking… It’s like nobody wants to sort this out.”

Analysis and Opinion

_ Michael Kofman at War on the Rocks: “The Misadventures of Russia and the United States in Syria: Complete Strategy Implosion Edition.” Kofman says that Russia didn’t scuttle the US-Russia deal but Syria and Iran had a hand in it. Russia realized that complete victory was impossible due to the weakness of the Syrian and Iranian forces who are too weak to hold what they seize. It makes no sense that Russia would throw away the very deal it wanted, Kofman believes. They couldn’t keep Syria in compliance with the deal and the “inadvertent” US bombing of Deir Ezzor gave Russia an excuse to blame the breakdown on the US. A lot of this rings true, but that last part is about the Deir Ezzor bombing strains credulity. But what Kofman says next, in the last six paragraphs of the article, are some of the wisest words written on the conflict with Russia in Syria. Kofman calls out the reckless “commentariat” for risking escalation and war with Russia. He specifically calls out Charles Lister and the R2P crowd. Russia plays by a different set of rules and the the US foreign policy community and “large parts of this conversation” are ” trapped in some sort of alternate 1990s reality” and not “up to the task of dealing with Russia in Syria.”

” The notion that Russia is ‘bluffing’ — advanced by Charles Lister in a recent piece — is most worrisome, demonstrating how far from the Cold War we have come that so many members of the “commentariat” do not understand escalation dynamics and the consequences of their proposals […] Expecting Moscow to bluff in this sort of high-stakes game is like banking your retirement on winning the lottery. I do not want to discourage the responsibility to protect crowd, and perhaps some humanitarian air drops are in order, but when it comes to talking about a game of chicken with Russia, they are in over their heads.”

_ Gareth Porter at the Middle East Eye: “Obama’s Syria policy and the illusion of US power in the Middle East.”


US Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Photo by mdgovpics on Flickr.
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Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.