Thursday, 15 December 2016

Two contrarian voices from Aleppo


There are very few independent Western journalists who have recently been to Aleppo. Here are two of them. They might be the only ones.

'Journalists' working in rebel-held Eastern Aleppo are activists, not journalists. 

Please watch this video clip, which takes just four minutes. In it a Canadian journalist, Eva Bartlett, exposes what seems to be very untrustworthy media coverage of the Aleppo fighting. 

She tells a story sympathetic to the Syrian government rather than the rebels. 

What she says seems to make sense, but an Englishman who lived in Syria for many years until two and a half years ago, says she is a useful idiot and Assad stooge. 

She is strongly pro-Palestinian and no friend to the Israeli or American governments. Her pro-Palestinian sympathies led her to take an interest in Syria and she reminds me of the very biassed journalists who write about Gaza with a strong anti-Israel slant. 

Someone who is pro-Israel describes her as Lord Haw Haw. 

But Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce), the German apologist who broadcast to England during the war, was often accurate about where bombs, for example, had dropped, which was why my grandmother and many others listened to him.

Is Vanessa Beeley also an Assad regime stooge? 

As we cannot know, this conversation she had with Ron Paul is worth watching.

In the sense that she visits Aleppo with the assistance of the government and tells a story which makes the regime look attractive, certainly she is a stooge. But she sounds like she's a good journalist, though with an anti-Western axe to grind.

She has just returned to Damascus after spending three days in Aleppo and sounds convincing about the widespread happiness there at the defeat of the rebels (she says her taxi driver was weeping from joy).

She says her father was "British Ambassador to various countries in the Middle East and always working on behalf of the Palestinian cause" and for this reason she became interested in Syria.

Interestingly, she regards Robert Fisk, whom many hate for his anti-Western, pro-Arab narrative about the Middle East, as a liar who peddles a pro-US line. Syria is deeply confusing and plays havoc with ideas about, among other things, left and right.

I wish Ron Paul had been president, instead of Messrs. Obama or Trump, by the way. He is the one of the two American politicians I love, along with Rudy Giuliani.

The most intelligent journalist I know writing about Syria is Patrick Cockburn who said in a wise article published on 2nd December that there are no independent journalists on the ground in Aleppo and all stories are public relations for one or other side.

He said,
Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.
And he added
Overall, government experts did better than journalists, who bought into simple-minded explanations of developments, convinced that Assad was always on the verge of being overthrown.
Phillips records that at a high point of the popular uprising in July 2011, when the media was assuming that Assad was finished, that the long-serving British ambassador in Damascus, Simon Collis, wrote that “Assad can still probably count on the support of 30-40 per cent of the population.”
The French ambassador Eric Chevallier was similarly cautious, only to receive a classic rebuke from his masters in Paris who said: “Your information does not interest us. Bashar al-Assad must fall and will fall.”
My conclusion? 

The mainstream media coverage of Aleppo is just awful - hopelessly misleading and biassed towards the Anglo-American line. Partly this is from lack of resources on the part of news organisations, partly from intellectual laziness and partly fear of going to Aleppo. 

Do not believe anything you read in the mainstream media about Aleppo, unless it is written by Cockburn or just possibly Fisk - certainly do not believe the Guardian, Russia Today, the New York Times or the BBC. Read independent journalists on the ground but they too are repeating someone's line. Ignore voices from the rebel side completely. And remember the strongest argument against the Syrian government/Russian version of Aleppo is the memory of how bestially Russia behaved in Chechnya.


  1. The maverick scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb has also an interesting and very short piece on Syria here:

  2. So, from your blog, I conclude that every word we ever hear about the Syria war is 5% true and 95% false, and 0% accurate.

    I remember, years ago, reading in the “MSM” that the civil war is very complicated, not the least because of the overlapping and convoluted “enemy of my enemy” and “enemy of my [sometime] friend” issues, combined with the overall concerns of interfering in a country’s internal problems. (Unspoken was the fact that, birthplace of Christianity or not, Syria is a Muslim country – therefore fucked up by definition.)

    While American right-wingers (like the influential John McCain) called for arming the rebels, Obama “dithered” – ie., one could say that he couldn’t tell the 5% from the 95%, but knew for sure that he would rather do nothing than do something wrong. He also suffered from extreme contrarianism from the opposition party, therefore damned if he did, damned if he didn’t, damned for just getting up in the morning. When he proposed airstrikes after Assad used chemical weapons, the right blocked him (while most said quietly, “don’t ask permission; just do it, like everybody else”). (Interestingly, that news cycle resulted in some sort of agreement from Assad, brokered by Russia, to display and dispose of all his chemical weapons. I don’t know what happened to that one.)

    You have read it all, it seems. What is your analysis? What would have been the perfect response of the US and the UK at the beginning, the middle, and the current state of the conflict?



    1. My God that requires some thought.

      When things began I followed it closely but, actually, for years, I am ashamed to say, I tuned out of it all.

      I don’t think we should have intervened at all and if we had it would have been for very mixed motives – including desire to protect Israel against Iran. And the famous pipeline etc.

      I see no evidence that the US encouraged the rebellion but when Obama said the regime should go this was probably understood as a signal that they would intervene.

      I don’t see why Russia shouldn’t be left to solve this.

      This sounds like I think Obama played it right but he didn’t. He said, without consulting State Department, that using chemical weapons was a red line that if crossed would mean the US would intervene. Then the Syrian regime did cross his line he gave the decision to Congress – constitutionally absolutely correct but seen worldwide as backing down from his threat – which absolutely was what it was. And a clever way of lobbing a hand grenade into the GOP.

      Still, had he bombed some installations, the US would have been somehow forced to bring about regime change.

      So in short I am glad he did not intervene but he did it in the worst possible way.

      Many people, including me, thought the Syrians would not be so stupid as to use chemical weapons and it was a Saudi plant, but it seems they really did use chemical weapons.

      They really are that stupid.

      Confusing isn’t it?

    2. Or perhaps they aren't that stupid. Seymour Hersh says Hillary and Syrian rebels are to blame for chemical attacks, with the idea of providing casus belli.

    3. As Einstein famously (may have)said, "almost anything is conceivable. Otherwise, we wouldn't have the word 'inconceivable.' "

      All this for a pipeline? Dunno. Why would they not have a Plan B for dropping the bombs on Syria, in case Congress balked (as they did)? As with all things, reality is probably far simpler, and at the same time far more complex, then "we" think.