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The current hysteria about Russia ain’t going away, that much is clear. There’s an enormous amount of propaganda, paranoia, fear, and comic lunacy about most of the reporting we’re getting out here. There’re also a lot of locally-generated horror stories coming out of Russia that we’re not receiving here. (more…)

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Posted: April 23rd, 2017

Now that Trump has bombed Syria, everyone from Hillary Clinton to Fareed Zakaria — that is, the American meritocracy — agrees Donald Trump has finally become “presidential.” Trump gets it. He had his “Sputnik Moment.” He Made Washington DC Great Again.

The only question now is: Who is responsible for Trump’s ingenius new war? Who among his closest advisers came up with the novel plan to bomb yet another Muslim country? His heart-broken daughter Ivanka? His beady-eyed son-in-law, Jared Kushner? Carter “I think he’s an idiot” Page? Patton, the family Goldendoodle?

You’re looking in all the wrong places, folks. There’s only one world-famous advisor who gives advice as catastrophically stupid as this: The Great Gazoo. He preys on credulous meat-heads, and offers them the worst, deadliest advice — but with all the snotty confidence of a Bill Kristol:

“Ohhh Donald, you know what would help your tanking ratings? Don’t be a dumb-dumb Donald!”

“Gazoo, where have you been? I need you!”

“Never mind that dumb-dumb Donald, just take my advice and bomb Syria. It’ll be a cinch! You’ll never get sucked into a deeper war there!”

“I won’t?”

“No, dumb-dumb. Don’t bother me again until you’ve launched.”

“Okay Gazoo whatever you say!”

Indeed, the Great Gazoo has been leading world leaders over the cliff throughout the 21st C. Here are a few highlights:

2002:

POOF! “Oh Mister Preeeesident, it’s meeeee, Gazoo. You let Bin Laden get away, dumb-dumb, and now you’ve got a country called Afghanistan that’s of no use. Pretty soon, people are going to start asking questions about 9-11…”

“Boy am I glad to see you, Gazoo. What should I do?”

“If you just listen to me, Mr. President, I can solve your problems.”

“Really? How?”

“It’s not that difficult, dumb-dumb. Invade Iraq. You earthlings are soooo slow.”

“But my dad says invading will be a problem.”

“You’re dad’s an earthling, dumb-dumb. It’ll be a cakewalk. The entire Middle East will become pro-American. I told him that a decade ago but he wouldn’t listen, because he’s a dumb-dumb.”

“I’ll listen to you, Gazoo.”

“I know you will, Georgie. It seems you’re the only earthling who isn’t a dumb-dumb. Now do as I say and invade Iraq.”

“What sort of planning should I do? How many troops should I use, Gazoo?”

“It doesn’t really matter, just have your troops bring lots of vases because the locals will greet them with flowers. Now, about North Korea…”

“I did as you said, Gazoo. I stopped talking to North Korea completely, and pulled everyone out of negotiations.”

“Good, North Korea should be begging to surrender to us in a matter of weeks, not months. Toodle-loo, dumb-dumb!” POOF!

2004…

“Gazoo, where are you? You gotta help me out, this Iraq thing is turning into a disaster!”

POOF! “Don’t be a dumb-dumb, Mr. President! If you’d listened to me and done it right, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“But you told me to invade Iraq, Gazoo!”

“Of course I did, dumb-dumb. And everything would have turned out perfectly if only you’d bombed Iran and Syria in the aftermath. Those two are mucking up a perfectly good occupation. Clearly I wasted good advice on a dumb-dumb. Now it’s your mess, not mine.”

“But Gazoo, I can’t invade Iran right now, our forces are overstretched, the Shia in Iraq are in revolt–”

“That’s not my problem, dumb-dumb. I told you to invade Iran, and you didn’t. If you don’t want to listen to me, do so at your own peril, dumb-dumb.”

“No wait, Gazoo, don’t leave me! You gotta help get me outta Iraq!”

“Toodle-loo, dumb-dumb!” POOF!

2006:

POOF! “Oh Ehuuuud Olmert, Mr. Prime Minister? I know how to get rid of the threat on Israel’s northern border. If you just listen to me, I can solve your problems, dumb-dumb.”

“Gazoo, is that you?”

“No, it’s Baal. Of course I’m Gazoo, dumb-dumb.”

“I’m sorry, Gazoo, it’s just.”

“Listen to me and shuttup, dumb-dumb. Now, here’s how to get rid of Hezbollah and win the next elections. Bomb the Shia villages and invade the south of Lebanon with armored columns. It’ll be a breeze, dumb-dumb. They’ll never bother Israel again.”

“Really, Gazoo?”

“Of course, dumb-dumb. You’re the one with the air force and tanks. Use them. Toodle-loo!” POOF!

TWO WEEKS LATER…

“Gazoo! Help me, it’s Ehud! Where are you, Gazoo?”

POOF! “I’m trying to have a bath, dumb-dumb. You earthlings have no manners.”

“But Gazoo, we’ve bombed and bombed and invaded southern Lebanon just like you said, and it’s turning into a military defeat. We’re losing to Hezbollah!”

“Of course you’re losing dumb-dumb, because you didn’t listen to me. Iran is the real problem, so you have to bomb Iran. Do I have to tell you everything, dumb-dumb?”

“But I can’t bomb Iran unless America bombs Iran with me. You said President Bush wouuld bomb Iran if I got in trouble, and they’re not bombing. What happened?”

“He’s a dumb-dumb too, just like his father. Just wait until he finds out that North Korea will set off a nuclear test bomb in a month–of course, if the dumb-dumb listened to me and continued not talking to North Korea, he wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.”

“But Gazoo, I’m ruined if the war ends in a defeat like this!”

“You’re still here, Ehud? Well look, I can’t help a dumb-dumb who doesn’t listen to me, now can I, dumb-dumb? Call me when you’ve bombed Iran. They wouldn’t dare to retaliate, that’s for certain. Toodle-loo, dumb-dumb!” POOF!

2008:

POOF! “Oh Miiiiiisha, Mr. President of Georgia? Helloooo, it’s me, Gazoo. I know how you can regain South Ossetia and overcome your domestic political problems, if you just listen to me, dumb-dumb.”

“Gazoo? Boy am I glad to see you.”

“I’m sure you are, dumb-dumb. So here’s my plan, if you’re not too much of a dumb-dumb to understand it: invade South Ossetia with the troops that America trained up for you. It’ll be a cinch–the Russians won’t even know what hit them.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really, dumb-dumb. You have Gazoo on your side, and the Russians don’t have Gazoo. Anyone who’s not a dumb-dumb realizes that the side with Gazoo wins.”

“I’m glad I have Gazoo on my side!”

“I see you’re learning, Misha. Maybe you’re not such a dumb-dumb.”

“How will my military victory in South Ossetia solve my political problems, Gazoo?”

“Well, dumb-dumb, you’ll be so popular you won’t need to kill or jail your political opponents anymore, because everyone will support President Saakashvili, war hero!”

“Gazoo, you’re a genius!”

“Tell me something I don’t know, dumb-dumb. Toodle-loo!”

TWO WEEKS LATER…

“Gazoo, help me! Where are you Gazoo??? The Russians destroyed my army, and they’re deep inside Georgian territory!”

POOF! “Do I have to do everything for you, dumb-dumb?”

“But Gazoo, I thought you said that the Russians would never invade after I took South Ossetia.”

“That’s not what I told you, dumb-dumb. I said that Bush would never let Russia invade. Unfortunately, Bush is a dumb-dumb. And even I, the Great Gazoo, am powerless to help a dumb-dumb.”

“What do I do now? I’m ruined!”

“Gazoo has it all worked out. Your friend John McCain is much smarter than the dumb-dumb Bush, and he agrees that it’s time to start a New Cold War with Russia. He understands how easily America will win the New Cold War, unlike dumb-dumb. As soon as McCain is the new president, everything will work out fine. Toodle-loo, dumb-dumb!”

gazoo1

*          *          *

Gazoo’s plan with McCain didn’t quite work out, but that was because McCain was a dumb-dumb. It took some time, but with the election of Donald Trump, Gazoo has finally found another earthling smart enough to take his advice.

How hard can it be to understand that, dumb-dumbs?

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Posted: April 12th, 2017

Roygutman1

This a response to neocon interventionist Roy Gutman’s two-part hit job smearing the leftist Kurdish resistance in Syria, published in The Nation in February (here and here). Since Gutman’s article was published, his own sources accused Gutman of fabricating their quotes and inventing things that never took place. In one case, Syria expert Fabrice Balanche, took to twitter to call out Gutman for fabricating his quote on why 500,000 Kurds fled northern Syria — Balanche says they fled for economic reasons and due to wars, not because they fled the allegedly repressive rule of the leftist YPG:

Gutman’s misquote:

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Balanche responded on Twitter:

Finally, Gutman was forced to retract the quote. But even in something this simple and straight-forward Gutman had a hard time being honest, explaining his fabricated quote as having been “inaccurately compressed”:

I quoted Fabrice Balanche correctly on the numbers who fled, but I inaccurately compressed his estimate into the same sentence as my broader observation. I acknowledge Balanche’s view that most of the refugees fled for economic reasons.

Balanche wasn’t the only one who called out Gutman for fabricating quotes or events.

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John Dolan—aka The War Nerd “Gary Brecher” — sent out a special Radio War Nerd subscriber newsletter to respond to Gutman’s hit pieces. He asked to repost it on eXiled Online, open and free to everyone, so that Gutman can’t escape it and everyone who cares knows Roy Gutman’s sleazy game.

I’ve responded to the article in several Facebook posts, but this is important enough to deserve a more formal response. So here it is.

Gutman’s article is a shoddy, dishonest mess, but it will be effective, because the Nation has a better rep than the author’s usual venue, The Daily Beast. So Gutman’s smear will stick, eroding support for the YPG/J, the one heroic faction in the miserable Syrian War.

Gutman didn’t get a six-month grant to write this just for fun. He’s a serious journalistic hit-man.

When Roy Gutman starts writing attack stories, attack aircraft soon follow.

Of course there have been plenty of hit-pieces on the YPG/J before. (I’ll use “YPG/J” for simplicity here, though the YPG/J is now part of a new alliance called “Syrian Democratic Forces,” or “SDF.”)

Some of these marginal reactions were hilarious, as when American right-wingers, infatuated by photos of the women of the YPJ carrying heavy weapons, volunteered — only to discover that they’d joined up with a bunch of socialists who fought under the red flag.

And among those who fly the red flag themselves, there were the inevitable quibbles — mostly by leaders of “movements” with a two-digit membership, seething with rage at this upstart Kurdish militia for being big, successful, and popular.  This sort of noise is inevitable. War is a nasty business, and often the combat isn’t the nastiest part.

Luckily for the YPG/J, the more sinister elements of the big media were, until now, too busy coming up with stories about atrocities committed by “The Regime” (the Assad government) and its Shia allies to deal with the Syrian Kurds. If you’ve read any Syria stories in The Daily Beast, you’ve seen this kind of atrocity-on-demand reporting, usually bearing the tell-tale byline “Michael Weiss.”

Weiss & co. led the way with reports on the atrocities committed during the “fall” of Aleppo to the Syrian government. If you recall, there were mass rapes,civilians shot on sight, and 250,000 civilians in Eastern Aleppo who would inevitably be slaughtered by “The Regime.”

Except it turned out none of that was true. It was fake news.

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There were not hundreds of thousands of civilians in East Aleppo in the first place, largely because the rule of the chaotic, factionalized jihadi militias was so inept that almost all residents got out as soon as they could. Children were not burned alive. There were no mass rapes. It was all lies, produced by journalists nowhere near Aleppo, swallowing and amplifying the sort of hysterical rumor that inevitably accompanies a big defeat and deploying it for the purposes of their patrons: the deep states of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and above all the United States — all of whom want regime change in Syria at all costs.

Aleppo “fell”; the stories stopped; no burned children’s bodies were discovered, no mass graves were found other than the ones in which Weiss’s (and RoyGutman‘s) “hero jihadis” buried the prisoners they killed. And of course, apologies were not forthcoming. Weiss & co. are not the sort of people to waste time in vain regret, they moved on to the next front in the propaganda war: slandering the YPG/J. The Turkish state was getting more worried about the Syrian Kurds than “The Regime.” Assad’s Alawites are no threat to Turkey, but the YPG/J, with its strong links to the Turkish-Kurdish PKK militia, could become a real problem.

Enter Roy Gutman. He was doing Weiss’s kind of journalism while Weiss was still checking out Barney for possible war crimes. Gutman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for a series of stories on Serbian “atrocities.” Interestingly, both of the 1993 winners of the “International Reporting” Pulitzer won for stories on Serb “atrocities” that turned out to be, at the very least, exaggerated:

“International Reporting:
Roy Gutman of Newsday, Long Island, NY
For his courageous and persistent reporting that disclosed atrocities and other human rights violations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

The stories paid off in the US-led air war against Serbia in 1999 — in that sense they were very successful. They were not, however, especially accurate. The New York Times’ Balkan correspondent, David Binder, wrote that,

“…Gutman’s stories [on the Balkan War], far from representing on-the-scene reporting, were based on scantily identified sources who never surfaced as real people” and that one of Gutman’s key sources “turned out to be using five different aliases.”

Binder sums up Gutman’s work with Orwell’s phrase “Once a whore, always a whore.” So naturally The Daily Beast thus found Gutman the perfect co-author for Weiss for its endless flow of hit-pieces on Syria. When the Beast told its readers that the Syrian Army was committing mass rapes in Aleppo, Gutman and Weiss shared the byline.

When the Turkish state wanted the Kurds softened up in advance of an attack on Rojava (the de facto Kurdish state in Northern Syria), it turned to Gutman, now based in Istanbul.

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And Gutman came through in his classic style. Let’s have a look at what he managed to do with his assignment: maligning the YPG/J for The Nation.

The first part has a real grabber of a title, using the time-honored ask-a-question method: “Have the Syrian Kurds Committed War Crimes?”

Gutman concludes, inevitably, that indeed they have. Never mind which crimes; most people will simply pass the headline around on social media. You know how it works. I know, everybody knows: somebody sends you the headline, you get the point, you don’t bother reading the story. So, thanks to Gutman and the editors at The Nation, thousands of naive Twitter and Facebook users will draw the easy, lazy conclusion that the Syrian Kurds are just as dirty as Islamic State, Jabhat Fateh-ash-Sham, or any of the other factions in the Syrian war. They’re all the same, right?

Wrong. If you actually get past Gutman’s headline, his evidence for “war crimes” committed by the Syrian Kurds is remarkably feeble. Given what might be called the ambient level of horror in this war, what’s striking is Gutman can’t even accuse the Kurds of the sort of crimes that have become commonplace among other militias. Have they slaughtered civilians for speaking the wrong language? No. Have they said, as the leaders of most of the Sunni militias have done, that everyone must accept their creed, leave, or die? No.

Gutman’s main claim is that the YPG/J has expelled villagers from their houses and even demolished or burned those houses. That’s possible, though people I know who are serving with the YPG/J deny it. And in the Syrian context, where massacre videos have become old news, mere expulsion and property damage hardly register as “war crimes” at all.

Let’s suppose that, for once, Gutman’s sources are telling the truth. Why would the Kurdish militia expel people or burn their houses? Irregular war is not Gettysburg. When an irregular force occupies a village or town dominated by hostile factions, it has limited options. Faced by harassment sniping or collusion with the former rulers among inhabitants, the irregular force can, and usually does, simply kill those it suspects. The YPG/J doesn’t do that, as even Gutmanimplicitly admits.

So, faced with implacable ethnic or sectarian enmity — in practice, refusal to accept “atheist” YPG/J occupation among devout Sunni Arabs — the Kurds may (or may not) have expelled suspects from occupied villages. That may not be Geneva Rules, but by the standards of irregular war, let alone the standards of Syria over the last four years, it’s the mildest reaction possible.

Gutman also claims that the YPG/J has colluded with the Assad regime to divide up parts of the country, notably Hasakah. Very possible. Again, standard multi-faction war behavior. And very sensible, too, since until recently there was a little problem in that part of Syria called Islamic State that called for collusion, a damned sight more collusion than actually occurred.

Gutman implies that this collusion proves that the YPG/J is a creature of the Assad regime. This is nonsense. The guy needs to watch Game of Thrones, even if he can’t do any more serious historical research in the pattern of endless treachery which defines these wars. Actually, Assad’s “Regime” hates the YPG/J. Assad’s defenders on social media never fail to sneer at the YPG/J’s good reputation, and call people like me “Rojava-heads” while vowing to reconquer every inch of Syria. That vow is addressed to Syria’s Kurds, and is an existential threat (as they say) to Rojava. Any collusion between Assad and the YPG/J was a classic alliance of convenience, as local observers have always realized.

Gutman‘s claims all depend on pretending that irregular war is inherently evil, that there are no rules governing unconventional war. If the YPG/J’s tactics are illegitimate, you’re delegitimizing all irregular war. You’re describing tactics practiced by every irregular leader from Collins to Mandela. You have not found evidence of actions that are considered atrocities by legitimate irregular groups: enslavement, sectarian murder, forced conversion, massacre of prisoners.

That last one, “massacre of prisoners,” is the most significant. If you know irregular war, you know that groups can’t afford to keep POWs in nice neat camps. So most of the time, they try to trade them, or kill them outright. Killing of prisoners has been documented among many groups in the Syrian War.

There’s no evidence, no claim even by Gutman that it’s been carried out by the YPG/J.

To decry the tactics of irregular militias by way of advocating high-tech bombing campaigns is Gutman’s standard MO. It’s also a particularly vile, though lucrative, form of hypocrisy.

Oddly, Gutman takes on the YPG/J’s greatest moment, Kobane — a purely conventional battle where no civilians were involved and where the Syrian Kurdish militia behaved heroically.

But look what that struggle becomes in his hands:

“In late 2014, when ISIS attacked Kobani, drawing US air strikes that killed as many as 2,000 ISIS fighters….[a]ccording to former residents, the YPG abandoned the outskirts of Kobani to ISIS without a fight, ordering residents to leave the villages they were eager to defend.”

Even by Gutman‘s very low standards, this is appalling. He accuses the YPG/J of abandoning outlying villages — a “war crime”, apparently.

Remember the siege of Kobane? Remember the situation in Syria in the winter of 2014-15?

IS was advancing on the little Kurdish border town of Kobane with a huge force, complete with all the heavy weaponry it had inherited from the collapse of the US-funded Iraqi Army. YPG/J was holding out — outnumbered, outgunned by IS, which was coming off a string of remarkable victories and considered unstoppable. After all, the much bigger, better-armed Iraqi Army had just abandoned half of Iraq to a few hundred IS troops.

And now they were closing in on Kobane. Erdogan, whose spies were helping IS, gloated in October 2014 that “Kobane is about to fall.” No one doubted him.

As the huge IS force closed in on the town, YPG/J commanders withdrew to the city, and ordered locals to pull back with them. They told civilians to flee across the border, but they themselves set up defensive positions in the town and prepared to die fighting.

They did die, in huge numbers. Estimates vary, but at least 2,000 women and men of the YPG/J were killed in that battle. But they held on. They held Kobane against that formerly unstoppable IS force, and with US air support killed thousands of those slave-dealing sectarian IS fighters. IS was never the same “unstoppable” force after its defeat in Kobane. (And Turkey began to be concerned about this annoyingly undefeated Kurdish militia on its southern border which had failed to collapse on schedule.)

A great moment, one of the few truly heroic moments in our era. But not for Roy Gutman. Hey, that’s not his assignment. Gutman dismisses the Siege of Kobane with a single paragraph implying that ordering an outnumbered defending force to pull back into a central urban position, against the wishes of “former residents” of those “outlying villages,” is in some way blameworthy. Withdrawing to a central, defensible position is the obvious tactic for an outnumbered defensive force. Oh, and in passing he slanders the thousands of Syrian Kurds killed in the battle with the outright lie that it was the “US air strikes” alone that killed IS attackers, as if the defenders of Kobane somehow failed to inflict a single casualty on IS in the entire long siege.

Gutman’s lack of conscience actually frightens me a little. You’d think he’d avoid talking about the Syrian Kurds’ most heroic moments, like Kobane. Au contraire! In the second part of his Nation piece, snidely titled “America’s Favorite Syrian Militia Rules with an Iron Fist,” he takes on another of the Syrian Kurds’ most heroic actions, the liberation of Sinjar.

Again, it helps if you actually know a little about the context, because Gutman and his editors are hoping you don’t. Sinjar is a town in northwestern Iraq inhabited mostly by the Yezidi, a minority religious sect. IS overran the area in the Summer of 2014. The people of Sinjar were expecting to be protected by the peshmerga militia of the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) of northern Iraq. For reasons still not clear, the peshmerga fled and left the Yezidi defenseless (rumor has it that this involves PUK/KDP rivalry within the KRG.)

Islamic State zoomed into Sinjar unopposed. And then, because the Yezidi were “kaffir,” “unbelievers,” Islamic State murdered thousands of civilians, saving only young women. They kept the young Yezidi women and girls alive so they could be sold as sex slaves. Even now, Yezidi women are sold as sex slaves. This is not a wild rumor, unlike Gutman’s tales. Islamic State not only admits the massacre and enslavement, they boasted about it in an article, “The Revival of Slavery before the Hour,” in their glossy magazine, Dabiq.

The fall of Sinjar was one of the worst war crimes — real war crimes — in recent history. And it remained unavenged until the Syrian and Turkish Kurds of the YPG/J and PKK freed the area.

Now, let’s have a look at that horrific story as reported for The Nation by Roy Gutman:

“Turkey is not the only US ally at odds with the YPG. Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government in late December threatened to use force if the PKK didn’t withdraw from Sinjar in northern Iraq, which the KRG insists is in its security sphere. (The PKK had moved into Sinjar in 2014 to fight off an ISIS attack against the Yazidi population there.)”

Did you catch that? For Gutman, the liberation of the Yezidi survivors proves only one thing: The YPG and PKK are troublemakers, unpopular not only with Turkey but the KRG which had abandoned the Yezidi to their fate. He gives one sentence—in parentheses, yet! — to the cause which brought these interlopers to Iraq: “..to fight off an ISIS attack against the Yazidi population there.” Yes, Roy, there was a bit of an attack. A bit of a genocide, in fact, but never mind — it’s not going to help your case, so never mind.

You can see Gutman’s core agenda in this disgusting passage. Gutman’s patron is the Turkish state, and its quarrel with the YPG/J is that it’s too closely associated with the Turkish-Kurdish militia, the PKK. The Turkish military/intelligence state fears that a de facto Kurdish state in Rojava will serve as a cross-border sanctuary for PKK fighters within Turkey.

Months before Gutman’s Nation article appeared, Erdogan’s favorite newspaper, The Daily Sabah — the Fox News of Turkey — published an article accusing the YPG/J of being a tool of the PKK. It would have made (may have made, for that matter) an excellent first draft for Gutman’s piece.

So, if the PKK rather than the YPG/J itself is the real villain of Gutman’s piece, what can we say about the PKK? Gutman makes three points about them:

1. The PKK is listed by some countries as a terrorist group.
2. The PKK is funded by Iran.
3. The PKK and YPG/J are really the same organization.

The third claim, that the YPG/J and PKK are basically the same group, is roughly true. “Roughly” because the history of insurgent groups is full of factional splits among groups that were once united. For the moment, at least, it seems that the YPG/J and PKK share leadership.

And the proper response to this is, “So what?” Which brings us to the big question, the one that Gutmanwill never ask: Why is there a PKK in the first place?Why are Turkey’s Kurds, who make up about a quarter of the country’s population, so angry that they’re willing to undergo the horrors of irregular war against a powerful, ruthless security state, in order to win autonomy?

The treatment of Turkey’s Kurds is an appalling story. Modern Turkey was founded as a mono-ethnic state. Everyone inside it was a Turk. Those who were not (Greeks, Armenians) were killed or expelled. Those remaining inside its borders were Turks — by law:

“A 1924 mandate forbade Kurdish schools, organizations and publications. Even the words ‘Kurd’ and ‘Kurdistan’ were outlawed, making any written or spoken acknowledgement of their existence illegal…[B]etween 1925 and 1939, 1.5 million Kurds, a third of the population, were deported and massacred.

“In 1930 the Turkish Minister of Justice declared, ‘I won’t hide my feelings. The Turk is the only lord, the only master of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish origin will have only one right in Turkey: the right to be servants and slaves.'”

The Turkish state’s hatred for Kurds has been a constant of modern Turkish history. I’ve talked to ethnic Turks who grew up in the Southeast, watching Kurdish kids’ bodies dragged behind M113s. This mistreatment intensified when a Kurdish-oriented political party, HDP, played a role in Erdogan’s only election setback in 2015.

Since that loss, Erdogan’s AKP party has unleashed the state security apparatus on anyone connected with the HDP or any other Kurdish-oriented politics. The co-mayors of Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish city in Turkey, have both been arrested, as have thousands of Turkish Kurds suspected of any link to Kurdish activism. So the next time somebody tells you the PKK “engages in violence, why don’t they try peaceful political means?” — ask them to tell you how many peaceful HDP activists are now in Turkish prisons, where torture is SOP.

Remember, Gutman is a journalist based in Istanbul. He must be familiar with this information. It’s not exactly obscure. But you won’t hear about any reasons for Kurdish discontent in Turkey in his PKK-bashing.

As for Gutman’s second point, the PKK’s “terrorist group” designation — it depends on who you ask. The PKK is an irregular militia, or “guerrilla” organization (which for Gutman means it’s automatically in the wrong, since he fails to recognize any rules operating in irregular war) — but the PKK is actually rigorous in trying to avoid random civilian casualties. This can be demonstrated very simply if you go through the record of bombing attacks in Turkish cities. When they target random civilians, even Turkish authorities know they can safely be attributed to Islamist militias. When they are aimed at Turkish police or soldiers, they are inevitably the work of the PKK.

So which countries say the PKK is a “terrorist” group? Turkey, as you might expect. And NATO, because Turkey is a huge part of NATO’s military power. And the US, which has nuclear weapons stored on Turkish bases. All of which proves nothing. Other groups not dependent on Turkish military support refused to classify the PKK as a terrorist group. The UN does not consider it “terrorist.”

Even the tame US media gets a little confused about why the PKK must be called a terrorist group, as in the Washington Post’s headline: “A US-Designated Terrorist Group Is Saving Yazidis and Battling Islamic State” — one of those headlines that seem to have in implied “WTF!?” in invisible ink at the end.

As for Gutman’s claim that the PKK is funded by Iran, it’s impossible to verify or refute with any certainty. If you were running the Iranian state, you might have an interest in funding insurgent groups which could be employed against troublesome neighboring states (and then betrayed to their security forces when relations improved). That sort of Byzantine treachery has been the Kurds’ fate for decades, and no doubt Iran is playing some murky role in the process even now. But again — so what? Why is “Iranian involvement” somehow prima facie evidence of innate evil, when blatant interference in Middle Eastern wars by other states — the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Qatar, Britain — is taken as natural or even beneficent? Iran is a regional power with its own Kurdish population (which it generally treats better than Turkey has treated its Kurds); as such, it may dabble in Kurdish insurgency. One good way for Turkey to stop that would be to end the reason for the PKK insurgency in the first place: by ending the Turkish state’s monstrous oppression of its Kurdish population.

In short, Gutman’s two-part article is a shockingly dishonest, sleazy and incompetent performance. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it in the pages of The Daily Beast; they have made it very clear they have no standards in reporting on Syria. The surprise is that it appeared in the pages of The Nation. You expect a little more out of them.

Or at least I did. My mistake. Turns out that some editors there have the same dreary Manhattan-Leftist envy and hatred for a victorious, non-sectarian socialist militia as every other dismal basement Trotsky.

John Dolan (aka “Gary Brecher”) co-hosts the Radio War Nerd podcast with Mark Ames. Subscribe today!

 

 

 

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Posted: March 10th, 2017

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Posted: October 17th, 2016

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This review was originally published in The eXile on March 30, 2000

After reviewing so many well-meaning, badly-written books, it’s a pleasure to dissect the work of a skilled liar. The liar in question is Leon Aron, the book is Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life. Aron’s book attempts a task which is, to borrow his favorite Classical allusion, “Augean”: cleaning up the filth-dripping career of Boris Yeltsin.

But though the task is, as he puts it, Herculean, Aron has one tremendous advantage: he is writing for readers who know very little about contemporary Russia. Only an audience deeply ignorant of Russia would stand for a biography of Yeltsin which in 750 pages makes only four brief references to Boris Berezovsky. Writing a Yeltsin biography which ignores Berezovsky is like writing a history of the Nicaraguan Contras without mentioning Oliver North. Yet Aron expects to get away with excluding Berezovsky from his story – and based on the reviews of this book by what passes for the American intelligentsia, he will succeed. Martin Malia has informed the readers of the Wall Street Journal that “whoever wishes to understand post-Communist Russia…must henceforth start with Mr. Aron’s path-breaking book.” The New York Times, gullible as ever, has termed Aron’s book “a fine, full-blooded portrait of Yeltsin.”

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Sadly, very few of the readers who buy Aron’s book on the strength of these endorsements will know enough about Russia to see the scope of the Big Lie Aron feeds them. They will end up believing that Yeltsin and his friends were doing God’s work, or at least Adam Smith’s — rather than divvying up the plunder of a fallen empire while its stunned, exhausted people were too busy trying to survive to put up any resistance, and whose hope and faith in a better, more just future had been coapted and perverted by some of the most bloodless, amoral nihilists-posing as free-market democrats-that the world has ever seen. Just taking the loans-for-shares scheme alone — a theft that even the IMF and World Bank have disavowed — it is estimated that at least tens of billions of dollars worth of state assets were literally given away to the oligarchs (and often times even paid for by stealing the unpaid wages of Russia’s state workers and pensioners) for almost free. That alone would qualify Yeltsin as the greatest thief that mankind has ever known.

Aron has so little respect for his American readers that he actually attempts to tell them that the oligarchs aren’t really such a big deal, that they’re largely myth:

“…The secrecy in which the Russian robber barons cloaked their dealings resulted in a vast exaggeration of their wealth and power both by the Moscow rumor mill and by the resident correspondents of Western newspapers and television networks…The truth was further obscured by a deep suspicion of personal wealth…and by self-aggrandizing claims and accusations with which the perennially warring moguls puffed up their worth and which they hurled at one another through their media outlets.”

Aron’s prose slips a bit here, particularly in that last sentence. If the oligarchs are really so marginal, how is it that they apparently own all the “media outlets”? Or is ownership of the electronic media such a minor advantage? Aron simply dismisses other charges against Yeltsin without argument:

“…equally bizarre [is] the ‘theory’ that explained Yeltsin’s dependence on the oligarchs by the gifts which they showered on his family — as if the President of Russia, should he decide to do so, needed intermediaries in raiding the country’s treasury.”

One would like to ask Mr. Aron exactly what is “bizarre” about this “‘theory’.” “Intermediaries in raiding the country’s treasury” is a fairly exact description of the talents of Berezovsky and above all Chubais (whom Aron treats very delicately). It seems less than “bizarre” that Yeltsin, whose job was not to cook the books but to present a “democratic” face to the West while the cooking was in progress, would work with the leading embezzlers rather than carrying sacks of dollars out of the banks. He’s not in that sort of condition.

The one figure of the 1990’s who stirs Aron’s bile is Yavlinsky, the least corrupt of all the “reformers.” Quiz for non-Russian readers: explain why does Aron hate Yavlinsky, of all people, so intensely. In 25 words or less. [HINT: Yavlinsky, as the only authentically democratic, untainted Western-style politician in Russia, and the part-Jewish leader of the fiercest opposition Duma faction, does WHAT to Aron’s central argument that all those opposed to Yeltsin were crypto-fascist/anti-Semitic-Stalinist monsters?]

In whitewashing Yeltsin’s astoundingly sleazy career, Aron leans heavily on his readers’ worship of the free market and the power of the individual to transcend, even remake, the world around him. (In other words: successful Americans.) Playing on the paradigmatic narratives Americans absorb with their morning cartoons, Aron transforms young Yeltsin into a Siberian Abraham Lincoln, growing up in “…the Ural-Siberian tradition of diversity, acceptance and meritocracy.” Yeltsin may not have lived in a log cabin, but as Aron points out, his grandparents did. As a boy, Yeltsin rambles in the woods, explores Siberian rivers and generally gets up to all sorts of Huck-Finn deviltry (blowing half his hand off while playing with a grenade, for example), but grows up to be the hardest-working, straightest-speaking construction boss in the history of Sverdlovsk, a totally (!), incorruptible workaholic who sternly rejects every attempt at a bribe or dubious gift. To give Yeltsin due credit, one must admit that he certainly transcended that provincial prejudice in later life.

Aron is at his best when his knack for hagiography has the fewest obstacles (ie facts) to overcome. This means that his early chapters about Yeltsin’s life in Sverdlovsk are his best. When Boris is summoned to Moscow — his drive and goodness recognized at last — Aron’s task becomes much harder.

Aron has two strategies for wrestling his readers into respecting Yeltsin. First, he uses his early chapters to paint the Soviet system so black that a naive reader will accept any change as an improvement. In the process he makes Yeltsin’s task literally Herculean – and I mean literally: Aron consistently compares Yeltsin’s tasks to the labors of Hercules, above all to the cleaning of the Augean stables. (Though, in a momentary lapse, he fudges a bit by describing Yeltsin as “both Augeas and Hercules” — that is, the man responsible for the mountain of dung, as well as its remover.)

Aron’s not shy about enlisting a plurality of Classical heroes, either. When Hercules tires, enter Sisyphus. Here is Aron’s depiction of Yeltsin after he has been rebuked by the CPSU:

“Yeltsin sat on the dais, motionless, his head in his hands. The monstrous boulder that he, day and night, had pushed up, up, up the steep slope, through briars, his hands cut and bleeding, his knees in muck, his sides bruised and his heart strained – had finally crushed Sisyphus.”

If I may resort to the argot of my native malls: what crap. The torture to which Yeltsin has been subjected is no more than a public scolding by his fellow apparatchiks, to which Yeltsin reacts not by standing up for his rights in Lincolnesque fashion but by groveling, as Aron admits, “like a star defendant of Stalin’s show trials in the 1930’s.” And Yeltsin, when challenged, shows that he can grovel with the best of ’em:

“I am very guilty before the Moscow party organization, very guilty before the GorKom, before the buro, before all of you and, of course, I am very guilty before Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev, whose authority is so high in our country and in the whole world….”

But Yeltsin groveled, not before Stalin but…Gorbachev! It’s no shame to grovel before Stalin — God would grovel before Stalin — but to react to a tonguelashing by his doddering epigones of 1987 vintage, as Yeltsin did, is hardly Sisyphus-level heroic endurance.

Aron’s other strategy for rehabilitating Yeltsin is simple old Russophobia. He says outright that Yeltsin’s opponents are anti-Semitic fascists, and offers several grotesque cartoons out of Zavtra as evidence. In other words, Russians who objected to seeing their jobs, their savings, their country whisked away; who were bothered by the starvation and entropy of the countryside; who found it suspicious that every item of value in the former USSR had passed, somehow, into the hands of a dozen master embezzlers; that all these people were no more than Jew-baiting racists. Now that is what Dr. G. used to call the biiiiiiiiiiig lie. 900 pages of it. Now that’s big.

The only remaining issue for the reader is guessing how big was Aron’s compensation package for producing this shameless encyclopedia of court flattery. We’d bet that it was real big. And judging by the early reviews, it was money well spent.

John Dolan is co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast. Subscribe here.

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Posted: July 12th, 2016

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Listen to the Radio War Nerd podcast [subscribe here] with guest Gunnar Hrafn Jonsson of Iceland Public Radio on the massacre in Orlando and how online Islamic State jihadis are dealing with battlefield defeats and the shrinking caliphate. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd through the show’s Patreon page.

Posted: June 28th, 2016

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Posted: April 26th, 2016