By Pepe Escobar
Here's a crash course on the "democratic" machinations of the Arab League - rather the GCC League, as real power in this pan-Arab organization is wielded by two of the six Persian Gulf monarchies composing the Gulf Cooperation Council, also known as Gulf Counter-revolution Club; Qatar and the House of Saud.
Essentially, the GCC created an Arab League group to monitor what's going on in Syria. The Syrian National Council - based in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member countries Turkey and France - enthusiastically supported it. It's telling that Syria's neighbor Lebanon did not.
When the over 160 monitors, after one month of enquiries, issued their report ... surprise! The report did not follow the official GCC line - which is that the "evil" Bashar al-Assad government is indiscriminately, and unilaterally, killing its own people, and so regime change is in order.
The Arab League's Ministerial Committee had approved the report, with four votes in favor (Algeria, Egypt, Sudan and GCC member Oman) and only one against; guess who, Qatar - which is now presiding the Arab League because the emirate bought their (rotating) turn from the Palestinian Authority.
So the report was either ignored (by Western corporate media) or mercilessly destroyed - by Arab media, virtually all of it financed by either the House of Saud or Qatar. It was not even discussed - because it was prevented by the GCC from being translated from Arabic into English and published in the Arab League's website.
Until it was leaked. Here it is, in full.
The report is adamant. There was no organized, lethal repression by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters. Instead, the report points to shady armed gangs as responsible for hundreds of deaths among Syrian civilians, and over one thousand among the Syrian army, using lethal tactics such as bombing of civilian buses, bombing of trains carrying diesel oil, bombing of police buses and bombing of bridges and pipelines.
Once again, the official NATOGCC version of Syria is of a popular uprising smashed by bullets and tanks. Instead, BRICS members Russia and China, and large swathes of the developing world see it as the Syrian government fighting heavily armed foreign mercenaries. The report largely confirms these suspicions.
The Syrian National Council is essentially a Muslim Brotherhood outfit affiliated with both the House of Saud and Qatar - with an uneasy Israel quietly supporting it in the background. Legitimacy is not exactly its cup of green tea. As for the Free Syrian Army, it does have its defectors, and well-meaning opponents of the Assad regime, but most of all is infested with these foreign mercenaries weaponized by the GCC, especially Salafist gangs.
Still NATOGCC, blocked from applying in Syria its one-size-fits-all model of promoting "democracy" by bombing a country and getting rid of the proverbial evil dictator, won't be deterred. GCC leaders House of Saud and Qatar bluntly dismissed their own report and went straight to the meat of the matter; impose a NATOGCC regime change via the UN Security Council.
So the current "Arab-led drive to secure a peaceful end to the 10-month crackdown" in Syria at the UN is no less than a crude regime change drive. Usual suspects Washington, London and Paris have been forced to fall over themselves to assure the real international community this is not another mandate for NATO bombing - a la Libya. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described it as "a path for a political transition that would preserve Syria's unity and institutions".
But BRICS members Russia and China see it for what it is. Another BRICS member - India - alongside Pakistan and South Africa, have all raised serious objections to the NATOGCC-peddled draft UN resolution.
There won't be another Libya-style no fly zone; after all the Assad regime is not exactly deploying Migs against civilians. A UN regime change resolution will be blocked - again - by Russia and China. Even NATOGCC is in disarray, as each block of players - Washington, Ankara, and the House of Saud-Doha duo - has a different long-term geopolitical agenda. Not to mention crucial Syrian neighbor and trading partner Iraq; Baghdad is on the record against any regime change scheme.
So here's a suggestion to the House of Saud and Qatar; since you're so seduced by the prospect of "democracy" in Syria, why don't you use all your American weaponry and invade in the dead of night - like you did to Bahrain - and execute regime change by yourselves?
With Iran said in some quarters to be only months away from emerging as the world's 10th nuclear weapons power, North Korea reportedly is producing more middle-range missiles for export for Iran's defense in the event of a Middle East war that would make the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan look like brush fires.
North Korea also is producing more missiles for export to Syria, whose embattled regime has the support of Iran and would be a major Iranian ally in the event of a shooting conflict between Israel and Iran.
It's against that background that James Clapper, the United States Director of National Intelligence, warned that North Korea, ostensibly under new "supreme leader" Kim Jong-eun, would carry on business as usual when it came to exporting missiles, for years one of the North's biggest-selling export products. Clapper, at a congressional hearing, specifically cited Iran and Syria as two markets for North Korean missiles and supporting material.
North Korean missile exports are believed to have shrunk over the past year as revolt in Arab countries that were once major clients has reduced the number of potential markets.
Another problem for the North is how to ship the missiles, or their components, against the threat of blockage of such shipments by nations banded together in the Proliferation Security Initiative under which countries can block shipments.
North Korean vessels have been turned back in a couple of highly publicized incidents, but many more are believed to have finished the long journey. North Korea is also believed to have shipped missiles and other sophisticated weapons via its only real ally, China.
Analysts for years have suspected China of opening up its air space to North Korean planes with military cargoes on board - a claim that China has denied.
The prospect of broadening sales of missiles to long-time clients Iran and Syria, however, is just one way in which North Korea would benefit from war in the Middle East. With US forces inevitably drawn into conflict there, the North could be sure the US would not want to take any chances on risking a second Korean war and might want to transfer a major portion of the 28,500 US troops still left in the South to the Middle East.
At the same time, Kim Jong-eun has been visiting military units, giving a sense that he identifies with the troops while also trying to show he's really in charge and wants to learn much more than his father was able to teach him in the last two years before Kim Jong-il's death was announced on December 19.
The appearance of the pudgy Jong-eun, straining at the seams of a dark blue suit designed to make him look all the more like his grandfather, the late Kim Il-sung, definitely shows his commitment to songun, the "military first" policy propounded by Kim Jong-il in his strongest role - that of chairman of the National Defense Commission.
Kim Jong-eun's aging handlers, believed to be led by Jang Song-thaek, the husband of his father's sister, seem anxious to demonstrate the continuity of songun but also to remain open for dialogue - on their terms. The sense is growing that North Korea might be open somehow to resuming six-party talks on its nuclear program, last held more than three years ago, or even to an exchange with South Korea.
Dialogue, though, won't come easy in view of the North's efforts at intimidation in the run-up to two important anniversaries - the 70th of the birth this month of Kim Jong-il and the 100th in April of the birth of Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994. North Korea emitted mixed signals in an extraordinary "open questionnaire" that it put out this week posing questions for South Korean leaders.
In the name of "the policy department of the National Defense Commission", which Kim Jong-il as chairman once made the center of his power, began with the rhetorical question of whether the "traitors" led by South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak were "ready to deeply repent of its heinous crimes concerning the great loss to the Korean nation and make apologies for them" - an allusion to South Korea's refusal to mourn the death of Kim Jong-il while banning delegations from going to Pyongyang to offer condolences.
The only exceptions were a delegation led by the widow of Kim Dae-jung, the president who initiated the "Sunshine" policy of reconciliation, and the widow of Chung Mong-hun, the chairman of Hyundai Asan, the company that Chung Ju-yung, founder of the Hyundai empire, formed to do business with North Korea.
The second question harked back to the inter-Korean summits between Kim Dae-jung and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, both of whom went to Pyongyang for meetings with Kim Jong-il that ended in flowery statements full of promises that would never be fulfilled. Did the South Korean "authorities" intend to live up to the "joint declaration" of June 15, 2000, in which Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il vowed to enter a new era of peace and reconciliation?
Question three asked, "Can the Lee group promise the world it can no longer hurt the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] over Cheonan warship case and Yeonpyeong Island shelling incident.?"
That was a particularly loaded reference to the sinking of the South Korean corvette the Cheonan in March 2010 in which 46 sailors died - an episode that South Korea blames on a torpedo fired by a North Korean midget submarine - and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea in November 2010 that killed four South Koreans.
The North has denied anything to do with the shelling of the Cheonan and said the South provoked the attack on the island by firing cannons close to the North Korean shore several kilometers away.
Question four was whether "the south Korean authorities could make a policy decision to stop big joint military exercises targeted against the DPRK?" This is a reference to annual war games, many conducted on computers, involving thousands of US and South Korean troops - the lower case "s" is no mistake.
Behind the bluff and bluster of such tendentious questions presumably lies the hand of Jang Song-thaek. He remains vice chairman of the National Defense Commission on which Kim Jong-eun does not have a seat. Jong-eun, still in his late 20s, is acting chairman of the military commission of the Workers' Party - not regarded as the key post - even though he is referred to as "supreme leader" and "supreme commander".
If the questions seemed deliberately contrived to defy and upset the South Koreans, they also suggested that somehow dialogue on one level or another might be possible. They also indicated that dialogue would probably go nowhere while Kim Jong-eun went on ingratiating himself with the military - and the US worried about spreading its forces too thin in the event of a war that Washington doesn't want with Iran.