The dark force of ISIS is apparently an invincible and unstoppable war juggernaut that is mercilessly killing and conquering in pursuit of establishing an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In reality, however, it is not as out of control as it appears. It is, indeed, carefully controlled and managed by its creators and supporters, that is, by the United States and its allies in the region—those who now pretend to have established a coalition to fight it! The U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other allies in the region do not really need to fight ISIS to (allegedly) destroy it; all they need to do to extinguish its hellish flames is stop supplying fuel for its fire, that is, stop supplying it with funds, mercenaries, military training and armaments.
There are many ways to show the fact that, in subtle ways, ISIS benefactors control its operations and direct its activities in accordance with their own geopolitical interests. One way is to pay attention to its purported mission: to dismantle the corrupt and illegitimate regimes in Iraq and Syria and replace them with a “pure” Islamic state under the rule of a “pious caliphate.” Despite this professed mission to fight the dictatorial regimes that have tarnished Islam, however, ISIS does not question the most corrupt, dictatorial and illegitimate regimes in the region—such as the Saudi, Qatari, Kuwaiti and Jordanian regimes that fund and arm its operations.
Another way is to compare ISIS’s attack (in early August) on the Iraqi Kurds in Irbil with its current attack on the Syrian Kurds in Kobani. When Irbil came under attack by ISIS, the U.S. unleashed the full force of its air power in concert with the Kurdish peshmerga fighters to repel the attack.
By contrast, while the Kurdish city of Kobani in Northern Syria is being attacked by the disproportionately better armed forces of ISIS, and thousands of its besieged residents face certain mass killings if it falls, the forces of the “coalition to fight ISIS” are watching—in effect, playing a game of hide-and-seek, or perhaps trick-or-treat, with ISIS—as the outgunned and out-manned Kurdish forces are valiantly fighting to the death against the attackers. Only occasionally the coalition forces carry out bombing missions that seem to be essentially theatrical, or just for the record.
So, why are the Kurds in Kobani treated differently than those in Irbil? I find Ajamu Baraka’s answer to this question quite insightful:
“The reason why the Kurds of Kobani are to be sacrificed stems from the fact that they are the wrong kind of Kurds. Masoud Barzani and the bourgeois Kurds of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) are the “good Kurds” and the predominant force among the Kurds of Iraq. Their control of almost 45% of Iraqi oil reserves and the booming business that they have been involved in with U.S. oil companies and Israel since their ‘liberation’ with the U.S. invasion makes them a valued asset for the U.S. The same goes for Turkey where despite the historic oppression of Kurds in Turkey, the government does a robust business with the Kurds of Iraq” (Source).
While the U.S., Turkey and their allies in the region do not view KDP as a threat to their geopolitical plans (at least for now), they do so when it comes to the “bad” Kurds in the self-governing area in Northern Syria, led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG). Contrary to KDP that tends to shun the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey in order not to antagonize the Turks, the United States and their allies in the region, YPG welcomes support from PKK in its fight against ISIS.
Turkey’s overriding interest in Syria is not so much against ISIS as it is against the Syrian Kurds, as well as the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad; because the rabidly anti-Kurd regime in Ankara fears that the weakened regime of Assad may not be able to do away with the self-governing Kurds in Kobani and the surrounding Kurdish areas. The Turkish regime is concerned that if the Kobani Kurds succeed in fending off the ISIS forces, their success and their experience of self-government in the Kobani region, may serve as a tempting model of self-rule for the 15-million Kurds in Turkey. The Turks are also concerned that the success of the Syrian Kurds against ISIS would thwart their long-harbored ambitions to occupy and/or annex the oil-rich Kurdish region in Northern Syria—hence their insistence on a buffer or no-fly zone in that region.
This helps explain why the Turkish regime insists that the overthrow of the Assad regime must take precedence over the fight against ISIS. It also explains why it is feverishly trying to prevent the Kurdish volunteers to cross its border with Syria to help the besieged Kobani defenders against the brutal ISIS attack—in effect, helping ISIS against the Kurds. The inaction or half-hearted action of the United States in the face of the preventable slaughter of the Syrian Kurds, which makes it complicit in the carnage, can be explained by its political horse-trading with Turkey in exchange for the Turks’ collaboration with the pursuit of its imperialistic interests in the region.
The U.S. approach to ISIS would be better understood when it is viewed in the context of its overall objectives in the region—and beyond. That overriding objective, shared and reinforced by its client states, is to undermine or eliminate “the axis of resistance,” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and, to a lesser extent, Shia forces in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Achievement of this goal would also be achievement of another, even broader, goal: undermining Russia’s influence and alliances in the region and, by extension, in other parts of the world—for example, its critically important role within both the Shanghai Cooperation Council (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) and the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
To intervene in order to achieve these goals, the U.S. and its allies need pretexts and/or enemies—even if it means inventing or manufacturing such enemies. Without ISIS, resumption of U.S. military operations in Iraq and extension of those operations into Syria would have been difficult to justify to the American people. A year or so ago, the Obama administration’s drive to attack Syria was thwarted by the opposition from the American people and, therefore, the U.S. congress. The rise of ISIS quickly turned that opposition to support.
Viewed in this light, ISIS can be seen as essentially another (newly manufactured) instrument in the tool-box of U.S. foreign policy, which includes “global terrorism,” the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s nuclear technology, Al-Qaeda, and many other radical Islamic groupings—all by-products of, or blowbacks to, imperialistic U.S. foreign policies.
Ismael Hossein-zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics (Drake University). He is the author of Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis (Routledge 2014), The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007), and the Soviet Non-capitalist Development: The Case of Nasser’s Egypt (Praeger Publishers 1989). He is also a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion
The Pentagon and Big Oil
There is no question that, in the immediate aftermath and for several years following US military conquests, wars, occupations and sanctions, US multi-national corporations lost out on profitable sites for investments. The biggest losses were in the exploitation of natural resources – in particular, gas and oil – in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and South Asia.
As a result some observers speculated that there were deep fissures and contradictory interests within the US ruling class. They argued that, on the one hand, political elites linked to pro-Israel lobbies and the military industrial power configuration, promoted a highly militarized foreign policy agenda and, on the other hand, some of the biggest and wealthiest multi-national corporations sought diplomatic solutions.
Yet this seeming ‘elite division’ did not materialize. There is no evidence for example that the multi-national oil companies sought to oppose the Iraq, Libyan, Afghan, Syrian wars. Nor did the powerful 10 largest oil companies with a net value of over $1.1 trillion dollars mobilize their lobbyists and influentials in the mass media to the cause of peaceful capital penetration and domination of the oil fields via neo-liberal political clients.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, the three major US oil companies, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, eager to exploit the third largest oil reserves in the world, did not engage in Congressional lobbying or exert pressure on the Bush or later Obama Administration for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. At no point did the Big Ten challenge the pro-war Israel lobby and its phony arguments that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction with an alternative policy.
Similar “political passivity” was evidenced in the run-up to the Libyan war. Big Oil was actually signing off on lucrative oil deals, when the militarists in Washington struck again – destroying the Libyan state and tearing asunder the entire fabric of the Libyan economy.
Big oil may have bemoaned the loss of oil and profits but there was no concerted effort, before or after the Libyan debacle, to critically examine or evaluate the loss of a major oil producing region. In the case of economic sanctions against Iran, possessing the second largest oil reserves, the MNC again were notable by their absence from the halls of Congress and the Treasury Department where the sanctions policy was decided. Prominent Zionist policymakers, Stuart Levey and David Cohen designed and implemented sanctions which prevented US (and EU) oil companies from investing or trading with Teheran.
In fact, despite the seeming divergence of interest between a highly militarized foreign policy and the drive of MNCs to pursue the global accumulation of capital, no political conflicts erupted. The basic question that this paper seeks to address is: Why did the major MNCs submit to an imperial foreign policy which resulted in lost economic opportunities?
Why the MNCs Fail to Oppose Imperial Militarism
There are several possible hypotheses accounting for the MNC accommodation to a highly militarized version of imperial expansion.
In the first instance, the CEOs of the MNCs may have believed that the wars, especially the Iraq war, would be short-term, and would lead to a period of stability under a client regime willing and able to privatize and de-nationalize the oil and gas sector. In other words, the petrol elites bought into the arguments of Rumsfeld, Chaney, Wolfowitz and Feith, that the invasion and conquest would “pay for itself”.
Secondly, even after the prolonged-decade long destructive war and the deepening sectarian conflict, many CEOs believed that a lost decade would be compensated by “long term” gain. They believed that future profits would flow, once the country was stabilized. The oil majors entry after 2010; however, was immediately threatened by the ISIS offensive. The ‘time frame’ of the MNCs’ strategic planners was understated if not totally wrong headed.
Thirdly, most CEOs believed that the US-NATO invasion of Libya would lead to monopoly ownership and greater profits than what they received from a public-private partnership with the Gaddafi regime. The oil majors believed that they would secure total or majority control. In other words the war would allow the oil MNCs to secure monopoly profits for an extended period. Instead the end of a stable partnership led to a Hobbesian world in which anarchy and chaos inhibited any large scale, long-term entry of MNCs.
Fourthly, the MNCs, including the big oil corporations, have invested in hundreds of sites in dozens of countries. They are not tied to a single location. They depend on the militarized imperial state to defend their global interests. Hence they probably are not willing to contest or challenge the militarists in, say Iraq, for fear that it might endanger US imperial intervention in other sites.
Fifthly, many MNCs interlock across economic sectors: they invest in oil fields and refineries; banking, financing and insurance as well as extractive sectors. To the degree that MNCs’ capital is diversified they are less dependent on a single region, sector, or source for profit. Hence destructive wars, in one or several countries, may not have as great a prejudicial effect as in the past when “Big Oil” was just ‘oil’.
Six, the agencies of the US imperial state are heavily weighted to military rather than economic activity. The international bureaucracy of the US is overwhelmingly made up of military, intelligence and counter-insurgency officials. In contrast, China, Japan, Germany and other emerging states (Brazil, Russia and India) have a large economic component in their overseas bureaucracy. The difference is significant. US MNCs do not have access to economic officials and resources in the same way as China’s MNCs. The Chinese overseas expansion and its MNCs, are built around powerful economic support systems and agencies. US MNCs have to deal with Special Forces, spooks and highly militarized ‘aid officials’. In other words the CEOs who look for “state support” perforce have mostly ‘military’ counterparts who view the MNCs as instruments of policy rather than as subjects of policy.
Seventh, the recent decade has witnessed the rise of the financial sector as the dominant recipient of State support. As a result, big banks exercise major influence on public policy. To the extent that is true, much of what is ‘oil money’ has gone over to finance and profits accrue by pillaging the Treasury. As a result, oil interests merge with the financial sector and their ‘profits’ are as much dependent on the state as on exploiting overseas sites.
Eighth, while Big Oil has vast sums of capital, its diverse locations, multiple activities and dependence on state protection (military), weaken its opposition to US wars in lucrative oil countries. As a result other powerful pro-war lobbies which have no such constraints have a free hand. For example the pro-Israel power configuration has far less ‘capital’ than any of the top ten oil companies. But it has a far greater number of lobbyists with much more influence over Congress people. Moreover, it has far more effective propaganda – media leverage- than Big Oil. Many more critics of US foreign policy, including its military and sanctions policies, are willing to criticize “Big Oil” than Zionist lobbies.
Finally the rise of domestic oil production resulting from fracking opens new sites for Big Oil to profit outside of the Middle East – even though the costs may be higher and the duration shorter. The oil industry has replaced losses in Middle East sites (due to wars) with domestic investments.
Nevertheless, there is tension and conflict between oil capital and militarism. The most recent case is between Exxon-Mobil’s plans to invest $38 billion in a joint venture in the Russian Arctic with the Russian oil grant Rosneft. Obama’s sanctions against Russia is scheduled to shut down the deal much to the dismay of the senior executives of Exxon Mobil, who have already invested $3.2 billion in an area the size of Texas.
The latent conflicts and overt difference between military and economic expansion may eventually find greater articulation in Washington. However, up to now, because of the global structures and orientation of the oil industry, because of their dependence on the military for ‘security’, the oil industry in particular, and the MNCs in general, have sacrificed short and middle term profits for “future gains” in the hopes that the wars will end and lucrative profits will return.
When reading the New York Times on many foreign policy issues, it doesn’t take a savant to figure out what the newspaper’s bias is. Anything, for instance, relating to Russian President Vladimir Putin drips of contempt and hostility.
Rather than offer the Times’ readers an objective or even slightly fair-minded account of Putin’s remarks, we are fed a steady diet of highly prejudicial language, such as we find in Saturday’s article about Putin’s comments at a conference in which he noted U.S. contributions to chaos in countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine.
That Putin is correct appears almost irrelevant to the Times, which simply writes that Putin “unleashed perhaps his strongest diatribe against the United States yet” with his goal “to sell Moscow’s view that American meddling has sparked most of the world’s recent crises.”
Rather than address the merits of Putin’s critique, the Times’ article by Neil MacFarquhar uncritically cites the “group think” of Official Washington: “Russia is often accused of provoking the crisis in Ukraine by annexing Crimea, and of prolonging the agony in Syria by helping to crush a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s last major Arab ally. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Putin seeks to restore the lost power and influence of the Soviet Union, or even the Russian Empire, in a bid to prolong his own rule.”
Yes, “some analysts” can be cited to support nearly any claim no matter how wrongheaded, or you can use the passive tense – “is often accused” – to present any charge no matter how unfair. But a more realistic summary of the various crises afflicting the world would note that Putin is correct when he describes past U.S. backing for various extremists, from Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East and Central Asia to neo-Nazis in Ukraine.
For example, during the 1980s, the Reagan administration consciously encouraged Islamic fundamentalism as a strategy to cause trouble for “atheistic communism” in Afghanistan and in the Muslim provinces of the Soviet Union.
To overthrow a Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan, the CIA and its Saudi collaborators financed the mujahedeen “holy warriors” who counted among their supporters Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden. Some of those Islamists later blended into the Taliban and al-Qaeda with dire consequences for the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
By invading Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush toppled a secular dictator, Saddam Hussein, but saw him replaced by what amounted to a Shiite theocracy which pushed Iraq’s Sunni minority into the arms of “Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” which has since rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or simply the Islamic State. Those extremists now control large swaths of Iraq and Syria and have massacred religious minorities and Western hostages, prompting another U.S. military intervention.
In Libya in 2011, President Barack Obama acquiesced to demands from “liberal interventionists” in his administration and authorized an air war to overthrow another secular autocrat, Muammar Gaddafi, whose ouster and murder have sent Libya spiraling into political chaos amid warring Islamist militias. It turns out Gaddafi was not wrong when he warned of Islamist terrorists operating around Benghazi.
Similarly, Official Washington’s embrace of protests and violence aimed at removing another secular Arab leader, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, contributed to the bloody civil war that has devastated that country and created fertile ground for the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, the official al-Qaeda affiliate.
Though Obama balked at demands from neocons and “liberal interventionists” that he launch an air war against the Syrian military in 2013, he did authorize secret shipments of weapons and training for the supposedly “moderate” Syrian rebels who have generally sided with Islamist fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Many of these same neocons and “liberal interventionists” have been eager to ratchet up the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, including neocon dreams to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” also a desire of hardliners in Israel.
In some of these crises, one of the few international leaders who has cooperated with Obama to tamp down tensions has been Putin, who helped negotiate conflict-avoiding agreements with Syria and Iran. But those peaceful interventions made Putin an inviting target for the neocons who began in fall 2013 arranging a coup d’etat in Ukraine on Russia’s border.
As Obama and Putin each paid too little attention to these maneuvers, neocons such as National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland went to work on the Ukrainian coup.
However to actually overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, the coup makers had to collaborate with neo-Nazi militias which were organized in western Ukraine and dispatched to Kiev where they provided the muscle for the Maidan uprising. Neo-Nazi leaders were given several ministries in the new government, and neo-Nazi militants were incorporated into the National Guard and “volunteer” militias dispatched to crush the ethnic Russian resistance in the east.
Putin for the Status Quo
The underlying reality of the Ukraine crisis was that Putin actually supported the country’s status quo, i.e. maintaining the elected president and the constitutional process. It was the United States along with the European Union that sought to topple the existing system and pull Ukraine from Russia’s orbit into the West’s.
Whatever one thinks about the merits of that change, it is factually wrong to accuse Putin of initiating the Ukraine crisis or to extrapolate from Official Washington’s false conventional wisdom and conclude that Putin is a new Hitler, an aggressor seeking to reestablish the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire.
But the Times and other major U.S. news outlets have wedded themselves to that propaganda theme and now cannot deviate from it. So, when Putin states the obvious – that the U.S. has meddled in the affairs of other nations and that Russia did not pick the fight over Ukraine – his comments must be treated like the ravings of a lunatic unleashing some “diatribe.”
Among Putin’s ranting was his observation, according to the Times article, that “the United States supports ‘dubious’ groups ranging from ‘open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.’
“‘Why do they support such people,’ he asked the annual gathering known as the Valdai Club, which met this year in the southern resort town of Sochi. ‘They do this because they decide to use them as instruments along the way in achieving their goals, but then burn their fingers and recoil.’
“The goal of the United States, he said, was to try to create a unipolar world in which American interests went unchallenged. …
“Mr. Putin … specifically denied trying to restore the Russian Empire. He argued Russia was compelled to intervene in Ukraine because that country was in the midst of a ‘civilized dialogue’ over its political future when the West staged a coup to oust the president last February, pushing the country into chaos and civil war.
“‘We did not start this,’ he said. ‘Statements that Russia is trying to reinstate some sort of empire, that it is encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbors, are groundless.’”
Of course, all the “smart people” of Official Washington know how to react to such statements from Putin, with a snicker and a roll of the eyes. After all, they’ve been reading the narratives of these crises as fictionalized by the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc.
Rationality and realism seem to have lost any place in the workings of the mainstream U.S. news media.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Israeli Minister for Military Affairs Moshe Ya’alon says the borders of many Middle Eastern countries are bound to change in the future as a result of recent developments in the region.
The Israeli minister said in a recent interview with the US-based National Public Radio (NPR) that the current borders would change in the coming years, as some have “been changed already.”
The Israeli minister added that the borders of some countries in the region were artificially drawn by the West.
“Libya was a new creation, a Western creation as a result of World War I. Syria, Iraq, the same — artificial nation-states — and what we see now is a collapse of this Western idea,” he stated.
However, Ya’alon said the borders of some nations, including the Egyptian border with Israel, would remain unchanged.
“We have to distinguish between countries like Egypt, with their history. Egypt will stay Egypt,” said Ya’alon.
The minister did not say whether the borders of Israel, also drawn by Western powers after World War I, would change or not.
Regarding the right to return for Palestinian refugees, Ya’alon said Tel Aviv could not allow such a move, as it would keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive “forever.”
He also said that the insistence to remove Israeli settlers from the West Bank amounts to ethnic cleansing.
The Israeli regime expelled more than 700,000 people from their homeland after it occupied Palestine in 1948.
Israeli forces have wiped nearly 500 Palestinian villages and towns off the map, leaving an estimated total of 4.7 million Palestinian refugees hoping for an eventual return to their homeland more than six decades later.
Since 1948, the Israeli regime has denied Palestinian refugees the right of return, despite United Nations’ resolutions and international laws that uphold the people’s right to return to their homeland.
Tel Aviv has built over 120 illegal settlements built since the occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.
Former Clinton Administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently called on the government to force young people to spend two years either “serving” in the military or performing some other type of government-directed “community service.” Neoconservative Senator John McCain has introduced legislation creating a mandatory national service program very similar to Reich’s proposal. It is not surprising that both a prominent progressive and a leading neocon would support mandatory national service, as this is an issue that has long united authoritarians on the left and right.
Proponents of national service claim that young people have a moral obligation to give something back to society. But giving the government power to decide our moral obligations is an invitation to totalitarianism.
Mandatory national service is not just anti-liberty, it is un-American. Whether or not they admit it, supporters of mandatory national service do not believe that individuals have “inalienable rights.” Instead, they believe that rights are gifts from the government, and, since government is the source of our rights, government can abridge or even take away those rights whenever Congress decides.
Mandatory national service also undermines private charitable institutions. In a free society, many people will give their time or money to service projects to help better their communities, working with religious or civic associations. But in a society with government-enforced national service, these associations are likely to become more reliant on government-supplied forced labor. They will then begin to tailor their programs to satisfy the demands of government bureaucrats instead of the needs of the community.
The very worst form of national service is, of course, the military draft, which forces young people to kill or be killed on government orders. The draft lowers the cost of an interventionist foreign policy because government need not compete with private employers for recruits. Anyone who refuses a draft notice runs the risk of being jailed, so government can provide lower pay and benefits to draftees than to volunteers.
As the burden of our hyper-interventionist foreign policy increases, it is increasingly likely that there will be serious attempts to reinstate the military draft. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, continues to suggest that US troops on the ground may be needed to fight “Operation Inherent Resolve” in Iraq and Syria. A major escalation requiring a large US troop deployment will likely add pressure to consider a military draft.
The only real way the American people can protect their children from the military draft is to demand an end to the foreign policy that sees the US military as the solution to any and every problem — from ISIS to Ebola — anywhere in the world.
Some who share my opposition to a militaristic foreign policy support the draft because they think a draft will increase public opposition to war. However, the existence of a draft did not stop the American government from launching unconstitutional wars in Vietnam and Korea. While the draft did play a role in mobilizing political opposition to Vietnam, it took almost a decade and the death of thousands of American draftees for that opposition to reach critical mass.
It is baffling that conservatives who (properly) oppose raising taxes would support any form of national service, including the military draft. It is similarly baffling that liberals who oppose government interference with our personal lives would support mandatory national service. Mandatory national service is a totalitarian policy that should be rejected by all who value liberty.
In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”. As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.
As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.
According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.
The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They levelled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told… That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.”
A Finnish Government Commission of Enquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.
ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.
Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote recently, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”
ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq as both a state and a society, conspired to commit an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies.
It is 23 years since this holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.
Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”. The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.
Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”
Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”
A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”
In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.” When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.”
On 25 September, a headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.
Now Hain is demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”. Obama has the same in mind as he lifts what he calls the “restrictions” on US bombing and drone attacks. This means that missiles and 500-pound bombs can smash the homes of peasant people, as they are doing without restriction in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. On 23 September, a Tomahawk cruise missile hit a village in Idlib Province in Syria, killing as many as a dozen civilians, including women and children. None waved a black flag.
The day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria.
Like Ebola from West Africa, a bacteria called “perpetual war” has crossed the Atlantic. Lord Richards, until recently head of the British military, wants “boots on the ground” now. There is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” – notably Australia’s aggressively weird Tony Abbott – as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They have never seen bombing and they apparently love it so much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, Syria. This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:
“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces… a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”
That was written in 1957, though it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. Last year, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”
The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of NATO, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.
A truce – however difficult to achieve – is the only way out of this imperial maze; otherwise, the beheadings will continue. That genuine negotiations with Syria should be seen as “morally questionable” (the Guardian ) suggests that the assumptions of moral superiority among those who supported the war criminal Blair remain not only absurd, but dangerous.
Together with a truce, there should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.
More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed a torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has just been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”. Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”. Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst will the blood begin to dry.
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The policies of the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are becoming more and more dangerous both in Syria and the whole Middle East.
Ankara has not only been promoting terrorist and extremist groups, alongside its sole ally in the region, Qatar, but it is now preparing an invasion of northern Syria.
Erdogan thinks that he has the right to invade and occupy territories of Turkey’s neighbors and ignore and violate the sovereignty of these Arab countries. He has supported terrorist organizations in Syria and allowed illegal oil trading by these groups, ignored Baghdad’s sovereignty over the Iraqi Kurdistan and its resources and insulted the Egyptian president in the United Nations.
The Erdogan government has long been a key supporter of ISIL, al-Nusra Front and some other terrorist organizations. However, Ankara is now trying to use ISIL advances towards its border as a pretext to illegally send troops to occupy a part of the northern Syrian territory without the authorization of the Syrian government. This is clearly a war act.
Turkish propaganda is invoking a false excuse, the humanitarian protection for Kurds fleeing the advance of ISIL, to promote the creation of a buffer zone and a no-fly zone in Syria.
The objective of this strategy is to weaken the Syrian state and give the Ankara-backed opposition armed groups a sanctuary from which they can launch attacks on the Syrian army and where the Turkish forces can train them.
On his return from New York, Erdogan unveiled some of the plans of the Turkish leadership, which explain the situation prevailing in northern Syria. “We must look to the events in Syria, not only from the angle of terrorism, but also from the angle of the Syrian regime”, he said.
He openly called for the creation of a buffer zone and a no-fly zone in northern Syria, while criticizing Germany’s decision to provide Peshmerga Kurdish forces fighting against ISIL in Iraq with arms, claiming that they could end up in the hands of terrorist organizations, according to the Turkish classification, such as PKK.
That is, from Erdogan’s point of view, the main enemy is not ISIL but the Syrian government and PKK, which are both fighting the ISIL terrorists.
It is noteworthy to point out that the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has also claimed that Turkey opposes supplying the Iraqi army with weapons, because “95 percent” of the soldiers are Shiites, according to him.
Recently, Abdulkadir Selvi, journalist in the newspaper Yeni Safak, which is considered a leading pro-Erdogan outlet, said that Turkey will not take part in any air war or ground war with the coalition against ISIL in order to press the US to establish a buffer zone in Syria or allow Turkey to do so with its own warplanes and troops.
Erdogan is now using the events in the Kurdish town of Kobani to increase this pressure: If you do not allow me to send troops to Syria, Kobani will fall. This is Erdogan’s new strategy.
According to several media, Syrian Kurds are denouncing Erdogan’s plans. One of them, Binici Ibrahim, member of the Popular Democratic Party (HDP), has blamed Ankara for the situation in northern Syria due to its support for ISIL “The Turkish authorities are partly responsible for this situation. They protect ISIL, which is a terrorist organization”, Binici said, “Today they prevent young Kurds from returning to Syria to defend their territory.” “The Turkish government does not want to defend our city”, accused Mehmet Eminakma, another young HDP activist. “It crazily supports ISIL and not the Syrian people.”
Therefore, Ankara is trying to prevent young Syrian Kurds living in Turkey from returning and fighting against ISIL in order to create a humanitarian crisis and press ahead with its plans.
Facing this blackmail, the strategy of the Obama Administration is not clear. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has said that stopping ISIL terrorists in Kobani is not a priority because “the strategic objective of the US war is to attack ISIS infrastructure”.
This could mean that Washington understands the Turkish game and is unwilling to fall into the trap.
Nevertheless, on October 8, US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the UK and the US were “ready to examine the Turkish idea of setting up a buffer zone in Syria to protect refugees fleeing ISIL violence.” Kerry made the announcement in a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Washington DC.
“The buffer zone is an idea that is out there. It is worth examining. It is worth looking at very, very closely,” said Kerry. The US Secretary of State added that creating a buffer zone will be one of the issues General John Allen, President Barack Obama’s anti-ISIL envoy, will be discussing with Turkish officials during an upcoming meeting in Turkey.
Some months ago, Turkey sent some troops to protect the Tomb of Suleiman Shah, located 33 km from the border. According to Turkish media, the convoy entered the Syrian territory without asking permission of Damascus. The excuse was some alleged links between the site and the Ottoman history. If such an argument was acceptable, dozens of countries could use a similar pretext to invade other neighbouring states.
Obstacles for a Turkish intervention
However, there are some obstacles for a possible Turkish intervention. First of all, Syrian and Arab peoples remember the Ottoman occupation and they do not want to see the Turks return. Erdogan’s policies have outraged not only Syria and Iraq but also other states of the region. In fact, Jordan’s alleged decision to suspend its participation in the airstrikes in Syria has been linked by some Arab media to Turkish actions in this country.
Other countries, such as Egypt and United Arab Emirates, do not want a Turkish intervention in Syria either. They think that Turkish government, alongside with Qatar, is trying to mobilize its allies of the Muslim Brotherhood in northern Syria and this is a clear threat for these countries, which are battling this group in their territories.
Even Saudi Arabia, despite its hostility towards the Syrian government, will not likely be happy either, as the Saudi regime does not want a more powerful Brotherhood-supporting Turkey in the region.
Secondly, Syria and Iraq have rejected any military Turkish interference. Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Abadi reiterated on October 7 to his Turkish counterpart, Ahmed Davutoglu, that Iraq rejects any ground intervention of foreign forces in his country under the pretext of fighting ISIL. Syria has also warned that any Turkish military deployment in its territory would be an “act of aggression”.
Thirdly, Iran and Russia have clearly stated that Syria is a red line and any aggression against Syria would violate their principles and interests. Russia will certainly block any project in the UN Security Council to create a buffer or a no-fly zone. Both countries would also respond to such a Turkish action. Russia has recently sent a new warship to the Mediterranean and has held military maneuvers in the Caspian Sea alongside with Iran in order to send a signal to Turkey.
In Turkey, a large part of the population strongly rejects Erdogan’s policies in the Middle East. Major Turkish opposition parties opposed a motion by AKP (Erdogan’s party) aimed at authorizing a military intervention in Syria and Iraq. The Republican People’s Party and Freedom and Democracy Party said that such a step would be “unacceptable”.
There have also been demonstrations in Istanbul and other cities against the government’s interference in Syria and its support for ISIL. On October 5th, 10,000 people marched in Istanbul behind banners proclaiming “ISIL killer; AKP accomplice”.
For the West, Erdogan’s Turkey is becoming a serious problem too. Turkey, a NATO member, is one of the main supporters of extremism in the Middle East, and its imperialist “neo-Otoman” dreams are endangering the whole region and feeding terrorism everywhere. Thus, it is not surprising that Erdogan has become the new hero of the extremist sites and forums in Internet.
However, a Turkish intervention in Syria would have dire consequences for both Erdogan and Turkey. He will soon discover everyone is against him and such a step would renew the fear of “the Otoman resurgence” among the Arab peoples. Therefore, it would become the last nail of the coffin of the Turkish leadership’s ambitions in the Middle East.
Who is to blame for the proliferation of extremist groups in Syria? The West often points a finger at Assad and his allies, but two secret US documents tell a different story.
It is difficult to find US officials directly claiming that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in league with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but you will find plenty who will allude to it using specious reasoning:
US Secretary of State John Kerry is one of many who have sought to encourage this narrative:
“There is evidence that Assad has played footsie with them (ISIL), and he has used them as a tool of weakening the opposition. He never took on their headquarters, which were there and obvious, and other assets that they have. So we have no confidence that Assad is either capable of or willing to take on ISIL.”
That logic forms the basis of several key arguments used by Syria’s opponents to suggest a covert and symbiotic relationship between the Syrian government and Islamist extremists. They go something like this:
• Assad encouraged the growth of militants to create an either-or dilemma for Syrians who want him deposed, but who fear “what comes next.”
• Assad released militants from prison in 2011 so that they would overwhelm secular moderates.
• Proof of this is that the Syrian Army does not attack ISIL targets.
• Assad has a close history with militants – he sent hundreds over the border into Iraq to join the insurgency against US forces and is now suffering blowback.
But as a global confrontation with ISIL mounts, an entirely different picture has begun to emerge. The US-led coalition’s five Arab Sunni partners are providing little less than fig-leaf cover for airstrike operations. NATO has been unable to wrest – to date – a commitment from Turkey to enforce serious border security to stop militants from crossing over into Iraq and Syria. In recent weeks, Western media has unleashed a flurry of articles pointing to Qatar’s role in funding extremists.
Clearly, America’s Sunni Arab and Turkish allies are approaching the “ISIL Project”’ with something less than enthusiasm.
On Thursday, US Vice President Joe Biden let the cat out of the bag. During a speech at Harvard University, Biden told his audience:
“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks… the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world … we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.”
He, of course, failed to mention Washington’s own arming, training and funding activities coordinated with these very same allies. Predictably, Biden was forced to “apologize” for his undiplomatic comments over the weekend.
But just last month, during a hearing in the US Senate for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Senator Lindsey Graham asked: “Do you know of any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL?”
To the surprise of many, Dempsey countered: “I know of major Arab allies who fund them.”
The revelations keep flowing from once tight-lipped Western sources. According to US news reports, current and former officials now say wealthy Gulf donors are the source of early funding:
“These rich individuals have long served as ‘angel investors’ for the most violent militants in the region, providing the ‘seed money’ that helped launch ISIS and other jihadi groups… Former U.S. Navy Admiral and NATO Supreme Commander James Stavridis says the cash flow from private donors is significant now and was even more significant in the early fund-raising done by ISIS and al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front,” NBC’s Robert Windrem wrote in an article.
And on Saturday, the UK’s former Assistant Chief of the Defense Staff General Jonathan Shaw, who specialized in counter-terrorism and security policy and retired in 2012, told The Telegraph :
“This is a time bomb that, under the guise of education, Wahhabi Salafism is igniting under the world really. And it is funded by Saudi and Qatari money and that must stop.”
The ‘Assad-has-encouraged-extremism’ argument
Has the Syrian government exploited extremism while at the same time fighting a three-year nationwide military campaign to thwart it? Perhaps. Politics are opportunistic by nature.
But the narrative about Assad encouraging Islamist militancy has always failed to note the historic role of armed Islamists in Syrian “rebellions.”
A US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document that was declassified in 2012 provides a starkly different reading of events leading up to the controversial “Hama massacre” of 1982. It tells a story remarkably similar to events in Syria beginning in early 2011. Here is a montage of quotes from the document:
“In early 1979, encouraged by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood developed a plan to trigger a similar popular revolution in Syria to oust (Hafez) Assad. The massacre of 50 Alawite cadets, on 16 June 1979 at the Artillery School in Aleppo, signaled the start of the MB offensive.”
The Syrian MB regroups for a “new round of fighting” in late 1980, announces the formation of an “Islamic Front”’ and increases cooperation with the Sunni (Baathist) government of Iraq which had helped the MB covertly in 1979-80 to oust Assad.
“The plan, apparently developed by the leadership of the Syrian MB and probably coordinated with Iraq, centered on two complementary actions. The first was a full-scale revolt by the city of Hama, a traditional Brotherhood stronghold and the location of its covert headquarters in Syria. Once this rebellion was unleashed, similar uprisings were to take place in Aleppo, Damascus and other major cities, accompanied by a general strike designed to paralyze Syria…”
“Simultaneously, a sophisticated worldwide propaganda campaign was to be launched supporting the rebellion and emphasizing its victories and the wholesale desertion of Army units to the rebel side. Press releases were to be made in Europe and the US, while propaganda broadcasts against Syria were to be carried by the Phalange-controlled Voice of Lebanon and the Iraqi-controlled Voice of Arab Syria.”
“At least 100 militants were transported from Jordan, where they had taken refuge, into Iraq where they probably received training prior to their movement into Syria… Sometime after this, the infiltration of ‘Secret Apparatus’ militants began from staging areas in Iraq, and to a lesser degree from Turkey, where others had fled. During the interim period, a number of terrorist bombings and shootings took place in Syria to demonstrate the Brotherhood/dissident Alawites ability to strike at the government.”
“As a result of Syrian security actions, the MB was forced to prematurely unleash the Hama rebellion with the hope that it might spark widespread fighting in other cities… The rebellion would also force the Damascus government to become even more oppressive. The Brotherhood leadership believed this would, in turn, cause greater alienation of the Assad government from the Sunni Muslim majority and within the Alawite community.”
“On February 2, following a clash between the MB and Syrian security forces, the loudspeakers atop the mosque minarets in Hama called on the people to begin a Jihad (Holy Struggle) against the government. The appeal also told the people that arms were available at specified mosques. At about the same time, teams of the MB’s ‘Secret Apparatus,’ some in army uniforms, moved to attack preselected government targets in the city.”
“Despite the propaganda reporting, the uprising in Syria had never spread outside of Hama, although some limited bombings had taken place in Damascus and elsewhere… The total casualties for the Hama incident probably number about 2,000. This includes an estimated 300-400 of the Muslim Brotherhood’s elite ‘Secret Apparatus’… The Syrian dissidents’ modus operandi will continue to be terrorism, particularly bombings and assassinations.”
WikiLeaks: Syria’s government and terrorism
On February 24, 2010, a Cable classified as ‘Secret’ was dispatched from the US Embassy in Damascus to the CIA, DIA, National Security Council, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Office of Homeland Security and a smattering of key US embassies in the Middle East and Europe.
It details the communications between Syria’s General Intelligence Director (GID) Ali Mamlouk who dropped in on a meeting between Syria’s Vice Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad and a US delegation, headed by State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin.
The participants discuss possible future security and intelligence cooperation on issues related to terrorism, particularly on the Syria-Iraq border.
What is notable about this US-framed communiqué is that the American delegation does not take any of the Syrian officials in the room to task for “encouraging and coordinating” the passage of extremist fighters from Syria into Iraq to participate in an insurgency against US forces. This accusation has become a key narrative advanced by Washington in recent years, so why not challenge the Syrians face-to-face when the opportunity is there?
According to the Cable, Benjamin says “the two countries should still work to cooperate on immediate threats facing both the U.S. and Syria, including the proliferation of takfiri groups in the region, such as al-Qaeda, and stopping the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.”
The Syrian response? According to the US Cable:
“Mamlouk said the foreign fighters come from a large number of Arab and Muslim countries and that the Syrians detain ‘large numbers plus their local facilitators.’ As an example, Mamlouk said he handed over 23 Saudis detained in Syria to Saudi Prince Muqrin last year.”
The US delegation even acknowledges the fact that the Syrians have been helpful:
“Benjamin commended Mamlouk on reducing the flow of foreign fighters, while encouraging further progress.”
And the Syrians offer additional cooperation, provided that Damascus takes the lead in these efforts:
“Miqdad interjected that the issue of foreign fighters using Syrian soil is a matter of national security for Syria. ‘We have zero tolerance,’ he said. Miqdad said Syria needs the cooperation of other countries, namely those from which the terrorists are coming. ‘If we can close this circle – with us, you, and other countries – we will succeed,’ he concluded.”
The Cable does reveal some interesting information about Syrian strategies in dealing with terrorism, which Mamlouk says differs considerably from the American approach:
“The GID Director said Syria had been more successful than the U.S. and other countries in the region in fighting terrorist groups because ‘we are practical and not theoretical.’ He stated Syria’s success is due to its penetration of terrorist groups. ‘In principle, we don’t attack or kill them immediately. Instead, we embed ourselves in them and only at the opportune moment do we move.’ Describing the process of planting embeds in terrorist organizations as ‘complex,’ Mamlouk said the result had yielded been the detention of scores of terrorists, stamping out terror cells, and stopping hundreds of terrorists from entering Iraq.
Mamlouk acknowledged some terrorists were still slipping into Iraq from Syria. ‘By all means we will continue to do all this, but if we start cooperation with you it will lead to better results and we can better protect our interests,’ he concluded.”
War of words
The tactics described by Mamlouk explain, in part, why Syrian forces today do not typically launch assaults on terrorist groups unless there is an immediate and direct threat to its military strategy of maintaining control over key areas and disrupting rebel supply lines.
While groups like ISIL are viewed as a security threat, they have not always posed an imminent one.
For the better part of the Syrian conflict, ISIL has not controlled the “priority zones” of the Syrian Army.
Those areas have always been Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama and their surrounding countryside (Rif), with Quseir and Qalamoun, Daraa, Tal Kalakh and other border towns playing an important role. When ISIL fighters have been present in those areas, the Syrian Army has fought them – as in Qalamoun and the Damascus suburbs.
In early 2014, pro-opposition writer and researcher A.J. Tamimi questioned in detail accusations of collaboration between the Syrian government and ISIL/al Nusra. Among his many points, Tamimi notes:
“One must ask what the regime would gain strategically by constantly bombing ISIS strongholds in Raqqa province, or ISIS strongholds elsewhere, for that matter, located far beyond the frontlines. As in the wider east of Syria, the regime lacks ground forces to launch an offensive to retake any territory in Raqqa province, and must depend on airlifts from elsewhere to maintain its remaining airbases. Hence, the regime is focusing its airstrikes where it has some real expectations of advancing: most notably in Aleppo city.”
Nevertheless, the Syrian air force did take immediate action when ISIL escalated in Mosul in June, which changed the geopolitical dynamic well beyond the Syrian-Iraqi border. Kerry is misleading when he suggests that Assad will not strike ISIL headquarters: this is about timing and gains from both a military and political perspective – not necessarily a response that trigger-happy Americans can understand.
As for accusations that the Syrians have released militants from their prisons to “populate” ideologically extremist rebel groups that will make Assad look like an angel… You can’t have it both ways – political prisoner releases were initiated to defuse conflict and demonstrate leniency. Were some of these prisoners “extremists” of the variety that man Islamist rebel groups? Almost certainly. But that was the Sunni constituency that the Syrian government was also trying to placate in the early days.
Even today, after grueling “reconciliation” negotiations, the Syrian government is allowing these very rebels to “go free” after they lay down their arms – this, according to volunteers involved in negotiations from Homs to Rif Damascus. What is to stop these same “reformed rebels” from hopping over to al-Raqqa and taking up bigger arms? Should the Syrian government kill them instead? How does one win in a situation like this?
Critics of Syria’s prisoner releases should be reminded of the “Big One” carried out by the Americans in 2009 when they allegedly freed future ISIL ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from an Iraqi prison.
Does anyone have the right to point fingers after that monumental gaff? The fact is – from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, from Turkey to the United States, from Iraq to France – there appears to be plenty of complicity in fueling ISIL and the jihadi phenomenon. Is Syria complicit too? It depends who is asking – and why.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani
In his speech before the meeting of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, U.S. President Barack Obama resurrected yet another turn of phrase used most often by those wishing to make the case for dropping bombs on people and things.In an effort to justify U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria, Obama declared that the militant organization known as ISIS (or ISIL or IS, the ‘Islamic State’) not only commits the “most horrific crimes imaginable,” but is so vicious, violent, and uniquely brutal that it “forces [the international community] to look into the heart of darkness,” adding later:
No god condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.
The rhetoric used by Obama to defend yet another illegal and ill-conceived American air campaign in the Middle East – an undefined, unconstitutional operation designed to inevitably expand and escalate – is well-worn. The very same word salad, notably the “language of force” line, has been routinely served up to justify lethal action against a seemingly intractable foe and it puts the onus on the target of that aggression for bringing such violence upon itself: if they weren’t such barbarians, we too wouldn’t have to resort to barbarism.
So, bombs away. After all, military action was our only choice, we are told, despite the fact that the declared targets of our artillery pose no direct or imminent threat to the United States. The irrational and bloodthirsty comprehend only the heat-seeking and bunker-busting. Diplomacy is impossible, thus destruction is imperative.
In his 2005 book, Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-terrorism, Richard Jackson, deputy director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand, explored this very kind of political messaging:
One of the most noticeable and ubiquitous features of the language of counter-terrorism is its invariable appeal to identity: terrorists are endlessly demonised and vilified as being evil, barbaric and inhuman, while America and its coalition partners are described as heroic, decent and peaceful – the defenders of freedom.
“At its most basic level, the language used by officials is attempt to convince the public that a ‘war’ against all forms of terrorism is necessary, reasonable, inherently good and winnable,” he added.
Over the past few decades, whenever bombing Iraq is on the horizon, we’ve heard much of the same from government officials and their pro-war mouthpieces in the media and think tank establishment.
In late 1990, Martin Indyk, founder and executive director of the AIPAC-launched Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and later senior advisor to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, wrote, “Saddam Hussein has demonstrated that he only speaks and understands the language of force.”
In 1991, Maine Representative Olympia Snowe supported the authorization of Operation Desert Storm due to her determination that successfully confronting Saddam Hussein required “a credible military threat be maintained against a brutal aggressor who only understands the language of force.”
Just days before Bill Clinton’s first inauguration as president in January 1993, the George H.W. Bush administration was again bombing Iraq. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch insisted, “Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein knows only the language of force. President Bush has delivered a message that Saddam is certain to understand,” adding, “The air strikes are not enough.”
In September 1996, when the Clinton administration itself was routinely bombing Iraq, Secretary of State Warren Christopher expressed his frustration with Russian condemnation of such attacks. He told the press he was “disappointed” the Russians “don’t understand as we do that the only language that Saddam understands is the language of force.” This became a go-to phrase in the administration’s talking points.
Speaking to members of the group “Seeds of Peace” on September 3, 1996, Christopher made arguments eerily reminiscent of what we’ve heard recently with regard to Obama’s current operation:
The record is, unfortunately, all too clear. Saddam has threatened and invaded his neighbors, developed and used weapons of mass destruction, sponsored countless acts of terrorism, and for the last two decades he has relentlessly persecuted the Kurds and the Shiites. When Saddam tests the will and resolve of the international community, our response must be and will be forceful and immediate.
Time and again we’ve seen that the United States leadership is essential to provide that response. Military action that the United States launched today has made it clear that Saddam will pay a price whenever he engages in aggression. We are answering in the only language he understands, the language of force.
Later that month, on September 12, 1996, former Secretary of State James Baker testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and encouraged more military attacks, saying, “Iraq under Saddam Hussein only understands force. And more to the point, it seems only to understand overwhelming force. When we respond in a situation like this, I do not believe that it needs to be limited so as to be proportionate to the provocation.”
In their book about the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation, New York Times correspondent Michael R. Gordon and former Marine lieutenant general Bernard Trainor recount the words of a high-ranking officer of the U.S. Army’s Fourth Infantry Division sent to attack the city of Tikrit. “The only thing these sand niggers understand is force,” the officer remarked, “and I’m about to introduce them to it.” General Ray Odierno, who led the 4th ID’s attack, is currently the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff.
The messaging is clear. As Richard Jackson notes, “In this most rudimentary sense, the language accompanying the ‘war on terrorism’ is a public relations or propaganda exercise; it is designed to ‘sell’ the policies of counter-terrorism.” In order to build support for military action, the public is repeatedly told that “the terrorists are inhuman barbarians who deserve to be eradicated from civilised society; the threat posed by terrorism is catastrophic and it is only rational to respond with all due force; and the American-led war against terrorism is by definition a good and just war.”
Historically, however, this rhetoric has not been reserved solely for justifying American military action against predominately Muslim countries in the Middle East. Nor has this phrase been used only by one side of the conflict.
In a video message allegedly made and distributed on October 20, 2001, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden declared, “Bush and Blair… don’t understand any language but the language of force. Every time they kill us, we kill them, so the balance of terror is achieved,” according to a declassified report released by British intelligence in November 2001.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in a 2003 sermon, reportedly announced, “The Crusaders [Americans] and the Jews only understand the language of force, and they only understand the return of coffins and destroyed interests and burned towers and destroyed economy.”
In a statement claiming responsibility for simultaneous suicide bombings that killed 155 people in Baghdad on October 25, 2009, an anti-occupation, al-Qaeda linked group known then as the Islamic State in Iraq explained, “Among the chosen targets were the ministry of oppression known as the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad provincial assembly… The enemies only understand the language of force.”
Prior to the beheading of American journalist James Foley, on August 12, 2014, ISIS reportedly sent an email to Foley’s family announcing their intention to murder him in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes and delivering a wider message to the American government and people. Claiming to have provided “many chances to negotiate the release of your people via cash transactions” and “prisoner exchanges,” ISIS wrote that it was clear “this is NOT what you are interested in.”
The email went on: “You have no motivation to deal with the Muslims except with the language of force, a language you were given in ‘Arabic translation’ when you attempted to occupy the land of Iraq! Now you return to bomb the Muslims of Iraq once again, this time resorting to Arial [sic] attacks and ‘proxy armies’, all the while cowardly shying away from a face-to-face confrontation!”
“You do not spare our weak, elderly, women or children so we will NOT spare yours!” the email warned. “You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings!”
In his speech before the United Nations last week justifying expanded airstrikes against ISIS, Obama thus recycled the very phrase used by ISIS to justify its own violence.
Still, the phrase has even older roots.
Zionism and Its Malcontents
In 1891, after one of his frequent travels through Palestine, Ahad Ha’am, the Ukrainian-born Jewish essayist known widely as the founder of cultural Zionism, lamented that Zionist settlers acted like “the only language the Arabs understand is that of force” and “behave towards the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even brag about it, and nobody stands to check this contemptible and dangerous tendency.”
This same, possibly apocryphal, formulation has been credited over the years to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, second prime minister Moshe Sharett, and IDF commander Raphael Petan, and is widely considered the immutable underlying assumption guiding racist, hawkish Israeli attitudes towards Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.
This linguistic articulation of Zionist sentiment was already so prevalent prior to the establishment of the State of Israel that renowned political theorist Hannah Arendt turned the phrase on its head in her 1948 essay, “Peace or Armistice in the Near East?,” published two years later in the Review of Politics. “All hopes to the contrary notwithstanding,” she wrote, as the Nakba raged on, “it seems as though the one argument the Arabs are incapable of understanding is force.”
In February 1992, following the assassination of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Abbas Moussawi, killed in southern Lebanon in an Israeli airstrike along with his wife and five-year-old son, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens boasted, “We’ve learned that terror organizations like Hezbollah only understand one language – the language of force.”
Two weeks after the start of the Second Intifada, when Israel had already fired 1.3 million bullets at Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza, a military spokesman justified Israel actions, saying that force “will be the only language they understand.”
Prior to Israeli parliamentary elections in 2009, supporters of the fascistic Avigdor Lieberman enthusiastically endorsed this narrative. “He’s the kind of leader we’ve been waiting for, he knows how to talk to Arabs in their own language, the language of force,” an Israeli woman who resides in a town close to the border with Gaza told the press.
Predictably, those opposed to Israel policies of colonialism, annexation, occupation, and military aggression have also resorted to such rhetoric. “Our enemy knows only the language of force and negotiations are useless,” Palestinian officials have longed declared. In 1998, a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza said this of Israeli leadership: “They only understand the language of force, not of peace.” A decade later, a Palestinian professor in Gaza said that same of Hamas.
From Stalin to Putin
While the “language of force” has long been used in the West to describe the supposed base nature and unsophisticated lack of humanity of the savage “Oriental” – a colonial, supremacist discourse popularized all the more after the attacks of September 11, 2001 – this discursive process has not been reserved for Arab or Muslim targets alone.
In his famous March 1946 “Iron Curtain Speech,” Winston Churchill expressed his conviction that, for Soviet Russia and its Communist satellites, “there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.” Thus, he reasoned, “Western Democracies” must “stand together” lest “they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.”
68 years later, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum in March 2014, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen paraphrased Churchill’s admonition, saying of Russian president Vladimir Putin that “the language he understands is force” and warning that, “unless there is a strong response, and a united response above all,” to Russian actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, “from the United States and Europe together to this, and a reassertion of the transatlantic alliance and NATO, then we could be heading in a very worrying direction.”
In May 2014, prior to his election as new Ukrainian president, billionaire confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko stated that, in order to deal with pro-Russian separatists — whom he called “terrorists” — “we should find out the right language they understand, and that would be the language of force.”
On April 19, 1965, as American bombs fell in Vietnam, conservative columnist Russell Kirk wrote, “Like the Nazis, the Asiatic Communists prefer guns to butter,” and accused North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh of aggressive “conquest”:
At this stage of affairs, only effective military resistance and retaliation can dissuade Ho Chi Minh from pursuing the war with increased vigor. The language of force, indeed, Communists understand.
General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam at the time of the My Lai Massacre, and soon-to-be Army Chief of Staff, often and openly maintained that “meaningful force” was “the only language they [the North Vietnamese] understood.”
As late as March 1975, after nearly all American troops had been withdrawn from the conflict, and following a meeting with President Gerald Ford, the then-retired Westmoreland told journalists that “the culprit in this whole thing is Hanoi,” adding, “The only language Hanoi understands is the language of force and I think it’s too bad that we couldn’t again mine Haiphong harbor and that the President doesn’t have authority to use tactical air and B52 strikes to hit the Communist supply lines.”
Six weeks later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army.
On the floor of the United States Congress on February 4, 1988, long-serving South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings advocated for increased military aid sent to the Contras in Nicaragua. Denouncing Congressional Democrats as “not committed to fight for anything” and “only willing to posture and talk,” Hollings declared that “there is no hope in Nicaragua without aid to the Contras.” Dismissing diplomacy, he bellowed, “Peace plans? The Marxists only understand the language of force.”
Later that year, in August 1988, Nicaraguan Contra founder and commander Enrique Bermúdez also made the case for continued military support from the U.S. government. “The only language the Sandinistas understand or respect is the language of force,” he insisted. “If the Sandinistas weren’t receiving massive assistance from the Soviet Union, Cuba and other communist countries, the Nicaraguan people wouldn’t have any need of foreign sources of support.”
The ubiquity of the “language of force” line has rendered the phrase effectively meaningless, levied at one’s enemies in order to silence debate and promote military action.
The same was said of South Africa’s Apartheid regime in the 1980s. Croatian officials, Kosovar separatists, and New York Times columnists said the same of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s. It’s been said about the “leaders of the Axis of Evil,” it was said about Gaddafi and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and it is often said about Assad. It has been said about the Pakistani Taliban, the Somali militant group al-Shabab and the Nigerian Boko Haram.
The same rhetoric is used by tyrants as well to describe dissident, resistance, and revolutionary movements. For instance, in early February 2011, as Cairo’s Tahrir Square swelled with increasing demands for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, a CNN report noted that the U.S.-backed leader had long “argued that Egypt had to adopt a tight security policy to combat terrorism; that the forces of political Islam do not understand anything but the language of force and a strong government grip.”
A year ago, in a September 20, 2013 article, David Sanger of the New York Times credited Obama’s economic warfare on Iran and threats of military action in Syria with restarting nuclear negotiations and, with the help of Russia, dismantling Assad’s chemical weapons. With regard to “President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and Iran’s erratic mullahs,” Sanger wrote, Obama was experiencing “the long-delayed fruits of the administration’s selective use of coercion in a part of the world where that is understood.”
Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly two weeks later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, “when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance” of successfully denying the nation their inalienable right to a domestic nuclear energy program.
For years, however, Iranian officials from three successive presidential administrations have consistently pushed back against this offensive presumption.
Back in June 2003, as U.S.-led pressure over Iran’s nuclear program increased, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned that unjust accusations and illegal threats would strengthen the resolve of conservative elements in the government opposed to diplomacy with the West. “Excessive pressure on Iran would untie the hands of those who do not believe in dialogue,” he said, “Even those who favour constructive talks would not accept the language of force and threat.”
Two years later, as dubious allegations, wild predictions, and threats of unprovoked attack mounted, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the nuclear issue in his first speech before the UN General Assembly on September 17, 2005. Western powers and Israel, he said,
have misrepresented Iran’s healthy and fully safeguarded technological endeavors in the nuclear field as pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is nothing but a propaganda ploy. The Islamic Republic of Iran is presenting in good faith its proposal for constructive interaction and a just dialogue. However, if some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue.
The next year, leading Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami, a senior member of the Assembly of Experts, noted in a nationally broadcast weekly sermon, “Iran is favourable toward negotiations that are just, logical and without preconditions, but refuses the language of force,” adding, “Using the language of force with Iran is a foolish and clumsy attitude.”
“Resolutions, sanctions and threats have always made the issue more complicated,” Iran’s IAEA envoy Ali-Asghar Soltanieh said in late 2009 before a Board of Governor’s vote on a resolution focusing on the recently-announced uranium enrichment facility at Fordow. “We recommend the IAEA not to refer to such methods and use the language of logic rather than force.”
Throughout 2012, Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his assertion that Iran would never buckle to the West’s “language of force and insult.”
Earlier this year, following a round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remarked that “the language of force has no place in foreign policy agendas” and that “any state using the ‘all-options-on-the-table’ rhetoric is actually taking outdated measures.”
In late 2009, then IAEA chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei concurred with this message. “[U]sing the language of force is not helpful. It leads to confrontation, to the other country taking counteraction,” he said in an interview with The Hindu. “It is better to forget the language of coercion and focus on trying to engage in dialogue.”
The Force of Language
Barack Obama, the drone president who defended perpetual war while receiving his own Nobel prize, disagrees. In his UN speech, Obama has again joined the ranks of those who justify the use of force through the abuse of weaponized language. The appeal to an adversary’s unprecedented “brand of evil” serves not to illuminate the challenges faced, but rather to obfuscate an informed comprehension of current affairs. It is the ultimate conversation-stopper.
As terrorism expert Richard Jackson explains:
… the language of good and evil suppresses questions: we don’t need to ask what the motivations or aims of the terrorists were if they are ‘evil,’ as ‘evil’ is its own motivation and its own self-contained explanation. Evil people do not have any politics and there is no need to examine their causes or grievances. Evil people do what they do simply because they are evil. Clearly, the use of this language is a way of encouraging quiescence and displacing more complex understandings of political and social events. As such, it qualifies as demagoguery by appealing to ignorance and arrogance through a distorted representation of the nature of evil.
As the United States and its coalition partners embark once again on an ill-fated, military misadventure in the Middle East, the recycled language used to promote such policies is predictable. And this time around, as in the past, it’s effectiveness is proven.
A FoxNews poll released this week shows that upwards of 78% of Americans approve of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 55% believe such action is “not aggressive enough.” Additionally, 57% of respondents are supportive of a ground operation if the bombing campaign proves ineffective or indecisive. A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week produced similar results.
Yet, beyond all the political rhetoric and domestic jingoism, for those on the ground in Iraq and Syria, including the dozens of civilians already killed in U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, bombs drop louder than words.
This article was cross-posted on Wide Asleep in America.
In late summer 2013, Official Washington was rushing to the judgment that the “evil” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had launched a barrage of missiles tipped with Sarin gas to slaughter hundreds of civilians in rebel-held neighborhoods near Damascus.
It was inconceivable to virtually every person who “mattered” in Washington that there was any other interpretation of the events on Aug. 21, 2013. Washington Post national security columnist David Ignatius even explained the “big picture” reason why President Barack Obama needed to launch punitive bomb strikes against Assad’s government for crossing Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons.
“What does the world look like when people begin to doubt the credibility of U.S. power?” Ignatius wrote a week after the Sarin incident. “Unfortunately, we’re finding that out in Syria and other nations where leaders have concluded they can defy a war-weary United States without paying a price.
“Using military power to maintain a nation’s credibility may sound like an antiquated idea, but it’s all too relevant in the real world we inhabit. It has become obvious in recent weeks that President Obama … needs to demonstrate that there are consequences for crossing a U.S. ‘red line.’ Otherwise, the coherence of the global system begins to dissolve.”
At the time, there were only a few of us raising questions about Official Washington’s Sarin-attack “group think,” partly because it made no sense for Assad to have invited United Nations inspectors into Syria to examine chemical weapons attacks that he was blaming on the opposition and then to launch a major Sarin attack just miles from where the inspectors were unpacking at their hotel.
I also was hearing from inside U.S. intelligence that some CIA analysts shared those doubts, suspecting that the supposedly high number of Sarin-laden rockets (which represented the strongest evidence against Assad’s forces) was wildly overstated and that public panic might have exaggerated the scope of the attack.
But perhaps the strongest reason to doubt Official Washington’s hasty conclusion blaming Assad was what had been occurring inside the Syrian rebel movement over the prior two years, i.e., its radicalization into a hyper-violent Sunni jihadist force that was prepared to inflict any brutality on civilians to achieve its goal of ousting the secular Assad and establishing an Islamist state in Damascus.
Blinded by Propaganda
Most Washington’s pols and pundits had not noticed this change because of a geopolitical blindness inflicted by neoconservative propaganda, which insisted that the only acceptable way to view the Syrian civil war was to see Assad as the “bad guy” and the rebels as the “good guys.”
After all, “regime change” in Syria had long been near the top of the neocon agenda as it was for Israel, which wanted Assad out because he was allied with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Early in the civil war, Assad’s harsh response to what he termed rebel “terrorism” had also rallied the Obama administration’s “liberal interventionists” to the side of “regime change.”
Thus, the notion that some vicious Syrian rebel group might willfully kill innocent civilians as a provocation to get the U.S. military to attack Assad’s defenses – and thus pave the way for a rebel victory – was outside Official Washington’s accepted frame of reference. In August 2013, the rebels were wearing the white hats, as far as U.S. mainstream opinion was concerned.
Over the past year, however, reality has reasserted itself, at least somewhat. The Sarin case against Assad has largely crumbled with a UN report finding Sarin on only one rocket and independent scientists concluding that the one Sarin-laden rocket had a maximum range of only about two kilometers, meaning it could not have come from the suspected Syrian base about nine kilometers away.
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh also learned from his well-placed sources that inside the U.S. intelligence community suspicion had shifted toward rebel extremists working with hardliners in Turkish intelligence. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Was Turkey Behind Syria-Sarin Attack?”]
But most “important people” in U.S. officialdom, including New York Times and Washington Post editors, still insisted that Assad must have done the Sarin attack. They even report it as flat fact. They are, after all, not the sort of folks who easily admit error.
A Shift in the Paradigm
However, over the past year, the paradigm for understanding the Syrian conflict has begun shifting. In September 2013, many Syrian rebel forces repudiated the political opposition that the Obama administration had organized and instead embraced al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, an aggressive jihadist force which had emerged as the most effective fighters against Assad.
Then, in February 2014, al-Qaeda’s leadership disavowed an even more brutal jihadist force known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The Islamic State promoted a strategy of unspeakable brutality as a way of intimidating its rivals and driving Westerners from the Middle East.
ISIS got its start after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 when Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi organized “al-Qaeda in Iraq,” a hyper-violent Sunni militia that targeted Iraq’s Shiites and destroyed their mosques, touching off a vicious sectarian war across Iraq.
After Zarqawi’s death in 2006 – and the alienation of less-extreme Iraqi Sunnis – al-Qaeda in Iraq faded from view before reemerging in Syria’s civil war, refashioned as the Islamic State and crossing back into Iraq with a major offensive last summer.
Amid reports of the Islamic State massacring captives and beheading American and British hostages, it no longer seemed so far-fetched that some Syrian rebel group would be ruthless enough to obtain Sarin and launch an attack near Damascus, killing innocents and hoping that the Assad regime would be blamed.
Even the Post’s Ignatius is looking more skeptically at the Syrian rebel movement and the various U.S.-allied intelligence agencies that have been supplying money, weapons and training – even to fighters associated with the most extreme militias.
Opening the Door
In a column on Friday, Ignatius faulted not only Syria’s squabbling “moderate opposition” but “the foreign nations — such as the United States, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — that have been funding the chaotic melange of fighters inside Syria. These foreign machinations helped open the door for the terrorist Islamic State group to threaten the region.”
Ignatius acknowledged that the earlier depiction of the Syrian opposition as simply an indigenous movement of idealistic reformers was misleading. He wrote: “From the beginning of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Syria has been the scene of a proxy war involving regional powers: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all wanted to topple Assad, but they competed with each other as regional rivals, too.
“At various points, all three nations provided Sunni rebel groups with money and weapons that ended up in the hands of extremists. … The United States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan joined forces in 2013 to train and arm moderate rebels at a CIA-backed camp in Jordan. But this program was never strong enough to unify the nearly 1,000 brigades scattered across the country. The resulting disorganization helped discredit the rebel alliance known as the Free Syrian Army.
“Syrian rebel commanders deserve some blame for this ragged structure. But the chaos was worsened by foreign powers that treated Syria as a playground for their intelligence services. This cynical intervention recalled similar meddling that helped ravage Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Libya during their civil wars. …
“The story of how Syria became a cockpit for rival intelligence services was explained to me by sources here [in Istanbul] and in Reyhanli, a rebel staging area on the Turkey-Syria border. Outside efforts to arm and train the Syrian rebels began more than two years ago in Istanbul, where a ‘military operations center’ was created, first in a hotel near the airport.
“A leading figure was a Qatari operative who had helped arm the Libyan rebels who deposed Moammar Gaddafi. Working with the Qataris were senior figures representing Turkish and Saudi intelligence. But unity within the Istanbul operations room frayed when the Turks and Qataris began to support Islamist fighters they thought would be more aggressive.
“These jihadists did emerge as braver, bolder fighters — and their success was a magnet for more support. The Turks and Qataris insist they didn’t intentionally support the extremist group Jabhat al-Nusra or the Islamic State. But weapons and money sent to more moderate Islamist brigades made their way to these terrorist groups, and the Turks and Qataris turned a blind eye.”
Regarding the rise of these radicals, Ignatius quoted one Arab intelligence source who claimed to have “warned a Qatari officer, who answered: ‘I will send weapons to al-Qaeda if it will help’ topple Assad. This determination to remove Assad by any means necessary proved dangerous. ‘The Islamist groups got bigger and stronger, and the FSA day by day got weaker,’ recalls the Arab intelligence source.”
Selling the Sarin Story
Based on such information, the idea of anti-Assad extremists securing Sarin – possibly with the help of Turkish intelligence, as Hersh reported – and launching a provocative attack with the goal of getting the U.S. military to devastate Assad’s army and clear a path for a rebel victory begins to make sense.
After all, back in Washington, the propaganda strategy of blaming Assad could count on the ever-influential neocons who in August 2013 did start pushing the rush-to-war bandwagon and shoved aside any doubters of the Assad-did-it conventional wisdom.
Israel took a similar position on Syria, favoring even the victory of al-Qaeda extremists if necessary to oust Assad and hurt his Iranian allies.
In September 2013, then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview that “The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc. … We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
So, the danger from the Sunni extremists was played down and the focus remained on ousting Assad. No wonder there was such “surprise” among Official Washington’s “group thinkers” when the Islamic State opened a new front inside Iraq and routed the U.S.-trained Iraqi army. Once again, the neocons had made sure that American eyes stayed wide shut to an inconvenient truth.
But the neocons are not through with the Syrian fiasco that they helped create. They are now busy reshaping the narrative – accusing Obama of waiting too long to arm the Syrian rebels and insisting that he switch from bombing Islamic State targets inside Syria to destroying the Syrian air force and creating a no-fly zone so the rebels can march on Damascus.
The recklessness of that strategy should now be obvious. Indeed, if Obama had succumbed to the interventionist demands in summer 2013 and devastated Assad’s military, we could now be seeing either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State in control of Damascus. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Noses into the Syrian Tent.”]
Obama might be wiser to take this opportunity to declassify the U.S. intelligence on the Sarin gas attack of Aug. 21, 2013, including the dissents from CIA analysts who doubted Assad’s responsibility. That information might shed substantial new light on how Turkish and Arab intelligence services — with the help of the neocons — enabled the rise of the Islamic State.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Eve’s Thoughts | October 3, 2014
One month ago I came to Beirut the capital of Lebanon. Here and all over the country, where ever you go, you constantly meet Syrian refugees as well as Iraqis.
Lebanon a country with a population of only 4 and a half million native citizens has taken in about 1.2 Million Syrian refugees and the number is growing still. Already since the beginning of the second Gulf War countless Iraqi refugees have entered the country fleeing violence, chaos and destruction at home. While many of these Iraqi refugees have sought and found asylum in Western countries, there are still an estimated 100,000 Iraqi refugees inside Lebanon, most of them are unregistered and without legal rights.
These enormous numbers of refugees have had a large impact on Lebanese economic conditions. Rents for working class housing have sky-rocketed, since the refugees now, according to some Lebanese friends, rent all the available spaces, with six or more people occupying a single room paying several times the rent that has been asked of Lebanese tenants before the Syrian civil war. At the same time wages have fallen drastically, since the the refugees are ready to work for far lower pay.
This, however, is not the only reason why there also more and more hostile feelings against the refugees in this country. Sunni refugees are often suspected by both Christian and Shiite Lebanese of sympathizing with or even supporting the radical Islamists, like ISIS which is called the Da’esh here or the Al Nusra front or other Al Qaeda affiliated groups.
Public anger has then increased enormously after the Da’esh had, in a cross-border raid, taken over the Lebanese village of Arsal, which also houses a large camp for Syrian refugees and the local army station. 29 soldiers and policemen were captured, some of the Sunni captives were released, while those of other sects and religions are still kept as hostages.
Two of the captives so far have been murdered by beheading. Although the first soldier murdered was a Sunni man, there are still great fears of the public outrage that the murders might lead to sectarian violence.
But this is exactly what nobody wants here in Lebanon the long decades of civil war are still a recent and horrifying memory. And therefore great efforts are made both by individuals as well as by political parties and groups to diffuse sectarian distrust and fear which might lead to hatred and violence.
An example of these strenuous efforts are those of the parents of the murdered soldiers as reported about the family of Abbas Medlej, a Shiite family:
The family of the Lebanese soldier who was executed by ISIS Saturday called for unity against takfiri groups, saying citizens need to support the state and the Army, not slip into civil strife.
“Our choice remains as is, Lebanon a country of coexistence for all its components,” said the statement by the family of Abbas Medlej Saturday night, appealing for calm.
“The terrorist act that killed our son Abbas is a crime against all Lebanese; Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze.”
The Medlej family called for Lebanese to prevent “takfiris from penetrating into our national fabric,” and thus stop them from achieving their goal of division among the Lebanese…
Similarly the family of the other executed soldier, Ali Al-Sayed, a Sunni, as reported by Lebanese News :
In a bid to challenge rising sectarian tensions, the families of the two Lebanese soldiers executed by ISIS joined together in prayer Friday.
The family of Ali Al-Sayed traveled from north Lebanon to the Al-Ansar, near Baalbek, to offer condolences to the relatives of Abbas Medlej.
Medlej and Sayed were both kidnapped by ISIS during the Arsal clashes last month and were later beheaded by the fundamentalist group.
The two families, one Sunni and one Shiite, gathered for a joint prayer at the village’s mosque led by the Baalbek and Hermal Mufti Sheikh Bakr al-Rifai, who stressed on the importance of “Muslim unity and coexistence.”
And then there are the statements of religious Hezbollah leaders like the Head of Hezbollah’s religious committee, Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek, who, along with Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan and a delegation from Hezbollah, visited the Baalbek town of Al-Ansar to offer condolences to the relatives of Lebanese Armed Forces soldier Abbas Medlej:
Sheikh Yazbek told LBCI that martyrs Ali Al-Sayyed and Abbas Medlej represent the entire Lebanese nation, stressing that Lebanese authorities should exert more efforts to face terrorism.
Sheikh Yazbel also stated that terrorism does not differentiate between Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians, urging Lebanese citizens to unite their efforts in order to face this threat.
Hezbollah, as both a political party and a Shiite militia, has before been considered not a friend but competition to the Lebanese army. But in spite of everything the Lebanese people of all creeds and political sides try to do, the country isn’t safe.
There are forces at work, which do not originate in Lebanon, forces which do their utmost to inflame tensions and in doing so to create conditions for a new civil war.
The Lebanese daily The Daily Star writes in its English edition on September 25:
Worrying reports emerge of ISIS plans to wreak havoc in Lebanon
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: There are reports that ISIS is looking to create trouble and instability via the sleeper cells it is believed to have implanted across the country.
Lebanese security sources said that ISIS was trying to create strife in areas in Lebanon’s north, south and the Bekaa Valley in order to undermine the country’s stability.
The starting point of this plan was the five-day clashes in Arsal, which have since been followed by sporadic incidents in north Lebanon such as gunmen opening fire on a Lebanese Army position Tuesday, leading to the death of soldier Mohammad Khaled al-Hussein…
As Islamist militants fighting in Syria search for different ways to get hold of supplies needed in the ongoing war there, Lebanese political factions have been forced to mobilize to keep pace with the fast-moving developments.
For the first time in a long time, the various Lebanese security bodies have decided to join efforts in their fight against terrorism.
This has been made all the more urgent since senior security sources revealed that ISIS has been intensifying its efforts to create pockets of support across the country…
The security authorities have warned that ISIS and the Lebanese branches of the Nusra Front and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades have united in order to establish a haven in the border area stretching from the north through the Bekaa Valley to the Shebaa farms in the south.
According to reports, if ISIS is to conduct attacks in these areas, they will be led by a figure known as Sheikh Abu Hasan al-Ramlawi.
Ramlawi – who goes by a nom du guerre – is a Palestinian who holds a Jordanian passport. Security forces marked him as an important figure because he used to mobilize Islamists in Deraa in southern Syria, before moving to an area closer to Lebanon.
Ramlawi is believed to have moved toward the Syrian part of the Golan Heights and Shebaa until he reached the area’s Lebanese Sunni villages, where he has reportedly been working on forming armed groups.
As a result of the sensitive location of this area, Hezbollah is believed to be monitoring the situation closely.
There are fears that Israel might try to take advantage of these developments to target Hezbollah. Some even believe that Ramlawi may have been coordinating with Israeli secret service agency Mossad in order to manipulate events in Syria.
Such reports pushed Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah to give a speech Tuesday emphasizing the party’s position on the war against terrorism, while rejecting Lebanon’s participation in an international anti- ISIS coalition. Nasrallah also called on the Lebanese government to negotiate from a position of strength with the Islamist militants from ISIS and Nusra Front who are holding at least 21 soldiers and policemen…
But even the travesty of the kidnappings seems to pale in comparison to dramatic developments predicted to be on the horizon.
In a statement, Sheikh Sirajuddine Zureiqat, a spokesman of Al-Qaeda-affiliated group the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said he would be coming to Beirut soon. This statement was dismissed by Nasrallah in his speech.
Zureiqat is believed to now be with the Lebanese captives, which if true would be a dangerous indicator that the Nusra Front, ISIS and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are starting to unify within Lebanon.
The threat posed by ISIS’ alleged sleeper cells is being taken sufficiently seriously that it prompted Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt to make a tour around Wadi al-Taym – a predominantly Druze area very close to the Syrian border – over the weekend.
The move comes as the Druze community is reporting feeling directly threatened by these extremists groups. As the area that the groups are believed to be interested in contains large numbers of Druze, it is natural to fear that the Druze would be displaced were the groups to take over. Therefore the targeting of the Druze in Shebaa is being prepared for.
The Lebanese government also senses the danger that the country is in, and is fully aware of the complications ahead. One senior political source compared the expected turmoil to the aftermath of Israel’s invasion in the summer of 1982.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam wants to get through the crisis with as little fallout as possible, and he is currently in New York working on ensuring Lebanon has a safety net amid the regional turmoil.
From Syrians, both Sunni Muslim and Christian, that I met here in Beirut and during my one-week stay Syria I have heard nearly the same words again and again in helpless sighs: “We are like pawns, who are used in a game by outside powers who play with us. But we do the suffering and dying.”
The Lebanese are very close to feeling the same helplessness, being tossed around by ruthless forces in their power games, forces which have no regard for the livelihood, the safety, the dignity and the lives of most human beings, forces who are ready to go over mountains of dead bodies to reach their aims.
What does it say when the capital of the world’s most powerful nation anchors a major decision about war in what every thinking person acknowledges is a “fantasy” – even the principal policymaker and a top advocate for foreign interventions?
It might suggest that the U.S. government has completely lost its bearings or that political opportunism now so overwhelms rationality that shortsighted expediency determines life-or-death military strategies. Either way, it is hard to see how the current U.S. policy toward Iraq, Syria and the larger Middle East can serve American national interests or translate into anything but more misery for the people of the region.
Official Washington’s most treasured “fantasy” today is the notion that a viable “moderate opposition” exists in Syria or could somehow be created. That wish-upon-a-star belief was the centerpiece of congressional action last month on a $500 million plan by President Barack Obama to train and arm these “moderate” rebels to combat Islamic State terrorists who have been plundering large swaths of Syria and Iraq — and also take on the Syrian army.
Yet, as recently as August, President Barack Obama publicly declared that trust in these “moderates” was a “fantasy” that was “never in the cards” as a workable strategy. Then, on Wednesday, David Ignatius, national security columnist for the neoconservative Washington Post and a prominent booster of U.S. interventionism, reported from a rebel staging area in Reyhanli, Turkey, the same reality in nearly the same language.
“The problem is that the ‘moderate opposition’ that the United States is backing is still largely a fantasy,” Ignatius wrote, noting that the greatest challenge would be to coordinate “the ragtag brigades of the Free Syrian Army into a coherent force that can fill the vacuum once the extremists are driven out.”
Ignatius quoted Syrian rebel commander Hamza al-Shamali, a top recipient of American support including anti-tank missiles, as saying, “At some point, the Syrian street lost trust in the Free Syrian Army,” the U.S.-backed rebel force that was the armed wing of the supposedly “moderate opposition” to President Bashar al-Assad. Ignatius added:
“Shamali explains that many rebel commanders aren’t disciplined, their fighters aren’t well-trained and the loose umbrella organization of the FSA lacks command and control. The extremists of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra have filled the vacuum. Now, he says, ‘the question every Syrian has for the opposition is: Are you going to bring chaos or order?’”
According to Ignatius, Shamali said he rejected a proposal to merge the FSA’s disparate brigades because “we refuse to repeat failed experiments.” He argued that an entirely new “Syrian national army” would be needed to fight both the Islamist radicals and Assad’s military.
But even the sympathetic Ignatius recognized that “the FSA’s biggest problem has been internecine feuding. Over the past two years, I’ve interviewed various people who tried to become leaders, such as: Abdul-Jabbar Akaidi, Salim Idriss and Jamal Maarouf. They all talked about unifying the opposition but none succeeded.
“An Arab intelligence source explains: ‘Until now, the FSA is a kind of mafia. … People inside Syria are tired of this mafia. There is no structure. It’s nothing.’ And this from one of the people who have struggled the past three years to organize the resistance.”
In other words, the “moderate” rebels – to the degree that they do exist – are viewed by many Syrians as part of the problem, not part of any solution.
Another flaw in Obama’s strategy is that the Syrian “moderates” are much more opposed to Assad’s harsh but secular regime than they are to the Sunni jihadists who have emerged as the most effective fighting force against him.
“If U.S. airstrikes and other support are seen to be hitting Muslim fighters only, and strengthening the despised Assad, this strategy for creating a ‘moderate opposition’ will likely fail,” Ignatius concluded.
That complaint has given new hope to Washington’s influential neoconservatives that they can ultimately redirect Obama’s intervention in Syria from bombing the Islamic State terrorists to a full-scale “regime change” war against Assad, much like the neocons helped convince President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Noses Into the Syrian Tent.”]
In this regard, Obama appears to be the proverbial deer in the headlights. He’s afraid of being called “weak” if he doesn’t go after the Islamic State for its hyper-violent attacks inside Iraq and its brutal executions of American hostages in Syria. Yet, Obama also can’t escape his earlier tough talk that “Assad must go.”
Obama’s core contradiction has been that by providing “covert” assistance to Syrian rebels, he has indirectly strengthened the Sunni extremists who have seized the Free Syrian Army’s weapons depots and won converts from the “moderate” rebels, some of whom were trained, armed and financed by the CIA. Meanwhile, other U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have been helping more extreme Syrian rebels, including al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
A year ago, many of the “moderate” rebels publicly repudiated the Syrian political front that the Obama administration had put together and instead endorsed al-Nusra. According to one source with access to Western intelligence information, some “moderate” rebels – recruited from Muslim communities in Great Britain and other Western countries – have now taken their military skills (and passports) to the Islamic State.
Yet, instead of acknowledging that this strategy of relying on an unreliable “moderate opposition” is indeed a “fantasy,” President Obama and a majority in Congress have chosen to pursue this geopolitical unicorn with another $500 million and much political chest-thumping.
An Alternative Approach
At this late stage, the only practical strategy would be to press the non-extremist Sunni opposition to work out some form of unity government with Assad who retains strong support among Syria’s Alawite, Shiite and Christian minorities. By enlisting Russia and Iran, Obama might be able to secure concessions from Assad, including the possibility of a gradual transition to a post-Assad era.
With such a political settlement in hand, the focus could then be on defeating the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Nusra affiliate and restoring some order to Syria. But the problem is that Official Washington’s neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies are so fixated on “regime change” in Syria and are so hostile to Russia and Iran that any pragmatic strategy is effectively ruled out.
Though Obama may be a closet “realist” who would favor such a compromise approach, he has consistently lacked the political courage or the geopolitical foresight to impose this kind of solution on the powers-that-be in Washington. Any suggestion of collaboration with Russia and Iran or acquiescence to continued rule by Assad would touch off a firestorm of outrage in Congress and the mainstream U.S. media.
So, Obama instead has charted a course into what he knows to be a fantasyland, a costly pursuit of the chimerical Syrian “moderates” who – once located – are supposed to defeat both the Sunni extremists and the army of the secularist Assad. This journey is not simply a march of folly but a meandering into illusion.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).