Recently Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg sent a letter to the UN Security Council demanding that Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria end the use of barrel bombs. The foreign ministry of a European country that still maintains a diplomatic presence in Damascus, one of the few, asked for the opinion of its embassy on the matter. The embassy recommended to sign the letter: barrel bombs are indiscriminate and kill an awful lot of civilians. But the embassy also advised its government to condemn the opposition’s use of improvised mortar bombs (known as “hell cannons”) against the neighborhoods under government control. Diplomats say that the rebels have specifically targeted Christian areas for their perceived support for the Assad regime. Back in Europe, the foreign ministry officials admitted that they “haven’t heard anything” about the “hell cannons.”
This is only one example of how dysfunctional EU policy toward Syria has become, as a European Parliament (EP) delegation that visited Lebanon in mid-June learned. An early EU decision to cut off all ties with the Assad regime has not been vindicated by the developments on the ground. Not only has the regime survived, but radical jihadist elements have increasingly dominated the opposition to Assad. The EU, however, failed to modify its strategy accordingly. As a result, regional actors with often disruptive and sectarian agendas have taken center stage. And individual EU member states have also pursued their own policies, which are not necessarily in the interests of the EU as a whole.
The latest example of the distorting influence of the regional actors is the Syrian opposition’s failure to accept the “freeze plan” in Aleppo and surrounding areas proposed by the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura as a first step toward a negotiated solution. In the UN assessment, the opposition´s foreign sponsors—mainly Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan—bear primary responsibility for this failure, because they have insisted on removing Assad from power as a pre-condition to any agreements.
Such a position is not new. What is new, however, is that these sponsors do not hide anymore that they work directly with Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda´s affiliate in Syria. They still pretend, however, that al-Nusra is the face of the “moderate opposition,” even though this assertion stems from a PR operation, widely believed to be Qatari-driven and carried out in Western mainstream media and think-tanks. An interview al-Nusra’s chief Al-Golani gave to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera was part of this PR campaign, but it backfired when Al-Golani made it clear that al-Nusra is al-Qaeda and expressed borderline genocidal views on Alawites.
The Dangers of Supporting Jihad
To make matters more complicated, even those rebel groups that are not part of al-Nusra, espouse deeply troubling views. According to a credible UN source in Damascus, a fighter from an obscure group Jaysh al-Ababil active in Syria´s south, has reported that “Syrian people deserve a democracy like in Saudi Arabia.” He boasted that the group “gets anything it needs” from Jordan and that a major offensive to take Damascus from the south, as well as the north, will be launched “very soon.”
If the US and EU had real strategy to end the war they would, in addition to pressuring Assad, demand that their regional allies curb the flow of weapons and recruits to terrorist groups. But they can’t credibly do that, since they are involved in this effort themselves. According to Conflicts Forum, the southern rebel front is managed from US Centcom’s Forward Command in Jordan, which is run jointly by American, Jordanian, Saudi, Qatari, and British officers. … Full article
Just nine days after the fall of the World Trade Center, George W. Bush announced that he was imposing a radical new policy on virtually the entire globe: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
As dramatic as the statement was, just about every phrase was open to question in one form or another. But rather than launching into a long and vigorous debate about the meaning of terrorism or America’s right to impose diktat on the world at large, congressmen turned their minds off and gave Bush a standing ovation.
Today, the same Bush Doctrine is sinking beneath the waves as a growing portion of the punditocracy declares that some forms of terrorism are better than others and that harboring a terrorist may not be so bad if it advances U.S. interests. But once again, the response is not questioning, debate, or even applause, but silence.
The latest evidence of a sea change in establishment thinking is a blog that Ahmed Rashid, a prominent Middle East correspondent, recently published on The New York Review of Books website. Entitled “Why We Need al-Qaeda,” it argues that Al Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate, Al Nusra, are evolving in a more moderate direction in growing contrast to its rival, the super-violent Islamic State. So why not use Al Nusra as a counterforce against both Bashar al-Assad and ISIS?
As Rashid puts it: “Unlike ISIS, which demands absolute subjugation of the inhabitants of any territory it conquers (surrender or be executed), al-Nusra is cooperating with other anti-Assad groups and recently joined the ‘Army of Conquest’ alliance of rebel militias in northern Syria. Moreover, in contrast to ISIS’s largely international and non-Syrian fighting force, al-Nusra’s fighters are almost wholly Syrian, making them both more reliable and more committed to Syria’s future.
“Meanwhile, in interviews with Al Jazeera, al-Nusra leaders have vowed not to attack targets in the West, promoting an ideology that might be called ‘nationalist jihadism’ rather than global jihad. In recent months, al-Nusra’s leaders have toned down the implementation of their own brutal version of Islamic law, while putting on hold their own plans of building a caliphate.”
Thus, according to Rashid’s viewpoint, Al Nusra is cooperative, patriotic, unthreatening to anyone other than Assad, and in favor of a kinder and gentler form of shari‘a as well. Yet, Rashid argues, that while Turkey and the Arab gulf states recognize that change is afoot, the U.S. keeps its eyes resolutely shut:
“With 230,000 killed and 7.6 million people uprooted in Syria alone, the Arab states want a quick end to the Assad regime and a viable solution for Syria. They know that solution will never come from the weak moderate opposition, and that any lasting peace will require support by the strong and ruthless Islamist groups fighting there.”
Gulf States’ Favorite
So the gulf states are backing the second most ruthless Islamist group in Syria (Al Qaeda’s affiliate) in hopes of offsetting the first most ruthless (ISIS) and making short work of the Baathist regime in Damascus. But as Arab leaders prepare for direct negotiations with Al Nusra, Rashid warns, “the only one not at the table could be the United States.”
This is dramatic stuff. After all, Rashid is not taking aim at some minor doctrine, but one that has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11. Moreover, he’s not the only one talking this way. Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Riyadh in early March to meet with Saudi King Salman and discuss ways of upping support for the Syrian Islamist opposition, there has been a veritable boomlet in terms of calls for a rapprochement with Al Qaeda.
Within days of the Riyadh get-together, Foreign Affairs went public with an article arguing that even though “the United States is the closest it has ever been to destroying al Qaeda, its interests would be better served by keeping the terrorist organization afloat.” Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, wrote a few weeks later that “while not everyone likes Nusra’s ideology, there is a growing sense in the north of Syria that it is the best alternative on the ground – and that ideology is a small price to pay for higher returns.”
Charles Lister of the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center, wrote that Al Nusra is undergoing a “moderating shift.” Frederic Hof, Obama’s former envoy to the Syrian guerrillas and now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the group has become “a real magnet for young Syrian fighters who don’t have any particular jihadist or even radical sectarian agenda.” They are drawn to Al Nusra, he explained, for two reasons – because it’s “well-resourced” and because it “seems to have been willing to fight the regime and not to engage in some of the corrupt activities and warlordism that you would find elsewhere within the panoply of Syrian opposition.”
So, Rashid’s views are hardly unique. Nonetheless, they’re the most explicit and upfront to date, an indication that support for an alliance with Al Qaeda is on the upswing and that advocates are growing bolder and more self-confident. So how should ordinary people who are not part of the elite foreign-policy discussion respond?
For one thing, they might notice that such articles are remarkably one-sided and poorly reasoned. Rashid may be “one of Pakistan’s most respected journalists,” as the BBC puts it, someone whose work has appeared in such publications as the Daily Telegraph and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Yet shooting holes through his arguments is child’s play.
Take his claim that “al-Nusra’s leaders have toned down the implementation of their own brutal version of Islamic law.” Whatever the difference between Al Nusra and ISIS on this score, it’s less impressive than Rashid lets on.
The Soufan Group, a New York-based security firm headed by a Lebanese-American ex-FBI agent named Ali H. Soufan, notes, for instance, that while Islamic State released a video in January showing its forces stoning an accused adulteress, Al Nusra released one around the same time showing its forces shooting two women for the same alleged offense. Since the victims in either case were killed, the difference, as the Soufan Group noted, was purely “stylistic.”
Rashid claims that Al Nusra is less extreme in its hostility to Shi‘ism, in part because it thinks “anti-Shia fanaticism” is backfiring and becoming “an impediment to gaining more territory.” Indeed, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, Al Nusra’s commander-in-chief, told Al Jazeera in a rare interview on May 27 that his forces were willing to welcome Alawites, as Syria’s Shi‘ites are known, back into the fold.
“If they drop weapons,” al-Julani said, “disavow Assad, do not send their men to fight for him and return to Islam, then they are our brothers.” But when he described Alawism as a sect that has “moved outside the religion of God and of Islam,” the meaning became clear: Alawite must either convert or die.
Whether this makes Al Nusra less genocidal than ISIS is open to debate. According to the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, Al Nusra recently massacred more than 20 Druze villagers in northwestern Syria – reportedly after a local commander denounced them as kuffar, or infidels, while al-Julani, in his Al Jazeera interview, specified that Christians must pay the jizya, a special head tax imposed by Islamic law, as well – a stipulation Syria’s ten-percent Christian minority is not likely to find very reassuring.
Ordinary people viewing this from afar might notice that the government that al-Julani is seeking to overthrow is officially secular and non-discriminatory and that even Obama has conceded that it has “protected the Christians in Syria,” as he told a Syrian Christian delegation last September. They might also notice that Rashid’s article is in other respects highly revealing, although not in ways he cares to admit.
For instance, Rashid writes that U.S. policy in the Middle East is beset by “growing contradictions.” This is obviously correct. But the problem is not that Washington refuses to face facts about Al Nusra’s alleged moderating trend, but that the U.S. is attempting to hammer out an accord with Iran while struggling to preserve its alliance with Israel and the Arab gulf states, all of whom regard Iran as public enemy number one.
Obama’s Fence Straddling
The effort has led to monumental fence straddling. While entering into talks with Iran, the Obama administration has given the go-ahead to Saudi Arabia’s two-month-old assault on Iranian-allied forces in Yemen while turning a blind eye to growing Turkish and Saudi support for anti-Iranian terrorists in Syria.
While paying lip service to the Bush Doctrine that he who harbors a terrorist is as bad as a terrorist, the Obama administration made no objection when the Saudis and Turks donated U.S.-made TOW missiles to Al Nusra-led forces in northern Syria or when the Saudi bombing campaign allowed Al Qaeda to expand in Yemen.
It’s a mixed-up policy that has people in the Middle East shaking their heads. Yet Rashid adds to the confusion by misrepresenting the Saudi role. He writes, for instance, that the Arab States are swinging behind Al Nusra because they “want a quick end to the Assad regime and a viable solution for Syria,” when, in fact, Saudi Wahhabists have sought from the start to impose a government much like their own, as a report by U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency observed back in August 2012.
Rather than “viable,” such a government would be precisely the opposite for a highly variegated society like Syria with its large Christian, Shi‘ite, and Druze minorities fearful of Sunni fundamentalist domination – yet the gulf states, backed by the U.S., have pushed on regardless.
On the issue of Al Qaeda’s brutal intolerance, Rashid adds, “For Arab leaders, determining whether al-Qaeda has really changed will depend on the group’s long-term attitude toward Shias,” suggesting that the gulf states are seeking a fairer outcome for Syria’s Alawites.
But this is misleading as well since Saudi attitudes toward the kingdom’s own 15-percent Shi‘ite minority are deeply oppressive and seem to be getting worse.
According to the Cambridge scholar Toby Matthiesen, for example, Saudi Shi‘ites are barred from the army and the National Guard as well as the top rungs of the government. State-mandated schoolbooks denounce them as “rejectionists,” while, according to the independent scholar Mai Yamani, they cannot testify in court or marry a Sunni and must put up with abuse from Wahhabist clerics who regularly preach that killing a Shi‘ite merits a greater heavenly reward than killing a Christian or a Jew.
Since Salman’s accession in late January, there is no sign of a softening. Indeed, by bombing Yemen’s Shi‘ite Houthi rebels and stepping up support for fanatically anti-Shi‘ite rebels in Syria, Salman gives every indication of intensifying his anti-Shi‘ite crusade and taking it abroad.
Neocons pushing for an explicit alliance with Al Nusra are thus attempting to plunge the U.S. ever more deeply into a growing sectarian war. Ordinary people might also notice that such “experts” expound their views from cushy posts financed by Qatar (the case with Brookings’ Doha Center) or by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain (the case with the Atlantic Council).
Yet Congress doesn’t care about such conflicts of interest and the White House is too intimidated to speak out, while the American people at large are not consulted. Questioning and debate are more imperative than ever, yet they are as absent as they were back in 2001.
This week, one government intelligence agency, after patiently and methodically tracking a terrorist leader for months through precise electronic surveillance, successfully targeted him for death by drone. Also this week, a government intelligence agency eliminated a terrorist leader through a drone strike without even knowing the leader was present, basing its decision to use lethal force on sophisticated analysis of militants’ patterns of life.
Bizarrely, this was the same agency, and this was the same terrorist leader.
On Tuesday, hardly before the dust in Yemen had settled, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, relying on information provided by anonymous sources, supplied the public with the first narrative. In this version, the CIA killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, “general manager” of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, “by building a methodical case on his whereabouts over months from information collected through technical means.”
On Thursday, the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, also relying on information provided by anonymous officials, supplied the second narrative. In this version, al-Wuhayshi was dead not because the CIA had tracked him down but because the Obama administration had “eased” certain drone-strike guidelines in Yemen and permitted the CIA to carry out “signature strikes” — strikes that take place without the agency’s specific knowledge of the identities of the individuals marked for death.
Rarely do the rival motives of anonymous officials come so nakedly into view, and conflict, around a single event. One faction immediately tries to capitalize on the al-Wuhayshi strike as evidence of the CIA’s other-worldly tracking abilities, even in the fog of a confusing and fraught war in Yemen. At the same time, another faction exploits the same strike to make a public case for expanding the use of a controversial targeting technique that the Obama administration earlier said, in an effort to assuage public concerns about the lawfulness of the drone program, it would retire.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” is the “test of a first-rate intelligence.” Here, though, the government’s conflicting stories seem something less than first-rate or intelligent — they seem amateurish and ham-handed. They also seem to suggest a total lack of concern for the possibility that anyone will ever hold officials accountable for their statements.
Lake, Rogin, and Miller work in a field in which reliance on anonymous sources is probably unavoidable and sometimes even illuminating. In this instance, though, they can’t all be right, and their competing stories serve as another reminder — in case any were needed — that the statements of anonymous intelligence officials are often efforts to mislead and manipulate, and that much of the “information” the government has provided the public about the drone program is merely propaganda.
Regrettably, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. A federal district court judge — the same judge who earlier dismissed a constitutional case relating to the government’s killing of four Americans in Yemen — ruled on Thursday that the CIA isn’t legally obliged to release any information about the drone program it hasn’t already released. For the time being at least, the CIA will continue to decide what the public knows about the CIA’s activities — even if it can’t keep its own story straight.
About the Authors
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW how sausages are made, don’t start reading Visas for Al Qaeda: CIA Handouts That Rocked the World by Michael Springmann. The sausages in this case: the string of too-easily-swallowed accounts of bloody events in the “global war on terror,” served up daily with relish by the mainstream media. In reality these sausages are filled with tainted meat that’s making everyone sick.
Springmann is a brave whistle blower living in Washington, D.C. He’s written an accessible book, safe to digest, highlighting details of the corruption of the American Empire (and its accomplices, including Canada) as he experienced them from the inside during his years with the U.S. State Department.
While he served as a visa officer in the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for instance, he was obliged under threat of dismissal to issue visas to persons hired clandestinely by the CIA to become trained-in-the-USA terrorists. Most of these psychopathic thugs were clearly and legally unqualified to be issued visas. There is every reason to believe the “Visas for Terrorists” program remains fully operative today. It takes a lot of expendable terrorists to run a global terrorism op.
Springmann places his experiences both within the context of the historical roots of the U.S. Empire and within its current ongoing global destabilization project.
“This tale,” the author states near the beginning, “is a sordid sketch of backstabbing, disloyalty, double crosses, faithlessness, falsity, perfidy, sellouts, treachery, and betrayal.”
And that only covers the bureaucratic aspect. Even more sobering is his sketch of human rights violations: torture, assassinations, massacres including bombings of markets, invasions and occupations of countries, destabilization of nations and regions.
Then there’s the financial side: widespread criminality, resource theft, bribery, diversion of funds, illicit drug dealing and more.
Not to mention the flouting of international laws. This dimension includes gross infringements on national sovereignty, the casual violation of treaties and ho-hum everyday general lawlessness, risking even the threat of nuclear annihilation.
All this before taking into account the moral dimension, in which trashing the Ten Commandments is just an opening trifle.
“My story shows how things really work,” Springmann writes, correctly. In the book’s 250 pages he names names, dates, times and places – presumably opening himself up to lawsuits, should there be anything here that the individuals named deem libelous. They might think twice, however, since Springmann is a lawyer by profession and knows his way around the Empire’s capital – as well as some of its outlying ramparts such as Stuttgart, New Delhi and especially Jeddah.
Stinging in itself, Springmann’s book also can be read as an authenticating companion to Michel Chossudovsky’s Towards a World War III Scenario (2012) and The Globalization of War: America’s “Long War” Against Humanity (2015). Along the way, both authors deal, to one extent or another, with the ideological, hubristic and increasingly bellicose role of the Harper government as handmaiden to the American Empire, including military involvements in Libya, Serbia and the Ukraine. Springmann necessarily refers very little to Canada, but to read his account of the cowardly and unnecessary rain of death inflicted on Libya, for instance, is to be obliged as a Canadian to think of Harper’s enthusiasm and pride in having this country share in the slaughter and destabilization carried out under the Orwellian “responsibility to protect” notion.
Springmann quotes Maximilian C. Forte who notes that before the attack Libya enjoyed the highest Human Development Index (a UN measurement of well-being) in all Africa. “After Western military forces destroyed the country the Index only records the steep collapse of all indicators of well-being. More Libyans were killed with intervention than without. It was about control, about militarizing Africa,” Forte argues.
What Springmann brings uniquely to the table is his firsthand knowledge of precisely how the USA recruits terrorists (no quotation marks needed), sends them to the USA for training and then deploys them to carry out murders, torture, bombings and more. The bloody mayhem carried out by these thousands of paid mercenaries – ostensibly beheading-habituated “jihadists” fighting against democracy, decency and the USA and its “allies – is planned, organized and funded by none other than the same USA and its allies. It’s a global false flag operation – the largest by far in history.
As Springmann on page 65 writes of the “Visas for Terrorists Program:”
This was not an ad hoc operation, conceived and carried out in response to a specific foreign policy issue. Rather, it was another of too many CIA efforts to destroy governments, countries, and politicians disfavored by the American “establishment” in its “bipartisan” approach to matters abroad. Whether it was opposing the imaginary evils of communism, the fictitious malevolence of Islam, or the invented wickedness of Iran, America and its intelligence services, brave defenders of “The City Upon A Hill,” sought out and created fear and loathing of peoples and countries essentially engaged in efforts to better their lives and improve their political world. Along the way, Agency-sponsored murders, war crimes, and human rights violations proved to be good business. Jobs for the Clandestine Service (people who recruit and run spies), sales of weapons and aircraft, as well as the myriad items needed to control banks, countries and peoples all provided income for and benefits to American companies.
That the American Empire has been able to carry out such a massive illegal program for so long is the saddest of commentaries on how deep the rot is, how effective the secrecy, how complicit the media.
As to the span of dangerous widespread deception, Springmann notes that Rahul Bedi wrote in Jane’s Defence Weekly on September 14, 2001 that beginning in 1980 “thousands [of mujahideen] were … brought to America and made competent in terrorism by Green Berets and SEALS at US government East Coast facilities, trained in guerilla warfare and armed with sophisticated weapons.”
The point is made repeatedly that Al Qaeda and now ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State are essentially “Made in USA” entities, brought into being and organized for the Empire’s purposes. Among the elements that make possible such a vast fraud are deception, compartmentalization and secrecy. Springmann quotes attorney Pat Frascogna, “a man with FOIA expertise,” about secrecy and its purpose:
Thus whether it be learning the dirty and unethical business practices of a company or the secrets of our government, the same deployment of denials and feigning ignorance about what is really going on are the all-too-common methods used to keep the truth from the light of day.
Langley recruited the Arab-Afghans so clandestinely that the terrorists didn’t know they had been recruited. They thought that they had found a battlefield on their own, or through the Internet or through Twitter or through television…
Frascogna’s observation intersects with Springmann’s on-the-job experiences as a visa officer in Jeddah starting in 1987. Springmann was repeatedly overruled when he turned down disqualified applicants for U.S. visas. He writes:
As I later learned to my dismay, the visa applicants were recruits for the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union’s armed forces. Further, as time went by, the fighters, trained in the United States, went on to other battlefields: Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. They worked with the American intelligence services and the State Department to destabilize governments the United States opposed. While it’s no secret, most knowledgeable people still refuse to talk about this agenda.
As Springmann learned, “the average percentage of intelligence officers to real diplomats at a given Foreign Service post is about one in three. My experience in Jeddah, Stuttgart, and New Delhi might place it higher—at least 50 percent, if not more.” According to the Anti-CIA Club of Diplomats: Spooks in U.S. Foreign Service [sic], a twelve-page, 1983 Canadian publication (see namebase.org), the percentage is 60 percent.
“At Jeddah,” Springmann writes, “to the best of my knowledge, out of some twenty US citizens assigned to the consulate, only three people, including myself, worked for the Department of State. The rest were CIA or NSA officials or their spouses.” Elsewhere Springmann suggests that essentially the CIA runs the State Department, and that this is true of many other U.S. government departments and agencies as well. It seems that it’s almost impossible to over-estimate the reach of the CIA’s tentacles or the overweening treason of its nonstop black ops and unconstitutional operations domestically.
Springmann toward the end of the book refers to the beginnings of the CIA. It’s interesting for this reviewer to think that he was 13 years of age in 1947 when U.S. president Harry Truman agreed with the National Security Council (NSC) to secretly create the CIA and NSA. I remember that in my teenage years a few of my peers said there “was something” called “the CIA.” This was around the time a few people also said there “was something” called “the Mafia.” The consensus was that both ideas were very far-fetched.
In 1948 Truman approved yet another NSC initiative, providing for “propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, antisabotage,
demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerillas, and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.” That’s a tabula rasa if there ever was one: a license for lawlessness.
The CIA’s twisted hits have just kept coming. It’s worth noting that Truman didn’t singlehandedly initiate this monstrosity. The dark recesses of the Deep State, as Peter Dale Scott calls it, are where the demonic entity was spawned. Ever since, Frankenstein’s monster has been a harmless schoolboy by comparison.
To read of the rape of Libya with active Canadian military complicity makes for difficult reading. The lies are piled as high as the bodies, and these two categories are insuperably paired.
Equally sordid, especially in light of Stephen Harper’s enthusiasm for expanding the war on Russia (the economic sanctions and the diplomatic exclusion of Russia from the G8 are forms of warfare, not to mention decades of covert* military incursion by the West onto the territory of the former USSR and now the Russian Federation, as described in Visas for Al Qaeda) is to read some of the history of the Ukraine. “The West’s” meddling in the Ukraine has a long illicit pedigree. As Springmann writes:
It seems that the CIA had problems [in the immediate post World War II period] distinguishing between underground groups and above-ground armies. Langley used Marshall Plan money to support a guerrilla force in the Ukraine, called “Nightingale.” Originally established in 1941 by Nazi Germany’s occupation forces, and working on their behalf, “Nightingale” and its terrorist arm (made up of ultranationalist Ukrainians as well as Nazi collaborators) murdered thousands of Jews, Soviet Union supporters, and Poles.
Even relatively recently, since the so-called Orange revolution in the Ukraine made events there eminently newsworthy, I can’t remember seeing in the mainstream media a single substantial article dealing with the historical relationships between the Ukraine and Russia going back to World War II, nor such an article laying out the history of the involvement –overt or covert – of “the West” in the Ukraine.
Instead, we see the surreal ahistorical likes of the top headline in The New York Times International Weekly for June 13-14, “Russia is Sowing Disunity,” by Peter Baker and Steven Erlanger. They report breathlessly in the lead paragraph: “Moscow is leveraging its economic power, financing European political parties and movements, and spreading alternative accounts of the Ukraine conflict, according the American and European officials.
True to the narrative of “the West” as a pitiful giant facing a powerful and expansionist Russia, the writers posit that the “consensus against Russian aggression” is “fragile.
The drift of this NYT yarn, typical of Western propaganda across the board, is that there remains in effect a behemoth “Soviet empire” surreptitiously shipping “Moscow gold” to dupes in “green movements” and so on. Even a former American national intelligence officer on Russia, Fiona Hill, now at the Brookings Institution, told the writers: “The question is how much hard evidence does anyone have?
Maybe this NYT propaganda, like its clones across the mainstream media, is not ahistorical after all. The story comes across rather as an historical relic of the Cold War – found in a time capsule in a fallout shelter – that the NYT editors decided to publish as a prank. A sausage.
* Military action by “the West” has not always been covert. Springmann notes that American and Japanese soldiers were dispatched to Russia in 1917 to squelch the fledgling Russian revolution. The soldiers were part of what was called the Allied Expeditionary Force. Winston Churchill for his part said: “We must strangle the Bolshevik baby in its crib.” Springmann might have noted that Canadian soldiers were part of the AEF.
In order to break the stalemate in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has reportedly started training hundreds of Yemeni tribesmen to fight the Houthis on the ground, while Riyadh continues its bombardment campaign.
“You cannot win a war against the Houthis from the air – you need to send ground forces in, but now there’s a program to train tribal fighters on the border,” a Doha-based military source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
According to another Yemeni official source, some 300 fighters have already managed to return to Yemen after getting Saudi training. They were allegedly sent to the Sirwah district in the central Marib province to battle Houthis in the area. According to the source the newly trained unit managed to push the Houthis back.
Saudi Arabia’s coalition spokesman failed to either confirm or deny the reports.
“We always confirm that we are helping the resistance and the popular groups, the loyal army … but we cannot go into details on where, how, how much,”Brigadier Ahmed Asseri said.
The training received by the Yemeni tribesmen in Saudi Arabia allegedly includes light weapons and tactical advice knowledge. According to another Reuters source, the Kingdom plans to boost deployment of such units to fight the Houthis resistance.
Rhiayad is reportedly gathering all tribal leaders loyal to the ousted president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia, to unite their tribal forces against those of the Houthis.
“Saudi Arabia wants to unite tribal leaders in this meeting but the feeling is that there’s not much hope for that,” a Yemeni source in Riyadh told Reuters. Apparently the tribal delegations seem more concerned battling the jihadi elements in Yemen in addition to the Houthi opposition.
“The Saudis have decided that they are going to intensify the unstable situation by providing arms to an oppositional group, a group that has been traditionally oppositional to the Houthis,” Ajamu Baraka, Middle East expert told RT.
On the ground in Yemen, the Shiite Houthi fighting force and army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh are in control of central and southern areas.
The fighting is ongoing on a number of major fronts. In Aden, the Houthis are engaging tribesmen who are supported by Saudi-led air forces. In Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, Houthis are fighting the Sunni Islamist fighters. The Houthis and their allies have been also fighting both Islamists and local tribesman in Marib and in Shabwa provinces.
The forces in Yemen which Saudi Arabia is arming can turn jihadi, Baraka says, as they have some “traditional, Whabis, Islamic leanings,” which is the “main ideological, Islamic foundation for Al Qaeda.”
“The only force that is gaining as a consequence of this conflict is in fact Al-Qaeda,” he went on to stress.
Meanwhile, the airstrikes continued throughout the country on Wednesday, targeting Houthi forces in Aden, Saada, Hajja, Taiz, Ibb and Bayda.
“For the first time, a former Orange County, Calif. teenage rock music fan has revealed his role as a top al Qaeda leader.
Adam Gadahn, who disappeared from California seven years ago, appeared unmasked on an al Qaeda tape made public on the internet today.
As previously reported by ABC News, the FBI had concluded that the masked man was Gadahn based on voice analysis of previous al Qaeda tapes. On today’s tape, Gadahn is bearded, wearing a turban.
He denounces U.S. soldiers in Iraq and their alleged murder and rapes of Iraqi citizens.”
Whatreallyhappened writes (I’ve removed links that are in the original):
“The FBI lists Gadahn’s aliases as Abu Suhayb Al-Amriki, Abu Suhayb, Yihya Majadin Adams, Adam Pearlman, and Yayah.
But Adam Pearlmen is his REAL name! Adam is the grandson of the late Carl K. Pearlman; a prominent Jewish urologist in Orange County. Carl was also a member of the board of directors of the Anti-Defamation League, which was caught spying on Americans for Israel in 1993, much as AIPAC has been caught up in the more recent spy scandal.”
I think this information came originally from David Irving, so we should look into it in detail. The man now known as ‘Azzam the American’, and definitely associated with top al Qaeda leaders, was born Adam Pearlman, the son of semi-prominent hippie musician Phil Pearlman. Pearlman had converted to Christianity and changed the family name to Gadahn. Phil Pearlman’s father was in fact prominent urologist Carl Kenneth Pearlman. From Carl Pearlman’s obituary (scroll down):
“He devoted much time to YMCA in Santa Ana. In an effort to aid the plight of world Jewry in the post-war years, he became the first chairman in Orange County of the Bonds for Israel and served as chairman for the United Jewish Welfare Fund.
He served with the Jewish Family Service and the Nursing Home Advisory Committee. He was a member of the board of directors of the Anti-Defamation League and was an honoree of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now known as the National Conference for Community and Justice).”
The Los Angeles Times is characteristically coy (original story no longer available but it is reprinted here; coy word is in red):
“In 1995, at 17, Adam Gadahn moved out of the family’s Winchester home, his father said, because ‘he wanted out of the country and wanted to be in the city,’ where he lived with relatives in Garden Grove.”
Actually, the detail comes from the Washington Post:
“While living with his grandparents in suburban Santa Ana, he made his first trip to the nearby mosque in 1995. He introduced himself as Yahya – the Arabic name for John the Baptist, revered as a great prophet in Islam.”
It’s an old pattern. Teenaged son rebels from hippie parents, then flees the countryside – and the hippie lack of electricity or indoor plumbing – to live with grandparents. Grandfather is on the board of directors of the Anti-Defamation League, so he almost immediately decides to join a mosque. He then assaults the director of the mosque, and is seen hanging out with ‘radical’ Muslims (and note this extremely odd parallel story, stemming out of the same Garden Grove mosque). He also becomes a bit famous for an internet essay “Becoming Muslim”, which is itself rather odd:
“On the left, conspiracy theorists – no less energized than their right-wing counterparts – got busy, too. They thought it strange, they said, as if the government stitched the story together from scratch. Some kid who never before posted to the Internet drops a deeply personal revelation onto a USC website, a diatribe that is chock full of anti-government, anti-Christian sentiments, and then pretty much disappears from cyberspace. A person doesn’t just post his entire life story on the Web and never post again, they say. You’d think someone like that would have been on the Web all the time; at least you could find him on Islamic faith newsgroups, chatting about the Qur’an.
But Gadahn’s online presence is scant. Since stuff tends to hang around in cyberspace forever, it does raise questions that, other than “Becoming Muslim,” and a few news articles he’s appeared to have edited about jihad, why is Gadahn nowhere to be found?
There are other odd occurrences about “Becoming Muslim,” such as Gadahn’s statements that the U.S. government considered Muslims to be “bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists.” This is a mostly inaccurate conclusion to have drawn in 1995; though anti-Muslim sentiments in America rose after 9/11, the U.S. government had not previously taken such a hard-line position.”
Gadahn has become a cause célèbre for the American right, a made-to-order American traitor from central casting. What if he really was manufactured? His confused background, with a detour through heavy metal, his moving in with his grandparents (grandfather on the ADL board), his rare internet essay anachronistically written from a Zionist perspective and not the perspective of the American government in 1995 (as if the Zionists had already written the post-September 11 script), his immediate ‘conversion’ to Islam and association with ‘radical’ Muslims – it’s all just a bit too contrived. We have seen other examples of how Israel has infiltrated Islamist organizations (most recently in Lebanon). Have the Zionists infiltrated al Qaeda at its highest levels? Or is it more accurate to look at al Qaeda as a ‘false flag’ Zionist organization?
As neocons are working to destroy Iran’s tentative nuclear deal, US President Obama will have to either reinvent America’s policy or give in to Israel’s lobby and Saudi Arabia’s paranoiac fear of Shia Islam.
If months of intense political wrangling were crowned earlier this April by the confirmation that Iran and the P5+1 countries reached a tentative framework agreement over one of the most contentious issue of the past three decades – Iran’s nuclear dossier – it appears such diplomatic respite could prelude to a dangerous political standoff.
If by any account Iran’s nuclear negotiations were going to be trying, especially since Tehran’s nuclear ambitions do not necessarily sit at the center of this internationally staged quarrel, Israel’s neocon war campaign against the Islamic Republic risks pushing the world toward yet another lengthy conflict- a global one at that.
With the fires of war already burning bright in the MENA region – Middle East and North Africa – the fall of another domino could prove one too many for the word to handle. From a purely geostrategic standpoint a war with Iran, however pleasing to Tel Aviv’s avid warmongers, would likely force Western powers and their Arab allies to commit more military power than they can handle. Bearing in mind that the US has already committed troops and resources to Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and of course Ukraine, how much farther can imperial America really stretch?
However grand the US might think itself to be, and however solid the US might think its alliances to be, Washington has yet to win a war. Claiming victory as George W. Bush did in Iraq on May 1, 2003 did not exactly make it so. And though America basked in the glorious light of its military supremacy over the “Iraqi enemy,” its joy was short-lived as reality soon came knocking. And though starting a war might seem an easy enough business for neocon America, it is really the art of peace this belligerent nation has failed to master so far.
But back to Iran’s nuclear deal
To the surprise of many skeptics, Iran and the P5+1 did reach a deal – and while there were a few near misses, a deal was nevertheless brokered; proof experts actually insisted that Tehran is more interested in diplomacy than its detractors gives it credit for. Iran’s concessions attest to its officials’ determination to engage with the international community and integrate back into mainstream international politics.
As Gareth Porter wrote in a report for CounterPunch this April, “The framework agreement reached on Thursday night [April 2, 2015] clearly gives the P5+1 a combination of constraints on Iran’s nuclear program that should reassure all but the most bellicose opponents of diplomacy.”
And although Iran gave every assurance its government will not seek to weaponize its nuclear program, no amount of concessions might prove sufficient enough or comprehensive enough to assuage Washington’s fears vis-a-vis its “great Satan” – especially if the Saudis and Israelis have a say in it.
With the ink of the nuclear framework agreement still left to dry, both the powerful Israeli lobby and Al Saud’s petrodollars went on overdrive, telling the world what a catastrophe Iran’s nuclear deal would be.
One trip to US Congress and a few well-chosen words against its mortal enemy later, Israel seems satisfied it forever drove a wrench into the yet to be formulated and signed nuclear agreement.
As Yuval Steinitz, Israel minister for intelligence and strategic affairs so eloquently told the world on April 6, Israel would try to persuade the P5 +1 “not to sign this bad deal or at least to dramatically change or fix it”.
Echoing his minister’s narrative, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu determined that since Iran represents a threat to Israel’s very existence, America should abandon all diplomacy and instead beat the war drums. And we don’t really need to know why, only that it is so – If Netanyahu’s drawing did not convince your idle mind of Iran’s evil in 2012 then nothing will!
Just as Israel’s lobby bullied its way through the Oval office, cornering U.S. President Barak Obama into relenting power to Congress, Saudi Arabia declared war on Yemen, adding a new layer of complication to an already impossible mesh of over-lapping and over-conflicting alliances in the Middle East, thus weaving a dangerous noose around peace’s neck.
Interestingly, if war requires no US Congress oversight you can be sure that peace does!
Caught in between a rock at home and a hard place in the Middle East, US President Obama is faced with one mighty dilemma – one which will determine not his presidency but his very legacy.
If recent tensions between President Obama and the Israeli Premier are anything to go by, it would appear Israel’s lobby suit of armor is not as thick and potent as it’d like it to be, or maybe just maybe, it simply exhausted Americans’ patience. Israel’s greatest ally and supporter, the one power which has quite literally and almost single-handedly carried the Jewish State into being and helped it survive adverse winds since its very inception in 1948: vetoing UNSC resolutions when needed, propping its military and economy when needed, acting a political champion when needed, could be running out of road.
If Israel and Saudi Arabia’s foreign agenda stand now in perfect alignment – their ire directed not at one another but at Iran, changes in the region and fast-moving geostrategic interests have forced the US to re-evaluate its position vis-a-vis Iran and the so-called mythical Shia crescent the world has learnt to be wary of without quite understanding why.
In Netanyahu’s officials’ own words we are to believe that Islamic radicalism, a perverted, acetic and reactionary interpretation of Islam which has mapped itself around Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism movement would be preferable to seeing Iran gain a greater footing in the Arab world. In September 2013, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad and the Shiites. “The greatest danger to Israel is by the [Shiite] strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in an interview.
“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 “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Obviously Saudi Arabia would rather eat its own foot than allow the all so devilish Iran from reclaiming its standing in the region, especially since it would essentially mean relenting power to rising calls for democratic reforms in the Gulf monarchies – Bahrain being the flagship of such a desire for change.
Why do that when you can wage senseless wars to assert your dominion?
Iran’s nuclear deal is more than just a nuclear deal. If signed, this deal would become the cornerstone of a broad shift in alliances, the moment when the US would actually choose to put its national interests over that of Tel Aviv and over Riyadh’s billions. Where Israel has bullied the US for decades, Saudi Arabia has bought its policies for decades.
With nothing left to lose but his good name and his legacy, President Obama could be just the man to break this self-destructing cycle and reinvent America’s foreign policy.
And that’s not even wishful thinking it would actually make sense for America to make peace with Iran – economically, politically and in terms of energy security and counter-terrorism Iran could be a more helpful and potent ally than Saudi Arabia. Bearing in mind that Riyadh’s fingerprints are all over al-Qaeda, ISIS and whatever terror offshoots radicals created those days, Washington might want to consider another ally in its fight against radicalism.
Thing is, America wants change! What it needs now is mastering the courage of its desire.
America is a superpower running out of steam, and more importantly running out of standing in the world. America’s exceptionalism is on its last leg. Too many double-standards, too many incoherencies in its alliances, too many double-talks, double-entendres and double-crossings. America needs a deal.
And though the July deadline seems very far away indeed, especially since Yemen’s war came to yank at diplomacy’s already stretched out rope; not signing the nuclear deal would be far worse than ruffling Israel and Saudi Arabia’s feathers.
For the sake of argument, why not ask Israel to pay the world the courtesy of practicing what it preaches in terms of nuclear transparency. That would be the nuclear deal of the century!
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst and commentator for the Middle East with a special emphasis on Yemen and radical movements. A consultant with Anderson Consulting and leading analyst for the Beirut Center for Middle East Studies, her writings have appeared in MintPress, Foreign Policy Journal, Open-Democracy, the Guardian, the Middle East Monitor, Middle East Eye and many others. In 2015 her research and analysis on Yemen was used by the UN Security Council in a situation report.
In his essay entitled, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell says, “political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell, whose writings are more prescient with each passing year, would wince at the words of Saudi Arabia’s Brigadier General Asiri, who, in a recent press conference, defended Saudi Arabia’s unprovoked war in Yemen by saying, “all we are trying to do is to make sure that there is security in Yemen.” Bombing an already desperately poor country’s infrastructure, destroying its armed forces (the same armed forces that were equipped and trained to fight al-Qaeda by the US), air dropping weapons (now being sold in Yemen’s arms markets), blockading Yemen’s ports (Yemen imports 90% of its food), and hobbling an already struggling economy are hardly ways of ensuring security.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel A. al-Jubeir, has sought to justify the Kingdom’s war in Yemen by arguing that Saudi Arabia—a country that is ruled by an autocratic king and a collection of princes—is fighting to protect the “elected and legitimate government of Yemen,” the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi.
Hadi, who fled Yemen for Saudi Arabia on 25 March, was “elected” in an election in February 2012 in which his name was the only one on the ballot. There is also the fact that Hadi’s term as president expired in February 2014. According to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) brokered initiative, national elections, including the election of a new president, were to be held in 2014.
To sum it up: an autocracy with a deplorable human rights record (Saudi Arabia’s Sharia courts routinely behead criminals and flog victims of gang rape as well as recalcitrant bloggers) and its partners—which includes the US—are endeavoring to reinstall an ineffectual exiled government of questionable legitimacy and ensure security in Yemen by bombing and starving it into submission.
Hadi and his exiled government are supporting the bombardment of their own country and calling on the Saudis and their allies to intensify air strikes and launch what will likely be a disastrous ground invasion. Of course, these calls for more bombs, more weapons, and more war are being made by men who fled Yemen aboard private jets and are comfortably ensconced in villas in Riyadh. They do not have to worry about being incinerated in their homes, finding food or water, or burying their dead. It is worth citing another quote from Orwell who wrote in Homage to Catalonia, “all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”
So what fruits is the Saudi led and US supported “Operation Decisive Storm” bearing? Security is not among them. An estimated 600 people, including at least 80 children, have been killed. According to UNICEF, a hundred thousand additional Yemenis have been displaced since the beginning of “Operation Decisive Storm.” Food, medical supplies, and petrol are in short supply across the country and as yet, flights and convoys bringing aid are being blocked. Conditions in parts of southern Yemen are so bad that some Yemenis are fleeing by boat to relatively secure and stable Somaliland and Puntland.
Across southern Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is on the offensive. AQAP has freed its members from various jails and has raised its flag over Mukalla, a city of nearly four hundred thousand and a major port with critical oil and gas handling facilities. However AQAP and other militant Islamist groups whose ideology differs little from the state sanctioned Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia, are seemingly not targets for those directing “Operation Decisive Storm.” The primary targets of the aerial campaign, beyond critical infrastructure, food factories, and refugee camps, are the Houthis, a Zaidi Shi’a group that has had more success at fighting AQAP in the last six months than the US and its drones have had in the last decade.
AQAP was and, in some military circles, still is considered to be the most virulent of the al-Qaeda franchises. Mainstream US media has long trumpeted the idea that AQAP poses a clear and present danger to the US. Hundreds of millions of dollars of US tax payer money has been spent on the “war on terror” in Yemen. Yet rather than calling for a ceasefire and dialogue as the governments of China, Russia, and Iran have done, the US is supporting a war that will, beyond anything else, make sure that Yemen remains a failed state and fertile ground for AQAP and potentially the Islamic State.
It all makes sense in an Orwellian way.
Michael Horton is a writer and Middle East analyst.
As the US-backed Saudi bombing of Yemen enters into its second week, more than 500 people — including many civilians — have been killed, what infrastructure existed in the impoverished country has been destroyed, and the ousted president cheers on the destruction of his country within the protective embrace of the country that is bombing his own.
What is less reported in a US mainstream media is that one group in Yemen seems to be making out quite well in the US-backed and Saudi-created chaos: al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yes, al-Qaeda. The group that the US has been droning in Yemen since 2010. The drone strikes that set the population and especially various tribes like the Houthis against the US-accommodating Hadi. The Houthis who had been fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen before they started being bombed by Saudi Arabia. That al-Qaeda.
A Thursday prison raid by al-Qaeda operatives in the port city of Mukalla freed one of their commanders, “emir” Khaled Batarfi. Barfi celebrated his freedom by taking up residence in the abandoned regional governor’s palace as Saudi planes continued to bomb al-Qaeda’s enemy in Yemen, the Houthis. Barfi even used the palace telephone apparently to issue orders to his minions. It must have been hard for him to believe his incredible good luck!
The Saudis are said to have air-dropped weapons to supporters of ousted president, Mansur Hadi, in the battleground port city of Aden. How long before al-Qaeda shows up with these gifts from the Saudis by way of the US military-industrial complex?
So why is the US backing the Saudi attack on its neighbor? It is complicated. According to US government logic, when Yanukovych was chased by a mob from his office in Ukraine, by leaving the country he lost legitimacy. In Yemen, on the other hand, when president Hadi was chased by a mob from his office he retained his legitimacy and Saudi airstrikes were approved and coordinated by the US to put him back in office.
It had something to do with democracy, it was said. However, Hadi was “elected” after overthrowing his predecessor in a coup and standing for office as the only candidate on the ballot. Not surprisingly in the circumstance, he “won” more than 99 percent of the vote. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was effusive in her praise, claiming the Soviet-style election and inauguration “were promising steps on the path toward a new, democratic chapter in Yemen’s history.”
Yanukovych, in contrast, was elected in a contested election judged to be “free and fair” by international monitoring bodies.
Watching State Department Spokesman Jen Psaki defend these double standards is one of those golden comedy moments that makes you laugh and then cry.
So the US backs Saudi attacks on Yemen in the name of democracy even though neither country is remotely democratic, and even though none except al-Qaeda and the US military-industrial complex seems to be benefiting. Is this incompetence, arrogance, ignorance, or something darker?
There is media confusion about what is going on in Yemen and the broader Middle East. Pundits are pointing out that the US is looking schizophrenic with policies that back opposite sides of the fight against al-Qaeda-style extremism in Iraq and in Yemen.
But it isn’t that hard to understand the divergent policies once you comprehend the underlying drivers of the fight brewing in the region.
No, it isn’t a battle between Shia and Sunni, Iranian and Arab or the much-ballyhooed Iran-Saudi stand-off. Yes, these narratives have played a part in defining ‘sides,’ but often only in the most simplistic fashion, to rally constituencies behind a policy objective. And they do often reflect some truth.
But the ‘sides’ demarcated for our consumption do not explain, for instance, why Oman or Algeria refuse to participate, why Turkey is where it is, why Russia, China and the BRICS are participants, why the US is so conflicted in its direction – and why, in a number of regional conflicts, Sunni, Shia, Islamist, secularist, liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, Arab and Iranian sometimes find themselves on the same side.
This is not just a regional fight – it is a global one with ramifications that go well beyond the Middle East. The region is quite simply the theatre where it is coming to a head. And Yemen, Syria and Iraq are merely the tinderboxes that may or may not set off the conflagration.
“The battle, at its very essence, in its lowest common denominator, is a war between a colonial past and a post-colonial future.”
For the sake of clarity, let’s call these two axes the Neo-Colonial Axis and the Post-Colonial Axis. The former seeks to maintain the status quo of the past century; the latter strives to shrug off old orders and carve out new, independent directions.
If you look at the regional chessboard, the Middle East is plump with governments and monarchies backed to the hilt by the United States, Britain and France. These are the West’s “proxies” and they have not advanced their countries in the least – neither in self-sufficiencies nor in genuine democratic or developmental milestones. Indebted to ‘Empire’s’ patronage, these states form the regional arm of the Neo-Colonial Axis.
On the other side of the Mideast’s geopolitical fault line, Iran has set the standard for the Post-Colonial Axis – often referred to as the ‘Resistance Axis.’ Based on the inherent anti-imperialist worldview of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and also as a result of US/UK-driven isolating sanctions and global politics, Tehran has bucked the system by creating an indigenous system of governance, advancing its developmental ambitions and crafting alliances that challenge the status quo.
Iran’s staunchest allies have typically included Syria, Hezbollah and a handful of Palestinian resistance groups. But today, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring counter-revolutions – and the sheer havoc these have created – other independent players have discovered commonalities with the Resistance Axis. In the region, these include Iraq, Algeria and Oman. While outside the Mideast, we have seen Russia, China and other non-aligned nations step in to challenge the Neo-Colonial order.
Neo-Colonial Axis hits an Arab Spring wall
Today, the Neo-Colonials simply can’t win. They lack two essential components to maintain their hegemony: economy and common objectives.
Nowhere is that more clear than in the Middle East, where numerous initiatives and coalitions have floundered shortly after inception.
Once Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya, all parties went their own way and the country fractured. In Egypt, a power struggle pitted Sunni against Sunni, highlighting the growing schism between two Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) patrons Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In Syria, a heavyweight line-up of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, the US and UK could not pull together a coherent regime-change plan or back the same horse.
In the vacuum created by these competing agendas, highly-organized al-Qaeda-style extremists stepped in to create further divergence among old allies.
Western hegemons – the original colonials and imperialists – grew fatigued, alarmed, and sought a way out of the increasingly dangerous quagmire. To do so, they needed to strike a compromise with the one regional state that enjoyed the necessary stability and military prowess to lead the fight against extremism from within the region. That would be their old adversary, Iran.
But the West is geographically distant from the Mideast, and can take these losses to a certain extent. For regional hegemons, however, the retreat of their Western patrons was anathema. As we can see, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have recently rushed to resolve their differences so they can continue to design the region’s direction in this Western vacuum.
These counter-revolutionary states, however, share grandiose visions of their own regional influence – each ultimately only keen to achieve their own primacy. And the continued ascendance of Iran has really grated: the Islamic Republic seems to have moved from strength to strength during this ‘Arab Spring,’ picking up new allies – regional and global – and consolidating its gains.
For Saudi Arabia, in particular, Iran’s incremental victories go beyond the pale. Riyadh has, after all, staked its regional leadership role on a sectarian and ethnic divide, representing Arab and Sunni stakeholders against “Iranian” and “Shiite” ones. Now suddenly, not only are the Americans, British and French dallying with the Iranians, but the GCC itself has been split down the center over the issue of ‘engagement vs. confrontation’ with the Islamic Republic.
Worse yet, the Saudi efforts to participate in the overthrow of Gaddafi, squash uprisings in Bahrain, control political outcomes in Yemen, destabilize Syria, divide Iraq and conquer Egypt seem to have come to naught.
In all instances, they have yet to see cemented, meaningful gains – and each quagmire threatens to unravel further and deplete ever more Saudi funds
Today, the Saudis find themselves surrounded by the sickly fruits of their various regional interventions. They have endured recent attacks by violent extremists on their Iraqi and Jordanian borders – many of these recipients of past Saudi funding – and now find themselves challenged on a third border, in Yemen, by a determined constituency that seeks to halt Saudi interventions.
Beyond that, Syria and Lebanon have slipped out of Riyadh’s grip, little Qatar seeks to usurp the traditional Saudi role in the Persian Gulf, Egypt dallies with Russia and China, and Pakistan and Turkey continue a meaningful engagement with Iran.
Meanwhile, the Iranians don’t have to do much of anything to raise the Saudi ire. Iran has stepped up its regional role largely because of the Saudi-led counter-revolution, and has cautiously thwarted Riyadh’s onslaughts where it could. It has buoyed allies – much like NATO or the GCC would in similar circumstances – but with considerably less aggression and while cleaving to the letter of international law.
The Saudis see Iranian hands everywhere in the region, but this is a fantasy at best. Iran has simply stepped into an opportunity when it arises, met the threats coming its way, and utilized all its available channels to blunt the Saudi advances in various military and political theaters.
Even the US intelligence community’s annual security assessment – a report card that regularly highlights the “Iranian threat” – concludes in 2015 that the Islamic Republic of Iran has “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.”
Yet all we hear these days blaring from Western and Arab media headlines is “Shia sectarianism, Iranian expansionism and Persian Empire.”
Tellingly, the American intelligence assessment launches its section on “terrorism” with the following: “Sunni violent extremists are gaining momentum and the number of Sunni violent extremist groups, members, and safe havens is greater than at any other point in history.”
And US officials admit: many of these Sunni extremists have been assisted and financed by none other than Washington allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
The Yemeni theater – a final battleground?
A senior official within a Resistance Axis state tells me: “The biggest mistake the Saudis made is to attack Yemen. I didn’t think they were that stupid.”
In the past week, the Saudis have cobbled together yet another Neo-Colonial ‘coalition’ – this time to punish Yemenis for ousting their made-in-Riyadh transitional government and pushing into the southern city of Aden.
The main Saudi adversaries are the Houthis, a group of northern, rural highlanders who have amassed a popular base throughout the north and other parts of Yemen over the course of ten years and six wars.
The Saudis (and the US) identify the Houthis as ‘Shiites’ and ‘Iranian-backed’ in order to galvanize their own bases in the region. But Iran has had little to do with the Houthis since their emergence as a political force in Yemen. And WikiLeaks showed us that US officials know this too. A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Riyadh notes that Yemen’s former Saudi-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh provided “false or exaggerated information on Iranian assistance to the Houthis in order to enlist direct Saudi involvement and regionalize the conflict.”
And allegations that Iran arms the Houthis also fall flat. Another secret cable makes clear: “Contrary to ROYG (Republic of Yemen Government) claims that Iran is arming the Houthis, most local political analysts report that the Houthis obtain their weapons from the Yemeni black market and even from the ROYG military itself.”
Saleh was deposed in 2011 as a result of Arab Spring pressures, and in a twist worthy of the complicated Middle East, the wily former president now appears to be backing his former adversaries, the Houthis, against his old patrons, the Saudis.
The Houthis are adherents of the Muslim Zaydi sect – which falls somewhere between Sunnism and Shiism, and is followed by around 40 percent of Yemenis. Saleh, who fought the Houthis in half a dozen wars, is also a Zaydi – evidence that Yemen’s internal strife is anything but sectarian.
In fact, it could be argued that the Houthi – or Ansarallah movement – are a central constituency of Yemen’s ‘Arab Spring.’ Their demands since 2003 have, after all, largely been about ending disenfranchisement, gaining economic, political and religious rights, eliminating corruption, railing against the twin evils of America and Israel (a popular Post-Colonial Arab sentiment), and becoming stakeholders in the state.
To ensure the balance continued in their favor during the Arab Spring, the Neo-Colonial Axis installed a puppet transitional leader upon Saleh’s departure – an unelected president whose term ran out a year ago.
Then a few months ago, the Houthis – allegedly with the support of Saleh and his tens of thousands of followers – ousted their rivals in the puppet regime and took over the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. When the Saudis threatened retaliation, the Houthis pushed further southward… which brings us to the war front amassing against Yemen today.
This is not a battle the Saudis and their Neo-Colonial Axis can win. Airstrikes alone cannot turn this war, and it is unlikely that Riyadh and its coalition partners can expect troops on the ground to be any more successful – if they are even deployed.
The Houthis have learned over the past decade to fight both conventional and guerilla wars. This relatively small band of highlanders managed in 2009 to push 30 kilometers into Saudi territory and take over several dozen Saudi towns. When coalition-partner Egypt last fought a war with ground troops in Yemen, it became Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ‘Vietnam’ and nearly bankrupted the state.
Even majority-Sunni Pakistan, a traditional pipeline for staffing GCC armies, seems wary about this conflict. It too is fighting elsewhere on the same side as the Houthis, Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis – against violent Sunni extremists inside its borders and from their bases in neighboring Afghanistan. No amount of Saudi money will quench the anger of militant-weary Pakistanis if their government commits to this Yemeni fight – against the very groups (Houthis) that are battling al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
And, yes, it is ironic that the United States is now providing assistance and intelligence for the Saudi-led coalition – against the Houthis, who are fighting al-Qaeda.
But as mentioned earlier, this is not Washington’s neighborhood, and it does not approach this fight with the same goals of its close ally, Saudi Arabia.
The Resistance Axis official explains:
“The Americans see all outcomes as good: If the Houthis win, they will help get rid of al-Qaeda in Yemen. If the Saudis win, well, these are still the US’s allies. And if both sides enter a protracted war, that is “not a problem either,” referring to the ever-present US interest of selling weapons in conflict zones.
Despite a global ban, the United States has sold the Saudis $640 million worth of cluster bombs over the past two years, some of which have been used to carpet bomb parts of Yemen in the past few days. The cluster munitions were part of an overall $67 billion worth of arm deals with Saudi Arabia since the Arab uprisings kicked off in 2011.
The Iranians, meanwhile, are not doing much of anything, except insisting – like the Russians and others – that the bombardment of Yemen is criminal and that Yemenis need to solve their own problems via an internal dialogue.
And why should they make any moves? The Saudis are digging their own graves right now – and hastening the demise of the entire Neo-Colonial project in the Middle East, to boot.
“Tehran realizes that the fact that Riyadh had to bring together a major coalition to fight a group that is only on the outskirts of Iranian influence is a victory in itself,” says the US-based, conservative risk-analysis group, Stratfor.
Riyadh’s move to attack Yemen has just dragged the not-so-financially-flush Kingdom into yet another military quagmire, and this time directly, bypassing proxies altogether. Every airstrike in Yemen – and it is clear in the first few days that dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed – threatens to draw more adherents to the Houthi cause.
And every day that the Houthis are tied up in this battle, AQAP gets an opportunity to cement its hold elsewhere in the country. The net winner in this conflict is unlikely to be Saudi Arabia, but it may just be al-Qaeda – which is guaranteed to draw the Post-Colonial Axis into the strategically vital waterways surrounding Yemen.
The Arab League, under Saudi Arabia’s arm-twisting, just upped the ante by demanding that only a complete Houthi surrender (laying down weapons and withdrawing) would end the airstrikes. This ultimatum leaves very little room to jumpstart dialogue, and shows shocking disregard for the normal goals of military engagement, which try to leave ‘negotiation windows’ open.
It may be that the Saudis, who have rapidly lost influence and control in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, and other states in the past few years, have decided to go to the wall in Yemen.
Or it may just be some posturing to create momentum and bolster bruised egos.
But conflict has a way of balancing itself out – as in Syria and Iraq – by drawing other, unforeseen elements into the fray. With all the conflicts raging in the Middle East and encroaching on their borders, the Post-Colonial Axis has been forced to take a stand. And they bring to the field something their adversaries lack: common objectives and efficiency.
This is possibly the first time in the modern Mideast we have seen this kind of efficiency from within. And I speak specifically of Iran and its allies, both regional and external. They cannot ignore the threats that emanate from conflict, any more than the west can ignore the jihadi genie that threatens from thousands of miles away. So this Post-Colonial Axis moves further into the region to protect itself, bringing with it lessons learned and laser-focused common goals.
The Neo-Colonials will hit a wall in Yemen, just as they have in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Their disparate objectives will ensure that. The main concern as we enter yet another storm in Yemen is whether a flailing Empire will turn ugly at the eleventh hour and launch a direct war against its actual adversary, the Post-Colonial Axis. The Saudis are a real wild card – as are the Israelis – and may try to light that fuse. When the threat is existential, anything goes.
Yes, a regional war is as much a possibility over Yemen as it was over Syria. But this battle lies on a direct border of Saudi Arabia – ground zero for both violent extremism and the most virulently sectarian and ethnocentric elements of the anti-Resistance crowd – and so promises to deliver yet another decisive geopolitical shift in the Mideast. From Yemen, as from any confrontation between the two global blocs, a new regional reality is likely to emerge: what the Americans might call “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
And Yemen may yet become the next Arab state to enter a Post-Colonial order.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani
Yemen’s ousted officials have requested a ground intervention to bolster a Saudi-led air offensive against the country’s Houthi rebels. Meanwhile, neighboring Iran has made calls for diplomacy, saying the military campaign is a “strategic mistake”.
Saudi authorities say they have gathered troops along the border with Yemen in preparation for any possible ground offensive, Reuters reported on Tuesday, adding that no exact time to send the troops in has yet been stipulated. Pakistan, which has previously supported Riyadh by deploying troops to Saudi Arabia to provide extra regional security, also said that it is sending troops to support Saudi Arabia in the context of the current Yemeni conflict, the agency reported.
Despite airstrikes delivered by Saudi air forces and their Gulf allies, the Houthis are continuing their offensive against the dwindling loyalists of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi was ousted by the rebels and fled to Saudi Arabia, requesting military intervention from the Arab states.
The heaviest exchange of cross-border fire since the start of air offensive was reported on Tuesday, with Saudi troops clashing with Yemeni Houthi fighters. Hadi-allied officials have remained hopeful that Riyadh would send ground troops to turn the tide for the ousted official.
“We are asking for that [Saudi ground operation in Yemen], and as soon as possible, in order to save our infrastructure and save Yemenis under siege in many cities,” the president’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasseen said an interview with al-Arabiya Hadath TV channel.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian labeled the Saudi strikes a “strategic mistake” and called for a dialogue to help solve the crisis in Yemen. “Iran and Saudi Arabia can cooperate to solve the Yemeni crisis,” the official said in Kuwait, as cited by Reuters, adding that Iran “recommends all parties in Yemen return to calm and dialogue.”
“This war is not about Yemen or the Houthis, it’s about what used to be a cold war between the Persians and the rest of the Islamic world, especially the Arab Gulf. Today the cold war became a real one,” political analyst Roula Taj told RT.
More casualties have been reported in the escalating conflict, with overnight street clashes in Hadi’s stronghold Aden claiming at least 26 lives, Reuters reported, citing a health ministry official. Ten others died during the Tuesday shelling of a residential building close to the residence once used by the president, the agency reported referring to witnesses accounts. In the central town of Yarim, an air strike hit a fuel tanker, killing at least 10 people, residents said.
Coalition bombers targeted rebel positions near the airport of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, while fighters from the Houthi militia entered a coastal military base overlooking the Red Sea’s strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait on Tuesday, local officials told Reuters. Heavy fighting between Hadi loyalists and opponents was also reported in southern province of Dhalea.
On Monday, 45 people were killed and another 65 injured in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition at a refugee camp in Houthi-controlled northern Yemen, according to the International Organization for Migration (IMO).
The airstrikes have also affected the Red Cross medical supplies deliveries to the area, with the planes which are carrying the necessities unable to fly to Yemen.
“In Yemen today we have a very serious humanitarian situation. Hospitals are running at a low capacity… We need to bring in urgent medical supplies to sustain our stocks,” spokesperson at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Near and Middle East Sitara Jabeen told RT.
She added that the organization was expecting to bring in a plane carrying medical supplies for up to 1,000 patients to Sanaa, “but so far have not been able to get the permission we need to move this plane from Jordan to Yemen.”
So far, the airstrikes have failed to change the military balance in Yemen. While Houthis reportedly found an ally in Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who resigned in 2012 amid mass public protests, some Western officials have alleged that Iran financially supports the Houthis in an effort to control Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
Voicing support for the Saudi bombing campaign, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last week accused Iran of seeking regional dominance in the Middle East. Tehran officials said Erdogan’s visit to Iran, which is scheduled for next week, may now be scrapped. The warning came from Iranian MP Esmayeel Kosari in his Sunday interview with the semi-official Fars news agency. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Ankara to act responsibly in the conflict.
Russia has also warned against reducing the complex Yemeni conflict to a simplified stand-off narrative, whether national or sectarian in nature. “We cannot allow it to degrade into a Sunni-Shiite confrontation. Neither can we allow the situation to turn into an open conflict between the Arabs and Iran. We will do everything to prevent it,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday.
The intensified fighting in the country provides a fertile ground for extremism and terrorism, with Yemen having already been an operational base of Al-Qaeda militants for years. After the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qaeda merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group became one of the world’s biggest exporters of terrorism, with the US considering it the most dangerous branch of Al-Qaeda.
AQAP claims to be behind January attack on Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris, with terrorists saying the main enemy of Islam is now France rather than the United States. The latter has already scaled down its operations against AQAP in the region, undermining an effort dating back to 2002.
The conflict in Yemen may also hamper the campaigns against the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where US and its Arab allies found themselves on the same side as Iran. Extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) now operate in Yemen, with its militants claiming responsibility for recent attacks on mosques in the country’s capital Sanaa, in which over 100 people have been killed and hundreds injured.
The leader of Yemen’s Houthi fighters has heaped scorn on Saudi Arabia for conducting unjust and heinous attacks on Yemeni people, saying the Arab kingdom is serving as a puppet for the United States and the Israeli regime.
Abdul-Malik al-Houthi made the remarks in a televised address on Thursday in reaction to Saudi Arabia’s “unjustified” deadly attacks targeting Yemeni people in the capital, Sana’a.
Saudi Arabia is a puppet at the disposal of superpowers, the Houthi leader said, adding that Riyadh is putting in action the US-Israeli conspiracy in Yemen.
He noted that the US-Israeli plot in Yemen aims to break up the chaotic country and deprive people of security and freedom.
Al-Houthi said the Saudi invasion of Yemen came after their agents, including al-Qaeda terrorists and the ISIL Takfiri terrorists, failed to execute their plots in Yemen.
He said the “criminal” attacks uncovered the “tyrannical” nature of the Saudi regime.
Al-Houthi warned that Saudi Arabia would face consequences should it push ahead with its aggression against Yemen, saying, “We will confront the criminal forces and their tools in the country.”
“You think you can kill Yemeni people, but this is because of your stupidity,” he said. “This unjustified aggression shows the hostility and arrogance of this regime. The attacks are reflecting the inhumanity of the aggressor.”
Al-Houthi said the “aggressors” should keep in mind that the Yemeni people are “committed to defending their country and revolution” by relying on God.
On Thursday, Saudi warplanes carried out fresh airstrikes against Yemen, hitting the northern cities of Sa’ada and Ta’izz in the south.
Airstrikes also targeted arms depots in the Malaheez region in Sa’ada near the border with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi warplanes started bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters and launched attacks against the Sana’a International Airport and the Dulaimi airbase early on Thursday.
Despite Riyadh’s claims that it is attacking Ansarullah positions, Saudi warplanes have flattened a number of homes near the Sana’a airport. Based on early reports, the Saudi airstrikes on Yemen have so far claimed the lives of 18 civilians with more deaths feared, Yemeni sources said.
The Saudi invasion of Yemen has drawn condemnation from many countries such as Iran, Russia, Iraq and Syria, as well as the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah.
The blatant invasion of Yemen’s sovereignty by the Saudi government comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. The world body has so far failed to show any reaction whatsoever to the violation of the sovereignty of one of its members by Riyadh.