Reading through a recent interview with former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, it becomes clear that his world is one in which US foreign policy has only ever made us all safer and the biggest risk we now face is diminished US power.
The entire premise of his argument throughout the interview is that if the US steps back from playing global policeman, the “bad guys” will win. Simple as that.
The interview, which focuses on Donald Trump, opens with a question about Trump’s views regarding the NATO alliance and how the candidate sees the US’s role in the world. Rasmussen immediately declares he is “not taking sides” in the US election, but his attempt at neutrality goes swiftly out the window moments later when he complains that Trump is undermining “the credibility of the United States” and putting at stake America’s “role as the global superpower”. If Trump were to be elected, he laments, that could usher in “the end of the American-led world order”.
This would be very bad, he says, because if NATO is undermined by a Trump victory, then Vladimir Putin would “open a bottle of champagne” and be “tempted to test” the alliance. This assumes that Putin has simply been waiting in the wings for the 16 years that he has held positions of power for Donald Trump to come along so that he can invade Estonia for no reason. Because Rasmussen doesn’t give us a reason and we’re not supposed to ask. We’re just supposed to assume invading the Baltics is on Putin’s to-do list.
So, keeping with his policy of “not taking sides” Rasmussen then argues that Hillary Clinton would be “more determined to defend” the country’s NATO allies than Trump would. When asked whether eastern European nations are worried about Trump’s take-it-or-leave-it approach to NATO’s Article 5 (principle of collective defense) Rasmussen says they are indeed very concerned, particularly following “Russian aggression” against Ukraine. So concerned in fact, that only five of the 28 alliance members have reached the 2 percent of GDP benchmark that NATO requires. Now, this is either because they aren’t really as terrified of Russia as they claim, or that they’re simply taking the US for a ride — in which case, Trump might actually have a point about getting them to cough up before putting American lives in harm’s way to defend them.
It’s hybrid warfare, stupid!
Next up, Rasmussen is asked whether the threat environment for NATO has changed and how the alliance is dealing with the changes. Rasmussen here employs one of my favorite terms: “hybrid warfare”. It’s not just conventional warfare (tanks rolling across borders etc.) that eastern European nations need to be aware of, he says. It’s a whole load of other stuff, too. Like what? Well, sophisticated “disinformation campaigns” for one thing.
But the great thing about “hybrid warfare” is that when you use the term, you don’t really need to explain what you mean. Even NATO itself published an article about the fact that it can mean everything and nothing at the same time. Pretty nifty, right?
Moving on to Crimea, another victim of hybrid warfare. Trump isn’t too bothered by the fact that Crimea was annexed by/invaded by/reunited with Russia in 2014. That’s Europe’s business, he has said — and it shouldn’t prevent Washington and Moscow from getting along and working together on common threats like international terrorism. You don’t have to be a Trump fan to see the common sense in this, but it’s another no-no for Rasmussen.
Trump also hasn’t been so gung-ho about sending weapons to Ukraine. This is very scary and “disturbing” Rasmussen says, because if the US doesn’t support the government in Kiev, the West “risks losing a democratic Ukraine”.
Democracy and world peace
So, how is “democratic Ukraine” doing, then? Well, a few months ago The Guardian published an op-ed arguing that Ukraine was at risk of becoming not a democracy, but a “failed state”. Since the country’s democratic “revolution” in 2013, living standards have plummeted, as has the value of the country’s currency — and the government, ideologically driven to sever all ties with Russia, has pursued economic policies that “can only be termed suicidal”. But the solution is obviously to send them some new weapons. Regardless of whether you believe Russia has acted aggressively in Ukraine or not, this kind of thinking is simply delusional.
Next Rasmussen is asked about Trump’s “America first” campaign slogan, which he also doesn’t happen to like (surprise!). Using the term “America first” for an American presidential election is “out of touch” he says. How so? Well, of course it comes back to America’s role in the world again. You can’t use the term “America first” when you’re supposed to be “the world’s leader”. I swear, I’m not making this up.
After World War 2, Rasmussen tells us, the US established a “rules-based world order” and it has “served us very well” because “freedom has flourished” and we’ve seen “world peace”. All of this freedom and world peace (really?!) is now at stake… because of Donald Trump (are you sensing the “not taking sides” thing?). Anyway, I could list all of the occasions on which the US decided to flout its own “rules-based” order, but that would take too long.
If the US “retreats and retrenches” now, it will create a power vacuum that will be filled by “the bad guy,” Rasmussen warns. He doesn’t tell us who the bad guy is this time; he’s just there, malevolently waiting for Trump’s election. Trump needs to understand that the US has “special obligations” to “maintain world order” and “promote peace”. Not only this, but it’s the “only power on earth” with such a “destiny”.
Barack Obama has also been a disappointment to Rasmussen. He has been “too reluctant” to use American force around the world. Obama and Trump are proponents of a “less interventionist” movement in the world and this simply won’t do.
By the end, Rasmussen had lavished so much praise on the United States and its role and “destiny” in the world that I had forgotten he was not an American himself, but a Dane. The real kicker was when he dramatically pleaded with the next president: “We need a global policeman, and that policeman should be the United States. We don’t have any other.”
Could he really be so profoundly in awe of Washington and its power, or is this waxing lyrical about American destiny simply, as one writer put it, “the practiced gambit of a con man, who knows flattery is the surest means to success” ?
Decide for yourself.
In July 2016, while swearing in 105 Polish soldiers being promoted to the rank of podporucznik (roughly equivalent to the rank of second lieutenant and a junior officer rank of the Polish Army), the Minister of National Defence for Poland, Antoni Macierewicz, announced Warsaw’s military plans for the near future:
– to increase the number of Polish troops from 100,000 to 150,000 by 2017;
– to set up 17 brigades, one in each of Poland’s 16 provinces and two in Mazovia Province (where Warsaw is situated);
– to urgently deploy new brigades in the provinces of Podlaskie, Podkarpackie and Lubelskie and four battalions in Białystok (on the border with Belarus), Lublin and Rzeszów (both on the border with Ukraine), and Siedlce (90 kilometres from Warsaw); and
– to set up territorial defence forces consisting of 35,000 volunteers, or 164 units, to assist the army.
The territorial defence forces will be the fifth branch of the Polish Armed Forces (after the Land Forces, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Special Forces).
Antoni Macierewicz said that an army of 150,000 is the minimum required for cooperation between Poland and its allies «in the event of a real threat to our independence». And in order to justify this militaristic itch to the Polish people, the defence minister added: «This threat is real and it is coming from the Russian government».
It is impossible to deny the achievements of the Polish authorities in whipping up war hysteria in the country, of course, but their role is ultimately secondary. The root cause should be sought in the work of leading Western think tanks.
The authors of a report published in July (2016) by the European Council on Foreign Relations entitled «An unpredictable Russia: the impact on Poland» are trying to make the Polish people believe that the risk posed by Russia is comparable with the threat of terrorism to Europe (!), that «Central and eastern Europe represents the testing ground for Vladimir Putin’s project to create a new world order». And this statement is presented as an axiom.
On 11 August, an article was published on the BBC’s website under the headline «The Polish paramilitaries preparing for war» which states that nearly 100,000 people have now joined paramilitary organisations in Poland and others are learning how to survive a possible invasion. US National Guard units will serve as the prototype for the territorial defence forces, which are to be an integral part of the Polish Armed Forces, and US instructors are involved in their training and indoctrination.
On 19 July 2016, the Atlantic Council presented a 25-page report entitled «Arming for deterrence. How Poland and NATO should counter a resurgent Russia», which is a kind of postscript to the alliance’s summit in July. Calling for a large-scale military build-up in NATO’s zone of responsibility, the report suggests that Poland should be regarded as a front-line bastion in a war with Russia.
Half of the report deals with recommendations to the Polish government regarding the militarisation of the country, with the clear aim of creating war hysteria among the population.
Thus, the Atlantic Council recommends that Warsaw should:
– issue a statement declaring that Poland will come to the aid of the Baltic States and Romania should they be attacked by Russia;
– publish a list of potential targets for Polish strikes in Russia, primarily in the Kaliningrad Oblast;
– enable Polish F-16s to be carriers of tactical nuclear ordnance;
– declare that, if attacked, Poland reserves the right to dispatch Special Operations Forces deep into Russian territory to carry out acts of sabotage;
– be prepared to destroy Russian infrastructure facilities using missiles; and
– announce that, if attacked by Russia, Poland reserves the right to deploy offensive cyber operations against such targets as the Moscow metro, the St. Petersburg power network, and the TV news channel RT.
Generally speaking, the list of recommendations in the report can reasonably be considered the ravings of a madman. This feeling is intensified by the name of the report’s author – retired British General Sir Richard Shirreff, who served as NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander in Europe between 2011 and 2014 and who has recently gained renown as a novelist.
In May this year, Sir Shirreff presented his book «2017: War with Russia» in London, in which the author states that war between Russia and the West is inevitable. The book opens with a colourful description of the beginning of the war, and this heart-rending scene was written with the firm belief that it would capture anyone’s imagination: Russian troops attack a school in Donetsk and kill around a hundred innocent children in order to blame it on the Ukrainian military and thus create a pretext for large-scale aggression against Ukraine and Europe, which has dropped its guard. Sir Shirreff himself called his work a «prophesy novel».
The politicians currently in power in Poland can boast about their supposed independence in international affairs as much as they like, but in reality, immersed in an atmosphere of hatred with their Russian neighbour, they can only dance obediently to the tune of gentlemen like the retired British General and aspiring novelist Richard Shirreff. And dances like that will never end well.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has lashed out at NATO, saying the alliance is not fully cooperating with Ankara. In an interview with Sputnik, he hinted that Turkey would consider military cooperation with Russia.
Cavusoglu says that Ankara has become alarmed at the lack of willingness shown by NATO to cooperate with Turkey, which is a member of the alliance.
“It seems to us that NATO members behave in an evasive fashion on issues such as the exchange of technology and joint investments. Turkey intends to develop its own defense industry and strengthen its defense system,” he said in an interview with Sputnik.
“In this sense, if Russia were to treat this with interest, we are ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in this sector,” Cavusoglu said when asked about the possibility of working with Russia in the defense sphere.
It is Cavusoglu’s strongest rebuke of NATO to date. In an interview with the Anadolu news agency on August 10, he said that Turkey and Russia would look to establish a joint military, intelligence, and diplomatic mechanism, while adding that relations with NATO were not as satisfactory as he would have wished.
“Turkey wanted to cooperate with NATO members up to this point,” he said. “But the results we got did not satisfy us. Therefore, it is natural to look for other options. But we don’t see this as a move against NATO,” he told Anadolu.
Meanwhile, a week ago, the Turkish ambassador to Russia, Umit Yardim, said NATO has no right to dictate foreign policy to Ankara.
“In no way can NATO limit our contacts with other countries… It means NATO has no right to dictate its terms and tell us who we should or should not meet and communicate with,” Yardim said on August 11, as cited by RIA Novosti.
The warming of relations between Turkey and Russia, which were previously at a low after a Turkish warplane shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in November, has led to apprehension in the West.
Cavusoglu also previously pointed out that there is growing resentment in Turkey due to a perception that the EU and US have only been giving mild support to Ankara in the wake of the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15.
Turkey has been incensed by the US’ refusal to hand over cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara believes organized the attempted coup.
The Turkish government wants Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, to be extradited to face trial at home, but Washington has repeatedly refused. The US says it needs clear evidence that there was a link between Gulen and the attempted coup before it will consider complying with Turkey’s request.
Speaking to Sputnik, Cavusoglu accused the West of treating Turkey and Russia like “second class countries” simply because they did not see eye-to-eye.
“They consider Russia and Turkey to be second class countries, and they are outraged that these second class countries dare to criticize them… Therefore, faced with the straightforwardness and resilience of Erdogan and [President Vladimir] Putin, they feel very worried and anxious,” Cavusoglu said.
Cavusoglu’s criticism was not restricted to NATO, as he launched a broadside towards the West, saying it was largely responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.
“Look at what has happened in Ukraine,” he told Sputnik. “They were always threatening the country and forcing it to make a choice between them and Russia. They were saying, ‘you will either be with us or with Russia.’ This course of action is futile. What is happening in Ukraine is a reflection of the main problems in the region.”
In contrast, the Turkish diplomat says that Ankara wants peace around the Black Sea region and does not want it to become an epicenter for tension. He called on all parties to try and find a peaceful resolution and said there needed to be greater dialogue between Russia and NATO.
“There should be no threats emerging in the region for anyone, for Turkey, for Russia or for anyone else,” Cavusoglu said.
According to the minister, the need for dialogue with Russia was apparent at the last NATO summit. “In my opinion, all existing issues should be overcome through establishing dialogue,” he added.
Russia and Turkey massively upgrade their cooperation – however, agree to differ over Syria.
As is frequently the case the most information about what Putin and Erdogan discussed and agreed with each other came out of their joint news conference. The Kremlin has provided a transcript.
Putin and Erdogan both said that they had not discussed Syria prior to the news conference and that their discussion about Syria would take place after.
This could be for any of various reasons: that restoring their bilateral relations was the bigger priority with the contentious issue of Syria being put off till later; that Putin and Erdogan did not want to spoil the mood at the press conference by revealing how far apart they still are on this issue; or that the discussions they were about to have on Syria touched on such sensitive topics that they did not want to be questioned and reveal information about them at the news conference. Probably all of these reasons were in play.
Both Putin and Erdogan did say at the press conference that their positions on Syria remain far apart. In an interview with TASS on the eve of the visit, Erdogan however showed no shift in his longstanding positions on the Syrian conflict. For example, he continued to insist that President Assad had to go: “We don’t want Syria’s disintegration, but the departure of Bashar Assad who is guilty for the deaths of 600,000 people. This is the condition for preventing this scenario. Syria’s unity cannot be kept with Assad. And we cannot support a murderer who has committed acts of state terror.”
In a point that will be particularly contentious for the Russians (and one presumes for some people in the U.S.), he even denied that Jabhat Al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation despite its connection to Al-Qaeda: “Considering that the al-Nusra front is also fighting against the Islamic State, it should not be considered as a terrorist organisation either. This is an incorrect approach.”
Other comments Erdogan made during the TASS interview strongly suggest that it was he who was ultimately behind the recent Jabhat Al-Nusra announcement that it was distancing itself from Al-Qaeda.
In a recent post, the Moon of Alabama expresses bafflement that despite the Turkish rapprochement with Russia that has taken place since the coup attempt, there is no evidence of any slackening of Turkish support for the rebels in Syria. On the contrary, it seems that in connection with the fighting in Aleppo that support has, if anything, been stepped up. The Moon of Alabama speculates implausibly that this is being done by the CIA on Turkish territory contrary to Erdogan’s wishes.
The true position is, as I have said previously, Erdogan has invested too much in supporting the rebellion in Syria over too long a time to make it possible for him to change course. Were he to try to do so, he would expose himself to criticism in Turkey from many of his own supporters that he was selling out to the Russians. He would also risk a violent reaction from the many Jihadist fighters currently in Turkey, which at a time when the Turkish security forces are at their most disorganised following the coup would be highly dangerous. Beyond that, there is the fact that Erdogan is almost certainly sincere about his Syrian policy. His comments to TASS suggest as much, as do his actions on the ground.
The truth is what I said before: what we are seeing between Turkey and Russia is a strictly limited rapprochement, not a fundamental realignment. The two countries have moved closer to each other and are developing their political and economic relations at a blistering pace. However, there will be no switch in alliances, and on the question of Syria they fundamentally differ and continue to support opposing camps. The leaderships of both countries understand this perfectly well but are not prepared to hold the improvement of their mutual relations hostage to the situation in Syria.
On one question related to Syria there may, however be progress. Erdogan’s interview with TASS shows that he is still seething at Russian allegations made earlier this year that members of his family were involved in illegal trading with ISIS:
I had earlier been told that these facts also pointed to Turkey. I asked for the relevant evidence to be demonstrated. However, no one could prove it to me. Nothing of this kind can be found with regard to Turkey. They also tried to entangle my family in this. I said, prove it, I’ll leave my post if you demonstrate the relevant evidence. I turned to those who conjured up these insinuations and asked them about whether they would leave their posts if no evidence was found. Silence followed.
His comments to TASS suggest that Erdogan might be prepared to work with the Russians to destroy ISIS. However, the extent of that cooperation is for the moment difficult to gauge. It is unlikely to involve Russian aircraft operating from Incirlik.
As anticipated, there does appear to have been some discussion during the summit of the Russians and the Turks working together on a joint plan to end the war in Syria. In his interview with TASS, Erdogan hinted as much, also confirming that against U.S. and Saudi opposition he is also prepared to involve Iran in this plan:
Russia is fundamentally the key and most important player in establishing peace in Syria. I believe it is necessary to solve this crisis with the help of mutual action by Russia and Turkey. If the talk is about widening the circle of participants, then I already told my dear friend Vladimir [Putin] earlier: if necessary, we’ll also involve Iran in the effort. We can invite Qatar, Saudi Arabia and America. In this regard, we can form a wide circle of participants. If not, then the Russian Federation and Turkey given our common 950-km border with Syria, can take some steps, without violating Syria’s sovereignty.
However, given the differences between the Russians and the Turks over the future of President Assad and the status of Jabhat Al-Nusra, it is difficult to see at the moment how they could agree a joint position on Syria that they would be able to take forward in order to achieve a settlement of the conflict there. Doubtless the discussions between Putin and Erdogan after the press conference touched on this question. However, given the size of the gap between the two sides, it will take a long time for any consensus on the way forward between them to emerge. Most probably, it will be the situation on the ground that will decide the issue first.
The Turkish coup
Both in the press conference and in his interview with TASS, Erdogan again went out of his way to accuse the Gulen movement of being behind the recent coup attempt. I have previously speculated that Erdogan’s constant references to the Gulen movement are intended to signal that the U.S. (where Gulen is based) was somehow implicated in the coup. Nothing Erdogan said in either the press conference or the TASS interview refutes that speculation. He notably failed to say that the U.S. was not involved in the coup, or that the U.S. is Turkey’s ally and friend. On the contrary, in the TASS interview he appeared to criticise the U.S. for its foot-dragging in handing over Gulen:
In reality, even though we have demanded this man’s extradition. They say if you regard this man as a terrorist, then send us the documents. We will study them first and then take measures in accordance with U.S. legislation. True, there are some documents we had sent them before. By now, we’ve sent 85 boxfuls of paperwork on this case. In the near future, the Turkish justice minister, foreign minister, special envoy and a number of prosecutors and judges who were in charge of this matter will go to the United States and brief the American authorities in person.
By contrast, Erdogan went out of his way to thank his “friend Putin” and Russia for their support during the coup. What is more than a little strange about this however is that Erdogan does not really explain what that support was. Instead, he constantly refers to a telephone call he had from Putin the day after the coup, which he says gave Turkey “psychological support”. By that point, however, the coup had visibly failed, making it difficult to see why Erdogan should attach so much importance to this call.
The true reason for Erdogan’s gratitude to Putin and Russia is probably touched on in his comments to TASS about the reports of a Russian tip-off to Turkish intelligence warning of the coup:
This is the first time that I have heard such a thing. Even if it had really been so, those concerned would have been obliged to inform me first thing. I received no such information, not from intelligence, nor through any other channels. We don’t know who said what and to whom. I believe that this is a groundless rumour.
As I have said before, the Russians will never confirm that there was a tip-off, even if there was one, and for that reason neither will the Turks. Note, however, that Erdogan’s comments about the tip-off to TASS are very far from a denial. Instead, we are asked to believe that Erdogan of all people “doesn’t know who said what to whom” and that “this is the first time that I have heard of such a thing” despite the story being all over the Middle East media for weeks. As I have discussed previously, this looks very much like an agreed position reached by the Russians and the Turks not to deny the tip-off but to pretend to no knowledge of it. That makes it a virtual certainty the report of the tip-off is true.
Turk Stream and South Stream gas pipelines, nuclear cooperation, etc
As I discussed previously, these proved the least contentious issues, allowing for rapid progress. There is also talk of the Russians granting the Turks visa free access or at least simplified visa access to Russia.
Two points can be made briefly. Firstly, it is clear that it is the Turks rather than the Russians who are the main drivers behind both Turk Stream and the nuclear power agreement. Putin confirmed that the Turks continued to do preparatory work on Turk Stream even during the crisis in relations following the SU24 shoot-down in November. Secondly, it is clear that contrary to some reports, the Russians are not prepared to revive South Stream and that their opposition to the EU’s Third Energy Package remains as strong as ever. On the contrary, Putin made it clear that the Russians will not participate in any pipeline project that could be construed as their agreeing to the EU’s Third Energy Package. Moreover, Putin made it quite clear that he sees the U.S. (whom he referred to as “a third party”) as being behind the Third Energy Package and all the problems that exist in relation to Russia’s EU pipeline projects:
We have never politicised economic cooperation. In proposing the South Stream project initially, we assumed that our gas would go directly to EU consumers in southern Europe. However, at first the European Parliament made a decision that prevented the implementation of this project and then the European Commission sent a letter to the Bulgarian Government demanding that preparations for it stop, and ultimately we did not receive the permission of the Bulgarian authorities to enter Bulgarian territory.
Yes, now we see that Bulgaria would like to resume this project, but we incurred some losses due to the refusal of our European partners to carry out this project. So now we will not settle for just intentions and need absolutely rock solid legal guarantees. They have not been forthcoming. Initially, we regarded the Turkish Stream not even as an alternative to the South Stream but as an opportunity to expand our gas cooperation both with Turkey and Europe as a whole. One part of the Turkish Stream was designed exclusively for Turkey’s domestic consumers, given the growing economy of the Republic of Turkey. This is how we discussed the issue today. This part is beyond any doubt and its implementation may be launched very soon.
The second part related to routing our energy to Europe depends, of course, on a third party [emphasis added]. We should work out these issues with European countries and the European Commission in Brussels. Together with our Turkish partners and friends, we are prepared to work toward this, but again we need to have an agreement with all the participants.
In summary, the Putin – Erdogan summit went much as predicted. There is now a strong rapprochement underway between the two countries. This goes well beyond a mere detente, which is a relaxation of tensions. On the contrary, the leaders of the two countries now publicly call each other “friends”. It is not, however, a reversal of alliances. Turkey remains a member of NATO and an ally of the U.S.
In my opinion, this actually suits the Russians much better, at least for the moment. They surely know that an outright attempt to detach Turkey from NATO is for the moment impossible and might actually cause Turkey to become destabilised, which is absolutely not in their interests. However, at a time of heightened East-West tensions, they now have the leader of a key NATO state with NATO’s second biggest army calling their leader a “friend”. Sometimes it is more useful to have a friend in the enemy’s camp than a doubtful and unstable ally in one’s own. That is the situation which through a combination of skill and good luck the Russians have now manoeuvred themselves into.
With the battle for Aleppo raging in Syria, another crucial battle in the east of the Greater Middle East, in Afghanistan, is being joined, the outcome of which is going to be no less fateful. The Associated Press flashed the news today that the key southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, has been “completely surrounded” by the Taliban and the government forces are regrouping for a last-ditch defence.
The head of the Helmand provincial council estimates that the Taliban may capture Lashkar Gah within days. (UPI )
The development comes as a huge embarrassment for the Barack Obama administration. The entire mythology built around the famous “surge” ordered by President Obama in 2010 and the massive campaign in the Hindu Kush led by the general with the Roman nose, David Petraeus, with over 100,000 American troops under his command, is unravelling.
The “surge” was mostly concentrated on Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Rajiv Chandrasekharan of the Washington Post who covered the war in Helmand and Kandahar wrote a beautiful book on it, Little America, which is a brilliant recount of the political foibles and ambitious goals set by feckless Americans and about the Hobbesian world in which the “surge” slithered its way like a serpent through the great poppy fields, across irrigation canals and culverts and beyond the mud walls into the orchards of pomegranates, grapes and sweet melons into the seamless desert plateau with rocky outcrops — creating Potemkin progress but in reality letting loose a tidal wave of corruption and venality and mindless horrific violence and destruction. (Guardian )
The big question today for Obama, therefore, is: Just what was the point? Yet, he’s decided to abandon his 2008 election pledge and bow to the military commanders’ wish once again to keep troop levels at a threshold that would give the option for his successor in the White House to order a second “surge”, which is, in fact, what Gen. Petraeus has demanded in a recent opinion piece. (Wall Street Journal )
Without doubt, the capture of Helmand province will be a turning point in the Afghan war. Several factors come into play. First and foremost, the Taliban will have made a big point underscoring their capability – how quick they have been able to take advantage of the withdrawal of the thousands of British and American soldiers as recently as in 2014. The message will resonate all across the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan.
In “operational” terms, Taliban have made a slow, steady pincer movement lasting months, closing in from the north and south toward Lashkar Gah, exposing the poor leadership of the Afghan army and police. On their part, Taliban demonstrated tenacity, organizational skill and access to resources.
Helmand is the biggest single centre of opium production in Afghanistan. Taliban are set to get a sizeable share of the drug business, which has always been a major source of funding for the insurgency. Beyond its opium economy, Helmand is strategically located – bordering Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and close to the Iranian border, which provide good exit routes to escape in an emergency – or, alternatively, to bring in reinforcements – as well as supply lines to other regions of Afghanistan.
Suffice it to say, Helmand has the potential to become Taliban’s core territory where the ‘Quetta Shura’ could be ‘headquartered’, which could become a ‘provisional government’ on Afghan soil at some point.
The Afghan army faces an uphill task to retrieve control of Helmand, which is dominated by the Ishaqzai tribe. The Ishqzais have been virulently ‘anti-American’ all along. Besides, the Taliban can also cash in now on their sympathy, since Mullah Akhtar Mansour whom the Americans killed in a drone strike in April also happened to be an Ishaqzai. There is a blood feud the Ishaqzais have to settle with Obama.
Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province; it is twice the size of Belgium and 16 times bigger than Panjshir. It is a fertile region with a developed irrigation system. The famous marble mines of Khanashin become another source of financing for the Taliban. Helmand is on the highway connecting the western regions (Herat, Farah, Nimroz, etc.) with the southern provinces (Kandahar, Ghazni, Khost, etc.) and with Kabul. If the Taliban gain control of Helmand province, they can dominate vital communication links.
However, the full gravity of the emergent politico-military situation in Afghanistan will not sink in unless the crisis of legitimacy facing the so-called National Unity Government in Kabul is also understood. The point is, the NUG has no mandate to rule beyond September unless a Loya Jirga is convened. No one other than former president Hamid Karzai has pointed this out.
Now, about half the members of a legally-constituted Loya Jirga would be the chairs of district council. But elections to the district councils cannot be held in the prevailing security situation with the government steadily conceding territory to the Taliban. The alternative will be to convene a ‘traditional’ Loya Jirga comprising tribal elders chosen at random. But then, who holds the authority to convene a ‘traditional’ Loya Jirga that could in turn constitute an interim government?
Meanwhile, tension is also growing within the NUG between the factions led by the president and the chief executive officer. Over and above hangs the dangerous question, which no one wants to think about, as to how long will the army remain intact regardless of political crises.
All in all, the fall of Helmand to the Taliban can only deepen the crisis of legitimacy haunting the Afghan government. Read a recent report by the veteran Afghan hand Barnett Rubin – THE U.S. PRESENCE AND AFGHANISTAN’S NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT: PRESERVING AND BROADENING THE POLITICAL SETTLEMENT
The meeting that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Saint Petersburg has literally attracted the same amount of media attention as the Rio Olympics.
Erdogan arrived to Saint Petersburg in the afternoon hours of August 9 and the initial talks were immediately followed by negotiations with various ministers and a press conference, after which the two leaders met with the representatives of Russian and Turkish business circles.
The meeting had more than 200 media people accredited that crowded the massive press center that was provided to them. Turkish media called it a “massive surprise” that Erdogan brought a number of ministers along with him, including Minister of Tourism and Culture of Turkey Nabi Avci, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock Faruk Çelik, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Mehmet Simsek. Erdogan has also been accompanied by the head of National intelligence organization Hakan Fidan, whose presence in the delegation Turkish media sources described as “truly unexpected.”
However, even before Erdogan’s plane touchdowned in Saint Petersburg, various media sources rushed to provide their assessment of the meeting.
In Turkey, all newspapers and sites without exception emphasized the importance of this visit for the further development of the Turkish economy, that suffered a massive blow once Russia introduced travel and trading restrictions in the aftermath of the downing of Russia’s Su-24 over Syria. Journalists have been expressing the hopes of a stable union of the two states being reestablished along with the fruitful cooperation in regional security matters getting a new start, including the fight against terrorism, extremism and organized crime.
Certain analysts stressed the fact that the meeting between Erdogan and Putin is a new milestone in the struggle between the Atlantic and Eurasia. It is important not only in terms of the future of the Turkish-Russian relations, but also in terms of building the international system, the formation of a new world focused on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia. Those analysts are convinced that the West is terrified by the prospects of Turkey abandoning all cooperation with the US, the EU and NATO and becoming a part of another block of international players.
According to the German magazine Spiegel, what we’re witnessing is a stressful development for the West, since Erdogan has been criticizing Berlin, Vienna and Washington on the daily basis since the failed coup took place, but he’s been speaking highly of Moscow, while referring to Putin as “my dear friend Vladimir.”
The Turkish media source Haber7 has been pretty vocal in criticizing NATO and its states. It would note that NATO is a bag of snakes, a gang of bandits created in the name of protecting Washington’s interests. The North Atlantic Alliance has been used by the West to suppress weaker states of Asia, Africa, South America, in a bid to make obedient servants out of them. NATO is the main sponsor and mastermind behind revolutions and armed coups in Muslim countries and the countries of the third world. Haber7 notes that unless Turkey and the Islamic countries create their own defense organization, they would be unable to evade the pressure, the threats, and the meddling of NATO’s forces of evil. There is no Communist threat, no Soviet Union anymore, the media source argues, but what is the reason then for NATO’s existence?
The change of Turkey’s standing in its relations with the West has been noted by Tayyip Erdogan in his interview with the French Le Monde. Turkey’s President noted that instead of solidarity with Turkey, instead defending the democratic principles, the West chose to leave Ankara alone. He stated that Turkey is saddened by the fact that John Kerry arrived to Ankara 45 days after the failed coup, which means that Washington has abandoned its strategic ally.
The Financial Times, in its turn, would stress the fact that a few hours after the visit of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford to Turkey, Erdogan made the harsh statement that shocked the West, when he stated that there’s no way the US could be Turkey’s strategic partner, if it fails to extradite the man that is acting against Turkey’s interests.
The German Focus notes that the pact of friendship between Putin and Erdogan can seriously shift the balance of powers in the world. Should Turkey side with Russia on all matters, the West will be crashed. German journalists that the United States won’t be able to stomach this fact. For instance, the Wall Street Journal notes that the restoration of bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia, take Erdogan and Putin further away from the West.
Following the talks, the two president adopted a number of decisions aimed at facilitating the development of bilateral relations, in particular on the preparation of the medium-term program of economic, scientific and technical cooperation until 2019. The construction of the first string of the “Turkish stream” pipeline may begin in the near future too.
There’s no doubt that the meeting between Erdogan and Putin will bring the two states closer together, even though the West has been terrified by the possibility of this development all along. And the reason for that was the short-sighted Western policies of pursuing confrontation along with the neglect Washington has shown to both Turkey and Russia.
Many of our interlocutors have been purged or arrested.
James Clapper, US Director of Intelligence on Turkish Coup, Financial Times, 8/3/16, p. 4
Washington has organized a systematic, global, no holds barred campaign to oust Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump from the electoral process. The virulent anti-Trump animus, the methods, goals and mass media resemble authoritarian regimes preparing to overthrow political adversaries.
Comparable propaganda efforts led to political coups in Chile in 1973, Brazil 1964, and Venezuela in 2002. The anti-Trump forces include both political parties, a Supreme Court judge, Wall Street bankers, journalists and editorialists of all the major media outlets and the leading military and intelligence spokespeople.
Washington’s forcible and illegal ouster of Trump is part and parcel of a world-wide campaign to overthrow leaders and regimes which raise questions about aspects of the imperial policies of the US and EU.
We will proceed to analyze the politics of the anti-Trump elite, the points of confrontation and propaganda, as a prelude to the drive to oust opposition in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The Anti-Trump Coup
Never in the history of the United States, has a President and Supreme Court Judge openly advocated the overthrow of a Presidential candidate. Never has the entire mass media engaged in a round-the-clock one-sided, propaganda war to discredit a Presidential candidate by systematically ignoring or distorting the central socio-economic issues of their opposition.
The call for the ouster of a freely elected candidate is nothing more or less than a coup d’état.
Leading television networks and columnists demand that the elections be annulled, following the lead of the President and prominent Republican and Democratic Congressional and Party leaders.
In other words, the political elite openly rejects democratic electoral processes in favor of authoritarian manipulation and deception. The authoritarian elite relies on magnifying tertiary, questionable personal judgement calls to mobilize coup backers.
They systematically avoid the core economic and political issues which candidate Trump has raised – and attracted mass support – which challenge fundamental policies backed by the two Party elites.
The Roots of the Anti-Trump Coup
Trump has raised several key issues which challenge the Democratic and Republican elite.
Trump has drawn mass support and won elections and public opinion polls by:
(1) rejecting the free trade agreements which has led major multinationals to relocate abroad and disinvest in well-paying industrial jobs in the US.
(2) calling for large scale public investment projects to rebuild the US industrial economy, challenging the primacy of financial capital.
(3) opposing the revival of a Cold War with Russia and China and promoting greater economic co-operation and negotiations.
(4) rejecting US support for NATO’s military build-up in Europe and intervention in Syria, North Africa and Afghanistan.
(5) questioning the importation of immigrant labor which lowers job opportunities and wages for local citizens.
The anti-Trump elite systematically avoid debating these issues; instead they distort the substance of the policies.
Instead of discussing the job benefits which will result from ending sanctions with Russia, the coupsters screech that ‘Trump supports Putin, the terrorist’.
Instead of discussing the need to redirect investment inward to create US jobs, the anti-Trump junta mouth clichés that claim his critique of globalization would ‘undermine’ the US economy.
To denigrate Trump, the Clinton/Obama junta resorts to political scandals to cover-up mass political crimes. To distract public attention, Clinton-Obama falsely claim that Trump is a ‘racist’, backed by David Duke, a racist advocate of “Islamophobia”. The anti-Trump junta promoted the US-Pakistani parents of a military war casualty as victims of Trump’s slanders even as they rooted for Hillary Clinton, promotor of wars against Muslim countries and author of military policies that sent thousands of US soldiers to their grave.
Obama and Clinton are the imperial racists who bombed Libya and Somalia and killed, wounded, and displaced over 2 million sub-Saharan Black-Africans.
Obama and Clinton are the Islamaphobes who bombed and killed and evicted five million Muslims in Syria and one million Muslims in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
In other words, Trump’s mistaken policy to restrict Muslim immigration is a reaction to the hatred and hostility engendered by the Obama-Clinton million-person Muslim genocide.
Trump’s “America First” policy is a rejection of overseas imperial wars – seven wars under Obama-Clinton. Their militarist policies have inflated budget deficits and degraded US living standards.
Trump’s criticism of capital and job flight has threatened Wall Street’s billion-dollar profiteering – the most important reason behind the bi-partisan junta’s effort to oust Trump and the working class’s support for Trump.
By not following the bi-partisan Wall Street, war agenda, Trump has outlined another business agenda which is incompatible with the current structure of capitalism. In other words, the US authoritarian elite does not tolerate the democratic rules of the game even when the opposition accepts the capitalist system.
Likewise, Washington’s quest for ‘mono-power’ extends across the globe. Capitalist governments which decide to pursue independent foreign policies are targeted for coups.
Obama-Clinton’s Junta Runs Amok
Washington’s proposed coup against Trump follows similar policies directed against political leaders in Russia, Turkey, China, Venezuela, Brazil, and Syria.
Russian President Putin has been demonized by the US propaganda media on an hourly basis for the better part of a decade. The US has backed oligarchs and promoted economic sanctions; financed a coup in the Ukraine; established nuclear missiles on Russia’s frontier; and launched an arms race to undermine President Putin’s economic policies in order to provoke a coup.
The US backed its proxy Gulenist ‘invisible government’ in its failed coup to oust President Erdogan, for failing to totally embrace the US Middle East agenda.
Likewise, Obama-Clinton have backed successful coups in Latin America. Coups were orchestrated in Honduras, Paraguay, and more recently in Brazil to undermine independent Presidents and to secure satellite neo-liberal regimes. Washington presses forward to forcibly oust the national-populist government of President Maduro in Venezuela.
Washington has escalated efforts to erode, undermine and overthrow the government of China’s President Xi-Jinping through several combined strategies. A military build-up of an air and sea armada in the South China Sea and military bases in Japan, Australia, and the Philippines; separatist agitation in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and among the Uyghurs; a US-Latin American-Asia free trade agreement which excludes China.
Washington’s strategy of illegal, violent coups to retain the delusion of empire stretches across the globe, ranging from Trump in the US to Putin in Russia, from Erdogan in Turkey to Maduro in Venezuela to Xi Jinping in China.
The conflict is between US-EU imperialism backed by their local clients against endogenous regimes rooted in nationalist alliances.
The struggle is ongoing and sustained and threatens to undermine the political and social fabric of the US and the European Union.
The top priority for the US Empire is to undermine and destroy Trump by any means necessary. Trump already has raised the question of ‘rigged elections’. But each elite media attack of Trump seems to add to and strengthen his mass support and polarize the electorate.
As the elections approach, will the elite confine themselves to verbal hysteria or will they turn from verbal assassinations to the ‘other kind’?
Obama’s global coup strategy shows mixed results: they succeeded in Brazil but were defeated in Turkey; they seized power in the Ukraine but were defeated in Russia; they gained propaganda allies in Hong Kong and Taiwan but suffered severe strategic economic defeats in the region as China’s Asian trade policies advanced.
As the US elections approach, and Obama’s pursuit of his imperial legacy collapses, we can expect greater deception and manipulation and perhaps even frequent resort to elite-designed ‘terrorist’ assassinations.
Deputy Chairman of the Center-Left Republican People’s Party (CHP) Namik Havutca argues that the base that stores 90 US tactical nuclear weapons “makes enemies of friendly countries and poses a threat to Turkey’s internal stability.
In the wake of the failed attempt to overthrow the Erdogan government on July 15 and the ensuing purge that has led to over 18,000 military servicemen and judges being rounded up and imprisoned on charges of treason, yet another Turkish leader has stepped forward calling on the country to step back from its alliance with NATO forces who top Erdogan regime officials accuse of being complicit in the botched coup.
The Deputy Chairman of Turkey’s Center-Left Republican People’s Party has called for the immediate eviction of all foreign aircraft, tools and materials from the country and said that Incirlik Air Base should be shuttered.
“Incirlik Air Base has added nothing but instability and fragmentation to Turkey and the region,” said Havutca. The lawmaker went on to say that the NATO base failed to stand by the Turkish people at a time when their blood was being spilled and the nation was in tears.
The lawmaker said that Incirlik Air Base poses a threat to the country, both internally and externally calling it responsible for “multiplying our enemies and turning our friends into enemies of the state.”
The politician has pushed forward a proposal titled “Incirlik Get Out” and calls on his colleagues in the parliament to support the measure in order to put an end to the military facility that he calls a “virus” that eats away at the Middle East.
Finally, Havutca alleges that the NATO base “served the purpose of providing logical support to the organization in the coup attempt.”
The strong words mirror recent anti-American protests near the base including a demonstration one week ago where 5,000 protesters screaming “death to the US” were trailed by vehicles and demanded that Incirlik Air Base be shutdown.
The agitation of the Turkish people also comes amid numerous claims by the Erdogan regime that the CIA, FBI, and a top US General John F. Campbell were all really the masterminds of the coup whereas the regime’s nemesis-in-chief Fethullah Gulen was called nothing but a “pawn” by the Turkish President.
Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael J Morell is the latest in a phalanx of senior US military-intelligence figures who are shedding any pretense of political neutrality and giving their full-throated endorsement to Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
In a New York Times opinion piece, Morell starkly backed Clinton as the most «highly qualified to be commander-in-chief… keeping our nation safe».
The ex-CIA chief’s op-ed piece also served as a blunt hatchet job on Republican presidential rival Donald J Trump. Morell said the New York billionaire-turned politician is «not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security».
The hoary, old scare-theme of «national security» is being rehabilitated as the criterion for electing Clinton. It also has the disturbing connotation of an increasingly militarized totalitarian regime that the United States is becoming.
While showering Clinton with glowing praise, the former CIA spymaster trounced Trump with a litany of flaws, including «self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law».
Morell’s «coup de grace» for Trump was that he was a «national security danger» owing to his alleged indifference towards the US-led NATO military alliance and European security, and unwillingness to confront Russia.
After accusing Trump of being «careless with facts», Morell makes this reckless, sensationalist claim: «In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr Putin had recruited Mr Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation».
This is a breath-taking interference in the nominally civilian sphere of US politics by unelected military-paramilitary elements, whereby a candidate for presidency is accused of being a foreign puppet. It is a throwback to the Cold War witch-hunting days of McCarthy and «Un-American activities».
This very public intervention by a top CIA figure in the US presidential election is an extraordinarily brazen affront to constitutional norms. Traditionally, the American military and intelligence apparatus has always been careful to assume a neutral relation with regard to Washington politics – at least in public.
In the 2016 election, however, the boundaries between civilian politics and the military powers are being flagrantly jettisoned. The military and the Deep State cabal are, in effect, moving to preordain the White House occupant. This situation has barely perceptible difference from a military coup appointing a civilian junta to administer.
At the Democrat National Convention in Philadelphia last week, the endorsement of Hillary Clinton by military top brass was conspicuous. One of the main Pentagon cheerleaders was Four-Star Marine General John Allen, who gave a bloodcurdling and ranting speech declaring how «our enemies will fear» an America led by Clinton.
This rush to partisan politics by the US military has even led to unease among certain Pentagon quarters. Only days after the DNC’s militaristic rally, General Martin Dempsey, who was formerly Chairman of the Joint Staffs, took the unprecedented step of publishing a cautionary article warning: «Keep Your Politics Private, My Fellow Generals and Admirals».
Dempsey did not mention General Allen or others by name, but it was clear to whom he was referring and the jingoistic display in support of Clinton. And it was also clear that Dempsey saw the open embrace of partisan politics by the Pentagon as a worrying development undermining democracy in the US. He feared «the erosion of civil-military relations».
What is it that qualifies Hillary Clinton for such support? Former CIA boss Morell listed these «attributes» as «her belief that America is an exceptional nation that must lead in the world for the country to remain secure and prosperous; her understanding that diplomacy can be effective only if the country is perceived as willing and able to use force if necessary; and, most important, her capacity to make the most difficult decision of all – whether to put young American women and men in harm’s way».
In other words, what is most appreciated is how Clinton is prepared and willing to take America into ever more wars. Despite the horrific legacy that she is already responsible for as Secretary of State in the Obama administration (2009-2013) when she prosecuted wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and, covertly, in Syria and Ukraine.
And yet, ex-CIA chief Morell, who served alongside Clinton in these disastrous wars, has the gall to censure Trump for «his lack of respect for the rule of law».
By contrast, Trump, for all his flaws and awry views on immigration and race relations, has not espoused warmongering zeal to any comparable extent. Indeed, the Republican candidate has called for normalization of relations with Russia in particular and has notified that he would order a withdrawal of US forces from Asia, Europe and other regions in order to «rebuild America first». His views on not rushing into a hypothetical war to defend NATO Baltic nations from a far-fetched Russian invasion are seen by many ordinary Americans as a common sense position. For the Pentagon-CIA nexus, however, Trump’s views are anathema.
This is what it gets down to. Clinton is the candidate of choice for the US military-industrial complex because she will enhance corporate profits and a $600-billion annual budget that feeds the Pentagon-CIA leviathan.
Crucial to this role is reinforcing a belligerent foreign policy towards the world in general and towards Russia in particular. Or, as Morell puts it, Clinton’s «belief that America is an exceptional nation that must lead in the world for the country to remain secure and prosperous».
It is this exceptional, supremacist Washington ideology that has brought the world to such a dangerous precipice.
Hillary Clinton, ironically, far more than the maverick Donald Trump, is proving to be an exemplar of what can only be called the Neo-fascist ideology that is becoming increasingly extant in Washington.
The Pentagon-CIA Praetorian Guard that is being formed around Clinton is not only a harbinger of the militarized totalitarian state administered from Washington; it is also a signal that the United States is moving openly to a policy of unabashed, unrestrained permanent war against any foreign country it so deems.
The reported statement by former Israeli minister Diaspora Affairs Rabbi Michael Melchior that Saudi Arabia will open its doors to Israeli visitors “much sooner than you dream about” will not come as surprise. To be sure, a critical mass is developing in the secretive Saudi-Israeli intercourse.
The Saudi regime has been chary about links with Israel for fear of annoying the ‘Arab Street’, whereas, Israel has been all along eager to flaunt the breach in the Berlin Wall of Arab-Israeli conflict. But Saudis seem to estimate that the time has come to be open about the relationship.
The point is, if the raison d’etre of the dalliance is the ‘containment’ of Iran, it is resource-sharing. An open relationship is needed to optimally develop security and military cooperation. The Custodian of Holy Places seems to think the Muslim world will learn to live with his country’s strategic cooperation with Israel.
Well, the Palestine issue no longer poses hurdles, either. Arab Spring, conflicts in Syria and Iraq, military coup in Egypt, Saudi-Iranian rivalry, breakdown in Iran’s ties with Hamas, Islamic State – all these have relegated the Palestine issue to the backburner. Besides, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas is on a tight American and Saudi leash. Abbas even received in Ramallah recently a Saudi delegation led by former general Anwar Majed Eshki who visited Jerusalem and met senior Israeli officials, including the head of the foreign ministry Dore Gold.
Again, Saudi Arabia’s keen interest in taking possession of two Red Sea islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba – Tiran and Sanafir – needs to be understood as a move to be Israel’s ‘neighbor’. Sanafir and Tiran sit at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategically important stretch of water called the Strait of Tiran, used by Israel to access Red Sea. King Salman personally camped in Cairo in April to persuade Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to transfer the two islands in lieu of a seductive multi-billion dollar offer to Sisi.
Indeed, both Saudi Arabia and Israel are making haste to position themselves for a new phase of the Middle East’s politics in the post-Barack Obama era. They expect Hillary Clinton to pick up the threads where George W. Bush left them — a muscular regional policy involving switch back to containment of Iran and resuscitation of the pivotal relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel is willing to reconcile with the Iran nuclear deal. They are doing everything possible, no matter what it takes, to see that the deal gets derailed. On Saturday, Israeli Defence Ministry issued a harshly-worded statement slamming Obama and comparing the Iran deal with the 1938 Munich agreement to appease Hitler. (Jerusalem Post )
Equally, Saudis and Israelis have convergent interests in regard to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq — supporting extremist Sunni groups, promoting the Kurdistan project, creation of ‘spheres of influence’ on Syrian and Iraqi territory, and ultimately, entrapping Iran in a quagmire that will exhaust the regime.
The Saudi-Israeli strategic regional realignment is something that Washington historically encouraged. It is just the underpinning needed for creating a regional security architecture supported by the NATO’s network of partnerships with the GCC states under the canopy of a US missile shield.
Alas, Turkey too could have been a key partner in this enterprise, but for the failure of the July 15 coup. Israel looked distressed when it transpired that the coup failed. As for Saudi Arabia, it probably played a role in the failed coup. (Sputnik )
Without doubt, it is against a complex backdrop that the recent reports regarding Israel and Pakistan taking part in a major air exercise hosted by the US also needs to be viewed. Neither Islamabad nor Tel Avi has denied the reports. Of course, the US always encouraged a Pak-Israeli proximity. Now, the big question is: With Saudi Arabia establishing ties with Israel, can Pakistan be far behind? (Times of Israel )
From the Israeli, Saudi and American perspective, it is of utmost importance that Pakistan aligns with Saudi Arabia instead of remaining neutral in regard of Iran’s rise. Pakistan’s role is crucial to any major plans of destabilization of Iran.
Israel and Saudi Arabia pretended until recently that they have a special thing going with Moscow, too, with a view to create ‘strategic ambiguity’. Moscow played along, while making a strategic decision that Iran is its ‘natural ally’ in the Middle East. This is perfectly understandable, because in the ultimate analysis, Israel and Saudi Arabia are bit players only, while Iran (or Turkey for that matter) is an authentic regional power credited with a world view.
It is possible to see the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran trilateral summit in Baku on Monday as a strategic counter-move by Moscow and Tehran.
The proposed North-South Transport Corridor is admittedly an old idea with a pronounced economic dimension, but in the present context, an access route for Russia to the Persian Gulf and Middle East via Iran’s territory becomes a geopolitical event of far-reaching significance in the regional alignment that is under way. (See my blog China’s One Belt One Road isn’t only show in town.)
For the past decade, the US intelligence agencies operating in Turkey have worked closely with the increasingly influential parallel government of Fethullah Gulen. Their approach to power was, until recently, a permeationist strategy, of covertly taking over political, economic, administrative, judicial, media, military and cultural positions gradually without resort to elections or military coups. They adopted flexible tactics, supporting and shedding different allies to eliminate rivals.
In 2010 in support of Erdogan, they played a major role in arresting and purging 300 Kemalist – military officials. Subsequently the Gulenists moved to prosecute and weaken the Erdogan regime via revelations of family corruption uncovered by their intelligence officials and publicized by its mass media outlets.
The Gulenists shared several important policies with Washington which favored “the convergence” that led up to the July 15, 2016 coup.
The Gulenists backed US-Israeli policies in the Middle East; opposed the ‘independent’ and erratic power projections of Erdogan; favored pro-Western free market policies; accepted US relations with the Kurds; rejected any accommodation with the Russians.
In other words, the Gulenists were far more reliable, dependent and subject to the dictates of EU-NATO-US policy throughout the Middle East than the Erdogan regime.
Erdogan was aware of the growing power of the Gulenists and their growing links to Washington. Erdogan moved decisively and successfully, to pre-empt the Gulenist power grab by forcing a premature coup.
Erdogan Power Bloc Defeats Gulenist Presence
The Gulenists were a powerful force in the Turkish state and civil society. They had a strong presence in the civil bureaucracy; among sectors of the military, the mass media and educational installations; and among technocrats in the financial agencies. Yet they were defeated in less than twenty-four hours, because Erdogan had several undeniable strengths.
First and foremost, Erdogan was an unmatched political leader with a strategy to retain power and a powerful active mass popular base. The Gulenists had nothing comparable.
Erdogan had a superior intelligence and military command which infiltrated and undermined the Gulenists who were totally unprepared for a violent confrontation.
The Gulenists ‘permeationist’ strategy was unprepared and totally incapable of seizing power and mobilizing ‘the street’.
They lacked the cadres and organized grass roots support which Erdogan had built from the bottom-up over the previous two decades.
Erdogan’s insider and outside Islamic-Nationalist strategy was far superior to the Gulenist insider-pro-US liberal strategy.
US Miscalculations in the Coup
The Gulenists depended on US support, which totally miscalculated the relations of power and misread Erdogan’s capacity to preempt the coup.
The major flaw among the US advisers was their ignorance of the Turkish political equation: they underestimated Erdogan’s overwhelming party, electoral and mass support. The CIA overestimated the Gulenists support in their institutional elite structures and underestimated their political isolation in Turkish society.
Moreover, the US military had no sense of the specifications of Turkish political culture – the general popular opposition to a military-bureaucratic takeover. They failed to recognize that the anti-coup forces included political parties and social movements critical of Erdogan.
The US strategists based the coup on their misreading of the military coups in Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Yemen which ousted nationalist and Islamic civilian regimes.
Erdogan was not vulnerable in the same way as President Mohamed Morsi (June 30, 2012 – July 3, 2013) was in Egypt – he controlled intelligence, military and mass supporters.
The US-Gulenists military intelligence strategy was unplanned, uncoordinated and precipitous – Erdogan’s counter-coup forced their hand and struck decisive, sweeping blows that demoralized the entire Gulenist super-structure. Thousands of supporters fell like clay pigeons.
The US was put on the defensive – the rapid dissolution of their followers forced them to disown their allies and fall back on general, unconvincing ‘humanitarian’ and ‘security’ criticisms of Erdogan. Their claims that the Erdogan purge would weaken the fight against ISIS had no influence in Turkey. Washington’s charges that the arrests were ‘mistreating and abusing’ prisoners had no impact.
The key political fact is that the US backed an uprising which had taken up arms and killed Erdogan loyalist military personnel and innocent unarmed civilians opposed to the coup undermined Washington’s feeble protests.
In the end the US even refused refugee status and abandoned their Gulenist General’s to Erdogan’s fate. Only Fethullah Gulen himself was protected from extradition by his State Department handlers.
Consequences of the US-Gulen Coup
Washington’s failure to bring down Erdogan could have enormous repercussions throughout the Middle East, Western Europe and the United States.
Erdogan ordered seven thousand troops to encircle the strategic NATO airbase in Incirlik, Turkey, an act of intimidation threatening to undermine NATO’s major nuclear facility and operational base against Syria, Iraq and Russia.
Turkish intelligence and cabinet officials have called into question ongoing political alliances, openly accusing the US military of treason for its role in the coup.
Erdogan has moved to reconcile relations with Russia and has distanced his ties with the European Union.
If Turkey downgrades its ties with NATO, the US would lose its strategic ally on the Southern flank of Russia and undermine its capacity to dominate Syria and Iraq.
Washington’s leverage in Turkey has been dramatically reduced with the decimation of the Gulenist power base in the civilian and military organizations.
Washington may have to rely on the anemic, unstable and servile Syriza – Tsipras regime in Greece to ‘anchor’ its policies in the region.
The failed coup means a major retreat for Washington in the region – and a possible advance for Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Russia.
There are two caveats to this proposition. After Erdogan ‘completes’ the purge of Gulenists’ and condemns Washington, will he be willing and able to pursue a new independent policy or will he simply tighten internal control and ‘renegotiate’ a NATO agreement?
Will Erdogan consolidate political control over the army or will the defeat of the Gulenists be a temporary outcome which will unleash new military factions which will destabilize the political regime?
Finally, Erdogan depends on Western finance and investment which is highly resistant to backing a regime critical of the US, the EU and NATO. If Erdogan faces economic pressures from the West can he turn elsewhere or will he, in the face of capitalist ‘realities’ retreat and submit?
Erdogan, temporarily may have defeated a US coup, but history teaches us that new military, political and economic interventions are on Washington’s agenda.
Please note James Petras’s new collection of essays with Clarity Press:
THE END OF THE REPUBLIC AND THE DELUSION OF EMPIRE
$24.95 / 252 pp. / 2016
© Copyright 2016 by AxisofLogic.com
What’s a Neocon to do?
Bill Kristol is downright despondent after his failed search for an alternative to Donald Trump. Max Boot is indignant about his “stupid” party’s willingness to ride a bragging bull into a delicate China policy shop. And the leading light of the first family of military interventionism — Robert Kagan — is actually lining up Neoconservatives behind the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.
At the same time, the Democrats have become the party of bare-knuckled, full-throated American Exceptionalism. That transformation was announced with a vein-popping zeal by retired general and wannabe motivation screamer John Allen at the Democratic convention in the City of Brotherly Love. During his “speech,” a few plaintive protests of “no more war” were actually drowned-out by Democrats chanting “USA-USA-USA!”
This is the same Democratic Party often criticized by Kagan & Co. as the purveyors of timidity, flaccidity, and moral perfidy. It’s not that Democrats haven’t dropped bombs, dealt arms, and overturned regimes. They have. And they’ve even got the Peace Prize-winning Obama-dropper to prove it. But unlike enthusiastically belligerent Republicans, the Dems are supposed to be the party that does it, but doesn’t really like to do it.
But now, they’ve got Hillary Clinton. And she’s weaponized the State Department. She really likes regime change. And her nominating convention not only embraced the military, but it sanctified the very Gold Star families that Neocon-style interventionism creates. It certainly created the pain of the Khan family who lost their son in the illegal war in Iraq. But the Dems didn’t mention that sad fact as they grabbed the flag away from the Republicans.
Now that’s truly Neo-confusing.
It kinda feels like reality has slipped off its axis and we’ve landed on a Bizarro World version of America. Democrats are acting like Republicans. Pat Buchanan is championing the GOP’s “Peace Candidate.” And the Neocons are fleeing from a party they’ve used like a geopolitical cudgel for the better part of three decades.
At first glance, it all makes sense. Trump captured the GOP nomination in no small part by trashing two of the Neocons’ favorite things ever — the Bush family and the Iraq War. He also suggested early on that he’d approach the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as (gasp!) an honest broker. Trump said he really wanted to “make that deal.” Without irony, one-time Neocon wonderboy Marco Rubio remarked that it isn’t a “real estate deal” when, in fact, that’s exactly what it is.
But the ever-pliable Trump quickly got religion on Israel. He did an about-face, marched into AIPAC’s annual confab, and staked out a claim on the reflexively pro-Israel side of the issue. But it wasn’t enough to assuage the angst of the GOP’s forever-circling hawks.
Frankly, nothing seems enough to sway the Neocons in Donald’s direction. But it’s not for lack of trying on Trump’s part. Really, he’s checked off many of the boxes that make Neocons smile.
Trump wants a “yuuge” military … the biggest and baddest ever! So big, that no one in a million years will ever challenge it. That sure sounds a lot like Reagan’s “peace through strength.” Neocons do love Reagan. And, as if on cue, the Kristol/Kagan-led “Foreign Policy Initiative” just posted a clarion call to spend more bucks to buy bigger bangs for an already gargantuan military. Doesn’t that fit with Donald’s plan to spend defense dollars like a drunken sailor?
Maybe Neocons don’t want the military to be so big that no one will ever try anything. Maybe they want a few challenges here and there, just for a little creative destruction to keep the world on its toes. But Trump’s right there with them. He wants to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS. And he even said America has “no choice but to bomb Libya” and “take out” the Islamic State.
C’mon, Neocons … what’s not to like?
And how about Trump’s Islamophobia? It sure seems simpatico with the last two decades of Neoconservative drum-beating. Trump repeatedly uses the magic words — “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Can’t you just hear the longing sighs coming out of the American Enterprise Institute? He also wants to ban Muslims. Or “just” ban people coming from countries where Muslims have committed terrorism. Who knows? Either way, the message is “Muslims bad.” It even gave Neocon bushwacker Frank Gaffney a serious man-crush on The Donald.
To be fair, other less “fringy” Neocons like Kristol have repudiated the Muslim ban idea. But, as filmmaker Robbie Martin showed in his just-completed series on the Neocons and their “very heavy agenda,” even the most intellectually renowned among them has engaged in the dangerous stereotyping of all Muslims as terrorists.
In fact, Martin featured a frightening clip of two Kagans (Robert’s dad Donald and his brother Fred) making the case that the US military should clean out the Occupied Territories in the aftermath of 9/11 because radical Muslims and “the Arabs” are all basically the same. Oh, by the way, they only respect brute force. So why not take advantage of the “New Pearl Harbor” and show them all who’s boss?
It’s kinda like the “dancing Muslims” Trump — and only Trump — saw celebrating the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey. Even if he didn’t see them, or just conflated them with an isolated incident in East Jerusalem, what’s the difference? It’s all the same to him. Just like aggrieved and aggressive Muslims were all the same to the Kagans on 9/11. Doesn’t that make Trump’s persistent suspicion of Muslims a perfect match for the Neoconservative wrecking crew?
And then there’s the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has relentlessly criticized as being so bad that it’s downright suspicious. He said he wants to “renegotiate” immediately after taking office. And he wrongly claims the deal is a fast-track to a nuclear-armed Iran (an error that puts him squarely in the Neocon camp). As a rule of thumb, he’s livid about all things related to Iran. So, what’s the problem? Why can’t the Neocons wrap their arms around Donald Trump?
In a word — it’s Russia.
It’s framed as a troublesome “bromance” between Vladimir Putin and Trump. Critics don’t like Trump’s comfort with a “dictator” who, as Kagan’s wife Victoria Nuland recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, engages in “aggression.” She’s currently the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. She basically managed the 2014 coup in Ukraine. And she’s outraged by Russian aggression in Ukraine. But she’s nonplussed by her husband’s role in pushing for the most blatant and wanton act of aggression thus far this century — the unwarranted destruction of Iraq.
On the other hand, Putin has the unmitigated gall to move military forces around inside the borders of his own country. He’s blamed for hacking the Democratic Party — despite a lack of actual evidence and the NSA’s own hacking hijinks. And he’s accused of “meddling” in U.S. elections — a pretty rich accusation given America’s long history of surreptitious electioneering around the world.
There is no doubt that “Bad Vlad” likes Donald. And Donald likes Vlad. But the real problem isn’t their bromance. This is about the Neoconservative desire to make sure the United States is the lone guarantor of the geopolitical order. This is about Pax Americana. This is about resurrecting the faded dream of a new American century.
And what stands in the way of the type of the Neocon dream of global “full-spectrum dominance?” Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Russia is the only nation with an arsenal big enough to withstand the subtle nuclear blackmail of America’s trillion-dollar nuclear “upgrade.” That’s why Russia is concerned about the missile defense systems arrayed on their border. Those systems can knock down retaliatory strikes, thus making a first strike with new nuclear cruise missiles at least theoretically possible.
The United States is also using NATO expansion to increasingly encircle a nation that once was America’s geopolitical equal. That’s why Trump’s criticism of America’s outsized support for NATO must’ve been the tipping point from disdain to panic among Neocon and Neoliberal interventionists alike.
The oddity is that there does seem to be more than a passing affinity between Trump and Putin. Trump’s statements on Ukraine would be easily dismissed if his campaign manager Paul Manafort hadn’t worked as a political consultant to the pre-Nuland leadership of Ukraine. And Trump’s statements on Crimea might be written off if he’d release his taxes and end speculation of financial ties to Putin’s regime.
But the visceral reaction against his repeated calls for cooperation — “By the way, wouldn’t it be great if we got along with Russia?”— exposes the extent to which the entire foreign policy and political establishments are squarely on the same page. They are angling for Cold War 2.0, and Trump is the only major figure willing to challenge that orthodoxy.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, of course, which brings the whole thing back to the miasma of confusion hanging over this strange election. Hillary is on the Neocon team — if not in name, certainly in deed. She will “stand up” to Bad Vlad. She’s targeted by Russian hackers because Putin prefers his “unwitting agent” Donald Trump. And Donald is, according to an emerging narrative, a latter-day Neville Chamberlain just inviting the Ruskies to take over the Baltic States, Ukraine, and God knows what else.
The greatest irony of all is that Trump catapulted over the Neocons’ preferred presidential options by slamming their pet project — the War on Iraq. Trump’s criticism of that war and the chaos it unleashed resonated with the very voters the Neocons took for granted as pliable, fear-responsive bumpkins. That left them out in the cold just as they were angling to trump the disorderly, hard-to-prosecute mess they call “The Global War on Terror.”
What they really want, and have always wanted, is to revive the greatest war of all — the Cold War. That’s the grand chessboard they yearn to play on once again. The War on Terror was really just a stop-gap, like methadone for imperialists. But now they’ve scored because it looks like the supposed party of imperial intransigence is, under the guidance of Hillary Clinton, poised to take the reins from a Trump-addled GOP.
And if a recent article in Der Spiegel is right, Kagan’s wife Victoria has emerged as a candidate for the prized position of secretary of state should Hillary win. If that comes to pass, the Neocons may not have succeeded in their initial plan for a new American century, but they will have hastily completed their last-minute project for a new Democratic Party. And that means this election isn’t that Neo-confusing after all.