The Saudi plan to send ground troops into Syria appears to be just a ruse. But this is precisely the kind of reckless saber-rattling that could ignite an all-out war, one that could embroil the United States and Russia.
Saudi rulers have reportedly amassed a 150,000-strong army to invade Syria on the alleged pretext “to fight against terrorism” and to defeat the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS/ISIL). Saudi officials told CNN that in addition to Saudi troops there are ground forces from Egypt, Turkey, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem gave a categorical response, saying the move would be seen as an act of aggression and that any invasion force regardless of its stated reasons for entering Syria will be sent back in “wooden coffins”.
Nevertheless, US President Barack Obama has welcomed the Saudi plan to intervene in Syria.
Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is this week due to meet in Brussels with counterparts from the US-led so-called “anti-terror” coalition to make a decision on the whether to activate the Saudi plan. A Saudi military spokesman has already said that if the US-led coalition gives its consent then his country will proceed with the intervention.
In recent weeks, Carter and other senior US officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have been calling for increased regional Arab military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Carter and Biden have also said the US is prepared to send in its own ground troops en masse if the Geneva peace talks collapse.
Now, those talks appear to be floundering. So, does that mean that a large-scale invasion of US-led foreign armies in Syria is on the way?
Let’s step back a moment and assess what is really going on. The Saudi warning – or more accurately “threat” – of military intervention in Syria is not the first time that this has been adverted to. Back in mid-December, when Riyadh announced the formation of a 34-Islamic nation alliance to “fight terrorism”, the Saudis said that the military alliance reserved the right to invade any country where there was deemed to be a terror threat – including Syria.
Another factor is that the House of Saud is not pleased with US-led diplomatic efforts on Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s bustling to organize the Geneva negotiations – supposedly to find a peace settlement to the five-year conflict – is seen by the Saudis as giving too many concessions to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and his foreign allies, Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The Geneva talks – which came unstuck last week – can be arguably assessed as not a genuine internal Syria process to resolve the war – but rather they are a cynical political attempt by Washington and its allies to undermine the Syrian government for their long-held objective of regime change. The inclusion among the political opposition at Geneva of Al Qaeda-linked militants, Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, with Western backing, illustrates the ulterior purpose.
The Washington Post gave the game away when it reported at the weekend: “The Obama administration has found itself increasingly backed into a corner by Russian bombing in Syria that its diplomacy has so far appeared powerless to stop.”
In other words, the Geneva diplomacy, mounted in large part by Kerry, was really aimed at halting the blistering Russian aerial campaign. The four-month intervention ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned the tide of the entire Syrian war, allowing the Syrian Arab Army to win back strategically important terrain.
That the Russian military operations have not stopped, indeed have stepped up, has caused much consternation in Washington and its allies.
Russia and Syria can reasonably argue that the UN resolutions passed in November and December give them the prerogative to continue their campaign to defeat ISIS and all other Al Qaeda-linked terror groups. But it seems clear now that Kerry was counting on the Geneva talks as a way of stalling the Russian-Syrian assaults on the regime-change mercenaries.
Kerry told reporters over the weekend that he is making a last-gasp attempt to persuade Russia to call a ceasefire in Syria. Indicating the fraught nature of his discussions with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Kerry said: “The modalities of a ceasefire itself are also being discussed… But if it’s just talks for the sake of talks in order to continue the bombing, nobody is going to accept that, and we will know that in the course of the next days.”
Moscow last week was adamant that it would not stop its bombing operations until “all terrorists” in Syria have been defeated. Syria’s Foreign Minister al-Muallem reiterated this weekend that there would be no ceasefire while illegally armed groups remain in Syria.
What we can surmise is that because the US-led covert military means for regime change in Syria is being thwarted and at the same time the alternative political means for regime change are also not gaining any traction – due to Russia and Syria’s astuteness on the ulterior agenda – the Washington axis is now reacting out of frustration.
Part of this frustrated reaction are the threats from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other regional regimes – with US tacit approval – to go-ahead with a direct military intervention.
In short, it’s a bluff aimed at pressuring Syria and Russia to accommodate the ceasefire demands, which in reality are to serve as a breathing space for the foreign-backed terrorist proxies.
From a military point of view, the Saudi troop invasion cannot be taken remotely serious as an effective deployment. We only have to look at how the Saudi regime has been battered in Yemen over the past 10 months – in the Arab region’s poorest country – to appreciate that the Saudis have not the capability of carrying out a campaign in Syria.
As American professor Colin Cavell noted to this author: “Saudi intervention in Syria will have as much success as its intervention in Yemen. History has clearly shown that mercenary forces will never fight external wars with any success or elan, and no Saudi soldier in his right mind truly supports the Saudi monarchy. Everyone in Saudi Arabia knows that the House of Saud has no legitimacy, is based solely on force and manipulation, propped up by the US and the UK, and – if it did not have so much money – is a joke, run by fools.”
Thus, while a military gambit is decidedly unrealistic, the real danger is that the Saudi rulers and their American patrons have become so unhinged from reality that they could miscalculate and go into Syria. That would be like a spark in a powder keg. It will be seen as an act of war on Syria and its allies, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The US would inevitably be drawn fully into the spiral of a world war.
History has illustrated that wars are often the result not of a single, willful decision – but instead as the result of an ever-quickening process of folly.
Syria is just one potential cataclysm.
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
Citizens of the world are being asked to dig deep for humanitarian aid to Syria. After five years of war and millions displaced there is an urgent need for the world to lend a hand, we are told.
At a so-called “donor conference” in London this week, British prime minister David Cameron appealed to the rest of the world to stump up $8 billion to help war-torn Syria.
Among the 60 nations attending the confab were the US, France, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Senior figures from these countries were wringing their hands in anguish over the plight of Syrian refugees.
Washington’s top diplomat John Kerry told delegates: “With people reduced to eating grass and leaves and killing stray animals in order to survive on a day-to-day basis, that is something that should tear at the conscience of all civilized people and we all have a responsibility to respond to it.”
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon adjured nations to “take responsibility to end the crisis in Syria”.
Take responsibility for ending the crisis? How about taking responsibility for beginning it?
Cameron, Kerry and the rest of these charlatans should spare us the emotional blackmail. Most of the governments represented at the London conference are the very instigators and perpetrators of Syria’s destruction.
Why should the rest of the world pay for their crimes?
This is not to suggest that people should simply turn their backs on fellow humans in dire need. But let’s get some straight-thinking here.
Those governments and individual politicians who oversaw regime change in Syria should be paying for their violations, either through massive financial reparations or in jail time. And why not both.
The case is irrefutable. The US-led regime-change plot to subjugate Syria goes back several years, according to numerous sources, such as American diplomatic cables released by the whistleblowing site Wikileaks, former French foreign minister Roland Dumas and ex-NATO supreme commander US General Wesley Clark.
It is only largely due to the dutiful dissembling by the Western news media that such criminality might seem rather outlandish. But it is not outlandish. It is documented and provable. Western governments are culpable in a criminal scheme of regime change in Syria, as they have been in countless other unfortunate countries.
From the outbreak of violence in mid-March 2011, the Arab country has been a charnel house of covert war involving the most vile terrorist mercenaries. Those who take ultimate responsibility for the violence are the authors of the regime-change plot in Syria. Top of the list are Washington, London, Paris, as well as their regional client regimes.
With an estimated 250,000 dead and nearly half of the 23 million population turned into refugees, the total war damage to Syria has been estimated to be at least $100 billion. This is what Washington and its allies owe Syria — and no doubt far, far more — and yet these country-destroying rogue states are trying to wheedle money out of world citizens to pay for their criminal excesses, with the emotional plea of “humanitarian aid”.
Washington and its co-conspirators for covert war in Syria want the rest of the world to pay for their criminal scheming by cajoling the UN, the European Union and anyone else who will listen to fork out “humanitarian aid”. Make no mistake this will eventually translate into ordinary taxpayers, workers and families, paying the bill for their governments’ sanctimonious financial pledges.
In other words, Western powers like the US, Britain and France together with their regional client regimes in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, unleash mass murder and mayhem on a once peaceful, sovereign country — and instead of being held to account under international law for their criminal aggression, these rogue states are getting the rest of the world to subsidize their evil enterprise.
The “donor conference” in London this week was the fifth in a series going back to 2012. Last year, the fundraiser fell well short of its appeals. This year, British leader David Cameron went out of his way to give the appeal added urgency.
Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Cameron said: “Sufficient funding to guarantee the basics of life that these refugees need must be the bare minimum expected of us.”
The British premier emphasized the need for more aid given to refugee centers in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, where nearly five million Syrians have been displaced and are languishing in squalid camps.
Cameron’s apparent concern belies his real worry. He doesn’t want any more refugees streaming into Europe and towards Britain. That’s why the British leader is now calling for more international donations and for the cash to be thrown at Syria’s immediate neighbors in order to keep refugees there.
Going back to UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, he told the London conference:
“The situation in Syria is as close to hell as we are likely to find on this Earth.”
Syria is indeed a hell on Earth. Made by people like Cameron and Kerry with whom Ban Ki-Moon was rubbing shoulders with in London this week.
Turkey was represented by prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu who tried to blame the humanitarian crisis on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s military intervention. Davutoglu’s lies are particularly nauseating given Ankara’s role in acting as a conduit for terror brigades infiltrating Syria and his country’s ongoing threats of outright military invasion.
NATO member Turkey’s role in fueling Syria’s refugee crisis through its regime-change machinations is acutely reprehensible. And yet Ankara is to receive $3.4 billion from European Union taxpayers, allegedly to help with stemming the flow of refugees into Europe.
This is just one aspect of the general trend that Washington and its allies are establishing with breath-taking audacity. They have all but destroyed Syria with their covert war using terrorist proxies, and yet they are getting the rest of the world to pay for their crimes.
The cost of war and imperialist crimes was always offloaded on to ordinary people by their rulers. In that regard, nothing much has changed. Except that the scam has become even more brazen.
For decades, America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been relying on its partner’s money in discrete and covert operations; the money of the Saudi oil-rich kingdom.
Citing several current and former US officials, the New York Times reported on Jan. 23 that from the very beginning of the US operations against the Assad government in Syria, Saudi money was largely the supporter.
The most recent example of this ‘close bond’ between the US and Saudi Arabia has came to light in the New York Times article, which reported that US President Barack Obama knew well the US could rely on Saudi money when, in 2013, he secretly gave the CIA the green light to arm militant groups in Syria that were fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Code-named Timber Sycamore, the deal stipulates that the Saudis contribute both weapons and large sums of money and the CIA takes the lead in training the rebels on AK-47 assault rifles and tank-destroying missiles.
In 2012, the US repeatedly claimed that the Timber Sycamore program was designed to deliver what it claimed to be ‘non-lethal’ aid, yet months later, Obama gave his approval for the CIA to begin directly arming and training the rebels from a base in Jordan, amending the Timber Sycamore program to allow lethal assistance.
Also, the NY Times report noticeably underlines that such a long intelligence relationship helps explain why the United States has been reluctant to openly criticize Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its support for the extreme ideology Wahhabism, that has inspired many of the very terrorist groups.
In the latest violation which brought uproar across the Muslim world in particular, Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, for challenging the oppression of the royal family and demanding human rights, yet the Obama administration did not publically condemn the action. Also, another form of Saudi human rights abuses to which the US has had no clear condemnation is its war on Yemen that has so far claimed the lives of more than 8,270 people including women and children.
The CIA covert operations in Syria began in 2013, in which more than 10,000 Wahhabi terrorists were armed, funded and trained. The trainings were taking place inside Jordan’s territories, and estimates have put the total cost of the ops at several billion dollars.
“They understand that they have to have us, and we understand that we have to have them,” said Mike Rogers, the former Republican congressman who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee when the CIA operation began.
The operation was described as part of the so-called “counterterrorism” program. On this note, a former State Department counterterrorism adviser and the author of a book on the Islamic State, William McCants points out “The more that the argument becomes, ‘We need them as a counterterrorism partner,’ the less persuasive it is. If this is purely a conversation about counterterrorism cooperation, and if the Saudis are a big part of the problem in creating terrorism in the first place, then how persuasive of an argument is it?”
Even though the biggest contributor was Saudi Arabia, yet its allies also had their share in the game. According to the NY Times, when Obama signed off on arming the rebels in the spring of 2013, the Qataris, Turkish and Saudis had been funneling weapons into Syria for more than a year. The Qataris had even smuggled in shipments of Chinese-made FN-6 shoulder-fired missiles over the border from Turkey.
There was an underwhelming sense when Pentagon boss Ashton Carter met this week in Paris with other members of the US-led military coalition supposedly fighting the ISIL terror group.
The US-led coalition was set up at the end of 2014 and in theory comprises 60 nations. The main military operation of the alliance is an aerial bombing campaign against terrorist units of IS (also known as ISIL, ISIS or Daesh).
At the Paris meeting this week, Secretary of Defense Carter was joined by counterparts from just six countries: France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Australia. Where were the other 54 nations of the coalition?
Carter and French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian patted themselves on the back about “momentum”in their campaign against the terrorist network. However, platitudes aside, there was a noticeable crestfallen atmosphere at the meeting of the shrunken US-led coalition.
One telling point was Carter exhorting Arab countries to contribute more. As a headline in the Financial Times put it: “US urges Arab nations to boost ISIS fight”.
Carter didn’t mention specific names but it was clear he was referring to Saudi Arabia and the other oil-rich Persian Gulf Arab states, including Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
When the US initiated the anti-IS coalition in 2014, fighter jets from the Sunni Arab states participated in the aerial campaign. They quickly fell away from the operation and instead directed their military forces to Yemen, where the Saudi-led Arab coalition has been bombing that country non-stop since March 2015 to thwart an uprising by Houthi revolutionaries.
But there is an even deeper, more disturbing reason for the lack of Arab support for the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. That is because Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni monarchies are implicated in funding and arming the very terrorists that Washington’s coalition is supposedly combating.
Several senior US officials have at various times admitted this. Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton labelled Saudi Arabia as the main sponsor of “Sunni extremist groups”in diplomatic cables when she was Secretary of State back in 2009, as disclosed by Wikileaks.
Vice President Joe Biden, while addressing a Harvard University forum in late 2014, also spilled the beans on the Persian Gulf states and Turkey being behind the rise of terror groups in the Middle East.
So there is substantial reason why the US-led anti-terror coalition in Iraq and Syria has not delivered decisive results. It is the same reason why Carter was joined by only six other countries in Paris this week and why there was a glaring absence of Saudi Arabia and other Arab members. These despotic regimes –whom Washington claims as “allies”–are part of the terrorist problem.
Not that the US or its Western allies are blameless. Far from it. It was Washington after all that master-minded the regime-change operations in Iraq and Syria, which spawned the terror groups.
In fact, we can go further and point to evidence, such as the testimony of Lt General Michael Flynn of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which shows that the US enlisted the terror brigades as proxies to do its dirty work in Syria for regime change.
The US and its Western allies conceal this collusion by claiming that they are supporting “moderate rebels”–not extremists. But the so-called moderates have ended up joining the terrorists and sharing their US-supplied weapons. The distinction between these groups is thus meaningless, leaving the baleful conclusion that Washington, London and Paris are simply colluding with terrorism.
US Republican presidential contenders and media pundits berate the Obama administration for not doing enough militarily to defeat IS. Or as Donald Trump’s backer Sarah Palin would say to “kick ass”.
The unsettling truth is that the US cannot do more to defeat terrorism in the Middle East because Washington and its allies are the source of terrorism in the region. Through their meddling and machinations, Washington and its cohorts have created a veritable Frankenstein monster.
The “coalition”that is actually inflicting serious damage to IS and its various terror franchises is that of Russia working in strategic cooperation with the Syrian Arab Army of President Bashar al-Assad. Since Russia began its aerial bombing campaign nearly four months ago, we have seen a near collapse of the terror network’s oil and weapons smuggling rackets and hundreds of their bases destroyed.
Yet Ashton Carter this week accused Russia of impeding the fight against terrorism in Syria because of its support for the Assad government. Talk about double think!
If we strip away the false rhetoric and mainstream media misinformation, Washington’s “anti-terror”coalition can be seen as not merely incompetently leading from behind.
The US, its Western allies and regional client regimes are in the front ranks of the terror problem.
Canadians should be hanging their heads in shame.
Our government is guilty of the most egregious criminal acts as defined by Nuremberg Principles, and we are bona fide members of the State Sponsors of Terrorism club.
When our government bombs the sovereign state of Syria without the consent of President al-Assad and without United Nations Security Council approval, we are committing war crimes of the highest order.
When we support and fund foreign mercenary terrorists that are invading Syria, we are state sponsors of terrorism. There are no “moderate” terrorists. The mercenaries are all being paid and enabled by the West and its allies, including Turkey (a NATO member), Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan.
On all counts we are guilty. We are war criminals and state sponsors of terrorism.
The popular refrain that “Assad must go”, echoed by Canada’s Defense Minister, Harjit Sajjan, is in itself an endorsement of criminality. Regime change operations are criminal according to international law.
A soft power complex that disseminates lies and confusion is seemingly sufficient to make gullible western audiences accept criminality, even as the pretexts for previous illegal invasions invariably reveal themselves to be self-serving fabrications.
Hussein didn’t have WMD, but Western sanctions before the pre-meditated Iraq invasion willfully destroyed water treatment facilities and subsequently killed almost two million people, including about half a million children.
Gaddafi wasn’t “bombing his own people” or destroying Libya. The West and its proxies did the killing. The bombing in Libya – in support of al Qaeda ground troops – targeted and destroyed civilian infrastructure, including the Great Man-Made River Project. The bombs and the foreign terrorist ground troops killed Libyans, including Gadaffi, but Western propagandists and “confusion mongers” always portray an inverted version of reality to justify their atrocities.
Likewise for Assad – he is defending his country from foreign terrorists, not “killing his own people” – the Western invaders are killing Assad’s people.
Assad is not starving his own people either. Recently the discredited Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) fabricated a story alleging that Assad was starving people in Madaya. Evidence has recently emerged, however, that Western-supported rebels have been stockpiling food and selling it to civilians at exorbitant prices. Again, Western military forces target civilians – with a view to killing and/or demoralizing them—for “strategic” purposes. Vanessa Beeley decodes the intentional misrepresentation of the Madaya psy op. by listing investigative questions that should have been asked to find the truth, but were not.
War crimes perpetrated by the West are always dressed in mantles of respectability. MSM spokespeople, all of whom have conflicts of interest, paint civilian murders as “collateral damage”. Some commentators use the phrase “collateral murder”, but more accurately the military doctrine of slaughtering civilians is mass murder. The 9/11 wars are all pre-meditated, the false pretexts are carefully manufactured by State Departments, Public Relations agencies, and intelligence agencies, and the mass murder is intentional. The 9/11 wars generate unforeseen developments, but the invasions and occupations were not and are not “mistakes”, as some commentators would have us believe.
NATO destroys, loots, and creates chaos so that it can impose its hegemony. Again, it’s an inversion of the ridiculous lie of “spreading democracy”. The destruction also serves to create waves of refugees that serve to destabilize other countries — Europe is arguably being destabilized with a view to keeping the EU subservient to the U.S oligarch interests. Interestingly, countries not being “sacrificed” include Israel and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia – and neither country is accepting refugees/imperial crime victims either.
All of these pre-meditated invasions point to a larger picture. Humanity is being sacrificed for the illusory benefit of the criminal 1% transnational oligarch class. If Western populations were to awaken to the barbaric crimes being perpetrated in their names, they would rightly bow their heads in shame.
The shame would be a strong foundation for shaking off the shackles of lies and war propaganda, and for withdrawing our consent to these crimes against humanity.
Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page editor who writes The Wall Street Journal’s weekly “Global View” column, is not really a bad prose stylist, and his logic is not always unsound. But his unexamined assumptions lead him astray.
His latest installment is typical. Entitled “Why the U.S. Should Stand by the Saudis Against Iran,” it begins with not one premise, but two. The first, as the title suggest, is that the U.S. should stand by Riyadh in its time of woes. The second is that if the kingdom stumbles, only one person is to blame – President Obama.
The article opens on a promising note: “There is so much to detest about Saudi Arabia,” Stephens writes. It bans women from driving, it shuts its doors to Syrian refugees, it promotes “a bigoted and brutal version of Sunni Islam,” and it has “increased tensions with Iran by executing … a prominent radical Shiite cleric,” i.e., Nimr al-Nimr.
So why continue siding with a kingdom “that Israeli diplomat Dore Gold once called ‘Hatred’s Kingdom,’” Stephens asks, “especially when the administration is also trying to pursue further opening [sic] with Tehran?”
It’s a question that a lot of people are asking especially now that the collapse in oil prices means that the Saudis are less economically important than they once were. But Stephens says it would be wrong to abandon the kingdom “especially when it is under increasing economic strain from falling oil prices.”
Get that? It would be wrong to abandon the kingdom when oil is scarce and prices are high — because that’s when we need the Saudis the most — and it’s wrong to abandon the monarchy when oil is plentiful and prices are low when we need them the least. Oil, in other words, has nothing to do with it. It’s wrong because it’s wrong.
But Stephens thinks it’s wrong for another reason as well: because Saudi Arabia “feels acutely threatened by a resurgent Iran.” Why is Iran resurgent? Because the nuclear deal that it recently concluded with the U.S. has set it free from punishing economic sanctions.
He then goes on to list all the bad things Iran has done thanks to the power that the Obama administration has just handed it on a silver platter. “Despite fond White House hopes that the nuclear deal would moderate Iran’s behavior,” Stephens says, “Tehran hard-liners wasted no time this week disqualifying thousands of moderate candidates from running in next month’s parliamentary elections, and an Iranian-backed militia appears to be responsible for the recent kidnapping of three Americans in Iraq.”
Scary, eh? Yes – until one considers how Stephens has loaded the dice. His statement about Iran’s hardliners is accurate as far as it goes. But he might have pointed out that while Iran’s theocratic rulers certainly hobble democracy, they at least allow some sort of parliamentary elections to take place whereas Saudi Arabia, the regime he is now leaping to defend, allows exactly none. (Sorry, but last month’s meaningless municipal-council elections don’t count.)
In the Saudi kingdom, political parties, protests, even seminars in which intellectuals get to sound off are all verboten. Since March 2014, Saudis have been expressly forbidden to do anything that might undermine the status quo, including advocating atheism, criticizing Islam, participating in any form of political protest, or even joining a political party.
Stephens’s statement about the three kidnapped Americans is equally misleading. While Iran does indeed back such militias, Reuters cited U.S. government sources saying that “Washington had no reason to believe Tehran was involved in the kidnapping and did not believe the trio were being held in Iran.”
Plus, to follow Stephens’s logic, if Iran is responsible for specific actions like these, then Saudi Arabia is responsible for specific actions of the Sunni Salafist forces that it funds in Syria, which include lopping off the heads of Shi‘ites and committing many other such atrocities.
Stephens says that the U.S.-Iranian accord “guarantees Iran a $100 billion sanctions windfall,” a figure that the Council on Foreign Relations, no slouch when it comes to Iran bashing, describes as roughly double the true amount. He says Iran now enjoys “the protection of a major nuclear power” thanks to Russia’s intervention in Syria and agreement to supply Tehran with high-tech weaponry.
As a result, “Iranian proxies are active in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, and dominate much of southern Iraq. Restive Shiite populations in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province and neighboring Bahrain provide further openings for Iranian subversion on the Arabian peninsula.”
Possibly so – except that Stephens might have noted that Saudi proxies, up to and including Al Qaeda, are active in the same countries and that Shi‘ites in Bahrain and the Eastern Province might be a little less restive if Saudi repression were a little less savage.
Then Stephens gets to his main point, which is the nefarious role of Obama:
“Add to this an American president who is ambivalent about the House of Saud the way Jimmy Carter was about the Shah of Iran, and no wonder Riyadh is acting the way it is. If the administration is now unhappy about the Saudi war in Yemen or its execution of Shiite radicals, it has only itself to blame.
“All this means that the right U.S. policy toward the Saudis is to hold them close and demonstrate serious support, lest they be tempted to continue freelancing their foreign policy in ways we might not like. It won’t happen in this administration, but a serious commitment to overthrow the Assad regime would be the place to start.”
In other words, if the Saudi monarchy chops off the heads of dissident Shi‘ites and sentences liberal blogger Raif Badawi to a thousand lashes, it’s because Obama doesn’t show enough love. Ditto Yemen. If Saudi air raids have killed some 2,800 civilians according to the latest UN estimates, including more than 500 children, it’s because Obama has allowed his affections to flag for the Saudi royals. If only he would hug the Saudi princes a little closer, they wouldn’t feel so lonely and bereft and would therefore respond more gently to their neighbors in the south. No blame should be cast on the Saudi leaders. Their behavior can’t be blamed on the contradictions between their playboy lifestyles and the ascetic extremes of Wahhabism or the baleful effects of raking in untold oil riches while doing no work in return. No, everything’s the fault of Obama and his yuppie ways.
What can one say about reasoning like this? Only that it makes Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem like paragons of mental stability. But given that The Wall Street Journal has long filled its editorial pages with such swamp gas, why dwell on the feverish exhalations of just one right-wing columnist?
The answer is that Stephens speaks not just for himself, but for an entire neocon establishment that is beside itself over the mess in the Persian Gulf and desperate to avoid blame for the chaos (which is now spreading into Europe). So, talking points must be developed to shift responsibility.
The Lost Saudi Cause
But the Saudis may be beyond saving. With Iran preparing to put a million more barrels on the world oil market per day, prices – down better than 75 percent since mid-2014 – can only go lower. The Saudis, hemorrhaging money at the rate of $100 billion a year, know that when the foreign currency runs out, their power runs out too. Hence, they fear winding up as yet another failed Middle Eastern state like Syria.
“Islamic State and other jihadist groups would flourish,” Stephens observes, this time correctly. “Iran would seek to extend its reach in the Arabian peninsula. The kingdom’s plentiful stores of advanced Western military equipment would also fall into dangerous hands.”
It’s not a pretty picture, which is why the neocons are pointing the fingers at others, Obama first and foremost. As Jim Lobe recently observed, all the usual suspects are pitching in in behalf of their Saudi friends – Elliott Abrams, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and so on. All are furious at what Obama administration has done to their beloved petro-sheiks.
As neocon theorist Max Book put it at the Commentary Magazine website: “The American policy should be clear: We should stand with the Saudis – and the Egyptians, and the Jordanians, and the Emiratis, and the Turks, and the Israels [sic], and all of our other allies – to stop the new Persian Empire. But the Obama administration, morally and strategically confused, is instead coddling Iran in the vain hope that it will somehow turn Tehran from enemy into friend.”
Something else is also at work, however – the I-word. As Lobe notes, neocons have done an about-face with regard to the Saudis. Where Richard Perle once called on the Bush administration to include Riyadh on his post-9/11 hit list, the neocons are now firmly on the Saudis’ side.
Why? The reason is Israel, which has decided since tangling with Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War that the Shi‘ites are its chief enemy and the Sunni petro-monarchies, comparatively speaking, its friend. Like Communists responding to the latest directive from Moscow, the neocons have turned on a dime as a consequence, churning out reams of propaganda in support of Arab countries they once loathed.
A Saudi Makeover
In the neocon domain, Saudi Arabia has undergone a wondrous makeover, transformed from a bastion of reaction and anti-Semitism to a country that is somehow peace-loving and progressive. Formerly an enemy of Washington – or at best a distasteful gang of business associates supplying lots of oil and buying lots of guns – Saudi Arabia has been re-invented as America’s dearest friend in the Arab world.
People like Bret Stephens have done their bit in behalf of the cause, turning out article after article whose real purpose is hidden from view. Where neocons formerly scorned anyone who spoke well of the Saudis, they now denounce anyone who speaks ill.
The funny thing is that Obama is to blame for the disaster in the Middle East, not because he disregarded the latest diktat from the Washington neocon-dominated foreign-policy establishment, but because he has accepted its priorities all too dutifully. He stood by as Qatar steered hundreds of millions of dollars to Salafist jihadis in Libya and while the Saudis, Qataris, and other Gulf states did the same to Sunni fundamentalists in Syria.
Obama’s response to Saudi Arabia’s repression of Arab Spring protests in Bahrain was muted, he refused to condemn the beheading of al-Nimr — the best the State Department could come up with was a statement declaring that the execution risked “exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced” — and Obama has even given military support to the kingdom’s air assault on Yemen.
Yet now the neocons blame him for not doing enough to keep the Saudis happy.
The visit of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be considered by some to be unexpected, but it is hardly surprising.
Although the two countries maintain considerable trade ties to the tune of half a billion dollars a year, they have for more than a decade been erstwhile adversaries.
As two of the greatest gas exporters, they rarely agree on production quotas, vying for control of this essential market. In the past 20 months, Russia has been highly critical of Saudi Arabia and Qatar for refusing to curb oil production output as global prices plummeted.
A major oil exporter, Russia – already reeling from EU and US sanctions – has suffered considerably as prices drop to the $30 mark.
The rhetoric between both countries peaked after Russian fighter bombers and naval vessels began pounding Islamist extremist groups fighting to remove Moscow’s Syrian ally President Bashar Al Assad.
As the Sunni-funded campaign to remove Assad appeared to reach a stalemate, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have since May 2015 significantly increased their support (financially, logistically and with materiel) to Wahabist Islamist factions in Syria.
The increase in support came as both countries realized that Washington was unable – or unwilling – to provide such groups as Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army with the upper hand to turn the tide against Assad.
When Russia moved to reinforce its bases in Syria and presence in the Mediterranean, the Qataris in late October 2015 announced they could militarily intervene in the civil war there to aid their Islamist allies.
“If a military intervention will protect the Syrian people from the brutality of the regime, we will do it,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah said at the time.
If such bravado was meant to nudge Washington to up the ante against Assad, it failed.
Russian diplomacy moves forward
A week later, the US appeared to cave in to Russian pressure to bring together senior representatives from Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, as well as the UN’s special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to meet in Vienna to resolve the Syrian civil war.
It marked the first time rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran joined discussions on Syria. The two countries have backed opposing sides in the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts.
The armed Syrian opposition – classified as moderates by the US – did not participate in the talks.
By expanding the number of countries meeting on the crisis – and bringing Assad’s critical backer Iran to the table – Russia effectively minimized Qatar’s and Saudi Arabia’s influence in the conflict.
In late November, on the sidelines of the third summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) in Tehran, Putin thanked Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei for his help in Vienna.
Moscow and Tehran have supported Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad and insisted that he be part of an interim political process and future elections.
“All this is done, of course, in agreement with the Iranian partners … I think that without them it would be impossible,” Putin said in comments carried by Russian news agencies.
Russia also played a critical role in ensuring that Iran and the other permanent Security Council members (and Germany) sign a deal which would curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of debilitating sanctions.
If it wasn’t clear yet, a rising Russia was increasingly flexing both its military and diplomatic muscles in the Middle East.
Even Egypt, which has been financially sustained by Saudi Arabia, defied its Riyadh benefactors and backed Russia’s approach to resolving the conflict.
On December 18, Russia and the US agreed to a UN Security Council resolution “to convene representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process on an urgent basis, with a target of early January 2016 for the initiation of talks, pursuant to the Geneva Communiqué, consistent with the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement, with a view to a lasting political settlement of the crisis”.
A week later, the previously chest-pumping Qatar Foreign Minister al-Attiyah was in Moscow where he praised his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for Russia’s efforts to stabilize the Middle East.
The two diplomats agreed on the need to move the UNSC resolution forward.
“We discussed in detail what’s necessary to be done to implement the agreements on the Syrian settlement,” Lavrov said at the time.
In early January, Russia’s BRICS ally China, which is also increasingly playing a political role in the Middle East, separately hosted members of both the Syrian government and the opposition. It encouraged the latter to drop its preconditions to meeting with Syrian government representatives.
In less than six months, the momentum to bring Assad down has shifted toward ensuring that a political peace process get off the ground.
So, what changed?
Qatar’s ambitions to become a regional and global player have in recent months been tamed.
Its ‘soft power’ approach to controlling the Middle East has backfired as it rushed head on against countries that have for centuries been well-versed in the art of Machiavellian empire-building and proxy manipulation.
At the same time, Russia’s aggressive immersion in the Middle East muddle has altered not only the narrative in the region but physical realities on the ground.
Anti-Assad forces have been losing significant territory to the Syrian military and its Hezbollah allies.
As Russia pounds and destroys the weapons bought by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the US appears to have retreated despite Arab Sunni protestations.
As Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani himself likes to point out, Qatar is a peace-loving member of nations that will work with the US and Western allies to bring the Middle East back from the brink of chaos and collapse.
He has blamed the international community for not supporting Arab youth in their drive for democracy, justice and economic security. That is really a scolding of the US and the West for not doing more to bring the Assad regime down.
Iran rising, Russia to stay
New realities have been forming in the Middle East.
The Iran nuclear deal, which has alarmed Washington’s Sunni allies, will not only be a moral and propaganda boost for Tehran but also allow tens of billions of dollars to flow into its cash-strapped coffers.
Iran is soon expected to flood already saturated oil markets with an additional one million barrels – a day.
Iran has successfully ‘managed’ its new ally Iraq, kept Assad in power, and maintained its proxy Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon.
With Iran and the US appearing to be at the very least cordial now, Tehran’s influence is only set to grow.
For Iran to grow as a geopolitical power, other players must first retreat.
Backing the wrong horse
By continuing to back Islamist factions in Libya, Syria and Egypt, Qatar misread and miscalculated the response of erstwhile allies in its own front yard.
Nowhere has that been more evident than in Qatar’s commitment to Egypt following the 2011 uprising which resulted in President Hosni Mubarak stepping down and the Muslim Brotherhood eventually winning power through the ballot box.
Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist factions in Egypt.
Egyptian hardline cleric Yussuf Al Qaradawi, who was a vociferous critic of the Mubarak government, returned to Cairo from his home in Doha just a week after the president stepped down.
Qaradawi, who is close to Qatar’s ruling family, is also a strong advocate of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
When the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohamed Morsi was forced from power, many in Egypt felt that Qatar’s Al Jazeera was biased in favor of the Islamist group and openly belligerent against the new government.
According to prominent Middle East commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Al Jazeera was used by the Qatari leadership to the service of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Even after Morsi was imprisoned and put on trial, Al Jazeera continued to support the Muslim Brotherhood despite the advice to the contrary and objections of many of its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the latter having been directly threatened by Brotherhood officials in 2012 and 2013, urged Qatar to back away from supporting the group.
After failing to persuade Qatar to terminate its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and in the wake of Saudi Arabia classifying the group as a terrorist organization, key GCC states turned on Qatar.
They accused Doha of failing to live up to a 2013 GCC security agreement to end support for the Muslim Brotherhood and stop providing sanctuary to its leaders and members.
GCC, oil and Al Jazeera America
In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha.
This was unprecedented among the usually unified and resolute GCC.
The diplomatic rift indicated that there were significant fissures within the GCC and marked a shift in Qatar’s fortunes. How could it influence the region like it once did if it was becoming a pariah among its closest friends and allies?
As Europe, the US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE declared support for the new Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi, Qatar was growing increasingly isolated.
The drastic fall of global oil prices has also delivered a debilitating blow to GCC countries, Qatar included.
Brent Crude was at nearly $110 in 2013; on January 15, 2015 it closed below $30 a barrel – more than a 75 per cent drop.
Funding a civil war that is not paying dividends is not the best of financial decisions given the current oil glut.
Some media analysts have speculated that the drop in oil prices played a role in Qatar deciding to shut down its media operations in the US – Al Jazeera America.
Having lost leverage, Qatar is adopting a more pragmatic approach to carefully chart a way back to international cooperation.
Ahead of his trip to the US last year, Sheikh Tamim said in a New York Times editorial that Qatar sees itself as a force of good. It aggressively seeks to resolve conflict and enjoys playing the role of mediator and arbiter.
Russia has in recent months made significant overtures to several Arab countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Qatar cannot afford to be left out. When Sheikh Tamim arrives in Moscow this weekend he will likely discuss current gas and oil crises with his Russian counterpart as both seek ways to raise global prices.
Qatar could also offer to mediate between Russia and Turkey, one of its strongest allies in the region, following the diplomatic spat between Moscow and Ankara in the wake of the downing of a Russian fighter jet over Syrian air space.
Middle East commentator Camille Otrakji, however, cautions that “one can expect Qatar’s ruler to talk to Russia, without necessarily being ready to stop financing and arming the Jihadists”.
“[The] Qataris show interest in any promising investment, and Russia is today looking very attractive,” he added.
In 2006, then Secretary of State Condi Rice said that the Middle East map was being redrawn.
She likely could have never predicted the Qatar-Russia detente we see today.
Sheikh Akram Al-Kaabi, the leader of Hezbollah al-Nujaba, a major Iraqi Shiite resistance movement fighting Daesh (ISIL/ISIS) in the region, has revealed that the jihadist group receives lavish amounts of money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and modern weaponry from 120 countries around the world, according to the Iranian news agency FARS.
“Saudi Arabia and Qatar are extensively supporting the Takfiri (Daesh and radical Islamist) terrorists financially but surely victory belongs to the resistance groups,” the agency quoted Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi as saying at a meeting with Iranian Shiite cleric Ayatollah Alavi Gorgani in the Iranian city of Qom (also known as Ghom) on Saturday night.
“In the Syria war, 120 countries throughout the world are supplying the terrorists with state-of-the-art equipment and weapons,” added the Iraqi leader.
He voiced concern about the dire humanitarian situation in the besieged towns of Kafria and Foua’a regions in Idlib province, and said sending aid to these two towns is difficult due to the presence of terrorist groups.
Kaabi said that the Takfiri terrorists are still attacking the two Shiite-populated towns and despite the resistance forces’ operations to break the siege of the two towns, they are still under the militants’ control.
Similar concerns have been earlier voiced by Leader of the Lebanese Orthodox Party Masarik Roderick Khoury, who named Turkey as the main sponsor of terrorist groups in Syria.
“Turkey is the first and main power which funds and supplies weapons to terrorist groups. We believe the fight against terrorism should begin with pressuring Turkey. Now Turkey is the main sponsor of terrorism in the region,” Khoury said at a press conference in Moscow in December.
“The name of the real leader of the terrorists is Tayyip Erdogan [Turkish President]. The others like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [Daesh/ISIL leader] and al-Qaeda are just his servants. Al-Nusra Front also carries out orders from Turkey,” he then pointed out.
The Lebanese politician said there was real exidence to the allegations: after the city of Kassab, near Latakia, was liberated from terrorists Turkish ambulance vehicles, clothes and weapons were found there.
Khoury also added that when the terrorists take Syrian or Lebanese hostages they only can be released after negotiations with Turkey.
As the New Year dawns, the neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks remain firmly in control of Official Washington’s storylines – on Syria, Russia and elsewhere – even as their policies continue to wreak havoc across the Mideast and threaten the stability of Europe and indeed the future of civilization.
The latest proof of this dangerous reality came when Saudi Arabia’s repressive Sunni monarchy executed prominent Shiite political leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr for criticizing the nation’s kings and princes. Before the killing, the Obama administration held its tongue in public so as not to antagonize the Saudi royals. (Nimr’s nephew awaits Saudi “crucifixion” for his role as a teenager in Arab Spring protests.)
After the Nimr execution, the State Department issued a mild protest toward the Saudis while blurring the guilt by twinning it with criticism of Iran where outraged protesters damaged the Saudi embassy, which led to Saudi Arabia’s retaliatory breaking of relations with Iran.
“We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said meekly on Sunday, while some senior U.S. officials reportedly seethed in private over the latest Saudi provocation.
“This is a dangerous game they are playing,” one official told The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung while insisting on anonymity to discuss U.S.-Saudi relations.
But the fact that the Obama administration could not voice its revulsion over the Saudi mass head-chopping (along with some firing squads) for 47 men, including Nimr, over the weekend speaks volumes. President Barack Obama and other insiders continue to tip-toe around the unsavory U.S. “alliances” in the Mideast.
Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia sealed its impervious protection from U.S. government criticism by forming an undeclared alliance with Israel around their mutual hatred of Shiite-ruled Iran and its Shiite allies, a cause picked up by American neocons and shared by the career-oriented liberal interventionists.
Some more “realist-oriented” U.S. officials, reportedly including Obama and some national security aides, recognize the havoc that neocon/liberal-hawk strategies continue to wreak across the region and now spreading into Europe, but they act powerless to do anything bold to stop it.
With Israel’s lobby siding with the Sunni states in their bloody rivalry with Shiite states, most U.S. politicians and pundits have scrambled to defend each recurring outrage by the Saudis, Qataris and Turks by trying to flip the script and somehow put the blame on Iran, Syria and Russia.
Getting a Pass
Thus, the Saudis, Qataris and Turks get mostly a pass for arming and enabling radical jihadists, including Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Israel also provides assistance to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front along the Golan Heights and bombs allies of the Syrian government and, of course, faces no official U.S. criticism.
In 2014, when Vice President Joe Biden blurted out the truth about Saudi support for Islamic terrorism inside Syria, he was the one who had to apologize. [Quote at 53:20 of clip.] In 2015, when Saudi Arabia invaded and bombed Yemen after hyping Iran’s support for Houthi rebels, the Obama administration sided with the Saudis even as their wanton attacks on poverty-stricken Yemen killed thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian crisis.
For more than a year after President Obama announced his air war against the Islamic State in summer 2014, Turkey continued to let the terror group run an industrial-style oil smuggling operation from Syria and Iraq through Turkey. Only when Russia entered the conflict last fall was the U.S. government shamed into joining in bombing raids to destroy the truck convoys. Yet, Obama still defended Turkey and bought its promises about finally trying to seal a 100-kilometer gap in its border.
Then, when Turkey retaliated against the Russian anti-terrorist bombing raids inside Syria by willfully shooting down a Russian Su-24 plane whose pilot was murdered after bailing out, Obama again sided with the Turks even though their claim that the Russian plane had violated Turkish air space was dubious at best. By their account, the plane had intruded over a sliver of Turkish territory for 17 seconds.
In other words, whatever these U.S. “allies” do – no matter how brutal and reckless – the Obama administration at least publicly rushes to their defense. Otherwise, the neocon/liberal-hawk “group think” would be offended – and many angry editorials and columns would follow.
While this strange reality may make sense inside Official Washington – where careerism is intense and offending the Israel Lobby is a sure career killer – this pusillanimous approach to these grave problems is endangering U.S. national interests as well as the world’s future.
Not only has the neocon/liberal-interventionist obsession with “regime change” turned the Middle East into a vast killing field but it has now spread instability into Europe, where the fabric of the European Union is being shredded by dissension over how to handle millions of Syrian refugees.
The United Kingdom may vote to leave the E.U., removing one of the original anchors of the European project which — for all its faults — has deservedly gotten credit for replacing a history of European blood-soaked conflicts with peaceful cooperation.
The spreading disorder has had political repercussions in the United States, too, where panic over terrorism is reshaping the presidential race.
Yet, instead of practical solutions such as pressuring all rational sides in the Syrian conflict to engage in peace talks and hold free elections that give the Syrian people the power to decide who their future leaders will be, Official Washington instead generates “talking points,” such as calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “magnet for terrorism” who “must go” – although his forces have done the most to stop an outright victory by Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
If one buys this “magnet” theory, then you’d also have to seek “regime change” in every country that’s been attacked by terrorists, including the United States, France, United Kingdom, Spain, etc. In the case of Syria, what’s remarkable is that the sponsorship of terrorism by U.S. “allies” and indeed by the U.S. government itself has been so blatant. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al Qaeda.”]
However, as far as Official Washington is concerned, it doesn’t really matter what Assad has or hasn’t done. What’s important is that “regime change” in Syria has been on the neocons’ to-do list since at least the mid-1990s – along with the brilliant idea of “regime change” in Iraq. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Israel Out-Foxed US Presidents.”].
The Infallible Neocons
And since the neocons are infallible – as far as they’re concerned – the goal can’t be changed. The only option is to escalate the “regime change” planning to include other countries that get in the way, including Iran and now nuclear-armed Russia.
Yes, that’s the ultimate neocon idea – make the Russian economy scream, overthrow the calculating Vladimir Putin and risk having him replaced by some extreme and unstable nationalist with his or her hand on the nuclear button. That may be how life on the planet ends – but there will be evermore “group thinks” and “talking points” right up to the moment of Armageddon. The neocons can never stop generating false narratives.
Meanwhile, the “liberal interventionists” can boast of their own “regime change” – in Libya, a policy promoted by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who delighted at the gruesome torture-murder of Muammar Gaddafi – “we came, we saw, he died,” she laughed – after having ignored his warnings that the overthrow of his secular government would open the oil-rich country to chaos from radical jihadists, a prediction that has been fulfilled.
Yet, despite this record of spreading chaos and death around the world, the grip that the neocons and liberal hawks have on Official Washington remains almost absolute. They control most of the think tanks – from the Brookings Institution to the American Enterprise Institute – as well as the editorial pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times and pretty much the rest of the mainstream media.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Times’ “news” coverage of the Middle East and Russia has been consistently slanted to favor neocon/liberal-hawk positions. Just as the Times eagerly joined President George W. Bush’s bogus case for invading Iraq in 2003, “the newspaper of record” has peddled false and misleading articles about the crises in Syria and Ukraine as well as promoting anti-Russian propaganda.
In this climate of manufactured “reality,” any old-fashioned foreign policy “realist” – especially one who has criticized Israel – cannot expect to win Senate confirmation to any senior position, establishing what amounts to a blacklist against “realists,” such as happened to ex-U.S. Ambassador Chas Freeman whose intelligence appointment was dropped by Obama in his early days out of fear of offending the Israel Lobby and its many neocon backers.
As the rise of those neocons has played out since their emergence during the Reagan administration, the “realists” who were known for cold-hearted foreign policy calculations to protect American interests have aged, died out or otherwise disappeared. They have been largely replaced by ideologues, either neocons with their intense devotion to right-wing Israeli interests or liberal interventionists who almost invariably side with the neocons but cite “humanitarian” concerns to justify “regime change” wars.
No matter how foolhardy and deadly these policy prescriptions have been, there is almost no way to dislodge the neocons and liberal hawks inside Official Washington, since they monopolize almost all levers of political and media power.
Even when President Obama tried to collaborate under the table with President Putin to reduce tensions in Syria and Iran in 2013, Obama was quickly outmaneuvered by neocons and liberal hawks inside the State Department who pushed for the putsch in Ukraine in 2014 that effectively destroyed the Obama-Putin cooperation. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]
I have long argued that the only way to begin to challenge the neocon/liberal-hawk “group thinks” is to release facts about pivotal events, such as the 2013 Syria-sarin case, the 2014 sniper attacks at Kiev’s Maidan square, and the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. The neocons/liberal hawks currently control all those narratives, using them as clubs to advance ideological agendas just as they did with the false claims about Iraq’s WMD. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Power of False Narrative.”]
But other evidence suggests very different scenarios. Obama and his national security team could either release evidence to confirm the accuracy of the “group thinks” or puncture that self-certainty. Instead Obama has chosen to withhold what the U.S. intelligence community knows about these events, all the better to protect the dominant propaganda narratives.
So, the Obama administration continues down a road of tolerating or condoning outrages by its Mideast “allies” as the President and his timid intelligence bureaucrats do nothing to empower the American people with the truth. It is a recipe for worldwide catastrophe.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Diana Johnstone has written an extremely valuable book on Hillary Clinton, which not only examines in detail Mrs. Clinton’s political history and record, but places them in their evolving political context, which enlightens readers on the domestic and international political environment within which she works and into which she adapts and serves. Mrs. Clinton played an important role in the termination of Honduran democracy in 2009 and in the war on Libya in 2011, during her term as Secretary of State, and she had a lesser role but staked out definite positions in the 1999 war on Yugoslavia and the escalating hostilities against Russia in more recent years. Johnstone has excellent analyses of these cases: in her introductory chapter (a section on “A Taste of Hillary in Action: Hypocrisy on Honduras”) and in separate chapters on Yugoslavia (“Yugoslavia: the Clinton War Cycle”), Libya (“A War of Her Own”) and Russia (“Not Understanding Russia”).
As Johnstone indicates Mrs.Clinton quickly and clearly displayed her regressive, intellectually lightweight and hypocritical policy agenda in connection with the June 28, 2009, military coup in Honduras. She attended an OAS meeting in Honduras just a few weeks earlier, where she saw as her first order task how to prevent the lifting of the 47-year-old ban excluding Cuba, which a large majority of the OAS now considered “an outdated artifact of the Cold War”. Johnstone notes that Hillary and staff solved the problem by pouring the old wine into a new bottle. “No more Cold War, no more ‘communist threat’. ‘Given what President Obama had said about moving past the stale debates of the Cold War,’ Hillary wrote in her memoir Hard Choices, ‘it would be hypocritical of us to continue insisting that Cuba be kept out of the OAS for the reasons it was first suspended in 1962, ostensibly its adherence to ‘Marxism-Leninism’ and alignment ‘with the communist bloc.’ It would be more credible and accurate to focus on Cuba’s present-day human rights violations, which were incompatible with the OAS charter.’”
As Johnstone points out, Hillary sees nothing hypocritical in inventing a transparent device to keep Cuba out while pretending to let Cuba in: “What if we agreed to lift the suspension, but with the condition that Cuba be reseated as a member only if it made enough democratic reforms to bring it in line with the charter? And, to expose the Castro brothers’ contempt for the OAS itself, why not require Cuba to formally request readmittance?” Indeed, this proved just hypocritical enough to persuade the fence-hangers, Brazil and Chile, to go along. Thus Hillary began her diplomatic career in Latin America by rebranding hostility to any independent socio-economic policy from “anti-communism” to defense of “human rights”, by transparent hypocrisy enforced by arm-twisting, and by enforcing the Monroe Doctrine in both domestic and international affairs.
During and after the Honduran coup that followed, the Clinton State Department refused to call it a coup, and engaged in steady apologetics and protection of the coup leaders and their terroristic and corrupt new order. As Johnstone concludes, following a useful account of the negative outcome: “When a white hat appears on the horizon of a wretched place like Honduras proclaiming his intention to try to improve conditions [here the ousted president Manuel Zelaya], couldn’t the rich and powerful United States react otherwise than stigmatizing him as a potential ‘dictator’? Instead of giving an advocate of change the opportunity to try, Hillary’s State Department connived to help bundle him out of power. All is back to normal; however below normal that particular normal happens to be…. As we will see throughout this book, the foreign policy of Hillary Clinton amounts to the application of an enlarged Monroe Doctrine to the entire world.”
Mrs. Clinton has portrayed herself as an employer of “soft power,” but in reality Johnstone shows that she has had a strong proclivity toward the use of force. She hasn’t been bothered by its extensive use in post-coup Honduras, she pushed for it in Yugoslavia in 1999, she supported the invasion of Iraq, and it was central in her own war in Libya in 2011. She has been extremely hostile to Putin and seems to be anxious to fight with him in Ukraine and possibly elsewhere..She was a strong supporter of the war-mongering Madeleine Albright during Bill Clinton’s tenure, and her own appointments have included a string of militant women –Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power. Johnstone observes that: “A salient trait of the new school of women diplomats is that they are strikingly undiplomatic. Indeed, Madeleine Albright’s greatest diplomatic success [in the Yugoslavia war], was to obstruct diplomacy.” Secretary of State Clinton also appointed the notorious neocon husband of Victoria Nuland, Robert Kagan, as an adviser.
One of her soft power triumphs was the intense politician-media-human rights organizations’ campaign on the trials and tribulations of the Pussy Riot group in Russia. This group achieved notoriety by arrests following their occupation and interruption of the service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which offended worshipers on the spot with anti-Christian obscenities, not by any “political messages.” They had their escapade videotaped, with a post-occupation addition of an attack on Putin. This was made in the West into a telling proof of a free speech crackdown, and by Putin, although the police had been called in by Church officials. And this group had been carrying out similar antics for some years without arrest or trial. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch made this into major campaigns in defense of Russian freedom, although these same organizations put up no defense at all for Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake or Edward Snowden. A similar group Semen, specializing in female bare breast exhibition, had similar success in France. Hillary Clinton was proud to be photographed with the Pussy Riot heroines, and her former State Department associate Susan Nossel, pushed the Pussy Riot-anti-Putin campaign aggressively from her position as head of Amnesty International (a low point in AI history). Johnstone has a valuable analysis of this episode and campaign.
Johnstone places Mrs. Clinton in the context of the triumph of the military-industrial complex and the derived forward actions of the warfare state. The gradual triumph of the MIC and rising inequality have made domestic reform out of bounds for political leaders in this country. But aggressive actions abroad are actually required to demonstrate belief in the “exceptional” nation called upon to “shape” the world in accord with U.S. free market ideology, and to feed the demands of the MIC. Johnstone argues that “The United States no longer even makes war in order to win, but rather to make sure that the other side loses.” Thus the fact that Mrs. Clinton’s wars were not won in any meaningful sense has not dented her popularity where it counts. She has kept the MIC busy and dealt blows to proper targets.
The American people swallow this nonsense because the wars are kept at a distance, no U.S. homes are blown up, and “for most Americans, U.S. wars are simply a branch of the entertainment industry, something to hear about on television but rarely seen.” Popular illusions are maintained by the “political branch of the entertainment industry: politicians, mass media news coverage, defense intellectuals, commentators.” These are sponsored by members of the underlying power structure, and Johnstone suggests that we can learn about these sponsors by examining the list of Clinton Foundation donors who have contributed millions of dollars, supposedly for charity:
“Eight digit donors [10 million or more] include: Saudi Arabia, the pro-Israel Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, and the Saban family.”… Seven digit sponsors include: Kuwait, Exxon Mobil, ‘Friends of Saudi Arabia,’ James Murdoch, Qatar, Boeing, Dow, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and the United Arab Emirates,” Earlier in her book Johnstone notes that billionaire Haim Saban was especially taken with Mrs. Clinton, declaring in a Bloomberg interview in July 2014 that he would contribute “as much as needed” to elect her to the presidency; also mentioning that “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”
Johnstone asks “What is it about the Clintons that makes them so popular, particularly with Saudi Arabia?” She answers: “With friends like that, you need enemies. And Hillary knows where to find them – in countries these friendly donors don’t like. In her driving ambition to be the First Woman President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton has made herself a figment of the collective imagination by fitting herself into the role of top salesperson for the ruling oligarchy:
• She has shifted her interest from children’s rights, a field with no big money backers, to promotion of military power (also known as ‘the only language they understand’).
• She has spread the message that U.S. interference in other countries is motivated by the generous impulse to spread ‘our ideals’ to the dark corners of elsewhere.
• She readily treats foreign heads of state with dehumanizing contempt, declaring that they have ‘no soul’, or ‘no conscience’, and dismissing them as lowly creatures that ‘must go’.
• She ‘misspeaks’, but sees nothing wrong with that. In politics, who doesn’t ‘misspeak’? She is not there to tell the truth, but to tell her story.
• She can still pose as a woman whose only aspiration is to ‘break the glass ceiling’ for the benefit of all women, who will now be able to fill all the top jobs in the country… thanks to Hillary!”
“In short, she has used all the stereotypical clichés of the ‘exceptional America’ narrative as rungs in her ladder to the top. Hillary Clinton’s performance as Secretary of State was a great success in one respect: it has made her the favorite candidate of the War Party. This appears to have been her primary objective. But Hillary Clinton is far from being the whole problem. The fundamental problem is the War Party and its tight grip on U.S. policy.”
Diana Johnstone has written an exceptional book that enlightens on Hillary Clinton’s history, role and threat and the war system context in which she thrives.
• First Published at Z Magazine. November 2015
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, recently visited Moscow to discuss the Syrian crisis with his colleague Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin. Journalists observed handshakes, smiles, even hearty laughter, between Kerry and his Russian counterparts. Syrian President Bashar al Assad does not have to resign immediately, Kerry declared, and the United States is not trying to isolate Russia. What good news, and what a surprise for the Russians. The Moscow show seemed a great success. Kerry strolled along Stariy Arbat Street, met smiling Russian pedestrians and bought souvenirs to take home. A few days later the UN Security Council passed a resolution, calling for a ceasefire and negotiations. Russian and western journalists alike now say there is some hope to avoid the worst in Syria. And as you may already know, if the United States wants a ceasefire, it’s because their «moderate» Jihadist allies are getting beaten up now by the Syrian Arab Army backed by Russian air support.
Is cautious optimism warranted about a Syrian peace? It is hard to see how. Kerry may say whatever he wants in Moscow, but when he gets back to Washington, he sings a different song, or his colleagues do. His boss, President Obama, said «Assad has to go» only a few days after Kerry returned home. And then there is the new phantasmagorical story published by Seymour B Hersh, the muckraking US journalist, who has revealed that not everyone inside the US government is brain dead. It’s a remarkable discovery when you think about US foreign policy. Some military officials, and no less than the former Chief of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, were actually indirectly, and very secretly, passing military intelligence to the Syrian government to help it fight Daesh, Al-Qaeda and allied Jihadist forces operating in Syria. At the same time, the CIA, with Obama’s support, was sending arms hither and thither in Syria to help the Jihadists overthrow the Assad government.
General Dempsey left office in September 2015 and was replaced by General Joseph Dunford, a true blue Russophobe, who says Russia is an «existential threat» to the United States. It is a classic Washington response: the US aggressor accuses its intended victim of aggression. Just the other day (22 December), the United States slapped on gratuitous new sanctions against Russia. It’s the same old pretext: Russian «aggression» in the Ukraine.
Yet another US provocation, you might think, as Russia searches for a peaceful settlement of the Syrian war. The Russian government is taking a sensible position, but in the present circumstances, is a negotiated peace a real possibility? If the war in Syria were simply a civil war, as is often repeated in the media, you could encourage the belligerents to put on suits and ties and sit down at a table to negotiate a settlement. Unfortunately, the war in Syria is not a civil war: it is rather a proxy war of aggression led by the United States, Britain, and France (until the Paris massacre in November), and pursued vigorously in the region by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Apartheid Israel.
Turkey is playing a dirty, evil role. It provides arms and supplies across its borders for Daesh in Syria. Oil taken from Syrian wells by Daesh travels in the opposite direction, sold at cut rate prices, to provide revenue to the Jihadists for their war against Assad. It is estimated that Daesh was obtaining $40 millions a month from exported oil (before Russian intervention), but this is a bagatelle in terms of the money necessary for the Jihadists to wage war against Syria. Hundreds of millions are required. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are important suppliers and financiers of the Salafi Jihadist movement. Jordan permits training of Jihadists on its territory and allows passage across its frontiers into Syria. Israel also provides support from the occupied Golan territory, even providing medical care to wounded Jihadists. A coalition of states, four of which are NATO members, is waging a war of aggression against Syria. Against this array of deadly enemies, the Syrian government and the Syrian Arab Army, in a remarkable feat of arms, has been able to hold out for more than four years. President Assad has proven his courage and tenacity as a leader by refusing US summons to resign and by staying in Damascus to share the personal danger which all Syrians must endure simply to live in their country. No wonder Obama wants to get rid of Assad before talk about Syrian elections for he would almost certainly win them.
Sputnik in Moscow has estimated that there are as many as 70,000 foreign Jihadists fighting in Syria.
These forces appear for the most part are well motivated, supplied largely with US weapons and deeply entrenched in various parts of Syria. Since the Russian intervention on the side of the Syrian government, progress has been made in rooting out Jihadist forces, but as long as supply routes remain open across Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, even Lebanon, the war in Syria is not going to end.
Turkey’s role is particularly dangerous. It is a NATO member and it uses this privileged position to commit acts of aggression against Iraq and Syria. It shot down a Russian warplane in a well-planned ambush, likely with US connivance, and then ran to hide in NATO’s skirts. Apparently, the Turkish government hoped to sabotage budding European cooperation with Russia against Daesh, or to provoke a NATO-Russian war, as insane as that might seem. Other NATO members, the United States, France, and Britain, have also been deeply involved in the proxy war against Syria. Indeed, after the destruction of Libya, it has been reported that NATO planes were secretly used to transport Jihadists and Libyan arms to other Middle Eastern fronts. NATO members are effectively allied with Daesh and its Al-Qaeda derivatives against the Syrian government.
To be sure, the United States and its European vassals have attempted to cover up their links to the Jihadist war in Syria by launching make-believe air attacks on Daesh targets, occasionally bombing a caterpillar tractor here or there and blowing up a lot of sand in people’s eyes. Russian intervention exposed the double game of the United States and changed the balance of military forces in Syria.
Even now however, the US air force sends warning messages to Jihadist truck drivers to get away from their vehicles before it attacks them. Or it refuses altogether to attack trucks carrying Daesh oil, claiming it’s private civilian property. How preposterous! Since World War II, when has the United States hesitated to attack civilian targets? It is understandable that Obama and the CIA, having been caught red-handed in Syria, are furious with Putin for exposing them. Nevertheless, the Russian government has offered the United States, a porte de sortie, pushing for an anti-Jihadist alliance and peace talks to settle the war.
Peace is a marvelous idea and the US escape route, a practical gesture, but how is Foreign Minister Lavrov going to get Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, and Israel, not to mention the United States and Britain, to stop supporting the Jihadist movement in Syria and Iraq? Talk about an impossible alliance: it’s like taking a writhing nest of asps to your breast and hoping they won’t bite you. Are such hopes realistic? «Maybe not but that’s diplomacy,» Lavrov might respond: «we have to try nevertheless». These days it takes infinite patience and great theatrical skills to be a Russian diplomat. Russia is trying to finesse the United States into dropping its support of «moderate» Jihadists. In fact, such moderates do not exist.
Neither does the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Jihadists decapitate a few hapless victims, and FSA volunteers run away in horror leaving their arms for Daesh. Or, they laugh at the infidels’ stupidity and go over, arms in hand, to the Jihadist side.
Even if Russia could get real commitments from the United States, which is as yet quite uncertain, what is to be done about Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states? And what is to be done with all the foreign Jihadists in Syria? Are these terrorists and war criminals going to be encouraged to return to the 40+ different countries whence they came to stir up violence there? And what is to be done about the Syrian Jihadists, though there is no open source information about their numbers? Will they be allowed to remain at large, or worse, will they be recognised as a legitimate Syrian opposition?
Even an anti-Jihadist coalition of willing members will have hard work rooting out Daesh and its allies. But the coalition of asps which Russia is trying to organise is composed of Daesh supporters. How is that going to work? One fears not at all well since the would-be alliance members, with the possible exception of France, have not abandoned their backing of Daesh, whatever one hears to the contrary notwithstanding. The United States remains the chief culprit continuing to pursue its two-faced, dangerous policies.
«The four core elements of Obama’s Syria policy remain intact today», Seymour Hersh says: «an insistence that Assad must go; that no anti-IS (Islamic State) coalition with Russia is possible; that Turkey is a steadfast ally in the war against terrorism; and that there really are significant moderate opposition forces for the US to support».
Policy based on false premises invariably leads to failure. Obama’s policy is no exception. Assad is a courageous leader of Syrian resistance against the Jihadist invasion. The only possible successful coalition against Daesh, Al-Qaeda and their affiliates is with Assad and with Russia. Turkey is a dangerous provocateur, playing with matches amongst open kegs of gunpowder, trying to drag NATO into a deeper de facto alliance with Daesh or even war with Russia. Finally, there are no «moderate» Jihadist forces in Syria. The Free Syrian Army barely exists at all, and the so-called moderates are no less murderous than their Daesh allies.
One cannot fault the Russians for trying to organise an anti-Jihadist alliance in Syria, but their potential allies, apart perhaps from the apparently repentant French, are all snakes in the grass. And Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, is the biggest snake of all. «Do you realise what you have done?» Putin asked at the UN in September. Not yet apparently, reports to the contrary notwithstanding. But then, as we know, there are none so blind as those who will not see.
A high-ranking Iraqi military commander has accused Turkey of providing members of the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group, who are wreaking havoc in neighboring Iraq, with shelter.
Spokesman for Badr Organization Karim al-Nouri said on Thursday, “Turks are clearly helping Daesh,” adding that the process is “obvious” and “does not require additional evidence.”
“The problem of Daesh has not appeared out of nothing. It did not arise from the ground or fell from the sky. Someone lets them (Daesh militants) travel through different countries. They use the airports, hospitals. Where are the leaders of Daesh treated? They are treated in the hospitals of Turkey,” Nouri said.
He added that Deash extremists from Uzbekistan, Chechnya and other regions sneak into Iraq and Syria via Turkey.
“Turkey recruits and sends them to Iraq and Syria. It is clear as daylight and needs no proof. It is always hard to explain the obvious things.
“We have a lot of documents that prove that the greatest logistical support and supply routes are provided by Turks. The militants even return to their countries through Turkey,” Nouri said.
The senior Iraqi military figure said Daesh militants, who murdered between 560 and 770 captured Iraqi soldiers at Camp Speicher near the oil-rich northern city of Tikrit back in June, went to Turkey after the massacre.
“I have documents proving the connection of one person to the events in the Speicher. He was arrested because he participated in events in the Speicher. After the Speicher carnage, he went to Turkey and then came back again. This problem is obvious. It is known to everyone and does not require additional evidence,” Nouri said.
This is not the first time Ankara is being implicated in support for Daesh, whose militants have been committing vicious crimes against all ethnic and religious communities, including Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and others, in Iraq and Syria.
Apart from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar also stand accused of contributing to the violence that has gripped the neighboring Arab states for the past two years.