Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 12:24
Below is my column from the latest print version of CounterPunch Magazine. It was written back on June 10, and published a bit later. Much water has gone under the bridge since then – much fire too – but as the piece is on a more general theme, I thought I’d go ahead and put it up.
The red wheel of the "War on Terror" – which under the guiding hand of the Nobel prince of peace has mutated into a hydra-headed War on Everything and Everybody Everywhere All the Time – continues on its reckless, destructive way, bringing ruin to the present and sowing disaster for the future.
The Middle East, home of four the world's most volatile religions – Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Petrochemical Extremism – is now more unstable and violent than it has been for decades, perhaps centuries. American-led military interventions have laid waste to two societies – Iraq and Libya – and spread violent extremism throughout the region, and deep into Africa. Washington, working closely with its beloved ally – the repressive, head-chopping, woman-hating propagator of retrograde religious extremism, Saudi Arabia – is now working relentlessly to turn Syria into a hellhole of ungovernable chaos dominated by warlords, like Somalia or Afghanistan.
At every single turn, without exception, the "War on Terror" and its successor have exacerbated the problems they are ostensibly designed to quell. The depredations of these morally insane (but immensely profitable) enterprises have radicalized multitudes of people across the world, destroying whole nations, blighting the future of generations, driving many to outrage and despair, prey to ideologies that promise revenge, retribution, a new beginning. Al Qaeda – the supposed Great Satan of our Terror Warriors – is now far more powerful than ever. Once a handful of cranks controlling a few compounds in remote Afghanistan, al Qaeda-associated groups now control vast swathes of territory in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The Pakistani Taliban, once restricted to distant border regions, now launches attacks in the urban heart of the country. Groups like Boko Haram feast on the weapons unleashed by the West's destruction of the Libyan state, and on the despair engendered by the corruption, repression and hopelessness imposed on Nigeria by Petrochemical Extremism. There are many more examples of this pernicious dynamic.
We are told this War on Everything is a war to defend "our values": democracy, liberty, tolerance, justice. Yet at every single turn, without exception, every single day, day in, day out, year after year, our Terror Warriors show the world that their "values" – which they claim are "our" values, the values of Western civilization – bring nothing but death, grief, corruption, repression, extremism, injustice. To those on the receiving end of the Terror War – and we're talking of millions upon millions of people – "Western civilization" has become a thing of dread and loathing, a crazed predator who mouths pieties and prayers while he burns down your house and kills your children. Nothing has subverted and denigrated the image of "Western values" more than the bipartisan Terror War. It is itself the greatest sustained attack on "Western values," on "our way of life," that we have seen in generations.
And this is true not only in regard to the image of Western values that the Terror War has shown to the world, but also in the way that it has been brought home against the West's own populations, especially in the United States and Britain. It is an indisputable fact that Americans and Britons are less free than before, to a marked degree: more heavily policed in what they say and do, in what they can publish and read, where they can go and can’t go; subjected to a level of pervasive, invasive surveillance far beyond the dreams of the KGB or Gestapo; subject to arbitrary detention – or even, at the President's order, extrajudicial assassination, if accused in secret of some nebulous connection to terrorism. The physical and social infrastructure of their societies are crumbling, as massive resources are redirected to sustain the gargantuan military/security apparatus and "project dominance" around the world. (And of course, another aim of this unprecedented redistribution is to starve the welfare state in order to feed the rich, whose wealth grows ever greater in a system sustained by Terror War, thus ensuring their support for its continuance.)
Far from "draining the swamp" of extremist-spawning elements, the continual interventions and drone strikes and death squads and subversions of the West’s Terror War have toxified the "swamp" beyond all measuring. Whole generations are now being raised in these conditions of howling chaos, of death and ruin and rejection and despair, with violent extremism on all sides, teaching them every day that this is the way of the world, this is the only way of the world. As Hamlet said: it is not nor it cannot come to good.
Yet still the wheel rolls on – toward ever greater dangers. For the War on Everything and Everyone is just that; it’s not restricted to the Middle East, or to Africa, or to wherever Muslims dwell. Under the wise guidance of the Nobel-belaurelled One in the White House, the Red Wheel is now “pivoting” toward Asia, trying ever more frantically to thwart the threat to Western dominance posed by the rise of China. It’s “pivoting” toward the underbelly of Russia, and pressing Western military power right up to the Russian frontier. Western elites are playing with Promethean fire – and have demonstrated, over and over again, that they have no vision, no restraint, no thought for the consequences of their actions.
We have seen unbearable horrors so far; but we may yet see horrors beyond description, beyond all imagining.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 18 July 2014 23:41
As Israel begins its latest ground assault on the Gaza Ghetto -- accompanied by whoops of support across the American political and media spectrum -- it is worth remembering this:
For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest military power has launched a full-scale armed onslaught on one of its most deprived and overcrowded territories. Since Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip began, just over a week ago, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly 80% of the dead are civilians, over 20% of them children.
But the idea that Israel is responding to a hail of rockets out of a clear blue sky takes “narrative framing” beyond the realm of fantasy. … The latest violence is supposed to have been triggered by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, for which Hamas denied responsibility. But its origin clearly lies in the collapse of US-sponsored negotiations for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the spring.
That was followed by the formation of a “national reconciliation” government by the Fatah and Hamas movements, whose division has been a mainstay of Israeli and US policy. Israeli incursions and killings were then stepped up, including attacks on Palestinian civilians by armed West Bank settlers. In May, two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by the Israeli army with barely a flicker of interest outside the country.
It’s now clear the Israeli government knew from the start that its own kidnapped teenagers had been killed within hours. But the news was suppressed while a #BringBackOurBoys campaign was drummed up and a sweeping crackdown launched against Hamas throughout the West Bank. Over 500 activists were arrested and more than half a dozen killed – along with a Palestinian teenager burned to death by settlers. Binyamin Netanyahu’s aim was evidently to signal that whatever deal Hamas had signed with Mahmoud Abbas would never be accepted by Israel.
Gaza had nothing to do with the kidnapping, but Israeli attacks were also launched on the strip and Hamas activists killed. It was those killings and the West Bank campaign that led to Hamas resuming its rocket attacks – and in turn to Israel’s devastating bombardment.
It is also worth remembering this:
Over the past 14 years, Israel has killed Palestinian children at a rate of more than two a week. There seems to be no Israeli child in harm’s way that Barack Obama will not compare to his own daughters, but their Palestinian counterparts are brushed aside with mantras about Israel’s right to self-defence. The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence, but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.
So we are now in the midst of two major military operations where American-backed governments are killing large numbers of civilians with the full approval of the West's political and media elite. The outcome of the American-backed coup in Ukraine has devolved into a civil war which has laid waste to cities and killed hundreds of people, fighters and civilians alike. This week it also claimed the life of 295 innocent civilians on an Air Malaysia flight.
It’s obvious what happened. Undertrained rocket jockeys among the rebels mistook the airliner for a Ukrainian military transport plane and fired. That is to say, it was a ghastly accident of the sort we are always told is one of regrettable consequences of war -- when it happens to American forces or their allies. We all recall that a US Navy vessel accidentally blew a civilian Iranian airliner out of the sky in 1988. The accident occurred after the commander, William Rogers, had invaded Iranian waters and was attacking the Iranian gunboats which, naturally enough, had come to investigate this act of aggression. Distracted by the sea skirmish he had provoked, Rogers and his crew hastily fired on the airliner before its true identity could be confirmed. Rogers was later awarded the Legion of Merit for his tenure on the ship, which included the slaughter of 290 civilians.
In a similar fashion, most Western politicians and pundits have excused what seems to be Israel's gratuitous killing of four Palestinian children on a peaceful beach -- right in front of the hotel where Western reporters were staying; hardly a hotbed of Hamas "terrorism"-- as one of those inevitable, tragic "mix-ups" that happen in war. And of course, the Ukrainian military itself accidentally shot down a civilian airliner in 2001, killing 78 people, most of them Israelis flying to visit relatives in Russia. After initial denials, Ukraine finally admitted that the plane was accidentally shot down by its military forces in a missile training exercise gone awry. The government paid compensation to Israel and the victims' families, and the matter was settled.
But the Malaysian Air incident will not be given the same treatment. Indeed, the very next day, the British press was filled with screaming headlines about "Russian terror missiles" and a deliberate "terrorist attack" on the airplane, and how, if Russian involvement is shown, "there'll be hell to pay!" (As if either the Ukrainian rebels or the Kremlin would gain the slightest advantage by shooting down a civilian airplane on purpose.)
Meanwhile in the United States, similar bellicose noises were being made. The already anointed next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton, thundered that Putin "had gone too far" while the current warmer of the Oval Office seat made ready for new sanctions on Russia -- having already imposed more sanctions earlier in the week. He also made a stirring speech about the “men, women, children and infants” who were killed in Malaysian Air attack. This, from a man who each week ticks off lists of people to be assassinated around the world, and who has killed hundreds of civilians in drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. The deaths of the airline passengers is indeed a wrenching human tragedy; but it strains credulity to believe that Obama – or anyone else in the bloodthirsty Beltway elite – felt the slightest genuine remorse about the incident. They are only concerned with how politically useful it might be.
Yet we have seen a parade of Washington worthies (and their courtier pundits) expressing outrage that Russia might have supplied heavy weapons to the Ukrainian rebels. Really now! Just try to imagine the evil of intervening militarily in the internal affairs of another nation! Imagine stoking conflicts by pouring weapons into them1 The whole Beltway came down with a fit of the vapours at the very thought.
The fact is, of course, there would be no military conflict in Ukraine right now if the United States and its European allies had not backed -- with billions of dollars and feverish backroom maneuvering -- the ouster of a democratically elected president for choosing to sign an economic deal with Russia rather than the EU. This, even though elections were to be held later this year that would have almost certainly removed the corrupt president by democratic means. Instead, a new government was installed, with avowedly neo-fascist factions given prominent and powerful positions. Indeed, neofascist militias have been playing a large role in the new government's military assault on rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Now hundreds of civilians are dead -- including 40 ethnic Russians burned alive by neofascist militias in Odessa. Ukraine is mired in civil war. Russia has taken over Crimea. An airliner has been shot down. Putin's authoritarian regime has been strengthened at home. A new Cold War has begun, with all the lurking dangers of "hot war" flaring up. The world has been even more destabilized.
Seems a pretty high price to pay for one trade agreement.
But of course, it's not just about the economic deal. It's all part of the "great game" that Western powers have been playing across the world for centuries now. It's about extending dominance and bagging loot. It's about punishing, confining, degrading -- and sometimes, as in Iraq, destroying -- any nation that doesn't open itself up to exploitation or offers any resistance or any alternative to the "Washington consensus" of neoliberal predation. Washington and its Euro-satraps want a pro-Western Ukraine; they do not care about the consequences, or how much ruin, death and chaos it takes to get what they want. They also want a diminished, toothless, acquiescent Russia. Doubtless they have the same attitude toward the consequences -- which means the world is in great peril.
I hold no brief for Hamas, Putin, the former Ukrainian government, the pro-Russian rebels. All of them are unsavory in their various ways. But the heedless insanity of Western policy -- led by the bipartisan American elite -- is building a future in hell for us all. Meddling, pushing, arming, funding, scheming, suborning, corrupting, colluding, drone-bombing, assassinating -- everywhere, all over the world, all the time, pressing for advantage that only ever accrues to their elites … while their own countries decay under brutal, unnecessary "austerity" and near-total political dysfunction.
Because these reckless adventures do have consequences. (For a shattering view of the consequences of the American war crime in Iraq, see this piece by Dahr Jamail.) They don't simply pop up then go away when the news cycle moves on. They reverberate for years, for decades, in horrible, unseen ways. For example, consider the unbelievable folly of Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1979 -- arming "holy warriors" to destabilize Afghanistan and draw the Soviets into invading – which led directly to the "War on Terror." The CIA's machinations -- in two coups -- to put Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party into power led to the deaths of millions of people, from the two Gulf Wars, from the Western sanctions, from Saddam's repression and his American-backed war with Iran. The list could go on and on.
And why are we in the situation in Ukraine today, and the new Cold War it has engendered? (Or exacerbated.) Why is there a bristling, distrustful authoritarian regime in Russia? Why did Ukraine face such a stark choice between the West (or rather, the financial straitjacket of the EU's "austerity" program) and the dubious embrace of the Kremlin regime? How did we get from the bright promise of the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved -- without civil war, without a color revolution, without NGOs and "democracy-building programs," without military intervention, without (gasp!) social media -- to the bloodstained muck of today?
There are many elements at work in the development of the current situation, of course, but one very large component is clear: the deceit, arrogance and greed of American policy in the early days of Russia's faltering steps toward democracy. And as John Walsh makes clear in CounterPunch, this destructive policy was advanced with reckless abandon by Bill Clinton and his team -- which of course included that anointed future president of the United States (AFPOTUS), Hillary Clinton.
Ever more antiwar voices are clamoring for a Stop Hillary Clinton movement in the Democratic primaries – and with very good reason. There are many alarming, indeed frightening, indictments of her tenures as one-half president in the 90s and then as Senator and Secretary of State. Her estranged relationship with truth, her callousness toward human life and her love for every imperial military adventure and regime change scheme are beyond worrisome. They are downright scary.
But the most damning indictment yet of the Clintons on the world stage comes in the book Superpower Illusions by former Ambassador to the USSR, Jack Matlock. … [Matlock writes]:
“The Clinton administration’s decision to expand NATO to the East rather than draw Russia into a cooperative arrangement to ensure European security undermined the prospects of democracy in Russia, made it more difficult to keep peace in the Balkans and slowed the process of nuclear disarmament started by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. …
“For all of its initial talk about a ‘partnership for reform,’ the Clinton administration dealt with Russia as if it no longer counted, even in European politics. Two decisions in particular turned Russian public opinion during the years of the Clinton administration from strongly pro-American to vigorous opposition to American policies abroad. The first was the decision to extend the NATO military structure into countries that had previously been members of the Warsaw Pact – something Gorbachev had understood would not happen if he allowed a united Germany to remain in NATO. The second was the decision to bomb Serbia without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
“There was no need to expand NATO to ensure the security of the newly independent countries of Eastern Europe. There were other ways those countries could have been reassured and protected without seeming to re-divide Europe to Russia’s disadvantage. As for the bombing of Serbia, if NATO had not been enlarged in the manner that occurred, Russia’s government would been much more willing to put pressure on Slobodan Milosevic to come to terms with the Kosovars and – if unsuccessful in this effort – more willing to vote in the United Nations to authorize military intervention…….Clinton’s actions severely damaged the credibility of democratic leaders in Russia who appealed for a more considerate attitude toward Russian national interests. …
“The Clinton administration was deaf to these appeals as well as those of George Kennan the author of the successful containment policy, who warned that enlarging NATO in the proposed manner would be the ‘most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.’ …
“The Clinton administration, without any provocation, in effect repeated a fundamental mistake made at Versailles in 1919. … The Clinton administration practically ensured that … Russia would lose its incentive to reduce nuclear weapons….My point is that the United States should have made every effort to bring the European states, West and East, and including Russia into a new security arrangement…..
“The Clinton administration’s action in bombing Serbia without U.N. approval not only enraged Russia and made close cooperation on nuclear issues more difficult, but it also sent a message to other countries with policies or practices that met American disapproval: Better get nuclear weapons as fast as you can! Otherwise, you can become a target for the U.S. Air Force.”
As Walsh notes, Hillary Clinton was an enthusiastic backer of all these actions, and has continued to be an eager champion of military adventuring, such as the ruinous "regime change" in Libya, which has spread violence, extremism -- and weapons -- throughout Africa. Indeed, she has lately been boasting of how tougher she is than Obama, making it clear that she wanted to arm the Syrian rebels -- that is, she wanted to give high-powered weapons to anti-government rebels in an internal conflict in another country: the very thing she now condemns Putin for doing.
When the Soviet Union fell, there was an opening -- a genuine opening -- to make a better world. But America's bipartisan elites refused to take that path. Instead they chose a threatening military expansion, after promising not to do it. They chose the "Shock Doctrine" tactics of hyper-capitalism, driving millions of people into desperate ruin and early deaths, while empowering gangsters and crooks whose predatory instincts fit well with the new system. At every turn, they chose policies and supported corrupt leaders and a corrupt system that led people to see "democracy" as a dirty word, a hypocritical mask for robbery and repression. They chose to keep Russia down, keep it cowed and contained; they chose, as Matlock said, to re-divide the world, seeing the Soviet collapse not as an opportunity to make a safer, more secure and prosperous future for their own people -- but as a chance to push their sick agenda of domination, greed and elite rule.
And now these same fools, and their equally foolish successors,are astonished that Russia has not become a safe and peaceful liberal democracy but has instead turned to authoritarianism -- as happens to many societies in chaos, grasping at any straw that seems to promise (however falsely) some way out of the abyss. They are astonished that the Russian regime mirrors the meddling, arms peddling and power-gaming that they have practiced ruthlessly for generations – just as they express astonishment and outrage that a people who have been violently repressed and confined for decades would dare to strike back at a regime that has killed multitudes of their children and literally sealed them up behind a concrete wall, as in Gaza.
So with the horrors raging in Ukraine and Gaza (and Iraq and Syria), we have now arrived at another turning point – yet another further turning away from sanity and humanity, toward more war, more hatred, more enmity, more grasping, more greed, and more – many, many more – needless deaths.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 14 July 2014 23:32
Israel’s disproportionate and increasingly pernicious role in American politics and policies is well-known. But Washington’s decades-long collusion of corruption with the repressive, retrograde regime of Saudi Arabia has if anything been even more disastrous for the world.
Historians of the next millennium will look back on the fatal bargain that humanity has made with fossil fuels as one of the great wrong turnings in the history of homo sapiens. By the end of this century it will have burned or drowned vast portions of the planet and plunged billions of people into ruin and suffering. The benefits that arose from our oil-based civilization cannot be denied — yes, I too am glad that an ambulance can get me quickly to the hospital or fly me across the ocean to see my children — but the cost of these benefits has been immense, and there is far worse to come in the years ahead … not least for those same beloved children.
One of the most deleterious effects of fossil-fuelled civilization has been the prominence that geographical happenstance has given to Saudi Arabia. Its vast reserves of oil has meant that governments of every stripe have overlooked its horrendous oppression and its global propagation of one of the most narrow and ignorant perversions of Islam. This is particularly striking given the fact that for the past 30 years, “Islamic extremism” has been the chief bugbear and bloody shirt waved by Western powers seeking to maintain and extend their dominance of world affairs. All of these powers — Washington especially — have always known that the greatest backing, financing and arming of “Islamic extremism” have come from the elite of Saudi Arabia … the same elite that the Western powers have cravenly courted, decade after decade.
Without oil, Saudi Arabia would be one of the world’s pariah states, where women are oppressed to a degree unseen in any other nation, where clerics wearing 17th-century blinkers behead people for the crime of falling in love with the “wrong” person, where the political freedom of ordinary people is stifled on a level nearly commensurate with that of North Korea. But Saudi Arabia does have oil. And so its oppression, misogyny, brutality and tyranny is not only excused by the West’s great champions of democracy; it is honored, celebrated and sustained with arms deals and diplomatic support — and, of course, the trillions of dollars that have flowed to the kingdom from every corner gas station in America for decades.
This collusion with extremism has grown even more deadly since 9/11 — the beginning of what looks almost certain to be a century of “war on terrorism.” Indeed, one of Saudi Arabia’s great facilitators of Islamic extremism — its longtime ambassador to Washingon, Prince Bandar — was so close to the American power structure that he was known as “Bandar Bush” — an honorary member of one of the leading families of the American ruling elite. Even while America is ostensibly fighting an ever-expanding war against “Islamic extremism,” it is coddling and colluding with the most active and effective supporter of Islamic extremism in the world, Saudi Arabia. A cynic might see in this bizarre symbiosis the perfect expression of the murderous corruption at the heart of our political world — and of our whole oil-based civilization.
The horrific turmoil we are seeing in the Middle East today — particularly with the rise of ISIS — grows from that selfsame soil. In an excellent article this week, Patrick Cockburn traces the rise of ISIS in part to a long-term plan by Prince Bandar and the Saudi elite to eliminate their hated sectarian rivals, the Shiites, while protecting and extending their own repressive and illegitimate ascendancy over the Middle East — and Islam as a whole. As so often happens with these grand plans — like the neo-con vision of “remaking” the oil regions through military conquest — the Saudi scheme has gone badly awry: the puppets have cut the strings, and are now threatening the puppet-master.
You should read the Cockburn piece in full, but here are a few excerpts:
How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”
The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit. …
There is no doubt about the accuracy of the quote by Prince Bandar, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 and head of General Intelligence between 2012 and 2014, the crucial two years when al-Qa’ida-type jihadis took over the Sunni-armed opposition in Iraq and Syria. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004, emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar’s words, saying that they constituted “a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed”.
He does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” This sounds realistic since the tribal and communal leadership in Sunni majority provinces is much beholden to Saudi and Gulf paymasters, and would be unlikely to cooperate with Isis without their consent.
… The forecast by Prince Bandar, who was at the heart of Saudi security policy for more than three decades, that the 100 million Shia in the Middle East face disaster at the hands of the Sunni majority, will convince many Shia that they are the victims of a Saudi-led campaign to crush them. “The Shia in general are getting very frightened after what happened in northern Iraq,” said an Iraqi commentator, who did not want his name published. Shia see the threat as not only military but stemming from the expanded influence over mainstream Sunni Islam of Wahhabism, the puritanical and intolerant version of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia that condemns Shia and other Islamic sects as non-Muslim apostates and polytheists.
… The West may have to pay a price for its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which have always found Sunni jihadism more attractive than democracy. A striking example of double standards by the western powers was the Saudi-backed suppression of peaceful democratic protests by the Shia majority in Bahrain in March 2011. Some 1,500 Saudi troops were sent across the causeway to the island kingdom as the demonstrations were ended with great brutality and Shia mosques and shrines were destroyed.
…Western powers and their regional allies have largely escaped criticism for their role in reigniting the war in Iraq. Publicly and privately, they have blamed the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for persecuting and marginalising the Sunni minority, so provoking them into supporting the Isis-led revolt. There is much truth in this, but it is by no means the whole story. …
But for all his gargantuan mistakes, Maliki’s failings are not the reason why the Iraqi state is disintegrating. What destabilised Iraq from 2011 on was the revolt of the Sunni in Syria and the takeover of that revolt by jihadis, who were often sponsored by donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. Again and again Iraqi politicians warned that by not seeking to close down the civil war in Syria, Western leaders were making it inevitable that the conflict in Iraq would restart. …
Of course, US and British politicians and diplomats would argue that they were in no position to bring an end to the Syrian conflict. But this is misleading. By insisting that peace negotiations must be about the departure of Assad from power, something that was never going to happen since Assad held most of the cities in the country and his troops were advancing, the US and Britain made sure the war would continue. …
Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control. .. Nor is this the only point on which Prince Bandar was dangerously mistaken. The rise of Isis is bad news for the Shia of Iraq but it is worse news for the Sunni whose leadership has been ceded to a pathologically bloodthirsty and intolerant movement, a sort of Islamic Khmer Rouge, which has no aim but war without end.
Cockburn’s analogy of ISIS with the Khmer Rouge is disturbingly apt. In both cases, a volatile region whose societies were laid waste by the intervention of Western dominationists and their local partners has led to the rise of an implacable, intolerant and incredibly violent sect intent on returning the area to a fantasized “Year Zero,” upon which a genocidally purged and “purer” society can be constructed.
Cockburn believes, I think rightly, that ultimately ISIS will not succeed, just as the Khmer Rouge were eventually ousted. (By America’s hated enemy, communist Vietnam.) But, as in Cambodia, before that happens, immense suffering is in store for millions of people.
What we are seeing in Iraq today are the fruits of American war crime in Iraq. Many people — even some who opposed the war — believed that the consequences of this atrocity could be contained: a tragedy, yes, and isn’t it a shame that the perpetrators got away with it, but in the end, the world moves on, and we can concentrate again on our partisan squabbles on Capitol Hill, or the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
But these criminal actions, these reckless decisions, these fatal bargains with extremism and corruption, these pustulant growths of militarism and repression do not just go away. Their effects are real; they are long-lasting; they reverberate through the years in many lands, in many ways — ways which no one can foresee at the time. We are not going to go back to “normal” — not to the pre-9/11 normal, not to the pre-Iraq invasion normal. This is especially true given the fact that Barack Obama — and whoever follows him, be it Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush or some other wealthy imperial courtier — will keep following the same morally insane policies that have led to the current catastrophe.
It’s not a joke; it’s not a dream; it’s not happening to someone else in another place, in another time. With every step, every new day, we are building a world of hell for ourselves and those who come after us.
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 13 July 2014 19:02
The horror of Israel’s latest slaughter in Gaza speaks for itself — despite the mountainous flow of media sludge designed to obscure the reality of the aggression. Even the New York Times has been forced to print a few stories about the high number of civilian deaths being caused by the Israeli assault on the “Warsaw Ghetto” they have made of Gaza, noting the hospitals and mosques and private homes where dozens of innocent people have been blown to pieces by Israel’s weaponry (much of it American-made).
Israel has imprisoned the people of Gaza in a stateless limbo while carefully controlling almost every aspect of their lives, including what medicines they can have, what manufacturing and building materials they are allowed and even, at times, how much food they are allowed to eat to keep the population weakened but just above malnutrition levels. This brutal regimen in daily life is of course punctuated with regular night raids, bombings, kidnappings, “disappearings” and almost weekly civilians deaths at the hands of Israeli overseers. This has gone on year after year. Yet Western media — and Western politicians — are presenting a picture of a nuclear-armed, American-backed ultra-militarist Israel “under siege” from a handful of ineffective rockets fired by factions in Gaza which are answering violence with violence.
But as we all know, the West demands that Palestinians show superhuman, Gandhi-like forbearance in the face of murderous oppression and relentless, widespread violence killing their children and families. They are never to respond in kind — unlike the Americans, who have killed hundreds of thousands of people in response to a single attack on their soil. This after killing, by Washington’s own admission, more than half a million children in Iraq with peacetime sanctions — against a nation which had never attacked the United States and posed no threat to it. The merest hint of a possible threat remotely occurring sometime in a barely imaginable future is justification enough for the Americans to lay waste to whole nations and kill thousands of people. (Of course, in many states in America this principle is now enshrined in law on an individual basis: you can shoot dead anyone you feel might be a “threat” to you — whether they are or not. The ‘stand your ground’ laws are a perfect example of a nation rotting from the head, as the murderous militarism and adherence to violence embodied by the bipartisan elite seep down through every strata of society.) This is the true — the only — meaning of “American exceptionalism”: the right to ruin, rape and murder in perfect moral purity.
To be sure, this golden aura can be loaned out at times to others. Israel above all seems to have acquired a permanent lease on American’s license to kill. But it can also be spread around to other nations and factions, even terrorist groups, if it serves the purposes of the Potomac Imperium. Such as the “moderate al Qaeda” now being supported in Syria (or the al Qaeda forbears supported so fully in Soviet-era Afghanistan). Saddam Hussein was allowed to slaughter tens of thousands, and even use chemical weapons, with America’s blessing and military aid and money. Later of course, he morphed into a new Hitler, and, as noted, America had to kill half a million children in his land, before invading the country and causing the deaths of a million more people. Why, even Vlad the Impaler Putin — the current new Hitler in America’s eyes — was gifted with America’s moral exemption when he was killing thousands of people in Chechnya.
But yes, Israel is the chief beneficiary of Washington’s moral blank check. And so the false narrative — the mendacious “frame” — of a “besieged” Israel defending its poor, innocent self from unprovoked attack is promulgated at every turn by the Western political establishment and most of the media. Barack Obama and a bipartisan gaggle of Capitol Hill geese have lent their support to this narrative — and to the massacre of the innocents that lurks behind it.
Yet as David Cronin notes:
There is no acknowledgement that Israel has been subjecting Palestinian civilians to collective punishment — in clear violation of international law. There is no mention of the seven-year siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza. There is no recognition that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has used the murder of three Israeli teenagers as a pretext to kill much higher numbers of Palestinian children in recent days ….
“Pretext” is certainly the operative word. As Max Blumenthal reports, Netanyahu’s government knew almost immediately that the three teenagers were dead, and who had killed them. But they suppressed these facts in order to rouse atavistic hatred among Israelis and to rally world opinion and sympathy — preparatory to an assault on Gaza that was obviously long-planned, and which had nothing at all to do with the murder of the teenagers at the hands of a “rogue” clan at odds with the Hamas leadership. Blumenthal:
From the moment three Israeli teens were reported missing last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s military-intelligence apparatus suppressed the flow of information to the general public. Through a toxic blend of propaganda, subterfuge and incitement, they inflamed a precarious situation, manipulating Israelis into supporting their agenda until they made an utterly avoidable nightmare inevitable.
Israeli police, intelligence officials and Netanyahu knew within hours of the kidnapping and murder of the three teens that they had been killed. And they knew who the prime suspects were less than a day after the kidnapping was reported.
Rather than reveal these details to the public, Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency imposed a gag order on the national media, barring news outlets from reporting that the teens had almost certainly been killed, and forbidding them from revealing the identities of their suspected killers. The Shin Bet even lied to the parents of the kidnapped teens, deceiving them into believing their sons were alive.
Instead of mounting a limited action to capture the suspected perpetrators and retrieve the teens’ bodies, Netanyahu staged an aggressive international public relations campaign, demanding sympathy and outrage from world leaders, who were also given the impression that the missing teens were still alive.
Meanwhile, Israel’s armed forces rampaged throughout the occupied West Bank and bombarded the Gaza Strip in a campaign of collective punishment deceptively marketed to Israelis and the world as a rescue mission.
Critical details that were known all along by Netanyahu and the military-intelligence apparatus were relayed to the Israeli public only after the abduction of more than 560 Palestinians, including at least 200 still held without charges; after the raiding of Palestinian universities and ransacking of countless homes; after six Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces; after American-trained Palestinian Authority police assisted Israeli soldiers attacking Palestinian youths in the center of Ramallah; after the alleged theft by Israeli troops of $3 million in US dollars; and after Israel’s international public relations extravaganza had run its course.
Israeli forces began rounding up and interrogating family members of the main suspects, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer abu Eishe, the day after the kidnapping of the Israeli teenagers. Yet this fact too was kept from the public, and from the world. As Blumenthal noted:
While Netanyahu and his top deputies blamed the entire membership of Hamas for the kidnapping, the Shin Bet gag order suppressed all information relating to the identities of the suspects until 26 June. As far as the Israeli public knew, the kidnappers could have been anywhere in the West Bank, in any schoolhouse or coffee house or hen house where anyone remotely affiliated with Hamas congregated.
Having manipulated an exceptionally suggestible population through the careful management of information, the military had all the political latitude it needed to rampage through cities far from the scene of the crime.
Blumenthal further notes:
According to Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar, members of the Qawasmeh clan of Hebron have earned a reputation for attacking Israeli civilian targets during ceasefires between Hamas and Israel.
While an extended family of over 10,000 can hardly be blamed for the actions of some of its members, it is notable that attacks carried out by fighters from the family were privately criticized by top Hamas leaders, as Eldar explains. Hamas leadership regarded the operations as self-destructive acts of freebooting and often paid for them in the form of Israeli assassinations. In each case, the violence shattered ceasefires and inspired renewed bouts of bloodshed.
“The same is true now,” Eldar writes. “Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eishe have taken Hamas to a place where its leadership never intended to go.”
Hamas leadership has yet to take responsibility for the kidnapping and likely had no knowledge of its planning. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel notes, “So far, there is no evidence that Hamas’ leadership either in Gaza or abroad was involved in the kidnapping.” Harel adds that the fallout of the kidnapping “effectively froze the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.”
The latter is certainly one of the reasons behind the current onslaught. A reconciled Palestinian leadership could offer more formidable resistance to Israeli domination (although the years-long fecklessness of Fatah, its enormous corruption and frequent, brutal cooperation with Israel does not augur well for any principled resistance). But before any reconciliation or spine-stiffening could take hold among Palestinian politicians, Israel went on the attack.
Blumenthal tells a harrowing tale of the propaganda campaign waged by the Israeli government to whip the population into a frenzy of revenging bloodlust over the “missing boys” — even as Netanyahu and his minions knew full well the boy were dead. These efforts were redoubled after the bodies were found, and of course led to the notorious murder of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli youths inflamed by the government’s cold-blooded manipulations. I won’t excerpt the passage here, but you should read the Blumenthal article in full.
But political power-playing to separate Fatah and Hamas were by no means the only impetus behind the operation. In a world whose lifeblood is fossil fuel, it’s no surprise to find that the present attack on Gaza — like the ISIS assault in Iraq — is, in significant measure, one of the “resource wars” which many analysts believe will be one of the defining characteristics of the 21st century. As Nafeez Ahmed notes in the Guardian:
…in 2007, a year before Operation Cast Lead, [Israel’s] concerns focused on the 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas discovered in 2000 off the Gazacoast, valued at $4 billion. Defense Minister Ya'alon dismissed the notion that "Gaza gas can be a key driver of an economically more viable Palestinian state" as "misguided." The problem, he said, is that:
"Proceeds of a Palestinian gas sale to Israel would likely not trickle down to help an impoverished Palestinian public. Rather, based on Israel's past experience, the proceeds will likely serve to fund further terror attacks against Israel…
A gas transaction with the Palestinian Authority [PA] will, by definition, involve Hamas. Hamas will either benefit from the royalties or it will sabotage the project and launch attacks against Fatah, the gas installations, Israel – or all three… It is clear that without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement."
Operation Cast Lead did not succeed in uprooting Hamas, but the conflict did take the lives of 1,387 Palestinians (773 of whom were civilians) and 9 Israelis (3 of whom were civilians).
Since the discovery of oil and gas in the Occupied Territories, resource competition has increasingly been at the heart of the conflict, motivated largely by Israel's increasing domestic energy woes.
Mark Turner, founder of the Research Journalism Initiative, reported that the siege of Gaza and ensuing military pressure was designed to "eliminate" Hamas as "a viable political entity in Gaza" to generate a "political climate" conducive to a gas deal. This involved rehabilitating the defeated Fatah as the dominant political player in the West Bank, and "leveraging political tensions between the two parties, arming forces loyal to Abbas and the selective resumption of financial aid."
…As Dr Gary Luft - an advisor to the US Energy Security Council - wrote in the Journal of Energy Security, "with the depletion of Israel's domestic gas supplies accelerating, and without an imminent rise in Egyptian gas imports, Israel could face a power crisis in the next few years… If Israel is to continue to pursue its natural gas plans it must diversify its supply sources." …
Earlier this year, Hamas condemned a PA deal to purchase $1.2 billion worth of gas from Israel Leviathan field over a 20 year period once the field starts producing. Simultaneously, the PA has held several meetings with the British Gas Group to develop the Gaza gas field, albeit with a view to exclude Hamas – and thus Gazans – from access to the proceeds. That plan had been the brainchild of Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair.
But the PA was also courting Russia's Gazprom to develop the Gaza marine gas field, and talks have been going on between Russia, Israel and Cyprus, though so far it is unclear what the outcome of these have been. Also missing was any clarification on how the PA would exert control over Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.
According to Anais Antreasyan in the University of California's Journal of Palestine Studies, the most respected English language journal devoted to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel's stranglehold over Gaza has been designed to make "Palestinian access to the Marine-1 and Marine-2 gas wells impossible." Israel's long-term goal "besides preventing the Palestinians from exploiting their own resources, is to integrate the gas fields off Gaza into the adjacent Israeli offshore installations." This is part of a wider strategy of:
"…. separating the Palestinians from their land and natural resources in order to exploit them, and, as a consequence, blocking Palestinian economic development. Despite all formal agreements to the contrary, Israel continues to manage all the natural resources nominally under the jurisdiction of the PA, from land and water to maritime and hydrocarbon resources."
For the Israeli government, Hamas continues to be the main obstacle to the finalisation of the gas deal. In the incumbent defence minister's words: "Israel's experience during the Oslo years indicates Palestinian gas profits would likely end up funding terrorism against Israel. The threat is not limited to Hamas… It is impossible to prevent at least some of the gas proceeds from reaching Palestinian terror groups."
The only option, therefore, is yet another "military operation to uproot Hamas." Unfortunately, for the IDF uprooting Hamas means destroying the group's perceived civilian support base – which is why Palestinian civilian casualties massively outweigh that of Israelis. Both are obviously reprehensible, but Israel's capacity to inflict destruction is simply far greater.
So here is another reason why the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation cannot be borne by Israel; it not only blocks a billion-dollar deal for existing Israeli gas, it also cuts Israel off from exploiting the 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off the Gaza shore. As Ahmed notes, this isn’t the only cause behind the current operation — but it is a central one.
But beyond all the politics and petrodollars driving the madness of the latest assault lie the ordinary people whose bodies and lives are being ripped to shreds. As’ad AbuKhalil, the ‘Angry Arab,’ is, as usual, an important source for some hard fragments of reality amidst the toxic sludge of spin and propaganda. AbuKhalil points us to a number of stories on the human toll of the attacks. Such as this one:
Sahir Salman Abu Namous was just four years old, soon to turn five. … Sahir was killed on Friday afternoon when an Israeli warplane bombed his family home in the Tal al-Zaatar neighborhood in northern Gaza. “He was playing and smiling next to his mother when missile shrapnel divided his head,” Mahmoud writes. “His father took him to the hospital screaming ‘Wake up my son! I bought toys for you, please wake up!’”
…Sahir Salman Abu Namous was one of 21 children who had been killed in the onslaught by Friday.
A piece of shrapnel divided his head. “Wake up my son!” Wake up, indeed: the soul of the world is sleeping, and the murderous rampage goes on.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 04 July 2014 01:23
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a sectarian college in Illinois, Wheaton College, did not have to fill in a federal form to claim its exemption from regulations providing contraception coverage in its employee insurance programs.
Note that the issue was not a question of whether the college was exempt from the regulation, as in the Hobby Lobby case. As a sectarian institution, it was already exempt. What the college objected to was simply sending a form to the government regarding the exemption. This, they said, would involve them in "a grave moral evil," because notifying the government would make the college complicit in some other organization providing the contraception coverage. (The law stipulates that if a sectarian employer does not provide the coverage, the government will ensure that it is provided by someone else, usually the insurance company involved or some other third-party administrator of the program.)
Just four days before, the Court majority on the Hobby Lobby case made specific mention of this government form as a justification for exempting commercial enterprises run by sectarians from providing contraception coverage for their employees. The Hobby Lobby decision cited the form as constituting "an alternative that achieves all of the Government's aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty," as Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted in her dissent against Thursday's decision.
In other words, according to Justice Samuel Alito and his fellow conservatives in the majority, the Hobby Lobby case was a "win-win" all around; sectarian business owners did not have to dirty themselves with concerns about their female employees' reproductive health, while the government was free to ensure that contraception coverage was provided from another source.
But just four days later, the conservative majority has reversed course, and finds that the alternative they lauded on Monday is no longer good enough. They agree with Wheaton College that the alternative itself violates religious liberty and can be ignored. Sectarian organizations can merely send a letter to the government opting out, without filling out the form -- because the form would notify the insurance program's third-party administrator that the female employee was no longer covered for contraception.
(It is not known at this point if Wheaton College, like Hobby Lobby, covers Viagra and vasectomies for its male employees. But it would certainly make sense. We all know that the male member is more pleasing to the Lord, for it points upward toward Heaven -- and if it doesn't, there's always Viagra -- while the female reproductive parts dwell in darkness.)
Coupled with the Hobby Lobby case, the Wheaton decision means that all sectarian-ruled organizations, whether they are commercial businesses or non-profits, can not only opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to their female employees, they can also refuse to submit the form that would expedite the provision of such coverage from elsewhere, in accordance with the law. The result, as Sotomayor notes, will be administrative chaos:
Is HHS to undertake the daunting—if not impossible—task of creating a database that tracks every employer’s insurer or third party administrator nationwide? ... In addition, because Wheaton is materially indistinguishable from other nonprofits that object to the Government’s accommodation, the issuance of an injunction in this case will presumably entitle hundreds or thousands of other objectors to the same remedy. The Court has no reason to think that the administrative scheme it foists on the Government today is workable or effective on a national scale. The Court’s actions in this case create unnecessary costs and layers of bureaucracy.
But of course, that is very much the point of the decision -- which the conservative majority considered so overwhelmingly important that they invoked the rarely-used All Writs Act, normally used in cases where it is "indisputably clear" that a law will substantially harm the appellant in some way, in order to make Thursday's ruling, thus by-passing the lower courts, where the legal arguments of this not-at-all-clear case could be thrashed out. The point is to gut the contraception coverage provision in any way possible. Immediately after the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Court majority made it clear that their ruling applied not only to so-called abortifacients, such as the morning-after pill -- which were the ostensible reason for the case -- but to all contraception. And now they have demolished the alternative to the system -- the very alternative, as noted above, that they cited on Monday as a linchpin of their decision.
The rulings by the conservative majority on the Court are part of a relentless, decades-long effort to reassert control of women's sexuality. In this, America's super-patriotic, politicized right-wing Christians share a common cause with the Islamic sectarians they hate so much (and are so scared of). Women's sexuality is apparently the most volatile, dangerous force in the world -- much, much more dangerous than, say, nuclear war or the heat-death of the planet, which concern them not at all. The amount of time, energy, money -- and frenzy -- spent on repressing and controlling women's sexuality is truly extraordinary. Or rather, it is, tragically, all too ordinary, part of an effort that has been going on since homo sapiens first emerged.
It is also part of a larger agenda by our homegrown, well-heeled religious extremists to supplant secular government with sectarian rule. Their ludicrous public panic about the danger of "Sharia Law" being imposed on the country is a hysterical projection of their own desires -- and their own designs. A growing sectarian hardcore believes that secular government has no legitimacy whatsoever; a Bible-based "Dominion" is the only proper form of government. Wheaton College's objections to the government form likely have as much to do with this larger agenda as it does with the sectarian extremists' deep-seated, fear-ridden hatred of women.
I have seen this belief and this agenda in action. It was almost 30 years ago, when the sectarian extremism that is now rampant across the land, controlling one major political party, parts of the military and bankrolled with billions of dollars, was still, for most people, a distant sideshow confined to rural backwaters. I was working at a newspaper in one of those "backwaters," a rural country in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. A local fundamentalist sect was growing toward "mega-church" status. It had its own television facilities -- very much a rarity in those days. It had a huge new church complex. Then the church's pastor decided he wanted to have a school. He added on to part of the already existing complex to make room for a finely-appointed private Christian school. The state had no objection, of course. All they wanted was for him to allow the school building certified as safe, according to fire codes and structural regulations. It was all very routine; and had of course been done for the television studio and other structures in the complex.
But the new sectarianism was already growing more virulent. Not long before, in a neighboring county, a mother had sued the local school board -- because her daughter was being "forced" to use her imagination in class. There was an exercise in an English class where children were asked to shut their eyes and imagine any kind of scene they wanted. This, the mother said, was witchcraft -- imagining things that weren't there! And so, according to her understanding of the wishes of an invisible deity, she pulled her daughter out of class and filed a lawsuit that cost local taxpayers a great deal of money. (Her expenses, of course, were paid by outside sectarian organizations.)
Now the pastor in our county was taking a similar stand. He could not allow the State of Tennessee to issue a permit certifying that his school building was safe because this would be an unconscionable encroachment of secular government on religious liberty. Even though the state wasn't trying to tell him what to teach in the school. (Which would no doubt include anti-imagination exercises in English class.) It wasn't trying to dictate his beliefs or encroach on them in any way. There wasn't even any real question that the building was structurally safe and sound. He simply refused to have anything to do with the state.
The case came to court. The local sectarian extremists were in a state of high excitement. (The rest of the populace -- almost entirely Bible-believing conservative Christians -- thought the pastor's stance was ludicrous.) I remember sitting in the courtroom right behind the pastor's college-student son and his friends. (The son was attending a state university; perhaps he planned to refuse to accept his diploma upon graduation.) The young man was particularly hyped up, squirming in his chair, combative, ready for the fight. Suddenly he smacked his fist into his palm and said, seething, "Man, wouldn't it be great if the Lord struck down this courtroom right now!" His friends all agreed.
The pastor took the stand and under questioning from his lawyer delivered a long oration on religious liberty and the exaltation of sectarian belief over secular government. He could not accept -- would not accept -- that the state had the authority to regulate or license anything associated with his religious activities. There were cheers from the college contingent.
Then the state's attorney got up. He asked the pastor if he had a driver's license. The preacher said, yes, he did. He asked him to show the license to the court. The preacher did so. The attorney then asked what entity issued the license. The State of Tennessee, was the answer. Finally came this question: Do you ever use your car on church business? Yes, of course, said the pastor.
That was pretty much it. The church lost the case. The pastor appealed, of course, and succeeded in getting a change of venue to an even more conservative county, where the church won the case. Then the state appealed, and it eventually went to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which ruled against the church. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent. The school got certified, it opened, and I assume the preacher spent many happy years pouring bile and fear and ignorance into his young charges. I was already gone by then.
But I remember very well the gathering ferment of this sectarian darkness in those days. To these sectarians, "religious liberty" didn't just mean the liberty to practice their religion as they saw fit; it also meant liberty from any vestige of secular government. It meant, ultimately -- and in those more obscure days, many of them were open about this -- the liberty to impose their religious beliefs on others and to supplant the secular government with sectarian rule. They didn't expect it to happen right away. (The Lord refrained from striking down the courthouse that day). They weren't even sure it would happen in their lifetime. But it was their goal, their dream -- and they have moved relentlessly and remorselessly toward it year after year, on every possible front.
So yes, our sectarians hate women (along with many other classifications of human beings), and they will cheer these rulings by the Supreme Court's conservative majority (which is itself dominated by sectarians). But what we see in the Wheaton College ruling is a Court-blessed manifestation of a hatred that goes beyond misogyny: a hatred of democracy, a hatred of any kind of human community or culture or social organization that is not under the "dominion" of their own narrow, stunted sectarian beliefs. What they seek is their own "Caliphate." And they are taking it, bit by bit. The Supreme Court has just handed them a large chunk of territory.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 03 July 2014 09:40
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, delivers a blistering attack on his former Bush Regime colleague Dick Cheney -- and the idea of rapacious empire that Cheney serves and embodies -- in language rarely seen in the mainstream press from a thoroughly entrenched Establishment figure. A sample:
Whether murder and plunder in India, slaughter in Algeria, devastation in Cameroon, or torture and massacre in the Philippines, few western powers can rightfully claim innocence. And, perhaps most worrisome, their national myths mask or even convert most of the crimes, and what the myths don't eliminate or alter poor education and memory lapses do….
As has been the case since humankind began to organize itself, Dick Cheney believes that wealth and power -- his and his cronies wealth and power foremost -- are still the relevant strategic objectives of empire. King Leopold of Belgium is not dead, simply reincarnated in a more modern form. Torturing people is dependent on a nation's supposed needs, killing people on the expediency of policy, waging war on monetary and commercial gain, and lying to the people is a highly reputable tactic in pursuit of each. Leopold would love Dick Cheney.
Cheney even models Leopold: never in the dangerous fray himself (five draft deferments, e.g.), a master of bureaucratic manipulation and intrigue, in love to a fault with secrecy, willing to undertake any crime under the sun so long as it leads to profit, deeply relishing every moment of evil he is able to engineer, and a master of masking it all through adroit, politically-attuned public relations aimed at people too stupid to question him -- all while paying absolutely no attention to what his past clearly demonstrates he has done…
This modern man, Cheney, however needs no kingship, no ornate palaces, no personally-owned colony like the Congo; Cheney's writ is the world. It is all of humankind that Cheney would torture, enslave, murder, or plunder if it were required.
Of course, Wilkerson's boss, the lifelong imperial factotum Powell, was deeply complicit in the launching and administering of the vast war crime in Iraq. Indeed, it was largely Powell who sealed the deal for war, with his outrageously mendacious performance at the UN, using doctored testimony and ridiculous visual aids to convince the world of Iraq's non-existent WMD arsenal. Powell's "testimony" helped sway many of the still-wavering "liberal" figures in Establishment politics and media that the war was necessary and just. Most of these sad and spineless specimens were already keen to go with the militarist flow, and the cover from the sainted figure of Powell -- beloved icon of "bipartisan moderates" -- gave them enough "moral certainty" to assuage their liberal consciences.
[For more on Powell's remarkable history of imperial servitude, from the My Lai Massacre to Iran-Contra and beyond, see: "The Bagman Cometh: Obama Embraces War Criminal's Endorsement." For even more detail, see Robert Parry's excellent piece, "The Truth About Colin Powell."]
Still, whatever the source, it is good to see some of our imperial criminals openly called murderers and plunderers in the public press. Wilkerson has been speaking candidly about the realities of empire since he left the Bush Regime in 2005. But as we noted in a previous piece on his revelations, one question remains: "…while we applaud Colonel Wilkerson's candor now, we also must ask: Where was he then? And why did he keep silent as his own boss helped facilitate the ultimate international crime of aggressive war?"
Well, better late than never and all that, I suppose. But wouldn't it be great if one of our highly-placed courtiers grew a conscience when they were still in power, when a revelation or resignation would have some actual effect?
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 28 June 2014 16:15
This month, the world has marked significant historical milestones: the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing (and unmarked, except in Russia, the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s Operation Bagration, the largest battle in world history, in which the Soviets broke the back of the Nazi army); and the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the spark that led to the First World War.
But this week saw the anniversary of another major turning point in modern history, a campaign that became — and remains — the enduring template of foreign policy for the world’s most powerful nation. We speak, of course, of the 60th anniversary of Washington’s “regime change” operation in Guatemala, overthrowing a democratically elected government.
It was not the first such American “intervention,” of course (and was preceded in the previous year by a more indirect role in overthrowing democracy in Iran), but it set in train more than six decades of violent attacks on democracy by the “leader of the free world.” (A fine tradition carried on by Barack Obama in Honduras.) In fact, a hatred of democracy — a genuine, visceral revulsion at the idea of people choosing their own leaders and their own form of society — has been a driving force in American foreign policy for generations. Democracy and freedom are only allowed if they lead to outcomes that advance whatever the agenda of the American elite happens to be at any given time. They hate democracy abroad; they hate it at home; they hate it everywhere, all the time. The historical record is remarkably consistent on this point.
The Guatemala regime change was noted at the London Review of Books, however, in a piece by John Perry. Below are some excerpts:
Over ten days in June 1954, a decade after the D-Day landings, the CIA sent twelve planes to drop bombs and propaganda on towns in Guatemala in support of a coup against the elected government of Jácobo Arbenz …. …
In the last raid on 27 June, the SS Springfjord, a British merchant ship that had survived capture by the Nazis in 1940, was attacked in the port of San Jose. It was alleged to be unloading arms. After a warning pass – the ship’s captain gave the pilot a friendly wave – a 500lb bomb was dropped down its chimney. It turned out to be loading coffee and cotton.
Guatemala was one of the first countries in the region to emerge from military dictatorship. Arbenz was the second democratic president, elected in 1951 with 65 per cent of the vote. A strongly nationalist military officer, he was convinced that the central problem in a mainly agricultural country was land: 70 per cent of it in the hands of only 2 per cent of the population, of which only a quarter was being cultivated. In 1953 he decreed the takeover of more than 200,000 acres of unused land belonging to the United Fruit Company. The company responded with a propaganda campaign to convince Eisenhower not to be ‘soft on communism’.
It worked. Arbenz, realising that a coup was being plotted, bought a secret shipment of arms from Czechoslovakia. Uncovered by the CIA, this enabled Eisenhower to warn of a possible ‘communist dictatorship’ and support Arbenz’s rival, Carlos Castillo Armas. His insurgents invaded on 18 June, but failed to take control of the towns they targeted. The coup could easily have been a flop. But the CIA raids that culminated in the bombing of the Springfjord unnerved the Guatemalan army command, who withdrew their support from Arbenz. By the evening of 27 June he’d resigned.
Within a month, military dictatorship had resumed under Castillo Armas, with a new government recognised by Eisenhower. After a visit in 1955, Vice-President Nixon said that Guatemala was the ‘first instance in history where a communist government has been replaced by a free one’. US-backed military regimes ruled until 1996. By then some 200,000 people had died in civil war, most at the hands of government forces.
Our 21st century intervention in Iraq has killed far more people much more quickly, of course. But as we gear up for yet another round of slaughter in the country we have recently demolished, it’s good to be reminded that none of this is new or unusual; it is, very simply — and quite horribly — the way the bipartisan American elite do business. Violence is their profession, their religion, their guiding light. They use violence to advance their agenda, then use more violence to deal with the inevitable horrific consequences spawned by their violence, on and on in an endless cycle.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 23 June 2014 12:30
Cutting marks in a dark heart's wax: Low Warm Gold. (Or alternatively, here.)
In memoriam Marina Tsvetaeva
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 16 June 2014 21:37
Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer who fled persecution by Saddam’s regime but who was also a powerful voice against the Anglo-American aggression against his country in 2003, exposes one of the many lies about Iraq that have infected both sides of the interventionist argument: that it is a land seething with ancient, irrepressible sectarian hatreds that can only be put right by separation. It’s an important piece, worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:
Tony Blair has been widely derided for his attempted justification of the 2003 Iraq invasion, and his claim last weekend that he's blameless over the current turmoil. Unfortunately, though, many of his critics have also bought into a central plank of his argument: that Iraqi society is no more than a motley collection of religions and ethnicities which have been waiting for decades, if not centuries, to slaughter each other and plunge the place into a bloodbath.
Neither side, though, has yet produced historical evidence of significant communal fighting between Iraq's religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities. … Despite popular myths, the majority of Ba'ath party founders were Shia. However, Iraqi Ba'athist ideology always had a racist dimension against the Kurdish people and non-Arabs – as well as a class orientation, when in power, that marginalised millions in the poorest sections of society, mostly in the south. Southern Iraq and some areas of Baghdad, populated by mostly Shia migrants from southern rural areas, have historically been home to the poorest people.
Iraq's biggest mass organisation from the 1940s to the 60s was the Iraqi Communist party, founded in 1934 by activists from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. It was the strongest party even in Iraqi Kurdistan, and remained a mass party until its leadership decided to join Saddam's regime in 1973 – against the wishes of most party members. Saddam launched a vicious campaign against the ICP in 1978-9, and the party lost its raison d'être after joining the Iraq Governing Council set up after the occupation in 2003….
One of the greatest testaments to the tolerance that exists between the various communities in Iraq is that Baghdad still has up to a million Kurds, who have never experienced communal violence by Arabs. Similarly, about 20% of Basra's population is Sunni. Samarra, a mostly Sunni city, is home to two of the most sacred Shia shrines. Its Sunni clergy have been the custodians of the shrines for centuries.
Every tribe in Iraq has Sunnis and Shia in its ranks. Every town and city has a mix of communities. My experience of Iraq, and that of all friends and relatives, is that of an amazing mix of coexisting communities, despite successive divide-and-rule regimes.
The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq's modern history followed the 2003 US-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The US had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organisations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organisations and Saddam's army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. ….
Whether Iraq can survive this most serious threat to its existence remains to be seen. But those who claim it could only have peace if it is divided into three states do not appreciate the makeup of Iraqi society – the three regions would quickly fall under the rule of violent sectarians and chauvinists. Given how ethnically and religiously mixed Iraq's regions are, particularly in Baghdad and central Iraq, a three-way national breakup would be a recipe for permanent wars in which only the oil companies, the arms suppliers, and the warlords will be the winners.
Once again, it is clear: the moral insanity of the American-led aggression in 2003 is the fountainhead of the current crisis, while the moral insanity of fomenting sectarian war in Syria is the immediate spate that has brought it to floodtide.
Yet it is also clear that many, if not most, in the Washington-London power elite are looking at the crisis as an opportunity to double down on the moral insanity of their militarism: an excuse to beef up support for the violent extremists in Syria, to “re-engage” militarily in Iraq — courses which will only lead to more insanity and bloodshed. Ramadani points to a better alternative — a “back to the future” scenario that draws on the more inclusive, secular nature of Iraq’s past. (The same past existed to a great degree in Afghanistan as well.) If we were not ruled by bipartisan war profiteers — if we only had ordinary, run-of-the-mill politicians trying gamely to muddle through to something better for their own people and others — we would find there are many, many positive elements that could be supported or encouraged in these “intractable, historic” conflicts.
But given the sinister poltroons who direct our affairs, one can only fear that these better alternatives will be squashed or discarded once again.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 12 June 2014 22:55
The bitter fruits of the monstrous evil the United States inflicted on Iraq are ripening before our eyes. The blitzkrieg by ISIS, a radical militia so extreme that even al Qaeda disowned it, has swept through large swaths of the country and laid bare the sham of the government system imposed by the American invaders.
Having engineered the senseless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people and provoked a murderous sectarian war, the Americans installed a government based along strict sectarian lines -- a choice that was guaranteed to exacerbate internal strife and produce weak, ineffective, disunited governments. And so we have watched the government of would-be strongman Nouri al-Maliki wither away into corrupt factionalism and brutal repression in its frantic and failing efforts to impose its will on the inevitable chaos. This week we may be witnessing its total collapse, as its army -- built and funded by the American invaders -- is simply vanishing in the face of the onslaught by ISIS, which is itself funded, in part, by America's own staunch allies in the Gulf … and, via America's funding and arming of murky stew of Syrian rebel groups (which includes ISIS), indirectly by Washington itself.
Yes, it is madness. The US-UK act of unprovoked aggression in Iraq -- which in principle and illegality differs not one whit from the German invasion of Poland in 1939 -- has spread unimaginable ruin and destruction throughout the region, creating a Hobbesian nightmare of "each against all": of factions combining, breaking apart, recombining, fighting together, fighting each other, using each other, betraying each other, with no boundaries, no meaning, just a constant churning, chewing, gnashing of teeth, a vast, seething mass of death and brutality, held together, locked together, by a single, shared creed: the way of violence. Violence as a first principle, and the final solution; violence (and the ever-present, never-ceasing threat of violence) as the highest expression of human achievement, the physical embodiment of power, of domination over others -- which is the supreme value, the ultimate concern for all those who hold to this fanatical creed. It's the true religion of the American militarists, the Islamic extremists, the NATO nabobs, the authoritarian nationalists, the covert operators, the backroom financiers, and all the bit players and fellow travellers around the world who serve and support or profit from this ghastly faith.
There is a larger historical context to what's happening in Iraq today, which Juan Cole covers well here. But the immediate responsibility for the death and suffering we are witnessing in Iraq right now lies squarely on those who launched (and those who supported) a war of aggression that destroyed Iraqi society and -- just as was predicted -- "opened the gates of hell" to sectarian strife and world-rattling chaos.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the uprising is broader than the operations of ISIS, a group that with its al Qaeda-surpassing extremism is tailor-made to serve as a convenient devil. Just as one of their precursors, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, served as the Scarlet Pimpernel of much of the American occupation -- seemingly here, there and everywhere, and was blamed for every bit of unrest and resistance against the noble American and British liberators. It was Zarqawi's supposed presence in Fallujah that led to America's vicious destruction of that city; he was, of course, nowhere near the city, which the Americans well knew. In fact, Zarqawi too had once been an ally of Americans, at least indirectly; before the invasion, his terrorist group found safe haven in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq, where Saddam's writ did not run, and where American officials moved freely. The Bush Administration vetoed several chances to capture or kill Zarqawi, preferring to let him attack the common enemy, Saddam. Later, as noted, he served as a convenient PR foil for the Americans during his rampages in the post-election landscape.
He was a loathsome character -- a fierce adherent of the cult of violence he shared with Saddam and America's bipartisan foreign policy elite. And ISIS is a malevolent faction of the same faith -- although of course they yet to kill even a fraction of the number of innocent civilians slaughtered in the region by the Defenders of Western Civilization and their clients. But as with Zarqawi, the focus on ISIS obscures the larger discontent and resistance to what it is still, essentially, an occupation regime in Baghdad. The Guardian has featured reports from the ground in the cities seized by ISIS; reports which paint a somewhat more complex picture than we are seeing in Washington, where the 'debate' has, as usual, congealed around partisan point-scoring -- and minute calibrations of just how much violence America should employ to exacerbate the chaos and ruin.
From the Guardian:
Among those who took control of Tikrit were large numbers of former Ba'ath party members. Ba'athists were the cornerstone of Saddam Hussein's regime and have been persecuted ever since. Residents of Tikrit said some insurgents were wearing the drab green military fatigues worn by Saddam's army. "There are no Isis flags in town," said one local woman. "They are playing Saddam and Ba'ath party songs."
…In nearby Samara, where insurgents have been negotiating with Iraqi army officials, car dealer Taher Hassan said militants had turned up on Sunday and quickly taken control of most of the city.
He said: "All the local police forces have pulled out of their bases in the city. … Everyone in Samara is happy with the fighters' management of the city. They have proved to be professional and competent. The fighters themselves did not harm or kill anyone as they swept forward. Any man who hands over his arm is safe, whatever his background. This attitude is giving a huge comfort to people here. We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can't stand any more.
Four days ago, Maliki’s military dirty force raided Al-Razaq mosque in the city, brought a few locals whom they picked up from different parts in Samara and killed them in the mosque. What do you think the people feeling would be towards these military forces? We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can’t stand any more.”
Abu Riyad, 50 years old, tribal leader in Mosul city: “It seems the fighters have a good security plan for the city. They really know the nature of the city and have not made the same mistakes as the US forces, or Maliki’s forces, when they invaded Mosul. They are protecting all the governmental buildings in the city and have not destroyed or stolen anything. They haven’t harmed a person in the city.
[Isis] fighters have opened and cleared out all the bridges, roads and checkpoints set up by the army. Now, we can move easily. It is so quiet here – not a bullet has been fired so far. Most of the families who fled the city began to head back today. We have suffered a lot under Maliki’s unfair government. …We’ve had enough injustice and corruption and no longer accept Maliki’s army. Since the US invasion until now, an organised ethnic cleansing was taking place here. Maliki’s men would show up on TV revealing their love to peace and security but the reality is completely different. They are all killers, fanatic and sectarians….
Last Thursday, the fighters attacked the right bank of the Tigris river. The army used planes and mortars in the fight, in a crowded residential area. The bombardment cut the power and water supply and sparked panic among the locals. Many civilians were killed.”
As always, extremist elements thrive where the "legitimate" authority is repressive and corrupt. (And in this case, implanted by foreign aggression.) The same dynamic was played out by the Taliban in Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces that had been supporting, brutally, the secular government. The Soviets were forced out by a resistance led by violent sectarian extremists -- armed and supported by the Americans and their Saudi allies (such as Osama bin Laden). This led to years of ruinous chaos as warlords tore apart what was left of the country after the Soviet departure; many who later had cause to regret the Taliban’s ascendancy at first applauded their highly disciplined restoration of order.
This is evident in the current situation in Iraq as well, as illustrated by the quotes above. The welcome relief from corruption and chaos now will likely give way to dread and repression as ISIS — adherents to the Cult of Violence — impose the same kind of forcible domination as Maliki and his American predecessors. As the Guardian reports:
Isis has been handing out flyers in the towns it has seized assuring residents who have remained that it is there to protect their interests. The campaign for hearts and minds is gaining some traction, with some residents railing against perceived injustices at the hands of the Shia majority government. But yesterday it said it would introduce sharia law in Mosul and other towns, warning women to stay indoors and threatening to cut off the hands of thieves. "People, you have tried secular regimes ... This is now the era of the Islamic State," it proclaimed.
In retrospect, the American intervention in Afghanistan in the late 70s looks more and more like the linchpin of the modern era, the decisive event that gave rise to a multitude of later evils (much like the mobilisations of 1914 -- the blind exacerbation and amplification of a local crisis -- was the fatal pivot of the 20th century, seeding the even greater horrors of World War II). Here too, as in so many situations in our time, a distorted story was invented to paint America’s dark and deadly realpolitik as a bright cartoon of the Shining City vs. Pure Motiveless Evil. Americans were sold the false story of Kremlin Hitlers swooping down for no reason on the simple rustics of Afghanistan — the opening salvo in what we were told was surely a diabolical campaign of world conquest.
The truth was nothing like that. The Soviets were, of course, invited into Afghanistan by the Communist-run government in Kabul — a rather nasty and ineffective regime, to be sure — as it struggled with internal factional conflict and, more importantly, with a well-armed insurgency of Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the government’s modernization and secularization — including emancipation for women. The decision to accede to the Afghan government’s request and greatly increase the already existing number of Soviet military advisors was hotly debated in the Politburo. In the end, the reluctant decision was made to support the troublesome Afghan government. (The story is well told in Rodric Braithwaite’s book, Afgantsy.)
America’s meddling pre-dated the Soviet “invasion” of 1979. In fact, the “invasion” was a response to America’s horrifically short-sighted fomenting of violent Islamic extremism. The saintly Jimmy Carter and his Kissinger manqué, Zbigniew Brzezinski, decided they could give the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam” by luring it into an intractable guerrilla conflict in Afghanistan — as Brzezinski has proudly confirmed many times. So they joined with Saudi Arabia and other allies to create a worldwide network of heavily armed, well-funded Islamic extremists: the ultimate seed-bed of groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban, Zarqawi’s faction and ISIS.
These events don’t just arise, stir trouble for awhile, then go away. They have lasting effects, reverberating down through the years and bearing malignant fruit in a myriad of unexpected ways. We are all still paying the costs of Jimmy and Zbig’s murderously ignorant Great Gaming more than 30 years ago. Likewise, the Iraq War did not just go away when American forces finally pulled out less than three years ago. Although the country disappeared from the American consciousness, the destructive forces inflicted and unleashed upon the conquered land continued to ravage the lives of ordinary, innocent people there (and in America), leaving them in chaos, bitterness, hopelessness and despair. What is happening now was inevitable, in one form or another.
But our rulers — these pathetic, third-rate minds (for all their elite educations), lacking the imagination or the will or the desire to look beyond the blinkered constrictions of their imperialist worldview — have learned nothing from the past three years, or the past 30 years. It’s unlikely that Barack Obama will send American troops back to Iraq, but he will almost certainly take some kind of action, in his desperation to look “tough” to his critics, and to stave off the accusation of “losing” Iraq to “the terrorists.” Already the Idiot Choir of the political-media class is placing the blame for the current turn of events on the fact that America did not retain a troop presence in Iraq — as if THIS was the great error, the great “failure” of American policy, instead of the decision to invade the country in the first place.
(And also forgetting, as Cole points out, that the Iraqis themselves would not have accepted a continuing American presence; Maliki’s own hold on power depended on his image as a leader of a “sovereign,” independent nation, even as his power was entirely beholden to a political system set up by invaders. And of course, a continuing American presence during the past three years would have provoked even more resistance, more attacks on the American troops, more “force protection” by the occupiers, more raids, more atrocities, provoking more resistance — the same insane cycle we saw throughout the original occupation.)
But it’s pointless to dwell on the hair-splitting schisms of these fanatics of the Violence Cult. We already know that whatever response they come up with will adhere to the Cult’s orthodoxy: it will be violent, it will involve the death and suffering of innocent people, it will breed more chaos and extremism, and it will exacerbate the very problems it is ostensibly trying to resolve. These are the only results the Cult can produce; and there is no one in power — or even near power — in America who is not an adherent of the Cult.
And so the suffering — the pointless anguish and ruin — will go on.
UPDATE: A new article out today by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett underscores the insanity of the policies that have produced the situation in Iraq today. They pay special attention to the role of the Syrian conflict, which I only glanced at above. It is an important angle -- and one of the best illustrations of the madness now raging through the halls of power in the West. Once again, as in Afghanistan, Washington and its European and Saudi partners have poured massive amounts of money and weapons into an insurgency led by violent religious extremists -- and are now shocked to see this extremist insurgency spread throughout the region, particularly in Iraq, where a corrupt, crippled, invader-installed regime has led the country into further division and degradation.
Meanwhile, as I noted above and the Leveretts underscore here, in Washington the only response being offered is more of the same: more intervention to combat the extremists in Iraq, more funding and weapons for the extremists in Syria (and often the groups are the same), more war, more death, more violence. They literally do not know anything else.
Here's an excerpt from the article:
In Iraq, the resurgence of sectarian violence stems not from the 2011 American withdrawal. It is, rather, the fruit of America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, the subsequent U.S. occupation, and the much vaunted “surge” of 2007-2008. The U.S. invasion and occupation destroyed the Iraqi state and ignited tensions among Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic communities. The surge sought to empower certain Sunni militias while paying them (temporarily) not to kill American soldiers; this ended up giving Sunni militants the means to press their grievances through escalating violence once U.S. forces were no longer around.
Unfortunately, Washington seems determined to compound its appalling policy choices in Iraq with equally grievous choices regarding Syria. For over three years, America has provided Syrian oppositionists with “nonlethal” aid, trained opposition fighters, coordinated with others openly providing lethal aid for U.S.-vetted recipients, and extended high-level political backing to the anti-Assad campaign – including serially reiterated public demands from Obama that Assad “must go.” Yet, from the conflict’s start it has been clear that opposition fighters would not dislodge Assad, no matter how much external help they received – because, from the beginning, the constituencies supporting Assad and his government have added up to well over half of Syrian society. …
These realities were readily observable in spring 2011; we have been writing and speaking about them for over three years. Yet the Obama administration decided, within weeks after the outbreak unrest in parts of Syria in March 2011, to support oppositionists seeking to overthrow Assad. It did so – as administration officials told the New York Times in April 2011 – because it calculated that destabilizing Assad’s government would undermine Iran’s regional position.
This was a colossally irresponsible exercise in policymaking-by-wishful-thinking, for two reasons. First, outside support for opposition fighters – a sizable percentage of whom are not even Syrian – has taken what began as small-scale, indigenously generated protests over particular grievances and turned them into a heavily militarized insurgency that could sustain high levels of violence but could not actually win. The Obama administration prides itself on overthrowing Libya’s Muammar al-Qadhafi in 2011 without putting U.S. boots on the ground (though the results are comparable to those in Iraq: the destruction of a functioning state and the arming of militias that kill with impunity – including the U.S. ambassador in 2012). Assad is a vastly tougher target. Stepped up support for anti-Assad fighters will not accomplish anything positive strategically; it will, however, perpetuate conditions in which even more Syrians die.
Second, it was utterly foreseeable that backing an armed challenge to Assad would worsen the threat of jihadi militancy – in Syria, in neighboring countries like Iraq, and beyond. Well before March 2011, it was evident that, among Syria’s Sunni Islamist constituencies, the Muslim Brotherhood – whose Syrian branch was historically more radical than most Brotherhood cells – was being displaced by more extreme, al Qaeda-like groups. External support for anti-Assad forces after March 2011 accelerated the trend and reinforced it with an infusion of foreign fighters, including organ-eating extremists. Many of these jihadis, according to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, are now working not just to bring down Assad but also to mount attacks against the United States.
The Obama administration’s transformation of Syria into a magnet-cum-training ground for transnational jihadi fighters has directly fed the resurgence of jihadi extremism we are witnessing in Iraq. Three years ago, at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Islamic State of Iraq – formed in 2006 from Abu Musab Az-Zarqawi’s “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” movement – was on the ropes. Reinvigorated through the creation of an externally supported insurgency in Syria by the United States and America’s European and regional partners, it rebranded itself in 2013 as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and, like the Taliban in Afghanistan before 9/11, has taken over swaths of both Syria and Iraq with lightning speed.
Washington has only itself and its collaborators in the anti-Assad crusade to blame for such an outcome. As ISIS captures more cities and territory in Iraq, it is also capturing stockpiles of weapons and military equipment that America supplied to the post-Saddam government – weapons and equipment that will enable further gains by ISIS fighters. Against this backdrop, calls to increase the flow of weapons into neighboring Syria are a case study in Einstein’s (apocryphal) definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Calls for the United States to “go back” to Iraq, to undo the horrific damage it has already done there, are equally delusional.