Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

Cutting U.S. losses in the Mideast

December 21, 2018

If President Donald Trump intends to pull back U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, this would be the least bad thing he could do.  The only point of continuing the present policies that I can see is to not be the one that has to admit failure. 


Establishment Will Never Say No to War by Andrew Sullivan for New York magazine.

Trump: the art of the deal-breaker

May 9, 2018

As a business tycoon, Donald Trump was noted for breaking contracts and not paying bills.  He relied on his wealth and his lawyers to deter less-wealthy contractors and creditors from collecting what they were owed.

In renouncing the nuclear arms deal with Iran, he is trying to treat a small nation the way he once treated small businesses.   He evidently thinks he can do this without any bad consequences to the United States.  If so, he is wrong.

President Trump

The reason the Iranian government was willing to negotiate limitations to its nuclear program was that Iran faced economic sanctions by the United Nationals Security Council, which represents all the great powers, not just the United States, which has been waging economic warfare against Iran since the present regime came to power in 1979.

The nuclear agreement was negotiated with six countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, not the United States alone.   Renunciation by the U.S. government isn’t binding on any of the others.

It’s highly unlikely that Britain, France and Germany would agree to resume economic warfare against Iran, especially since President Trump did not consult them in advance.

It is certain that Russia and China will not, since the U.S. government, unlike when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Iran in 2006, now treats these two countries as adversaries.   So what Trump has done is to force Iran into alliance with Russia and China.

No objective observer doubts that Iran has kept its side of the agreement.  The problem from the standpoint of the United States is that the agreement has not affected Iran’s struggle with Saudi Arabia and Israel for  geopolitical power in the Middle East.

But what has made Iran so powerful?   U.S. military interventions are what has empowered Iran.

In 2001, Iran, which is ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics, was hemmed in by two hostile powers—the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to the west.

The U.S. overthrew the Taliban, who were Sunni Muslims, with the aid of Shiite Muslims friendly to Iran.  The U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein, another Sunni Muslim, and empowered the Shiite majority in Iraq.

Then the U.S. government-funded Sunni Muslim rebels against the Assad regime in Syria.   Bashir al-Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, called on Iran for help and got it.   Presumably he wouldn’t have wanted Iranian fighters in his country if his government hadn’t been in danger..

Another consequence of Trump’s decision is that North Korea will keep its nuclear weapons for at least a generation.   Why would Kim Jong Un negotiate over nuclear weapons with a government that has demonstrated it does not keep agreements?

But maybe the North and South Korean governments, out of fear of Trump’s recklessness, will negotiate a peace agreement between themselves.


The real winners in Iraq and Syria

January 2, 2018

Pipeline map via Southfront

Russian-backed forces have defeated the so-called Islamic State in Syria.  U.S.-backed forces have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq.  Peace may be at hand.

The winners in these wars were Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq.  The losers, in addition to the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), were Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Israel.

The United States was in a contradictory position.  By invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. gave power to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, which is aligned with Iran.   This went against long-range U.S. goals, which are to support Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Also, the official justification for intervention in the Middle East was to fight Al Qaeda terrorists.  But the regimes attacked by the U.S. government—Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria—were enemies of Al Qaeda, as was the Ayatollahs’ Iran.  No matter what U.S. did, it would either strengthen Al Qaeda or strengthen Iran.

Given the inherent contradiction in U.S. policy, I think the current outcome was the best that could be expected.   Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump deserve credit for not escalating a new war to keep Russians out of Syria and Iranians out of Iraq.   I’m not sure Hillary Clinton, given her record of starting wars, would have shown the same wisdom.


As guns fall silent, Russia to shape Syrian endgame by Sami Moubayed for Asia Times.  [Added 1/3/2018]

Iraq War 3.0, the War to End All Wars, Is Over by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Are the Wars in Syria and Iraq Finally Coming to an End? by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.


Adam Curtis on image, reality & suicide bombing

November 10, 2016

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who uses archival footage to remind viewers of forgotten facts and to make connections that others wouldn’t see.

This documentary does not quite add up to a connected whole, but within it is a fascinating history of the evolution of suicide bombing, starting with the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1982, the Iran-Iraq war, Palestinian terrorism, the 9-11 attacks and Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism.

Along with it is a history of American and British deception and self-deception in their policies toward Syria and Libya.

Suicide bombing, according to Curtis, as a military tactic by Syria’s ruler Hafiz al-Assad to offset American military power in his region.  Now it is used by ISIS to sow sectarian strife in Iraq and Syria, and bring down Assad’s son, Bashir al-Assad.

He documents how Muammar Qaddafi was set up by American policy-makers as a scapegoat for the crimes of Hafiz al-Assad because he was a more vulnerable foe.

This film is not the whole story of recent Middle Eastern history.  Curtis appears to think that the American and British governments seriously intended to bring democracy to the Middle East, for example.  But he brings out many fascinating facts, some forgotten and some new (at least to me).

I recommend viewing just those parts of the documentary dealing with Syria, suicide bombing and the Middle East, and fast-forwarding through the rest, which consists of disconnected material about Curtis’s long-term concerns about technological manipulation, technological utopianism and the decline of the democratic process.

Click on HyperNormalization if the YouTube version doesn’t work.  Click on The Century of the Self and All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace for Curtis’s best documentaries about his meta concerns.

The tangled history of Syria’s civil war

November 4, 2015

Look to the video above for background on Syria’s tangled civil war.

Look to the link below for background on the tangled conflicts in Syria and the Middle East generally, from a different slant but (mostly) citing the same basic facts.

Are you confused by the Middle East?  Here are some things you should know.  (But you’ll probably still be confused) by William Blum for The Anti-Empire Report.  (Hat tip to Bill Elwell).

Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/23/2015

October 23, 2015

Iceland Just Jailed Dozens of Corrupt Bankers for 74 Years, the Opposite of What America Does by Jay Syrmopoulos of the Free Thought Project (via AlterNet)

Iceland sentences 26 bankers to a combined 74 years in prison by gjohnsit for Daily Kos (Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack)

Icelandic courts have sentenced 26 bankers to prison terms for two to five years each—a total of 74 years—for financial fraud and manipulation leading up to the financial crash of 2008.

The important precedent here, and the great contrast with the United States, is that Iceland prosecuted individuals, not banks.  An organization structure cannot commit crimes, any more than a bank building can commit crimes.   It is the individuals within the structure who have criminal responsibility.

JADE: A Global Witness Investigation Into Myanmar’s Big “State Secret” (hat tip to Jack)

High-quality jade is the most valuable product of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.  But the government and people of the country get little benefit from it.  Instead the trade is controlled by military elites, corporate cronies and U.S.-sanctioned drug lords.

Nawal El Saadawi: ‘Do you feel you are liberated?  I feel I am not’ by Rachel Cooke for The Guardian (Hat tip to Jack)

An interview with the formidable 83-year-old Egyptian author, freethinker, feminist, medical doctor and campaigner against female genital mutilation.


Will Russia take sides in Shiite-Sunni conflict?

October 22, 2015

Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The Sunni-Shiite war is a tragedy, but it would burn itself out if Saudi Arabia and Iran were not using the two Islamic factions are proxies in their struggle for power in the Middle East.

The lineup is Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias on one side, and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Turkey and the Sunni militias on the other.

The U.S. government has inflamed the conflict further by taking the side of Saudi Arabia.  This has undermined our “war on terror,” because Al Qaeda and ISIS are among the Saudi-backed Sunni militias warring against Syria.

Now Russia is befriending Iran and giving military assistance to Syria, and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq is thinking of calling in Russian help.  All this is in the name of fighting ISIS, which is a good thing, not a bad thing.  But if Russia is lining up permanently with Iran’s proxies against the U.S.-backed Saudi proxies, this is quite another thing.

A U.S.-Russian proxy conflict would increase human suffering in the Middle East, and be of no benefit to the American or Russian peoples  It would be dangerous for the world..  Washington should open negotiations with Moscow to keep the conflict from escalating further.


Isis in Iraq: Shia leaders want Russian air strikes against militant threat by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

The Return of the Syrian Army by Robert Fisk for The Independent (via Counterpunch)

Putin Forces Obama to Capitulate on Syria by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Seymour Hersh Report of False Flag Syrian Gas Attack by Peter Lee for China Matters.


U.S. and Russian bases in the Middle East

October 3, 2015


U.S. bases in the Middle East

Russian bases in the Middle East

Russian bases in the Middle East

Vladimir Putin has sent Russian forces to Syria to prop up the regime of Russia’s ally, Bashar al-Assad.

He said he is joining in the war against the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).  The U.S. government said Russia is targeting the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army and other “moderate” rebels rather than ISIS itself.

I’m not sure how significant that difference is.  I don’t think it is realistic to think it is possible to overthrow Assad and keep ISIS out of power without sending American forces to occupy Syria—and even then the outcome would be doubtful.

Many countries besides the USA and Russia have conducted air strikes in Syria.   One list includes Australia, Bahrein, France, Israell, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and should have included Canada and Turkey.

I don’t think Russia is in a position to challenge the U.S. military presence in the Middle East directly.  I think Putin’s plan is to enhance the power of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah vs. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, but to minimize actual Russian activity.


Why doesn’t the U.S. help Iran fight ISIS?

September 14, 2015


The European refugee crisis is due mainly to the Islamic State’s reign of terror in parts of Syria.

Bashar al-Assad is a ruthless dictator who will do whatever it takes to stay in power.  But his regime doesn’t mutilate and kill people because of their religion or lifestyle.   People of different religions and ethnicities have co-existed peacefully under his government.

This is not true of the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).  Under their rule, you are not safe unless you are willing to live under their extreme and wrong ideas of what Islam was like in the days of Mohammad.

Since the surge of millions of refugees into Europe directly affects U.S. allies, and since ISIS is the direct cause of this crisis, why does the United States hesitate to join forces with the Iranian government, which is the main enemy of ISIS?

Gareth Porter, writing for Middle East Eye, has a good idea of the reasons:

US policy toward the Middle East has long been defined primarily not by threats originating in the region but by much more potent domestic political interests, both electoral and bureaucratic.

The power of the Israel lobby in Washington, primarily but not exclusively over Congress, is well known, and that has imposed a rigid political and legal framework of hostility toward Iran on the US government for two decades, beginning with a complete trade embargo that remains in place and creates major obstacles to any shift in policy.

What is seldom acknowledged, however, is that the interests of the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA have become tightly intertwined with those of the anti-Iran coalition in the Middle East.

A set of mutually reinforcing bureaucratic interests now binds US policy to an alliance structure and military and intelligence programmes in the Middle East that have come to replace objective analysis of regional realities in determining US policy.


USA should join with Iran against ISIS

July 16, 2015

Israel and Saudi Arabia are not friends and do not even have diplomatic relations, but they work in parallel when it is in their national interest to do so.

Why should not the governments of the United States and Iran work together against our common enemies, the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) and Al Qaeda?

This would make more sense than trying to fight ISIS and Al Qaeda while making common cause with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates against the main enemies of ISIS and Al Qaeda.


Tom Jansson cartoon for The Cagle Post

Maybe this is what President Obama had in mind.  Maybe this is already U.S. policy.  If so, good!

Americans criticize the Iranian government for giving weapons and other help to armed factions in other countries, but that is no different from what the Saudis, the Gulf emirates, Israel and the United States itself does.  Iran’s current intervention in Iraq and Syria is at the invitation of the governments of those countries.

I think the violent conflicts in the Middle East, including the Sunni-Shiite conflict, would die down if Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, the USA and other countries agreed among themselves to stop giving weapons, supplies and money to the various battling groups.

Unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.  But I have to say the such an agreement is more likely than other nations agreeing to be neutral while the US government continues conducting bombing campaigns and arming its own proxies.

Iran and the United States are neither friends nor enemies.  They are countries with their own interests, which sometimes overlap and sometimes conflict.


Rethinking Iran by Kevin Schwartz and Arjun Singh Sethi for Counterpunch.

U.S. Mideast policy: Links & comments 12/5/14

December 5, 2014

Malarkey on the Potomac: Five bedrock Washington assumptions that are hot air by Andrew J. Bacevich for TomDispatch (via the Unz Review).

The five false assumptions are:

  • The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.
  • The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.
  • Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.
  • The interests of the United States and Israel align.
  • Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

I strongly recommend reading Bacevich’s whole article.

41 men targeted for U.S. drone strikes, but 1,147 killed by Spencer Ackerman for The Guardian.

A sixth false assumption is that flying killer drones are a safe, precise and effective way to wage war.  In fact, the U.S. government is making enemies at a faster rate than it is killing them off.

Iraq’s 50,000 ‘Ghost Soldiers’ by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

A seventh false assumption is that the U.S. government can use foreign fighters as proxies for American troops.  Either the foreign fighters have their own aims, which may not be identical with U.S. interests, or they are more interested in collecting pay than fighting.  In Iraq, certain military officers and contractors collect pay for troops that don’t even exist.

U.S. to Use Psych Tests to Vet Syrian Rebels for Moderateness by Peter Van Buren.

This may seem like satire, but it isn’t.


The passing scene: November 5, 2014

November 5, 2014

Voting rights groups challenge electoral purges by Greg Palast by Al Jazeera America.

One of the techniques for depriving black people and other minorities of the right to vote is by means of the interstate Crosscheck program, in which voters are removed from the rolls if a voter of that name is recorded as voting in two different states in the same election.

The problem is there are many people of the same name.  “Phil Ebersole” is not so common a name as “John Smith,” but a Google search turns up the names of more than half a dozen Phil Ebersoles in different states, most or all of whom presumably voted in the same election.

Crosscheck assumes “double voting” even if the voters have different Social Security numbers, different middle initials or one is “Jr.” and the other is “Sr.”   Investigative reporter Greg Palast, who’s been writing about voter suppression and election fraud for more than 10 years, said millions of voters, mostly Democrats and mostly minorities, were disqualified during the current election.

Israel’s desire to remake the Middle East challenges the Obama presidency by Geoffrey Aronson for Al Jazeera America.

Geoffrey Aronson, a former adviser to the World Bank and European Union on Palestinian issues, wrote that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a long range goal to reshape the Middle East in ways that enhance Israel’s power and weaken the surrounding Arab states.

Netanyahu believes that the boundaries of existing Arab states, which were drawn by Britain and France following World War One, are unnatural, Aronson wrote; Israel’s leader would like to see an independent Kurdistan, a breakup of Syria and many small states reflecting the ethnic divisions among Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and other groups.

This is compatible with the goals of the Islamic State (ISIS), which wants to unite Sunni Arabs in Syria and Iraq.  It does not fit the desire of President Obama for a united and stable Iraq.


Going to war for oil doesn’t make any sense

October 9, 2014


One of the justifications for going to war in the Middle East is to make sure we Americans have access to oil.

During the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Secretary of State James Baker said the issue was “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  He didn’t explain, but what I and other Americans took him to mean that if Saddam Hussein cut us off from the oil of Kuwait, our industrial machine would falter.

But there was no danger of that happening.  Saddam Hussein was perfectly happy to sell Iraq’s oil, and would have been perfectly happy to sell Kuwait’s oil.

oilcorridorThe oil-producing nations have just as much need to sell their oil as the oil-consuming nations have to buy it.

U.S. interventions in the Middle East have reduced American access to oil, not secured it.  The sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, the continuing sanctions against Iran and the new sanctions against Russia have been intended to prevent these nations from selling their oil and natural gas.  The invasion of Iraq destroyed much of that nation’s oil-producing capability, which is only now recovering.

All this made oil and gas prices higher, not lower.

The only time U.S. access to Middle East oil was cut off was during the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.  But the embargo was broken without military action.  It was broken by the international oil companies who sold the oil to whoever wanted to buy it.  [1]

Since then there has never been another threat to U.S. oil imports.  The most strongly anti-American leaders, Libya’s Qaddafi and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, never refused to do business with the United States.  Politics was one thing; business, another.


History of changing allegiances in the Middle East

October 8, 2014


Source: 15 Maps That Don’t Explain the Middle East in The Atlantic.

This chart shows America’s changing friends and foes in the Middle East.  The blue countries are friends, the red countries are foes.

Changes in allegiance come about through coups (gun), invasions (tank), treaties (pen), elections (check mark) or uprisings (man with flag).

U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East had some logic when its goal was trying to keep the region from coming under control of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.  I don’t see any equivalent goal now.


Click to enlarge.

 Source: Slate

Why the U.S. lost the war on terror

September 4, 2014

The war on terror is over …  Terror won. [1]

Following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began what was called the “war on terror.”  This war [2] has been lost.  Anti-American terrorists are many times stronger now than they were back then, and the U.S. government lacks a feasible strategy for fighting them.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including most of the Islamic world, was outraged at the killing of 3,000 innocent civilians, and rallied to the side of the USA.  There were pro-American demonstrations even in Tehran!

This would have been a great opportunity to shut down Al Qaeda for good.  Al Qaeda was a criminal conspiracy and a would-be mass movement.  The way to fight a mass movement is to cut it off from its popular support.  The way to fight a criminal conspiracy is to cut if off from its sources of money.  Both of these, in my opinion, were feasible at the time.

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600But this was not the path that was taken.

Instead of targeting Al Qaeda, the U.S. government decided to target hostile governments—perhaps on the theory that the Pentagon does not know how to fight mass movements, but does know how to invade small foreign countries.

Instead of targeting countries in which Al Qaeda had its roots, such as Saudi Arabia, the U.S. invaded Iraq, whose leader, Saddam Hussein, was an enemy of Al Qaeda, while continuing its cold war with Iran, also an enemy of Al Qaeda.  Later the U.S. helped overthrow the government of Libya and plotted to overthrow the government of Syria, whose leaders, Qaddafi and Assad, were not anti-American, but eager to stay in the good graces of the U.S. government.

U.S. invasions reduced Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria to bloody chaos, which are precisely the conditions in which radical and terrorist mass movements flourish.  Since the U.S. military has yet to figure out how to deal with insurgencies, the U.S. government has relied on assassination teams, flying killer robots and use of local forces as proxies.

Assassination teams are effective in taking out leaders.  I can’t count the number of times the death of Al Qaeda’s “second in command” has been announced.   Flying killer robots are less so.  But mass movements throw up new leaders.  Osama bin Laden is dead, and his original organization probably is need, but new Al Qaedas have sprung up in Yemen and Iraq, and the so-called Islamic State is even more radical than Al Qaeda.

Use of proxies has backfired time and time again.  The weapons the U.S. government gives to its supposed friends wind up in the hands of its enemies, either because the supposed friends are not willing to fight or because the supposed friends have their own objectives which are different from what we Americans think.

The USA has had too many enemies in the Middle East, so that the enemies of our enemies are also our enemies.   We were enemies of the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran, but supported their Shiite allies in Iraq against Saddam’s loyalists and radical Sunni Muslim jihadists.   We were enemies of the radical jihadist Muslims, but we supported them against Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Assad.  Now Washington journalists and politicians talk about supporting Iran and its Syrian and Iraqi allies against the jihadist Islamic State.

It is no wonder there is no faction in the Middle East the U.S. government can trust.  Nor is it any wonder there is no faction that trusts the U.S. government.

Having no clear aims of its own, the U.S. government follows the lead of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchs such as Qatar, all of whom naturally follow their own perceived interests,

I am as horrified by the actions of the so-called Islamic State movement as anybody else.  But I can’t think of anything the Obama administration could do that won’t make matters worse.   Bomb the Islamic State forces?  Bombing from the air terrorizes and alienates the mass of the people below.  Arm the Iraqi government?  The U.S. arms they were given previously wound up in the hands of the Islamic State.   Arm the Kurds?  Maybe.

We Americans have lost all moral standing in the Middle East to denounce the crimes of the Islamic State.  That is because hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners have died as the result of U.S. military action, and hundreds of thousands more have been turned into refugees.  [3]   Nobody in that part of the world has any reason to take seriously anything an American says.  [4]   The Islamic State is an evil for the Arabs to deal with (or not), not us.

The best thing for us Americans to do is to admit defeat, wind down our presence in the Middle East and concentrate on rebuilding our own nation.


U.S. power failure in the Middle East

August 14, 2014

ISIS-Iraq-AttackSince the 1950s, I have watched the decline in the United States relationship with the nations of the Middle East.

The U.S. government has grown progressively less inhibited in the use of direct military force in the Middle East, and less concerned with international law and world public opinion.  Despite an expanded military presence in the region, the U.S. government has become progressively less able to influence events there.  Successive U.S. military interventions have been an education to our enemies in how to fight us, and they have learned their lessons well.

Looking at the many U.S. interventions (many of which I thought were a good idea at the time), I don’t see how the USA would have been any worse off if we had left the Middle East alone.

  • During the Eisenhower administration, the U.S. government supplied favored governments with military and other foreign aid, and engineered at least one coup, against the Mohammed Mossadegh government (which was legally elected), but reined in Britain, France and Israel when they attacked Egypt.
  • In the Reagan administration, the United States began committing acts of war against Middle East countries — bombarding villages in Lebanon in retaliation for the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut; bombarding Libya in retaliation for President Qaddafi’s involvement in the terror bombing of an airliner
  • In the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. for the first time invaded and occupied a Middle East country, in order to set up a more acceptable government.  This followed nearly a decade of low-level war—blockade and bombing—under the administration.  The target was Iraq, whose government had never threatened the United States.
  • The Obama administration is talking about intervening in conflicts within Middle Eastern nations, to make sure the side most favorable to the United States wins.  This is a hard choice, because so many of the factions, however much they hate each other, are agreed they don’t want foreign control of their countries.

An evolution also has taken place in the enemies of  the United States.   In each generation, the new leaders are fiercer, more savage and more implacable than the ones that went before.   I think Americans today would be pleased to deal with the likes of Mohammed Mossadegh and Gamel Abdel Nasser, and even Saddam Hussein and Hafiz al-Assad seem moderate and reasonable compared to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

We Americans value freedom of religion and equal rights for women, but Christians and other minorities were persecuted less under Nasser and Saddam, and women enjoyed greater opportunities, than they do in Egypt and Iraq today.

Our enemies, unlike us, have grown more effective.  What our government has been doing with its interventions has been giving our enemies lessons in how to fight us.  They have learned they can’t fight us on the battlefield, on our own terms, as Saddam Hussein tried to do.  Instead they have improved on classic guerrilla tactics, in which the enemy’s strength is used against him.

The Pentagon and the CIA know how to topple governments, overtly and covertly.  But they can’t topple a movement such as ISIS, any more than Israel can topple Hamas, because they are mass movements, not governments.  Kill or capture the leaders, and more leaders emerge to take their place.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is apparent that in terms of the goal of obtaining access to oil, the United States government would have done better to stay out of Middle East conflicts.

The Japanese and Chinese, whose governments have been neutral, are just as free to buy Middle East oil as Americans.

U.S. access to the oil of the Middle East has been threatened only once—during the Arab oil embargo of 1973.   The embargo was in retaliation for U.S. meddling in the Middle East, and was ineffective anyway.  There also was a brief oil shortage in 1979 following the interruption of oil production in Iran following the overthrow of the Shah.

But broadly speaking, the oil-producing countries need to sell oil as badly as the United States and other oil-consuming countries need to buy it.  Not even the anti-American government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela cut off oil sales to the United States, because that would have hurt Venezuelans as much or more than it would have hurt us Americans.   Economic self-interest, in some circumstances, can be a powerful force for good.

Of course prior to 1991, the U.S. government had a negative as well as a positive goal.  The negative goal was to keep the Soviet Union from gaining control of the governments and resources of the Middle East.  Maybe the Soviets would have gotten bogged down in quagmires of their own without the United States doing anything, and maybe not.  There is no way to know for sure.   I can understand why American policymakers wouldn’t want to stand aside and find out.

U.S. policy today could be interpreted as having the goal of being able to deny the Chinese access to the oil of the Middle East.  I have no evidence that this is the goal, but if the Chinese government thinks otherwise, this would explain why they are building up an ocean-going navy and demanding control of the sea lanes around China.


War and peace: Links & comments 7/22/14

July 22, 2014

Lessons from America’s War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich for Notre Dame magazine.

Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations, retired career Army officer and self-described conservative Catholic, talks as much good sense about American military and foreign policy as anybody I know about.

In this article, he traces American policy toward the Middle East from the 1980 Carter Doctrine, which stated that the U.S. would use force to protect access to the oil of the Persian Gulf, down to the present day.  He sees more continuity than differences between the Democratic and Republican administrations.

The policy is based on the hope that, by the application of force, the United States can counter tendencies in the Islamic war that threaten American interests.  The result has been death and destruction, with the result that the people of the Middle East see the United States as the main threat to their freedom and well-being.

Bacevich says its time to stop ignoring reality and attempting the impossible.

Ukraine Open Thread (and Links) on Naked Capitalism.

Fact-Free Zone by Dmitry Orlov on ClubOrlov.

‘It was Putin’s missile’ by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

I don’t know who shot down the MH-17 airliner over Ukraine.  I agree with President Obama that a thorough and complete investigation is needed to determine the facts.  Why, then, is he ramping up a cold war against Russia, as if all the facts were known?

Israel mows the lawn by Mouin Rabbani for the London Review of Books

The author says the policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to prevent, by any means necessary, the emergence of a Palestinian state that is independent in fact and not just in name.  The last thing Netanyahu wants is a peace process.

The world scene: Links & comments 6/27/14

June 27, 2014

On Robot Soldiers and the Recession by Scott Beauchamp for The Baffler.

The Department of Defense’s long-range policy is to replace troops with robots.   This means the U.S. government will be able wage war with fewer casualties, but it also means that enlistment in the armed forces will no cease to be available as a path out of poverty.   In a well-ordered society, there ought to be ways to provide useful work in ways that don’t involve wearing uniforms and carrying guns.

A glimpse into the Google-Military-Surveillance Complex by Yasha Levine for PandoDaily.

Google’s management has protested government surveillance of private citizens, but the company has been involved for years in that very business.  It has long been a major contractor in improving the surveillance capabilities of the NSA, FBI, CIA, DEA and other military and intelligence agencies in Washington.  Now it is trying to sell surveillance services and technology to local police departments.

Is Russia Replacing US in Iraq? by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Has the term ‘US ally’ become worthless? by Gwynne Dyer for Middle East Eye.

The problem with playing geo-political chess is that the chessmen play their own game, which is not the same as yours.  This has been the experience of  American diplomats in trying to use governments and political factions in the Middle East as proxies to achieve their aims.   Iraq is a prime example of this.

Ukraine signs trade agreement with EU, draws Russian threat by Reuters.

Ukraine Signs Trade, Economic Pact With European Union by the Associated Press.

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have signed association agreements with the European Union, which means they will not be part of Vladimir Putin’s proposed Eurasian Union.   It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Putin has economic and covert military means to disrupt this deal.  And the European Union will have more three more extremely poor nations to integrate into the Europe-wide common market.

How Russia-Austria pipeline deal buffers Moscow against sanctions by Fred Weir for Christian Science Monitor.

Putin plays his cards skillfully.  Various European countries are signing on to a Russian plan to build a new gas pipeline that will serve southern Europe and bypass Ukraine, which indicates they have no interest in boycotting Russian gas.

The passing scene: Links & comments 11/9/13

November 9, 2013

South Africa breaks out of ‘partnership’ agreement trap by Joseph Stiglitz for the Bangkok Post.

The government of South Africa is party to trade treaties that, like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty, grant international corporations privileged positions over the nation’s citizens.  But it is letting these treaties expire and renegotiating them.  Other countries should and are following suit.

America’s Death Spiral in the Middle East by Bob Dreyfuss for TomDispatch.

In the Middle East, the United States is despised by its enemies, its supposed allies, and even leaders it put in power.  The only hope of salvaging the U.S. position, according to this writer, is an alliance with Iran.  I think he’s right.

Syria’s Assault on Doctors by Annie Sparrow for The New York Review of Books.

I think President Obama was right to back off from attacking Syria, because this would have made a bad situation even worse, but the plight of the Syrian people remains.

Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters by John Knefel for Rolling Stone.

A U.N. report finds the global private security industry is booming by Elliott Hannon for Slate.

President Eisenhower warned of danger of a military-industrial complex.  Now we have a surveillance-industrial complex and a police-industrial complex.

Obama Gets Behind Democrats’ $10.10 Minimum Wage Proposal by Dave Jamieson for Huffington Post.

Obama wants to cut Social Security by Ben Strubel for New Economic Perspectives.

I am glad of the President’s decision to support a higher minimum wage.  I wish he were as relentless in pressing for that as he is for indexing Social Security to the “chained CPI”.

Billionaire Steven Cohen Can’t Make His Mommy’s Monkey Jump by Greg Palast for Truthout.

Palast profiles a member of what Theodore Roosevelt called “the wealthy criminal class.”  No matter how many billions he has, he thinks he needs more.

Death and indentured servitude in Qatar

October 29, 2013

The natural gas fields controlled by tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar make it the richest nation in the world in income and production (GDP) per person.  Its rulers have ambitious plans to make it a business and tourism center for the Middle East and the world.  The prestige of Qatar is symbolized by the fact that it will be host to soccer’s World Cup in 2022..

Yet Qatar’s riches rest on the labor of non-citizens, most of them migrant laborers who have no rights, and work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for poverty wages, which sometimes are withheld from them.

Only about 250,000 people, all of them native Qataris, are citizens.  Most of the rest of Qatar’s estimated 2 million residents are migrant laborers, who comprise 94 percent of the country’s work force.  The kingdom is busy constructing stadiums, hotels and other facilities for the 2022 World Cup, and another 1 million new migrant workers are expected in the coming decade.

Qatar’s labor system resembles the indentured servitude that existed in Britain’s American colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries.  The video above shows their working conditions.  Workers can come to Qatar only if they have a Qatari sponsor.  Once in Qatar, they cannot change jobs, get a driver’s license, rent an apartment, open a back account or leave the country without the sponsor’s permission.  This leaves them with no recourse if they’re not paid their wages.

A majority of Qatar’s migrants are from the Indian subcontinent, many of them from the Himalayan nation of Nepal, and many of the rest are from the Philippines and Indonesia.  When you have a tiny elite of rich people ruling over a large number of impoverished laborers, this is a bad situation.  When the elite are of a different nationality, culture or religion from the laborers, it is an unstable situation.

The United States military has a big stake in the region.  Qatar hosts the U.S. headquarters and principal air base for the Middle East region.  I would hate to see the U.S. government helping the Qatari government put down an uprising of its people.


What should be U.S. goals in the Middle East?

September 13, 2013

WikipediaMiddleEastmapThe conflicts in the Middle East are too complex for me to easily grasp.  I don’t kid myself that I understand them simply from having read a few books and magazine articles.

There is a struggle between poor people and working people versus a wealthy upper class and foreign corporations.   There is a struggle among democrats, theocrats and nationalists.   There is a religious struggle between Sunnis, Shiites and other Muslim factions and among Muslims, Christians, Jews and other religion.  There is a struggle by corporations and governments inside and outside the region for control of oil and gas fields and of pipeline routes.  There is a struggle between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.  There is a struggle for power and influence among Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other nations within the region, and among the USA, the UK, France, Russia and other powers outside the region.  Probably there are other important factors that I neglected to mention.   I can’t disentangle them all.

But each and every one of us Americans has the ability and responsibility to decide is what my country’s goals should be in regard to the region, and how far we should go to implement this goals.

I think that the best way for Americans to assure a supply of oil and natural gas is to have good relations with the nations that produce oil and gas and to build up our own economy so that we can afford to pay a fair price.   Taking sides with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states against their rivals in the region is not a dependable strategy for getting access to their oil.

Syria_regionI think that the best way for Americans to encourage other nations to give up poison gas, bio-weapons and nuclear weapons is to assure them that they do not need these weapons to deter attack.  The more the U.S. government threatens and bombs foreign countries, the more they will want weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent.

Back in the days when Israel’s existence was threatened by the Arab League, I thought the United States government should protect that country from attack.  If such a situation recurred, I suppose I would feel the same way.  But for now, the U.S. guarantee encourages the current Israel leadership to think they can attack foreign countries with impunity.   This is dangerous in the long run, even for Israel itself.

I think the best way to fight terrorists is to treat them as criminals and not as warriors.   U.S. actions create terrorists, when we arm and pay them to attack governments we’ve designated as enemies, or when we kill indiscriminately and raise up enemies bent on taking revenge.

I think the best way to promote freedom and democracy is to show friendship to governments that are free and democratic.  When a dictator is overthrown, the best way to help the new government is to provide practical aid, including helping to liquidate the government debts left over from the previous regime.  If the U.S. government was really interested in promoting freedom and democracy in Egypt, it would not have given the former regime $1 billion a year to buy U.S. weapons to use against their own people.

I think the best way to deal with governments that commit atrocities is to bring charges before international courts against the individuals responsible, based on evidence and proof.

I think the mission of the U.S. armed forces should be to defend the U.S. homeland, to defend U.S. allies to which our country is bound by treaties and to protect the lives of individual American citizens abroad.

I had a quiz with the original version of this post, but I deleted it because of apparent lack of interest and because the results would not have been meaningful.  However, I would be highly interested in comments about the goals of U.S. policy in the Middle East and about when the U.S. government would be justified in using military force.

Al-Qaeda and the death of Osama bin Laden

May 3, 2011

Robert Fisk, foreign correspondent for The Independent of London, has covered the Middle East from his home in Bierut for more than 30 years.  He interviewed Osama bin Laden three times.  Click on Robert Fisk for his web log.