Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Russia as the jihadists’ “far enemy”

January 5, 2017

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When Al Qaeda jihadist terrorists attacked the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it was part Osama bin Laden regarded the USA as the “far enemy” who propped up all the “near enemies” in the Arab world.

But for many of the jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the “far enemy” is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the USA.   A large number are Chechens, a Muslim nationality living mostly within the Russian Federalion, or Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs or others living under regimes in Central Asia that are propped up by Russia.

One of Putin’s first actions when he came to power was to ruthlessly crush the independence movement in Chechnia.   The justification was a series of terrorist attacks that were very likely a false flag attack by the Russian FSB.

Since then many Chechen fighters have been driven out of Russia, and are now fighting the Russian-backed Assad government of Syria, along with Uzbeks and other nationalities from the former Soviet republics.

Some analysts think that the export of jihadists is a conscious Russian strategy.  The best outcome, from the Russian point of view, is that they die fighting in Syria.   But even if they survive, they have made themselves known to Russian intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia does the same thing with its jihadist rebels—suppresses them at home and encourages them to go wage war in other countries.

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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 danger of war with Russia over Syria

October 27, 2016

During the whole of the Cold War, American and Soviet troops never faced each other on the battlefield.  Both sides feared possible escalation into nuclear war.

If the United States proclaims a “no fly” zone in Syria or sends troops to create a “safe zone” for anti-Assad forces, there is a real danger of a shooting war between the United States and Russia.

The United States and Russia are the only two nations with enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other.  Presumably leaders of neither nation want this, but who knows what a direct Russian-American conflict could escalate into?  And for what?

LINKS

Making Sense of the Russian Task Force Off Syria by The Saker, a pro-Russian blogger.

Is the US Headed Towards War in Syria?, an interview with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, on the Real News Network.

Looking Ahead: Clinton’s Plans for Syria by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Fact Check: Trump Is Right That Clinton Might Cause WW3 by Carl Herman on Washington’s Blog.

A realistic map of the Middle East

August 22, 2016

truemapofmiddleeastThomas_Map-01

This map of the Middle East, showing which entities actually control what territory, was published by Frank Jacobs on the Strange Maps web site.  Here’s Jacobs’ key to the map.

  • The Syrian central government (in light grey), based in Damascus, controls a coastal strip of territory in a patchwork shared with a number of rebel forces. The interior of the country is lost to government control, except a single light grey island in a sea of dark grey (for IS): the besieged city of Deir ez-Zor.
  • The ‘official’ rebels (in green) control a fragmented archipelago of territories, spread across the north, middle and south of the country – also concentrated in the east, but without coastal access.  Aleppo, in the north, is on the front line between government and rebel forces, with horrific consequences for the city and its people.
  • Large parts of northern Syria are controlled by the Syrian Defence Forces (in red): a contiguous zone in the northeast, and a smaller zone in the northwest.  Both are separated by the zone of contact between Turkey and Islamic State, although that zone has gotten a bit narrower since the takeover by the SDF of Manbij.  The SDF, by the way, are mainly Kurdish forces, and the area they control is often referred to as Rojava – Kurdish for ‘West’.
  • The Islamic State controls not only the largest part of Syria, but has also spilled over into Iraq, where it dominates mainly Sunni areas in the centre, up to and including the city of Mosul in the north.  The IS’s territory is surrounded by enemies, but has the advantage of being contiguous, with the exception of two exclaves, one in southwest Iraq, and another one in southeast Syria.
  • What remains of Iraq is controlled in the south by the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad (in light blue), and in the North by the Iraqi Kurds (in yellow).
  • The map also reflects the mainly unrecognised secession of Northern Cyprus (in dark blue) and the de facto secession of Hezbollah-dominated areas within Lebanon (in green) – both facts on the ground predating the Syrian conflict, and likely to survive it.

Source: Frank Jacobs | Big Think

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Putin’s Russia is playing defense, not offense

December 23, 2015

vladimir-putin-riding-bearI don’t see Russia’s Vladimir Putin as a threat.  He has been backed into a difficult corner.

Russia’s economy suffers under economic sanctions, the Russian intervention in Syria isn’t going as well as hoped, and the Russian governmental structure is riddled with corruption.

But Russia has a nuclear force second only to the USA.  Russia is the only national in the world with the power to bring about the mutual destruction of itself and the USA.

It is a bad idea to back Vladimir Putin into a corner in which he thinks Russia is threatened, over matters in which the United States has no vital interests.

President Obama says Putin is an aggressor.   If so, he is a highly unsuccessful aggressor.

Russia’s position is much weaker than it was five years ago.  Back then, Russia had good relations with Ukraine and it was integrated into Russia’s economy.  Now the best Putin can hope for is continued Russian occupation of Crimea, a devastated eastern Ukraine friendly to Russia and a hostile western Ukraine.

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Is there hope for peace in Syria?

December 22, 2015

Hope for peace in Syria depends on two things:

  • the defeat of the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh), because those fanatics cannot live in peace with anyone else
  • renunciation of “regime change” as a U.S. goal in Syria, because you can’t negotiate a peace with someone while you are openly bent on his destruction.

peace-in-syria-262x300Secretary of State John Kerry has said some things that indicate the United States might be willing to work with Vladimir Putin for a negotiated peace.  I hope this is so.  U.S. policy under President Obama has been marked by a steady drift toward war, interrupted by sudden lurches toward peace, as with the Iranian sanctions negotiations.

Almost all the Democratic and Republican candidates are worse on this issue than the current administration.  Hillary Clinton is a war hawk.  Bernie Sanders says that the destruction of ISIS should take priority over removal of President Assad of Syria, but removal of Assad should remain as a long-term goal.

The Republican candidates are all over the map.  I regret having given Donald Trump and Ted Cruz credit for certain glimmers of sanity when in fact they have no coherent policy.   The one voice of sanity is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is a clear and principled opponent of regime change, but has little chance of winning the GOP nomination.

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Now Russia is drawn into the Sunni-Shiite conflict

December 15, 2015

ISIS, al Qaeda and the other violent jihadist fighters are not from any one country.  They are part of an international movement, so there are Arabs fighting in Afghanistan and Chechens fighting in Syria.  In a sinister way, they resemble the international brigades that fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

ISIS, al Qaeda and their supporters are inspired by teachings of the Wahhabis (or Salafis), an extremely harsh theocratic sect with roots in Saudi Arabia and a strong following in Pakistan.

But a report by Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online indicates there is a parallel movement among the Shiite Muslims, whose strength is in Iran:

151007165249-putin-assad-syria-large-169Assad’s army isn’t just vulnerable, it also isn’t strictly a Syrian force anymore. For the last two years, the forces on his side have increasingly been made up of foreigners, including Revolutionary Guards from Iran, members of Iraqi militias and Hezbollah units from Lebanon.

They are joined at the front by Shiite Afghans from the Hazara people, up to 2 million of whom live in Iran, mostly as illegal immigrants. They are forcibly conscripted in Iranian prisons and sent to Syria — according to internal Iranian estimates, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 of them fighting in the country.

The situation leads to absurd scenes: In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, rebels began desperately searching for Persian interpreters after an offensive of 2,500 Afghans suddenly began approaching.

It is the first international Shiite jihad in history, one which has been compensating for the demographic inferiority of Assad’s troops since 2012. The alliance has prevented Assad’s defeat, but it hasn’t been enough for victory either.

Furthermore, the orders are no longer coming exclusively from the Syrian officer corps.  Iranian officers control their own troops in addition to the Afghan units, and they plan offensives that also involve Syrian soldiers. Hezbollah commanders coordinate small elite units under their control.  Iraqis give orders to Iraqi and Pakistani militia groups.  And the Russians don’t let anyone tell them what to do.

Source: SPIEGEL ONLINE

There is no inherent reason why Sunnis and Shiites should be at war.  They have lived side by side in peace for more centuries than they have been in conflict.

The main reason they are in conflict now is that it is in the interest of governments such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to use armed religious militias to advance their own political and economic objectives.  Another reason is the destruction of civil order as a result of U.S. invasions, so that the religious militias are the only source of protection.

There is a great danger to the world if the USA and Russia allow themselves to be drawn further into this conflict, the USA on the side of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Sunni fighters and Russia on the side of Iran, Syria and the Shiite fighters.

A confrontation between the world’s two main nuclear powers would mean that the killing and destruction now going on in the Middle East could spread over the whole world.

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Who will fight for the U.S. against ISIS?

December 15, 2015

The Syrian situation reminds me of a remark by Adam Smith in (I think) The Wealth of Nations — about how masterminds who think of themselves as master chess players, using other people like pieces on a chessboard, will find the people they think they are manipulating are actually playing their own game.

image-931841-panoV9free-whwk-931841The aims of the U.S. government in the Middle East are, in no particular order, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to counter the growing power of Iran and to destroy the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).

The bitter experience of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions means that the American people will not tolerate a large-scale intervention with ground troops, so American leaders, including the principal Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, look for pawns to carry out U.S. purposes.

Here is a rundown on these pawns and the games they are playing.

  • Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate governments, all predominantly Sunni Arab nations, fear the rise of Shiite Iran and Shiite power in Iraq much more than they do Sunni Arab ISIS or al Qaeda.   To the extent they fear ISIS and al Qaeda, it is more as an internal threat, and they are happy to see their local rebels go off to fight and maybe die for ISIS.   The Saudi government doesn’t crack down on individuals who contribute to ISIS because they reflect the beliefs of Wahabism (aks Salafism), the harsh version of Sunni Islam that rules Saudi Arabia.
  • The Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq are fighting ISIS effectively, but they are fighting to defend themselves and their goal of an independent Kurdistan, to be carved out of the existing territory of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, not as part of any overall “war on terror”.  They aren’t going to give up that goal just because it is inconvenient to the USA.
  • The Turkish government desires the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria and the suppression of Kurdish nationalism more than suppression of ISIS.  Oil from ISIS-controlled territory enters Turkey, and money and arms go from Turkey to ISIS.  Turkish politicians talk of the glories of the Ottoman Empire and of the unity of ethnic Turks across Asia.
  • The Iraqi government desires to prevent breakaway movements, whether ISIS, other Sunni Arab fighters or Kurds.
  • CQfwkI2WwAALwwnThe Sunni Arab militias and tribal leaders in Iraq blame the United States for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and setting up an Iraqi government dominated by Shiite Arabs, so they’re not willing to be U.S. proxies in a campaign against ISIS.
  • The Shiite Arab militias in Iraq hate ISIS, but their leaders distrust the United States and won’t work with Americans.
  • The “moderate Arab” rebels in Syria primarily desire to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and talk about fighting ISIS primarily to obtain U.S. weapons – many of which wind up in the hands of ISIS, al-Nusra and like groups.
  • The Iranian government desires to support Shiite Muslims against all enemies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey or ISIS, and to defend Syria and also Hezbollah, which represents the Shiite Muslims in Lebanon.
  • The Syrian government is an enemy of ISIS because ISIS is an existential threat to its existence.  But the Assad regime regards the other Syrian rebels and the Kurdish separatists as equally threatening

This leaves Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Putin justifiably fears the influence of ISIS and other jihadist terrorists on the large Muslim population in the Caucasus and other regions of the Russian Federation.  He also wants to defend Russia’s Syrian ally and keep Russia’s naval station in Syria.  But for him, the war against ISIS is a war of self-defense, not merely a means of extending Russian influence.

If fighting ISIS is the top U.S. priority, then the U.S. government should find a way to cooperate with Russia against ISIS.  If the U.S. government is unwilling to cooperate with Russia against ISIS, then fighting ISIS is not the top U.S. priority.

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What is Russia’s real objective in Syria?

December 14, 2015

1.Russia-False-Narrative-in-Syria_13.Russian Airstrikes 30 NOV-02 DEC-01

Is Vladimir Putin’s objective in Syria to destroy ISIS or to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad?  It seems to me that the answer is “yes”.

I’ve read articles criticizing Putin for concentrating Russian airstrikes on rebels other than ISIS.  Some of these articles hint that Putin or maybe even Assad are secretly supporting ISIS.

I think this criticism mistakes the nature of air power.  Command of the air can be devastatingly effective when used in combined operations with ground troops.  But bombing alone, in and of itself, seldom defeats a determined enemy.

What these maps show is that Putin’s air strikes are concentrated on “rebels” not part of ISIS and not part of the al-Nusra front (formerly known as al Qaeda).

There is, however, no clear distinction between ISIS, al-Nusra and generic “rebels”.  Individuals and small bands change affiliations according to the situation, and U.S. weapons given to “rebels” are often acquired by ISIS through capture, gift or sale.

Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online suggested that Assad wants to defeat the U.S.-backed rebels first and ISIS last, because, so long as ISIS is in the field, he can present himself as the only alternative.  I suppose this is possible, but the simpler explanation is that Russia is concentrating on bombing the troops that are actually fighting the Syrians.

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How the USA helps ISIS, AQ and the Taliban

December 7, 2015

syrianrebels

The U.S. government provides arms to ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban.  It sometimes does this directly, as in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s and Bosnia during the 1990s.  Other times it arms ineffective and corrupt governments, warlords or insurgents who then give the arms of ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The U.S. government is an enemy of the nations fighting ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taiban.   These include Syria, Iran and Russia and, in the past, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  I’m not praising these nations’ governments.  I’m just pointing out they are the enemies of the terrorists the U.S. government supposedly is making war on.

The U.S. government declines to confront nations from which ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban draw support.   I’m thinking of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Turkey.   Oil flows out and money and arms flow in.

U.S. military intervention creates the kind of environment in which ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban flourish.   When the structure of civil government and civil society are smashed, as happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, only criminal, religious or military groups can flourish, or criminal religious warlords such as ISIS, al Qaeda or the Taliban.

One motive for joining ISIS is to take revenge for killing of bystanders in U.S. military operations.
Drone operations, bombing campaigns and support for oppressive governments create more terrorists than they eliminate.

Many Americans support the claims of ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban to be true representatives of Islam.   Presidents Obama and George W. Bush distinguished between terrorists and mainstream Islam, but many American politicians and journalists seem to be intent on turning a struggle against a tiny group of terrorists into a crusade against the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims.

Ironically, many Iranians and Iraqis believe that Americans intentionally created ISIS.   I’m sure there was no such intention.  I just think that certain people in the U.S. government sought to use the war on terror as a screen to achieve other geopolitical objectives which they gave higher priority.

One of these objectives was to be the dominant military power in the Greater Middle East.  Another was to control oil, gas and pipeline routes.  A third was to back Israel, Saudi Arabia and other allies against their enemies and rivals.

They neither achieved these objectives (unless waging war is a goal in itself) nor effectively fought terrorism.

§§§

If we Americans are serious about waging a war on terror, we should stop doing things that make the terrorists stronger.

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Turkey, Syria and ISIS: links 11/30/2015

November 30, 2015

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The Turkish government wants to establish a “safe zone” in Syria territory that supposedly will be a haven for refugees fleeing the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).

But Tony Carlucci, in the article linked below, contends that its real purpose is to be a safe zone for ISIS oil tankers moving out of Syria, and arms and ammunition coming in.  And it also would keep apart Syrian Kurdish fighters, which the Turkish government opposes because of rebellious Kurds in Turkey itself.

The U.S. government is supposedly fighting a war against terrorists.  But in Syria, the U.S. and Turkish governments are more interested in toppling the government of Bashar al-Assad, even if it makes ISIS and other radical Islamist terrorist groups stronger.

LINKS

Why the West Won’t Hit ISIS Where It Hurts by Tony Carlucci for Near Eastern Outlook.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey and his friend Frank Munley).  Unlike Carlucci, I don’t think the U.S. government is intentionally promoting ISIS.   I just think there are certain people in the government who have delusions about their ability to manipulate groups such as ISIS for their own purposes.  But the intention doesn’t matter – only the result.

Why Turkey Stabbed Russia in the Back by Pepe Escobar for World News Daily.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey and Frank Munley)

Guess Why The U.S. Is Not Seriously Bombing ISIS’s Oil Business by Moon of Alabama.

Will Turkey Close or Erase Its Border With Syria? by Moon of Alabama.

Erdogan’s Dirty Dangerous ISIS Games by F. William Engdahl for Near Eastern Outlook.

7 Things I Learned Reading Every Issue of ISIS’s Magazine (7 – 4) by Robert Evans for Cracked.com.

7 Things I Learned Reading Every Issue of ISIS’s Magazine (3 – 1) by Robert Evans for Cracked.com.

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).

In Syria, two wrongs don’t make a right

November 4, 2015

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”    ==Bertrand Russell, 1956

Hospital emergency room staff in Douma, Syria, in August

Hospital emergency room staff in Douma, Syria, in August

I’ve written a good many posts on why I think it is a mistake for the U.S. government to arm terrorist rebels in Syria.  That doesn’t mean I should forget or ignore the crimes of Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad.

Here is an account by Majed Aboali, a volunteer Syrian doctor, about the Syrian government’s systematic bombing of civilian populations, including hospitals.

Government airstrikes—barrel bombs, missiles, and vacuum explosives—are responsible for some 90 percent of the people killed over the summer.  On top of that comes the collective terror of the chemical attacks—chlorine barrels in 2015 and 2014, sarin in 2013.

What did the world do to stop the killing? It sent jets to bomb the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) but did nothing to stop the far greater killing of civilians by the Syrian government’s airstrikes. 

For my Syrian colleagues, IS pales as a problem next to Assad’s attacks on civilians. If the world would stop these attacks on civilians, we Syrians could stop the estimated 10 percent of the killings committed by IS.

The hospital in Douma has been targeted many times.  Somehow, they have avoided a direct hit.  But we do not know if they will survive the next attempt.  Which is why the world must act to stop the killing.

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Why U.S. intervention in Syria is a mistake

October 31, 2015

Click on Mike Whitney for a transcript of this interview.

Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/30/2015

October 30, 2015

The Midwife to Chaos and Her Perjury by Andrew Napolitano for The Unz Review.

Republican attacks on President Obama and the Clintons generally amount to straining at gnats while swallowing camels.  The House Benghazi Committee’s questioning of Hillary Clinton fits this pattern.

She was questioned for 10 hours, nearly continuously, for her alleged neglect of security leading to the murder of an American diplomat in Benghazi, Libya.  But nobody asked her about why she instigated a war against a country that did not threaten the United States, throwing innocent people leading normal lives into bloody anarchy.

And incidentally providing a new recruiting ground for terrorists..

The 6 Reasons China and Russia Are Catching Up to the U.S. Military on Washington’s Blog.

China Sea Blues: A Thing Not to Do by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.

Just because the United States has the world’s largest and most expensive military doesn’t mean we have the world’s best military.  We Americans are complacent because of our wealth, and because we have not faced a serious threat to our existence in 70 years.

Our leaders think we can afford to waste money on high-tech weapons that don’t work, and military interventions that aren’t vital to American security.  Other nations, which have less margin of safety and would be fighting near their own borders, may be a match for us.

FBI Accused of Torturing U.S. Citizen Abroad Can’t Be Sued by Christian Farias for The Huffington Post.

Nowadays the Constitution stops where national security and foreign policy begin.

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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.

LINKS

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.

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War and peace – October 13, 2015

October 13, 2015

The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century by Gary Leupp for Counterpunch.

CIA Interventions in Syria: A Partial Timeline by Michael S. Rozeff for LewRockwell.com.

Never get involved in a land war in (west) Asia by Thoreau for Unqualified Offerings.

The people in Washington who’ve planned military policy in the past 15 years must think that (1) the United States is so rich and powerful that no mistake can possibly have any fatal consequence and (2) the only proof that a policy is a mistake is an admission that it is a mistake.

War with Isis: Why Syria’s Christians can never go home by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

The right-wing nuts are right!  Obama really IS trying to impost Sharia law by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

The radical jihadist militias that the U.S. government is arming want to impose Sharia law on Syria.  Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad, were ruthless dictators who’d stop at nothing to stay in power.  But they never persecuted Christians or other religious minorities merely because of their faith.

McClatchy Expected to Close Foreign Bureaus By End of the Year by Michael Calderone for Huffington Post.

The McClatchy newspaper chain had a different business model than its U.S. rivals.  Rather than catering either to the public or to the powers that be, their editors and reporters reported the news as they saw it, without fear or favor. Sadly this didn’t work out.

U.S. and Russian bases in the Middle East

October 3, 2015
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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.

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

September 14, 2015

iran4

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.

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The origins of the world refugee crisis

September 8, 2015

chartoftheday_3632_syria_is_the_worst_refugee_crisis_of_our_generation_n

Once a majority of the world’s refugees came from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now these countries are overshadowed by refugees pouring out of Syria.

The top chart shows a history of refugee crises in the past generation.  Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent, noted that most of the world’s current refugees come from majority-Muslim or partly-Muslim countries, most of them in the grip of civil war, as indicated in the chart at the right.

refugees-map

Some people I know say that these conflicts are part of age-old hatreds that go back to the split between the Sunnis and the Shiites soon after the death of Mohammad.

But there have been many centuries in which the varied religious and ethnic communities lived together in peace.  They mostly did so under the Ottoman Empire.

Cockburn wrote that the conflicts grew out of the breakdown of Middle Eastern governments, which created a lawless environment in which terrorist movements such as the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), Al Qaeda and their imitators could flourish.

He attributed this to the fact that these governments were organized around Western ideals such as nationalism and socialism, which failed to win the loyalty of the Muslim masses.  No Iraqi was willing to die in defense of the Iraqi government, although many Iraqis were willing to fight and die on behalf of their religious sect, their family or their local community.

I think there is truth in this, but he overlooks the role of the U.S. and other governments in breaking down the social order.

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Will Russia intervene militarily in the Mideast?

September 3, 2015

I read a couple of interesting posts during the past couple of days about Russia increasing its political and maybe its military presence in the Middle East.

I don’t know what to make of them, and I have no way of knowing what is on President Vladimir Putin’s mind.

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Syria’s al Assad and wife in Moscow

I do know that, if I were in Putin’s place, with the USA and its NATO allies stirring up trouble in nations bordering mine, I would look for ways to stir up trouble for the USA and NATO.

If I were Putin, I would see ISIS as a threat, and look join forces with Syria, Iran and other anti-ISIS forces.

A pro-Russian, pro-Putin blogger who calls himself the Saker says that Putin has neither the desire nor the power to project Russian power any great distance from what the Russians call their “near abroad.”

The Saker pointed to the Russian Federation’s military oath, which is to defend the Fatherland.  It says nothing about invading foreign countries.

But the American military oath is to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution.  It also says nothing about invading foreign countries, and this hasn’t proved a limitation.  As the Saker remarked, U.S. foreign policy resembles the old Soviet “international duty” to intervene globally wherever necessary to defend supporters and defeat enemies.

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U.S. actually backs al Qaeda rebels in Syria

March 6, 2015

It’s surprising how little of the “war on terror” has been directed against the actual killers who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” included Iraq and Iran, two nations whose rulers were enemies of al Qaeda, and North Korea, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The U.S. attacks on Iraq and Libya, and the attempted overthrow of the Assad government in Syria, created chaos and lawlessness in which al Qaeda could flourish.  The rulers of Libya and Syria had proven their willingness to co-operate with the United States, so what U.S. policy showed is that there is nothing to be gained in being a friend of the USA.

syrianrebelsNow the U.S. government is supporting the Nusra front, an al Qaeda unit, in Syria, as an alternative to the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) insurgents there.  Joseph Cannon of Cannonfire wrote an illuminating post about this.

If the U.S. government’s top priorities were to eliminate al Qaeda and ISIS, we would co-operate with their enemies, namely Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.  They are more effective fighting forces than the U.S.-trained Iraqi army.

Why don’t we?  Is it because Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and not al Qaeda and ISIS, are the main enemies of Israel and Saudi Arabia?  Do the Pentagon and State Department think it is possible to get control of Middle East oil by military force?  Or does continuous war have a self-perpetuating momentum that nobody is willing to stop?

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How U.S. policy created ISIS

February 27, 2015

Hat tip to Cannonfire.

By destroying the governmental structure, social structure and infrastructure of Iraq, the United States created a chaotic situation in which a radical cult such as the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) could flourish.

By arming the Free Syrian Army to fight the Assad regime in Syria, the United States unintentionally armed ISIS, because the FSA readily sold its U.S. weapons to ISIS.

ISIS now controls vital oilfields in Iraq, which the United States is bombing to cut off ISIS revenues.  The United States and our allies, for some reason, are unable to stop the flow of oil out of ISIS-controlled territory or the flow of money to ISIS.  I wonder why.

Another problem, not mentioned in the video, is that key U.S. allies—Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states—are lukewarm or uninterested in fighting ISIS because they see their main enemies as Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, all enemies of ISIS.

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Radical democracy in besieged Kurdish enclaves

January 17, 2015

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The Kurdish Freedom Movement, based on three towns in northern Syria fighting for survival against the totalitarian ISIS, has created a radically democratic society based on feminism, environmentalism and community democracy.

Malcolm Harris, writing for Talking Points Memo, described what seems like an anarchist utopia which is, at the same time, an effective self-defense force.

Neighborhoods have peace committees to resolve disputes without the threat of jail.  Women’s councils enforce ostracism for spousal abuse.  A children’s council designed a playground in one community.

These three communities, which comprise 4 million people, half of them refugees from the Syrian civil war or the ISIS occupation, follow the philosophy of  “non-state political administration” or “democracy without a state” promulgated by Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish leader now serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison.

The KFM rejects capitalism, top-down government and male supremacy.  Decision-making is pushed down to existing community organizations.  Reportedly this is highly efficient, because it does away with the need for bureaucracy.

The Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan are admirable in that they are democratic and they give refuge to people of different religions and ethnicities fleeing ISIS perscution.  The KFM in Syria goes further, in rejecting ethnic nationalism altogether and demanding only self-government.

I have long disagreed with friends who say that there is something about the Muslim religion or Middle Eastern culture that is inherently incompatible with freedom and democracy.

Abdullah Ocalan is a leader and thinker who not only believes in freedom and democracy, but could give us Americans lessons in how to practice it.

∞∞∞

The Small Miracle You Haven’t Heard About Amid the Carnage in Syria by Malcolm Harris for Talking Points Memo.

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Why we fight

September 25, 2014

ByX_Ou3IYAADiaHAbove is a letter to the editor to The Daily Mail in London concerning what military intervention in the Middle East is all about.  Actually it’s a bit out of date.  The Saudi Arabian government doesn’t officially support the Islamic State militants any more, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t get any support from individual Saudi Arabs.

Another interesting question is where Israel stands in all this.  The Islamic State (ISIS) and the other Sunni Muslim militias fighting in Iraq and Syria are enemies of Israel’s Shiite Muslim enemies, especially Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militia and political party in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s backer, Iran.

I am always in doubt at moments such as this as to whether the President (whoever he is at the time) lacks a clear purpose, or whether he has a purpose that is not revealed.

LINKS

War Without End: The U.S. may still be fighting in Syria in 2024, 2034, 2044 by Jack Shafer for Bloomberg News (via Naked Capitalism).

The War Nerd: Bombs away in the Middle East!  But why is Israel so quiet? by Gary Brechter for Pando Daily.