Thursday, 8 October 2015

Russia Raises the Stakes in Syria Conflict: The Danger of a New Great War.

The Russian military build up, which started in late September 2015 and the subsequent air strikes that gathered momentum in the first week of October, have been condemned by the Western Powers and NATO for essentially stealing their thunder and exposing their supposed strategies for Syria as failures.

Naturally, this could not be admitted publicly but a series of contradictory statements reveals how Russia has wrong footed the West on Syria. Obama declared Syria 'is not some superpower chessboard', though US officials have, indeed, referred to a chessboard. It could be Obama meant Russia is not a superpower.

However, neither Britain nor the US, nor NATO, have any moral high ground left following two main developments. Firstly, the 'public diplomacy line' maintaining there was a "moderate rebel" force on the ground capable of defeating both ISIS and Assad in Damascus has conclusively been shown to be empty rhetoric divorced from reality.

Secondly, Washington's decision to gain Turkey's cooperation through a deal that gave the go ahead to bomb Kurdish PKK militias, an important part of the Kurdish coalition facing ISIS, demonstrated to the world that the Western Powers and their regional allies had contradictory objectives in Syria.

The Western Powers-primarily the US, Britain and France, as well as NATO, look increasingly hypocritical and petty in condemning Russia for taking on both ISIS and those Sunni jihadists aligned with its allies-Qatar and Saudi Arabia-who are no less ruthless and certainly more bloodthirsty that even Assad's state forces.

The euphemisms for the Syrian jihadists ranged against Assad's troops as they move northwards in an offensive against them, in tandem with Russian air strikes, have given the Western game away. Yet the liberal media continues to refer only to Putin's game while pretending the West is not playing war games.

NATO's Jans Stoltenberg's comments about NATO having the response to any air attack on Turkey by Russia were veiled threats of nuclear warfare. He said “We don’t have to deploy the NATO response force or the spearhead force to deliver deterrence”. But, of course, Russia is as unlikely to attack Turkey as Turkey would Russia.

That reality is ignored and used as a pretext to ramp up the rhetoric. The reason is to maintain the façade of "solidarity" and standing "shoulder to shoulder" with Turkey while it does exactly what Russia is doing in using the war against ISIS as a pretext to carry out air strikes to advance its geopolitical objectives.

The Guardian and BBC continue to recycle terms such as "moderate rebels", "rebel groups", "more moderate rebels" or "less extreme rebels" to a degree that insults the intelligence of the educated and informed public in Western nations who realise that these Orwellian terms are explicit propaganda.

Russia could only dare take the military initiative in September 2015 because Putin realised that he would win plaudits from Iran and, as it has turned out, also from the Baghdad government in Iraq as well as many aghast at the repellent double standards of the West and fearful of Saudi and Qatar support for 'terrorists'.

No doubt Russia's entrance has raised the stakes and 'escalated' the war in Syria should Saudi Arabia and Qatar ratchet up their support for the Sunni jihadists. Yet, unmentioned by Borger who goes on about Russia's economy shrinking by 4%, is how the Saudi economy and state is far more in danger of collapse.

Borger draws attention to Putin's use of the war as a means to rally Russian nationalist opinion around him. Yet he omits how an increasingly desperate and paranoid Saudi ally of the West was already pummelling civilians and militias in Yemen as a diversionary war and jihad against Shi'ites before Russia's intervention.

Britain Follows Turkey and Russia in Planning a War for Domestic Advantage.

More to the point, the entire drive by Cameron and Fallon and Hammond towards Britain joining in the air strikes on ISIS in Syria is also about shoring up patriotic support for the Conservative government and outmanoeuvring Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament, a leader pilloried as a 'national security threat'.

Britain's Prime Minister is angered by Russia's actions in Syria and, in a Lilliputian spasm of great outrage, 100 British soldiers are being sent to the Baltic Republics to show Britain means it is taking the threat of "Russian aggression" very seriously. Corbyn, by contrast, is being called a "terrorist sympathiser".

Cameron is waiting for the right time to strike politically and militarily through reasserting his authority over Parliament and getting not only his own MPs but those of Labour to vote for action against ISIS. By winning a vote he would avenge the humiliation of 2013 when he was defeated on a vote for strikes on Assad.

The military logic is less convincing than the domestic political need to get Labour MPs to vote against the new Labour leader so that he could be no longer seen to be at the head of his own party and so his position untenable. 11 nations are bombing ISIS at present and none of it has stemmed the spread of ISIS.

The danger is that the Western Powers become so humiliated and fuelled with a desire for revenge against Russia should Putin's gamble pay off, that they become tempted to support Saudi Arabia and Qatar in ratcheting up the arms supplies to the newly formed united Sunni jihadists militia front against "Russian occupation".

The Dangers of New Cold War Positions in the Middle East.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia would see a new mujahedeen style formation as existed in Afghanistan back in the 1980s as a chance to draw Russia into a conflict as deadly as the one that played a significant role in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 just some two years after the war finished in defeat.

Should Qatar and Saudi Arabia go for that strategy, it would be the height of folly for the Western Powers, Britain and France-those with very large financial ties and lucrative arms deals with the Gulf states, vital for their ailing economies-to try a repeat of launching into a direct and deadly proxy war with Russia over Syria.

Ashton Carter's words at a NATO meeting could be interpreted as a threat rather than a prediction, though the brutal power game requires they could be thought of as either and a dark intimation that Russia the country would be attacked by terrorists as opposed to just Russian military personnel present in Syria being targeted.
“They have initiated a joint ground offensive with the Syrian regime, shattering the facade that they are there to fight Isil. This will have consequences for Russia itself, which is rightly fearful of attacks. In coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer from casualties.”
Ashton's Carter's warnings about a reprisal from could well mean 'blowback' from Southern Russia should the Saudis threaten to assist Chechen jihadists via Turkey and Georgia. There Sunni militants have been allowed to recruit so as to be redirected as 'assets' by the security services in Tbilisi against their neighbour if needed.

Though these sorts of statements by US officials could well be chiding remarks, there exists the chance the Gulf states would act irrespective of what Washington or London would want and thus put them under pressure either to back the Sunni powers or use the opportunity to push diplomacy to the hilt.

While Western leaders are intimating the need now for diplomacy rather than war as a means to contrast themselves favourably with Putin, there are some, such as Cameron in particular, who live in a fossilised Cold War time warp where they still think they can win another in line with their heroine, Lady Thatcher.

If the Western Powers, especially the stubborn old colonial powers in the Levant, France and Britain, try to pull Washington towards a reckless and impulsive policy on Syria, as was quite evident in Libya back in 2011, the real possibility of the war in Syria spinning even further out of control is present.

Geopolitical and energy interests are an essential part of the growing hostility between Russia and the Western Powers. Yet the personal egos of vain and arrogant statesmen such as PM Cameron and President Hollande as "Global Players" increase the chance of miscalculations of the sort that happened in 1914.

The stakes in Syria are growing by the day and will continue to in the closing months of 2015. If Russia's military actions demonstrate anything, it is the need to start peace negotiations immediately even if it would mean a slight loss of face for Western leaders in the circumstances of Russian and Assad battle victories

Given the level of effort put into absurd spin and 'public diplomacy' used to convince Western publics about "moderate rebels" and "less extreme groups", none of it believable it would surely be not beyond them to try and start diplomatic moves to end the proxy war and claim credit and triumph for that.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Bombing at Kunduz: The Afghanistan War and the Geopolitics of the TAPI Pipeline Continued.

It is a common misconception of radical journalists that the Afghanistan War is just another meaningless war that reflects militarism or machismo. The trend towards using drone missile strikes and aerial bombing as part of a military-industrial complex which has its own pathological momentum.

To an extent, it is true. Wars using air power have become offered by vain politicians in Western democracies demanding 'something must be done' about the evil of ISIS or the Taliban to keep them and the world more secure. The though seldom occurs that the Afghanistan War is a militant progressive cause.

The conception of Afghanistan, as one advocated and defended by liberals who became more conservative or warmongers and capitulated to the appeals of power, is a myth. Those who backed it back in 2001 and thereafter were left liberals who saw the West as having a duty to save the Afghan people.

This position was best stated by Christopher Hitchens. He criticised 'anti-war' protesters who drew attention to the West's Cold war support for the mujahedeen as a reason not to intervene by arguing that the wrongs created by cynical Cold War power politics made it all the more a reason to put them right.

Many anti-war protesters in Britain oppose Western Power because it makes them feel good and virtuous as well as more intelligent than the silly warmongering elites who keep bombing and believing they can defeat terrorists. On the accidental NATO bombing of a hospital, run by Médecins Sans Frontières, Monbiot writes,
'The lies and euphemisms add insult to the crime. Nato’s apparent indifference to life and truth could not fail to infuriate – perhaps to radicalise – people who are currently uninvolved in conflict in Afghanistan. There are no clear objectives in these wars, or if there are, they shift from month to month...14 years into the fighting in Afghanistan, after repeated announcements of victory or withdrawal, military action appears only to have replaced the old forms of brutality and chaos with new ones. And yet it continues. War appears to have become an end in itself..
What Monbiot means is that the Orwellian language of 'collateral damage' makes him more outraged than if NATO spokesmen had used words such as 'bombed' and 'killed' and, being so annoyed by this use of callous language, he could understand why people not involved with the Taliban or ISIS may join them.

NATO's robotic language makes no difference to most Afghans. Constant drone strikes and "collateral damage", as well as the shady geopolitical games played by regional and global players as regards Afghanistan, ensure the Taliban, and increasingly ISIS, have their uses in brutal power struggles. Death is a way of life there.

The Afghanistan War's official aims have shifted but that hardly means that there are no real underlying objectives. For a start it was officially supposed to have ended at the end of 2014. The Western media has recycled that official line, even though the US and NATO maintain a huge military presence based at Bagram.

After 14 years the NATO involvement in Afghanistan has made little difference to the warring land and things have barely improved. The reason the war in Afghanistan drags on, for all the official propaganda about "drawdown" , a word that does not mean withdrawal, is the geopolitical benefits of the TAPI pipeline and access to rare earths.

Afghanistan is a strategic land bridge between Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent and a gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan and India would bring these nations together and freeze out Iran's rival IP pipeline which would draw an energy hungry increasingly populated Pakistan into Iran's orbit.

US State Department officials have gone quieter about the TAPI pipeline and the New Silk Route, a shift that may well have been confirmed by the rapprochement with Iran over the nuclear deal. The persistence of the Taliban and China's influence in Turkmenistan and SE Asia have made it more difficult to realise.

The upsurge in NATO activity against the Taliban in Kunduz that led to the bombing of the hospital reflects not only the obvious need to defend the Kabul government but also not to have the TAPI pipeline's construction taken off an urgent agenda while Russia's Gazprom and China get behind the IP pipeline.

As sanctions on Iran are set to be lifted, Pakistan and India's energy shortages have became critical. As Washington needed Tehran to help the Iraqi government roll back ISIS, so the US and NATO are all the more determined to thwart Russia which opposes the TAPI pipeline as a threat to its control over the Central Asian energy market.

With Iran planning to press on with the pipeline eastwards, the US has been trying to drum up support along with India for the TAPI pipeline construction to be expedited. Rohullah Osmani, a  former Director General in the Afghan Government and International Security scholar at John Hopkins University writes,
'Modi’s visit to Turkmenistan followed by Berdimuhamedov’s trip to Kabul to discuss economic cooperation, specifically the TAPI project, suggests that the pipeline project is again moving – this time with a firm commitment from all parties including a seller commitment, buyer’s readiness, and a contractor with the right financing. Although an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program has been reached, it will take time for the sanctions to be lifted and for Iranian gas to flood back onto the market. Nevertheless, the Iran deal has created a sense of urgency and a breakthrough for the TAPI project.' ( my italics )
So Russia has sought to tilt away from its historical ally India towards Pakistan. Delhi and Washington have recently grown closer as part of a US strategy of countering Chinese influence in Asia and trying to gain greater control over energy routes to the Middle Kingdom so as to contain its power political ambitions.

As China invests in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as it would enable China to receive Iranian oil and natural gas through Iran and Pakistan via the port of Gwadar, so Iran has aligned with its old enemy of the 1990s in the Taliban to check ISIS and also hamper progress on TAPI.

So in 2015 Iran is providing funding for the Taliban and has also supplied the Taliban directly with AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and materials for roadside bombs or the IED's that were once so lethal against British and Canadian troops fighting them in Helmland ( which is on the pipeline route).

The TAPI pipeline remains a key US war aim in Afghanistan that seldom gets any mention in Western newspapers because it contradicts the shifting public diplomacy narrative given as combat operations dragged on long after Al Qaida had fled their base. The US terms it "a transformative project for the entire region".

The reason NATO officials refuse to comment on the national make up of the special forces fighting the Taliban around Kunduz is that the combat mission of Western troops is officially over and the Afghans fled. The Afghanistan War, a geopolitical struggle over energy flows and security ambitions, is set to go on.

Britain's Support for Saudi War Effort in Yemen

Amnesty International has condemned the “appalling disregard” for civilian lives by the Saudi-led coalition in a report into 13 air strikes in north-eastern Saada in Yemen during the summer of 2015 in which 100 civilians were killed. The document made it clear that civilian were targeted in what are called war crimes.

“In at least four of the airstrikes investigated … homes attacked were struck more than once, suggesting that they had been the intended targets despite no evidence they were being used for military purposes”. Amnesty demanded that Britain should halt the supply of weapons to the Saudi Arabia.

Yet it is unlikely David Cameron's government is  going to stop exporting arms and giving intelligence assistance to Saudi Arabia. The reason is geopolitics; Iranian influence through the Houthi militias threatens to potentially extend Tehran's control over the strategic chokepoint of the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

The sea passage is considered a vital one between the Mediterranean US Navy Fifth Fleet and the Sixth Fleet that contains aircraft carriers that protect US interests and can be deployed in launching air strikes and cruise missiles against both Al Qaida in Somalia and Yemen as well as against ISIS. As Norman Schwarzkopf put it,
“The Red Sea, with the Suez Canal in the north and the Bab el-Mandeb in the south, is one of the most vital sea lines of communication and a critical shipping link between our Pacific and European allies … Since a significant part of US CENTCOM’s forces would deploy by sea, ensuring these waterways remain open to free world shipping must be a key objective.”
The US and Britain fear that either Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or the Houthis could gain control of this area to menace or stop the flow of oil via tankers from the Persian Gulf around the Horn of Africa through to the Red Sea, the SUMED pipeline and the Suez Canal onwards towards the West.

The failure to decisively overthrow Assad in Syria, because it has scuppered the possibility of a Qatar-Turkey pipeline, means that it is feared Iran would be in the position not only of being able to control the flow of oil via the Straits of Hormuz, another major global chokepoint, but also the second just off south Western Yemen.

The question about the use of Western made aircraft and bombs to kill civilians through use of airpower is considered less significant than the strategic imperative of shoring up Saudi control in the region, even though it is apparent that air strikes to tilt the balance away from the Houthis has ended up benefitting Sunni jihadists.

For Britain's support for the Saudi military intervention against the Houthi rebels in Yemen has only helped to make a terrible civil war and regional proxy conflict worse. Even US generals are on record making explicitly clear they thought the Saudi ground troop invasion in August 2015 really was a 'bad idea'.

The entrance of Saudi troops followed the commencing of air strikes in March 2015 that both aim at restoring Hadi to power after he fled in the face of the Houthi insurgency. Hadi was a Saudi client installed to prevent the 2011 'Arab Spring' uprising leading to a democracy and so helped polarise Yemen along sectarian lines.

The collapse of the Yemeni state and Saleh's government, as well as the exclusion of the Houthis, ensured Saudi Arabia and Iran would exploit the vacuum of power to advance their rival geopolitical interests. So ISIS has used suicide attacks and bombings to try to widen and worsen sectarian divisions.

The ISIS suicide attacks on October 6th 2015 , both on the rival Yemeni government of Hadi in Aden and a Houthi Mosque in Sanaa, were intended as part of ratcheting up a strategy of tension. By posing as the real champions of a Sunni Islamic State in the jihad against Shia apostates, ISIS seeks to outdo Saudi zeal in this direction.

By drawing out the Saudi backed government against it and taking on the Houthis, ISIS could take advantage of the chaos to engage two enemies simultaneously who are as much concerned to destroy the other as they are ISIS. This , of course, means it has an opportunity to expand and recruit ready for attacking Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-Yemen War is not the forgotten war; it is the inconvenient war that undermines the Western Powers claim to have any moral high ground in Syria. As Putin is condemned for supporting the 'butcher Assad', the Saudis go forth and slaughter civilians in air strikes with bombs or missiles supplied by Britain.

The two wars in Syria and Yemen are interconnected on the geopolitical chessboard. Britain objects to Russia striking Sunni jihadists backed by Qatar and the Saudis not because it is the 'wrong strategy' but because it sets back and shows up the absurdity of their own failed efforts to align with the Gulf states in Syria.

While Iran is tacitly supported and embraced as a partner in rolling back ISIS and Sunni jihadists in Iraq, it is to be balanced by support for the Gulf states in Syria and Yemen. Assad's administration is a big obstacle for them as he blocks the way for a gas pipeline between the Persian Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean.

Another problem for Britain is that as Saudi oil revenues plummet due to depressed global oil prices, the costs of war in Yemen and cuts in expenditure, at a time of rising internal discontent, could well destabilise the country. If that happens the question is if Britain and the US would be drawn in militarily.

Given that the Bab al-Mandab Strait was wrested from the Houthis on October 1 2015 by Saudi and UAE troops taking Perim Island, in conjunction with Saudi and Egyptian warships, it remains to be seen whether the US and Britain would put pressure on the Gulf states and Iran to end their proxy war.

Lethal Embrace: Britain's Special Relationship with Saudi Arabia.

"We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia and if you want to know why I’ll tell you why. It’s because we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keeps us safe. The reason we have the relationship is our own national security...For me, Britain’s national security and our people’s security comes first.”-PM David Cameron.

David Cameron's claim that Britain has a special relationship with Saudi Arabia because it provides intelligence that assists in anti-terrorism came out in an interview with Channel 4's Jon Snow in which he was pressed on his reaction to the forthcoming execution of a Shia activist, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr.

By just raising evident human rights abuses, Snow allowed Cameron to portray the Saudi-British relationship as one of 'constructive engagement', that without the close ties there would be no possibility of even trying to influence Riyadh on such matters as flogging bloggers and executing dissidents.

Cameron's claim that Britain's alliance with Saudi Arabia keeps it safe is utter mendacious nonsense. It is clear Saudi Arabia has funded and backed intolerant Wahhabi Islam within the region and across the globe and that this has assisted in generating the spread of ideas that forged groups such as Al Qaida.

Even if the Saudis had given intelligence on a specific attack, the scale of Riyadh's financing of Sunni jihadist militias from Iraq into Syria, as part of its proxy war with Iran, was a major factor in creating ISIS. This is not a matter of opinion but of fact: even Hilary Clinton in 2009 complained about it in a Wikileaked cable.

The real reason Cameron and others in the British establishment turn a blind eye to the world's largest backer of Sunni jihadi-terrorism is because of the lucrative BAE arms deals and the amount of petrodollars Saudi sheikhs have pumped into London's property and banks since the oil price spike of the 1970s.

Since Thatcher's destruction of British manufacturing in the 1980s, the only big successful sector of manufacturing left in Britain has been the arms industry. The sales of jet aircraft and weapons, as well as training and the sort of intelligence help being used in 2015 to help Saudi jets pummel towns in Yemen, are very lucrative.

As Richard Norton Taylor pointed out,
'It has sold 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to the country in a contract worth an estimated £4.4bn, upgraded Saudi Tornado aircraft (part of the controversial £40bn al-Yamamah contract signed by Margaret Thatcher) in a contract worth an estimated £2.5bn, and upgraded 70 US F15 combat jets in the Saudi air force....The UK Ministry of Defence has gone out its way to help the Saudis by diverting 500 lb Paveway IV guided bombs originally earmarked for the RAF to Saudi Arabia to enable it to continue striking targets in Yemen and Syria. Paveway bombs are produced by Raytheon UK'.
Apart from the evident inhumanity of the Saudi kingdom, with more beheadings per week than ISIS and the indiscriminate use of air power in killing civilians in Yemen, ISIS is poised to exploit the chaos there to gain ground and start targeting Saudi oil production plants. This is an even worse form of blowback than Al Qaida.

Britain, by aligning so closely with the Saudi establishment, could well find itself pulled into a region wide war should Saudi Arabia become destabilised by falling oil revenues, caused by global slump in oil prices, and the sheer costs of its invasion of Yemen that has already been compared to its version of a 'Vietnam quagmire'.

The Yemen military intervention itself was part of a paranoid fear that Iranian backed Shi'ites are ready to encircle the oil rich kingdom and rise up within it in those oil producing regions towards the border with Bahrain that Saudi tanks crossed in 2012 to brutally crush the protests that followed the 'Arab Spring'.

By tacitly backing Saudi Arabia and its corrupt and repressive regime, Britain has only stored up a greater potential for anti-Western resentment and terrorism. This would be directed against it should the kingdom collapse and descend into Syrian-style religious and tribal warfare in the near future as seems probable.

ISIS is gaining ground both within Yemen because of the Saudi's use of Tornado and Typhoon jets to destroy towns and targets there. ISIS strategy is based on exploiting the Sunni-Shia clash as a means to position it as the real 'Islamic State' and so force the Saudis to co-opt support within the kingdom by a relentless war on Shi'ites.

When Cameron or Blair makes plain that what happens in the Middle East necessarily has an impact on the domestic security of Britain, they should be taken at their word. The danger of terrorist blowback has been factored in to geopolitical calculations and the determination is that Britain shall do 'business as usual'.

Clearly, the corrupt lethal embrace of the Saudi establishment goes far beyond partisan party politics within Britain. New Labour's Mandelson and, of course, Blair touted 'aerospace' as one of Britain's great strengths that it inherited back in the 1990s and that made it a great "global player".

Domestic opposition to the British government need to make these interconnections between Saudi Arabia and the promotion of global jihadism plain. Corbyn needs to stress that the jolly "prosperity agenda" that the Saudis fund actually puts short term economic gains before Britain enduring security needs.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Tony Blair : Extremists, Mainstrean Populations and Conspiracy Theories.

“The conspiracy theories which illuminate much of the jihadi writings have significant support even amongst parts of the mainstream population of some Muslim countries....

There are millions of schoolchildren every day in countries round the world – not just in the Middle East – who are taught a view of the world and of their religion which is narrow-minded, prejudicial and therefore, in the context of a globalised world, dangerous.

“If large numbers of people really do believe that the desire of the USA or the west is to disrespect or oppress Islam then it is not surprising that some find recourse to violence acceptable in order to reassert the ‘dignity’ of the oppressed

If young people are educated that Jews are evil or that anyone who holds a different view of religion is an enemy, it is obvious that this prejudice will give rise, in certain circumstances, to action in accordance with it.

The reality is that in parts of the Muslim community a discourse has grown up which is profoundly hostile to peaceful coexistence. Countering this is an essential part of fighting extremism.”-Tony Blair in a 9/11 Memorial Speech, New York, October 6 2015

Blair comments that there is prejudice and bigotry in certain parts of the Muslim community and 'even' in 'the mainstream population of some Muslim countries. In reaction he is either  just lambasted for the invasion of Iraq or he's seen as 'right on this'. Few seem able to interpret Blairspeak.

Every utterance Blair emits is calculated to position himself politically in relation to his audience. This speech is one designed to revive Blair as a figure prepared to tell unwelcome truths about the way 'extremist' Islam is vaguely connected to the 'mainstream population'.

There is no such thing as a 'mainstream population' unless 'mainstream opinions' are quantifiably connected to 'mainstream people' who exist in relation to 'mainstream leaders', such as Blair, who has mainstream ideas that are wholly normal and so consequently never 'extreme'.

That comes in handy also when trying to explain why the invasion of Iraq in 2003 failed: it was because those who came to liberate Iraq in good faith, led by Tony Blair, were doomed to be opposed by those who had bought into a 'discourse' in which the West wanted to 'oppress Islam'.

Clearly, that reaction was 'extreme' and not normal but 'mainstream' enough once 'extremists' had poisoned enough minds. Evil presumably floats free once bad ideas have been able to germinate in so many minds once the evil genie is let out of the bottle to spread and nestle itself in mainstream minds.

Nothing he has said about conspiracy theories about the West trying to destroy Islam or the fact there is a 'discourse' that bolsters violent jihadi Islamism is particular new. The fact remains though that for such ideas to spread as virulently as they have, it is global power politics that is largely to blame.

The two most obvious examples of that are both the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent attempt to overthrow Assad in Syria after 2011 by backing Sunni jihadists, many of whom have moved back and forth across the region into neighbouring Iraq and other lands such as Libya, Yemen and Sinai in Egypt.

A Note on Moderates and Extremists

As the Syrian conflict has shown, in practice 'extremist' means an Islamist opposed to the Western Powers while a 'moderate' is one that works in its interests and is funded by their allies Saudi Arabia or Qatar. It is unclear how far from being 'moderate' an 'extremist' has to be before he becomes 'extreme'.

The term 'extremist' is conveniently vague whereas violent jihadi-Islamist or militant Wahhabi Islamist is concrete enough to understand. But that, of course, would mean that Blair's friends in the Saudi establishment would be classified as such and so 'extremist' is preferred.

'Extremists' threaten the stability of vested interests and power while 'moderates' are those who can be worked with, even if both may have similar ideas and ideologies. Jihadi groups in Syria working with Western allies are, if not 'moderate', then 'less extreme' than the really real 'extremists' such as ISIS.

It is about time journalists devoted to truth started examining this sort of rhetoric forensically instead of simply recycling it as if it had self evident meaning. Otherwise we enter the world of Humpty Dumpty-'When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

Blair makes a bid to revive his former status as a cutting edge politician.

Blair is trying to sell his pitch on Islamism as a way of ingratiating himself with those concerned with the spread of fanatical ideas in the UK and US. But Blair is a politician whose grasp of 'reality' has been very shaky and mostly related to his ability to intuit the British public mood back in the late 1990s.

It's clear Blair has always attempted to use rhetoric tricks and 'triangulation' strategies, better used in domestic policies within Britain, to apply to the 'big' global 'picture' where these efforts to 'frame' the debate, and position the leader as opposed to two extremes to either side, are even more stupid.

The idea dictatorship and terrorist chaos were two interconnected extremes, that appeared opposites but were united through their 'extremism', is one reason why Blair saw them as necessary partners in crime in the Middle East so that in removing the dictator there would be less terror and more freedom.

As far as the politics and religion of the Greater Middle East is concerned, Blair's idea of 'reality' was conditioned by a geopolitical wish fantasy in which secular democracy could extend seamlessly into the region in the aftermath of the Cold War no less than it had in Central Europe, though force would be needed.

To be fair to Blair, this delusion has been inherited by Cameron and others in Britain and France who maintain that the Western Powers could 'deliver' democracy through military action, whether in Libya in 2011 or in Syria by supporting some mythical "moderate" rebel force that has not existed at least since 2012.

ISIS exists not because of a lack of education: its propagandists and its leaders are techno savvy with social media. ISIS operatives have a very clever knowledge of using it as part of their tactics and strategy of drawing in the Western Powers by making its leaders react to its atrocities as they would want.

The reality is that jihadism has spread and ISIS has grown because of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 which Blair enthusiastically promoted, though it would have gone ahead anyway as the US was intent on an invasion with or without Blair. Removing Saddam through military action was bound to release sectarian enmities.

Militant jihadi-Islamism is part of a 'discourse'. Yet it is also one that has practically spread due to the fact Arab nations have been kept beneath secular dictatorships and repressive religious based despotisms such as Saudi Arabia or else autocratic governments such as those in Qatar or Bahrain.

Trying to remove the secular dictatorships of Syria and Iraq while enlisting the help of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states has only led to a proxy war between Sunnis and Shi'ites: it had no realistic chance of working where the aim of "regime change" by force of arms was promoted and no functioning state survived.

Conspiracy theories are rife in the Middle East and among uneducated Muslims in the West, where there is far less excuse for pig headed ignorance for sure. But the practical advance of jihadism as a global force is one spurred on by dysfunctional regimes such as Saudi Arabia that depend on diverting internal discontent outwards.

But conspiracy theories are hardly only unique to Muslims, though they simplify terrifying and seemingly incomprehensible events for simple minds or offer a way for politicians to blame the evil plots of other groups and sets of politicians, especially Israel and the Jews, for general misfortune and chaos.

Conspiracy theories are very popular in the USA; in fact they have become an important part of sections of the media as testified by the success and popularity of theories about 9/11 being an inside job, ISIS as an express tool of the US and 'Zionist lobby' etc as spread by numerous shock jocks and pundits.

The reality is that Britain's close regional ally in the Middle East-Saudi Arabia-uses its petrodollars to spread Wahhabi Islam across the region and the wider world. Blair, no less than Cameron, has proved willing to genuflect before the Saudis because of greedy commercial interests and arms deals.

The spread and popularity of jihadism against the regional and global powers, the "near" and "far" enemies is primarily about geopolitical clashes and the chaos they have wrought, allowing the space for brutal fanatics to emerge and dominate lands in which the state has collapsed.

Russia's Great Game Plan for Syria.

Given that since 2012 the Western Powers-the US, France and Britain-have been firmly aligned with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as supposed 'Friends of Syria' demanding 'Assad Must Go', Russia's decisive military intervention and air strikes are firmly about ensuring 'Assad Will Stay' as a matter of fact.

The reason for Putin's 'escalation' of the conflict concern multiple objectives all tied up with a reassertion of Russia's Great Power status on the regional and global stage. Despite the Obama administration's denials, the differences between the US and Russia over Syria are part of a Great Game of geopolitical chess.

The "moderate" rebels in Syria are, in reality, Sunni jihadist groups backed by America and Britain's Gulf state allies. Some of them, such as al-Nusra, are affiliated to Al Qaida and in conflict with ISIS as the many fragmented 'rebel' groups compete for funding and arms by proving how effective they are against Assad.

The 'extremists' are ISIS because they are not only against Assad but also ranged against the Iraqi Shia dominated government in Baghdad that the US depends upon, along with Iran, to keep Iraq together and prevent it having to re-enter the country militarily after it withdrew combat troops in 2011.

ISIS are also 'extremists' because in 2014 they threatened Erbil and the Kurdish autonomous region and to surge southwards towards Baghdad and Basra: all are major oil producing areas regarded as essential to the present and future supply of oil to the global economy and hence bound up with energy security.

ISIS also poses a threat to Saudi Arabia, especially given its disastrous military intervention in Yemen. This has raised costs to the Saudi state at a time of low oil prices and threatens to destabilise both its finances and ability to use oil revenues to buy off internal discontent. Leading a war against Assad is part of its war against the Shi'ites.

Saudi Arabia has threatened Russia before that it would use jihadists to attack Southern Russia and the Sochi games. It was a terrorist threat that the Western Powers are willing to ignore, partly as France and the US still depend partly on Saudi oil but also due to huge lucrative arms deals with Riyadh.

The other reason Britain ignores Saudi sponsoring of terrorism and an intolerant Wahhabi Islam globally, while claiming to be at the vanguard of fighting terrorism, is that since the 1970s and oil price shock, London has become increasingly a place where Saudi petrodollars have been heavily invested.

There is a clear double standard in condemning Putin for shoring up Assad's state in Syria with arms, air power and military equipment. Britain and the US preceded Putin's move by moving in to support Saudi Arabia's onslaught in Yemen in which Saudi air power has been used indiscriminately to kill civilians.

As regards the absurdity of the Western "public diplomacy" line, Robert Fisk put it accurately when he wrote,
'...within hours of Russia’s air assaults last weekend, Washington, The New York Times, CNN, the poor old BBC and just about every newspaper in the Western world resurrected these ghosts and told us that the Russkies were bombing the brave “moderates” fighting Bashar’s army in Syria – the very “moderates” who, according to the same storyline from the very same sources a few weeks earlier, no longer existed. Our finest commentators and experts – always a dodgy phrase – joined in the same chorus line. '
Putin's move is no mere 'mistake' in his being overzealous to take on ISIS along with the rest of the 'international community' but adding "moderate" groups as targets. Putin aims at wrong footing the western powers tactically by bringing out the contradiction inherent in being against ISIS terrorism but not that of other jihadists.

Groups that were barely mentioned in British newspapers, until Russian fighter jets started bombing them, have suddenly come under the spotlight and are, in fact, not greatly 'less extreme' than ISIS: they are bloodthirsty jihadist movements that still depend upon the Gulf States for finance and weapons.

Western leaders must know this. Yet the underlying geopolitics of energy and influence within the Greater Middle East ensure that the Cameron's sort of moralising drivel about the 'butcher Assad' takes precedence over the fact his opponents are no less ruthless and massacring Alawis and Christians across Syria.

Russia has been able to exploit the absurdity and hypocrisy of Western foreign policy on Syria to lead the way in defending Assad, making the retention of the Syrian state the counterpoint to the sort of chaos unleashed by the West after NATO bombed Gaddafi's forces in 2011 and enabled jihadists to gain ground.

Putin's policy of shadowing Western policy and, in coordinating Russian air power with Assad's forces and Hezbollah on the ground, against 'terrorists' is designed to do three things other that preserve Assad's power base and show Putin as being a strong leader who is effectively 'tough on terror'.

1) Restore Russia as a Global Power that has to be taken into account in the Greater Middle East and as a balancing force to the Western led alliance in the struggle over Syria. By proving Assad is not going to be overthrown, Putin aims at showing that Russia could do a better job of preserving global security against jihadists.

2) Preserve Russia's military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and its naval base at Tarsous. With the discovery of huge reserves of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2010, Putin wants to position Russia as a power that can protect and be involved in the supply of oil and gas from the region to EU markets.

3) Prevent the possibility of Syria becoming an east-west transit route for Qatari gas pumped from the Persian Gulf towards Turkey and on to EU markets. This would provide a land based energy route that would reduce dependence on Russian gas and hence Russian power in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

4) Enhance Russia's global standing as a reliable partner in a renewed 'war on terrorism' both in the Middle East, in the Caucasus and Central Asia. When the US started to criticise General Sisi too much after the 2013 coup, Putin was first to try to exploit this to offer Russian technological aid over energy as well as arms deals.

5) Protecting Russia's southern flank against Chechen Jihadists. ISIS has recruited many Chechens spoiling for revenge after Putin crushed the Chechen insurgency in a brutal war which, by the turn of the twenty first century,established Putin as an authoritarian leader who could protect Russia against terrorism.

The presence of Chechens in the jihadist forces surging towards Latakia and towards Russia's military bases would appear to show that they have been able to cross from the Caucasus through Turkey into Syria where they have been deployed as jihadist 'assets' against Assad by Sunni forces there.

One additional factor in the decision to bolster Assad's Alawite dominated home base territory, other than the claim Russia is defending fellow Orthodox Christians too in Syria, is that Russia's SoyuzNefteGas began prospecting for oil in Latakia’s Qenenas district just a week before air strikes started.

6) Countering Georgia's Proxy War. It is thought jihadists from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge have been allowed to spread and recruit by Georgia's security services to be used as assets should Russia threaten the Caucasian state as it did in the 2008 war. Hence the flow of Russian paramilitary forces to Syria.

7) Syria is another front, along with Eastern Ukraine, where Russia is fighting Chechen jihadist paramilitaries to advance its geopolitical reach and wrest control over strategic regions where the Western Powers too are also vying pathologically for access to and control over oil and gas flows between east and west.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Syria: Enter Russia and Britain as Global Players

Russia's dramatic military intervention in Syria has been met with anger by leading politicians in the West for wrong footing them and, through bombing non-ISIS targets, put them in the position of having to laud the efforts against ISIS while whining about the targeting of 'moderate rebel' militias as well.

The use of the terms 'moderate' and 'extreme' Islamist groups has, in practice, become interchangeable with those Sunni jihadi groups in Syria that are on the side of the West's allies in the Middle East ( Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states ) and those such as ISIS which are not ( the 'extremists').

Despite the Obama administration's denials, the differences between the US and Russia over Syria are part of a Great Game of geopolitical chess. Putin's move is no mere 'mistake' in his being overzealous to take on ISIS along with the rest of the 'international community' but adding other jihadi groups as targets.

Groups that were barely mentioned in British newspapers until Russian fighter jets started bombing them have suddenly come under the spotlight and are, in fact, not greatly 'less extreme' than ISIS: they are jihadi movements that depend upon the Gulf States for the finance and weapons they compete for.

The Russian airstrikes, which started on September 30th 2015, may well be condemned by powers such as Turkey's Erdogan as 'a grave mistake. Yet the straying of a Russian MIG into Turkish airspace, used by NATO to reaffirm its solidarity with Ankara, is not going to pit it against Moscow directly.

Turkey ultimately depends upon Russian gas imports. If it were to openly advocate a unified Sunni war effort in Syria and give direct military aid, Russia would simply threaten to cut off its energy supply in winter so Turkey cannot afford to confront Moscow too much no matter how much the West might like it.

NATO's Jen Stoltenberg has appeared like a lit up cyborg trying to exploit the MIG incursion to ratchet up the threat level from Russia because it bolsters the role of his organisation and its need to demonstrate its 'credibility'. The power game requires the incident is portrayed as a threat not an accident.

Of course, Russian air strikes over Syria put the Western Powers in a quandary as they have no legal authority to launch their air strikes as they do in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi state. Putin has consequently made much of the fact that his air strikes are at the invitation of the Syrian sovereign state.

The fact the West does not recognise Assad as legitimate is a clear double standard. When Assad's forces are accused of having used chemical weapons, the focus is on Syria's responsibility as a sovereign state as opposed to the use of chemical weapons by Islamic State and jihadi groups backed by Western allies.

In fact, Russia's air strikes, using ISIS as a pretext to advance its own geopolitical interests in the Middle East in bombing both ISIS and other Sunni jihadist militias threatening Assad held areas, simply mirrors what Turkey did in using ISIS as a justification for using air power to bomb the Kurdish PKK militias in Syria and Iraq.

In pursuing a geopolitical fantasy about there being a 'third force' between Assad and ISIS, despite all evidence to the contrary that there is an effective "moderate" Islamist force on the ground in Syria, the Western powers have opened up the space for Russia to enter decisively to roll back the Sunni jihadists.

The outrage from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and largely powerless Sunni politicians aligned with Turkey and Qatar is fuelled not only by Russia having propped up Assad's forces north of Latakia against the onslaught of Sunni insurgent forces. It is due to the gas deal between Damascus and Moscow.

On September 22 2015 it was reported Russia's SoyuzNefteGaz started drilling for oil in Latakia’s Qenenas district some eight days before the region was threatened by Sunni jihadists. This followed on from a December 2013 gas deal for offshore gas drilling that back then infuriated the Syrian SNC.

The danger with the unifying of all the various Sunni militia groups is that the Western Powers, especially Britain and France, would see an opportunity to rally behind them in alignment with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to effectively draw Russia in further just as the Soviet Union was after 1978 in Afghanistan.

To use Russian involvement in Syria as an opportunity for the Western Powers to pull Russia into a full scale war, as it was between 1979 and 1989 as a means to divert it and put a strain on its economy, would be insane. But the West may not be able to prevent the Gulf states increasing their supply of weapons.

After all, Saudi Arabia is under pressure from ISIS in Yemen and, increasingly, with low oil prices the capacity to buy off internal discontent is diminishing: a straightforward war of all the Sunni militias against Iranian backed Hezbollah and Assad along with Russia could well prove too tempting.

Obama would appear to have played down the idea of a straightforward proxy war between the US and Russia over Syria even if Senator McCain is spoiling for a reinvigorated New Cold War Two. Turkey would seem more preoccupied with the looming threat of war with Kurdish militias than with Russia.

President Erdogan's war against the PKK in Syria and Iraq has triggered off a full scale insurgency in South-East Turkey in which Turkish jet fighters are strafing Kurdish areas. Meanwhile Britain has issued 37 arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia since it launched its war on the Houthis in Yemen.

Given that Britain and the Western powers have been prepared to ignore the warmongering excesses of two of its staunchest allies in the Middle East, it is hardly surprising that Russia has decided the West has evidently vacated any moral high ground it may have had to assert its geopolitical interests too.

Britain and France demanded Assad had to go back in 2012 because of lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Qatar: the latter is also an important source of liquefied natural gas, inward investment into two ailing European service sector economies and crucial for infrastructure projects.

The other big interest at stake is the proposed Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline that was scuppered when Assad rejected it before the Arab Uprisings of 2011 in favour of a pipeline that would link Iran, Shi'ite dominated Iraq and Syria and pipe gas from the very same South pars gas field Iran shares with Qatar to the EU.

Both Russia and Iran have a clear interest in blocking any possibility of such a land pipeline energy route linking the Eastern Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf. For Iran it would mean its rival Qatar would have a way of avoiding tanker routes going through the Iranian controlled Straits of Hormuz.

Iran would be deprived of a major strategic advantage over its Gulf rival while the Western Powers and Turkey would have a major source of gas that would reduce the dependence of both upon Russia while removing from Moscow's grasp a vital strategic naval and military outpost in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The discovery of vast reserves of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2010 has led to a revival of old style Great Power politics in the region over pipeline routes and alliances that bolster or downgrade the respective powers of each contending state that is vying for influence and control.

Russia regards it as essential that it retains its position as a Mediterranean power so that it can interpose itself as a vital force capable of 'protecting' energy supply routes from Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Syria and using its power to increase its ability to control energy flows and clinch oil and gas deals.

Britain and France are as hostile to Russia reasserting power in its traditional sphere of influence as they were at the time of the Crimean War ( 1853 –1856 ) which, as with the Syria conflict in 2015, is also connected with French and British fears of Russian dominance over the Black Sea region and the Near East.

The double standard is that Britain and France maintain they have the exclusive right as beneficent liberal Western powers and so shall determine the outcome of the war in Syria against nasty Putin while, in fact, all three Great Powers with global pretensions are playing a similar geopolitical game.

Britain's Foolish and Dangerous Game .

Both PM Cameron and President Hollande must know that the jihadi militias targeted in Russian air strikes are not "moderate" rebels but bloodthirsty fanatics such as those in Al Nusra who are itching to slaughter Alawis, Christians and others they regard as collectively responsible for supporting Assad.

Cameron's hypocritical guff about the 'butcher Assad', as if al-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Fateh were somehow heroic 'rebels', has remained largely unchallenged by politicians and much of the media in Britain. News channels have omitted to mention that al-Nusra is affiliated with Al Qaida.

The claim in the liberal Guardian newspaper that Russia was attacking 'less extreme' groups rather than ISIS gave the game away and recycled the official British government line as opposed to the actual truth that Russia is striking both the jihadists loyal to the Gulf states and ISIS simultaneously as though one.

Russia's entrance into Syria does raise the stakes and could push the US into backing a regional peace settlement if the other Western Powers stopped being so stubborn in clinging to a failed strategy in Syria out of self righteousness and the inability to accept a Syria in which events are not determined by them alone.

As regards Britain, this seems unlikely because pushing relentlessly towards RAF strikes in Syria on ISIS and aligning with the Gulf states unconditionally is seen as part of a way to foil both Russia and discredit internal opposition to the foreign policy presented by the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Cameron is still smarting from his House of Commons defeat in 2013 for air strikes against Assad. By going to Parliament a second time, he could get Britain back at the forefront of a war against ISIS, avenge his humiliation and reassert his authority by getting Labour MPs to vote against their leader.

Just as Turkey launched air strikes on the Kurdish PKK in Syria partly as a means of fighting 'enemies within', so too is the push for air strikes against ISIS regarded as a way of forcing Corbyn's opposition and thus portraying him and his supporters in a sinister way as a national 'security threat'.

Cameron wants Britain involved in air strikes against ISIS as a way of placating Saudi Arabia which wants the Western Powers to do its dirty work against the Sunni jihadists that threaten it. As Putin is lambasted for supporting Assad, so Britain increased its arms exports to Riyadh to support the Saudis.

In fact, the main obstacle to peace in Syria, after Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is Britain for standing together so closely with the Gulf states while PM Cameron unctuously talks of Assad staying for six months after a peace deal while at the same time demanding he be put on trial for war crimes.

These demands make it all the more unlikely that Assad would want to compromise at all with any Sunni opposition given the record of those removed after Western backed rebel forces has been to be given politicised trials and shot, as with Saddam, or butchered in public, as was Gaddafi of Libya.

More than President Obama, PM Cameron on September 9th used the usual 'tough' and 'decisive' messianic pose to demand  'hard military force' to deal with both Assad and ISIS while ignoring the fact that the CIA trained 'third force' of Division 30 had crumbled and its leader defecting to Al Qaida.

However, more than just the war on ISIS is at stake. Clearly, Britain's contribution to air strikes that have not shown any sign of defeating ISIS are about restoring its role as a Global Player and a reliable ally of powers such as Saudi Arabia which have become increasingly hostile to Russia.

As Riyadh becomes more paranoid about Iranian backed Shia threats to Sunni ascendency in Iraq and across the region, the question is going to arise concerning how far Britain and France, as well as the US, are going to follow the Saudis in what they do against Russia if it threatens all out war in Syria.

The Chechen Connection.

Russia's War against jihadists is connected to the security of its borders to the south. Chechen ISIS fighters have been present in the region north of Latakia, no doubt hungering for revenge not only against Assad's Alawite state but also against Russia and Putin in order to avenge the defeat in the Chechnya War.

Turkey until 2014 had relatively open borders so as to allow the flow of jihadists down from the Caucasus through Turkey into Syria. The Pankisi Gorge in northern Georgia is known to be an area where Sunni jihadists are indoctrinated and used, it is thought, by Georgia's security services as 'assets'.

Part of this dangerous 'strategy' is concerned with using directing these jihadi 'assets' against Russia should it appear to menace Georgia again after the 2008 war. On the other hand, Georgian-Chechen jihadists are useful in engaging with Russia's ally Assad in Syria as part of their own proxy war against Moscow.

This explains why Moscow has been issuing official statements about their inability to prevent Russian militias, battle hardened in Eastern Ukraine and Chechnya from travelling south towards Syria. Moscow's position is that whatever cynical tricks Western allies try on, Russia would match them.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

France's Civilising Mission in Syria and the Evil Russian Bear

'... the message that Vladimir Putin has been sending out as he prepares to take the stage at the UN general assembly later this month: let’s all ally ourselves with Bashar al-Assad – the Syrian president may be a murderous thug, but we shouldn’t let that stand in our way'.
Natalie Nougayrède urges 'the West', as supremely represented by France and its civilising mission at home and abroad not to play Putin's cynical power game in Syria after he intervened to supply Damascus with weapons and Russian military personnel, as well as strengthening air bases on the Eastern Mediterranean.
On the contrary, the West should have taken the moral high ground by bombing Assad's state and military in 2013 and so enable ISIS to roam freely across Damascus and murdering hundreds of thousands of Alawites and Christians because, when France acts, it does so for the loftiest of all intentions.
While claiming Putin's diplomatic intervention in 2013 allowed Obama to "wriggle out of commitment to air strikes" against Assad, after a chemical weapons attack that has not been conclusively proved as the work of Syrian state forces, Nougayrède then sententiously cautions and chides the reading public,
'...let’s put aside naive and wishful thinking. There is no credible sign that Putin is ready to overthrow or replace Assad. Nor was there ever a serious Russian intention to do so, at any point. In the summer of 2012, when the big powers met in Geneva to discuss a Syrian national unity government, Russia made sure that this would not entail Assad’s departure. Russia has consistently shielded the Syrian president – not out of any love for him, but because, after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, he represents Russia’s last foothold in the Middle East: and its best chance to demonstrate western fickleness'.
Western 'lack of resolve' and 'Syria fatigue' may well be surprising. Since 2012 President Hollande seems to have had a remarkable amount of energy in clinching lucrative arms deals with Qatar as a way of ingratiating himself with the gas rich emirate, securing LNG supplies, investments in French housing and infrastructure.
The French embrace of the Gulf state that has, along with Saudi Arabia bankrolled Sunni jihadists, as they butcher and crucify their way through Syria, may not be clear as a humanitarian stance before rest of the world. After all, the call 'Assad must go' was led by Qatar and France in the 2012 Friends of Syria Group.
Convened by Nicolas Sarkozy, a would-be new Napoleon, the 'Friends of Syria' was backed by other states whose record of 'democracy promotion' is not so apparent, most notably Saudi Arabia whose Wahhabi state is a decadent version of the ferocious and militant 'Islamic State' emerging in Syria and Iraq.
The idea that Russia's attempt to shore up Assad is causing the Gulf states to fund groups such as Al Nusra and groups affiliated to Al Qaida is not borne out by facts. The Gulf states and France had geopolitical agendas of their own in demanding 'Assad must go', such as the prospect of a Qatar-Turkey pipeline.
Russia's decision to prop up Assad has no comparisons to Kissinger's use of the Khmer Rouge as a “counterweight” to North Vietnam. If anything, it has more in common with Turkey's President Erdogan's tacit and covert help for ISIS, the Islamist version of Pol Pot's revolutionaries, as a counterweight to the PKK Kurds.
But, of course, Nougayrède's selective moral outrage against Russia and Assad ignores what Turkey has been getting up to because it does not fit what can only be called a propaganda mould, in which Putin and Russia are clear evil and France stands out as a potential beacon of "our values" in the world.
For, after all, Turkey is also in NATO and another 'Friend of Syria'. So Erdogan's shady role in Syria has to be downplayed or ignored and put into the Orwellian memory hole while Russia's attempt to bolster Assad is regarded as the height of cynical Kissinger style, Cold War realpolitik.
This is convenient when the aim is to pretend that there is a New Cold War that Russia has started so as to use the moral impetus of the NATO and Western cause against totalitarianism as part of an uplifting propaganda drive that screens out all mention of Western energy geopolitics and interests.
Either the Qatari or the Iranian pipeline would have traversed Iraq and then Syria; it is not just who would get one built but the need to block the other in getting one and so both asserting their regional influence from the Persian Gulf through to the Eastern Mediterranean.
No war, not least a conflict as complicated as Syria's war, is ever only about just one thing such as oil or pipelines. But the geopolitics of energy flows is absolutely crucial in  understanding the stakes in Syria as far as the interests of the competing regional and global powers are actually concerned.
The jihadi movements are effectively funded by dysfunctional Gulf states as they turn a blind eye to it and so give their tacit assent to it. Geopolitical interests aside, for Saudi Arabia in particular it is ever more important to divert internal discontent with a rentier regime outwards towards the Shi'ites and Iran.
The difficulty is that, apart from antagonising Shia Saudis living in some of the main oil producing regions towards the borders with Bahrain, it conjures up the competition from ISIS which is going to exploit Sunni Shi'ite enmities to ratchet up their apocalyptic end-time jihad across the region.
However, religious identity politics is connected to regional power political rivalries between Iran and the Gulf states as well as with Turkey as Erdogan attempts to play 'diaspora politics' in using Sunni Arabs and Turkic peoples in Central Asia and Western China as counters in a geopolitical great game.
The pursuit of power is interconnected with the control of energy flows and pipeline routes not only because of worldwide rapid industrialisation in developing nations. It is also one formidable tool in coercing adversaries diplomatically by threatening their economies if they grow too assertive.
Prating gasbags such as Edward Lucas, in his abysmal The New Cold War, are always ready lambast Russia for doing this, as it indeed does. Yet it is not only Russia but the US and Western powers that are prepared to 'wield the oil weapon' as a form of reconfiguring Great Power relations for their own benefit.
Naturally French politicians and columnists for Le Monde would identify their cause to overthrow evil autocrats with that of all humanity because 'we are the world' and France's identity is bound up with the liberation of certain worthy oppressed peoples everywhere where there exist much coveted resources.
But, in reality, France operates as a state much like many others with pretensions to global power such as Russia, especially in being at the forefront of vying for lucrative bilateral arms ties that enhance their respective spheres of influence in the Middle East where once it rivaled Britain for influence.
Consequently, windbag columnists are apt to project onto other powers such as Russia all the evils that their own state is engaged in doing constantly because it makes them feel good and because they are willingly blind to what France does as a 'Global Player' as they want to believe it is 'better' than Russia.
Hypocrisy is probably an unavoidable part of global power politics. Yet there comes a time when the inability to look in the mirror and see that what France has done is not greatly different from Russia with its constant rival vying for arms deals with General Sisi in Egypt and supporting his new 'war on terror'.
So, despite Nougayrède's earnest entreaties to not play Putin's Great Game in Syria, France is already playing that game in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb and Levant as no less of a player itself. Putin's move is just one more in a general geostrategic game of chess on the regional and global chessboard.
France's geopolitical ambitions in bombing ISIS and removing Assad to expedite a reassertion of its power in its former mandate land of Syria are apiece with the solid backing for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in using lethally destructive air power to crush the Shi'ite Houthis in neignbouring Yemen.
The reason, apart from oil and weapons deals, is preventing the prospect that Iran could assert decisive influence over the strategic chokepoint of Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Suez Canal ( and the new one supported by France ) with the Persian Gulf, in addition to the Straits of Hormuz.
However, the Saudi air strikes are killing thousands of civilians and involve the use of cluster munitions which are a savage way of killing civilians that very much rival Assad's deadly barrel bombs in Syria. However, Nougayrède appears to have been curiously very silent about these atrocities for some reason.
In May 2015, Hollande jetted into Riyadh to sign a $7 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia as part of its utmost commitment to a renewed 'war on terror'. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubei made plain that Paris had a special and mutually beneficial partnership with the Saudis against the Iranian threat.
“We have common views with regard to the challenges in the region today with Syria, Yemen, Iraq, terrorism ‎and of course Iran’s nuclear program, and there are very large commercial and military ties between our two countries.”
At the Summit between France and Saudi Arabia, where transport, energy and military sales were all up for grabs, France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, chimed “We sense the new [Saudi] team’s desire to move quickly.......We’re working on 20 projects, which may represent several billion euros.”

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Russian Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean and the War in Syria

News that Russia's Vladimir Putin has sent military personnel and hardware to shore up President Assad in Syria has been met with concern by Western leaders. Russian ships laden with arms have passed through the Bosphorus and aircraft with humanitarian supplies have been flown out to Syria.

Putin is increasing his power in the Eastern Mediterranean and interposing himself as a potential third force between the Western states and the states of a region that has seen a scramble for gas since 2010. Needless to say, in Western 'public diplomacy' the energy agenda is seldom even mentioned as a factor.
Both Iran and Russia have a vital interest in propping up Assad to thwart one real aim of the geostrategy behind the Western and Syria National Council demand that 'Assad must go': to remove his and Russia's control over Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves in a deal clinched by Putin in December 2013.
The deal infuriated by the Syrian National Council, Turkey and the oily 'Friends of Syria' ( with friends like Saudi Arabia and Qatar pumping millions into the coffers of militant Sunni jihadists it is difficult to see how Syria would need enemies with friends like this ). They had hoped Assad would go quickly after 2011.
The idea Assad could be overthrown as Gaddafi was always unlikely. Syria, like Ukraine, occupies a strategic east-west gas and oil pipeline route. Russia would not want as a supply route linking the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean as this would undermine its use of control over energy flow to the EU.
Whereas in Libya neither China nor Russia nor Iran had vital interests if Gaddafi were toppled that could not be subsequently asserted under another ruler, in Syria if either Qatar or Iran built rival pipelines instead of the other they would enhance their power and status in the region and globally at each other's expense.
By helping Assad consolidate his rule of the regions abutting Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean coast, Russia and Iran could block off Qatar and Turkey's rival plans while they enhance their exports of gas via routes not exclusively under the control or complete influence of the West.
Evidently, for Iran these export routes are via the international maritime water ways from around the Persian Gulf via Egypt and the Suez Canal, routes it shares with the Gulf states. However, a pipeline overland linking the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean would vastly undermine Iran's power.
Iran controls part of the Straits of Hormuz already and could always close it and therefore throttle the global economy if it were pushed. This 'strategic trump card' is the one hard hand it holds still in place of nuclear weapons and would be greatly diminished had Assad been removed as the West anticipated.
The nuclear deal went ahead not due to the supposed nuclear threat Iran could have posed. It reflected Washington's acceptance that Iranian cooperation is needed so as to keep ISIS at bay in central Iraq. The possibility of Assad really 'going', as once anticipated by the West is also not on the cards in the short term.
Putin is now rubbing that in by giving Assad military assistance in much the same way Washington, and ferociously anti-Russian states like Poland, are giving Ukraine military help in the Donbass; except that everybody claims to hate ISIS while globally many states are not especially pro-Kiev.
After all, ISIS threatens global oil supplies not only to many Western economies present and future but also the East Asian economies, most obviously China's. ISIS has consolidated its hold over eastern Syria where most of its oil lies and in north west Iraq. The Western allies also have contradictory ambitions.
Russia's move to shore up Assad is part of his 'public diplomacy' in putting himself at the head of a counter terrorism drive against energy rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of whom undeniably can be said to sponsor 'terrorists' in the shape of jihadi militants. At the same time it increases his standing in Egypt.
Russia's arms export markets are one reason. The other his strategy to expose Western prating and double standards over Syria, as they had no problem in tacitly accepting Sisi as leader in Cairo after the 2013 coup and so, logically, there should be no reason not to accept Assad as a counter terrorist leader.
Russia wants to enhance its standing in Cyprus; fears of Turkey's belligerence over gas drilling is has ked Putin to emphasise Russia's role as an honest broker as Greece and Turkey, NATO members both, shift apart once more over Cyprus and Athens rebels against Germany over the euro and austerity policies.
The simple fact is the Cold War alliances are slowly disintegrating and becoming more complicated by the revival of older historical antagonisms; ethnic-sectarian enmities, nationalism and the revived role of religious allegiances as the two successor states created out of the Ottoman Empire-Iraq and Syria-crumble.
The reports of growing Russian military activity in Syria were troubling, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday. “I am concerned about reports about increased Russian military presence in Syria,” Stoltenberg said. “That will not contribute to solving the conflict.”
What Stoltenberg means is that Russia's backing for Assad would not solve the conflict in the way NATO representatives such as himself would like in so far as he means the the 'right' rebels of Division 30 and others being shoved on the grand chessboard as counters to Russian influence in Syria.
The absurdity of NATO's position is clear; Putin is attacked for backing Assad while Turkey's Erdogan is backing Sunni jihadists in ever more desperate attempts to remove Assad'. Putin is denounced as a vile warmonger for backing the Donbass militias against Kiev, but not Erdogan's policy on Syria.
Turkey was less interested in ISIS losing than with the Kurdish PKK gaining ground in northern Syria ( Rojava ) and the Kurdish cause of independence setting off irredentist momentum within south-east Turkey. Increasingly paranoid about this he took a fatal gamble in starting to bomb PKK positions in Syria.
Erdogan's brinkmanship was about rallying Turkey behind him against domestic opponents, including the HPD, which backs more Kurdish autonomy after elections failed to give him a clear majority in the Turkish Parliament. A NATO state is backing forces in Syria that other members are actually fighting against.
NATO would seem no longer fit for purpose and Turkey is clearly no longer worthy of being a NATO member if were really were about 'democracy promotion' and defending 'the West' or 'our values'. A military organised to fight the Cold War has morphed into an organisation dedicated to advancing other goals.
One of the most important ambitions is energy security, though this is usually put out in 'public diplomacy' terms as a sort of interesting sideline NATO may well have to factor is as opposed to an essential geopolitical goal it had during its 'nation building' ventures in Kosovo and Afghanistan
Just as Erdogan is posing as neo-Ottoman champion of Sunni Muslims to project prestige and power in regions where pipeline ambitions are a vital influence, so too now is Putin championing the rights of diaspora Russians and Christian Orthodox believers in Syria. 50,000 Syrian Christians applied for asylum in Russia.
A report has revealed that Putin was praised in a letter sent to the Kremlin that called him a “powerful factor for global peace and stability”. The West was rounded on, apparently, for supporting terrorists whose aim is “to eliminate our presence in our homeland.” This has barely been mentioned in the West.

The Lost Opportunity of 2012-The Syrian War

“It was an opportunity lost in 2012”
The news that Russia wanted a diplomatic solution and for Assad to step down as part of a negotiated transition in 2012 is no surprise any more than its being ignored by the Western Powers, especially Britain and France. Both powers had aligned very closely back then with Qatar's policy of backing Sunni rebels.
The Guardian reported today,
'On 22 February 2012 he was sent to meet the missions of the permanent five nations (the US, Russia, UK, France and China) at UN headquarters in New York by The Elders, a group of former world leaders advocating peace and human rights that has included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan 
“The most intriguing was the meeting I had with Vitaly Churkin because I know this guy,” Ahtisaari recalled. “We don’t necessarily agree on many issues but we can talk candidly. I explained what I was doing there and he said: ‘Martti, sit down and I’ll tell you what we should do.’“He said three things: One – we should not give arms to the opposition. Two – we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three – we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.”
The reason was back then, far more than it is in 2015, a product of Britain and France seeking to pose as champions of Sunni democracy against dictatorship and to clinch lucrative arms deals and gas deals with Qatar. Both Qatar and Turkey had planned for Assad 'to go' when he rejected their gas pipeline plan.
A gas pipeline that linked the Persian Gulf with the Eastern Mediterranean and hence Qatari gas directly via a land route to Europe would have vastly reduced energy dependence upon Russia. It would have removed the potential threat Iran poses to the oil and gas tanker routes that go via the Straits of Hormuz too.
Russia is bound to defend Assad and shore up a consolidated state in and around Damascus and Latakia and Assad's home territory along the Eastern Mediterranean. On the geopolitical chessboard concerning energy, Russia would retain the offshore gas drilling concession granted in December 2013.
While Assad's forces were brutal in trying to crush protests and armed opposition, the Sunni opposition had by 2012 been hijacked by Sunni jihadists bankrolled by the Gulf states. But the US had planned on destabilising and overthrowing Assad long before as revealed by Wikileaks cables released in 2011.
Whether Russia could have prevailed upon Assad to step down is unclear. What is clear is neither the US nor Britain or France were interested, especially not the old colonial mandate powers whose leaders, Cameron, Sarkozy and Hollande, have regarded the Middle East as a region where they shall determine events.
Syria was becoming increasingly unstable for many reasons leading up to 2011: overpopulation, a succession of years of drought and water shortage as a consequence of climate change depleting oil reserves and high fuel prices and an ineffectual autocratic government.
However, the reason it has collapsed into anarchic chaos and bloodshed is due to regional and global power political players vying for influence and control over a crucial geopolitical east-west position between Iraq and the Gulf region and the Eastern Mediterranean. Peace is difficult as no side wants to back down.
Britain and France would not want to antagonise Qatar by engaging in any diplomacy in which the demand 'Assad must go' is not central, even if they have included the six month stay on provision. Britain has bound itself closely in mutual military and security establishment ties to Qatar.
Qatar, as late as March 2015, was trying to use its money and funneling of weapons into detaching Al Nusra from Al Qaida. Before they had been prepared to support any effective Sunni militant group in opposition to Shia militias backed by Iran. Yet Al Nusra has committed numerous atrocities against civilians in Syria.
Thousands of Syrian civilians are set to continue dying or leaving as refugees or as migrants from camps in neighbouring lands as Turkey and Lebanon travelling westwards. A large part of the blame lies with the Gulf powers and with Britain and France in failing to forcefully push for diplomacy with Russia and Iran.