Monday, 23 November 2015

The Vienna Agreement and Cameron's Drive for British Intervention in Syria.

Cameron is already building up the 'public diplomacy' momentum behind winning a vote on air strikes in Syria for December 2015 without having first outlined any realistic strategy that would make them much more than part of his obsession with 'standing tall' and reaffirming Britain's status as a 'global player'.

This was clear after the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai. Then Cameron muscled in to claim IS had been involved and that he was at the forefront of protecting British citizens through emergency measures and privy to intelligence about IS threats that the rest of the world was not. It was as much about getting the necessary headlines.

Then, in line with the media management strategies Cameron is expert at as 'heir to Blair, a few days later Fallon started on cue to big up the case for British air strikes in Syria lest anyone forget what the larger aim of the British response to the blowing up of the Russian jet. All of this was carefully choreographed.

The danger with this sort of 'public diplomacy' is that it is inherently manipulative and is directed at exploiting public fears into stampeding public opinion and so MPs into supporting a policy for which there has not been a rational debate about the merits of firs. In fact that is the very purpose of this political culture of spin.

The Labour opposition, with the exception of its leader Jeremy Corbyn, indicated that it would not be prepared to swing decisively behind air strikes unless a coherent strategy was outlined by the government. Corbyn would seem to think there is no need to press the government on what, if any, strategy the government has.

The reason is because he is opposed to any military action without a 'political settlement'. This statement of the obvious that has potentially been invalidated by the Vienna agreement and the prospect of a UN Security Council backed war against IS in the wake of the Black Friday the 13th terror attacks on Paris.

Corbyn needs to scrutinize Cameron's proposals for joining air strikes in Syria and start asking hard questions about whether the PM really has a strategy other than just bombing Raqqa. For example what guarantees there are that the ceasefire by January 2016 will hold ( not least as Cameron wants air strikes before Christmas ).

Corbyn has flopped as an alternative leader. He is the unexpected leader of a party in crisis across Britain as it struggles to find an identity after Blair and Brown's years and the failure of Miliband. Corbyn does not seem to have made much impact at a time of heightened fear as IS goes on the rampage across the Middle East and into Europe. 

As John Gray summarised it,
"In a performance reminiscent of Peter Sellers’s Chauncey Gardiner in the film Being There, the Labour leader has emerged from the walled garden of the hard left to wander around the country, dispensing gnomic observations about peace and kindness. It’s a surreal kind of theatre rather than a new type of politics. There is no risk to Cameron"
The timing of the vote of air strikes for December 2015 shows that Cameron is less interested in whether the political and diplomatic settlement agreed on in Vienna sticks first before wasting the 'game changing' usefulness of the Paris attacks to rush through to a vote on air strikes that would make any opposition appear as though 'soft on terror'.

The ceasefire agreed at Vienna is for January 2016. Timing a vote for December means that no problems with not having first halted the proxy war between Assad and the Sunni insurgents not aligned with IS could delay Britain entering the war in Syria. Saudi Arabia declared it would convene a meeting of all Sunni groups on December 15th 2015.

Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam were invited to this convention, however, in an act that seems to challenge Russia's intentions in a paragraph of the second Vienna meeting’s final statement on 14 November. After discussing which groups are to be designated as 'terrorist', the communique continues:
“All members of the ISSG also pledged as individual countries and supporters of various belligerents to take all possible steps to require adherence to the ceasefire by these groups or individuals they support, supply or influence. The ceasefire would not apply to offensive or defensive actions against Da’esh or Nusra or any other group the ISSG agrees to deem terrorist“.
Cameron's drive towards war in Syria would appear to be more principally concerned about power politics and making Britain a 'global player' on a par with Russia after it intervened militarily in Syria on September 29 and pushed the Great Powers into discussing a deal to focus more on IS once it was clear Assad would not go.

There is no indication Britain has a strategy apart from joining in as part of air strikes in the hope it is would be seen to be playing a part and showing the Gulf States how it is dedicated to their defence as well as testing out British military hardware and signalling its commitment to the Gulf States.

As Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond put it after announcing the new British military base in Bahrain 'your security is our security''. It was necessary for Britain to revive its old East of Suez role when the US was refocusing and shifting its military weight towards containing China ( the Pivot to Asia ).

To that end the Defence Secratary Michael Fallon has repeated the line that Assad has to go, despite the fact Russian intervention means he would not at least before elections are due to be held, as set out on paper at least in the Vienna agreement, by 2017. On November 23 2015 he made it plain, that despite Russia and Iran's backing for Assad,
“There is international agreement now that Assad has to go and there has to be a more comprehensive government.”
There has been no international agreement at all on Assad's status which was pointedly left out of the talks at Vienna because it would have made diplomatic progress impossible. Saudi Arabia would appear to have stepped in to take control over the Sunni opposition to Assad and has maintained that he should not stand in future elections.

As a consequence, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the case for British air strikes is not about defeating IS only so much as positioning Britain, in advance of any diplomatic settlement, in a better bargaining position in trying to ensure it can determine the fate of Syria for the benefit of its Gulf State clients.

In that sense, there is a similarity between this diplomacy and that which happened between 1812 and 1815 when all the powers sought those decisive victories that would give them the decisive influence in reshaping the map of Europe ( through the Congress of Vienna ). It is very old fashioned Great Power politics of the old style at a global level.

The problem with that is there is no guarantee the Gulf States would honour the peace process and stop ratcheting up the proxy war with Iran through backing Sunni jihadist groups in the Army of Conquest as it has since March 2015. There has been no let up in the proxy war to the south in Yemen for a start.

Without that happening, because Russia is already supporting Assad, there would be no joint effort or coherent strategy to focus Syrian ground troops on IS. It would that should Assad and Russia advance too quickly against IS, other Sunni jihadist groups could start attacking Assad to the west in order to 'tilt' the balance of power away from him.

There is no indication which ground forces Britain would work with in defeating IS. It could be the Kurdish peshmerga as with the US or Arab-Kurdish forces including the YGP militias. Yet Turkey is intent on air strikes against PKK militias fighting IS because of its fear of Kurdish irredentism spreading across the border.

Cameron seems to have decided on commiting  Britain to a larger security role in the Greater Middle East and to defending the interests of the Gulf States at a time when their policies are making it ever more likely that the war against IS would not succeed without a durable ceasefire with Assad. The dangers of this are clear.

Not only would British air strikes make London a target for IS terror reprisals, they would lock Britain further into a war with no firm diplomatic end game in sight now that the Gulf States have demonstrated, in word and deed, that they are not that concerned with IS but more with Iran and with Assad in Syria.

Given that the November 23rd Strategic Defence & Security Review involves increasing Britain's 'special ops' forces for dealing with IS, it is clear this would leave open the way for being dragged in directly into a ground war with the Caliphate with all the potential for "mission creep" that could well involve if the strategy is flawed.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Britain and Resource Wars in the 21st Century.

Norton Taylor has drawn attention to the fact the alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states would be a feature of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) due to be unveiled on 23 November 2015. Yet it is vital to draw attention to the increased emphasis both NATO and the Britain has put on energy security.

The last SDSR in 2010 made plain that real threats to Britain's security are considered to be rising
'due to ourgrowing dependence on imports of fossil fuels at  the same time that global demand and competition for energy is increasing. Falling UK production of oil and gas, coupled with sustained demand, will make us increasingly reliant on fossil fuel imports'.
While Britain gets on a fraction of its oil from Saudi Arabia, with most coming from Norway or Russia or African OPEC nations -mostly Nigeria and Algeria-it imports an increasingly significant amount of LNG from Gulf States such as Qatar. Indeed Michael Fallon in 2013, as Energy Secratary, made this reliance clear.
"We are looking for more long-term gas supply contracts with Qatar – they have proved a very reliable partner...It's very important we strengthen our relationship with them. Already over half our gas comes from abroad and by 2030, it'll be three-quarters" LNG accounted for 28pc of the UK's gas imports last year, 98pc of those from Qatar.
In respect to Britain's geopolitical strategy, which involves building the base in Bahrain, supporting the Saudi war effort in Yemen and supporting "moderate rebels" in Syria, in alignment with the Saudis and Qatar, the ambition is to secure crucial strategic chokepoints in the Persian Gulf and between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

This is precisely why Philip Hammond is not that interested in the humanitarian consequences of Saudi Arabia bombing civilian targets in Houthi rebel held urban areas. The threat to the flow of oil tankers through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and Red Sea trade was a major concern for Saudi Arabia fearing Iranian proxy influence.

Even if Iran would be unlikely to cut off oil flows from Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, the pathological competition for influence and power in Syria is about the competition between Iran and Qatar for two rival gas pipelines between the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean and hence EU energy markets.

The construction of Britain's Bahrain base is about reassuring Britain's Gulf allies that they are pledged to their defence in the event of any threat, not least that of terrorist attacks from within, Iranian backing for Shi'ite rebels or the looming spectre of ISIS As Hammond put it '“Your security is our security.”

By pledging Britain so unconditionally to the defence of the increasingly unstable Gulf states, Hammond has determined that Britain would be pulled into a regionwide conflagration should this happen, as appears increasingly probable rentier regimes incapable of diversifying from oil faced with Islamist militancy.

The Saudi oil price war with Russia, one spurred on by the US shale oil 'revolution', was intended as a means to reconfigure global geopolitics and use galling oil revenues to cripple those powers opposing US world domination such as Venezuela, Iran and, most obviously, Russia itself.

Far from promoting 'stability', the strategy could end up destabilising Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies which have blamed Riyadh for plummeting oil revenues. The Saudis have been drawn into a Yemen quagmire and costs have escalated as revenues to buy off discontent fallen drastically.

ISIS has made repeated incursions into Saudi oil producing regions and in the Bastra region of Iraq as well as Al Qaida into Algeria. An oil price shock would boost their as yet relatively meagre oil revenues greatly and send the global economy into a tailspin as the East Asian economies are dependent upon Middle East oil.

The Russian Factor.

The next cause of global instability is that sanctions have helped drive Putin into entering Syria in order to combat both ISIS, a threat to the Russian Caucasus and its oil and gas pipelines in the region, as well as to decisively back Assad's state army against Qatari and Saudi-backed "moderate rebels".

Russia sought to tilt the balance away from their prospective gains because of the threat a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline would pose to Russia's control over energy supplies into the EU, its oil revenues and its global power projection. This was threatened in March 2015 by the Army of Conquest militia formation being created.

The Russian intervention would seem to be a ploy to increase oil prices and shore up Putin's oil revenues. It is more probable the move was about blocking off the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and retaining a strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean so that it could gain a stake in offshore Syrian and Israeli gas projects

This had been threatened by Army of Conquest gains in north-west Syria as the Gulf States and Turkey upped their supply of weapons to it, a formation that includes Al Qaida affiliated militias such as al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, militant Sunni jihadists wanting a Caliphate not so dissilimar from that of IS in Raqqa.

Western propaganda, via a pliant media, replicates the untruth that Assad faces 'moderate rebels' Yet it is unclear how far either the West would go in defending their interests should Russia succeed in 'degrading' the military capacity of the Army of Conquest, backed by a NATO member in the form of Erdogan's Turkey.

The Gulf States have put pressure on the Western Powers to back them in Syria. Meanwhile Saudi-Russian relations have continued to deteriorate amidst suspicions that Riyadh is covertly backing jihadists against Russia in Chechnya and Dagestan, as well as NGO groups in other strategic transit states in the Caucasus.

So Britain is pledged to defending the Gulf States. Even if the US is more focused the rise of China in 2015, the Saudi lobby and Republicans are staunchly for the alliance and a direct proxy war with Russia over both Syria and Ukraine.This could stimulate tensions in a region the SDSR cited as crucial to energy security-the Caspian.

There are all sorts of dangers that are being created by the adherence to a Cold War era alliance system in the Middle East. There needs to be a change in strategic thinking and a greater emphasis on energy independence through nuclear power and in energy saving measures.

These are the chilling realities of the world in the 21st century. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Britain Uses the Sinai Air Crash to Advance Power Political Ambitions.

“I’ll obviously discuss all of this with President Putin and explain to him why we’ve taken the action we’ve taken. But obviously the action he takes about Russian tourists, that will be a matter for him.”
“It’s obviously a matter for the Russians about whether they continue to fly,” the prime minister said. “If you look at what other countries have done, the Americans have changed their travel advice to Sharm el-Sheikh – they did that after seeing particular intelligence and concerns that they had.
Earlier, the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said there was a “significant possibility” that a bomb brought down the Russian plane, in the light of the claim of responsibility by IS Sinai.'
Flights have been suspended from Sharm el-Sheikh. An emergency meeting of COBRA convened. Cameron emerged from 10 Downing Street, his face contorted in the usual rictus of 'concern' claiming that he had a piece of 'sensitive intelligence' that the rest of the world, other than the US, did not presumably have access.

Britain's ramping up of the terrorist threat in response to the downing of the Russian airliner serves a number of political aims. It insinuates that Russia was responsible for endangering the security of civilian airliners in Egypt and that Britain too, as a consequence, faces the threat of its holidaymakers being threatened.

The other useful part of Cameron and Hammond's 'public diplomacy' is that it diverts attention away from the criticism of the government for welcoming General Sisi to London for clinching lucrative trade deals, despite the murder and imprisonment of political opponents of the regime in Cairo.

The emergency measures being taken to protect British holidaymakers also serves as a way of building up the momentum to push for air strikes against ISIS in Syria and to thereby, in the process, trying to discredit Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a 'national security threat' and, of course, 'soft' or sympathetic to terrorists.

So Cameron could use the terror attack to insinuate how his alliances with dictatorships are about the need to keep British civilians safe, launch those aircraft and drone strikes on ISIS and stand tall in the region and on the global stage. Basically, this is the sort of 'public diplomacy' on the 9/11 model he took from Blair.

No other national government other than Ireland has suspended flights from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Britain, of course, has no respresentatives in the official crash investigation and so is trying to make the best of spinning the air crash in ways that would benefit the governments national security state agenda.

Civilian deaths and the threat of ISIS terror plots on the Al Qaida model are too good an opportunity to miss if revving up for military intervention in Syria, one reason Britain, as opposed to all other countries, is seizing on the catastrophe to score political points about how it and not Russia, is dedicated to protecting civilians.

It's a power game.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Syria :The Energy Stakes and the Vienna Peace Talks

Crispin Blunt has written in the Guardian, 
“There should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating Isis and of ending the civil war in Syria.”..Doing something to make ourselves feel better is beside the real point of defeating Isis and ending the Syrian civil war.
True but it would appear to have been part of the drive towards intervention in Iraq on Blair's part in 2003 and, certainly, Cameron's over Libya and Syria back in 2011. Yet, there are other rationales left out by Blunt such as the determination of Britain to align with the Gulf States over Syria due to energy interests and arms deals.

When it comes down to it, there are major geopolitical ambitions and interests at stake that are interconnected with the egos of politicians who have staked their 'credibility' on removing Assad both in France and Britain. In fact, the US is actually more pragmatic than either of the two European military powers.

For the US has shale oil reserves and the EU has valued the overthrow of Assad as a mean to expedite the construction of a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline. Even if the scale of the conflict, chaos and carnage has set back this ambition, allowing the Russian blocking strategy to prevail is anathema to Britain and France.

Turkey under a re-elected and more authoritarian Erdogan has no reason to climb down over his grand plan to re-ottomanise northern Syria; he has proved able to use Syrian migrants, by allowing and encouraging them to move into Europe, as a a diplomatic bargaining lever with Germany and other EU powers.

Erdogan's cynical tactics have clearly worked spectacularly in goading feeble and guilt ridden Western politicians such as Merkel into further concessions over EU membership and visa reforms. He can be sure that his policy on Syria will be supported as the EU powers prove incapable of managing their borders.

Then Saudi Arabia simply also refuses to budge on not making the overthrow of Assad its main foreign policy goal along with other Gulf states. So it is difficult to see how Cameron would take any diplomatic initiative whatsoever over Syria in order not to affect preferential British trade ties, investments and Qatari LNG supplies.

Cameron is more intent on using Britain's role as a 'Global Player' to tout its firm support for the war against ISIS in such a way as to ingratiate himself with the Gulf states and demonstrate how it is pledged to their defence. Using drones and air power tests out the technology and upgrades Britain's profile as an ally.

As a consequence Cameron need only spout soundbites about the "butcher Assad" and maintain the position he has to go at some hypothetical stage rather than outline a coherent strategy for ending the Syrian Civil War. Syrian lives are balanced off with lucrative interests and the geopolitics of energy flows.

Such interests are seldom mentioned in public because the Syrian war is only portrayed as 'crisis management' and not in terms of old fashioned Great Power politics. The same 'liberal interventionist' tropes are rehashed because 'public diplomacy' in democracies requires that Western ambitions are portrayed as humanitarian.

To an extent this is true, but it means Western policy over Syria is based on selfish greed at one level and on geopolitical wish thinking about there being a third force between Assad and ISIS at another. Greed mixed with guilt is a lethally weak basis for a foreign policy and Erdogan knows how to exploit this.

The European powers have far less influence than is supposed: the idea they have decisive influence over Turkey and other regional players in the Greater Middle East is farcical. EU nations are far too dependent upon energy from outside the EU and the Ukraine crisis has led to a frantic quest for diversification.

The failed geopolitical lunge to drag Ukraine towards both EU and NATO membership, so as to secure Black Sea resources and control over pipeline routes has been matched by Russian determination to block the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and secure Russian influence over Eastern Mediterranean gas flows to the EU.

Ultimately, what happens to bring peace to Syria is going to be decided by Russia, the US, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf States. Britain is unlikely to go too far in opposing Washington but the US itself seems incapable of pursuing a coherent strategy other than containing ISIS thus safeguarding Iraqi oil producing zones.

Ultimately, what happens to bring peace to Syria is going to be decided by Russia, the US, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf States. Britain is unlikely to go too far in opposing Washington and the US itself seems incapable of pursuing a coherent strategy other than containing ISIS, thus safeguarding Iraqi oil producing zones.

While the nuclear deal has given the opportunity for Iran to be involved in peace talks over Syria, it has made Saudi Arabia even more determined to prevent it extending its influence both in Baghdad and Damascus. It is becoming more unstable as it gets dragged further into the Yemen War.

Time is short as if a new Republican administration were to enter the White House in 2016, then it is highly likely it would reaffirm its steadfast alliance with Saudi arabia and even be tempted into a revertion to a 1980s style attempt to back a mujahadeen in Syria against Russia and Assad.

Britain's position in this is more than hopeless: Cameron's government is attached to obsolete geopolitical calculations and ways of thinking and acting that also date back to the 1980s and Cold War stances regarding the supposed benefits of the Saudi alliance and the innate evil of Russia as a Great Power

Unless there is a decicive change with this foreign policy and emphasis on the need for diplomacy, in which the Western states does not treat the Greater Middle East as a theatre in which they alone is the decisive actors, then the stage is set for a potential proxy conflict and widening war of catastrophic proportions.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Enter the US: Washington Commits to Rivalling Russia in Syria.

'The Obama administration is expected to announce on Friday a decision to deploy a small number of special operations forces in an advisory role to Syria... a wider strategy of strengthening moderate rebels in Syria even as Washington intensifies its efforts to find a diplomatic solution to end to the Syrian civil war.'
Barack Obama has ordered up to 50 special operations troops to northern Syria, a senior administration official told the Guardian on Friday, in an apparent breach of his promise not to put US “boots on the ground” to fight Islamic State militants in the country.
The Pentagon has also been “consulting” with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi to establish a special operations task force, with an unspecified number of US forces aiming “to further enhance [US] ability to target Isil leaders and networks” across the Syria border in Iraq.
Washington officials insist that the new deployments do not amount to admission of failure in its existing efforts to combat Isis from the air and support so-called “moderate” rebels with training. ( Guardian October 30th 2015 )
Unless the "moderate rebels" are named there is no reason to suppose these rebels are not Sunni jihadists or a militaritly irrelevant group of non-jihadi Sunni democrats. Yet if 'special ops' forces are going, the emphasis would be on directing forces that presumably are not going to be those under fire from Russian aircraft.

The strategy of bolstering mythical "moderate rebels" has had much similarity with the backing the US gave to a Third Force in South Vietnam in the 1950s, one memorably seen as presaging deeper US involvement there in Greene's The Quiet American. It is pure geopolitical wish fantasy.

The backing for the "moderate rebels" has foundered on the facts there has not existed one since 2012: by 2013 militant Sunni jihadists backed by the Gulf States and Turkey, as part of its plan to 're-ottomanise" northern Syria, had led the Free Syria Army to become effectively dominated by them.

The last futile attempt that preceded Putin's decision to commit Russia to military intervention was the farcical Division 30, trained by special forces and the CIA, which lasted a short time and mostly ended up going over to Al Nusra leaving a handful of fighters left. It is hard to see what the US aims to acheive.

Even the absurd acronym 'ISIL' is a form of denial: it terms Syria 'The Levant' because the official doctrine refuses to hold that an official Syrian state is menaced by ISIS because the only legitimate state is represented by the so-called 'moderate rebels' as the official government in waiting.

The danger is that if Russian attacks on the Sunni jihadists other than ISIS ends up bolstering the choice between ISIS and Assad, the US would swing towards supporting the move by the Gulf states in recreating a new form of mujahadeen as in 1980s Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.

This would be an extremely dangerous move that could see Saudi support for Sunni jihadists in Chechnya and Dagestan as a counter to Russian moves in Syria. That could well lead to greater Russian and Chinese support for the Kurds, not least as Erdogan has been trying to stir up Islamist opposition in Xinjiang.

Erdogan has since 2009 stepped up support to seperatists, though in a way that could be plausibly denied, accusing the Chinese of 'genocide' in what he and other Pan-Turkic thinkers have provocatively termed East Turkestan. Separatism would forestall China's plans for it as a safe energy corridor in rivalry with Turkey.

The Turkish backed Army of Conquest in Syria contains the Chinese Uyghur-led terrorist group, Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), a target for Russian air strikes. China has warned any use of Turkic jihadists as 'assets' in Xinjiang would result in military aid to radical Kurdish separatists- “if you touch the Uyghurs, we will touch the PKK.”

Syria is a war and crisis that is helping to fracture further fissure lines spreading from the Greater Middle East into the Eastern Mediterranean right through into the Caucasus and through to the Western parts of China. It has all the possibility of developing from a regional into a full global conflict.

Low Prospects for Peace in Syria: The Vienna Talks, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

'US attempts to re-enfranchise Iran as a good faith neighbour after the successfully negotiated nuclear deal have been roundly rebuffed by Riyadh, Qatar and the Gulf states..“They are inviting the vultures to the banquet table. And they expect them to wear napkins and be nice to the waiters.” ( Guardian 30th October 2015 )
The Vienna Peace Talks appear doomed unless the Western Powers were to put pressure on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to desist from backing Sunni jihadist insurgents, not least militias affiliated to Al Qaida. However, the Russian military intervention has only led the Saudis to scale up their support for Al Nusra.

As a consequence ISIS and Saudi clerics have vied with each other in the ferocity of their condemnations of Russia as the oil price war between Riyadh and Moscow has had a far more severe and potentially destabilising impact on the Saudis as their oil export revenue earnings have depleted at rapid speed.

Diverting jihadist discontent outwards from Saudi Arabia on to Gulf rival Iran has been a desperate domestic expedient to stave off internal rebellions as well as to position itself as head of the Sunni jihad against the rival claims of ISIS. This has been given further impetus by the invasion of Yemen.

The Western Powers have been prepared to align with Saudi Arabia over its invasion of Yemen as a way to preserve the regional balance of power given Washington's need to coopt Iran in shoring up the Shi'ite dominated government in Baghdad militarily and so preventing the need for US troops to re-enter Iraq.

The Syria War is but one war in a general conflation speading across the MENA region. The fact that Assad is no longer going 'to go', because of decisive Russian intervention, means the Western Powers have the appalling option of either losing face over having demanded Assad go or else to align firmly with Saudi Arabia.

The temptation to swing behind a newly formed mujahadeen in Syria similar to the one that fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s would be resisted by Obama's administration. After all, it would raise the spectre of an uncontrollable and ever escalating proxy war on the border with Turkey-a NATO state.

The third option the US has would be to make plain to Riyadh that if it continues to escale the proxy war with Iran in Syria by backing Al Nusra, then that may well have consequences for the strength of the alliance with Washington and its military commitments in the Persian Gulf region.

While the Obama administration might try to put diplomatic presure on the Saudis, who are increasingly paranoid about being abandoned by the West in preference to renewed oil deals with Iran for the first time since 1979, there are powerful Saudi lobby groups in Washington that would back opposition to this in the US.

US shale oil and the Pivot to Asia strategy pursued by Obama since 2010-11 have mean Washington does not put such a premium on the old Cold War alliance system and the anti-Iranian stance that was embodied in the Carter Doctrine of 1980, that any threat to the Persian Gulf is a direct threat to the US.

That was directed at the Islamic Revolutionary regime in Iran and the Soviet Union which had invaded Afghanistan in the same year 1979. However the destabilising effects of the legacy of the proxy war in Afghanistan helped create the global jihadi threat of Al Qaida and the US being drawn into a war after 2001.

The last thing the West would want is a new Afghanistan in Syria. Avoiding that would depend on being prepared to exert pressure on the Gulf states instead of cravenly backing their proxy war strategies uncritically. Britain could well be opposed to anything that would affect trade with Qatar or the Saudis.

Britain's PM Cameron is stuck in a 1980s timewarp where 'business as usual' with the Saudis and Qatar means nothing should upset 'national interests', meaning lucrative arms deals and the inward investment its ailing finance and service sector economy needs. Short term economics could trump long term security.

So the probability of their being a breakthrough in the Vienna peace talks looks very low. Even more ominous is the real likelihood that the Syria conflict will continue through 2016 and a new Republican administration enters the White House. The chances of global conflict would then become much increased.

Monday, 26 October 2015

On the Victory of PiS In Poland 2015: Rearmament and the Nationalist Struggle.

Beata Szydlo won the Polish elections of October 25th 2015 for PiS.

Beata Szydlo may as well be 'the puppet of Jaroslaw Kaczynski' as she sounds curiously like him with the nasally mock sententious drone that is pitched at a would-be priest like level of maudlin and plaintive whining. As with most political players, this is part of the stage act needed to win over disaffected provincial voters.

Despite the 3.5% economic growth figures for 2015, much of provincial Poland has languished; small towns such as Chrzanow or Trzebinia retain high youth unemployment. The young have migrated West or to the larger Polish cities. They have never recovered from the callous neoliberal shock therapy of Balcerowicz.

Desolate post industrial wastelands abound in towns such as Trzebinia that virtually died overnight in the 1990s. The oil refinery is the only business that employs substantial numbers: in Chrzanow, just across the motorway, the Fablok locomotive worksdeclined and closed for ever a couple of years ago.

This side of Poland is seldom mentioned in the Western media nor the appallingly low wages workers still recieve on new factory production lines. It goes against the heroic story that Poland defeated communism and Solidarity won: it did but the principles it stood for were sold out by the new post-communist technocrats.

The Defeat of Solidarity in the 1990s through the top down and doctrinaire neoliberal reforms meant that anger at the disappointment at its effects has been repeatedly channelled into populist-nationalist political formations of which PiS has proved the most effective and enduring version.

As opposed to challenging the failed economic policies of the PO, PiS tends to ascribe blame for Poland's ills on nefarious enemies within much as did the Polish Communist Party against which Solidarity was once ranged in opposition. Apart from 'the Jews' targeted by Radio Maryja, the Russians are another grand loathing.

When the underlying economic failures are not addressed, beyond vague promises of 'reindustrialisation', PiS offers the oldest trick in the book of 'look over there' at the Russians as the reason why Poland is 'in danger'. This comes as the reported membership of Polish paramilitary organisations has increased.

As Vice News reported 'Since Russia moved into Ukraine, these groups have seen membership triple to about 80,000—by comparison, the Polish Armed Forces are 120,000 soldiers strong.' Given the level of war hysteria ramped up by the media, as if Russia really would invade Poland, this is hardly surprising.

Nor is the drive to reindustrialise by slavishly copying the US model in pursuing rearmament and promising to spend billions on weapons against the Russian 'threat'. This was clear in PiS President Andrzej Duda's proclamation in February 2015 that a new belligerent policy was needed.

There was a need to deter an 'potential aggressor ( i.e. Russia ). "The second topic is the question of its armament. I have a deep conviction that the reconstruction of the military potential of the Polish military ... should be based on Polish production. This is also an element of my concept, the economic reconstruction of Poland."

Oddly, the fact that the Ukrainian government in Kiev since 2014 has been intent on rehabilitating UPA and Bandera, responsible for murdering 200,000 Poles in the the Second World War in Eastern Galicia and Volhynia, had no impact on its stance over supporting more aggressive nationalists as Yatsenyuk.

Given that Polish meddling in Ukraine helped precipitate the crisis, by yoking Ukraine's EU ambitions towards fast-tracking it into NATO, it bodes ill that a more viscerally anti-Russian government in Warsaw is set to try and push military solutions over diplomatic ones in reaction to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

If Szydlo is a puppet of Jarek Kaczynski, there would be reason to be concerned for global security given how he claims to think Putin was behind downing his brother in the Smolensk Air Crash. The most insane conspiracy theories are still peddled over what was a clear accident.

The idea the Russians used a huge magnet, created a deliberate fog around Smolensk using a machine, rigged the plane with explosives; all have been given credence as 'explanations'. A number of top players in PiS such as Vice President Antoni Macierewicz see Smolensk as the start of the road to 'the assassination of Donetsk'.

The underlying reason for these conpiracy thories is to ramp up nationalistic outrage against Russia by using Kremlin style politics because it serves the game plan of rallying the Polish populace behind strategies to expand Polish influence and hence NATO power into post Soviet space outside of the Russian federation.

To an extent this is just a more radical and dangerous form of the PO governments plans to bolster the Eastern Partnership and draw in Ukraine and Georgia towards NATO so as to expand and protect rival oil and gas pipeline routes from the South Casucasus and the Black Sea region from Russian control or influence.

PiS ideologues, however,would be prepared to drastically up the threat level and prospect of conflict with Russia as a means to force the US to commit militarily to the rolling back of Russian influence in Eastern Ukraine, even by directly sending lethal armaments and making Poland a more 'frontline' state in the struggle.

Tony Blair: Blood and Oil-The Drive Towards War in Iraq in 2003

“I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong".
Tony Blair has long ceased to try and convince global opinion about whether the Iraq War was one of history's Good Things. The consequences of the 2003 invasion have been so catastrophic, the equivalent of a having detonated a geopolitical earthquake across the Greater Middle East, that they are undeniable.

Blair has instead taken upon himself the ham act of posing as the grave statesman entrusted with having had to make a terrible decision, one where the consequences of not acting would have been as potentially disastrous as his actual decision in light of the defective intelligence criticised in a new CNN interview.

Of course, as Blair wants to be judged in the ligh of posterity for this decision , the timing of his interview with Zakaria is about putting a positive spin on his actions. Of course, as historian Michael Burleigh points out 'he had committed Britain to war in Iraq at least a month before he met Bush at his ranch in Texas in April 2002'.

Burleigh writes, 
 'Blair was privately committed to war, which belied his public position that he was going down the diplomatic route to try to avoid it, with the efforts of UN inspectors under Hans Blix to neutralise the supposed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ threat from Saddam. The fact is – as we have subsequently learnt – that those ‘weapons of mass destruction did not exist.

Blair’s ingrained ability for media manipulation was also praised in the Powell memo. The Secretary of State told Bush that the British Prime Minister would ‘present to you the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause’. Close examination of Blair’s supposed mea culpa to CNN shows that, essentially, he is only ‘apologising’ for the mistakes of others.'
It is unlikely the Chilcot Report would detail the exact discussion Blair and Bush had. Yet it is known at Crawford both had discussed the carve up of Iraq's oil wealth as, in the period before shale oil, seizing control of the oil was a major ambition of the US-British invasion through fear Saudi Arabia was becoming unstable.

Blair opines “We have stood back and we, in the west, bear responsibility for this – Europe most of all. We’ve done nothing. That’s a judgment of history I’m prepared to have.” Blair is trying to shift moral responsibility for his fateful decision on to others who have succeeded him and made 'his legacy' worse.

Blair's 'vision' of what went wrong in Syria and Iraq is fiction. The Western Powers have not 'done nothing'. Cameron has pursued a Blairite approach to Syria in demanding 'Assad must go', just as Saddam had to go, through aligning with Sunni jihadist forces against Assad despite evidence they were not "moderates".

The opprobrium heaped upon Blair for Iraq is justified but much of it from his political opponents in Parliament deeply hypocritical as most supported the Iraq War. They have continied to pursue policies firmly in the neo-Cold War style of Blair in the Greater Middle East-wars of 'liberation' against evil dictators.

This form of messianic liberal geopolitics was based on wish thinking and an ignorance of the complicated history of the region, one where the gains of 1989 in Central Eastern Europe would roll next across the Middle East with military force being used as the midwife of a new liberal democratic order.

The consequence has been to trigger off a Saudi-Iranian proxy war from Syria to Yemen and Iraq that could end up destabilising Saudi Arabia itself as it gets dragged in to the Yemeni quagmire. This was the nightmare scenario Bush and Blair had wished to offset by the securing of Iraqi oil back in 2003.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Germany : The Migrant Crisis and Angela Merkel's Folly To the End.

Chancellor Merkel is finished as a credible politician, one prepared to act impulsively to exploit her credo as a humanitarian actor without having first discussed with other European leaders a concerted and logical way to deal with Turkey's decision to allow refugees to become migrants heading West.

Germany acted as a pacifist version of the liberal interventionists in France and Britain demanding solutions to complex foreign policy problems in the Middle East using air strikes and military force to vanquish dictators. Knee jerk reactions through government by media and image have had destabilising consequences.

As the Syria crisis is still nowhere near an end, Turkey's Erdogan has an interest in allowing more migrants west. It is intended to pressure the West into countering Russia's support for Assad, though it appears Russia's intervention was intended to prevent Turkey pushing the West into greater intervention against Assad and ISIS.

The sudden huge surge of migrants into Europe was Turkish policy based on political calculations in which refugees have become counters in a geopolitical great game. Turkey could relieve itself of a refugee burden while applying guilt and victim politics to EU leaders lambasted as "Islamophobic".

Hungary's Viktor Orban, himself very much into the Turkish political model of using identity politics but with a Christian twist, pretty obviously saw this strategy for what it was, while Merkel, in a Germany with a large Turkish and Kurdish diaspora population, completely walked into the trap laid by Erdogan.

Germany faces the prospect of being responsible for migrants from Syria and other war torn lands such as Iraq and guilty if it does not step up to provide for people who will make claims on EU nations to act to end the war in Syria: others could well condemn those foreign policy actions and become radicalised.

There is only one certainty in this "globalised world". It that if western nations continually go out of their way to make the world's problems their own, and to claim they have the duty to put an end to the world's ills as though decisive salvationist actions, the probability is quite simply that they will import them.

In any realistic political sense, Central European governments are not going to take in their 'fair share' of migrants because of fear and hostility towards the idea of having Muslim diaspora populations and the chance of having to deal with jihadist radicals and militancy. People look West and see a threat they could avoid.

The noble idea of 'solidarity' in Poland has long been effectively reduced to a soundbite meaning it needs to share in assisting other Western nations which helped it during the Cold War against the USSR, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the response to which was supine or else apathetic.

Poland's politics has been polarised by 'culture wars' and paranoia throughout the 2000s and to impose quotas for migrants would be seen as an imposition and could even lead to some serious and nasty violent reactions. Kopacz is certainly fated to be defeated in elections on October 25 against the populist-nationalist PiS.

Managing the crisis has become incredibly difficult due to Merkel's astounding error of judgement which has created fear and alarm across Central Europe. There is no doubt that this has effectively ended her as a stateswoman for a good number in Germany and in the East would respect or wish to work with any more.

The Geopolitics of the Syrian Migrant Crisis

'Angela Merkel appears determined to prevail, as she grapples with a crisis that will likely define her political legacy. The German chancellor is said to be angry with the governments of eastern and central Europe which are strongly opposed to being forced to take in refugees'
Angela Merkel certainly is destined to determine her political legacy over the migrant crisis as did Tony Blair over the Iraq War. Merkel is a pacifist version of the liberal interventionists who helped create the migrant crisis in the first place and has sought to make the problems of the Greater Middle East Germany's to 'solve'.

Germany under Merkel has aimed at playing a more active role in defining its powerful centre stage role in the EU. However, in having pursued an open door policy to Syrian migrants, only to find hundreds of thousands determined to take advantage of the offer before winter set in, Merkel could end up fracturing the EU.

Merkel's intent on the politics derided by Barbara Tuchman in her The March of Folly. As opposed to changing tack, the very resistance against both her insistence on imposing austerity on Greece to prop up the euro and her attempt to enforce migrant quotas on recalcitrant EU states is regarded as proof of her being 'right'.

As in Greece, the far right would be resurgent should migrant quotas be enforced. In fact, as Berlin plan to impose them incrementally, the Central Eastern European states, led by Hungary's Orban, will attempt delaying strategies until the German elections are held before 22 October 2017.

This would give enough time for domestic discontent in Germany to result in Merkel's removal from office. The idea of compulsory quotas could only be enforced by withdrawing develpment funds from Central Eastern European governments. There would be no other way of enforcing quotas if they continued to refuse.

The reason Merkel is becoming more dogmatic and pushy is not just because of her attempt to survive politically. If Germany alone bears the cost of the migrant influx, there is a real danger of German far right reaction and even terrorism against the 'liberal eite' who have colluded in the 'Islamisation' of Europe.

Despite the oppobrium heaped upon Viktor Orban, if he had not come out against Merkel over migrant quotas and the open door, then its likely the far right Jobbik Party would have moved centre stage as it is already Hungary's second largest party. Merkel seems to have been oblivious to that.

More likely, however, is the geopolitical strategy behind Merkel's attempt to recreate Germany as a Eurasian rival to Russia. Erdogan decided to allow Syrian migrants to go West in large numbers because he intended to use them to panic EU governments into recommitting to the demand that Assad must go.

Erdogan himself is struggling for political survival in Turkey. This is a consequence of his disastrous neo-Ottoman strategy in Syria and the reignition of the civil war between the Kurdish PKK and the Ankara after he used the 'war on terror' as a pretext to take out Kurdish targets and effectively shore up ISIS.

Putin saw that and decicively moved in to back up Assad against the Sunni jihadists backed by the Gulf States and Turkey. So as a reward for helping ISIS murder its way across Syria, Merkel promises visa free travel for Turks and to put EU membership back on the agenda so as to help make Erdogan more popular.

Yet Erdogan is a real part of the problem driving conflict in the region. His migrant strategy is part of a geopolitical plan to re-extend the Ottoman Empire in Europe. The influx of migrants is accepted by Germany as the price to be paid to keep Turkey onside as a transit route for gas from the Middle East and Central Asia.

Orban can afford to thumb his nose at Merkel. Hungary wants to strengthen energy ties with Putin. Poland's opposition is more muted due to old antagonisms against Russia. Hence Merkel's comment about Poland needing to show more "solidarity" with Germany as it shows "solidarity" with Poland over Ukraine against Russia.

As world economic crises and an oil price shock, caused by Saudi collapse, grow closer, there could well be a global situation like the 1930s  Only possibly far more protracted. There is less and less chance the crisis will end well as the war in Syria escalates and the prospects for a global conflict over the Middle East grows closer.

The vast majority of Syrian migrants from Turkey are Sunnis. They have every reason to feel they have the human right to migrate and to blame the Western powers for all the misfortunes endured since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. If the West were to then accomodate to Assad's remaining in power, resentment could well surface.

The Western Powers, therefore, should be fortifying borders and threatening to expel Turkey from NATO as a response. It's a big 'should'. The useless politicians who run Western democracies are essentially pusillanimous; greedy for resources and yet guilty at the outcome of their contradictory geopolitical strategies.

The privileging of Erdogan's Turkey, as opposed to mending relations with Putin's Russia on a realist basis. is a terrible mistake being made by Euro elites who have inherited liberal progressive illusions of the immediate post-Cold War period as opposed to steeling themselves to the new era of global great power politics.

A rapprochement with Moscow over the Ukraine crisis and threats to Turkey's continued membership of NATO-plus a determination top permanently end EU accession for Turkey-should be the sticks being used to coerce Erdogan to stop. The Turkish military would certainly have a view on expulsion from NATO too.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Why Kate Hudson is Not a Credible Leader of CND.

Since Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour Party leader in Britain, there has been a reported increase in the membership of CND and hostility to the forthcoming renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system. The Guardian reported today ( October 15th 2015 ),,
'Kate Hudson, general secretary of the CND, said: “[The] conference takes place at a moment when, for the first time in a generation, the opportunity not to replace Trident collides with a massive popular upsurge against the criminal waste and sheer anachronism of nuclear weapons."'
The upsurge of opposition comes at a time when many young idealists will have forgotten Kate Hudson was a member of the Communist Party of Britain during the 1980s when the threat of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War was very real as was its support for revolutionary proxies abroad.

The hypocrisy implicit in having a leader of CND who supported the Soviet Union and Soviet politics for twenty years even after 1991 and the dissolution of the totalitarian state is one that needs to be dealt with. CND would be better off under a new leader genuinely committed to peace not this repellant careerist.

In 2015 a real debate needs to be had over whether Trident ought to be renewed as Russian under Putin is not the same beast as the USSR that Hudson supported and not attached to the Marxist-Leninist politics of that era and that has an afterlife in the tawdry careers of Hudson and Andrew Murray ( who lauds North Korea ).

Britain would be best off trying to offset nuclear proliferation and stop pretending it is some sort of Global Player any more. It has inherited an old Cold War posture that has made less and less sense after 1991. The nature of the security threats Britain faces have changed, though Hudson did not care much for that back in the 1980s.

The problem with having these relicts of the Cold War such as Hudson is high positions is that it will make Corbyn's attempt to challenge the inertia of long established orthodoxies and make policy change harder. His role in CND will then be seen as part of an 'alliance' with those such as Hudson who really do despise Britain in its entirety.

Orwell somewhere said that the problem with the left is that it draws in the cranks and careerists at the expense of the genuine idealists to the detriment of real ideas on how best to reform Britain and make it a better place for people. With the same dreary 1980s crowd in Left Unity it is difficult to be optimistic.

The Radical Left in Britain needs a big cull. Tariq Ali, Kate Hudson etc etc all need to be purged from the top ranks and newer faces and names need promoting. These people are tainted by their involvement in political cults lauding the sadistic intellectual gangster and mass murderer that was Leon Trotsky.

Normalising Terror and 'Af-Pak' : The War and Western Media Drones On.

Stan Grant is serious. Really serious. He has been there himself and seen with his own eyes the effects of 'extremism'. Lived in danger. Been on the edge while close to the camera as a presence there. He's bound to relate the truth of what he saw of brainwashed Taliban child suicide bombers in Pakistan.
'They were kept awake for days on end. They were forced to recite the Qur’an – Islam’s holy text – over and over. Hour after hour they would rock back and forth chanting the verses until in a trance.
Broken down, the boys would then be poisoned against the west.

Every sin proclaimed in the Qur’an was ascribed to the Americans.In their eyes this is what we were, all of us infidels, we were Americans. This is how the Taliban created suicide bombers. When I met them their eyes were empty.

I am reminded of this now when I hear that the Islamic community doesn’t do enough to fight extremism. The overwhelming number of victims of terrorism are Muslims. I have seen what extremism can do. I can see how hate can fester in the minds of people.'

More than 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks since 9/11. Muslims lose their children, their husbands, mothers and sisters to terrorism. And still they are told they don’t do enough.'
This news report, recycled in the Guardian newspaper, pretends to deal with what really causes 'radicalisation' and 'extremism' in Pakistan without mentioning the fact the Western Powers are still conducting continued air and drone strikes against the Taliban in various parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Of course, Grant seems to have been oblivious to the fact the Taliban showing him those radicalised children were doing so precisely because they want to send the message that they control the future Even if the older Taliban get killed off, there are always new members ready to stand in as their replacements.

Grant is a CNN telejournalist so the style matches the form of snappy soundbite style media outlet he ivariably represents even in print. CNN reported, as thought it were a major news revelation, that the US is still fighting a war in Afghanistan since it declared combat operations officially over in December 2014.
'So, you thought the U.S. military pulled out of Afghanistan? In fact, about 9,800 U.S. troops provide training and support in Afghanistan. They are to remain until the end of the year -- a change from the Obama administration's initial plan to reduce the number to 5,500".
There is, of course, no real surprise at all in this and it has only briefly become put back in the glare of the Western media spotlight because of the NATO bombing of the MSF hospital near Kunduz where the Taliban and Afghan and Western troops battling it out once more to defend the capital city Kabul.

Just as the BBC and Guardian passively and uncritically recycled claims that NATO and the US were ending their combat role through "drawdown", few Western media outlets have challenged this or even examined the wording of public diplomacy statements that stress drawdown rather than withdrawal.

As a consequence the propaganda line has to shift back to the evil Taliban narrative and the inhumanity of violent 'extremism' from out of the 'Af-Pak' borderlands. Consequently, the public would be able to make the correct connection between them and the need for NATO bombing and drone strikes.

As terrible as the MSF hospital bombing was, the mistake only goes to highlight the fact that air power used in Afghanistan has played as much of a role in 'radicalising' people, especially children, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is entirely omitted as by Grant and CNN's reporting generally..

To be fair, Grant does attempt to proffer scientific explanations for the phenomenon of suicide bombing and how it works,
'Science can explain part of how is happens. When we listen to charismatic speakers – preachers, politicians, generals and warlords – or when we are under severe stress, our prefrontal cortex shuts down. This controls abstract thought. We surrender our disbelief. We give them our minds.'  
Far from suicide bombings arising wholly in vacuo, as though out of some mysterious sinister force of evil, in which children are brainwashed by a cult version of Islam, the Taliban is able to recruit and indoctrinate because of the stress in regions of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan ( North and South Waziristan ).

Where civilians in the mountainous tribal regions separating Kabul and Peshawar live in terror of sudden death, from drones known to kill civilians in numbers that could be far higher than current figures estimate, death in suicide blasts against Pakistan government targets certainly becomes normalised.

The Bureau of Investigate Journalism, which has done some real journalism based on real investigation, breaks down the date for drone strikes in Pakistan as follows on their website : "Total strikes: 421. Obama strikes: 370. Total killed: 2,476-3,989. Civilians killed: 423-965. Children killed: 172-20. Injured: 1,158-1,738."

The war against the Taliban is claimed to be part of the struggle against terrorism and "extremism". However, the fact Vice President Joe Biden and Western allies have attempted to broker peace talks and negotiations with the Taliban proves it cannot quite be the war to end evil as has been long supposed.

The usual response to mentioning facts about the drone wars further radicalising people in the Af-Pak region, or elsewhere in Afghanistan, is this 'makes excuses' for the terrorists who 'started' the war on 9/11, that the Taliban are evil and so not fighting them with drones effectively allows evildoers to flourish.

In fact, the Taliban is mostly a regional threat as Grant himself points out, the majority of victims are other Muslims, 30,000 in Pakistan. That statement is handy when trying to claim the war against the Taliban really is about the global struggle against terrorism at home and abroad i.e 'extremism'. Doing nothing means more deaths on balance.

But the reality is that Afghanistan War is not over and shows no signs of ending because of resource interests ( rare earths and precious minerals ) and certain geopolitical objectives which include the renewed effort to secure the way for the construction of the TAPI pipeline, a project vital for US strategy in the region.

The war is about rolling back the Taliban, now covertly backed by Iran, so as to hasten the TAPI pipeline project as part of the New Silk route Initiative. US strategists and ideologists such as Robert Kaplan, husband of US State Dapartment's Victoria Nuland, routinely factor TAPI in as an established war objective.

An article makes this clear in a geopolitical journal by Rohullah Osmani. He is an an international security scholar at John Hopkins University and former adviser to the Afghan government. The piece entiteled,  TAPI pipeline – is the Iran nuclear deal a threat or an opportunity? makes the real stakes clearly apparent.

'On August 6, 2015, the 22nd TAPI Steering Committee approved Turkmenistan’s Turkmengaz as the consortium leader to oversee efforts in constructing, financing and operating the 1,600 kilometer natural gas pipeline.

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. As Robert Kaplan urges in his book “Monsoon,” “… stabilizing Afghanistan is about more than just the anti-terror war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban; it is about securing the future prosperity of the whole of Southern Eurasia.” The U.S. needs to play a more active role in the process by engaging participating states like India and Pakistan to cooperate and Pakistan to support a successful Afghan peace process.

The Saudi-Yemen War Possibilities and Dangers of US-Russian Proxy Conflict in Syria.

'other branches of government seem to have outsourced British foreign policy to Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition – allowing them, in effect, carte blanche to wage war in such a way that causes unnecessary civilian casualties and makes even more aid necessary'.
Written on October 8 2015. Britain seems to have outsourced foreign policy to Saudi Arabia. Andrew Mitchell, Guardian October 8 2015.

It is good that Andrew Mitchell is 'addressing these concerns'. But that is about all as the Cameron government he supports simply does not care that much. Cameron made plain this week it is a special relationship vital for 'national security' and this alleged benefit of the alliance means only 'raising' human rights issues.
'As honest friends of both Yemen’s government in exile and of Saudi Arabia, we should make clear that their method of waging this war has the potential to unleash chaos in an already turbulent region. End the attacks on civilians and get back to the negotiating table for peace talks..'
It could be Mitchell's criticism of Saudi Arabia might indicate a potential shift in British foreign policy. But it looks high probable British weapons and aircraft have been used to kill civilians in Yemen: that not a mere "possibility" or a "risk", and, even if it were only that, caution would err on the side of stopping arms.

Saudi Arabia has already unleashed chaos in the region by bankrolling Wahhabi teachings and directly sponsoring Sunni jihadists affiliated with Al Qaida. This is nothing new and the way the Saudis have waged war in Yemen has gone beyond a "potential" and is, in reality, very actual in having allowed ISIS to gain ground.
' an ally of Saudi Arabia we should be ensuring it takes immediate steps to reverse the fuel blockade, reopen Yemen’s Red Sea ports to humanitarian and commercial traffic, and ensure that vital supplies can reach desperate civilians in need throughout the country. The alternative is a famine
The problem ,though, is that it would appear Saudi Arabia with its oil wealth and huge investments and arms deals with BAE holds all the cards. Britain does not have the leverage over Saudi Arabia by being tied so closely to the Saudi establishment that proponents of this alliance claim it gives London.

The real and only question is what Britain would be prepared to do if the Saudis ignore Britain or indicate they might like to consider arms deals and investments with more constructive partners. Having said that, Russia is hostile to Riyadh and China has spent far more time courting Iran for oil and arms.

There is a real danger Saudi Arabia could collapse as a consequence of ISIS blowback from Yemen and the huge financial strain of the Yemen War as it draws the Saudis deeper into quagmire rather as the US was in Iraq after 2003 to 2011. Low oil prices and war have relentlessly eroded its currency reserves.

In early October 2015 there were rumours that a Saudi prince was calling for a palace coup against King Salman and his government including Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is blamed for launching a "reckless" war. Huge budget deficits and the prospect of downgraded credit ratings and capital flight loom larger.

The danger is of a "perfect storm". The rapidly expanding demand for domestic oil consumption through huge population growth with lower oil revenue earnings and lower production relative to it could mean diminishing social subsidies to buy off potential discontent.

In the context of the prevalence of intolerant forms of Salafi-Wahhabi Islam, Saudi Arabia could prove the most fertile territory for ISIS which is positioning itself as the real Islamic State' in rivalry with Riyadh. Saudis under 30 comprise two-thirds of the population and around 30 percent of them are without work.

The next time bomb would be the fact that growing sectarian fissures within Yemen and Bahrain could result in Saudi Shii'ites becoming radicalised. Iran and Hezbollah have been backing the Houthis and discontented Shi'ites live close to the main oil producing regions of the east towards the Persian Gulf.

The US since 2011 has sought to extricate itself from Middle East entanglements and balance Iranian regional interests with those of the Sunni Gulf states as a means to keep Iraq secure in the oil producing regions from militant Sunni Islamists and to keep combat troops out of Iraq, much to Saudi discomfort.

Britain usually follows the US position but what on earth it would do if Saudi Arabia collapsed, thus putting some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world in the hands of ISIS, is a very real question. Leaving so much oil up for grabs would both be a colossal security threat and would send the global economy into chaos.

The prospect of Saudi collapse is the stuff of nightmares and could indeed trigger off a region wide conflagration that would invariably drag the Western Powers in militarily as well a huge wave of jihadi-terrorist blowback that would make the threats of Al Qaida look trivial by comparison.

With Russia trying out its attempt at an endgame in Syria, the time for an urgent regional political initiative and forceful diplomacy with the Gulf states no matter the risk to short term economic interests and arms deals. The consequences of not asserting an end to the proxy war with Iran, jihadi funding and the Yemen War are far graver.

The Saudi alliance could arguably have been justified during the Cold War and, of course, for the US and France as a source of oil. But with other sources coming on, most obviously in Shia and Kurdish Iraq and US shale oil, the benefits in allying with a major supporter of Sunni jihadism are diminishing.

The real danger is of the Saudis trying to divert internal discontent outwards by swinging ever greater and decisive military and financial support behind the newly proclaimed Sunni militia front in Syria against "the Russian occupation". This would be a replay of the mujahedeen in 1980s Afghanistan.

Even worse, if the US were foolish enough to align covertly with that strategy, as the $500 million support for training mythical "moderate rebels" has been dropped, the US would indeed be involved with what Obama has, at least, said he does not want-a proxy war with Russia.

The fear has to be that Russia and Assad's forces get bogged down with fighting a new Sunni mujahedeen supported by the Gulf states that lasts into the course of 2016. With US Republicans heavily involved with the Saudi lobby, a new president could be pushed towards the old Cold War option.

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.

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.

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.”
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.