Thursday, 14 November 2013

Syria: The Potential for Terrorist Blowback"

Historian Mark Almond on how and why European Muslims are going to Syria to become battle hardened jihadists and on how certain groups funded by European governments have themselves forwarded Islamists 'along a pipeline' to Syria to fight against Assad. 

There is an element of collusion between the government in Britain and jihadists dating back to the 1980s in Afghanistan designed to further geopolitical and oil and gas interests, one that has and can and will lead to violent 'blowback' in the form of domestic terror attacks.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Syria's Geopolitical Significance,

A very good summary of Syria's geopolitical significance was written by Michael T Klare for The Nation in September.

'Although Syria is not itself a significant oil producer, it lies adjacent to many of the major suppliers and has long served as a host for pipelines connecting the Gulf to the Mediterranean. More importantly, in recent years, is has assumed strategic importance as an ally of Iran and a conduit for Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. “Syria has a geopolitical importance out of all proportion to its relatively small population, area, resource base, and economic wealth because of formidable military power…and its location at the heart of the Middle East,” Alasdair Drysdale of the Australian National University wrote in the Oxford Companion to World Politics. “As a result, it plays a central role in most of the Middle East’s key disputes.”

This is the dilemma facing Obama today. If the United States cannot extricate himself from the geopolitical imperatives posed by Iran’s continuing threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the safety of Persian Gulf oil supplies, it cannot extricate itself from the turmoil in Syria. Because a failure to confront Assad’s excesses could be viewed as giving Iran and other outside powers a green light to meddle in the Syrian conflict, and could be seen by the Iranians as an indication that they can continue to stockpile enriched uranium with impunity, US leaders see no choice but to become involved in Syria.

Russian involvement in the Syrian imbroglio adds another dimension to America’s dilemma. Russia has long-established ties with the Syrian leadership, beginning with Assad’s predecessor, his father Hafiz, and retains a vital naval base at Tartous, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. More important than these strategic interests, however, is Moscow’s desire to curb America’s global activism. From Russia’s perspective, then, Syria is less important as a strategic asset in itself than as an arena in which to gain geopolitical advantage over the West. By the same token, a failure to contest Russia’s spoiler in Syria role could be interpreted as an invitation for Moscow to undertake other obstructionist endeavors'.

Read the rest here.

Syria : The Danger of Energy Geopolitics.

Back in September military action by the US and France over the alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad's forces on a suburb of Damascus seemed inevitable. Dossiers were being produced and ministers were waxing indignant about the need to 'punish' Assad.

The rapid climbdown by the US was forced upon it by  Russia's brilliantly timed diplomatic intervention when they struck a deal in which Assad would allow both  Russia and the US to oversee the destruction of the chemical weapons arsenal. The US was thereby allowed  to save face and claim its coercive diplomacy had worked.

War was averted. Yet the issue, of course, was never completely about chemical weapons, though the hardline on 'weapons of mass destruction' was also designed to send out a message to Iran that their alleged programme to build a nuclear bomb was of a piece with the dangerous rogue state of Syria which is its stalwart ally.

The reason why the US and France were drawn to the brink of intervening with missile strikes and aircraft carriers had been sent to the Eastern Mediterranean was the dangerous New Great Game over gas resources and pipeline routes, one that explains Western double standards over Syria and Egypt.

After the Egyptian army had mown down protesters and their barricades with bullets and bulldozers  in the streets of Cairo who were against the military coup, Western diplomats made weasel comments about the need for dialogue. When Assad was alleged to have used poison gas in Syria, the call was to remove him.

From the US perspective, there was far less to gain in intervening to try and put pressure on Assad than certain EU powers such as Britain and France. The US felt it needed to act because it was tied to the rhetoric about Assad's use of chemical weapons being a 'red line' that once, when crossed, necessitated action.

True, the US still has energy interests in the Middle East better served by shoring up the regional powers that are backing the Sunni insurgents seeking to overthrow Assad's Shia regime, most obviously Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But the shale gas 'revolution' in the US reduced dependence upon the other enemy of Assad-Qatar.

All three external powers backing and funding the insurgents against Assad decided to do so in order to get a new regime that would not oppose their energy interests, in particular the plan to build more gas pipelines to EU states, to export Qatari liquefied natural gas ( LNG ) and reduce dependence on Iran and Russia.

Energy geopolitics is a prime determiner of  the relations between states in the early twenty first century as the race is on to control supplies that are not keeping pace with the burgeoning demand. States haunted by the prospect of their decline such as Britain and France have been the most aggressive in struggling to retain influence.

Part of this is post-imperial hubris but that ties together with both these states role as large arms providers to Middle Eastern states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The BG group has major interests in exploiting Egyptian gas reserves ( hence the mealy mouthed denunciations of SCAF for their bloody coup d' etat ).

The problem with Syria, from France and Britain's perspective, is that he occupies a piece of strategic land through which Iran wants to extend its energy interests no less than Russia which has leased a naval port in Tarsous through which it can protect its energy interests in the Levant with new discoveries of undersea gas.

But Russia also seeks to guarantee the potential "Islamic pipeline' that would, in any post-civil war Syria, be built from the South Pars gas field that Iran shares with Qatar through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. That would cut the power of Qatar and Turkey as energy providers to the EU.

Despite the immediate crisis having diminished since September 2013, the longer term potential for intractable conflict remains. More than that, there is evidence that radicalised Muslims are going to and fro from Western nations to Syria to become hardened jihadists and who might carry out attacks there.

There is evidence that the secret services have been prepared to use these jihadists as 'assets' in the past from Afghanistan, to Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Kosovo in order to further energy interests. The prospect of 'blowback' being visited upon Britain and France is a lethal consequence of this New Great Game.

Blair on Syria: Another Attempt to Secure His "Legacy"

Originally written in September 2013.

The repellent Blair has tried to appropriate the crisis, and the politicians reaction to it in the West, the better to bolster his own 'Legacy' in arguing for the tough need to follow up words with action. As usual, he's just trying to place himself ultimately on 'the right side of History' after the catastrophe of the Iraq invasion.
"After the long and painful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay clear of the turmoil, to watch but not to intervene, to ratchet up language but not to engage in the hard, even harsh business of changing reality on the ground"
Almost every single statement Blair has made on 'events' in the Middle East is 'public diplomacy' designed to retrospectively justify Iraq by placing it within the context of the 'long war' that he, at least, had the courage to confront. It dovetails with his posture as set out in his autobiography ' Tony Blair A Journey'.

It's surprising that few commentators deal with the issue of whether Blair has a bad conscience or not ( as opposed to seeing him as a bare faced liar ). His attitude to the bloodshed unleashed by the Iraq invasion is to argue for the lowest estimate of deaths-around 100,000-and to try and persuade readers of A Journey how he agonised over the decision.

Yet politicians such as Blair no longer have careers. They have journeys in which they encourage the true believers to follow them through adversity and towards the ultimate triumph of what is just and right, with casualties on the way alas. Despite affecting to be a Christian, this attitude has more in common with twentieth century Utopian communists.

It's all retrospective pleading. At the time in 2003, Blair was supremely confident. He has rationalised the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq by spinning it that the sort of interventions about to be undertaken against the 'Assad regime' in Syria show the need to stand tough against evil dictators.

One of the propaganda mechanisms inherent in the attempt to create an acceptable 'public doctrine' is to create fake binary choices, a simplistic framing device of the 'either-or' pose. All possible objections are reduced to an absurd muddleheaded reaction whereas his own 'resolve' rings clear, bright and true by comparison.
"in any event, why take sides since they're all as bad as each other? It is time we took a side: the side of the people who want what we want; who see our societies for all their faults as something to admire; who know that they should not be faced with a choice between tyranny and theocracy".
The fact that this 'analysis' bears no resemblance to the actual nature of the choices facing Syria is irrelevant. Blair is striding out to do what his job always was; to try to convince himself the better to convince the public that the 'choice' is as he only sees it ( even if you may politely  'disagree' with him ).

And this is what a Peace Envoy in the Middle East is there to do. The only peace Blair understands is pacifying the conscience before contemplating the large scale military actions he knows will create more deaths in the short term because they will die in order that future generations will live and learn to live better.

And so 'History' will absolve him or, at least he hopes, his actions in Iraq will be understood and 'contextualised'. Though the 'something must be done' pose from Blair is all to do with this, his professions about the path to peace, through just wars, are the effusions of the worst sort of sinister Creeping Jesus politician.

It seems incredible that so many were taken in by this fraud during his time in office and still seem to regard his "analysis" of the Middle East as providing "insight". It does but not in the way his craven and fawning admirers suppose.