Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Third Iraq War: Enter Britain

Nothing was more predictable than Cameron waiting until after the Scottish referendum to try to reunite Britain behind him and pose as a 'global player' once more by joining in with air strikes again 'ISIL'. There is now even messianic rhetoric about a 'new battle of Britain' from Defence Minister Michael Fallon.

However, given that the US has been targeting ISIS for a month from the air, it is hard to see what real difference Britain would bring apart from the usual need to 'stand shoulder to shoulder' with the US. Instead of rushing into military action, Britain should try to retain an independent position.

For a start it is hardly wise to be straying into Syrian air space to attack ISIS without any attempt to engage Assad's government because the reality is that the Free Syria Army is merely a front for a CIA assembled coalition of Sunni forces without any real power on the ground.

ISIS is primarily a regional threat first and foremost to Iraq and then to those Gulf states which had been prepared to allow funding and arms to go to Sunni militant groups such as the Al Nusra Brigades. Qatar and Saudi Arabia were largely responsible for this because they wanted to overthrow Assad.

The fact Saudi Arabia and Qatar are now part of the coalition against ISIS is farcical given the fact both powers ratcheted up the conflict in Syria by backing their own favoured Sunni jihadists the better to get their sway in Damascus in any post-Assad future.

Both Gulf powers created the conditions in Syria for the more brutal jihadists to flourish and gain ground. So Hugh Robertson turns truth on its head when he states “The fact is, our failure to take action promptly and effectively then did create in part the conditions that have led to the crisis we face today'
“There is no doubt that many of our allies across the Gulf saw that as a sign of weakness. Now, I’m absolutely delighted that the Labour party has woken up to what I believe needs to be done and I accept that they and many others had doubts about what was happening a year ago.
This is dangerous nonsense and if Robertson is typical of Britain's military high command there is reason to be concerned. Had the US and Britain gone into Syria to help remove Assad in 2013, the situation would have replicated what happened in Libya after the failed military adventure of 2011.

Had Assad been removed ( and probably murdered in a similar gory way to Gaddafi's brutal lynching, torture and butchery ), a war between the Sunni factions would have no doubt resulted in ISIS holding Damascus and causing ethnic cleansing and sectarian murder on a far vaster scale.

Joining in the air strikes just to flaunt 'military powess' is largely futile unless there is a longer term plan to draw in Assad and Iran into a regional political initiative. If there is not and ISIS is rolled back, it still could regroup because the conflict in Syria would be continued by other Sunni militants.

The Free Syria Army and 'moderate rebels' are largely non-existent as a real military force and would not be able to beat both ISIS and Assad. The idea that they ought to is pure wish thinking that accords with the sort of absurd and unrealistic strategy pursued between 2011 to 2013.

To defeat ISIS, there has to be a diplomatic initiative for a ceasefire between the Free Syria Army and Assad's forces. Saudi Arabia and Qatar would have to be pressured further into desisting from any policy allowing funds to go to Sunni militants. Turkey would be made to clamp down on illegal oil sales.

The foreign policies of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were as dangerous, in fact far more so, than the much maligned Iran, their Gulf rival which is hypocritically accused of sponsoring terrorism abroad when, by any definition, that is precisely what Britain's Gulf allies have been doing on a far more dangerous basis.

The reason why Britain turned a blind eye to this was it hoped the strategy would remove Assad and check the possibility of an Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian gas pipeline towards the Eastern Mediterranean in favour of an alternative Qatar-Turkey pipeline. Assad's departure would lessen Russian influence too.

The entire role of energy security in this shabby and sinister debacle needs far more attention than it usually gets. ISIS is the consequence of a shoddy strategy to assert the hegemony of the Gulf states over its energy export rival in Iran and against Russian influence over the offshore gas reserves of the Levant.

In Iraq, its expansion from a threat in Syria to a 'global threat' is largely due the threat it poses to present and future oil production in Kurdistan and the Shi'ite south. This supply is needed to keep oil prices stable and so keep a global economy of cheap Chinese manufactures and hence profligate western consumerism afloat.

Britain's role is not just about backing the US and Gulf allies. It is about buying influence, protecting both its economic interests in the region and asserting control over the global oil supplies that is needed to retain western military and political hegemony against that of other global powers

Both Syria and Iraq, as lands separating the Eastern Mediterranean from the Persian Gulf, are the site for a regional proxy war between contending powers vying for control over resources and energy transit routes between the Middle East and the West against rival schemes backed by Iran, Russia and China.

In the longer term, there need to be significant geopolitical and economic shifts in the West away from over dependence upon imported oil and gas to drive the economy. Globalisation has made the world economy ever more reliant on a constant or falling oil supply but it is going to come from lands riven with conflicts.

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