Saturday, 17 January 2015

Geopolitics and Terror: Global Power Politics and the Uses of the Jihadi Threat.

'One is the default insistence that western foreign policy is at the root of all this evil. It’s reassuring, offering the comforting hope that what we are up against is not a fanatic death cult but rather the armed wing of the Stop the War Coalition, a movement that will be placated as soon as our governments make the right moves on the geopolitical chessboard. But that assumes the likes of the Paris murderers have the same analysis of international affairs as the anti-imperialist left – and they don’t.

They are not against all western intervention, always. On the contrary, the animating jihadist grievance in the mid-1990s was western non-intervention, in that case to save Bosnia’s Muslims. Similarly, for every jihadist enraged by western bombing of Islamic State (Isis) in Syria there was another furious that there was no western bombing to stop Bashar al-Assad killing his own people. It’s soothing to imagine that the blame, and therefore the solution, lies in our own hands. But it’s hardly convincing'. -Jonathan Freedland 'Fear is the factor that dare not speak its name'

Nothing is more predictable than politicians and journalists trying to present the 'real meaning' of Islamist terror attacks in such a way as to make it useful in bolstering their pre-set power agendas or ideologies. In this sense, 'establishment' politicians are little different from many anti-war activists.

"Western foreign policy" does not "cause" French born citizens of Algerian descent to carry out terrorist attacks because they are somehow venting an anti-war position to an extreme, as though terror was merely an extreme "cry of despair" at the injustice of Muslims dying abroad.

This tiresome line is routinely peddled by anti-war propagandists. Some try to impersonate the sort of clichéd sympathisers with terror or supporters of it depicted in crummy action films such as Who Dares Wins. In it the group wants peace through ordering a nuclear bomb to de dropped on Scotland.

This was a parody of the anti-war movement of the 1980s which was believed to be infiltrated by crypto-communist subversives trying to weaken the West's willpower to stand up to totalitarian terror states. That claim is made by those like Nick Cohen against the so-called Stop the War Coalition.

Replace Communism with Islamism and the idea, being propagated by Tony Blair through to David Cameron, is that Al Qaida is one seamless global threat that 'we all' have to be on our guard against as individuals and as part of a 'community' both worldwide and at local level.

Such 'public diplomacy' is handy if the idea is to instil fear and terror at an imminent terror attack the better to co-opt support for foreign military interventions. These are as concerned with geopolitical strategies as with maintaining 'energy security' and preventing attacks on supplies of oil or gas.

Wars and pathological power contests over energy flows and pipeline routes lack the edifying moralistic narrative that is considered necessary to get public opinion behind the state in democracies. A great many fail to grasp why western states need to meddle in far off lands at all.

So the terror threat since September 11 2001 has tended to be presented in 'public diplomacy' as a major reason for wars from Afghanistan to Iraq when it has not been mad dictators such as Saddam or Assad being new Hitler's prepared to use weapons of mass destruction.

These official reasons for wars and interventions are, of course, as preposterous as the radical 'anti-imperialist' line that the terror threat is caused by upsetting radicalised Muslims who think blowing themselves to bits on the London Underground as on 7/7 is the best way to 'stop the wars'.

If foreign policy is to be invoked as being responsible for the terrorist threat, then it needs to be made clear that it did not create nor cause it alone. The reality is that Western foreign policy has facilitated terrorism through botched interventions which made bad situations even worse.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a fractured state, ethnic-sectarian cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad and wars over control of the resources. The backing for Sunni jihadists by regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar in their proxy war with Iran in Iraq and Syria has created more chaos.

Al Qaida and ISIS have flourished in failed states. Having spent 13 years trying to put right the one created in Afghanistan in the 1990s after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union and the collapse of that state in Central Asia, the west has helped create one on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Given these facts about western foreign policy-and the fact that it is Saudi Arabia which has funded and backed so much jihadism-it is clear that the price to be paid for that alliance is having one hand tied behind the back when trying to deal with global jihadist terror threats.

So evidently, the west is not 'the cause' of global jihadism: the west's allies are. The fact of being aligned with them in the region is precisely the reason jihad it projected westwards into the heartlands of those outside powers such as France or the UK backing the enemies of ISIS and Al Qaida.

Britain and France are going to be affected by jihadist blowback because both powers were prepared to turn a blind eye to  Al Qaida and ISIS in Syria throughout 2012-2013. For, as Hague kept sententiously insisting, 'Assad must go'. This was the repeated insistence of the 'Friends of Syria'.

The exact causal link in the Paris terror attacks may never be found with any absolute certainty. It looks highly likely the French security services turned a blind eye to French jihadists going to Syria. It was better to have jihadists diverted into a war against Assad where they be useful or else die there.

One claim about intervention, being damned for not intervening against Assad and damned for intervening against ISIS in 2014, entirely obfuscates the reality. The west was intervening after 2012 through covert operations to assist the Sunni insurgents against Assad in a proxy war against Iran.

Instead of pursuing patient diplomacy with the regional powers, involving Iran, the western powers wanted to knock out Assad's military as recently as 2013. It was only Russian diplomacy which prevented a war that would have dragged the West in further and strengthened ISIS on the ground.

The delusion about terrorism comes less from the so-called anti-war left : they are largely irrelevant. It comes from politicians believing that the use of air power and drones is going to effect the outcome of protracted sectarian-ethnic conflicts and proxy war while incurring hostility from jihadists.

Obviously this does not mean that foreign policy should in any way to defer to the threat of jihadists. However, trying to fight a 'Global War on Extremism' while aligning with the two largest sponsors of Sunni militants in the Middle east and Maghreb is going to be largely futile and self defeating.

As the repeated attacks on the west indicate, trying to promote energy interests abroad while prating about bringing freedom and democracy and, at the same time, being staunch allies with absolutist monarchies such as Saudi Arabia or of undemocratic Qatar, is bound to be resented in the region.

The only strategy to protect the west against recurrent threats of terror is to promote a diplomatic regional settlement to the war in Syria and to refrain from interventionist wars abroad that cannot be fought by western states without drawing in Al Qaida affiliated militias.

In addition to that, alternative to oil and gas are needed: sadly all the indications are that Britain and France are all the more eager for military intervention because of the increasing proportion of their gas imports are made up with Qatari liquefied natural gas ( LNG ).

Unless questions of geopolitics and  energy security are interconnected with the western powers seemingly insane folly of repeating the same foreign policy errors over and over again, the jihadist threat the west confronts is simply not going to be put in its true perspective nor understood.

Given that the establishment has no interest in mentioning these key factors in foreign policy decision making and, given they are seldom connected by critics beyond crude 'it's all about oil' or 'capitalism', the absurd blame game is set to continue without the real nub of the problem being confronted.

Those lacking wisdom and knowledge are going to blame the terror threat wholly on the 'reactionary' and 'backward' religion of Islam. Critics of foreign policy will rationalise their fears in response by claiming it has 'nothing to do with Islam' and point to 'foreign policy' as the only 'explanation'.

The appalling danger of this supposed 'debate' or 'dialogue' within the politics and media within the west is there are those representing the minority Muslim populations and pointing to the effects of foreign policy and those suggesting that gives no right for 'home grown' Islamists to use terror.

The tragedy is that both sides have every reason to believe they are right and for mutual suspicions and mutual misunderstandings to accumulate and build up, not least because politicians keep playing shoddy and ineffectual power games that hint at 'enemies within' while repeating 'Islam is peaceful'.

To proclaim 'Islam is a religion of peace' is detested by many as 'craven' by those pointing to the fact of so much religious based violence in the name of Islam. So that then leads to the opposite oversimplification that Islam is a 'barbaric religion of war' and so there is no common ground.

Evidently, the purpose of Al Qaida or ISIS terrorism is to polarise western societies into intractable opposing sides. When western governments dignify attacks as tantamount to being 'at war', numbers of people are going to be confused as to the difference between Islam as peace and Islamism.

In fact, declaring a war or claiming the West is already at war with 'radical Islam' or 'jihadism' or a 'pervertion of Islam' is unlikely to assuage doubts that politicians are not being mealy mouthed simply in order to 'appease' a threat they are, in reality, afraid of confronting within Western societies

Part of the blame for that really comes down to the cynical use politicians have wanted to make of the terror threat to shore up support for foreign policies in which they think are somehow going to conclusively defeat Al Qaida terrorism by military force and by promoting 'regime change'.

In so doing, leader like Tony Blair are responsible for setting the template for 'public diplomacy' and sowing great confusion and tumult. For certain, there are Western Muslims who sympathise with violent Islamists and that is often a question of 'identity politics' than Islam as a religion per se.

Yet the actual explanation for terrorist attacks lies ultimately with the evil of those committing the atrocities and with their ability and willingness to carry it out. If the security services claim not to be able to prevent all of them because of its global scale, then foreign policy requires examination.

What is quite clear is simplistic arguments blaming 'foreign policy' are easily rebuked by the showing that Islamists operate where there hasn't been any western intervention. It is true that there is an ideology of global jihad that exists independently of military intervention and the Middle East.

There is a violent jihadism which does exist across the world. Al Qaida is a franchise operation and usually emerges in response to localised circumstances and wants confrontation firstly with the government it hates and then with the west. ISIS is trying to rival them in this as a global brand.

Yet the threat the west faces primarily comes from the Maghreb and Middle East:the Near East.  ISIS has mainly regional aims , though Al Qaida is more global in ambition. Sadly, the existence of corrupt governments, fights over resources and global heating are bound to increase its support base.

A dark and bleak period of history is coming and all the signs are of an intractable set of conflicts. The western states need to understand that the reality is that there are circumstances in which they will have to learn that doing nothing, or non-intervention, is the only course worthy of consideration.

Interventionism is driven by post-colonial guilt and greed for access to minerals and oil from Sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia. New military technologies to protect access to strategic resource interests such as drones need to be tried and tested: this will be resented there.

The rise of the new Global Great Game for resources with China is another factor drawing in the western states to regions with ethnic-sectarian conflicts and jihadist militancy. There is little room for much other than pessimism. The conflicts look intractable already. A new era of barbarity is ahead.

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