Friday, 16 January 2015

The War in Syria, Regional Power Politics and Terrorist Blowback.

In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks,  the French Parliament unanimously voted to extend air strikes on ISIS in Iraq. President Hollande was keen to make plain France was 'at war' with Al Qaida in Mali and Somalia as well. 'Public diplomacy' about a 'global war on terror' remained unchallenged.

Hollande declared that the outrage in reaction to the massacre of 15 journalists and 5 civilians should last 'forever'. Journalists started to conflate events in Paris with the Russian 'threat' to Ukraine. Poroshenko linked the killing of 12 civilians in East Ukraine by rebel shells with the terror attacks.

On January 16 2015 the French President explicitly linked the Paris attacks as being as one with the massacre of 2000 villagers by Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria. "Today, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin are threatened and this situation means the international community must take appropriate action and can't let this be"

It was a convenient time for the French Parliament to ram through an  extension of the war against ISIS so as to exploit the anger at the attacks and thus minimise any domestic questioning about the broader geopolitical context which had enabled jihadist networks to flourish in Syria in 2012-2014.

No mention was made about the policy whereby the western security services along with Turkey funnelled Sunni jihadists from a war torn Libya into Syria in 2012 as part of a strategy to overthrow Bashir Al-Assad as part of a 'regime change' approach to Iraq's western neighbour.

Had Sunni insurgent groups in Syria removed Assad, the reality is that ISIS could have dominated the entire state or else there would be an even more protracted war right up to the border with Lebanon and even Israel. ISIS was not considered important in 2013 until it spectacularly burst into Iraq.

Even worse, there is no indication that Washington, London or Paris have proved able to learn anything from past mistakes. As was aptly once said insanity is repeating the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. So 'regime change' in 2015 is still the aim of the game.

Buried away in the news today was a report that the US was intent on continuing to prioritise the backing of Sunni militias against the Syrian leader. Though the CIA backed Free Syria Army is too pitifully small to affect the outcome of the bloody civil-sectarian war in Syria the significance is clear

The hard reality is that instead of pursuing a course of regional diplomacy, which would aim to bring the regional powers together in a negotiated settlement, the US is hedging its bets on still being able to dictate the outcome in Syria by backing a militia intent on deposing the Syrian leader.

The Guardian reported,

'The US military is planning to deploy more than 400 troops to help train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State, along with hundreds of US support personnel, a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters on Thursday.

The US military has not yet identified where it will draw its forces from for the training mission, expected to begin in the spring at sites outside Syria, Colonel Steve Warren said. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have offered to host the training.'

The US decision effectively adds to prolonging the civil war in Syria by aligning with those Sunni Muslim Powers fighting a proxy war against Iran. The reason, apart from diverting jihadist discontent outwards from the Gulf States, is to check the rival energy based designs of Russia and Iran.

The use of US shale oil and Saudi production to flood the global market with cheap oil is part of a strategy of economic warfare to cripple the Iranian and Russian economies which , it is hoped, along with sanctions would be able to roll back Russian meddling in Ukraine and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Qatar and Turkey want to construct a gas pipeline connecting the South Pars gas field to the Eastern Mediterranean via Turkey where Erdogan's ambition is to make it an east-west energy transit hub. At worst, they want to forestall a rival Iranian pipeline from Iran's part of the Persian Gulf reserves.

The EU is increasingly looking into 'energy security' and 'energy diversification'. The US is contending with Russia along with the EU for energy supply routes from Central Asia that hem in rival Russian designs in unison with either Iran or China. The continued US presence in Afghanistan is connected to this.

The US, Britain and France are not interested in whether the civil war, with its sectarian divisions and bloodshed, is ratcheted up by backing Sunni forces. Syrian lives are sadly going to be sacrificed in the quest for averting the need for diplomacy with Iran over Syria and so taking the side of Qatar.

Qatar a major entrepot for liquefied natural gas imports and exports between the lucrative global market for energy between east and west. It is set to increase its supply of gas exports to Britain as North Sea reserves decline. It is a major market for US, French and British armaments and defence deals.

Qatar has also helped in propping up the ailing and weak rentier economies of Britain and France, key US allies in Europe in the Middle East, by investing billions in grand infrastructure projects in Paris and London as well as the stock markets and property portfolios.

The consequence of being so beholden to Qatari and Saudi fossil fuel wealth is that Qatar, in particular, has been able to pump millions of dollars into Sunni militant jihadist causes from Syria, where the European jihadists in their thousands have flocked to fight Assad, and also Mali.

France, having intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to prop up the government against Tuareg militias aligned to Al Qaida, is aligning with a Qatari state, a proven backer of Sunni jihadists there just as it was in Libya in 2011 when NATO helped in the illegal war overthrowing Gaddafi.

Trying to win the war on ISIS or Al Qaida while being aligned to states that at least until 2014 had done nothing to rein in those donating funds for Sunni militants is like trying to win with one arms tied behind the back. In Libya, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are still backing opposed warring forces.

Just as Libya was a botched oil grab by the western powers at the behest of Qatar, the involvement of the western powers both against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is to placate Qatar and bring it together with Saudi Arabia in a coalition of self-interest to protect them against the blowback of their own making.

The quest to back a new controllable Sunni militia in Syria, a new model Free Syria Army, is partly about countering Iranian militias in Syria and to preserve the threat of 'regime change' against Assad and so check the danger of Iran and Russia holding all the diplomatic cards over Syria.

The broader geopolitical strategy, however, is about preventing Russia from gaining greater influence in the Eastern Mediterranean, This is vital after the western backed power grab in Ukraine backfired and led Putin to take over the Crimea,so preventing the Black Sea from becoming a NATO dominated lake.

The Paris attacks represent the intended consequence of Al Qaida and ISIS in extending the war westwards into Europe as part of their messianic global jihad. Both groups have been able to exploit Qatari and Saudi funding in Syria after 2011 and the chaos caused by the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the greater scheme of pathological Great Power politics, the price of terrorist blowback consequent from the foreign policy of aligning with Qatar and Saudi Arabia is considered a small price to pay when set against the strategic resource gains, arms deal profits and hegemony against rival powers such as Russia and China.

This is the reality of the situation in 2015. There needs to be a proper public debate on the dangers and drawbacks of this strategy without delusions that the reality is somehow different to that as pursued by the west, without the sententious drivel about 'our values' or the so-called ' war on terror'.

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