Why Obama Rejected Peace With Iran October 24, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War, Foreign Policy, Iran, Imperialism, ISIS/ISIL.
Tags: foreign policy, Iran, Iraq, isil, isis, kurds, Middle East, obama iran, permanent war, roger hollander, saudi arabia, shamus cooke, shia, shiites, sunni, Syria, turkey
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Roger’s note: This is one critic’s analysis of the geopolitical realities that maintain the Bush/Obama doctrine of permanent war, Middle East division. Whether or not all the players (Shia, Sunni, Isis, Isil, Kurds, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey etc.) are correctly ordered and the power relationships perfectly defined, what is true is that it is all about markets and oil. That is, the business and profit making elements of capitalist economy, backed by governments’ foreign policies and military might, are what determine the course of action. The needs, desires, dreams, rights, etc. of living human beings are trumped by the capitalist Behemoth. I for one cheered when Obama was forced not to attack Syria earlier in the year (remember sarin gas?) and opened for the fist time in decades a dialogue with Iran with the possibility of resolving the nuclear issue and thereby ratcheting down the tensions between the U.S. and a major middle east power. But as it turns out, it was too good to be true. The drive to protect economic interests (read: corporate and military) wins out again.
I want to repeat something I posted yesterday from an article by Murray Dobbin about the Ottawa shootings, a quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski :
We are supposed to learn as children that actions have consequences so I suppose we are left to conclude that current leaders of the Anglo-industrialized countries (in particular) were badly neglected by their parents. A monstrous and catastrophic failure of imagination on the part of the West has led us to this point. The first failure belonged to Zbigniew Brzezinski one of the key architects of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Before the US armed, financed and trained the then-handful of religious zealots opposed to the godless Soviets, they were a threat to no one.
In an interview that appeared in CounterPunch in 1998 Brzezinski revealed his limited imagination when asked if he regretted creating Islamic terrorists: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
The answer is in.
WEEKEND EDITION OCTOBER 24-26, 2014, http://www.counterpunch.org
How did Obama manage to botch U.S. foreign policy so stunningly? The promising speeches he gave in 2008 earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his inspiring words have since been buried in the rubble of Libya, Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. The region that once viewed Obama as a peace messiah now rejects him as a warmonger. And with every new foreign policy zigzag Obama only finds fresh “threats” while never managing to find the path to peace.
Obama would like peace in theory, but doing so requires he shake up his Middle East alliances. The U.S. stands pigeonholed in tightly-wound alliances with the most hated regimes in the world, sandwiched between the global pariah Israel and the brutal totalitarian dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. The other important U.S. ally is war-hungry expansionist Turkey, while the smaller U.S. allies are the remaining Gulf state monarchy dictatorships.
Allies like these make peace impossible. Obama recognizes that these friends restrict the ability of the U.S. to retain regional credibility. Consequently, there has been much speculation about a massive shift in U.S. alliances that hinges on peace with Iran, possibly supplemented by strengthening the alliance with Iraqi Kurds.
Americans and Iranians would celebrate a peace between nations, but this scenario now seems off the table. After “talking” peace with Iran for the first time in decades, Obama chose the warpath yet again.
This decision was finalized recently when the “ISIS deal” was struck between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, again cementing this ugly alliance. In exchange for Saudi Arabia attacking ISIS, the U.S. would commit to war against the Syrian government, which the Saudis want toppled to undermine their rival Iran. The Syrian rebels that Saudi Arabia agreed to train — with $500 million from U.S. taxpayers — will be used against the Syrian government, not to fight ISIS. The U.S. allies in the region understand the war against the Syrian government as a first step to war against Iran. Even if a nuclear deal is struck between the U.S. and Iran the path to war will have been set.
Economics is a key reason that U.S. allies want Iran destroyed. Iran stands as a competitor for markets and investment throughout the region, and the destruction of Syria and Iran would open up new markets for the vulture-like U.S. allies. The economic oil war between Saudi Arabia and Iran has recently heated up, with Saudi Arabia selling oil at extra low prices to put political pressure on Iran. This, coupled with the ongoing “economic war” that Obama is waging, has the potential to weaken Iran via internal chaos, softening it up to possible invasion if the Syrian government falls.
Iran’s military is another reason the U.S. wants regime change. There are U.S. military bases scattered around the Middle East, though none in Iran, which has a powerful regional military force that patrols the strategic Strait of Hormuz, jointly controlled by Iran and Oman. It’s intolerable for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that one fifth of the world’s oil production must pass through this Iranian controlled area.
Iran’s regional power is bolstered by its political and religious connections throughout the Middle East. Not only does Shia Muslim Iran exert automatic authority over Shia majority Iraq, but also over Shia Hezbollah and Shia-led Syria. This region-wide dynamic is often referred to as the “Shia Crescent.” There also exist sizable oppressed Shia populations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Turkey that act as intrinsic political thorns in the sides of these Sunni sectarian governments, giving Iran a powerful political base in each case.
For example, when Saudi Arabia recently announced a death sentence for a popular Shia cleric, Iran responded that there would be “consequences” if the sentence were carried out, thus re-enforcing Iran’s self-portrayed position as “defender of the Shia.”
In Yemen there already exists a strong Shia insurgency against the pro-U.S. Sunni government that is using al-Qaeda-linked fighters against the Shia; the results of the conflict will either empower Iran or weaken it.
These regional religious tensions have been exponentially deepened by the U.S.-led coalition against the Syrian government, which has relied on systematic Sunni Islamic sectarianism to attract jihadist fighters and a flood of Sunni Gulf state donations.
The Sunni fundamentalism in Syria — loosely based on the Saudi fundamentalist version of Islam — views Shia Muslims as heretics worthy of death. The executions of Shia in Syria have reverberated throughout the Middle East, acting as an implicit threat to Shia Iran while increasing tensions in the Shia populations of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and beyond. The regional Shia backlash against the Sunni fundamentalists have strengthened Iran’s regional influence, one likely reason why Obama made the peace-killing deal with Saudi Arabia against ISIS and the Syrian government.
Saudi Arabia and Israel are adamant that the U.S. make no peace with Iran. Both sent strong messages after Obama’s 2013 last minute decision not to bomb the Syrian government, and his brief flirtation with Iran. Saudi Arabia went as far as refusing a seat on the UN Security Council. Israel protested the decision too, after it had lobbied heavily in the U.S. Congress through AIPAC to ensure the bombing took place.
The Kurdish Question
Turkey has long assisted the U.S. in attempting to topple the Syrian government, and has recently been insisting on a U.S. enforced “no-fly zone” in northern Syria, which would be directed against the Syrian government, since ISIS has no air force. Turkey has no good intentions in Syria, and has long wanted to grab easy oil-rich land for itself; which happens to be where the Kurdish population in Syria resides.
The call to enforce a no-fly zone to “protect the Kurds” on Turkey’s border, if achieved, will be similar to the no-fly zone in Libya — to create a “humanitarian corridor” — that was used instead to create a massive U.S.-led bombing campaign for regime change.
The Kurdish people face the same situation they’ve faced for hundreds of years: other nations have used the Kurds for their own self-interest. The Kurdish people want and deserve their own independent nation state, but they’ve been betrayed countless times in the past and the situation now seems no different. Promises are made and arms given to the “good” pro-U.S. Iraqi Kurds, while across the border in Turkey another faction of Kurds are labeled terrorists and repressed by the government.
Recently, the Kurdish Syrian town on the border of Turkey was invaded by ISIS and militarily defended by the “bad Kurds” of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are based in Turkey. The Turkish military watched across the border as ISIS relentlessly attacked Kobani, while the Turks used military force to prevent Turkish Kurds from crossing the border into Syria to help defend the Kurdish city.
This reinforced perceptions that ISIS was, in part, a Turkish creation, since Turkey’s border has long been an uncontested point of entry for foreign jihadists to enter Syria. Turkey defended its actions by essentially equating the Kurdish PYD and PKK with ISIS, dismissing all of them as “terrorists.” In Turkey, Kurdish protests erupted against the government’s actions and inactions in Kobani, leaving 40 dead. Protests also occurred in other Kurdish regions including Iran.
Turkey ultimately proved that it fears the Kurds more than ISIS, and further proved that negotiations with its domestic Kurdish population will never result in an independent Kurdistan on any inch of Turkish territory. Turkey will likewise be violently opposed to any creation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq or Syria, since it would empower the Turkish Kurds while preventing Turkey from grabbing the oil-rich regions for itself.
This dynamic acts as an impossible barrier for the Obama administration to “re-balance” its Middle East alliances by using the Kurds. No nation with a sizable Kurdish population — Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria — will buy in to a possible U.S. policy of Kurdish statehood, since they would lose the oil-rich territory that the Kurds live on.
Not only would the U.S. lose regional allies by advocating Kurdish independence, but if such a state were to emerge, it would be a weak nation, since the Kurds are already divided into various factions, and thus not strong enough for the U.S. to rely on to achieve regional objectives.
Consequently, Obama feels compelled to continue down the same war-torn path as his predecessors. But Obama’s perspective is colored by his assumption that the United States must remain the regional power in an area thousands of miles from its border, and that U.S. corporations should dominate the oil, banking, weapons selling, and other markets in the region.
The U.S. is long past the point where it can claim that its Middle East goals are “peace, stability, and democracy,” especially after invading and destroying Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now the dirty war against Syria. The oil, minerals, and other wealth that attracts the U.S. corporations that steer U.S. foreign policy prevent any real lasting peace to be achieved. The logic of corporate America is to crush the competitor by any means necessary.
Peace with Iran and Syria could be achieved if Obama told the world the truth about the above dynamics in the region, and treated Iran and Syria with the respect that an independent nation deserves, while working to curb the power of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who both depend on U.S. financial, military, and political support.
But instead Obama has dug in his heels and re-enforced alliances that demand the continuation of the Syrian war, and after that Iran. A war-shredded region remains on the bloody path to a potentially even wider war, while the billions of U.S. tax dollars funding this genocide will remain unusable for domestic projects like job creation and climate change reduction and preparedness. During this election season both Democrats and Republicans agree on continuing Middle East war.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
31 Years After the U.S. Invasion of Grenada October 21, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Grenada, History, Imperialism, Latin America.
Tags: grenada, grenada invasion, history, imperialism, Latin America, maurice bishop, mickey z, roger hollander, ronald reagan
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Roger’s note: Having failed for decades to dislodge the thorn in its side known as Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the United States in 1983 invaded a tiny island in the Caribbean which had had the audacity to form a socialist government. Following the usual paradigm for Latin America intervention (otherwise known as “send in the Marines!”), including the slaughter of civilians, it was little challenge for the United States brave army to defeat the defenders of a nation of barely one hundred thousand inhabitants.
As I’m sure everyone knows, we’re fast approaching the 31st anniversary of a truly momentous American victory — a crucial military operation that not only warmed Ronald Raygun’s cold, cold heart but was also deemed film-worthy by the former mayor of Carmel, California.
Yes, of course, I’m talking about the Oct. 25, 1983, “liberation” of Grenada.
In March 1979, socialist leader Maurice Bishop took over Grenada in a bloodless coup. Once deemed “a lovely piece of real estate” by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, Grenada is a small East Caribbean island of some 133 square miles and 110,000 inhabitants. At the time of the U.S. invasion, half of Grenada’s nationals lived in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn.
The United States worked to destabilize the Bishop regime but, in early October 1983, he was ultimately deposed and later murdered by a group even more to the “Left” than he. That’s when America decided to risk awakening this sleeping Caribbean giant by launching a preemptive military strike.
After adding the obligatory statements about Soviet and Cuban designs on the island, the Great Communicator sent roughly 8,000 U.S. soldiers in to lead an operation called “Urgent Fury.” The fighting was over in a week. Casualties included 135 Americans killed or wounded along 84 Cubans and some 400 Grenadians dead.
“Forced on Us”
“The American media rarely mentioned Grenadian casualties of U.S. aggression,” explains Ramsey Clark. “It barely reported the mental hospital destroyed by a Navy jet, leaving more than 20 dead.” (Sound familiar?)
Raygun declared that the invasion was “forced on us by events that have no precedent in the eastern Caribbean,” leaving the United States with “no choice but to act strongly and decisively.” (Sound familiar?)
By a vote of 108 to 9, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the invasion as a “flagrant violation of international law.” (Sound familiar?)
A Wall Street Journal headline blared: U.S. INVADES GRENADA IN WARNING TO RUSSIA AND CUBA ABOUT EXPANSION IN THE CARIBBEAN. It was also a warning to potential critics.”The invasion was already under way, so even if we opposed it, there was nothing any of us could do,” Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neil said at the time. “I had some serious reservations, and I’m sure my Democratic colleagues did as well, but I’d be damned if I was going to voice any criticism while our boys were out there.” (Sound familiar?)
Let’s not forget the “Grenada 17.” Amnesty International’s UK media director, Lesley Warner, wrote in 2003 that these 17 prisoners were “initially held without charge in cages, before being tried before an unfair, ad-hoc tribunal. They were denied access to legal counsel and to documents needed for their defense. After sentencing, the Grenada 17 were held in tiny cells with lights left permanently on.” (Sound familiar?)
“Stepping on a Flea”
In October 1983, Raygun stopped short of donning a flight suit, but did make a speech on the fourth day of the invasion, which, according to William Blum, “succeeded in giving jingoism a bad name.”
“The president managed to link the invasion of Grenada with the shooting down of a Korean airliner by the Soviet Union, the killing of U.S. soldiers in Lebanon, and the taking of American hostages in Iran,” says Blum.
“Clearly, the invasion symbolized an end to this string of humiliations for the United States. Even Vietnam was being avenged,” Blum adds. “To commemorate the American Renaissance, some 7,000 U.S. servicemen were designated heroes of the republic and decorated with medals. (Many had done no more than sit on ships near the island.) American had regained its manhood, by stepping on a flea.”
It’s all so familiar, but when will we learn?
Bolivians Demand Justice for 2003 Gas War Massacre October 21, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America.
Tags: benjamin dangl, Bolivia, bolivia gas war, Bolivia Massacre, el alto bolivia, Evo Morales, foreign policy, imperialism, Latin America, roger hollander, sanchez de berzain, Sánchez de Lozada
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Roger’s note: I never cease to be outraged when I think of U.S. foreign policy and actions towards Latin America, of which I have been a life-long student and aficionado. The U.S. government has never met a pro-American dictator or repressive president it didn’t like, from Tierra del Fuego to Havana, Cuba (which is not to exclude the rest of the world). It is particularly offensive that, once the people have overthrown these traitors, the United States becomes an asylum for them. Almost without exception, its geopolitical objectives trump human rights, values and decency. God Bless America.
by BENJAMIN DANGL
Thousands of people marched in El Alto, Bolivia on Friday, October 17th to demand justice for the 2003 massacre of over 60 people during the country’s Gas War under the Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) administration. Sanchez de Lozada is currently living freely in the US, and marchers demanded he and others in his government be brought to Bolivia to be tried for ordering the violence. October marks the anniversary of that assault on the city, and people mobilized on Friday to remember and to demand justice.
“Today we’re marching to remember on the 11th anniversary of the Gas War, which was aimed at getting rid of the neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada,” El Alto neighborhood council member Daniel Cama said while marching down the streets of the city. “We demand justice, and we demand the extradition of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and [former Defense Minister] Carlos Sanchez de Berzain, because they were the ones that led the massacre against the people of El Alto. This violence left many widows, orphans and injured people that are still demanding justice. Today we are marching to celebrate and remember the dead who fought for our natural resources.”
Bolivia’s Gas War is largely credited for ushering in a period of progressive change marked by policies led by President Evo Morales, who was re-elected on October 12th for a third term in office. The “Martyrs of the Gas War” are often recalled as the protagonists that led to the nationalization of sectors of Bolivia’s gas industry, a move which has generated funding for many popular social programs the Morales’ administration has developed to alleviate poverty. (For more information, see this article on the ten year anniversary of the Gas War and this article on the case against Goni.)
On Friday, thousands of El Alto residents marched from different points in the city, converging for a rally in the city center, where social movement leaders and victims of the Gas War spoke to a large crowd. Cheers regularly broke out, including the angry cry, “We Want Goni’s Head!” Many activists in the Gas War itself were present, such as the prominent participation by the city’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations. In a march meant to remember those days of repression and struggle, many veterans of the conflict marched down the same streets, and under the same bridges, where the army led their attack.
There was a notable absence of politicians at the day’s events, something many speakers at the rally commented on. Various marchers explained that the Morales government was moving forward with nationalization plans and progressive policies fought for in the streets of the Gas War. However, activists also complained that the Morales administration has not supported the working class city of El Alto with sufficient public projects and infrastructure.
“We’re marching for those brothers and sisters who died or were injured in the Gas War,” explained El Alto resident Genoveve Rodriguez. “As time has passed not even the government remembers this conflict, and they haven’t created enough public projects to help out the city of El Alto.”
The following photos are of the October 17th march, including the vast participation of the neighborhood councils and family members of Gas War victims, as well as the rally which ended the day’s mobilization with speeches and music.
El Alto’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations, key participants in the Gas War, led the march.
Family members of Gas War victims rallied for justice in El Alto.
A cross in downtown El Alto reads “11 Years of Impunity.”
A Bolivian hip-hop group was among many bands performing at the rally following the march.
A commemorative mural in El Alto depicting the Gas War.
All photos by Benjamin Dangl
Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl
WHAT ‘DEMOCRACY’ REALLY MEANS IN U.S. AND NEW YORK TIMES JARGON: LATIN AMERICA EDITION October 19, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
Tags: Bolivia, democracy, dictatorships, egypt coup, Evo Morales, foreign policy, glenn greenwald, Hugo Chavez, imperialism, journalism, Media, new york times, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela coup
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Roger’s note: I read the New York Times (it is the most right wing site I go to online; and, when asked how I keep up with the “other side,” I reply that one absorbs it by osmosis), there is often good reporting and feature articles; but on U.S. foreign policy, the Times is as Neanderthal as Bush/Obama/Clintons.
One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:
With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.
Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”
More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”
If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”
The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”
The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):
This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on development, military cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.
You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”
It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.
But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.
Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.
To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”
Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Tags: arbenz, banana republic, brendan fischer, chiquita banana, Edward Bernays, gordon liddy, guatemala coup, hard choices, hillary clinton, history, Honduras, honduras corruption, honduras coup, lanny davis, Latin America, mark weisbrot, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, zelaya
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The chapter on Latin America, particularly the section on Honduras, a major source of the child migrants currently pouring into the United States, has gone largely unnoticed. In letters to Clinton and her successor, John Kerry, more than 100 members of Congress have repeatedly warned about the deteriorating security situation in Honduras, especially since the 2009 military coup that ousted the country’s democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. As Honduran scholar Dana Frank points out in Foreign Affairs, the U.S.-backed post-coup government “rewarded coup loyalists with top ministries,” opening the door for further “violence and anarchy.”
The homicide rate in Honduras, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, Honduran security forces have engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes with impunity.
Despite this, however, both under Clinton and Kerry, the State Department’s response to the violence and military and police impunity has largely been silence, along with continued U.S. aid to Honduran security forces. In “Hard Choices,” Clinton describes her role in the aftermath of the coup that brought about this dire situation. Her firsthand account is significant both for the confession of an important truth and for a crucial false testimony.
First, the confession: Clinton admits that she used the power of her office to make sure that Zelaya would not return to office. “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico,” Clinton writes. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
This may not come as a surprise to those who followed the post-coup drama closely. (See my commentary from 2009 on Washington’s role in helping the coup succeed here, here and here.) But the official storyline, which was dutifully accepted by most in the media, was that the Obama administration actually opposed the coup and wanted Zelaya to return to office.
The question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Latin American leaders, the United Nations General Assembly and other international bodies vehemently demanded his immediate return to office. Clinton’s defiant and anti-democratic stance spurred a downward slide in U.S. relations with several Latin American countries, which has continued. It eroded the warm welcome and benefit of the doubt that even the leftist governments in region offered to the newly installed Obama administration a few months earlier.
Clinton’s false testimony is even more revealing. She reports that Zelaya was arrested amid “fears that he was preparing to circumvent the constitution and extend his term in office.” This is simply not true. As Clinton must know, when Zelaya was kidnapped by the military and flown out of the country in his pajamas on June 28, 2009, he was trying to put a consultative, nonbinding poll on the ballot to ask voters whether they wanted to have a real referendum on reforming the constitution during the scheduled election in November. It is important to note that Zelaya was not eligible to run in that election. Even if he had gotten everything he wanted, it was impossible for Zelaya to extend his term in office. But this did not stop the extreme right in Honduras and the United States from using false charges of tampering with the constitution to justify the coup.
In addition to her bold confession and Clinton’s embrace of the far-right narrative in the Honduran episode, the Latin America chapter is considerably to the right of even her own record on the region as secretary of state. This appears to be a political calculation. There is little risk of losing votes for admitting her role in making most of the hemisphere’s governments disgusted with the United States. On the other side of the equation, there are influential interest groups and significant campaign money to be raised from the right-wing Latin American lobby, including Floridian Cuban-Americans and their political fundraisers.
Like the 54-year-old failed embargo against Cuba, Clinton’s position on Latin America in her bid for the presidency is another example of how the far right exerts disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere.
Who’s Your Daddy, ISIS? September 23, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: bashar assad, glen ford, Iraq, isil, isis, jihadists, libya, Middle East, obama coalition, qatar, regime change, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria
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by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“ISIS has many, many fathers, all of whom now deny patrimony.”
Let us be clear, if that is possible, about President Obama’s plan to deal with ISIS, the boogeyman of America’s own making. The president last week swore that he would “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, after having spent three years providing weapons and money to jihadists fighters, including ISIS, in hopes that they would “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Syrian state of president Bashar Assad. So, the Americans set out to destroy one state, in Syria, whose government had never presented any danger to the U.S., and wind up creating another state, a caliphate astride the borders of Syria and Iraq, that openly declares its intention to do battle with the U.S.
Obama assures us that he is assembling a new coalition of the willing to join him in smashing ISIS. It turns out that every prospective member of the coalition was a co-conspirator with the United States in giving birth to ISIS – Britain and France and other Europeans, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates…ISIS has many, many fathers, all of whom now deny patrimony.
Obama appears to be leaving the natural gas-rich nation of Qatar out of his coalition, which doesn’t seem fair, since Qatar was a loyal ally of the United States and NATO just three years ago, when Obama was busy trying to degrade and destroy another state, Libya, which also posed no threat to the U.S. The emir of Qatar worked his gaseous little butt off for Obama, sending money and guns and mercenaries to help the Libyan jihadists that the U.S. wanted to install as the new government.
Once regime change had been accomplished in Libya, Qatar helped the Americans send hundreds of Libyan jihadists to Syria, to put that regime out of business. But, Libya never did get a new state, to replace the one that was destroyed in 2011. Instead, the country is wracked by civil war, that is also a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its friends and Qatar.
Wars Within Wars Within Regime Changes
It seems that Qatar backed the wrong side – the Muslim Brotherhood – after the regime change in Egypt in 2011. The Saudi Arabian royal family hates the Muslim Brotherhood, because the Brotherhood advocate elections, and kings don’t do elections. So, the Saudis bankrolled another regime change in Egypt, putting the military back in charge, and are now fighting a proxy war with Qatar in Libya. Which is why the Saudis blackballed Qatar from participating in Obama’s coalition of the willing against ISIS. (You do understand all this, right?)
Turkey, which is part of NATO, has been a wonderful father to ISIS, allowing the caliphate’s fighters free use of its long border with Syria and Iraq. In return, Turkey gets to buy the cheap oil from the fields that ISIS seized from Syria and Iraq, which makes the Turks somewhat reluctant to try to kill little baby ISIS.
It’s starting to look like Obama might have to take out the caliphate on his own, which is why the president’s top military advisor is talking about putting serious U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq, and maybe in Syria. Meanwhile, Obama is putting together a new army of rebels to continue the job of degrading and destroying the Syrian state – unless, of course, these new fighters just take the money and guns and join ISIS, too.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com., and while you’re there, sign up to get email notifications of new issues of the magazine, each Wednesday.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Tell Majority Leader Harry Reid – Respect Venezuela’s Sovereignty, Reject Sanctions Bill September 17, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: harry reid, Latin America, McCain, menendez, roger hollander, Ros-Lehtinen, rubio, soa, Venezuela, venezuela democracy, venezuela sanctions, venezuela sovereignty
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Roger’s note: please sign the petition.
As an SOA Watch supporter who has previously taken online action defending Venezuela’s sovereignty, it should be no surprise to you that Venezuela is once again under attack by the powerful far-right Cuban-American lobby and its allies. Senators Marco Rubio, Robert Menendez, John McCain, and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are desperately attempting to ram through a bill that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials based on exaggerated claims of human rights abuses that do not match up with the facts on the ground.
The sanctions bill is seen by the rest of Latin America as politically-motivated and a continuation of the typical intervention by the U.S. in the internal affairs of a democratic Latin American country. Earlier this month, Sen. Rubio sent Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid a letter calling on him to bypass Sen. Mary Landrieu’s committee and bring the sanctions bill to a vote. This after hypocritically attacking Sen. Landrieu in a Louisiana newspaper for holding up the vote due to concerns about the sanctions bill. Please take a moment to urge Senator Reid to continue supporting diplomacy, resist the far-right fear-mongering, and not bring up the Cold War era sanctions bill for a vote.
We should also take this opportunity to push him to deepen his opposition to the bill, which is currently based on protecting Senator Landrieu’s reelection bid and the Democratic Senate majority in November, to include support for U.S.-Venezuela dialogue, diplomacy, and respect for Latin American sovereignty.
Sen. Reid’s actions as Majority Leader are vital to ensuring respect for democracy in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. Your voice and the voice of your community are essential and can make the difference for setting the tone for U.S.-Latin American relations for decades to come. Urge Sen. Harry Reid (through his Foreign Policy Aide, Jessica Lewis) to do the right thing. It only takes 1 minute, please take action today and share this link widely!
Owen, Arturo, and the SOA Watch Legislative Working Group
P.S. In addition to taking online action, a follow-up call to Sen. Reid’s DC office will drive our message home. Call (202) 224-3542 and ask to speak with Jessica Lewis, his Foreign Policy Aide. Tell Ms. Lewis you oppose the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 because you support diplomacy with Venezuela’s democratically elected government, and want to see the U.S. respect the sovereignty of Latin American nations.
Your Tax Dollars at Work … to Oppress and Kill Our Neighbors to the South September 16, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: brigitte gynther, deportations, Honduras, honduras military, human rights, Latin America, roger hollander, soa, soa watch, soa/whinsec, stewart detention center
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Roger’s note: Here is a letter from SOA Watch, the courageous that works day and night to shut down the infamous and murderous School of the Americas (renamed WHINSEC) now at Fort Benning, Georgia that for decades has indoctrinated and trained military personnel to do the dirty work of oppression and assassination for Latin American dictators and alleged democracies. The focus of this letter are the atrocities that are taking place on a daily basis perpetrated by the U.S. supported puppet government in Honduras under the leadership of SOA graduates. Honduras, since the US supported military coup against the elected Zelaya government, has become one of the most violent nations on the face of the earth; and this has created the exodus that is putting so much pressure on the U.S. border.
September 13, 2014
My name is Brigitte Gynther and I am the new SOAW Latin America Liaison. I look forward to getting to know many of you and working together to close the SOA/WHINSEC and demand justice for the murders, repression, disappearances, and so many other crimes carried out by SOA/WHINSEC graduates — both in the past and today. My first experience with the SOAW movement was traveling down to the gates of Ft. Benning as a student twelve years ago. Later, I moved to the Florida farmworker town of Immokalee and spent 8 years organizing with religious communities and others to advance the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food. We frequently attended the SOAW Vigil, but little did I imagine that I would later end up spending two years as an SOAW activante in Honduras, documenting the tremendous human rights abuses unleashed upon the country as the result of the 2009 SOA-graduate led coup.
In fact, I just came back from part of a delegation to Honduras in which SOA graduate Col. German Alfaro — notorious for criminalizing human rights defenders and social movement leaders — attacked the delegation in the media as part of a strategy aimed at silencing those who speak out. The delegation had traveled to the Lower Aguan Valley to learn about the very real assassinations and human rights violations suffered by the campesino communities. When the delegation visited the community of La Panama and took testimonies from victims about a violent eviction by the Honduran military involving tear gas, live bullets, one death, two serious injuries, and the beatings of several people, Col. Alfaro lashed out in the press, accusing the delegation of “encouraging campesinos to launch attacks” and said they were investigating the group for “being in a practically restricted area of the country.” This follows similiar accusations made by Col. Alfaro against Annie Bird of Rights Action – who has extensively documented extrajudicial killings and abuses in the Aguan Valley – and accusations against local human rights defenders and small farmers. It is part of a dangerous strategy aimed at hiding the reality in the Aguan by intimidating, discrediting, and defaming human rights workers who expose what is going on. Click here to call on the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa to condemn the attacks on national and international human rights observers and journalists who document murders and human rights violations in the Bajo Aguan.
Just two weeks after the delegation visited the Aguan, the Human Rights Observatory there reported that military forces under the command of another SOA graduate, Col. Rene Jovel Martinez, purposefully destroyed 52 acres of corn that campesinos had cultivated, some of which was almost ready to harvest. This leaves those families without the corn harvest they need to eat for the coming year.
The delegation finished in Honduras’ capital, where — after telling us about massacre after massacre and murder after murder — one of the people we met with asked us simply, “Who would want to stay in this country?” It is a telling question. Indeed, day after day, people flee the violence in Honduras, heading north to the US. This exodus is the direct result of the military coup and repression by the US-trained and funded military to impose policies that benefit the ultra-wealthy and multinational corporations at the expense of the majority of the population, corrupting the judicial system to ensure impunity for murders. Governed by the rule of the powerful instead of the rule of law, murders and violence have spiraled out of control. The US continues funding and training the corrupt Honduran regime, creating more migration. This is why, on November 22nd, the Saturday of the SOAW Vigil Weekend, we will be gathering outside the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. Many of those fleeing the violence, repression, and economic devastation of Honduras are now incarcerated at the Stewart Detention Center by the largest private prison corporation in the US.
We will gather at the Stewart Detention Center to protest not only the mistreatment, jailing, and deportations, but also the US policies and military funding that cause so many people to have to leave their homes and migrate to the US in the first place. We will call on the US to respond to increasing migration not by increasing military aid and funding to corrupt and repressive governments, but by changing US polices — such as free trade agreements — that cause migration. We will demand the US to stop training so many Latin American military officers at WHINSEC to protect US corporate interests over human rights, resulting in military officers who go on to murder, threaten, and burn corn harvests of poor campesinos.
I hope to meet you at the gates of Ft. Benning and the Stewart Detention Center this November 21-23! We will be joined at the Vigil this year by some of the amazing participants from SOAW’s Youth Encuentro this summer, where young leaders on the front lines of struggles across the hemisphere came together to build the SOAW movement. Together we will remember those who have been massacred, murdered, and disappeared at the hands of SOA graduates and those who are suffering that reality right now. We will also speak out for the thousands of innocent civilians, children and adults, who flee the reality imposed by SOA graduates and find themselves jailed in the U.S., with our taxpayer money, for extended periods of time for no other crime than doing what many of us would probably do if we found ourselves in their shoes.
Victor Jara’s Long Arc September 12, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Chile, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
Tags: abby zimet, Chile, chile cia, chile coup, chile history, chile junta, history, Latin America, pinochet, protest music, roger hollander, salvador allende, victor jara
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Roger’s note: The other 9/11. Another case of U.S. imperial, militaristic, CIA lead murderous intervention in Latin America, a tradition that goes back to the Monroe Doctrine and continues today most blatantly in Venezuela, Colombia and Honduras (with the wilful support of Obama and the enthusiastic support of Hillary Clinton).
Today is the 41st anniversary of Chile’s 9/11, when Pinochet and his CIA-backed military junta overthrew Salvador Allende, Latin America’s first democratically elected Socialist leader, and began a 17-year reign of terror. Marking “a milestone” in the tragic story of their most famous and beloved victim, Chilean officials last week announced the arrest of three more former army officers in the murder of poet and songwriter Victor Jara, who was arrested soon after the coup with over 5,000 others and held, beaten and tortured for days; had his hands broken; and valiantly tried to sing the iconic Allende hymn “Venceremos” before being cut down by 44 Fascist bullets on September 16. Thanks in part to his indefatigable widow Joan’s decades-long fight for justice for Jara, the three officers join eight others charged in 2012. Another 700 military officials still await trial; the Jara family have also filed a civil lawsuit against another former officer now living in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, given newly revealed documents showing that President Reagan considered making Pinochet “a guest of our government” with an offer of political asylum, there’s been no move toward extradiction. In Chile, meanwhile, Jara remains a much-mourned hero and powerful symbol of freedom. Thousands attended a moving 2009 funeral for him when he was publicly re-buried, and the stadium where he died, now a sports venue and Chile’s largest homeless shelter, bears his name. A plaque there marks his death and that of so many others with a few wrenching, hopeful lines from the last thing he wrote. More in tribute here and here.
The Rise of ISIS: US Invasion of Iraq, Foreign Backing of Syrian Rebels Helped Fuel Jihadis’ Advance August 14, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Syria, War.
Tags: al-abadi, al-Maliki, amy goodman, chuck hagel, Democracy Now, isil, isis, islamic state, jihadis, kurds, Middle East, nermeen shaikh, patrick cockburn, saudi arabia, shia, sunni, Syria, syrian rebels
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Roger’s note: the great minds of the presidency, the Pentagon, the CIA, etc. don’t get it right even in terms of their own imperial objectives, much less with respect to what is moral and just. The Keystone Kops who own and manage the United States military industrial complex would be entertainingly amusing, if the results of their machinations did not result in bloody death and destruction. From Bush to Obama/Hilary Clinton the U.S. interventions in the Middle East have only served to strengthen he hands of their counterparts, the Muslim extremists.
http://www.democracynow.org, August 13, 2014
The United States is sending 130 more troops to Iraq amidst a bombing campaign against ISIS militants in the north and a political crisis gripping Baghdad. We are joined by veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, author of the new book, “The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.” Cockburn addresses the power struggle in Baghdad, Hillary Clinton’s claim that President Obama’s “failure” to support Syrian rebels helped fuel ISIS’s advance, the role of oil in the current U.S. airstrikes, and his fears that Iraq is entering a “new, more explosive era far worse than anything we’ve seen over the last 10 years.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: A hundred and thirty additional U.S. marines and special forces have been sent to Iraq. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the announcement Tuesday speaking to marines at Camp Pendleton in California.
DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: I recommended to the president, and the president has authorized me, to go ahead and send about 130 new assessment team members up to northern Iraq in the Erbil area to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The news comes one day after the U.S. confirmed the CIA was directly arming Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, who are battling Sunni militants of the Islamic State who have seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Earlier today, France announced it would also send arms directly to the Kurds.
The Guardian is reporting the United States is also preparing to send the Iraqi government a shipment of missiles, guns and ammunition, but it is waiting to do so until Haider al-Abadi officially becomes Iraq’s new prime minister. It remains unclear if Iraq’s current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will relinquish power to Abadi, who has the backing of both Washington and Tehran. Maliki has rejected Abadi’s appointment, saying it violates Iraq’s constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: On the humanitarian front, the United Nations says 20,000 to 30,000 Yazidis may still be trapped on the arid Mount Sinjar where they fled, fearing attacks from Islamic State militants. U.N. Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsák said, quote, “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours.”
To talk more about the situation in Iraq, we’re joined by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent in Britain. He was in Baghdad last month. His new book, The Jihadis Return: ISISand the New Sunni Uprising, is out this month with OR Books.
Patrick, it’s great to have you with us from Cork, Ireland. Can you talk about the latest news, the sending of an additional 130 more U.S. marines and advisers, as the U.S. calls them, into Iraq?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it shows a little more U.S. commitment to the Kurds. I don’t think it makes an enormous difference. The most—the really significant action was the airstrikes, although limited, a few days ago. That was important. That raised Kurdish morale. That meant a new U.S. military involvement in Iraq. So I think that’s what’s really significant.
AMY GOODMAN: The situation of what’s happening now in Baghdad with the new prime minister, the current prime minister, and what this all means, who will be the actual prime minister?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think, you know, that Maliki is finished. I think he’s been finished for some time. The question was: Would he fight it out? He had military units that were personally loyal to him, but he found that after the new prime minister had been appointed, the Iranians had turned against him. They wouldn’t support him. He didn’t have any outside political support. His own party was disintegrating or would no longer support him. So I think that the transition will happen.
But I think what is wrong is to think that—almost everything now is being blamed on al-Maliki, both inside and outside Baghdad, that he was the person who provoked the Sunni uprising, he was the hate figure for the Sunni, he produced an army that was riddled with corruption. But I think that it’s exaggerated, that it’s as if there was a magic wand that would be used once al-Maliki had gone. But there were other reasons for this uprising, for the creation of ISIS—notably, the rebellion in Syria in 2011. This changed the regional balance of power. That was a Sunni rebellion, which Iraqi politicians over the last couple of years were always telling me, if the West supports the opposition in Syria, this will destabilize Iraq. And they were dead right. It wasn’t just al-Maliki.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, you mentioned that the current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is obviously not solely responsible for the situation there now. You’ve also pointed out in a piece that he still retains the support of Iraq’s Shia majority. What do you think the consequences of that will be with this shift in power to Abadi?
PATRICK COCKBURN: I think he did have that support. I don’t think it’s going to last very long, because he had it because he had portrayed himself as the Shia leader who protected their interests, and he tried to get away from the fact he had presided over one of the greatest military defeats in history, when ISIS took Mosul, by claiming that he’d been stabbed—the army had been stabbed in the back by the Kurds, that there had been treachery. But he still had support because he had power, because he controlled the budget, $100 billion, because he controlled millions of jobs. I think once he’s no longer in control of the executive and the money, that support will diminish very fast. There are millions of Iraqis who have their jobs through Maliki. Now that’s changed, and so will their support.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaking Tuesday.
DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: The Iraqi people, the government of Iraq, country of Iraq is now under threat from some of the most brutal, barbaric forces we’ve ever seen in the world today and a force, ISIL, and others that is an ideology that’s connected to an army, and it’s a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before like we have seen it now.
AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, you have written a book on ISIS, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. I just want to point out, as it has come as such a shock to people in the United States, you had time to write a whole book about who they are and their rise. But can you respond to what Hagel says? What has added to their surge of power now, and do you think that will change?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, as you said, they’d been growing in strength over the last two or three years. They captured Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, at the beginning of the year, and the Iraqi government didn’t have the power to get rid of them. That showed that they were growing. I think that Hagel—in fact, the U.S. government as a whole—and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq. Now Washington is saying, “We oppose ISIS in Iraq, but in Syria we want to get rid of the Syrian government,” which is the only real opposition to ISIS. So there’s a different policy towards ISIS in these two different countries. And just as before, ISIS will benefit from that difference.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick Cockburn, you’ve also said about ISIS that it’s made very few military mistakes. Could you explain what you think accounts for the extraordinary victories that it’s had in recent months in Iraq and Syria?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, I mean, it’s this blend, a rather terrifying blend, of extreme religious fanaticism combined with military expertise, and at times caution. Where does that expertise come from? I think it comes primarily from having fought in Iraq in 2004 to 2009 against the Iraqi Shia government and against the Americans, and again gaining experience in Syria. There’s probably the involvement of some former Saddam Hussein officers or special forces, people who have been well trained. But I think a lot of it is just military experience. And when you have a long war, the survivors who are still around and still fighting are probably pretty good at it.
AMY GOODMAN: In an interview with The Atlantic magazine, Hillary Clinton criticized President Obama’s policy on Syria. She said, quote, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” So this has become a big brouhaha. Hillary Clinton and President Obama will be meeting tonight at the house of Vernon Jordan. There’s a big party for Ann Jordan. Hillary Clinton’s people have put out that they’ll hug it out. David Axelrod has tweeted about the issue of stupid moves Hillary Clinton was talking about: Not making stupid moves is not a policy. President Obama, apparently, had talked about not making stupid moves. And David Axelrod said, “’Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision,” alluding to Hillary Clinton voting for the original attack on Iraq in 2003. But can you talk about this difference? It’s particularly significant, of course, because she is possibly running for president.
PATRICK COCKBURN: True. Yeah, I mean, I was—I’m pretty contemptuous of it, to be honest, because it’s opportunism by Hillary Clinton. And it’s nonsense. You know, the idea, which is very widespread, that there was a moment that, with a few more guns and ammunition, that a moderate Syrian opposition could have taken over in Syria in 2011 or ’12 or ’13, is just unreal. There are 14 provincial capitals of Syria. Assad held all of them until last year, when he lost one of them, Raqqa, toISIS, not to any of these moderates. These moderates are an endangered species on the battlefields of Syria. The opposition is now dominated—military opposition is dominated by ISIS. They hold a third of the country. But the other military opposition are people like Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the official representative of al-Qaeda, of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, and some other jihadi organizations. So this is sort of fantasy that there was a moderate Syrian military opposition which, with a bit more support from Obama, could have taken power in Damascus. It was never going to happen. It’s just sheer opportunism.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patrick Cockburn. He has a new book out; it’s called The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. We’ll come back with him in a minute, and then we’ll be speaking in Brazil with Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mohammed Saleh, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, I want to ask you about Obama having said that the military strikes in Iraq will not just last for a few weeks, it’s likely to be a longer fight. And I want to turn to comments that senior Pentagon official, Army Lieutenant General William Mayville, made. He was speaking to reporters on Monday about the U.S. military campaign in Iraq.
LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE: We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL’s operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil. However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIL remains focused on securing and gaining additional territory throughout Iraq and will sustain its attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and their positions, as well as target Yazidis, Christians and other minorities. … In the immediate areas where we have focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect. And—but I, in no—and we may have blunted some tactical decisions to move in those directions and move further east to Erbil. What I expect theISIL to do is to look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So, I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Lieutenant General Mayville speaking on Monday. So, Patrick Cockburn, could you talk about what you think the objectives and the length of this military campaign will be, given that the general has pointed out that the operation with regard to ISIS has not been by any means conclusive and also that Obama said that the operation would go far longer than a few weeks?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, they’re being cautious, and probably sensibly so. They want to stop the ISIS advance on Erbil, and they wanted to prop up Kurdish morale, and they probably have the same objectives in Baghdad. I mean, ISIS has been advancing around Baghdad. It took one important town a couple of days ago to the northeast. And it’s been getting stronger—and this is very important—in the towns to the south of Baghdad. So, in theory, they could cut it off. There are seven million people in Baghdad. But they could sort of besiege them, in which case I guess that Obama would want to prevent the fall of Baghdad, but doesn’t want to get sucked into a bigger war.
I mean, it’s important to realize that ISIS is really pretty—is not only strong but has a lot of territory now. It has an area probably greater than the size of Great Britain or the size of Michigan or some such U.S. state, stretching all the way from the Iranian border to just east of Aleppo. It probably has a population of five or six million. Now, how many fighters do they have? You know, maybe they probably had only about 6,000 to 10,000 fighters at the beginning of June. But an Iraqi security official told me that where the jihadis take over, where ISIS takes over, they recruit five or 10 new fighters for every one they had initially. So if they had—you know, so we’re probably up to 40,000 to 50,000 fighters now. So it’s an expanding and strengthening organization all the time. And it has arms to equip them—American arms in Iraq taken in Mosul, and Russian and other arms taken in recent victories that ISIS has had in Syria.
AMY GOODMAN: In an article in The Independent headlined “West’s ‘Mandate’ Limited by National Borders—and Don’t Dare Mention Oil,” your colleague Robert Fisk writes, quote, “recent reports suggest that current Kurdish oil production of 200,000 barrels a day will reach 250,000 next year—providing the boys from the caliphate are kept at bay, of course—which means, according to Reuters, that if Iraqi Kurdistan were a real country and not just a bit of Iraq, it would be among the top 10 oil-rich countries in the world.” Can you talk about that word that has not been talked about by the Obama administration—oil?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I think that it underlies everything. I mean, it’s—you know, why is there so much interest in the Middle East, in general, over the last century, you know? If the Middle East, if Saudi Arabia and Iraq, if Iraq was—I think the second-biggest export of Iraq used to be dates. If it was dates rather than oil, would there be such acute interest in what goes on in Iraq? Kurdistan doesn’t produce much, apart from some crude oil. So I think that’s true generally of the Middle East, and it’s true of Iraq, and it’s true of Syria. It’s worth pointing out that ISIS is very interested in oil and gas, and they’ve taken most of the oil and gas fields in Syria, and now they’ve taken some in Iraq. That’s how they’re funding their campaigns. They can’t sell it necessarily directly onto the market, but if you control the oil wells, you can, some point, if your price is low enough, you can generally get them to a refinery, and you can make money.
AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, what happens to companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think, you know, they were involved in Kurdistan. They were involved in the rest of Iraq. Some of the very biggest companies, like Exxon, they have resources elsewhere. But I think that there’s probably a feeling that what they’re expected from Iraq is going sour. It’s going sour in southern Iraq, the big superfields there, because they’re beginning to worry about security. And they’re right to do. I mean, this is a Shia area, but there’s a great, big western desert. ISIS could send forces to attack these oil fields. They’re not very well defended. And in Kurdistan, they thought, well, security is good here, and this was a sort of boom town. It was one of the few areas in the world that was booming in recent years—you know, big hotels in Erbil filled with oil executives and other company executives. And I often wondered—I sat in those hotels wondering if these guys know how far they are from Mosul. You know, they’re a half-hour car drive. I think that some of them may be noticing which part of the world these new oil fields are in and realizing just the extent of the insecurity of Kurdistan and Erbil, as well as Baghdad.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, before we conclude, I want to ask you about the role of Saudi Arabia in the rise of these Sunni militant movements. You’ve suggested that it’s not only because of financing, private financing principally from Saudi Arabia, that these groups have become as strong as they have, but also because of the ideology of Wahhabism that originates in Saudi Arabia. Could you explain what that is and how it spread?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, the Wahhabi ideology is very—has always been very similar to that of al-Qaeda. It’s a puritanical Islamic ideology, very bigoted. They’ve been blowing up shrines in Mosul. But the Saudi government has also been responsible for shrines being removed. In Bahrain in 2011, when a Saudi force entered to support the Bahraini government against a protest by the majority Shia community, they destroyed 20 to 30 Shia shrines and mosques. They bulldozed them. So, I think Wahhabism and the ideology of al-Qaeda and the ideology of ISIS today is very similar—Shia are regarded as heretics, so are Christians—that there isn’t that much difference. And this has had enormous impact, because it’s backed by Saudi Arabia’s enormous wealth. You know, if somebody wants to build a mosque in Bangladesh where it’s going to cost $30,000, where would he get $30,000? Normally it comes from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. So I think one of the most important things that’s happening in the world over the last 50 years is the way in which mainstream Sunni Islam, which is the religion of about one-and-a-half billion people in the world, has been increasingly colored and taken over by the very intolerant Wahhabi faith.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the U.S. government’s, you know, fierce opposition to Iran and close cozying up to Saudi Arabia, whether it’s President Obama, Clinton, the Bushes, of course, well known for that?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, this is—you know, after 9/11, all the links of the hijackers—15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. Bin Laden was part of the Saudi elite. U.S. investigations all showed that money had come from private donors in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. But they always ignored this. And I think it’s one of the reasons that al-Qaeda survived, and its ideology, its ideas and so forth have now been transmuted into ISIS. You know, it is extraordinary that you had this war of terror, and hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions of dollars spent on it by the U.S. and other governments, and 13 years later that there’s an al-Qaeda-type organization, worse in many ways than al-Qaeda, more violent than al-Qaeda, which has taken over a great chunk of the Middle East. I mean, this is a tremendous failure, and very little attention is being given to it.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick Cockburn, before we end, could you give us a sense of what your prognosis is for Syria and Iraq? You outlined it in your August 10th piece, “The End of a Country, and the Start of a New Dark Age.”
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, ISIS is very strong. It’s not going to evaporate. It’s not even necessarily going to get weaker. And it’s also at the cutting edge of a new sectarian war. It’s an organization that kills Shia, that kills Yazidis, that kills anybody who disagrees with it. So I think this is a—the wars that we’ve seen over the last 10 years in Iraq are expanding and going to get worse. ISIShas no plans to negotiate with anybody. Its ambitions are boundless. It wants to spread its faith to the whole world, not just the Muslim community. So, I think we’re in a new, more explosive era, far worse than anything that we’ve seen over the last 10 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Oxfam said something very similar today, saying Middle East is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in decades with over 28 million people in need of aid spread across Iraq, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen. Oxfam’s Jane Cocking said, quote, “In my entire career, I’ve never seen so much need in the Middle East. The crisis across the region has escalated over the last five weeks with the outbreak of conflict in Gaza and increasing violence in Iraq.” Would you agree, Patrick Cockburn?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And, you know, not just in Gaza and not just in Iraq, but look at the places in between. You know, there’s suddenly been a new level of fighting in eastern Lebanon. Though nobody much reports it these days, but there’s lots of fighting in Syria, with, you know, hundreds of people killed—thousands of people killed, and ISIS advancing, you know, getting very close to Aleppo now. So I think there’s a great swathe of violence, from the Iranian border right over to the Mediterranean, right down to Gaza. And it’s not getting any less. And I think that Washington, other foreign governments, they sort of are horrified by it. They’re kind of hoping it will go away. They disclaim responsibility for it. They’re not really changing their policy. And they can’t think how to stop it.
AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, we want to thank you for being with us, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, was in Baghdad last month. His new book is called The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. He was speaking to us from Cork, Ireland. When we come back, we go to Brazil to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.