Saving Raif Badawi: We Are Prepared to Present Ourselves, Also Give Him the Nobel Peace Prize February 5, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia.
Tags: 9/11, abby zimet, nobel peace, raif badawi, roger hollander, saudi arabia, saudi blogger, torture
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Roger’s note: Saudi Arabian government, not exactly a democracy but great friend and ally of the United States and long standing closeness to the Bush family. Evidence coming out that they financed the 9/11 attack, which we know was carried out largely by Saudis. With friends like that …
While the fate of jailed Saudi blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi remains unclear – officials have twice postponed the next round of a 1,000-lash punishment advocates deem a death sentence dragged out over 20 weeks – the movement to free him escalates. Along with global protests and campaigns, a group of U.S. intellectuals have offered to take his lashes and two Norwegian politicians have nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize as “a beacon of light.”
Badawi was publicly flogged with 50 lashes on January 9 in Jiddah, the start of a 10-year, 1,000-lash sentence for “insulting” Islam with his website Free Saudi Liberals. Badawi’s lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in prison. Last week, his scheduled flogging was postponed for the third time, reportedly for health reasons. His wife, who with their three children has been granted political asylum in Quebec, says his health continues to deteriorate. The ongoing movement to free him has included protests in Europe and Canada, social media campaigns by Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and an open letter from 18 international Nobel laureates to Saudi academics urging them to condemn Badawi’s punishment and the repression it represents. Last week, the new Saudi regime released a royal decree offering pardons to some prisoners convicted of “public rights” charges – pardons that usually require giving up the right to free expression – but it’s unclear if Badawi was among them. And this week his case, which had been referred to the Supreme Court in December, got sent back again to the Court of Appeals.
Amidst the legal maneuvering, two members of the Norwegian Parliament, Snorre Valen and Karin Andersen, have nominated both Badawi and his attorney Waleed Abu al-Khair for the Nobel Peace Prize, arguing their longtime “commitment (to) challenging the suppression of free thought, speech and expression in a peaceful manner… should be recognized and embraced…as a beacon of light for those who crave more liberties in one of the last functioning theocracies in the modern world. Their announcement in a petition
urged Saudi officials to “put a halt to this grave injustice.” But “if your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi,” they said, “we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him.” They were offering “to present ourselves,” they add, because “compassion, a virtue honored in Islam as well as in Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths, is defined as ‘suffering with another.’ We are persons of different faiths, yet we are united in a sense of obligation to condemn and resist injustice and to suffer with its victims.” One member of the group stressed he only signed the letter once he felt “genuinely committed” to going through with taking the lashes, meaning he had to ponder “what it means to sacrifice for others in the fight for justice…What does it mean to say, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’”?Commission on International Religious Freedom. In an open letter to the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC, they sorrowfully
Saudi’s Perfidy: Ten Years In Prison and 1,000 Lashes In Public For Seeking to “Respect the Differences Among Us” January 15, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Saudi Arabia.
Tags: abby zimit, human rights, islam, medea benjamin, raif badawi, religion, saudi arabia
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Roger’s note: Where is the outcry? Where are the headlines? Where is the righteous indignation? Oh, I forgot. Saudi Arabia is an American ally, its barbarism doesn’t count.
The same day the Saudi Arabian Ambassador marched in Paris against the attack on Charlie Hebdo and free speech, his country – the one that regularly persecutes and jails writers, artists, activists and intellectuals for expressing their views, that seeks to try women drivers as terrorists, and that just declared a fatwa against snowmen – dragged blogger Raif Badawi shackled from his jail cell and flogged him 50 times in the public square at Jeddah’s al-Jafali mosque for “insulting Islam” through his website, Saudi Arabian Liberals, which offered social and political debate. It was the first of 20 such scheduled “severe” floggings, to total 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks. Badawi’s sentence last May also called for ten years in prison, a ten-year travel ban, a hefty fine and a lifetime ban from media outlets. His lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The sentence and lashings have prompted international outrage, a sustained campaign by Amnesty International, #FreeRaif and #RaifBadawi campaigns online, a tepid response from a U.S. State Department that is “greatly concerned” and a likewise mild response from Canada – where Badawi’s wife and children have settled in Montreal after receiving political asylum – which says it has “raised his case…as part of an ongoing, respectful dialogue” with the Saudis. Today, supporters held a vigil in Montreal, where they and Badawi’s family demanded he be freed. Yesterday, he marked his 31st birthday in jail. On Friday, presumably, he will once more be dragged from his cell and publicly, severely whipped 50 times. His wife worries he will not survive many more. In one of his last blog posts, insisting that “as part of humanity” we all have the same duties and the same rights, he urged, “Let us all live under the roof of human civilization.” Help him to live, period, here.
Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar
“Flogging for Blogging” Official Saudi Policy
On January 9, two days after the massive Paris march condemning the brutal attack on freedom of the press, a young Saudi prisoner named Raif Badawi was removed from his cell in shackles and taken to a public square in Jeddah. There he was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators who had just finished midday prayers. The 50 lashes—labeled by Amnesty International a “vicious act of cruelty”—was the first installment on his sentence of 1,000 floggings, as well as ten years in prison and a fine of $266,000. Badawi’s crime? Blogging.
The father of three young children, Badawi hosted the website known as Free Saudi Liberals, a forum intended to promote a lively exchange of ideas among Saudis. Badawi wrote about the advantages of separating religion and state, asserting that secularism was “the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.” He accused Saudi clerics and the government of distorting Islam to promote authoritarianism. Unlike the Saudi rulers, Badawi cheered the Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak, calling it a decisive turning point not only for Egypt but “everywhere that is governed by the Arab mentality of dictatorship.”
In mid-2012, Badawi was arrested for his blogs, including an article in which he was accused of ridiculing the kingdom’s religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. He was also charged for failing to remove “offensive posts” written by others. The prosecution originally called for him to be tried for “apostasy”, or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.
If nothing changes, Raif Badawi will be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks. And he will not see his wife or children for ten years, who were forced to flee to Canada to avoid public harassment at home.
Badawi’s case is not unique. In 2014, Reporters Without Borders describes the government as “relentless in its censorship of the Saudi media and the Internet”, and ranked Saudi Arabia 164th out of 180 countries for freedom of the press.
Last year, four members of the group Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, an organization documenting human rights abuses and calling for democratic reform, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 to 10 years. The fourth member sentenced was Omar al-Saeed, who was handed four years in prison and 300 lashes because he called for a constitutional monarchy.
Or look at the case of another human rights lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khair, in prison since 2012. Just this week, on January 13, a Saudi court increased his prison term from 10 to 15 years after he refused to show remorse or recognize the court that handed down his original 10-year term for sedition. Al-Khair, founder of Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) and legal counsel for blogger Badawi, was convicted on charges of disrespecting King Abdullah and the Saudi authorities.
Saudi Arabia also remains the only country in the world to maintain a ban on women drivers. According to this law, women are strictly restricted to the passenger seat of vehicles. This ban is so harshly imposed that two women, 25-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul and 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi, were not only arrested for driving to the United Arab Emirates, but they were also referred to be tried by a terrorism court. In the past, punishments for women drivers have included loss of jobs, passport revocation, and even floggings.
The US government’s response to these egregious and inhumane punishments from its ally usually takes the form of a US State Department spokesperson expressing “concern.” But there is no major public condemnation. No threats of cutting arms sales. No sanctions against government officials. The US government basically turns a blind eye to the medieval forms of torture the Saudis still mete out.
One major reason is oil. Since before World War II, the United States has viewed Saudi Arabia as a strategic source of petroleum. In 1933, the Arab American Company (ARAMCO) was established as a joint venture by both countries. Currently, Saudi Arabia is the second largest supplier of petroleum to the United States.
With the money it receives from oil, the Saudi government purchases vast amounts of weaponry from the United States. In 2010, the US government announced it has concluded a deal to sell $60 billion of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia—the largest US arms sale deal in history. One use of US tanks was seen in Bahrain, where the Saudis intervened to crush a democratic uprising against the Bahraini monarchy.
There’s now Congressional legislation being introduced to declassify a 28-page section of the 9/11 Senate report which allegedly exposes the direct role of the Saudi government in the Twin Tower attacks on 9/11. After all, Saudi Arabia supplied 15 out of the 19 9/11 hijackers and was the home of Osama bin Laden. Saudi Arabia exports the radical version of Islam, Wahhabism, that fuels extremism throughout the Middle East. Saudi Arabia treats its women as second-class citizens. Saudi Arabia is the capital of beheadings, with the government carrying out 87 public beheadings in 2013 and nine already this year.
Being the world’s top oil provider does not give a country the right to dehumanize its own people. The US is certainly no model for respecting freedom of expression – as we saw in the streets of Ferguson where peaceful protesters were teargassed and beaten – but it shouldn’t overlook the human rights abuses carried out by a country that imprisons, tortures and executes its citizens simply for speaking their minds. This Friday, when Raif will once again be subjected to 50 lashes, take a moment to call the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC (202-342-3800, then press “3” for the Public Affairs office and tell them: “Free speech is not, and should never be, a punishable crime. Je suis Raif!”
Why Obama Rejected Peace With Iran October 24, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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
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.
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.
Which Syrian Chemical Attack Account Is More Credible? September 2, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
Tags: assad, chemical weapons, Colin Powell, Dale Gavlak, ghouta, jim naureckas, john kerry, Mnar Muhawesh, Prince Banda, putin, roger hollander, sarin gas, saudi arabia, Syria, syrian rebels, Yahya Ababneh
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Let’s compare a couple of accounts of the mass deaths apparently caused by chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21. One account comes from the U.S. government (8/30/13), introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry. The other was published by a Minnesota-based news site called Mint Press News (8/29/13).
The government account expresses “high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack” on August 21. The Mint report bore the headline “Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack.” Which of these two versions should we find more credible?
The U.S. government, of course, has a track record that will incline informed observers to approach its claims with skepticism–particularly when it’s making charges about the proscribed weapons of official enemies. Kerry said in his address that “our intelligence community” has been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”–as should be anyone listening to Kerry’s presentation, because the Iraq experience informs us that secretaries of State can express great confidence about matters that they are completely wrong about, and that U.S. intelligence assessments can be based on distortion of evidence and deliberate suppression of contradictory facts.
Comparing Kerry’s presentation on Syria and its accompanying document to Colin Powell’s speech to the UN on Iraq, though, one is struck by how little specific evidence was included in the case for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. It gives the strong impression of being pieced together from drone surveillance and NSA intercepts, supplemented by Twitter messages and YouTube videos, rather than from on-the-ground reporting or human intelligence. Much of what is offered tries to establish that the victims in Ghouta had been exposed to chemical weapons–a question that indeed had been in some doubt, but had already largely been settled by a report by Doctors Without Borders that reported that thousands of people in the Damascus area had been treated for “neurotoxic symptoms.”
On the critical question of who might be responsible for such a chemical attack, Kerry’s presentation was much more vague and circumstantial. A key point in the government’s white paper is “the detection of rocket launches from regime-controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media.” It’s unclear why this is supposed to be persuasive. Do rockets take 90 minutes to reach their targets? Does nerve gas escape from rockets 90 minutes after impact, or, once released, take 90 minutes to cause symptoms?
In a conflict as conscious of the importance of communication as the Syrian Civil War, do citizen journalists wait an hour and a half before reporting an enormous development–the point at which, as Kerry put it, “all hell broke loose in the social media”? Unless there’s some reason to expect this kind of a delay, it’s very unclear why we should think there’s any connection at all between the allegedly observed rocket launches and the later reports of mass poisoning.
When the evidence isn’t circumstantial, it’s strikingly vague: “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the UN inspectors obtaining evidence,” the report asserts. Taken at face value, it’s one of the most damning claims in the government’s report–a veritable confession. But how was the identity of this official established? And what exactly did they say that “confirmed” chemical weapons use? Recall that Powell played tapes of Iraqi officials supposedly talking about concealing evidence of banned weapons from inspectors–which turned out to show nothing of the kind. But Powell at least played tapes of the intercepted communication, even as he spun and misrepresented their contents–allowing for the possibility of an independent interpretation of these messages. Perhaps “mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry allows for no such interpretation.
Another key claim is asserted without substantiation: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21, near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.” How were these personnel identified, and what were the signs of their operations? How was this place identified as an area used to mix sarin? Here again the information provided was far less detailed than what Powell gave to the UN: Powell’s presentation included satellite photographs of sites where proscribed weapons were being made, with an explanation of what they revealed to “experts with years and years of experience”: “The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions,” he said, pointing to an annotated photograph of bunkers that turned out to be storing no such thing. Powell’s presentation graphically demonstrated that US intelligence analysts are fallible, which is part of why presenting bare assertions without any of the raw materials used to derive those conclusions should not be very convincing.
Kerry did offer an explanation for why the report was so cursory: “In order to protect sources and methods, some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress, the representatives of the American people. That means that some things we do know, we can’t talk about publicly.” It is not clear, however, why intelligence methods that produced visual and audible evidence that could be shared with the public 10 years ago cannot be similarly utilized today. It does point to why the $52 billion the United States spends on surveillance annually, according to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Washington Post, 8/29/13), provides relatively little information that’s of value to American democracy: The collection of information is considered so much more valuable than the information collected that it rarely if ever can be used to inform a public debate. Instead, as we discuss the dreadful question of whether to launch a military attack on another country, we are offered an undemocratic “trust us” from the most secretive parts of our government–an offer that history warns us to be extremely wary of.
Unlike the U.S. government, Mint does not have much of a track record, having been founded only about a year and a half ago (CJR, 3/28/12). The founder of the for-profit startup is Mnar Muhawesh, a 24-year-old Palestinian-American woman who believes, reasonably enough, that “our media has absolutely failed our country” (MinnPost, 1/18/12). One of its two reporters on its Syrian chemical weapons piece, Dale Gavlak, is a longtime Associated Press Mideast stringer who has also done work for NPR and the BBC. AP was one of the few US corporate media outlets to question official assertions about Iraqi WMDs, contrasting Powell’s assertions with what could be discerned from on-the-ground reporting (Extra!, 3-4/06).
Mint takes a similar approach to the Syrian story, with a reporter in Ghouta–not Gavlak but Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian freelancer and journalism grad student–who “spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.” The article reports that “many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out” the chemical attack. The recipients of the chemical weapons are said to be Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda-linked rebel faction that was caught possessing sarin nerve gas in Turkey, according to Turkish press reports (OE Watch, 7/13).
Mint quotes Abu Abdel-Moneim, described as the father of a rebel killed in the chemical weapons attacks, as saying that his son had described carrying unconventional weapons provided by Saudi Arabia to underground storage tunnels–a “tubelike structure” and a “huge gas bottle.” A rebel leader identified as J describes the release of toxic weaponry as accidental, saying, “Some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” Another rebel referred to as K complains, “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them.”
Of course, independent media accounts are not necessarily more credible than official reports–or vice versa. As with the government white paper, there are gaps in the Mint account; while Abdel-Moneim cites his late son’s account of carrying chemical weapons, the rebels quoted do not indicate how they came to know what they say they know about the origin of the weapons. But unlike the government, Mint is honest about the limits of its knowledge: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified,” the story admits. “Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”
This humility about the difficulty of reporting on a covert, invisible attack in the midst of a chaotic civil war actually adds to the credibility of the Mint account. It’s those who are most certain about matters of which they clearly lack firsthand knowledge who should make us most skeptical.
Clarification: Dale Gavlak assisted in the research and writing process of this article, but was not on the ground in Syria. Reporter Yahya Ababneh, with whom the report was written in collaboration, was the correspondent on the ground in Ghouta who spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.
Gavlak is a MintPress News Middle East correspondent who has been freelancing for the AP as a Amman, Jordan correspondent for nearly a decade. This report is not an Associated Press article; rather it is exclusive to MintPress News.
Ghouta, Syria — As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit.
Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.
The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”
However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.
“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”
Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.
“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”
“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.
A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,” he said.
“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said.
Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.
The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.
More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.
In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad.
Ingersoll referred to an article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.
“Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote.
“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Bandar allegedly told the Russians.
“Along with Saudi officials, the U.S. allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise,” Ingersoll wrote.
“Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves this guy,” he added.
According to U.K.’s Independent newspaper, it was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first brought allegations of the use of sarin gas by the regime to the attention of Western allies in February.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the CIA realized Saudi Arabia was “serious” about toppling Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar to lead the effort.
“They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout,” it said.
Bandar has been advancing Saudi Arabia’s top foreign policy goal, WSJ reported, of defeating Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.
To that aim, Bandar worked Washington to back a program to arm and train rebels out of a planned military base in Jordan.
The newspaper reports that he met with the “uneasy Jordanians about such a base”:
His meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah sometimes ran to eight hours in a single sitting. “The king would joke: ‘Oh, Bandar’s coming again? Let’s clear two days for the meeting,’ ” said a person familiar with the meetings.
Jordan’s financial dependence on Saudi Arabia may have given the Saudis strong leverage. An operations center in Jordan started going online in the summer of 2012, including an airstrip and warehouses for arms. Saudi-procured AK-47s and ammunition arrived, WSJ reported, citing Arab officials.
Although Saudi Arabia has officially maintained that it supported more moderate rebels, the newspaper reported that “funds and arms were being funneled to radicals on the side, simply to counter the influence of rival Islamists backed by Qatar.”
But rebels interviewed said Prince Bandar is referred to as “al-Habib” or ‘the lover’ by al-Qaida militants fighting in Syria.
Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, has issued a word of caution about Washington’s rush to punish the Assad regime with so-called ‘limited’ strikes not meant to overthrow the Syrian leader but diminish his capacity to use chemical weapons:
Consider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them.
It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a U.N. commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.
Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates .
Dale Gavlak is a Middle East correspondent for Mint Press News and has reported from Amman, Jordan, writing for the Associated Press, NPR and BBC. An expert in Middle Eastern affairs, Gavlak covers the Levant region, writing on topics including politics, social issues and economic trends. Dale holds a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Contact Dale at email@example.com
Yahya Ababneh is a Jordanian freelance journalist and is currently working on a master’s degree in journalism, He has covered events in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Libya. His stories have appeared on Amman Net, Saraya News, Gerasa News and elsewhere.
Syrian War of Lies and Hypocrisy July 29, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: ahmadinejad, assad, bbc, hezbollan, hillary clinton, Iran, Middle East, Obama, panetta, qatar, robert fisk, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, syria rebels, syria torture
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The West’s real target here is not Assad’s brutal regime but his ally, Iran, and its nuclear weapons
Has there ever been a Middle Eastern war of such hypocrisy? A war of such cowardice and such mean morality, of such false rhetoric and such public humiliation? I’m not talking about the physical victims of the Syrian tragedy. I’m referring to the utter lies and mendacity of our masters and our own public opinion – eastern as well as western – in response to the slaughter, a vicious pantomime more worthy of Swiftian satire than Tolstoy or Shakespeare.
Is he the US’s real target? Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
While Qatar and Saudi Arabia arm and fund the rebels of Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite/Shia-Baathist dictatorship, Washington mutters not a word of criticism against them. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, say they want a democracy in Syria. But Qatar is an autocracy and Saudi Arabia is among the most pernicious of caliphate-kingly-dictatorships in the Arab world. Rulers of both states inherit power from their families – just as Bashar has done – and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Salafist-Wahabi rebels in Syria, just as it was the most fervent supporter of the medieval Taliban during Afghanistan’s dark ages.
Indeed, 15 of the 19 hijacker-mass murderers of 11 September, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia – after which, of course, we bombed Afghanistan. The Saudis are repressing their own Shia minority just as they now wish to destroy the Alawite-Shia minority of Syria. And we believe Saudi Arabia wants to set up a democracy in Syria?
Then we have the Shia Hezbollah party/militia in Lebanon, right hand of Shia Iran and supporter of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. For 30 years, Hezbollah has defended the oppressed Shias of southern Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They have presented themselves as the defenders of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza. But faced with the slow collapse of their ruthless ally in Syria, they have lost their tongue. Not a word have they uttered – nor their princely Sayed Hassan Nasrallah – about the rape and mass murder of Syrian civilians by Bashar’s soldiers and “Shabiha” militia.
Then we have the heroes of America – La Clinton, the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Obama himself. Clinton issues a “stern warning” to Assad. Panetta – the same man who repeated to the last US forces in Iraq that old lie about Saddam’s connection to 9/11 – announces that things are “spiralling out of control” in Syria. They have been doing that for at least six months. Has he just realized? And then Obama told us last week that “given the regime’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad … that the world is watching”. Now, was it not a County Cork newspaper called the Skibbereen Eagle, fearful of Russia’s designs on China, which declared that it was “keeping an eye … on the Tsar of Russia”? Now it is Obama’s turn to emphasize how little clout he has in the mighty conflicts of the world. How Bashar must be shaking in his boots.
But what US administration would really want to see Bashar’s atrocious archives of torture opened to our gaze? Why, only a few years ago, the Bush administration was sending Muslims to Damascus for Bashar’s torturers to tear their fingernails out for information, imprisoned at the US government’s request in the very hell-hole which Syrian rebels blew to bits last week. Western embassies dutifully supplied the prisoners’ tormentors with questions for the victims. Bashar, you see, was our baby.
Saudi ally: Hillary Clinton at a conference with the Saudi foreign minister on plans for a Gulf missile shield against the Iranians.
Then there’s that neighboring country which owes us so much gratitude: Iraq. Last week, it suffered in one day 29 bombing attacks in 19 cities, killing 111 civilian and wounding another 235. The same day, Syria’s bloodbath consumed about the same number of innocents. But Iraq was “down the page” from Syria, buried “below the fold”, as we journalists say; because, of course, we gave freedom to Iraq, Jeffersonian democracy, etc, etc, didn’t we? So this slaughter to the east of Syria didn’t have quite the same impact, did it? Nothing we did in 2003 led to Iraq’s suffering today. Right?
And talking of journalism, who in BBC World News decided that even the preparations for the Olympics should take precedence all last week over Syrian outrages? British newspapers and the BBC in Britain will naturally lead with the Olympics as a local story. But in a lamentable decision, the BBC – broadcasting “world” news to the world – also decided that the passage of the Olympic flame was more important than dying Syrian children, even when it has its own courageous reporter sending his dispatches directly from Aleppo.
Then, of course, there’s us, our dear liberal selves who are so quick to fill the streets of London in protest at the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. Rightly so, of course. When our political leaders are happy to condemn Arabs for their savagery but too timid to utter a word of the mildest criticism when the Israeli army commits crimes against humanity – or watches its allies do it in Lebanon – ordinary people have to remind the world that they are not as timid as the politicians. But when the scorecard of death in Syria reaches 15,000 or 19,000 – perhaps 14 times as many fatalities as in Israel’s savage 2008-2009 onslaught on Gaza – scarcely a single protester, save for Syrian expatriates abroad, walks the streets to condemn these crimes against humanity. Israel’s crimes have not been on this scale since 1948. Rightly or wrongly, the message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the West and its Israeli allies; but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.
And all the while, we forget the “big” truth. That this is an attempt to crush the Syrian dictatorship not because of our love for Syrians or our hatred of our former friend Bashar al-Assad, or because of our outrage at Russia, whose place in the pantheon of hypocrites is clear when we watch its reaction to all the little Stalingrads across Syria. No, this is all about Iran and our desire to crush the Islamic Republic and its infernal nuclear plans – if they exist – and has nothing to do with human rights or the right to life or the death of Syrian babies. Quelle horreur!
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.
Tags: Canada, cartagena summit, china, Cuba, democracy, Humor, oas, political satire, president obama, roger hollander, satire, saudi arabia, Stephen Harper, trade embargo, white houe correspondent
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In one of the most bizarre moments ever witnessed at a presidential news conference, President Obama was taken aback when confronted by the former doyenne and rare iconoclast amongst White House correspondents Helen Thomas. The latter, who had lost her credentials for anti-Israel comments, apparently was able to enter the presidential briefing disguised as New York times columnist David Brooks. Just returned from his highly successful Cartagena Summit, where only a handful of his Secret Service protectors got caught underpaying Colombian hookers (in violation of the principles of the proposed US Colombia free trade agreement and the War on Sin), the President re-iterated his opposition to Cuba’s participation in the OAS (where only 33 Latin American presidents stood up against the US and Canada, in other words, a technical minority).
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Cuba, unlike the other countries that are participating, has not yet moved to democracy, has not yet observed basic human rights. I am hopeful that a transition begins to take place inside of Cuba. And I assure you that I and the American people will welcome the time when the Cuban people have the freedom to live their lives, choose their leaders, and fully participate in this global economy and international institutions.
It was at this point that Thomas qua Brooks went where no White House correspondent had gone before and asked the President how Cuba was any different on human rights violations and democracy than major US trading partners China and Saudi Arabia. President Obama, a legal scholar and a man known for transparency, honesty and loose change you can believe in, responded with: “Oh my God, you’re right. I hadn’t noticed.”
The President then surprised everyone by postponing the rest of the conference so that he could confer with his economic advisors to consider this new information.
Several hours later the President returned to announce trade sanctions against the undemocratic and totalitarian regimes of China and Saudi Arabia. In his statement Obama belittled the loss of Saudi oil, saying that it only represents 11% of US imports and that could be made up by draining more oil from our loyal Canadian neighbors, where the Harper Conservative government (a government with an absolute majority in parliament despite only 40% of the popular vote — a singular strength of Canadian democracy) was the only support against the Latin American ingrates ganging up against North American largesse in Cartagena. The President added that he had his eyes on all that Canadian fresh water as well.
The President admitted, however, that the Chinese embargo might present more of a problem for Americans in that amongst China’s major exports to the United States included apparel, footwear and toys and sports equipment. “As with our successful interventions to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan”, the President noted, “the American people have shown themselves to be more than willing to make sacrifices in the name of democracy.” The President added that he was particularly concerned about the loss of toys for American children, the vast majority of which come from totalitarian, undemocratic, Communist China (thanks to that notorious pinko Richard Nixon). He therefore announced that his government would be buying up all the toy outlets from the nation’s number one toy retailer and renaming it Democracy “R” Us. Children from every nook and corner of America will be invited to learn about democracy in sessions where they will debate and vote on resolutions authored by lobbyists from the military and major corporations including arms manufacturers, big Pharma, Dick Cheney’s oil buddies, the prison-industrial complex, major HMOs and other paragons of American democracy.
When asked for a comment, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stated that he was too busy trying to find a way to convince Evangelical Christians that Mormonism is not a cult and that his grandparents probably were not polygamists to be able to make a statement at the moment. He added, however, that we could count on hearing at least two conflicting opinions from him in the near future.
Who Cares in the Middle East What Obama Says? May 30, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: 1967 borders, algeria, arab revolts, arab revolutions, arab spring, bahrain, bouteflika, egypt, gaza, hamas, intifada, Iran, israel, israeli settlements, jewish state, jordan, kurds, libya, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, netanyahu, Obama, Palestine, palestine papers, palestinian statehood, Palestinians, qatar, robert fisk, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, tunisia, turkey, yemen
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Roger’s note: I don’t think you will find a better commentary on the situation in the Middle East than what follows. Robert Fisk, who has lived in and written about the Middle East for decades, is an amazing journalist, unfortunately a rare breed (at least in North America).
This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America’s new role in the region. It was pathetic. “What is this ‘role’ thing?” an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. “Do they still believe we care about what they think?”
And it is true. Obama’s failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab “spring”, save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain’s cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.
Turkey is furious with Assad because he twice promised to speak of reform and democratic elections – and then failed to honour his word. The Turkish government has twice flown delegations to Damascus and, according to the Turks, Assad lied to the foreign minister on the second visit, baldly insisting that he would recall his brother Maher’s legions from the streets of Syrian cities. He failed to do so. The torturers continue their work.
Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that it has drawn up its own secret plans to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria itself to carve out a “safe area” for Syrian refugees inside Assad’s caliphate. The Turks are prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian border town of Al Qamishli – perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour (the old desert killing fields of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, though speak it not) – to provide a “safe haven” for those fleeing the slaughter in Syria’s cities.
The Qataris are meanwhile trying to prevent Algeria from resupplying Gaddafi with tanks and armoured vehicles – this was one of the reasons why the Emir of Qatar, the wisest bird in the Arabian Gulf, visited the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week. Qatar is committed to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi; its planes are flying over Libya from Crete and – undisclosed until now – it has Qatari officers advising the rebels inside the city of Misrata in western Libya; but if Algerian armour is indeed being handed over to Gaddafi to replace the material that has been destroyed in air strikes, it would account for the ridiculously slow progress which the Nato campaign is making against Gaddafi.
Of course, it all depends on whether Bouteflika really controls his army – or whether the Algerian “pouvoir”, which includes plenty of secretive and corrupt generals, are doing the deals. Algerian equipment is superior to Gaddafi’s and thus for every tank he loses, Ghaddafi might be getting an improved model to replace it. Below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya share a 750-mile desert frontier, an easy access route for weapons to pass across the border.
But the Qataris are also attracting Assad’s venom. Al Jazeera’s concentration on the Syrian uprising – its graphic images of the dead and wounded far more devastating than anything our soft western television news shows would dare broadcast – has Syrian state television nightly spitting at the Emir and at the state of Qatar. The Syrian government has now suspended up to £4 billion of Qatari investment projects, including one belonging to the Qatar Electricity and Water Company.
Amid all these vast and epic events – Yemen itself may yet prove to be the biggest bloodbath of all, while the number of Syria’s “martyrs” have now exceeded the victims of Mubarak’s death squads five months ago – is it any surprise that the frolics of Messrs Netanyahu and Obama appear so irrelevant? Indeed, Obama’s policy towards the Middle East – whatever it is – sometimes appears so muddled that it is scarcely worthy of study. He supports, of course, democracy – then admits that this may conflict with America’s interests. In that wonderful democracy called Saudi Arabia, the US is now pushing ahead with a £40 billion arms deal and helping the Saudis to develop a new “elite” force to protect the kingdom’s oil and future nuclear sites. Hence Obama’s fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, two of whose three leading brothers are now so incapacitated that they can no longer make sane decisions – unfortunately, one of these two happens to be King Abdullah – and his willingness to allow the Assad family’s atrocity-prone regime to survive. Of course, the Israelis would far prefer the “stability” of the Syrian dictatorship to continue; better the dark caliphate you know than the hateful Islamists who might emerge from the ruins. But is this argument really good enough for Obama to support when the people of Syria are dying in the streets for the kind of democracy that the US president says he wants to see in the region?
One of the vainest elements of American foreign policy towards the Middle East is the foundational idea that the Arabs are somehow more stupid than the rest of us, certainly than the Israelis, more out of touch with reality than the West, that they don’t understand their own history. Thus they have to be preached at, lectured, and cajoled by La Clinton and her ilk – much as their dictators did and do, father figures guiding their children through life. But Arabs are far more literate than they were a generation ago; millions speak perfect English and can understand all too well the political weakness and irrelevance in the president’s words. Listening to Obama’s 45-minute speech this month – the “kick off’ to four whole days of weasel words and puffery by the man who tried to reach out to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago, and then did nothing – one might have thought that the American President had initiated the Arab revolts, rather than sat on the sidelines in fear.
There was an interesting linguistic collapse in the president’s language over those critical four days. On Thursday 19 May, he referred to the continuation of Israeli “settlements”. A day later, Netanyahu was lecturing him on “certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground”. Then when Obama addressed the American Aipac lobby group (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on the Sunday, he had cravenly adopted Netanyahu’s own preposterous expression. Now he, too, spoke of “new demographic realities on the ground.” Who would believe that he was talking about internationally illegal Jewish colonies built on land stolen from Arabs in one of the biggest property heists in the history of “Palestine”? Delay in peace-making will undermine Israeli security, Obama announced – apparently unaware that Netanyahu’s project is to go on delaying and delaying and delaying until there is no land left for the “viable” Palestinian state which the United States and the European Union supposedly wish to see.
Then we had the endless waffle about the 1967 borders. Netanyahu called them “defenceless” (though they seemed to have been pretty defendable for the 18 years prior to the Six Day War) and Obama – oblivious to the fact that Israel must be the only country in the world to have an eastern land frontier but doesn’t know where it is – then says he was misunderstood when he talked about 1967. It doesn’t matter what he says. George W Bush caved in years ago when he gave Ariel Sharon a letter which stated America’s acceptance of “already existing major Israeli population centres” beyond the 1967 lines. To those Arabs prepared to listen to Obama’s spineless oration, this was a grovel too far. They simply could not understand the reaction of Netanyahu’s address to Congress. How could American politicians rise and applaud Netanyahu 55 times – 55 times – with more enthusiasm than one of the rubber parliaments of Assad, Saleh and the rest?
And what on earth did the Great Speechifier mean when he said that “every country has the right to self-defence” but that Palestine would be “demilitarised”? What he meant was that Israel could go on attacking the Palestinians (as in 2009, for example, when Obama was treacherously silent) while the Palestinians would have to take what was coming to them if they did not behave according to the rules – because they would have no weapons to defend themselves. As for Netanyahu, the Palestinians must choose between unity with Hamas or peace with Israel. All of which was very odd. When there was no unity, Netanyahu told us all that he had no Palestinian interlocutor because the Palestinians were disunited. Yet when they unite, they are disqualified from peace talks.
Of course, cynicism grows the longer you live in the Middle East. I recall, for example, travelling to Gaza in the early 1980s when Yasser Arafat was running his PLO statelet in Beirut. Anxious to destroy Arafat’s prestige in the occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to give its support to an Islamist group in Gaza called Hamas. In fact, I actually saw with my own eyes the head of the Israeli army’s Southern Command negotiating with bearded Hamas officials, giving them permission to build more mosques. It’s only fair to say, of course, that we were also busy at the time, encouraging a certain Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. But the Israelis did not give up on Hamas. They later held another meeting with the organisation in the West Bank; the story was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post the next day. But there wasn’t a whimper from the Americans.
Then another moment that I can recall over the long years. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members – all Palestinians – were, in the early 1990s, thrown across the Israeli border into southern Lebanon where they spent more than a year camping on a freezing mountainside. I would visit them from time to time and on one occasion mentioned that I would be travelling to Israel next day. Immediately, one of the Hamas men ran to his tent and returned with a notebook. He then proceeded to give me the home telephone numbers of three senior Israeli politicians – two of whom are still prominent today – and, when I reached Jerusalem and called the numbers, they all turned out to be correct. In other words, the Israeli government had been in personal and direct contact with Hamas.
But now the narrative has been twisted out of all recognition. Hamas are the super-terrorists, the “al-Qa’ida” representatives in the unified Palestinian leadership, the men of evil who will ensure that no peace ever takes place between Palestinians and Israeli. If only this were true, the real al-Qa’ida would be more than happy to take responsibility. But it is not true. In the same context, Obama stated that the Palestinians would have to answer questions about Hamas. But why should they? What Obama and Netanyahu think about Hamas is now irrelevant to them. Obama warns the Palestinians not to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September. But why on earth not? If the people of Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Libya and Syria – we are all waiting for the next revolution (Jordan? Bahrain again? Morocco?) – can fight for freedom and dignity, why shouldn’t the Palestinians? Lectured for decades on the need for non-violent protest, the Palestinians elect to go to the UN with their cry for legitimacy – only to be slapped down by Obama.
Having read all of the “Palestine Papers” which Al-Jazeera revealed, there is no doubt that “Palestine’s” official negotiators will go to any lengths to produce some kind of statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to write a 600-page book on the “peace process” without once mentioning the word “occupation”, could even cave in over the UN project, fearful of Obama’s warning that it would be an attempt to “isolate” Israel and thus de-legitimise the Israeli state – or “the Jewish state” as the US president now calls it. But Netanyahu is doing more than anyone to delegitimise his own state; indeed, he is looking more and more like the Arab buffoons who have hitherto littered the Middle East. Mubarak saw a “foreign hand” in the Egyptian revolution (Iran, of course). So did the Crown Prince of Bahrain (Iran again). So did Gaddafi (al-Qa’ida, western imperialism, you name it), So did Saleh of Yemen (al-Qa’ida, Mossad and America). So did Assad of Syria (Islamism, probably Mossad, etc). And so does Netanyahu (Iran, naturally enough, Syria, Lebanon, just about anyone you can think of except for Israel itself).
But as this nonsense continues, so the tectonic plates shudder. I doubt very much if the Palestinians will remain silent. If there’s an “intifada” in Syria, why not a Third Intifada in “Palestine”? Not a struggle of suicide bombers but of mass, million-strong protests. If the Israelis have to shoot down a mere few hundred demonstrators who tried – and in some cases succeeded – in crossing the Israeli border almost two weeks ago, what will they do if confronted by thousands or a million. Obama says no Palestinian state must be declared at the UN. But why not? Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says? Not even, it seems, the Israelis. The Arab spring will soon become a hot summer and there will be an Arab autumn, too. By then, the Middle East may have changed forever. What America says will matter nothing.
Tags: aipac, arab revolution, arab spring, bahrain, brian becker, democracy, egypt, gaza, golan heights, human rights, Iran, isreal-palestine, mara verheyden-hilliard, Middle East, middle east democracy, middle east dictatorship, middle east oil, mubarak, obama administration, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, war, west bank
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By Brian Becker and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard
President Obama took to the airwaves today to discuss
the revolts and conflicts spreading throughout the Middle East. The U.S.
dominance over this strategic and oil-rich region has been the pivot of U.S.
foreign policy for decades. Utilizing a system of proxy and client regimes, in
addition to its own vast military forces in the region, the United States has
supported a network of brutal dictatorships and the Israeli regime for decades.
Now that system of imperial control has been shaken
by the popular risings that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and
elsewhere, the Obama administration spoke today at the U.S. State Department as
part of an effort to reassert U.S. leadership over the swiftly changing
Using the rhetoric of democracy and freedom to mask
the responsibility of U.S. imperialism in the enduring oppression and suffering
of the peoples of the Middle East, President Obama’s speech was a demonstration
of profound hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy: President Obama said that
the “greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the
talent of its people.”
Reality: The U.S. strategy is based
on control of the Middle East’s most coveted resource: two-thirds of the world’s
known oil supply. The U.S. government has given billions of dollars and armed
the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East for decades, a practice fully
continued by the Obama administration. The U.S. government never cut funds to
the Mubarak dictatorship even while the regime murdered more than 850 peaceful
protestors. More than 5,000 civilians in Egypt have been convicted and jailed
since Jan. 25 following trials conducted by the Egyptian military. The United
States continues to provide massive funding to Egypt’s military in spite of the
ongoing repression against the people.
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated,
“it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region,
and to support transitions to democracy.”
Reality: The only governments in the
Middle East that have been targeted for invasion, economic sanctions and
overthrow by the U.S. government are those that pursue policies that are
independent of U.S. economic, political and military control. The U.S. never
imposed economic sanctions on the Mubarak dictatorship and only came out
publicly against Mubarak when the tide of revolution had become irresistible.
Likewise, the U.S. supports the brutal Saudi monarchy.
Hypocrisy: President Obama
championed for the people of the Middle East the “basic rights to speak your
mind and access information,” stating, “the truth cannot be hidden; and the
legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed
Reality: The Obama administration
has gone out of its way to punish those who would inform the public by shedding
light on the activities of the U.S. government. Bradley Manning remains jailed
with the threat of life in prison, having been held in brutal conditions that
caused the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to seek an investigation. The
Justice Department is working at full speed to find a way to prosecute Julian
Assange of Wikileaks for disclosing government documents to the public, many of
which expose the U.S. role in the Middle East. The Obama administration has
undertaken a major campaign more aggressive than any prior administration to
criminally prosecute whistleblowers who expose the truth of illegal government
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated:
“The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people
of the region.”
Reality: The United States under
Obama is involved in the invasion, occupation, and bombings of four
predominantly Muslim countries simultaneously: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and
Pakistan. Moreover, the head of state who has been the single biggest violator
of the basic human rights of Arab people and the perpetuator of violence in the
region is George W. Bush, whose illegal invasion of Iraq cost the lives of more
than one million people. The March 19, 2003, invasion was a war of aggression
against a country that did not pose any threat to the United States or the
people of the United States. The invasion and occupation of Iraq led to the
deaths of more Arab people than have been killed by all the dictatorships in the
region combined. President Obama today called Osama Bin Laden a mass murderer.
September 11, 2001, was indeed a great crime that took the lives of thousands of
innocent working people, but measured in order of the magnitude of victims
killed, Bush’s crime of mass murder in Iraq is unmatched. George W. Bush has not
been arrested for the mass killings of Iraqi people but is treated honorifically
by the Obama administration.
Hypocrisy: In an effort to appease
Arab public opinion, President Obama’s speech made it appear as if the United
States was insisting that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. Obama stated,
“precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth:
the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a
Reality: Israel’s war against the
Palestinian people would be impossible without U.S. support, which continues
unabated. The single biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid is the state of
Israel, which uses the $3 billion it receives annually to lay siege to the
people of Gaza, continue the illegal occupation of the West Bank and prevent the
return of the families of the 750,000 Palestinians who were evicted from their
homes and villages in historic Palestine in 1948. The United Nations in various
resolutions has condemned the 1967 Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza, the
West Bank, and Syria’s Golan Heights. Far from imposing economic sanctions,
President Obama has promised Israel a minimum of $30 billion in military aid
over the next 10 years, thus functioning as a partner in the occupation. Obama’s
speech also made it clear that the United States would support Israel retaining
vast swaths of the West Bank. This is what he meant by referring to “land
swaps.” In the coming days, Obama will have private meetings with Benjamin
Netanyahu and will be a featured speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) conference. He will undoubtedly reinforce the strong
U.S.-Israeli military ties and U.S. financial support.
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated:
“We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the
freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women
under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you
live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran…. [W]e will continue to insist that
universal rights apply to women as well as men.”
Reality: While the U.S. government –
along with Britain and France (the former colonizers of the Middle East and
Africa) – are bombing Libya with the latest high-tech bombs and missiles in the
name of “protecting civilians” and “promoting democracy,” the Obama
administration offered the most tepid pro-forma criticism of the Bahrain
monarchy as it and the Saudi monarchy kill and imprison peaceful protestors in
Bahrain. No sanctions have even been hinted at for Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. The
Saudi monarchy is the ultimate negation of democracy, depriving women of all
rights, depriving workers of the right to form unions and depriving all sectors
of the population of any right to free speech, assembly or press. There has
never been an election in Saudi Arabia. But the Saudi monarchy functions as a
client of the U.S. government and, as such, is not targeted for economic
sanctions or “regime change” as are the governments of Syria and Libya. The
Bahrain monarchy likewise functions as a U.S. client and allows the U.S. Fifth
Fleet to use Bahrain as its home port, which is why he referred to the monarchy
as “a long-standing partner.”
Hypocrisy: President Obama denounced
the Iranian government, stating that “we will continue to insist that the
Iranian people deserve their universal rights,” and condemned what he called
Iran’s “illicit nuclear program.”
Reality: He failed to mention that
it was the CIA along with its British counterpart that staged the overthrow of
Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and reinstated the Shah’s monarchy. They
overthrew Iran’s democracy when Iran nationalized its own oil from AIOC/British
Petroleum. The U.S. only broke relations with the Iranian government when the
Shah’s dictatorship was overthrown by a populist national revolution. Regarding
nuclear weapons, the Israeli government has refused to sign the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty and has accumulated 200 “illicit” nuclear weapons. Of
course, the United States has thousands of nuclear weapons and remains the only
country to have used nuclear weapons, destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Hypocrisy: President Obama told the
world that the United States shares the goals of the Arab revolution, that
“repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is
endowed with certain inalienable rights.”
Reality: The U.S. government,
whether it is led by Democrats or Republicans, views the oil-rich Middle East
through the lens of empire. Operating through a network of proxy regimes
including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, the Shah of
Iran until his overthrow in 1979, and other regimes in the region – and
supplemented by tens of thousands of U.S. troops positioned in U.S. bases
throughout the region and on aircraft carriers – the United States aims to
dominate and control a region that possesses two-thirds of the world’s known oil
supply. It has and continues to finance a network of brutal client
dictatorships, and it has funded the Israeli war machine and staged repeated
invasions, bombing campaigns, and occupations against the people of the region.