By Brian Napoletano – Palestine Chronicle
Imperial conquests have always had their ideological justifications. Even in earlier ages, exterminating a people, exploiting their resources, stealing their lands, and enslaving their children were generally non-starters when it came to firing up the local populace for another military campaign. Accordingly, the Romans “civilized” the barbarians, the Spanish conquistadores “brought the gospel” to the “New World,” and the English were “shining the light of civilization” on the Indian subcontinent. Although most history books tend to minimize the genocide and slavery that accompanied Europe’s string of conquests (including North America), few have any illusions about the true objectives of Rome, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and other countries’ imperial adventures. Similarly, when future students of history read about the mission undertaken by the US government to “spread democracy” at the dawn of the twenty-first century, they too will most likely understand its true motives far better than most of the intellectuals and analysts who frequently appear in the news media today.
The recent democratic revolution in Egypt provides a number of insights into the gap between the US government’s ostensible and actual commitments to democracy in Northern Africa and Western Asia. According to most accounts in the popular media, Washington’s enthusiasm for the revolution was tempered by its desire for “stability” in the region. Specifically, US officials, according to this framing of the revolution, wanted to support the democratic revolution, but had to consider what sort of message such support would send to their other allies in the region. Underlying this explanation is the fact that the US is allied to a number of regimes that are not democratic, and may soon be facing popular uprising similar to the one that took place in Egypt.
An alternative interpretation of Washington’s response to the Egyptian revolution, however, suggests that US officials have no desire to see democracy establish itself in the North Africa or West Asia, their public pronouncements—repeated endlessly by the major news media—notwithstanding. While this interpretation is not likely to appear in the New York Times or the Washington Post, it is far more consistent with the available evidence and the historical record than is the one based on a stability-democracy trade-off. The essence of this alternative is that what US officials call democracy, and therefore would like to see established in Egypt and the rest of the region, bears only a superficial resemblance to democracy proper, or the form of democracy that was embodied in the Egyptian revolution.
Insofar as democracy is defined in its literal sense, it entails public participation in the important decisions that affect everyone’s lives, a government that is responsive to the will of the majority while simultaneously respecting the rights of the minority to try to gain majority support through unrestricted speech, dissent, and equal access to the press, a respect for individual dignity, and a commitment to creating the conditions that will allow each member of society to develop her potential to his own satisfaction. Insofar as this form of democracy can be considered a means instead of an end, it is a means by which each individual expresses her individual sovereignty, and it is a process through which society learns to govern itself. Its basic principles are, for the most part, consistent with those contained (in various forms) in the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and corresponding treaties on social, economic, civil, and political rights, and in most textbooks on government and society.
US and other policymakers, however, consider such a definition of democracy naïve at best, and in most cases consider it dangerously misguided. They adhere to an alternative definition of democracy as a means by which a prescribed set of policies is legitimized with a public mandate. In this form of democracy, most of the policies and programs that actually affect the public are moved out of the democratic realm and into the economic market, where authoritarian institutions dominate the decision-making process with little to no democratic accountability. Instead, the production of goods and services is determined by a layer of technocrats whose primary objective is to maximize the bottom line, while a layer of bureaucrats ensures that the transfer of public resources from state institutions to the private sector is not disrupted by a change in political leadership.
One of the defining features of this ersatz version of democracy is how little influence the public actually has on the most important decisions that affect everyone’s lives. From issues that affect the rights of minorities… to widespread social issues, such as the provision of health care and the allocation of public resources, the public is virtually excluded from the decision-making process. On the other hand, periodic elections are typically a key component of this formal democracy, and popular governments to which the US is opposed (e.g. Hamas and the Patido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) are frequently accused of subverting, fixing, or not even holding elections. As the recent presidential election in the United States illustrated, however, the outcomes of elections in the formal version of democracy have very little bearing on the economic and social policies and programs adopted by the state.
Politicians frequently conflate the “popular” and the “formal” definitions of democracy, and the popular media rarely, if ever, challenge this equivocation. As a result, commentators must then invent elaborate explanations to account for the disparity between Washington’s professed democratic values and the seemingly anti-democratic policies it implements. The Egyptian revolution, however, offers an example of a popular democratic movement that defies Washington’s moribund political model and the reforms it offers as palliatives.
By most accounts, the popular uprising in Egypt formed in response to the Mubarak regime’s failure to meet the criteria of popular democracy. The overwhelming majority of the country was unified behind a simple desideratum: Mubarak’s immediate resignation. The Obama administration initially sided with Mubarak. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who considers Mubarak a family friend, was among the first US officials to comment on the situation, and emphasized that Mubarak’s regime was an important US ally that had consistently helped the US maintain “stability” in the region.
In the 28 January speech that he coordinated with Mubarak, Obama condescendingly reminded the protesters that they had “a responsibility to express themselves peacefully,” regardless of the violence inflicted on them by the country’s US-trained and equipped security and military forces. Although Obama offered nothing more than vacuous statements about Egypt’s future, promised no specific reforms, and evinced no commitment to backing the protesters’ demands, Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung claimed at the end of January that the Obama administration had “firmly aligned itself … with the protest movement that has overtaken Egypt” by “calling for an ‘orderly transition’ to a more representative government.” the administration merely called on Mubarak to implement cosmetic reforms, while protesters were demanding his immediate resignation.
As late into the revolution as 7 February, the LA Times was reporting that the administration had “dampened” its “sense of urgency” regarding a transition from Mubarak’s regime, and instead “aligned itself with power-brokers such as new Vice President Omar Suleiman, who are urging a more stable, if much slower, move to real [i.e. formal] democracy.” The Times described this policy as consistent with the Obama administration’s “goal of maintaining stability in the Middle East,” even at the expense of democracy. Meanwhile, Obama’s “crisis envoy” to Egypt, Frank Wisner—a longtime advocate for and personal friend of Mubarak—openly called for Mubarak to retain power in Egypt, a statement to which the Obama administration responded by claiming that Wisner was only speaking in his “private capacity.”
Once the protesters finally forced Mubarak out of office the White House performed a volte-face. In his carefully worded response to Mubarak’s resignation, Obama congratulated the Egyptian people on toppling the regime, and announced that the US government stands “ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary, and asked for, to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.”
Obama did not, however, apologize to the Egyptian people for the military and political support, including some of the weapons and training used against the protesters themselves, that the US government had been giving to Mubarak for several years.
Self-identified “realists” and other key elements of the US foreign policy establishment have largely praised the Obama administration’s “balanced” response to the Egyptian revolution. Most of the media have portrayed the US government as having refrained from direct involvement in or obstruction of the revolution, and have praised Obama for maintaining a delicate balance between the need for “regional stability,” which consists largely of regimes willing to tolerate—and frequently facilitate—Israeli apartheid and US “counter-terrorism” operations, on the one hand, and the desire to promote the spread of democracy on the other. This prompted the Obama administration to adopt, according to the narrative, a non-interventionist approach to the protest, which was the best the US could do under the circumstances.
While this narrative has won praise for Obama among both hawks and doves, it neglects two important factors: that funding for the training and equipment used by the same police, security, and military forces that were arresting, “disappearing,” and torturing protesters was provided by US taxpayers, and that the US and other governments’ habit of backing dictators—which has been almost universally condemned by the public and by international human rights organizations—has been identified as the key source of much of the anger directed at the US for more than 50 years, yet the habit continues.
Despite the acknowledged absence of any democratic credibility, the Egyptian government was the largest single recipient of US military and other aid after that other paragon of democracy in the region, Israel. Moreover, most of this aid had little to do with encouraging democracy or protecting the Egyptian people from Mubarak’s human rights abuses—Obama had actually cut funds for democracy-promotion initiatives from $50 million to $20 million in 2008, and cut aid to Egyptian civil society from $32 million to $7 million. Even without these cuts, these investments in democracy promotion programs (which are themselves frequently co-opted by the CIA to serve as propaganda platforms) and civil society comprised an insignificant proportion of the roughly $1.5-2 billion that the Egyptian government received from the US annually, principally in the form of military aid.
Egypt’s security forces have a long tradition of collaboration with US intelligence and police agencies, and Egypt was the US government’s initial partner in the illegal “extraordinary rendition” program that started under the Clinton administration. Moreover, recent embassy cables released by WikiLeaks confirm that the FBI has been supplying training and intelligence, including visits to the FBI’s training center in Quantico, Virginia, to Egypt’s repressive SSIS. The tear gas canisters and concussion grenades that police used against the protesters provided further evidence of US support, as many of them still bore their US manufacturing identifications.
While Obama praised the Egyptian military on behalf of the soldiers who refused to open fire on civilians, he failed to mention the officers who had issued such orders. He also failed to mention reports carried by the Guardian that Human Rights Watch has documented 119 arrests of pro-democracy activists, that the organization believes that many more have been “disappeared,” and that HRW’s Daniel Williams has expressed concerns that Mubarak’s resignation could be eclipsed by the US-trained military’s recent foray into torture and political repression.
The torture sessions that accompanied the “interrogation” of protesters arrested by the military, which receives approximately $1.5 billion in US aid annually, led many to conclude that the primary objective was intimidation rather than the identification of foreign instigators, particularly as pro-government protesters who were arrested by the military were handed over to the police and then released. The numerous accounts of torture and abuse by the Egyptian military that have begun to emerge contrast sharply with Obama and the media’s portrayal of soldiers as impartial observers to the unrest and as buffers between Mubarak’s hired thugs and the protesters.
While a number of media reports acknowledged US aid to the Mubarak regime, most of them portrayed Washington as having been placed in a “difficult situation” by the uprising, and continued to describe US backing for dictators like Mubarak as a “necessary evil” in light of the need to maintain “stability” in the region. Very few, however, offered further details on what is embodied in a stability important enough to merit military and political aid to a regime that routinely violates basic human rights, beyond explaining that such stability involves a level of repression severe enough to keep the population intimidated, but not so severe that it triggers a revolution.
One of the more convincing explanations of why such stability is so important to US policymakers was offered by the political scientist Vijay Prashad in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!. According to Prashad, the stability that Mubarak imposed on Egypt was valuable to the US for three reasons (which he described as two pillars, one of which I have separated into two parts): Mubarak’s willingness to participate in the CIA’s illegal extraordinary rendition program and other “counter-terrorism” operations allowed the US to pursue its geopolitical objective of projecting hegemony over the region, his role as Washington’s apologist in a region that is both rich in natural resources and where US foreign policy has created widespread resentment among the public reduced the risk of political backlash to US economic and trade policies in the region, and his willingness to uphold the Egypt-Israel treaty of 1979 ensured that Israeli apartheid would not face a united challenge among the Arab nations. When journalists such as the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson refer to the “political vacuum” created by Mubarak’s resignation and the need to retain stability, they are primarily referring to Washington’s hopes that whoever replaces Mubarak will continue to maintain these three features of Israeli policy.
This “necessary evil” of backing brutal dictators because they uphold US interests and of blocking efforts to establish democracy has been a consistent feature of US foreign policy worldwide, and was already identified by the US National Security Council in 1958 as one of the primary reasons for the animosity towards the US that some in the Middle East evince. More than 50 years later, the popular uprising against Mubarak revealed a remarkable continuity in US policy. Unable to continue attributing this “pragmatic” doctrine to the “Soviet threat,” apologists now invoke the threat of “international terrorism” as the justification for Washington’s attachment to various dictators and repressive regimes. In the Middle East alone, the list of regimes that have received US backing, despite their hostility to human rights and basic democratic principles, includes Mohammad Rezâ Shâh Pahlavi in Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq (until he tried to assassinate the elder Bush), Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, Hussein bin Talal and Abdullah II bin al-Hussein in Jordan, Camille Nimr Chamoun in Lebanon, every Israeli regime from David Ben-Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied Palestinian territories, and countless others.
Just as analysts in 1958 cautioned that Washington’s intimate relationships with brutal dictators was more likely to foster the growth of Stalinism than to deter it, contemporary analysts such as Michael Scheuer—a former CIA analyst and one of the architects of the extraordinary rendition program—have repeatedly warned that continued support for repressive regimes in the Middle East is more likely to trigger even more violent terrorist attacks than it is to deter them. This suggests that something other than the security of the US public is motivating Washington’s policies.
An erroneous conclusion frequently drawn regarding the reasons for US policies in North Africa and West Asia is that the Zionist lobby is responsible for the invidious policies endorsed by Washington. While Israel’s unmatched influence on US policy could explain some of the disregard for the rights of Palestinians, it fails to explain the consistency with which the US has backed dictatorships in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and ignores the fact that Washington has demonstrated that it will readily cut off Israel’s political and military support should Israeli actions be deemed inimical to Washington’s overriding political and economic interests.
A more accurate characterization of Washington’s attitude is that maintaining Israel as an extension of US hegemony and the most powerful military force in the region is consistent with US geopolitical objectives. Washington’s insouciant disregard for the interests of the majority of the Arab population is consistent with its attitude toward other regions of strategic interest, such as South and Central America and Southeast Asia. US policymakers tolerate Israeli apartheid because the strategic advantages of retaining Israel as a subaltern state outweigh the deleterious effects that such backing has on US prestige. As examples such as Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam, Russia, and others have demonstrated, the US government can easily turn a population against itself even when Israel’s not involved.
Moreover, providing military aid to Israel has proven to be exceptionally lucrative for US weapons contractors. Whatever influence the Zionist lobby might wield, it pales in comparison to the money and influence wielded by corporations such as General Electric, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. A number of other corporations, including Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard , and the Bobcat Company, also profit from the Israeli occupation by providing armored bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Forces, security systems, construction materials, and other resources to expand and entrench the illegal settlements.
In essence, the US government has repeatedly failed to push Israel into making peace with Palestinian people primarily because the Washington has no significant vested interest in doing so. While support for Israel’s apartheid government has done little to endear the US to much of the Arab population, Israel remains a loyal client state dependent on US military aid and political backing, and therefore a useful projection of US foreign policy in the region.
Discussions of US national security tend to be more frank than other political presentations, and offer more specific insights into what Washington means by “stability” in a given region. A consistent theme in US foreign policy and national security throughout the twentieth (and twenty-first) century has been has been cheap access to “raw materials” and “foreign markets.” Similarly, the US’ primary economic competitors, Europe and China, also require the same access for their firms to remain competitive. Hence, the economic competition between companies in these regions translates into a global geopolitical struggle for control over the world’s energy and agricultural resources. As a region abundant in the former and situated at a crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa, the Middle East has been a center of such struggle for decades. Accordingly, Washington is willing to tolerate Israeli apartheid and any other anti-democratic governments if doing so allows it to exert more control over the region’s energy resources than its principal competitors.
The media frequently confuse this issue by conflating the need to control the Middle East’s energy resources with the US’ economic dependence on inexpensive petroleum. However, the US does not need Middle Eastern oil for its own consumption—most (almost 60%) of the refined petroleum imported into the US from its 15 largest suppliers is actually provided by Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and other American countries, while only 22% comes from the Middle East (including Algeria). The need to control the flow of oil from the Middle East is more closely related to China and Europe’s dependence on the region’s oil supply, and the competitive economic relationship between the three regions, than to outright dependence on the supply by the US. While it is a bit of an oversimplification, the truth is stretched far less by suggesting that the US backs dictatorial regimes in the Middle East so that its companies can out-compete those of Europe and China than it is by suggesting that the US is actually concerned with promoting the spread of popular democracy in the region.
As the Obama administration’s response to the Egyptian revolution indicates, the US government does not support the growth or spread of popular democracy. While they do favor a system that maintains a veneer of democratic legitimacy through periodic elections, the absence of such legitimacy does not preclude a steady supply of US weapons and training. Essentially, democracy is acceptable insofar as it does not threaten the interests or power of the US’ dominant economic institutions. Consequently, Washington would much rather have seen Mubarak undertake superficial reforms to remain in power than an open revolution, and is already advising its other allies in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and elsewhere to undertake the former and stave off the latter.
The public is not always pacified by such reforms, however, and as living conditions continue to deteriorate for the poorest segments of society worldwide, challenges to US hegemony can be expected to occur more frequently. When such threats have arisen in the past, Washington has openly embraced dictatorships before conceding to the people of the Northern Africa, Western Asia, or any other region the right to determine their own destiny. In contrast to narratives that portray it as an impartial observer to Egypt’s revolution, the US government had been working for years to prevent the Egyptian government from becoming democratic. That the Egyptian people succeeded in spite of Washington’s efforts is a testimony to their strength and determination.
If democracy is to survive in Egypt, then it must also be allowed to thrive elsewhere. While the revolution has drawn attention to the gap between official rhetoric and US policies, it cannot be expected to significantly alter Washington’s attitude by itself. Instead, such change will require a concerted effort by the US public.
Accordingly, the ultimate outcome of the Egyptian revolution also depends on the willingness of the people of the US and its allies to follow their Egyptian counterparts’ example and demand popular democracy in their own countries. Only then can they hope to achieve more just and humane foreign policies that respect democracy, protect human rights and other basic standards, and subordinate economic considerations to the needs of the public.
Brian Napoletano is a member of the International Socialist Organization and the former Public Relations officer for Purdue University Students for Justice in Palestine.
By Kathleen Christison – CounterPunch
About ten days ago I had a particularly interesting discussion about Israel and its relationship to U.S. policy in the Middle East and to the events swirling there now, in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. My interlocutor is one of the most astute commentators, particularly on U.S. policy, in the alternative media, but he made it clear that, to his mind, Israel does not play a role of any notable relevance to what the United States is doing in the region.
I would say that he has a bit of a blind spot about Israel — a not uncommon phenomenon among progressive thinkers. But perhaps the current turmoil in the region will ultimately open his eyes and those of others who minimize Israel’s centrality to U.S. policy. Recent events unfolding in Egypt and surrounding Wikileaks-released State Department cables and al-Jazeera-released Palestinian papers dealing with Palestinian-Israeli talks are demonstrating graphically, as no other series of events probably ever has, that the United States does what it does in the Middle East in great measure because of Israel — to protect and safeguard Israel from Arab neighbors who object to its treatment of its Palestinian subjects, from Muslims with similar grievances, from criticism of Israel’s military exploits against neighboring states, from the ire of other states still threatened by Israel, from governments in the region that challenge Israel’s nuclear monopoly or attempt to develop their own arsenals to defend against Israel.
It is instructive to remember that Egypt is important to the United States almost entirely because it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and helps guarantee Israel’s security, guarding its western border, helping its military assaults on other Arab countries, closing the tunnels into Gaza through which Hamas smuggles some weapons and the Gazan population obtains food and other essentials, undermining Hamas’s rule in Gaza. The United States also regards Egypt as an important cog in the machine of its “war on terror” and its war on Islamic radicalism, a collaboration also closely linked to Israel’s security interests.
Egypt is obviously important in the region in its own right. Its size and strategic location guarantee that it will always have considerable influence in Middle East politics, and it has long been the heart of Arab culture, even without U.S. help. The last three weeks of the Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy have further enhanced its importance, capturing the imagination of people around the world (with the exception of many, perhaps the majority, in Israel and among the curmudgeonly right in the United States, including Israel’s U.S. supporters).
But the fundamental reality is that the United States would not have the close military, political, and economic relationship it has had with Egypt for the last thirty-plus years were it not for the fact that Egypt is friendly with Israel and the fact that, in the words of Middle East expert Rashid Khalidi, Egypt has always acquiesced “in Israel’s regional hegemony.” The $1.5 billion annually in military aid, and the $28 billion in economic and development assistance across the last 35 years would not have been given had not Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat virtually begged for and then finally signed a peace treaty with Israel that removed Egypt, the largest Arab military force, as a threat to Israel, abandoning the Palestinians and the other Arab parties to their own devices. With Egypt out of the picture and indeed often assisting, Israel has been free to launch military assaults on several of its neighbors, including Lebanon twice and Gaza and the West Bank repeatedly, and free to expand settlements, absorb Palestinian territory, and severely oppress Palestinians without fear of retaliation or even significant disagreement from any Arab army.
Israeli commentator Aluf Benn has pointed out furthermore that, with Mubarak in office, Israel could always feel safe about its western flank if it were to attack Iran, but now Israel will not dare attack when it can no longer rely on Egypt’s “tacit agreement to its actions.” Whoever replaces Mubarak would, by this reasoning, be too concerned about popular rage if he were to collaborate with Israel. “Without Mubarak, there is no Israeli attack on Iran.”
For Israel and therefore for the United States, the U.S. investment of billions in Egypt over the years has been well worth the cost. The loss of the “stability” that Egypt provided — meaning Israel’s loss of certainty that it remained the secure regional dominant power — has been a huge game-changer for Israeli and U.S. strategic calculations.
Before the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the United States never considered that Egypt was quite the strategic asset that it became when it surrendered its military capability in the interests of Israel. The same can be said about the United States’ relations with several other Arab states. Its involvement in Lebanon over the years — including its effort to remove Syrian forces from Lebanon — has been almost entirely linked to Israel’s interests there. The fallout from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon still reverberates: in response to the invasion, the United States sent a contingent of Marines, which became involved in direct fighting with Lebanese factions, leading in turn to a devastating bombing of Marine headquarters that killed 241 U.S. personnel in 1983; Hizbullah, representing a besieged Shiite population in southern Lebanon, arose as a direct result of Israel’s invasion; the spate of kidnappings of U.S. personnel by Hizbullah throughout the 1980s grew out of hostility to the U.S. because of its support for Israel; Israel withdrew from a two-decade-long occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, leaving behind a strengthened Hizbullah; continued conflict along the border led to Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, which failed to defeat the Islamic organization or undermine its popularity; and as a result, the United States has for years pursued efforts to undermine Hizbullah and, essentially, to maintain Lebanon as an Israeli sinecure.
Jordan has been a minor U.S. ally for decades, but its conclusion of a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 enhanced its standing in U.S. eyes and gained the small state on Israel’s eastern border additional U.S. military and economic aid. The State Department’s official profile of Jordan relates the U.S. rationale for its good relationship with Jordan more or less directly to Israel, although without ever mentioning Israel: “U.S. policy seeks to reinforce Jordan’s commitment to peace, stability, and moderation. The peace process and Jordan’s opposition to terrorism parallel and indirectly assist wider U.S. interests. Accordingly, through economic and military assistance and through close political cooperation, the United States has helped Jordan maintain its stability and prosperity.” The allusions to “reinforcing” Jordan’s commitment to “peace, stability, and moderation” and to maintaining Jordan’s “stability and prosperity” are obvious references to helping keep the area, and particularly Israel’s border, quiet. Just as clearly, “indirectly assist[ing] wider U.S. interests” refers to the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security interests. “Moderation” in State Department jargon is a code word for a pro-Israeli stance; “stability” is code for a secure environment that benefits Israel primarily.
It is safe to say that neither Lebanon nor Jordan would be at all as important to the United States if it were not considered necessary to keep each of these bordering countries in a stable, quiescent state for Israel’s security. The same situation does not apply in Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. has vital oil interests quite apart from Israel’s concerns. But at the same time, it is the case that the U.S. has managed to tame any Saudi impulse to speak out on behalf of the Palestinians, or any other Arabs under Israeli siege, and align the Saudis at least implicitly on the Israeli side of most issues, whether this is the 2006 attack on Lebanon or the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza or the supposed threat from Iran. The day when the Saudis were angry enough with United States over its support for Israel to impose an oil embargo, as occurred in 1973, is long over.
The recent Wikileaks releases of State Department cables and particularly al-Jazeera’s release of a raft of Palestinian documents dealing with negotiations over the last decade also demonstrate with striking clarity how hard the United States works, and has always worked, to help Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process. U.S. support for Israel has never been a secret, becoming less and less so in recent years, but the leaked documents provide the most dramatic picture yet of the United States’ total disdain for all Palestinian negotiating demands and its complete helplessness in the face of Israeli refusal to make concessions. It is striking to note from these papers that the U.S. role as “Israel’s lawyer” — a description coined by Aaron David Miller after his involvement in negotiations during the Clinton era — is the same whether the administration is Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s. Israel’s interests and demands always prevail.
Beyond the Arab world, U.S. policy on Iran is dictated more or less totally by Israel. The pressure to attack Iran — either a U.S. attack or U.S. support for an Israeli attack — which has been brought to bear for most of the eight years since the start of the war on Iraq, has come entirely from Israel and its supporters in the United States. This pressure is quite open and impossible to deny the way Israel’s pressure for the attack on Iraq has been. If the United States ever does become involved in a military assault on Iran either directly or through backing up Israel, this will be because Israel wanted it; if there is no attack, this will most likely be, as Aluf Benn surmises, because Israel got cold feet in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution.
Israel, and the desire to ensure its regional hegemony, also played a substantial role in leading the United States into war in Iraq, although this view is a harder sell and a much more controversial position among progressives and conservatives alike than is anything else about U.S.-Israel-Arab relationships.
My progressive interlocutor, for instance — who has strongly opposed the U.S. adventure in Iraq, equally strongly opposes any possibility of an attack on Iran, and was undoubtedly uncomfortable with U.S. vacillation about pressing for Mubarak’s departure — disagreed totally with my suggestion that Israel and its neocon supporters were a factor in getting the United States into the Iraq war. Early in our discussion, he talked at length about the neocons, their erstwhile think tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the overriding neocon-PNAC interest in advancing U.S. global hegemony, and he made the point that when George W. Bush came to power, an entire think tank was moved into the administration. But, despite this recognition of neocon objectives and the success they enjoyed in advancing them, he would not agree that PNAC and the neocons were as much interested in advancing Israel’s regional hegemony as they were in furthering U.S. imperialism.
When, on the other hand, I observed that not only had Bush moved a think tank into the administration, he had also effectively moved the Israel lobby, or its then most active wing, into the highest rungs of his administration’s policymaking councils, my friend readily agreed: oh, of course, he asserted quite vigorously, they — meaning the neocons — “are all Likudniks.” There is some kind of disconnect here, which he seemed not to notice: although, on the one hand, he acknowledged the neocons’ very close connection to Israel, he does not on the other hand agree that the neocons did anything in a policy sense for Israel. As if they had checked their pro-Israel sympathies at the doors of the White House and the Pentagon when they officially became policymakers. As if they had discarded their own long history of pro-Israel advocacy and the policy guidance that many of them had long been giving to Israeli leaders — guidance that included an actual advisory written for the Israeli government in 1996 to move against Iraq.
It has been clear to most analysts for years, even decades, that the United States favors Israel, but this reality has never been revealed so explicitly until recent events laid the relationship bare, and laid bare the fact that Israel is at the center of virtually every move the United States makes in the region. There has long been a taboo on talking about these realities, a taboo that has tied the tongues of people like my interlocutor. People do not mention Israel because they might be called anti-Semitic, they might be attacked as “singling out” Israel for criticism; the media fail to discuss Israel and what it does around the Middle East and, most directly, to the Palestinians who live under its rule because this might provoke angry letters to the editor and cancelled subscriptions by Israel supporters. Congressmen will not endanger campaign funds by talking honestly about Israel. And so Israel is taken off everyone’s radar screen. Progressives may “mention Israel in passing,” as my friend told me, but they do no more. Ultimately, because no one talks about it, everyone stops even thinking about Israel as the prime mover behind so many U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.
It is time we began noticing. Everyone in the Middle East already notices, as the Egyptian revolution has just made clear. And probably everyone throughout the world also notices. We should begin listening to the world’s people, not to their leaders, who tell us what they think we want to hear.
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and the author of several books on the Palestinian situation, including Palestine in Pieces, co-authored with her late husband Bill Christison. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By M. Shahid Alam – Dissident Voice
More than eight years after dismantling the Taliban, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan. Indeed, last October it launched a much-hyped ‘surge’ to prevent a second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, not imminent yet, but eminently possible.
The first dismantling of the Taliban was a cakewalk.
In 2001, the United States quickly and decisively defeated the Taliban, killed, captured or scattered their fighters, and handed over the running of Afghanistan to their rivals, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.
Unaware of Pashtoon history, American commentators were pleased at the smashing victory of their military, convinced that they had consigned the Taliban to history’s graveyard.
Instead, the Taliban came back from the dead. Within months of their near-total destruction, they had regained morale, regrouped, organized, trained, and returned to fight what they saw as a foreign occupation of their country. Slowly, tenaciously they continued to build on their gains, and by 2008 they were dreaming of taking back the country they had lost in 2001.
Could this really happen? That only time will tell, but prospects for the Taliban today look better than at any time since November 2001.
In 2001, the United States had captured Afghanistan with the loss of only twelve of its own troops. Last year it lost 316 soldiers, and the British lost another 108. The numbers speak for themselves.
The United States had occupied Afghanistan with 9000 troops. When Obama took office in January 2009, these numbers had climbed to 30,000. In October, US troop strength in Afghanistan had more than doubled. This does not include tens of thousands of foreign contractors and some 200,000 Afghan troops armed and trained by the Americans.
Yet, NATO could not deter the Taliban advance.
That is when President Obama ordered a troop surge. US troop strength will soon reach 100,000. At the same time, the United States is inviting Taliban fighters to defect in return for bribes. In tandem, President Karzai – for the umpteenth time – is offering amnesty to defecting Taliban fighters. So far, there have been no high-ranking defections.
Can the United States defeat these men – returned from the dead – it calls terrorists? It is a vital question. It should be, since the United States claims that if the Taliban come back, Afghanistan will again become a haven for Al-Qaida, their training ground and launching pad for future attacks against Western targets.
How did the Taliban stage this comeback?
Simply, the answer is: by finding strength in their handicaps. If you had compared the defeated Taliban in December 2001 to the Mujahidin in 1980, you would conclude that history had closed its books on them irrevocably.
The Mujahidin brought several advantages to their fight. All Afghan ethnicities opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. They had financial, military and political support from all the Western powers. President Reagan honored them as freedom-fighters. They also had support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. In addition, tens of thousands of foreign fighters would join the Afghan Mujahidin.
In comparison, Taliban prospects looked quite dismal after their rout in November 2001. Nearly all the factors that favored the Mujahidin worked against the Taliban. Taliban support was confined mostly to one Afghan ethnicity, the Pashtoons. In the United States and its European allies, they faced a more formidable opponent than the Mujahidin did in the Soviet Union.
There was not a single Muslim country that could support the return of the Taliban: the US forbade it. Worst of all, the Pakistani military, partly for lucre and partly under US pressure, threw its forces against the Taliban. Under the circumstances, few Muslim fighters from outside Pakistan have joined the Taliban.
Their goose was cooked: or so it seemed.
Nevertheless, the Taliban defied these odds, and now, some eight years later, they have taken positions in nearly every Afghan province, with shadow governments in most of them. Is it possible to reverse the gains that Taliban have made in the face of nearly impossible odds?
What can the US do to weaken the Taliban? They have few vulnerabilities because the United States has been so effective in denying them any help from external sources. They have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away.
What then are some of these strengths? Unlike the Mujahidin, the Afghan resistance against the United States is less fractious. The Taliban make up the bulk of the resistance. Other groups – led by Haqqani and Hekmatyaar – are much smaller. The Afghan resistance has a central leadership that the Mujahidin never had.
Unlike the Mujahidin, the Taliban do not have the technology to knock out the helicopters, drones or jets that attack them from the air. On the ground, however, they have technology the Mujahidin did not have. They have acquired suicide vests and, more importantly, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) developed by the resistance in Iraq. Indeed, the Taliban claim to have improved upon the IEDs they acquired from Iraq.
Notwithstanding their apparent lack of sophistication, the Taliban leadership have proved to be savvy in their use of videos, CDs, FM radio stations, and the internet to publicize their gains, build morale, and mobilize recruits.
Despite the satellites, drones, spies on the ground, and prize money for their capture, much of the Taliban leadership has evaded capture. In particular, Mulla Omar remains a ghost. He has not been seen or interviewed since 2001. Yet he remains in touch with his commanders through human couriers.
Afghanistan’s corrupt government is another Taliban asset. They have spawned a tiny class of Afghan nouveau riche battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism. President Karzai implicates the US occupation in the blatant corruption of his own government.
It appears that there is little that the United States can do to neutralize these elusive advantages. Instead, it tries to blame and shift the burden of the war on Pakistan. It continues to pressure and bribe Pakistan’s rulers to mount full-scale military operations against the Taliban support network in Pakistan.
More and more, Pakistan’s military leaders have been caving under these pressures, escalating their wars against their own population. This has provoked a backlash. A new faction of the Taliban has emerged to launch deadly attacks against military and civilian targets in Pakistan. These attacks are destabilizing Pakistan. In turn, the US uses these attacks to push Pakistani rulers into greater capitulation to its demands.
In addition, President Obama has dramatically escalated drone attacks against the Taliban support network in Pakistan. In tandem, Pakistan too has been launching more massive air and ground attacks against their hideouts. However, none of this has deterred the escalating Taliban attacks against NATO and Afghan forces.
No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late eighteenth century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal, barring a few rarely mentioned exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the Mujahidin whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.
The West celebrated the Mujahidin’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the United States into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?
Once or twice, the United States has retreated from unwinnable wars and survived. It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’ Let’s hope that this stratagem works somehow, because the alternative is likely to be much worse for all parties involved in this unwinnable war.
By Michael Parenti – Common Dreams
When I wrote my book Against Empire in 1995, as might be expected, some of my U.S. compatriots thought it was wrong of me to call the United States an empire. It was widely believed that U.S. rulers did not pursue empire; they intervened abroad only out of self-defense or for humanitarian rescue operations or to overthrow tyranny, fight terrorism, and propagate democracy.
But by the year 2000, everyone started talking about the United States as an empire and writing books with titles like Sorrows of Empire, Follies of Empire, Twilight of Empire, or Empire of Illusions— all referring to the United States when they spoke of empire.
Even conservatives started using the word. Amazing. One could hear right-wing pundits announcing on U.S. television, “We’re an empire, with all the responsibilities and opportunities of empire and we better get used to it”; and “We are the strongest nation in the world and have every right to act as such”—as if having the power gives U.S. leaders an inherent entitlement to exercise it upon others as they might wish.
“What is going on here?” I asked myself at the time. How is it that so many people feel free to talk about empire when they mean a United States empire? The ideological orthodoxy had always been that, unlike other countries, the USA did not indulge in colonization and conquest.
The answer, I realized, is that the word has been divested of its full meaning. “Empire” seems nowadays to mean simply dominion and control. Empire—for most of these late-coming critics— is concerned almost exclusively with power and prestige. What is usually missing from the public discourse is the process of empire and its politico-economic content. In other words, while we hear a lot about empire, we hear very little about imperialism.
Now that is strange, for imperialism is what empires are all about. Imperialism is what empires do. And by imperialism I do not mean the process of extending power and dominion without regard to material and financial interests. Indeed “imperialism” has been used by some authors in the same empty way that they use the word “empire,” to simply denote dominion and control with little attention given to political economic realities.
But I define imperialism as follows: the process whereby the dominant investor interests in one country bring to bear their economic and military power upon another nation or region in order to expropriate its land, labor, natural resources, capital, and markets-in such a manner as to enrich the investor interests. In a word, empires do not just pursue “power for power’s sake.” There are real and enormous material interests at stake, fortunes to be made many times over.
So for centuries the ruling interests of Western Europe and later on North America and Japan went forth with their financiers—and when necessary their armies—to lay claim to most of planet Earth, including the labor of indigenous peoples, their markets, their incomes (through colonial taxation or debt control or other means), and the abundant treasures of their lands: their gold, silver, diamonds, copper, rum, molasses, hemp, flax, ebony, timber, sugar, tobacco, ivory, iron, tin, nickel, coal, cotton, corn, and more recently: uranium, manganese, titanium, bauxite, oil, and–say it again–oil. (Hardly a complete listing.)
Empires are enormously profitable for the dominant economic interests of the imperial nation but enormously costly to the people of the colonized country. In addition to suffering the pillage of their lands and natural resources, the people of these targeted countries are frequently killed in large numbers by the intruders.
This is another thing that empires do which too often goes unmentioned in the historical and political literature of countries like the United States, Britain, and France. Empires impoverish whole populations and kill lots and lots of innocent people. As I write this, President Obama and the national security state for which he works are waging two and a half wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and northern Pakistan), and leveling military threats against Yemen, Iran, and, on a slow day, North Korea. Instead of sending medical and rescue aid to Haiti, Our Bomber sent in the Marines, the same Marines who engaged in years of mass murder in Haiti decades ago and supported more recent massacres by proxy forces.
The purpose of all this killing is to prevent alternative, independent, self-defining nations from emerging. So the empire uses its state power to gather private wealth for its investor class. And it uses its public wealth to shore up its state power and prevent other nations from self-developing.
Sooner or later this arrangement begins to wilt under the weight of its own contradictions. As the empire grows more menacing and more murderous toward others, it grows sick and impoverished within itself.
From ancient times to today, empires have always been involved in the bloody accumulation of wealth. If you don’t think this is true of the United States then stop calling it “Empire.” And when you write a book about how it wraps its arms around the planet, entitle it “Global Bully” or “Bossy Busybody,” but be aware that you’re not telling us much about imperialism.
By Seymour Hersh – The New Yorker
I spoke to Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, this winter in Damascus. Assad assumed the presidency after his father’s death, in 2000, when he was thirty-four years old, and he expressed some empathy for President Barack Obama, who, like Assad, was confronted with a steep learning curve.
One note: a transcript of our talk, provided by Assad’s office, was generally accurate but it did not include an exchange we had about intelligence. A senior Syrian official had told me that, last year, Syria, which is on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, had renewed its sharing of intelligence on terrorism with the C.I.A. and with Britain’s MI6, after a request from Obama that was relayed by George Mitchell, the President’s envoy for the Middle East. (The White House declined to comment.) Assad said that he had agreed to do so, and then added that he also has warned Mitchell “that if nothing happens from the other side”—in terms of political progress—“we will stop it.”
Quotes from our conversation follow.
President Barack Obama:
Bush gave Obama this big ball of fire, and it is burning, domestically and internationally. Obama, he does not know how to catch it.
The approach has changed; no more dictations but more listening and more recognition of America’s problems around the world, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. But at the same time there are no concrete results…. What we have is only the first step…. Maybe I am optimistic about Obama, but that does not mean that I am optimistic about other institutions that play negative or paralyzing role[s] to Obama.
If you talk about four years, you have one year to learn and the last year to work for the next elections. So, you only have two years. The problem, with these complicated problems around the world, where the United States should play a role to find a solution, is that two years is a very short time…. Is it enough for somebody like Obama?
Some say that even Hilary Clinton does not support Obama. Some say she still has ambition to be President some day—that is what they say.
The press conference of Hillary with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu [in which she appeared to walk away from the Administration’s call for a freeze on settlements] was very bad, even for the image of the United States.
Israel and the United States:
To be biased and side with the Israelis, this is traditional for the United States; we do not expect them to be in the middle soon. So we can deal with this issue, and we can find a way if you want to talk about the peace process. But the vision does not seem to be clear on the U.S. side as to what they really want to happen in the Middle East.
Negotiations with Israel:
I have half a million Palestinians and they have been living here for three generations now. So, if you do not find a solution for them, then what peace you are talking about?
What, I said, is the difference between peace and a peace treaty? Peace treaty is what you sign, but peace is when you have normal relations. So, you start with a peace treaty in order to achieve peace…. If they say you can have the entire Golan back, we will have a peace treaty. But they cannot expect me to give them the peace they expect…. You start with the land; you do not start with peace.
You need a special dictionary for their terms…. They do not have any of the old generation who used to know what politics means, like Rabin and the others. That is why I said they are like children fighting each other, messing with the country; they do not know what to do.
[The Israelis] wanted to destroy Hamas in the war [in December, 2008] and make Abu Mazen strong in the West Bank. Actually it is a police state, and they weakened Abu Mazen and made Hamas stronger. Now they wanted to destroy Hamas. But what is the substitute for Hamas? It is Al Qaeda, and they do not have a leader to talk to, to talk about anything. They are not ready to make dialogue. They [Al Qaeda] only want to die in the field.
Europe and the Iranian nuclear negotiation:
This is not European but Bush’s initiative adopted by the Europeans. The Europeans are like the postman; they pretend that they are not like this but they are like a postman; they are completely passive and I told them that. I told the French when I visited France.
Imposing sanctions [on Iran] is a problem because they will not stop the program and they will accelerate it if you are suspicious. They can make problems to the Americans more than the other way around.
If I am Ahmadinejad, I will not give all the uranium because I do not have a guarantee [in response to American and European insistence that most of Iran’s low-enriched uranium be sent abroad for further enrichment to make it usable for a research reactor, but not for a bomb]…. So, the only solution is that they can send you part and you send it back enriched, and then they send another part…. The only advice I can give to Obama: accept this Iranian proposal because this is very good and very realistic. [Note: the Iranian position appeared to be shifting this week.]
The civil war in Lebanon could start in days; it does not take weeks or months; it could start just like this. One cannot feel assured about anything in Lebanon unless they change the whole system.
Cooperating with the United States in Iraq:
They [American officials] only talk about the borders; this is a very narrow-minded way. But we said yes. We said yes—and, you know, during Bush we used to say no, but when Mitchell came [as Obama’s envoy] I said O.K.… I told Mitchell by saying this is the first step and when find something positive from the American side we move to the next level…. We sent our delegation to the borders and [the Iraqis] did not come. Of course, the reason is that [Nouri] al-Maliki [the Prime Minister of Iraq] is against it. So far there is nothing, there is no cooperation about anything and even no real dialogue.
I told him, you were successful in Ireland, but this is different…. [Mitchell] is very keen to succeed. And he wants to do something good, but I compare with the situation in the United States: the Congress has not changed…. But the whole atmosphere is not positive towards the President in general. And that is why I think his envoys cannot succeed.
Criticisms of some Israeli policies at the J-Street founding conference:
Ahh … that is new!… But we should educate them that if they are worried about Israel, then the only thing that can protect Israel is peace, nothing else. No amount of airplanes or weapons could protect Israel, so they have to forget about that.
They supported [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai and realized he cannot deliver. I do not know why they supported him and why—nobody knows why.
Now the problem is that the United States is weaker, and the whole influential world is weak as well…. You always need power to do politics. Now nobody is doing politics…. So what you need is strong United States with good politics, not weaker United States. If you have weaker United States, it is not good for the balance of the world.
A strange calm prevails on the Middle Eastern surface. Occasionally a wave breaks through from beneath – the killing of an Iranian scientist, a bomb targetting Hamas’s representative to Lebanon (which instead kills three Hizbullah men), a failed attack on Israeli diplomats travelling through Jordan – and psychological warfare rages, as usual, between Israel and Hizbullah, but the high drama seems to have shifted for now to the east, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Arab world (with the obvious exception of Yemen) appears to be holding its breath, waiting for what comes next.
Iraq’s civil war is over. The Shia majority, after grievous provocation from takfiri terrorists, and after its own leaderhip made grievous mistakes, decisively defeated the Sunni minority. Baghdad is no longer a mixed city but one with a large Shia majority and with no-go zones for all sects. In their defeat, a large section of the Sunni resistance started working for their American enemy. They did so for reasons of self-preservation and in order to remove Wahhabi-nihilists from the fortresses which Sunni mistakes had allowed them to build.
The collapse of the national resistance into sectarian civil war was a tragedy for the region, the Arabs and the entire Muslim world. The fact that it was partly engineered by the occupier does not excuse the Arabs. Imperialists will exploit any weaknesses they find. This is in the natural way of things. It is the task of the imperialised to rectify these weaknesses in order to be victorious.
The sectarian horror has taken the wind out of Iraqi resistance. Those who fought the Americans in the past and who choose not to collaborate now have gone quiet. Moqtada Sadr, for instance, having lost control of the more thuggish elements of his Jaish al-Mahdi and therefore much of his mass popularity, has disappeared into the Qom seminaries. He will emerge at some point with Ayatullah status. What he does then will depend on what comes next, which is not at all clear.
Will the monthly round of bomb attacks reignite civil war? Will resistance mount again as Iraqis move against the permanent US megabases on their land? Will there be a further American withdrawal? And if so, what happens then? Might Saudi Arabia be committed to preventing a Shia-majority government from functioning, at any price? Would it fund and arm an anti-Shia militia more fully than it has done in the past? Its attempts to defeat the Iraqi Shia would fail, but they could spark a new war in which the Saudis face Iran by proxy or even, by a chain of mismanagement, directly. This could satisfy perverse American and Israeli strategists as much as the Iraq-Iran conflict did in the 80s.
The Saudis and Iranians may already be fighting by proxy in Yemen. Saudi military involvement in its southern neighbour is a public fact (the kingdom is heroically bombarding poverty-stricken villagers with its expensive American bombs). Its enemy is the rebellious Houthi tribe, Shias. The president of collapsing Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, preposterously tells us that the Houthis are armed by both Iran and al-Qa’ida. Saudi media describes the enemy as ‘Shia’. Iranian media describes ‘Wahhabi’ massacres. Meanwhile, Iranian pilgrims have stopped visiting Mecca until such time as the Saudi authorities guarantee their protection from intolerable Wahhabi mistreatment.
In Palestine nothing is resolved and nothing is in sight of resolution. With the cleavage between Gaza and the West Bank successfully engineered, with Gaza walled, starved and bombed, with the West Bank warned that it will suffer Gaza’s fate if it removes its collaborator government, the Palestinian liberation project is in desperate straits. For now the West Bank enjoys a somewhat improved economy and freedom of movement, quietly realises the two state dream is over, and waits. For now Gaza does its best to survive, and waits. For now.
The Gaza model applies to Lebanon too. The general message is that a future Israel-Hizbullah conflict will be ‘a hundred times worse’ in its effects on Lebanese civilians than the atrocious 2006 assault. Hizbullah is careful and quiet, but by most accounts even better dug in than it was four years ago. Lebanon, meanwhile, is more stable than it has been since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. After Hizbullah called the bluff of Hariri junior and his Saudi-US-backed militia, and with the mediation of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US have retreated to their traditional positions of influence in Lebanon. Saad Hariri has visited Damascus.
Syria has regained its strength. The Obama administration will continue to back Zionist expansion, has kept Bush-era anti-Syrian sanctions in place, and only yesterday appointed an ambassador to Damascus, but ‘regime change’ is no longer an American fantasy and, as noted above, a natural, non-militarised Syrian influence in Lebanon has been accepted. Syria’s position is again what it was under the late president Hafez al-Asad: Syria can not change the region on its own, but nobody can change the region without it.
The good news, and perhaps the what-comes-next, is Turkey.
When I lived in Turkey in the early nineties the country was surrounded by enemies. Now all of its neighbours are friends. Internal relations between Turks and Kurds are also much better than they were a few years ago. Both developments stem from a long-overdue dilution of Kemalist national chauvinism brought about by new social forces. These are the upwardly mobile Anatolian Islamic-democrats represented by Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. They aim to build an inclusive post-Ottoman society, and their economy is flourishing.
An intellectual associated with the Justice and Development Party told a friend of mine that the best things to happen to Middle Eastern Muslims in the 20th century had been Ataturk and Wahhabism, because both challenges – the militantly secularist and the sectarian literalist – had forced (and are forcing) Muslims to rethink their core values. Turkey’s Sufi-based Sunnism is an attractive model which could sap the appeal of Salafism in the ex-Ottoman Arab world. But the Turkish-led alliance that is emerging inludes the Shia world too. Turkey has defended Iran’s right to nuclear energy and, against American orders, is investing enthusiastically in the Iranian economy.
Turkey and the Arabs are ending a century of mutual alienation. The late Ottoman state degenerated from a multicultural Muslim dominion into an empire on the European model in which nationalist Turks oppressed the Arab territories into stagnation. Arab nationalism flared in response. In what was a historical mistake – but perhaps a necessary one – in 1917 the Arabs accepted the help of the British to rid themselves of Turkish rule. The British promised an independent Arab state; what the Arabs got was the Sykes-Picot dismemberment of their homeland and the resulting irrevocably corrupt states system. Palestine was lost.
Ataturk defended the Turkish homeland from dismemberment and constructed a functioning European-style nation-state, but one run by the army. The governing ideology was fervently ethno-nationalist, precluding cooperation with non-Turks. Greeks fled to Greece while Greek Turks fled to Turkey. The Armenians had already been cleansed. Ataturk considered Turkey’s Arab and Persian neighbours to be degenerate oriental races. Official mythology taught that Turks had invented language and civilisation, that the ancient Sumerians were Turks, and that Turks had colonised India when the Indians lived in trees. Across the border in Syria, Baathist myths repeated these ideas in an Arab mirror.
The practical contention between the two countries was over Wilayat Iskenderoon, or Hatay in Turkish, which the French Mandate (mandated to guard Syria’s territorial unity) gave to Turkey in 1938 in return for a promise not to join Germany in a future war. Arab nationalists in Syria and elsewhere were outraged by the loss of ancient Antioch, of Iskenderoon, Syria’s major port, and of the green lands and markets around these cities. Syrian maps still show Wilayat Iskenderoon as part of Syria, although Syrians don’t resent the Turks like they resent the Israelis occupying the Golan. The Turks are old neighbours and they do not seek to drive out the Arabs. Now that the border is wide open, now that Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians can enter Turkey without a visa, now that Turkish-Syrian trade is burgeoning, Iskenderoon does not even feel so lost any more.
Syria gave up the Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, greatly reducing Turkish hostility. Syrian president Bashaar al-Asad and his wife Asma al-Akhras are popular figures in Turkey, and Turkish prime minister Erdogan is wildly popular in the Arab world, particularly after his public rebukes of Israel during the Gaza massacre.
The friendship with Syria shows that Turkey is engaging not only with Arabs but with Arab and Muslim interests too. Its hardening position in support of the Palestinians allows a voice of Muslim conscience to be heard in the international arena. This marks a change. The regional US-client regimes seem suddenly much less relevant, and the age of the ‘moderate camp’ versus ‘resistance front’ duality, which reigned a couple of years ago, has already passed.
Turkey has democratic stability on its side. Another military coup is highly unlikely, firstly because the miltary itself contains representatives of the new Turkish mood, and secondly because the army’s secularist hard-core would dash its hopes of moving further into the European Union’s embrace if it were to seize power. But it is Turkey’s slow realisation that the EU will never allow it to be a full member that has encouraged it to claim its place in Asia, where it belongs. In Asia it is admirably placed as the conduit of Iraqi, Iranian and Caspian Sea oil, as the bridge to Europe and Europe’s Muslims, and as a potential shield for the region against American attacks.
The Turkish-led alliance could prevent a fresh outbreak of war in Iraq. Turkey would make a sounder sponsor of Iraqi Sunni interests than Saudi Arabia, and could moderate Iranian influence in the country. An alliance is also essential for cross-border cooperation over water and fuel distribution as climate change and resource shortages loom across the region.
I have great hopes for the development of this alliance despite the potential weakness of Iran in the short to medium term (it is to be hoped that the Islamic Republic shows enough flexibility to adapt to some of the demands of its alienated portion), and despite the differences in the ruling ideologies – democratic-Islamist, theocratic, and Arabist – of its member states. In fact these differences are a good thing. They will discourage hasty leaps at union of the unthought type that Syria tried with Egypt in 1958.
What is necessary for the alliance’s growth is the long term stability of the relationship and an ongoing interchange of ideas along with people and goods. The alliance will represent Turks, Aryans and Arabs, and may eventually erase the imported nationalism which has so cursed us. It could be the first serious regional axis of the modern period, the first axis not organised by an imperial sponsor. Russia and China would be natural partners. A confident and informed power to ensure Middle Eastern rights and responsibilities would of course be in Europe’s interest too. Is it too much to hope that the emerging alliance will mark the end of Western dominance in the region? Could the alliance begin to fill the gaping hole left by the disappearance of the Caliphate?
By Rick Rozoff – Global Research
Afghanistan is occupying center stage at the moment, but in the wings are complementary maneuvers to expand a string of new military bases and missile shield facilities throughout Eurasia and the Middle East.The advanced Patriot theater anti-ballistic missile batteries in place or soon to be in Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates describe an arc stretching from the Baltic Sea through Southeast Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Caucasus and beyond to East Asia. A semicircle that begins on Russia’s northwest and ends on China’s northeast.
Over the past decade the United States has steadily (though to much of the world imperceptibly) extended its military reach to most all parts of the world. From subordinating almost all of Europe to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization through the latter’s expansion into Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union, to arbitrarily setting up a regional command that takes in the African continent (and all but one of its 53 nations). From invading and establishing military bases in the Middle East and Central and South Asia to operating a satellite surveillance base in Australia and taking charge of seven military installations in South America. In the vacuum left in much of the world by the demise of the Cold War and the former bipolar world, the U.S. rushed in to insert its military in various parts of the world that had been off limits to it before.
And this while Washington cannot even credibly pretend that it is threatened by any other nation on earth.
It has employed a series of tactics to accomplish its objective of unchallenged international armed superiority, using an expanding NATO to build military partnerships not only throughout Europe but in the Caucasus, the Middle East, North and West Africa, Asia and Oceania as well as employing numerous bilateral and regional arrangements.
The pattern that has emerged is that of the U.S. shifting larger concentrations of troops from post-World War II bases in Europe and Japan to smaller, more dispersed forward basing locations south and east of Europe and progressively closer to Russia, Iran and China.
The ever-growing number of nations throughout the world being pulled into Washington’s military network serve three main purposes.
First, they provide air, troop and weapons transit and bases for wars like those against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, for naval operations that are in fact blockades by other names, and for regional surveillance.
Second, they supply troops and military equipment for deployments to war and post-conflict zones whenever and wherever required.
Last, allies and client states are incorporated into U.S. plans for an international missile shield that will put NATO nations and select allies under an impenetrable canopy of interceptors while other nations are susceptible to attack and deprived of the deterrent effect of being able to retaliate.
The degree to which these three components are being integrated is advancing rapidly. The war in Afghanistan is the major mechanism for forging a global U.S. military nexus and one which in turn provides the Pentagon the opportunity to obtain and operate bases from Southeast Europe to Central Asia.
One example that illustrates this global trend is Colombia. In early August the nation’s vice president announced that the first contingent of Colombian troops were to be deployed to serve under NATO command in Afghanistan. Armed forces from South America will be assigned to the North Atlantic bloc to fight a war in Asia. The announcement of the Colombian deployment came shortly after another: That the Pentagon would acquire seven new military bases in Colombia.
When the U.S. deploys Patriot missile batteries to that nation – on its borders with Venezuela and Ecuador – the triad will be complete.
Afghanistan is occupying center stage at the moment, but in the wings are complementary maneuvers to expand a string of new military bases and missile shield facilities throughout Eurasia and the Middle East.
On January 28 the British government will host a conference in London on Afghanistan that, in the words of what is identified as the UK Government’s Afghanistan website, will be co-hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Afghanistan’s President Karzai and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and co-chaired by British Foreign Minister David Miliband, his outgoing Afghan counterpart Rangin Spanta, and UN Special Representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide.
The site announces that “The international community are [sic] coming together to fully align military and civilian resources behind an Afghan-led political strategy.” 
The conference will also be attended by “foreign ministers from International Security Assistance Force partners, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours and key regional player [sic].”
Public relations requirements dictate that concerns about the well-being of the Afghan people, “a stable and secure Afghanistan” and “regional cooperation” be mentioned, but the meeting will in effect be a war council, one that will be attended by the foreign ministers of scores of NATO and NATO partner states.
In the two days preceding the conference NATO’s Military Committee will meet at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. “Together with the Chiefs of Defence of all 28 NATO member states, 35 Chiefs of Defence of Partner countries and Troop Contributing Nations will also be present.” 
That is, top military commanders from 63 nations – almost a third of the world’s 192 countries – will gather at NATO Headquarters to discuss the next phase of the expanding war in South Asia and the bloc’s new Strategic Concept. Among those who will attend the two-day Military Committee meeting are General Stanley McChrystal, in charge of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan; Admiral James Stavridis, chief U.S. military commander in Europe and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander; Pakistani Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Israeli Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Former American secretary of state Madeleine Albright has been invited to speak about the Strategic Concept on behalf of the twelve-member Group of Experts she heads, whose task it is to promote NATO’s 21st century global doctrine.
The Brussels meeting and London conference highlight the centrality that the war in Afghanistan has for the West and for its international military enforcement mechanism, NATO.
During the past few months Washington has been assiduously recruiting troops from assorted NATO partnership program nations for the war in Afghanistan, including from Armenia, Bahrain, Bosnia, Colombia, Jordan, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Ukraine and other nations that had not previously provided contingents to serve under NATO in the South Asian war theater. Added to forces from all 28 NATO member states and from Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, Adriatic Charter and Contact Country programs, the Pentagon and NATO are assembling a coalition of over fifty nations for combat operations in Afghanistan.
Almost as many NATO partner nations as full member states have committed troops for the Afghanistan-Pakistan war: Afghanistan itself, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Jordan, Macedonia, Mongolia, Montenegro, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.
The Afghan war zone is a colossal training ground for troops from around the world to gain wartime experience, to integrate armed forces from six continents under a unified command, and to test new weapons and weapons systems in real-life combat conditions.
Not only candidates for NATO membership but all nations in the world the U.S. has diplomatic and economic leverage over are being pressured to support the war in Afghanistan.
The American Forces Press Service featured a story last month about the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command East which revealed: “In addition to…French forces, Polish forces are in charge of battle space, and the Czech Republic, Turkey and New Zealand manage provincial reconstruction teams. In addition, servicemembers and civilians from Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates work with the command, and South Korea runs a hospital in the region.”
With the acknowledgment that Egyptian forces are assigned to NATO’s Afghan war, it is now known that troops from all six populated continents are subordinated to NATO in one war theater. 
How commitment to the Alliance’s first ground war relates to the Pentagon securing bases and a military presence spreading out in all directions from Afghanistan and how worldwide interceptor missile plans are synchronized with both developments can be shown region by region.
Central And South Asia
After the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom attacks on and subjugation of Afghanistan began in October of 2001 Washington and its NATO allies acquired the indefinite use of air and other military bases in Afghanistan, including Soviet-built airfields. The West also moved into bases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and with less fanfare in Pakistan and Turkmenistan. It has also gained transit rights from Kazakhstan and NATO conducted its first military exercise in that nation, Zhetysu 2009, last September.
The U.S. has lobbied the Kazakh government to supply troops for NATO in Afghanistan (as it had earlier in Iraq) under the bloc’s Partnership for Peace provisions.
The Black Sea
The year after Romania was brought into NATO as a full member in 2004 the U.S. signed an agreement to gain control over four bases in Romania, including the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base. The next year a similar pact was signed with Bulgaria for the use of three military installations, two of them air bases. The Pentagon’s Joint Task Force-East (which operates from the above-named base) conducted nearly three-month-long joint military exercises last summer in Bulgaria and Romania in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.
On January 24 eight Romanian and Bulgaria soldiers were wounded in a rocket attack on a NATO base in Southern Afghanistan. Three days earlier Romania announced that it would deploy 600 more troops to that nation, bringing its numbers to over 1,600. Bulgaria has also pledged to increase its troop strength there and is considering consolidating all its forces in the country in Kandahar, one of the deadliest provinces in the war zone.
Late last November Foreign Minister Rumyana Zheleva of Bulgaria was in Washington, D.C. to “hear the ideas of US President Barack Obama’s administration on the strategy of the anti-missile defense in Europe.” 
During the same month Bogdan Aurescu, State Secretary for Strategic Affairs in the Romanian Foreign Ministry, stated that “The new variant of the US anti-missile shield could cover Romania.”  A local newspaper at the time commented on Washington’s new “stronger, smarter, and swifter” missile shield plans that “A strong and modern surveillance system located in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey could monitor three hot areas at once: the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Caspian and relevant zones in the Middle East.” 
Also last November a Russian news source wrote that “Anonymous sources in the Russian intelligence community say that the United States plans to supply weapons, including a Patriot-3 air defense system and shoulder-launched Stinger missiles, worth a total of $100 million, to Georgia.”  In October the U.S. led the two-week Immediate Response 2009 war games to prepare the first of an estimated 1,000 Georgian troops for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, prompting neighboring Abkhazia – which knew who the military training was also aimed against – to stage its own exercises at the same time.
American Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missiles in Georgia would be deployed against Russia, as they will be 35 miles from its border in Poland.
Former head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency Lt. Gen. Henry Obering stated two years ago that Georgia and even Ukraine were potential locations for American missile shield deployments.
Last October and November the U.S. and Israel held their largest-ever joint military exercise, Operation Juniper Cobra 10, which established another precedent in addition to the number of troops and warships involved: The simultaneous testing of five missile defense systems. An American military official present at the war games was one of several sources acknowledging that the exercises were in preparation for the Barack Obama administration’s more extensive, NATO-wide and broader, missile interception system. Juniper Cobra was the initiation of the U.S. X-Band radar station opened in 2008 in Israel’s Negev Desert. Over 100 American service members are based there for the foreseeable future, the first U.S. troops formally deployed in that nation.
In December the Jerusalem Post quoted an unnamed Israeli defense official as saying “The expansion of the war in Afghanistan opens a door for us.”
The same source wrote “the NATO-U.S. plan to deploy a cross-continent missile shield in Europe also represents an opportunity for the Jewish state to market its military platforms….” 
“Meanwhile, recent months have seen several senior NATO officials travel to Israel for discussions that reportedly focused on, among other things, how Israel could help NATO troops fight in Afghanistan.” 
Last June Israeli President Shimon Peres led a 60-member delegation that included Defense Ministry Director-General Pinhas Buchris to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, on opposite ends of the Caspian Sea. A year ago “Kazakhstan’s defense ministry said…it had asked Israel to help it modernize its military and produce weapons that comply with NATO standards.” 
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the first Arab country to provide troops to NATO for Afghanistan. It has a partnership arrangement with NATO under provisions of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members.
Early this month a local newspaper announced that “the UAE became the largest foreign purchaser of US defence equipment with sales of $7.9bn, ahead of Afghanistan ($5.4bn), Saudi Arabia ($3.3bn) and Taiwan ($3.2bn).
“The spending included orders for munitions for the UAE’s F-16 fighter jets as well as a new Patriot defensive missile system and a fleet of corvettes for the navy.” 
Nine days later the same newspaper reported on a visit by Lt. Gen. Michael Hostage, commander of the U.S. Air Force Central Command, to discuss “the possibility of setting up a shared early warning system and enhancing the
region’s ballistic-missile deterrence.”
Hostage was quoted as saying “I am attempting to organize a regional integrated air and missile defense capability with our GCC partners.” 
An Emirati general added, “The GCC needs a national and multinational ballistic missile defence (BMD) to counter long-range proliferating regional ballistic missile threats.” 
The missile shield is aimed against Iran.
Last September Pentagon chief Robert Gates said, “The reality is we are working both on a bilateral and a multilateral basis in the Gulf to establish the same kind of regional missile defense [as envisioned for Europe] that would protect our facilities out there as well as our friends and allies.” 
“In a September 17 briefing, Gates said…the United States has already formed a Gulf missile defense network that consisted of PAC-3 and the Aegis sea-based systems.” The exact system soon to be deployed in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean and afterwards the Black Sea.
In addition, the “UAE has ordered the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, designed to destroy nuclear missiles in the exoatmosphere.
“Over the last two years, the Pentagon has been meeting GCC military chiefs to discuss regional and national missile defense programs….At the same time, the U.S. military has been operating PAC-3 in Kuwait and Qatar. The U.S. Army has also been helping Saudi Arabia upgrade its PAC-2 fleet.” 
Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported at the end of last year that “Turkey is set to make crucial defense decisions in 2010 as the U.S. offer to join a missile shield program and multibillion-dollar contracts are looming over the country’s agenda.
“If a joint NATO missile shield is developed, such a move may force Ankara to join the mechanism despite the possible Iranian reaction….U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has invited Ankara to join a Western missile shield system….” 
An account of the broader strategy adds:
“U.S. officials are also urging Turkey to choose the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) against Russian and Chinese rivals competing for a Turkish contract for the purchase of high-altitude and long-range antimissile defense systems….[A] new plan calls for the creation of a regional system in southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean and part of the Middle East.
“In phase one of the new Obama plan, the U.S. will deploy SM-3 interceptor missiles and radar surveillance systems on sea-based Aegis weapons systems by 2011. In phase two and by 2015, a more capable version of the SM-3 interceptor and more advanced sensors will be used in both sea-and land-based configurations. In later phases three and four, intercepting and detecting capabilities further will be developed.” 
One of Russia’s main news agencies reported on U.S. plans to incorporate Turkey into its new missile designs, with Turkey as the only NATO state bordering Iran serving as the bridge between a continent-wide system in Europe and its extension into the Middle East: “According to the Milliyet daily, U.S. President Barack Obama last week proposed placing a ‘missile shield’ on Turkish soil….Both Russia and Iran will perceive that [deployment] as a threat,’ a Turkish military source was quoted as saying.” 
A broader description of the interceptor missile project in progress includes: “Obama’s team has…sought to ‘NATO-ise’ the US plan by involving other allies more closely in its development and deployment. The idea is to create a NATO chain of command similar to that long used for allied air defences. That would involve a NATO ‘backbone’ for command-and-control jointly funded by the allies, into which the US sea-based defences and other national assets, such as short-range Patriot missile interceptors purchased by European nations including Germany, the Netherlands and Greece, could be ‘plugged in’ to the NATO system creating a multi-layered defence shield.” 
The advanced Patriot theater anti-ballistic missile batteries in place or soon to be in Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates describe an arc stretching from the Baltic Sea through Southeast Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Caucasus and beyond to East Asia. A semicircle that begins on Russia’s northwest and ends on China’s northeast.
Poland’s Defense Ministry revealed on January 20 that the U.S. will deploy a Patriot Advanced Capability anti-ballistic missile battery and 100 troops to a Baltic Sea location 35 miles from Russian territory.
The country’s foreign minister – former investment adviser to Rupert Murdoch and resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. -Radek Sikorski, recently pledged to increase Polish troop numbers in Afghanistan from the current 1,955. “We will be at 2,600 by April and 400 additional troops on standby, which we will deploy if there is a need to strengthen security.” 
Fellow Baltic littoral states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania combined have almost 500 troops in Afghanistan, a number likely to rise. The Lithuanian Siauliai Air Base was ceded to NATO in 2004 after the three Baltic states became full members. The Alliance has flown regular air patrols in the region, with U.S. warplanes participating in six-month rotations, ever since. Within a few minutes flight from Russia.
The three nations will be probable docking sites for U.S. Aegis-class warships and their Standard Missile-3 interceptors under new Pentagon-NATO missile shield deployments.
Far East Asia
South Korea pledged 350 troops for NATO’s Afghan war last year and in late December Seoul announced that it would send a ranking officer for the first time “to attend a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference to seek ways to strengthen cooperation with other nations in dispatching troops to Afghanistan and coordinate military operations there,”  likely a reference to the January 26-27 Military Committee meeting.
In the middle of January the U.S. conducted Beverly Bulldog 10-01 exercises in South Korea which “involved more than 7,200 U.S. airmen at Osan and Kunsan air bases and other points around the peninsula in an air war exercise” and “about 125 soldiers of the U.S. Army’s Patriot missile unit in South Korea….” 
On January 14 the new government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama ended Japan’s naval refuelling mission carried out in support of the U.S. war in Afghanistan since 2001. However, pressure will be exerted on Tokyo at the January 28 conference in London, particularly by Hillary Clinton, to reengage in some capacity.
On last year’s anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, the U.S. and Japan held joint war games, Yama Sakura (Mountain Cherry Blossom), on the island of Hokkaido in northernmost Japan, that part of the country nearest Russia on the Sea of Japan. North Korea was the probable alleged belligerent.
Over 5,000 troops participated in drills that included “battling a regional threat that includes missile defenses, air defense and ground-forces operations….”
“Japan’s military has been actively developing its anti-missile defenses in cooperation with the United States. It currently has deployed Patriot PAC-3 missile defenses at several locations and also has two sea-based Aegis-equipped Kongo-class warships with anti-missile interceptors,”  the latter having engaged in joint SM-3 missile interceptions with the U.S. off Hawaii.
If support for the war in Afghanistan is linked with deployment of tactical missile shield installations in Israel and Poland, in the first case aimed at Iran and in the second at Russia, the case of Taiwan is even more overt.
Almost immediately after announcements that the U.S. would provide it with over 200 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and double the amount of frigates it had earlier supplied, with Taiwan planning to use the warships for Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System upgrades, the nation’s China Times newspaper wrote that “Following a recent US-Taiwan military deal, the Obama administration has demanded that Taiwan provide non-military aid for troops in Afghanistan….The US wants Taiwan to provide medical or engineering assistance to US troops in Afghanistan that will be increased….”  Dispatching troops to Afghanistan would be too gratuitous an incitement against China (which shares a narrow border with the South Asian nation), but Taiwan will nevertheless be levied to support the war effort there.
Wars: Stepping Stones For New Bases, Future Conflicts
The 78-day U.S. and NATO air war against Yugoslavia in 1999, Operation Allied Force, allowed the Pentagon to construct the mammoth Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and within ten years to incorporate five Balkans nations into NATO. It also prepared the groundwork for U.S. Navy warships to dock at ports in Albania, Croatia and Montenegro.
Two years later the attack on Afghanistan led to the deployment of U.S. and NATO troops, armor and warplanes to five nations in Central and South Asia. The war in Afghanistan and Pakistan has also contributed to the Pentagon’s penetration of the world’s second most populous nation, India, which is being pulled into the American military orbit and integrated into global NATO. The U.S. and Israel are supplanting Russia as India’s main arms supplier and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently returned from India where his mission included “lifting bilateral military relations from a policy-alignment plane to a commercial platform that will translate into larger contracts for American companies.” 
With the quickly developing expansion of the Afghanistan-Pakistan war into an Afghanistan-Pakistan-Yemen-Somalia theater, NATO warships are in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and the U.S. has stationed Reaper drones, aircraft and troops in Seychelles. [On the same day as the London conference on Afghanistan a parallel meeting on Yemen will be held in the same city.]
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq the Pentagon gained air and other bases in that nation as well as what it euphemistically calls forward operating sites and base camps in Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
In less than a decade the Pentagon and NATO have acquired strategic air bases and ones that can be upgraded to that status in Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania and Romania.
Global NATO And Militarization Of The Planet
The January 26 Chief of Defense session of NATO’s Military Committee with top military leaders of 63 countries attending – while the bloc is waging and escalating the world’s largest and lengthiest war thousands of miles away from the Atlantic Ocean – is indicative of the pass that the post-Cold War world has arrived at. Never in any context other than meetings of NATO’s Military Committee do the military chiefs of so many nations (including at least five of the world’s eight nuclear powers), practically a third of the world’s, gather together.
That the current meeting is dedicated to NATO operations on three continents and in particular to the world’s only military bloc’s new Strategic Concept for the 21st century – and for the planet – would have been deemed impossible twenty or even ten years ago. As would have been the U.S. and its NATO allies invading and occupying a Middle Eastern and a South Asian nation. And the elaboration of plans for an international interceptor missile system with land, air, sea and space components. In fact, though, all have occurred or are underway and all are integrated facets of a concerted drive for global military superiority.
2) NATO, Allied Command Transformation, January 22, 2010
4) Standart News, November 25, 2009
5) ACT Media, November 16, 2009
6) The Diplomat, November, 2009
7) RosBusinessConsulting/Komsomolskaya Pravda, November 10, 2009
8) Jerusalem Post, December 3, 2009
9) Xinhua News Agency, December 3, 2009
10. Agence France-Presse, January 22, 2009
11) The National, January 2, 2010
12) The National, January 11, 2010
13) Gulf News, January 12, 2010
14) World Tribune, September 30, 2009
16) Hurriyet Daily News, December 30, 2009
18) Russian Information Agency Novosti, December 16, 2009
19) Europolitics, January 20, 2010
20) Sunday Telegraph, January 17, 2010
21) Xinhua News Agency, December 22, 2009
22) Stars and Stripes, January 16, 2010
23) Washington Times, December 3, 2009
24) China Times, December 27, 2009
25) The Telegraph (Calcutta), January 2, 2009
By Bilal El Amine – Red Pepper
It is no doubt commendable that Red Pepper has tried to tackle the thorny issue of political Islam and in particular the Iranian experience, a subject that is greatly misunderstood in the west, even in left circles. But unfortunately the discussion created more spark than substance. This can be attributed to both Alastair Crooke’s rather abstract philosophical approach that often clashes with the reality of events on the ground and Azar Majedi’s shrill response, which reduces the legacy of the Islamic revolution in Iran to ‘30 years of bloodshed, oppression, misogyny, gender apartheid, stoning and mutilation’. One wonders how it is that women in Iran make up 65 per cent of university students under such conditions.
The Iranian revolution and the Islamic Republic that emerged from it are complex, and often contradictory, developments that defy neatly packaged concepts coming from both left and right in the west. It is interesting how the far right and many on the radical left in Europe and the US see eye-to-eye when it comes to Islamist activism. Both view it as deeply reactionary (‘Islamo-fascists’ is a common epithet between the two), with the pat explanation that the only reason that Islamists enjoy such a large following in the Muslim world is because of their ability to either brainwash their followers with religion or buy them off with their vast charitable networks.
The reality is that political Islam has a long and rich history that stretches back over a century, inspiring a wide range of movements across an extremely diverse landscape that stretches from Indonesia to Morocco. Painting this broad movement with a single brush confuses more than it clarifies.
Deep roots in Lebanon
Take the case of Hizbullah, for example. This Shia Muslim resistance movement in Lebanon is often carelessly lumped in with the Islamic revolution in Iran and is rarely seen as an independent entity with its own history and struggle. No doubt there are deep and foundational links between the Islamic Republic and Hizbullah, and Tehran generously funds and supports the Lebanese resistance, but that does not make them one and the same. Nor can it be said that Hizbullah is simply an offshoot or subordinate of Iran. Perhaps the most dynamic and effective social protest movement in the Middle East today, Hizbullah cannot be understood nor fully appreciated from a progressive point of view outside of its Lebanese context and history.
A brief look at Hizbullah’s emergence in the early 1980s and its consequent development into a mass party confirms that it is a home-grown movement with deep roots in Lebanese society. Hizbullah is the culmination of a long, against-all-odds struggle waged by Lebanon’s Shia against a matrix of foes who conspired to keep them locked in a cycle of occupation, impoverishment and political marginalisation.
Long before anyone had heard of Khomeini, Lebanon’s Shia began to take matters into their own hands to fight for dignity and justice, at first within the context of the Arab nationalist (and even communist) movements and later through activist Shi’ism. The move from the former to the latter was a conscious choice for many as the Arab nationalists and the left simply failed to address the sources of Shia discontent.
The streams that fed into the creation of Hizbullah were diverse and not in any way limited to Iranian influence. Some came out of the Palestinian struggle and Lebanon’s many left organisations, while others were university students influenced by the Iraqi Al Da’wa party, and a significant group split from the Amal Movement (another Lebanese Shia party established in the early 1970s).
Ideologically, Hizbullah was heavily influenced by Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a local cleric with a large following among Lebanon’s Shia, including a significant number of Hizbullah members. Mistakenly referred to as the ‘spiritual guide’ of Hizbullah (prompting an assassination attempt against him by the CIA in 1985), Fadlallah has a reputation for his liberal views on social issues and opposes the very idea of clerical rule.
The most critical factor in uniting these disparate forces was neither Khomeini’s influence nor Iran’s money, but Israel’s second occupation of southern Lebanon in the summer of 1982. It is simplistic to think that financial support alone can forge a capable and successful movement such as Hizbullah or even win its unswerving loyalty. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) stopped being effective and lost all semblance of unity precisely when it became known as the ‘richest revolutionary movement in the world’.
It is also interesting to look at the experience of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a party of Iraqi Shia exiles founded on Iranian soil during the Iran-Iraq war. Even in such circumstances, Tehran was unable to mould the competing factions into a coherent party and today SCIRI is accused of cozying up to the US occupation in Iraq. From its inception, the overwhelming priority for Hizbullah was fighting the Israeli occupation, and resistance work in its broadest sense became the backbone of the party’s social and political work. The armed resistance is complemented by a comprehensive set of development and humanitarian institutions that are involved in all manner of activities, ranging from technical assistance to rural farmers to the recently opened high-tech cardiac centre serving the poor southern suburbs of Beirut.
These are classic social welfare agencies with an Islamist twist, such as the infrastructure and reconstruction engineering unit Jihad Al Bina, or the low-interest micro-credit agency Qard Al Hassan (among the largest in the region), or the extensive welfare agency Imdad, run largely by volunteers to assist the poor, among many others. The work of these organisations has profoundly transformed the lives of Hizbullah’s supporters.
In the early heady days, as Hizbullah burst on the scene fired up by the Islamic revolution in Iran, the party’s founders (mainly clerics) could be accused of adopting uncompromising positions, such as calling for an Islamic revolution in Lebanon. But as early as 1985, before the party had even fully cohered, in one of its first public manifestos (known as the ‘Open Letter’), they were already qualifying their demands for an Islamic state, stating clearly that they didn’t intend to force their religion upon others.
With the end of the long civil war from 1975 to 1991, Hizbullah took further steps to accommodate itself with the Lebanese state and embarked on what is sometimes called a ‘Lebanonisation’ process by participating in the first post-war parliamentary election in 1992. Today, Hizbullah has ministers in the cabinet and has struck a durable alliance with Lebanon’s largest Christian party, something no one could have imagined even a few years ago. The party has also swept municipal elections where it has set an example of good governance – a concept barely known in Lebanon, where corruption reigns supreme.
The two distinct paths that the Iranian and Lebanese revolutionaries took only reflect the kinds of social forces that were involved and the terrain on which they operated. The differences in this case are stunning and naturally lead in very different directions.
The Shia of Lebanon entered the 20th century as a historically and structurally marginalised group that was dominated by feudal-like landowners and a compromised and conservative clergy. In Iran, Shi’ism had been a state religion for nearly 500 years and was almost synonymous with Iranian nationalism, which stretches back thousands of years. Iran’s clergy played a critical role in all of modern Iran’s major upheavals and, even in the darkest days of the last shah, they were respected, if not feared, by the authorities. Lebanon’s Shia may at best be a slight majority in their religiously diverse and divided country, while Iran’s Shia make up 90 per cent of the population, uniting many nationalities and ethnicities under its banner.
The opposite of fundamentalism
Context is critical when looking at Islamist movements, as appearances – and even the pronouncements of the activists themselves – can be deceiving. To judge and appraise Islamism based on its ideology alone misses these important details, particularly as Hizbullah has pioneered a pragmatic and extremely flexible current within political Islam that is increasingly being adopted by others, including Hamas and to a lesser extent the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Given their revolutionary Islamist roots and the incredibly challenging Lebanese political terrain, Hizbullah has mastered the art of tactical flexibility while remaining grounded in its core principles. Such a method is the very opposite of ‘fundamentalism’, the blanket label so often used to describe all groups that weave politics and Islam together.
It is tragic that progressives in the west continue to paint such a one-sided picture of Islamist political practice and fail to see the liberatory aspects of the movement. Due largely to Hizbullah’s leadership over the past three decades, the Shia of Lebanon live with some semblance of dignity, liberated from Israeli occupation and terror, secure on their land, with a far brighter future than anyone could have predicted.
For this, and of course for its two defeats of the supposedly invincible Israeli army (in 2000 and 2006), the party is rewarded with the enthusiastic support of millions of Arabs and Muslims across the globe. Such a movement deserves the support and solidarity of those in the west who stand for a just world.
If the European and US left cannot accept the idea that the struggle for a better world can take many shapes and forms, then they are the true fundamentalists.
By Ali Jawad – Global Research
One of the lasting legacies of the failed US-led war on Iraq is without doubt the rise of sectarianism in the general discourse on Middle Eastern politics. Sectarianism has been pitched as the ‘modern’ story of the Middle East, yet its driving causes and true nature remain subject to sweeping and misplaced generalizations, particularly in the Western media. The subsequent rooting of a sectarian political discourse in understanding the dynamics of the Middle East, flavoured by myths and fallacies, primarily serves to further the interests of imperialist and colonialist powers in the region. At another level, this discourse seeks to insulate discredited Arab leaders (i.e. Moderate “allies”) from the grievances of their own peoples as invented threats posed by an “other” are hyped up to disorientate the power of the masses.
In this regard, the recent scathing attack launched by the Egyptian Public Prosecutor (EPP) against Hizbullah, despite being somewhat expected, was revealing insofar as its sectarian dimension is concerned. Buried in between a long list of accusations against a “Hizbullah cell” uncovered in Egypt, the EPP stated the accused were “planning to carry out hostile operations within the country (Egypt) and attempting to spread Shiite thought in Egypt”.
During recent times, it has become fashionable for Middle Eastern premiers and oil-kings to protest against an ethereal threat posed by Shiism. The summoning of the “spread of Shiism” pretext, as seen above in the case of Egypt, is essentially used as a political tool. Further, the Egyptian line of attack in this respect is by no means an anomaly. In mid-March of this year, the kingdom of Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran accusing Tehran of “cultural infiltration” and attempts to “implant the Shiite Muslim ideology” in the country. In the emirate kingdoms of Bahrain and Kuwait, allegations of Iranian interference in the former, and charges claiming the formation of an insidious “Kuwaiti-Hizbullah” in the latter, are similarly propped up and dealt with within a strictly sectarian context.
Politically, the use of sectarianism in the present Middle Eastern context serves several purposes which can broadly be divided into local, regional and international dimensions. To identify these dimensions, it is necessary to probe below the surface of this worn out, yet doggishly resurgent, charge of Arab leaders against the threat posed by “Shiism” in order to reveal the causative factors behind this renewed focus on sectarianism.
First, by positing a so-called “threat” posed by a Shiite sectarian agenda, Arab leaders conveniently conceal and deflect attention from the deeply entrenched socio-economic disparity that exists between Shiite communities and their counterparts in several Gulf nations. In countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Shiites are forced to locate themselves on the peripheries of society under the juggernaut of systemic discrimination. Further, an environment of heightened sectarianism also provides an effective red herring for these kingdoms to silence demands calling for fairer representation and accordance of rights.
With respect to Shiite communities and their development in the Arab and national contexts, this factor presents a massive hurdle in the way of reform. As an example, the case of Lebanon underlines the central importance that the ability to pressure the central government plays in effecting change. Until the late Seventies of the last century, i.e. more than three decades after the National Pact (al-Mithaq al-Watani) was signed, Shiites found themselves relegated to the outer rims of Lebanese society. Downtrodden and ignored by the state, Lebanese Shiites bottled up their grievances within a sub-national narrative. In this milieu of resignation, the dynamism brought in by the charismatic Shiite leader, Sayyed Musa Al-Sadr, relied primarily on matlabiyya (a politics of demand) to transform the fortunes of Lebanese Shiites. Thus, the present-day hyping up of sectarian polemics by Arab leaders in the Gulf, acts as a significant stumbling block in the way of urgently needed, and long overdue reform of internal political and socio-economic structures. Demands for fair representation and equal rights that ought to be accorded by virtue of citizenship are instead silenced through the use of a sectarian deception.
Second, by reinforcing an image of a whole-scale invasion of the “Shiite” school of thought in traditionally majority-“Sunni” areas (or what was termed the Shii tide; al-madd al-Shii), Arab leaders promote an inherently confrontational and other-excluding relationship between the two major religious sects of Islam. This strategy thus aims to provoke a “religious” reaction hence providing credibility to the statements of highly unpopular and discredited leaders.
It has to be noted that this strategy has not only failed so far, but has done so miserably. Contrary to what Arab leaders like Mubarak hoped for, Sunni and Shia religious figures have stood by each other and together lambasted Arab leaders for their criminal silence and treachery towards the Palestinian cause. Notably, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was accused of “apostasy” and “grand treason” by more than two-hundred Sunni religious scholars in the wake of the brutal war on Gaza.
Third, in logical continuity from the previous point, Arab leaders like Mubarak who suffer from serious popularity deficits amongst their peoples, attempt to revitalize and give credibility to their sinking images by marketing themselves as safe keepers of “Sunnism”. The “spread of Shiism” accusation made by the EPP thus makes the case that the highly unpopular Mubarak in fact plays the role of a gatekeeper who faithfully ensures that the “Sunni” identity of Egypt is preserved.
At this level the strategy has again been met with ridicule from the Egyptian public. In a radio interview, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahdi Akef, termed the allegations levelled against Hizbullah as unfounded and utterly baseless. The secretary general of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan, minced less into his words when he praised the actions of Hizbullah as a “national, legitimate, and pan-Arab duty and an attempt to bolster the Islamic resistance in the Gaza Strip”. Instead of taking Mubarak for his word, public focus in Egypt has shifted to the involvement of Israeli intelligence in the operation targeted at Hizbullah. This factor by itself provides sufficient proof to the Egyptian and Arab streets that the actions of Hizbullah were in fact limited to supporting the resistance in Palestine, rather than the whimsically invented charge made by the EPP citing “spread of Shiism” in Egypt amongst others.
Fourth, the “spread of Shiism” pretext at the regional level is not sold merely as a sectarian phenomenon, but one that occurs in the backdrop of a growing Shiite presence in Middle Eastern politics. Shiite so-called “expansionism” is pitched as an extension of a wider political agenda, or what the Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal chooses to call “Iranian obstructionism”. Giving saliency to this aspect interlocks with the interests of the US and Israeli governments as was wittily articulated by an Arab writer who described the Egyptian government’s policy with the words: “Rescue! The Shiites are coming!” By openly declaring an anti-Shiite (read: anti-Iranian, anti resistance) platform, these Arab leaders seek to provide reassurance to the US and Israel that they continue to remain useful and relevant on the Middle Eastern chessboard.
Fifth, one of the more troubling usages of sectarianism in the present Middle East has been the enframent of political and national struggles within the mould of a sectarian identity-politics. The so-called “Moderate” Arab leaders in Cairo, Riyadh and Amman pass off differing stances as sectarian-qua-sectarian agendas. More accurately, political stances that clash with US-inspired “moderate” scripts of how things ought to play out in the Gulf, are pointed to as manifestations of the intrusion of a Shiite tidal wave under direct orders from an aspirant Shiite regional hegemon i.e. Iran.
Fuelling the fires of sectarianism in this way has meant that even pre-eminent struggles and causes in the Arab world have not remained impervious from the burdens of a sectarian-politics discourse. According to leading officials in Egypt, Gaza is seen as a ‘mini Islamic Republic of Iran’, and Hamas an abiding servant of the Iranian agenda. In order to discredit the path of resistance, the likes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia have chosen to mark it off as an Iranian-Shiite conspiracy, which if left unchecked will extend to devour the entire Arab homeland.
Largely due to this self-destructing polarization, admiration for Iran on the Arab street has skyrocketed. In the world of Arab satellite channels, live phone-ins on political talk shows are flooded by voices of solidarity with Iran and total contempt for “sell-out” Arab leaders. Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Bashar Al-Assad and Ismail Haniyeh are viewed as the symbols of remaining Arab dignity, and their indisputable popularity, heads and shoulders above the rest, is evidenced in every poll.
Finally, there remains the relation between imperialism and the rise of sectarian rhetoric in the Middle East i.e. the elephant in the room. It is said that sectarianism can be narrated “only by continually acknowledging and referring to both indigenous and imperial” histories and imperatives. Iraq has been the theatre on, and from, which the image of an ongoing sectarian struggle for the heart of the Middle East has been propagated. In the wake of the collapse of Baghdad in 2003, leading Arab intellectual Dr. Azmi Bishara took to the podium at UC Berkeley and said:
“Of course we don’t buy what they say about their sensitivity to democracy […]; what they call ‘building a democratic Iraq’, because I hear the accent. This is not […] the language of democrats. You don’t go to a country to build a democracy by splitting the country into three major religions (sects) […]; this is not pluralism, this is a recipe for civil war.”
The ‘Balkanization’ of the Middle East has for long been an unswerving desire of imperialist powers. The oft-quoted words of Oded Yinon about the “far-reaching opportunities” presented by the “very stormy situation [that] surrounds Israel”, published in 1982 by the World Zionist Organization, are instructive in this regard:
“The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front. Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.”
Today, the political tensions of the Middle East are driven minimally by indigenous inter-sectarian factors. The systematic and organized attempt – by imperialists and their regional clients – to amplify the myth of an ongoing, all-out sectarian war is precisely in order to cover for the evident absence of actual rifts between the peoples of the Middle East. Why the likes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Morocco are not waiting around for second invitations to jump on to this sectarian bandwagon should in itself provoke a lot of questioning. Not in the least surprising, and another reason to look into this subject more critically, has been the failure of Western media from putting forth these simple and straight-forward questions.
Sectarianism constitutes an important chapter in the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. Whilst it could be said that the US viewed the Middle East through a more ethnic prism in the past, it is clear that the sectarian divide has provided the way forward. The declaration of the “New Middle East” agenda during the Bush administration, and its failure in infancy during the 2006 war on Lebanon, essentially served to overload the sectarian aspect in a bid to foster the right conditions for the implementation of this agenda.
So-called “moderate” Arab leaders shamefully find themselves not only aligned with the most rightist, racist coalition in Israel (which continues to steal more Palestinian land by the day), but they in fact work hand in hand with Israel to conspire against resistance movements. Netanyahu and Liebermann have taken it upon themselves to scare the world into insanity, under the pretext of an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon capability. Mubarak, Abdullah and cohorts on the other hand, are pioneering the project of spreading fear against a sinister Iranian-led “Shiite” agenda aimed at taking over the Arab heartland which, needless to state, is implemented by resistance movements such as Hizbullah and Hamas.
Sadly, for the imperialists and discredited Arab leaders, the masses no longer buy such crackpot machinations. In the Middle East, we are now witness to a post-sectarian phase; the unity and solidarity that exists between its’ peoples – in identifying the key challenges that face this region – is palpable in whichever direction you turn. Western discourse on the Middle East however, remains fixated on talk of civil wars, sectarian strife and religious tension.
The failure of the US (and other Western powers) to move away from a sectarian discourse in accounting for the dynamics of the Middle East, and the failure to impress this reality upon regional Arab clients, will predictably have significant repercussions. There are several very real issues that need to be resolved in this region, and they have precious little to do with the myth of sectarianism. Political agendas can not forever be implemented in the shadow of sectarianism. The sooner the White House realizes this, the better.