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Allying with political Islam: The United States’ tactical alliances with Al Qaeda and its associates in Syria

Originally posted July 15, 2016
Updated July 18, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

Summary. The New York Times reported that the United States has refrained from systematically attacking Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria because US-backed fighters coordinate and are enmeshed with the outfit. The newspaper also reported that the Pentagon had refrained in 2015 from attacking ISIS militants in and around the Syrian town of Palmyra in order to further the US foreign policy goal of regime change in Damascus. The United States has a long history of forming tactical alliances with political Islam to counter secular Arab nationalists, whom it views as inimical to its interests of dominating the Arab world, with its vast petroleum resources. Syria, whose constitution describes the country as “the beating heart of Arabism” and “bedrock of resistance against colonial hegemony on the Arab world,” is the last of the secular Arab nationalist states opposing US domination and control of the region.

The New York Times reported on July 14, 2016 that the United States “has refrained from systematic attacks against the Nusra Front” because US-backed fighters coordinate with the outfit. The United States has also refrained from attacking ISIS, for example, in and around Palmyra, in order to counter the Arab nationalist Syrian government, whose removal remains Washington’s top priority in Syria. [/caption]A frank discussion in a July 14, 2016 New York Times article [1] acknowledged that US irritation over the Kremlin’s military intervention in Syria has been prompted by Russia focussing its attacks on Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria, the Nusra Front, an outfit Washington views as an ally of convenience in pursuit of its goal of toppling the pro-independence Arab nationalist Assad government, at the same time it props up client state dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, while robustly providing military, economic and diplomatic support to the settler regime in colonized Palestine. [2]

Unlike Russia, the United States “has refrained from systematic attacks against the Nusra Front,” the newspaper reported. That is because “United States-backed rebel groups often coordinate their activities” with Al Qaeda fighters, Times reporters Gardiner Harris and Anne Barnard wrote.

A myriad of articles in mainstream US newspapers, including the New York Times, have previously documented the existence of extensive combat coordination between al-Nusra and US-backed fighters, noting that so called “moderate” rebels are enmeshed with, cooperate with, are ideologically similar to, fight alongside of, coordinate with, share arms with, and operate under licence to, Al Qaeda in Syria. [3]

In fact, so highly integrated are US-backed fighters with Syrian Al Qaeda forces that Russian attacks on Nusra Front positions have amounted to attacks on US-proxies, raising objections from Washington, and denunciations of Moscow for what Washington says are actions to prop up the Syrian government rather than fight terrorists (creating a false narrative by implication that the forces on the ground acting to topple Arab nationalists in Damascus do not use terrorist methods.)

Yet, al-Nusra, the outfit the United States has refrained from systematically attacking, has been branded a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council. [4] The obvious implication is that if US-backed insurgents are fighting alongside of and coordinating with the terrorist Nusra Front, then they too are very likely using the same terrorist methods for which the Nusra fighters–with whom they’re enmeshed–have been condemned. This would explain why in 2013 US “President Obama waived a provision of (US) federal law designed to prevent the supply of arms to terrorist groups to clear the way for the U.S. to provide military assistance to ‘vetted’ groups fighting” the Syrian government. [5] Obama’s waving of the arms-to-terrorists ban amounts to a White House admission that the fighters it’s backing are terrorists.

Moreover, the Security Council’s resolution “Calls upon Member States… to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by (ISIS)…as well as (al-Nusra), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaeda” (emphasis added). Clearly, the US-backed insurgents’ coordinating with, cooperating with, fighting alongside of, sharing arms with, and operating under license to, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, amounts to an association with the officially designated terrorist organization. The US-backed fighters, then, fall within the ambit of actions prescribed for UN member states by the Security Council. This means that not only is Washington not complying with the resolution, it is actively subverting it, by supporting individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda.

On July 14, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss a proposed agreement which would see the two countries coordinate their attacks “to ensure that strikes aimed at Nusra do not hit United States-backed groups.”

The proposed accord worries some members of the US political establishment, who believe Kerry has agreed to commit US forces to attacking the Nusra Front, which they see as a highly effective weapon against the Syrian Arab Republic. Since Arab nationalist-removal, not terrorist-removal, remains Washington’s principal goal in Syria, attacking the Qaeda fighters would militate against achievement of a key US foreign policy objective, these critics contend.

The Atlantic Council, for example, a US-based think tank funded by wealthy individuals and foundations, major corporations, and the US government, warns that combined US-Russian attacks on the Nusra Front could “effectively end the Syrian opposition,” an admission that the insurgency in Syria is dominated by Al Qaeda’s foot soldiers.

That there is no significant semblance of moderation in Syria’s armed opposition is indicated by concerns in Washington that weakening Al Qaeda will “effectively end the Syrian opposition,” and worries within the US political establishment that Kerry’s agreement with Putin could lead the United States to a point where it is “under Russian pressure to attack other rebel groups, like the Army of Islam,” an ideological cognate of al-Nusra, which also seeks to replace Syria’s secular republic with an Islamic state under Sharia law.

Washington has created a false dichotomy between terrorists and rebels, and the dichotomy has been adopted uncritically by the New York Times. Reporters Harris and Barnard wrote that, “One of the great complications…is figuring out which groups should be considered rebels focused on ousting the Assad government — a goal the United States supports — and which are aligned with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, organizations that Washington has designated as terrorist and has vowed to defeat.”

This draws a false distinction between rebels focused on ousting the Assad government (rebels who, it is implied, don’t use terrorist methods and aren’t committed to creating an Islamic state in Syria, though neither is true) and Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (who, Washington’s narrative implies, aren’t focussed on ousting the Assad government, which, of course, they are.) The reality is that Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Army of Islam, and a slew of other jihadist groups enmeshed with al-Nusra and backed by the United States do use terrorist methods, are focussed on ousting the Assad government, and do seek to create an Islamic state in its place. There is no dichotomy. When in 2012 the United States officially designated the Nusra Front a terrorist organization, “moderate” fighters launched a protest under the banner “We are all Jabhat al-Nusra,” [6] affirming the point.

As the veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote in 2014: The “Syrian military opposition is dominated by ISIS and by Jabhat al-Nusra… in addition to other extreme jihadi groups. In reality, there is no dividing wall between them and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies.” [7]

Nusra Front is not the only UN Security Council-designated terrorist organization which the United States has been accused of refraining from attacking. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly argued that the United States is only managing ISIS—that is, attacking it enough to prevent it from threatening US oil interests in Iraq, but not so much that ISIS will be eliminated as a tool to counter secular Arab nationalists in Damascus. He cites as evidence the fact that ISIS continued to expand in Syria despite the United States leading a coalition of dozens of countries against the Al Qaeda break-away organization, and that Islamic States’ expansion was only halted and reversed when Russia intervened militarily in the country, with Damascus’s imprimatur. The United States, he concludes, lacks the political will to destroy ISIS, because the Islamist organization remains useful to Washington’s project of toppling the Syrian government. By contrast, Moscow, which doesn’t share Washington’s regime-change goal, has the political will to destroy ISIS, and therefore has been more effective against it. [8]

While it’s easy to dismiss Assad’s view as partial, it does resonate with mainstream Western sources. For example, on May 20, 2015, the New York Times’ Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad reported that the United States refrained from attacking “Islamic State militants in and around Palmyra” in order “to avoid … aiding a leader whose ouster President Obama has called for.” [9] And the US Congressional Research Service has concluded that “US officials may be concerned that a more aggressive campaign against the Islamic State may take military pressure off the” Syrian government. [10]

Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk summed up the US-led coalition’s campaign against ISIS this way: “And so we went to war against Isis in Syria—unless, of course, Isis was attacking (the Syrian republic), in which case we did nothing at all…” [11]

“Many people do not realize that the United States has had a long history of flirting with political Islam,” writes scholar Mohammed Ayoob. That flirtation goes back to at least the 1950s when Washington enlisted “Saudi Arabia, the ‘fundamentalist’ kingdom par excellence” to help counter “Arab nationalism as the unifying force in the Arab world. American policy makers perceived Arab nationalist regimes, such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq…to be…inimical to American interests.” [12] Those interests included US control of the Arab world’s vast petroleum resources.

Washington has had considerable success in eliminating secular opposition to its hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa, the Mashriq and the Maghreb. Egypt has been co-opted; the Anglo-American 2003 invasion of Iraq eliminated that country’s Arab nationalists, who are now proscribed from holding positions in government; and Arab nationalists in Libya were swept away by a combined NATO-Islamist assault in 2011. Syria remains as the last redoubt of secular Arab nationalism. (The country’s constitution defines Syria as the “beating heart of Arabism” and “the bedrock of resistance against colonial hegemony on the Arab world and its capabilities and wealth.”) And Washington seems intent on relying on its hoary tactic of forming tactical alliances with jihadists to crush the opposition of secular nationalists to the region’s domination by the United States and its Western allies.

The United States has a troubled relationship with terrorism and terrorists. It has a long history of pursuing state-terrorist activities, defined as the deliberate politically motivated infliction of harm on non-combatants by a state, including fire bombings of German and Japanese cities during WWII; the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; massive terror bombing campaigns, including napalm use, during the Korean War; the carpet bombing of Indochina; the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure during the first Gulf War and the 1999 air war on Yugoslavia; the 1990s sanctions of mass destruction against Iraqi civilians, which led to numberless deaths, reaching perhaps a million or more; the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign unleashed on Iraq, and on and on ad nauseam. This has been accompanied by temporary tactical alliances with non-state terrorists, including the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the forerunners of Al Qaeda; the contras in Nicaragua; and today, a tactical alliance with ISIS, al-Nusra, and support for al-Nusra-embeds in Syria.

The US priority in Syria is Arab nationalist-elimination, and not the elimination of Islamist terrorists, who remain useful to Washington in clearing away the last of the Arab nationalist state obstacles to total US hegemony over the Arab world.

My book Washington’s Long War on Syria is forthcoming April 2017.

Notes

1. Gardiner Harris and Anne Barnard, “John Kerry meets Vladimir Putin to discuss new Syria plan,” The New York Times, July 14, 2016.

2. Journalist and writer Max Blumenthal has referred to Israel as JSIL, the Jewish State in the Levant. While the allusion to ISIL is intended facetiously, it does call to mind certain important parallels between Israel and the Islamic State.

First, both are founded on religion and give priority to anyone who adheres to the right one. Zionists go further than Islamists in referring to their co-religionists as a people whereas Islamists refer to Muslims only as members of a community. There exist no Jewish people, in the original sense of people as a group sharing a common language and territory.

Second, both ISIL and JSIL were founded on terrorism, that of the former obvious, and requiring no elaboration; that of the later, mostly absent from public discourse, but scholarly documented, all the same. Jewish irregulars, led by Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, men who would later become prime ministers of the Jewish state, used terrorist methods against British Mandate authorities in Palestine, and against the indigenous Palestinians; in the first case, to compel the British to end their mandate and turn Palestine over to Jewish rule, and in the second, to drive Palestinians from their homes, to alter the demographic character of a future Jewish state in order to ensure it included a large majority of Jews.

Third, both are implacably opposed to Syrian Arab nationalism. ISIL opposes the Syrian republic because it is a secular state based on ethnic identity rather than an Islamic state based on religious identity. JSIL opposes the Syrian republic, because the latter insists that the settler state based on Jewish religious identity which was implanted by force and colonization on Arab territory be dismantled and the usurped territory it occupies be returned to its rightful owners and incorporated into a larger Arab secular state.

3. Jay Solomon, “U.S., Russia agree to implement Syria cease-fire,” The Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2016; Karen de Young, “U.S. Russia hold Syria cease-fire talks as deadline passes without action,” The Washington Post, February 19, 2016; Karen Zraick and Anne Barnard, “Syrian war could turn on the battle for Aleppo,” The New York Times, February 12, 2016; Farnaz Fassihi, “U.N. Security Council unanimously votes to adopt France’s counterterrorism resolution,” The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2015; Sam Dagher, “Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Tries to Force the West to Choose Between Regime, Islamic State,” The Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2015; Anne Barnard and Michael R. Gordon, “Goals diverge and perils remain as U.S. and Turkey take on ISIS,” The New York Times, July 27, 2015; Sam Dagher, “Militants seize oil field, expand Syrian domain”, The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2014.

4. “Security Council ‘Unequivocally’ Condemns ISIL Terrorist Attacks, Unanimously Adopting Text that Determines Extremist Group Poses ‘Unprecedented’ Threat,” United Nations, November 20, 2015, http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12132.doc.htm

5. Joel Gehrke, “Updated: Obama waives ban on arming terrorists to allow aid to Syrian opposition,” Washington Examiner, September 15, 2013.

6. Mark Landler, Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, “US will grant recognition to Syrian rebels,” The New York Times, December 11, 2012.

7. Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.

8. In a July 1, 2016 interview with Australian television Assad said: “Actually, we welcome any effort to fight terrorism in Syria, any effort, but this effort first of all should be genuine, not window-dressing like what’s happening now in northern Syria where 60 countries couldn’t prevent ISIS from expanding. Actually, when the Russian air support started, only at that time when ISIS stopped expanding.” “President al-Assad to SBS Australia: Western nations attack Syrian government openly and deal with secretly,” SANA, July 1, 2016.

9. “ISIS fighters seize control of Syrian city of Palmyra, and ancient ruins,” The New York Times, May 20, 2015.

10. Christopher M. Blanchard, Carla E. Humud Mary Beth D. Nikitin, “Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response,” Congressional Research Service,” October 9, 2015.

11. Robert Fisk, “I read the Chilcot report as I travelled across Syria this week and saw for myself what Blair’s actions caused,” The Independent, July 7, 2016.

12. Mohammed Ayoob, The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World, The University of Michigan Press, 2011, p. 164.

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Written by what's left

July 15, 2016 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, ISIS, Islamism, Syria

Pentagon working on plan to convert the Islamic State caliphate into a US-backed Syrian rebel redoubt

By Stephen Gowans

May 6, 2016

Washington is preparing to mount a campaign to transfer control of Syrian territory currently held by ISIS to rebels who operate under US influence, forming a rebel redoubt from which US proxies can continue to wage war on Damascus, and establishing the foundation of a US puppet state in Syria.

A key to US strategy is the artificial division of the conflict into a part to be resolved by military means, involving ISIS, and a part to be resolved through a political settlement, involving all other rebel formations. Nusra Front, the exception, is to be ignored, and rebranded. As Al-Qaeda’s Syria franchise, it can hardly be embraced openly by the United States, though there is evidence of its being equipped covertly by the CIA.

The designation of non-ISIS rebels as parties to a political settlement follows the shibboleth that the conflict, apart from ISIS’s role in it, cannot be resolved militarily. This may be true, but only because the non-ISIS rebels have been trained and armed by Western states and their regional allies and therefore have a military significance they would not otherwise possess. Damascus’s early efforts to arrive at a political settlement by lifting restrictions on political liberties and amending the constitution went nowhere. This is because the goal of the armed opposition is the replacement of a secular non-sectarian state with one based on a conservative Sunni interpretation of the Qur’an, and because the military backing of powerful Western and regional states offers no incentive for militant Islamists to compromise. At the same time, the reality that the Ba’athist government in Damascus hangs on despite the powerful international forces arrayed against it, speaks volumes about the strong public support it commands. Its political survival, in the fifth year of an open multi-national war against it, and more than a decade after Washington launched a covert program of regime change aimed at purging Ba’athist ideology from the Syrian state [1], would not be possible in the face of widespread opposition from the Syrian public.

US Special Forces are recruiting and equipping Sunni Arab fighters to capture Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’s caliphate. Once captured, the territory will likely remain in the hands of the US surrogates and almost certainly won't be returned to the legitimate Syrian government.

US Special Forces are recruiting and equipping Sunni Arab fighters to capture Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’s caliphate. Once captured, the territory will likely remain in the hands of the US surrogates and almost certainly won’t be returned to the legitimate Syrian government. Instead, it will form the core of a US-puppet regime in Syria.

The objective of sharply distinguishing between ISIS and other rebel organizations is to legitimize a US-led campaign against the former, and to undermine the legitimacy of the Syrian-Iranian-Russian-Hezbollah effort to defend the Syrian state and its loyalists against all other rebel forces, namely, those backed by the US and its allies. We are to believe that it is perfectly reasonable for the US to wage war on the sectarian, terrorist, ISIS, but that Damascus must negotiate a peace with ISIS’s sectarian, terrorist, ideological cousins.

It has been extensively reported in the leading US newspapers, and acknowledged by the US vice-president, that the Nusra Front is armed by US allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The same newspapers also frequently refer to Western backing of other rebel groups. These groups have been variously described by leading US journalists as working with, enmeshed with, cooperating with, fighting alongside of, and operating under license to Al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, and have been reported to share weapons with it [2]. Both Nusra and other non-ISIS rebel forces are ISIS’s ideological cognates, sharing its ultra-conservative, Saudi-inspired Islamist ideology, but rejecting the idea that a caliphate is the only legitimate form of government. Efforts to arm non-ISIS rebels are coordinated, according to The New York Times, by the CIA. [3] Putting two and two together, if US regional allies are equipping the Nusra Front, and the CIA is coordinating their efforts, then the CIA is arming the Qaeda franchise in Syria, on top of the other rebel groups which operate alongside of it. This likely accounts for why the CIA program is covert, while a parallel $500 million Pentagon program to train and equip rebels who had no ties to Al Qaeda, was not. That program was abandoned, after the Pentagon failed to recruit enough non-Qaeda aligned fighters. [4]

The Syrian government is asked to accept a political dialogue with non-ISIS rebels and to enter into cease-fire agreements with them, while at the same time the United States is to be left free to pursue, with its allies, a military campaign against ISIS—one that involves the injection of Western special forces into Syrian territory and therefore an illegal violation of Syrian sovereignty. That campaign, which is now underway, involves several hundred Western military personnel operating on the ground to recruit and equip Sunni Arab fighters to capture territory in Syria that is now held by ISIS.

It would appear that the strategy has two goals.

• To expand Syrian territory under the control of US proxy forces by capturing territory currently held by ISIS. Once captured, it will be held by US proxies.
• To stop further gains by Syrian-Iranian-Russian and Hezbollah forces against US-backed Islamists by insisting on the cessation of hostilities against them and political dialogue.

As the Syrian government engages in fruitless talks with Western-backed Islamist militants, a US-controlled rebel redoubt will be established in eastern Syria, from which the war on Damascus will continue to be prosecuted. The dialogue is fruitless because the rebels, and their paymasters, are implacably opposed to compromise. Anyone who believes that Washington is honestly trying to foster a peace in Syria (except on its own terms, namely, only if Ba’athist ideology is irrevocably effaced from the halls of power in Damascus) is deluded. Imperialists, as Mao observed, do not lay down their butcher knives to become Buddhists.

In the meantime, Nusra Front will operate under a variety of different names. Indeed, it appears, given the extensive inter-penetration of Western-backed rebels with the Qaeda franchise in Syria, that it already does. This meshes with head of US intelligence James Clapper’s admission that “moderate” means nothing more than “not ISIS” [5]; which is to say, it denotes nothing about a group’s aims or methods, and serves the propaganda function of connoting “good.” “Moderate” rebels, we are to understand, are “good” rebels, even though their aims and methods may be largely indistinguishable from those of ISIS and the Qaeda Syrian franchise they are enmeshed with.

The US can fight rebels, but the Syrian army must pursue a political settlement with them

“The White House,” according to The Wall Street Journal, “has said a political resolution in Syria is ultimately required to resolve the conflict there and to defeat ISIS, which opposes the (government) of President Bashar al-Assad.” [6] ISIS also opposes the Abadi government in Iraq, the Sisi dictatorship in Egypt, and the Saudi dictatorship on the Arabian Peninsula, but the White House isn’t calling for a political resolution in these states. Doing so would open itself to criticism that it is counselling capitulation to terrorism, a stance it would never adopt in dealing with terrorist threats to itself or its puppets but is prepared to adopt to eliminate a government in Syria that, unlike the Iraqi, Egyptian and Saudi regimes, insists on freedom from Western domination.

Privileging local populations over US corporations is a form of lese-majesty against US global primacy. The Ba’athists’ transgressions on the reigning hegemon’s ideology of globalization, a by-word for Americanization, is confirmed in Assad’s insistence that, “Syria is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” [7] The US State Department complains that Syria has “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy” and is aggrieved that “ideological reasons” continue to prevent the Assad government from liberalizing Syria’s economy. The Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation lament that Damascus “dominates many areas of economic activity, and…marginalizes the private sector,” while the U.S. Library of Congress country study of Syria refers to “the socialist structure of the government and economy.” [8] The motto of the governing Ba’ath Party, unity (of the Arab nation), liberty (from foreign domination), and socialism, is light years from the motto Washington would prefer states emblazon on their banners. We embrace atomism, welcome foreign investment, apotheosize capitalism, and are open to US military bases on our territory, is more along the lines of a motto a good member of the “international community” is expected to adopt. You need know little more than the foregoing to understand why Washington insists that Assad and his fellow Ba’athists step down.

For counselling compromise with terrorists, Washington has not been lashed by criticism. Under other circumstances, it would be. But then, the United States has a complicated relationship with terrorism. Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. While Washington is one of the most vociferous opponents of the practice, it is also one of its most ardent practitioners. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, militarily insignificant cities, are egregious examples of terrorism on a grand scale. The terror bombings of German and Japanese civilians during WWII by conventional means, including the fire-bombings of Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo, aimed at undermining civilian morale, are equally egregious examples of US terrorism in practice. NATO’s terror bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 is a more recent case. U.S. Air Force Lt. General Michael Short’s explanation of the objectives of the 1999 U.S.-led NATO air war on the former Yugoslavia fits the definition of terrorism to a tee. “If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo (a reference to the country’s leader at the time, Slobodan Milosevic)? How much more of this do we have to withstand?’” [9] The United States has also used terrorists to advance its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan against secular modernizers supported by the Soviet Union and in Cuba against the communist government in Havana, to name but two cases. Countless more could be adduced. On the other hand, Washington opposes terrorism strenuously when it is used against the United States. In this vein, ISIS is both a useful US foreign policy tool in weakening the Syrian state but at the same time an enemy in threatening the US-allied Abadi, Sisi and Saud regimes, and in challenging US domination of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Conquering the caliphate

US Special Forces are recruiting and equipping Sunni Arab fighters to capture Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’s caliphate. So far they’ve recruited 6,000 fighters, and about 12,000 are being vetted. [10] The Pentagon has dispatched 250 military personnel to Syria, augmenting 50 who were already there. US allies have also sent special operations forces to Syria, to do “exactly the same thing,” according to US defense secretary Ash Carter. [11]

The introduction of Western ground forces into Syria is an illegal violation of Syrian sovereignty. This has been pointed out by Damascus, Moscow and Tehran, but Western countries, whose state officials are in the habit of sanctimoniously delivering sermons on the rule of law, hypocritically ignore it whenever it suits their purposes. International law is a spider’s web in which to entangle the weak, while the strong merely push through it, their chauvinist and complaisant mass media glossing over the crime.

An ulterior motive

If the United States’ only goal in waging war against ISIS was the organization’s elimination, it would have seized the opportunity to coordinate with Russian forces once Moscow entered the fray, in order to multiply the force of the campaign against the hyper-sectarian Islamist organization, and to hasten its quietus. Instead, Washington let the opportunity pass. More importantly, it would have teamed up with the Syrian army, the single biggest force fighting ISIS.

ISIS cannot be eliminated by air power alone; ground forces are essential. And so, the United States has undertaken to train and equip Sunni Arab fighters to fill the role. The United States has disdained any cooperation with the Syrian army, even though it could readily defeat ISIS with the assistance of US air power. On the contrary, Washington has deliberately refrained from taking steps to weaken the notorious Sunni Arab terrorist group, hoping that continued pressure from the Al-Qaeda offshoot would etiolate the Syrian army and, as a consequence, pressure the Ba’athists in Damascus to step down. [12] That Washington hasn’t taken the obvious route to the elimination of ISIS suggests that defeating the caliphate is not its primary goal. Instead, it has a higher objective and ulterior motive: the transfer of Syrian territory now in the hands of ISIS to biddable US surrogates.

US plan adumbrated

The Wall Street Journal sketched out how the United States will carry on its war against the Syrian state. [13] Reading between the lines, the war will be pursued under the guise of eliminating ISIS, and while this will be the immediate outcome of the war if the campaign is successful, the ultimate objective will be the conquest of Syrian territory held by the caliphate. The war will be pursued on the ground by Sunni Arab fighters trained and equipped by the special operations forces of the United States and its allies. US proxies on the ground—the Sunni Arab fighters recruited and equipped by the Pentagon—will capture territory currently held by ISIS, backed by US air strikes. Once captured, the territory will remain in the hands of the US surrogates. It will not be returned to the legitimate Syrian government, a point that will be overlooked in the celebration of ISIS’s defeat. Instead, it will become a base from which a continuing war will be waged against the pro-independence, secular, non-sectarian, socialist-oriented Syrian state. The conquered territory will be given a high-sounding name, likely conceived and vetted by a high-priced US PR firm, such as Free Syria or the Free Syrian Republic. It will not, however, be free from US domination, or free to put the interests of the local population above those of Washington and Wall Street, or free to foster Arab unity, pursue socialism, or aid Palestinians in their quest for self-determination. It will, however, be free to fill the coffers of Western banks and corporations, free to buy arms from Western weapons manufacturers, free to invite the Pentagon to establish military bases on its territory, free to allow the State Department to meddle in its internal affairs, and free to accept as legitimate the Zionist conquest of Arab territory. In short, it will be free to surrender its sovereignty and join the US empire.

1. Craig Whitlock, “US secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by Wikileaks show,” The Washington Post, April 17, 2011.

2. Stephen Gowans, “US Plan B for Syria: Give Al-Qaeda More Powerful Weapons,” what’s left, April17, 2016.

3. Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, “U.S. relies heavily on Saudi money to support Syrian rebels,” The New York Times, January 23, 2016.

4. Robert Fisk, “David Cameron, there aren’t 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria—and whosever heard of a moderate with a Kalashnikov anyway?” The Independent, November 29, 2015.

5. James Clapper: US Director of Intelligence: http://www.cfr.org/homeland-security/james-clapper-global-intelligence-challenges/p36195

6. Carol E. Lee, “Political unrest tests U.S. influence in Iraq,” The Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2016.

7. Stephen Gowans, “Syria, The View From The Other Side,” what’s left, June 22, 2013.

8. Stephen Gowans, “The ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Who Got Libya Wrong Serves Up The Same Failed Analysis on Syria,” what’s left, January 23, 2016.

9. “What this war is really about,” The Globe and Mail, May 26, 1999.

10. Paul Sonne, “U.S. seeks Sunni forces to take militant hub,” The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2016.

11. Gordon Lubold and Adam Entous, “U.S. to send 250 additional military personnel to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2016.

12. Stephen Gowans, “What US Congress Researchers Reveal About Washington’s Designs on Syria,” what’s left, February 9, 2016.

13. Paul Sonne and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. Cites Better Intelligence for Stepped-Up Airstrikes on Islamic State,” the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2016.

Written by what's left

May 4, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, ISIS, Syria

Tagged with , ,

Promoting Plutocracy: U.S.-Led Regime Change Operations and the Assault on Democracy

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January 11, 2015

PROMOTING PLUTOCRACY
By Stephen Gowans

Chapter 1. What the West’s Position on Iran Reveals about its Foreign Policy
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Foreign Policy and Profits
Chapter 4. The State in Capitalist Society
Chapter 5. Concealing the Influence of the Corporate Elite on Foreign Policy
Chapter 6. Syria: Eradicating an Ideological Fixation on Socialism
Chapter 7. Ukraine: Improving the Investment Climate
Chapter 8. Kosovo: Privatizing the Economy
Chapter 9. Afghanistan: Investment Opportunities in Pipelines and Natural Resources
Chapter 10. The Military-Industrial Complex, Foreign Aid and Marionettes
Chapter 11. How Foreign Policy Hurts Workers
o Divide and Rule
o Socializing the Costs, Privatizing the Benefits
o The Assault on Substantive Democracy in Korea
o The Terrorism of the Weak
o Bulking Up the Police State
o Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak
Chapter 12. The West’s Foreign Policy Priorities

Canada and the Terrorism of the Weak

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November 2, 2014

By Stephen Gowans

Seven years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British forces, the director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency at the time of the invasion, Lady Manningham-Buller, confessed that Iraq had posed little danger, and that the invasion itself created a threat by radicalizing Muslims. [1] Thirteen years after the United States launched a “war on terror” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda, once a small group with a few bases in Afghanistan, had metastasized into the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a militarily sophisticated organization which controlled an area in Iraq and Syria the size of Britain.

Al-Qaeda has come a long way, despite the war on terror. Jihadist militants now challenge Western domination of traditionally Sunni Muslim areas from North Africa to Afghanistan. They do so in various ways: with weapons captured from the regular armies of Iraq, and of the independent, secular, nationalist governments of Libya and Syria, or provided to them by Gulf monarchies subservient to the United States; through suicide bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings; and through terrorist attacks on Western countries.

In the film, The Battle for Algiers, a journalist asks the Algerian liberation leader Ben M’Hidi: “Don’t you think it’s a bit cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosives that kill so many people?” M’Hidi replies: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenceless villagers so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombs and you can have our baskets.” [2]

Victims of Western foreign policy fight back. And since they do not have access to sophisticated weapons, they use whatever is at hand, which often means low-level attacks on civilian populations to induce them to press their governments to end policies the terrorists object to. Terrorist attacks are not random, irrational, unplanned events, without concrete goals. Political scientist Robert A. Pape, who studied every case of suicide terrorism that occurred over a two decade span, points out that the terrorism of the weak is invariably aimed at pressuring target countries to withdraw their military forces from territory the terrorists consider to be their homeland. [3] For example, Osama bin Laden attributed his campaign of terrorism against the United States to Washington “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorising its neighbours, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples.”[4] Other programs of suicide terrorism have pursued similar goals. Pape notes that, “Suicide terrorists sought to compel American and French military forces to abandon Lebanon in 1983, Israeli forces to leave Lebanon in 1985, Israeli forces to quit the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1994 and 1995, the Sri Lankan government to create an independent Tamil state from 1990 on, and the Turkish government to grant autonomy to the Kurds in the late 1990s.” [5]

Canada’s decision to support the U.S.-led war against ISIS won’t enhance the security of Canadians. It will, like the 2003 U.S.-British invasion and occupation of Iraq, simply radicalize more Muslims. Canadians could become the targets of retaliatory attacks. A Canadian member of ISIS warned in a video uploaded to YouTube in “a message to Canada and all American powers. We are coming and we will destroy you.” [6]

Strengthening the Canadian Police State

The increased threat of terrorist attack has led police states in the Western world, including Canada, to become police states on an elevated scale. Calling Canada a police state may seem odd. We are so thoroughly imbued with the notion that North American and Western European countries are liberal democratic counter-examples to the police state, that the idea of calling Canada a police state seems as nonsensical as calling night, day. Even critics who are acutely aware of the parallels between Canada and the archetype of the police state, East Germany (with its notorious Stasi) find it difficult to put “Canada” and “police state” together in the same sentence. Canadian social scientists Reg Whitaker, Gregory Kealey and Andrew Parnaby wrote a long history of the police state in Canada [7], but couldn’t bring themselves to use the phrase “Canada’s police state.” Instead, they noted that “the state in a liberal democracy like Canada” has behaved remarkably like a police state. It has “persistently spied on its own people, run undercover agents and maintained secret sources of information…and kept secret files that categorized people in terms of their personal beliefs.” All the same, in the hands of Whitaker et al., Canada escapes the police state designation. The journalist Patrick Cockburn complains that Western governments have adopted the methods of police states, but Cockburn doesn’t say they are ones. It’s as if it’s all right to acknowledge that Canada and its liberal democratic cohorts behave like police states, but not to label them as such.

Yet consider the facts: The political police in Canada have shown “remarkable energy and zeal in spying on larger numbers of citizens. (An official) commission (of inquiry) discovered in 1977 than the RCMP security service maintained a name index with 1,300,000 entries, representing 800,000 files on individuals,” at a time the country had a population of only 24 million. [8] Among the Canadians the police state spied on was Tommy Douglas, revered for his contributions to the creation of Canada’s public health insurance system. Although Douglas died three decades ago, the state refuses to publicly disclose its file on the prairie politician to protect the informants who secretly passed on information about him to the state. The informants may still be alive, and the state doesn’t want to reveal their names to assure future informants that their anonymity is guaranteed and that it is safe to spy on fellow Canadians. [9]

Ken Stone, a non-violent activist from Hamilton, Ontario, has spent a lifetime organizing on behalf of workers and for various progressive causes. After graduating from the University of Toronto in the 1960s—where he ripped up his Bachelor of Arts degree at his graduation ceremony, telling the audience “This piece of paper is meaningless”—he sought out a working class job, settling in Hamilton to drive trucks for Canada Post. He became active in his union, and politically engaged, “protesting, organizing, rallying, struggling, demonstrating, sitting in, agitating, voting and even running for office.”[10] That was enough to bring Stone to the attention of Canada’ police state, which amassed “a 700-page long RCMP and CSIS file, detailing every meeting he attended between 1968 and 1986.” [11]

Between 1950 and 1986 Canada’s political police compiled a list of 66,000 Canadians who were active in working class causes, who would, in the event of a leftwing threat to the established order, be arrested and interned in concentration camps. Stone was on the list. [12]

The leftwing U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky has pointed out that politics is far more than voting, and that voting is only a very small part of politics. Politics is doing what Stone has done most of his life: organizing, struggling, pressuring, agitating, educating, rallying, and demonstrating, on top of voting and participating in the electoral process. Chomsky, and other leftwing intellectuals, criticize elections “as a method of marginalizing the population” [13] by encouraging people to think that the political process is limited to casting a ballot every few years.

The effect of believing that politics equals voting, full stop, is to yield the political field to the corporate elite. In the Fall 2014 issue of Perspectives in Politics, political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page examined over 1,700 public policy issues, concluding that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interests groups have little or no independent influence.” [14]

Economic elites exert an outsize influence on public policy because they recognize that politics is far more than voting and use their wealth to buy resources that allow them to influence policies of interest to them in the state. They overcome their disadvantage of holding only a tiny fraction of all votes (they are, after all, only the one percent) by pressuring politicians directly, shaping public opinion to favor corporate positions, and becoming directly involved in public life. They lobby; fund public policy think-tanks and advocacy organizations to promote pro-corporate positions; donate to political campaigns; rotate their members in and out of key positions in government and the state; provide lucrative job opportunities to former politicians who supported corporate elite positions while in office, thereby encouraging sitting politicians to aspire to the same opportunities and to act accordingly; and shape public opinion to support pro-business positions through their ownership and control of the mass media.

Stone wasn’t marginalized by the deception that politics is voting and nothing more—the misconception that allows the corporate elite a free hand to dominate the country’s political life. But the reality is that people who recognize that politics is more than voting and act accordingly come to the attention of Canada’s police state, if they work on behalf of progressive, popular, or working class interests. On the other hand, Canadians who promote corporate Canada’s interests, or limit their political activity to voting, or are politically inert, never know that a police state exists in Canada, and wonder about the sanity of those who say it does.

Already strong, the police state has been strengthened further in the wake of 9/11. Laws which once set limits on the political police have either been weakened or done away with. Additionally, Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, has revealed that the United States and its anglosphere partners in the so-called Five Eyes signal intelligence network, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, operate a massive electronic surveillance program that scoops up personal information on virtually everyone. There is no doubt that information collected through ubiquitous surveillance could protect Canadians from people with malicious designs (but not from terrorists who are sophisticated enough to take effective measures to minimize the risks of their communications being intercepted.) The problem is that Snowden’s revelations have shown that the surveillance program is also used to spy on world leaders, including allies, and to gather information related to trade and business deals [15], while there’s little evidence that it has actually prevented terrorist attacks.

While the strengthening of the police state in Canada might seem to be a matter of indifference for ordinary Canadians—after all, isn’t disrupting a terrorist plot the worst that could happen?—the political orientation of the political police should worry anyone who works to advance the interests of the 99 percent. The history of the police state in Canada is one of monitoring and disrupting people who organize on behalf of the exploited and oppressed in the economic and political spheres. A stronger police state, then, means the state is in a stronger position to use its surveillance apparatus to undermine unions, working class political parties, and groups and individuals advancing progressive causes which challenge the rich and powerful.

Echoing the entanglements of Ken Stone with Canada’s police state, Whitaker, Kealey and Parnaby point out that Canadian security services have a long history of surveillance “on the side of the political/economic status quo” and against those “who challenge the powerful and the wealthy.” They add that the history of the political police in Canada is one of “conservatism” where the “the targets of state surveillance form a kind of roster of Canadian (working class) radicalism” and where those who pursue the class war from the bottom up have been seen as subverting “the proper political and economic order” and therefore are deemed legitimate subjects for surveillance and disruption. They adduce “evidence that the secret police may have played an active role in covertly disrupting, dividing and defeating unions.” Accordingly, they brand the activities of Canada’s security police as “an activist conservatism on behalf of capital against its perceived enemies” and note that the intervention of the security services against working class activists challenges “the standard rhetoric about the neutrality of the democratic state.” [16]

The strengthening of the political policing apparatus of the state—while it may indeed be useful in disrupting terrorist attacks—opens up space for the corporate community through its sway over the state to more muscularly assert its interests against ordinary Canadians.

Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak to Protect Canadians

Terrorism is the use of political violence against civilians to pressure governments to bring about changes in public policy. Used by the weak, it almost invariably aims at pressuring target countries to withdraw their military forces from territory the terrorists consider to be their homeland. But it is not exclusively the tool of the weak. Terrorism is also used on a massive scale by Western countries and their allies, whose bombing campaigns against foreign targets deliberately create misery among civilian populations in order to pressure them to overthrow their government or demand that it capitulate to the ultimata of Western powers. No better evidence of the terrorist intent of Western bombing campaigns is provided than in U.S. Air Force Lt. General Michael Short’s explanation of the objectives of the 1999 U.S.-led NATO air war on the former Yugoslavia, in which Canada took part. Explained Short, “If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo? [17] How much more of this do we have to withstand?’” [18] This is a text-book example of terrorism.

The most effective way to deal with the terrorism of the weak is to treat its causes. If it aims to force foreign military forces to withdraw from territory the terrorists consider their homeland, and military forces are in the territory on illegitimate grounds, it follows that morally and politically, but also with regard to safeguarding the security of Canadians, that the occupations and interventions should be brought to an end. Canadian military force ought to be deployed to protect Canadians, not to endanger them by unnecessarily provoking retaliatory attacks. Since Western militaries have no legitimate right to intervene in the territories militant Sunni Muslim fundamentalists consider to be their homeland, the most effective way to safeguard the security of Canadian citizens from ISIS’s terrorism of the weak is to bring the interventions to an end.

But in order to justify continued military intervention in the Middle East, Canadian politicians, including the prime minister, deliberately confuse cause and effect. They would like Canadians to believe that the threat of terrorism against Canadians has caused the government to contribute military personnel and equipment to the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS as a measure of self-defence. However, the truth of the matter is that ISIS poses no threat to Canada, except insofar as the country’s military participates in a campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy it. Canada’s sending troops and warplanes to Iraq has caused ISIS terrorists to threaten Canada, not the other way around. And the 13-year war on terror has done nothing to eliminate the terrorism of the weak. To the contrary, it has made it stronger and more pervasive.

Security analysts had warned that the threat against Canada had been increasing for more than a decade, “after Canada sent the military into Afghanistan and amid Mr. Harper’s robust support for Israel and strong criticism of Iran.” Ray Boisvert, a former senior official with CSIS, explained that “We have been in the top five of al Qaeda targets now for over a decade.” He didn’t, however, explain that this is not, as politicians and much of the mass media would have us believe, because al-Qaeda has an irrational hatred of Canada, but because the organization views Canada as contributing to the U.S.-led project of occupying Muslim territory, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, and humiliating its people, as bin Laden put it. More specifically, CSIS warned that Canada’s joining the fight against ISIS would increase the chances that ISIS or its sympathizers would strike Canadian targets. [19]

The security agency didn’t have to uncover hidden information to learn that Ottawa’s declaration of war on the Islamic State raised the terrorism threat level. ISIS announced it. The militant organization’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, urged sympathizers to carry out attacks on the nationals of countries taking part in the mission against ISIS. He said, “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French —or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be.” [20]

One month later—and just one day after CF-18s were dispatched to an airbase in Kuwait to take part in the U.S.-led campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS—Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a convert to Islam, and possibly inspired by al-Adnani’s exhortation, shot and killed a soldier standing guard at the Cenotaph in Ottawa, before making his way to the Parliament Buildings, where he fought a gun battle with security officers before being fatally wounded. A week earlier, Martin Couture-Rouleau, a convert to Islam who aspired to travel to Iraq to fight with ISIS, used an automobile to run down two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, before being shot and killed by police. The government seized on these incidents to justify its decision (which had been taken before these incidents occurred) to join the coalition against the Islamic State. The prime minister told the country that Canada would continue to “fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores.” This was tantamount to poking at a hornets’ nest, getting stung, and then using the fact you were stung as a reason to continue poking.

Clearly, ISIS was not calling for terrorist attacks on Canadians out of random, irrational, lust for violence. It did so to pressure Ottawa to reverse its decision to send special forces to northern Iraq to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces to fight ISIS and warplanes to the Middle East to attack ISIS positions in Iraq’s Anbar province. Significantly, Ottawa raised no objection to ISIS when the violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists were slaughtering their way across Syria and threatening to topple the independent secular nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, ISIS’s successes were largely attributable to aid received, both directly and indirectly, from Ottawa’s allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It was only when ISIS threatened the Iraqi government, which Ottawa supports, that Canada joined the Washington-led campaign to stop ISIS.

The appeal of the Islamic State to many Arab Sunni Muslims lies in their sympathy for what they see as the organization’s goals: (1) to erase the artificial divisions in the Arab world created by Britain and France after WWI when the two European powers carved up Arab territory into multiple states subordinate to the West; (2) to overthrow the corrupt dictators of the Arab world who rule at the pleasure of the United States; and (3) to return the region’s oil wealth to the people. [21]

There are no lofty reasons for Canada to participate in the war on ISIS. To claim that Canada’s intervention against the violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists is motivated by opposition to the organization’s barbarity is a demagogic sham. ISIS is virtually indistinguishable in the cruelty of its methods and harshness of its ideology from Saudi Arabia, which Canada strongly supports. If Ottawa truly abhorred ISIS’s vicious anti-Shia sectarianism, cruel misogyny, benighted religious practices, and penchant for beheadings, CF-18s would be bombing Riyadh, in addition to ISIS positions. Instead, Saudi Arabia, a theocratic absolutist monarchy, one of the last on earth, continues to receive Canada’s undiminished support.

ISIS is only a threat to Canada because the RCAF has been deployed to a military campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy it, and in support of continued Western domination of the Arab world, which militant Sunni Muslim fundamentalists (as well as many others in the region) vehemently object to. While ISIS may be the immediate cause of the terrorist threat to Canada, Ottawa’s decision to commit Canadian military forces in support of the maintenance of U.S. hegemony over Arab territory is the root cause, and a danger to the non-combatant Canadian soldiers and ordinary citizens who are the potential targets of blowback against this policy. Ottawa ought to be using the military to protect Canadians, not to unnecessarily endanger them.

Moreover, Ottawa should not be using the elevated threat of terrorists attack, of which it, itself, is the author, to justify the expansion of a police state which, if history is a guide, will be used to monitor and disrupt the activities of unions, left-wing political parties, and groups and individuals who challenge the rich and powerful, on top of Islamists and other opponents of Canada’s illegitimate military interventions abroad.

1. Sarah Lyall, “Ex-0fficial says Afghan and Iraq wars increased threats to Britain”, The New York Times, July 20, 2010.
2. The Battle of Algiers, Quotes, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058946/quotes
3. Robert A. Pape, “The strategic logic of suicide terrorism,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, August 2003.
4. Pape.
5. Pape.
6. Patrick Cockburn. The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. OR Books. 2014.
7. Reg Whitaker, Gregory S. Kealey, and Andrew Parnaby. Secret Service: Political Policing in Canada from the Fenians to Fortress America. University of Toronto Press. 2012.
8. Whitaker, Kaley, and Parnaby.
9. Colin Freeze, “CSIS fights to keep Tommy Douglas spying file under wraps,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 10, 2010.
10. Jeff Mahoney, “Working the shop floor of democracy,” The Hamilton Spectator, October 27, 2014.
11. Mahoney.
12. This was the RCMP’s ProFunc (prominent functionaries of the communist party) list. See Kimball Cariou, “Profunc questions remain unanswered” People’s Voice, October 16-31, 2011.
13. In Andre Vltchek, “Down with Western democracy,” counterpunch.org, May 23, 2014.
14. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014. http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf
15. James Glanz and Andrew W. Lehren, “N.S.A. spied on allies, aid groups and businesses”, New York Times, December 20, 2013.
16. Whitaker, Kealey, and Parnaby.
17. A reference to the country’s leader, Slobodan Milosevic.
18. “What this war is really about,” The Globe and Mail, May 26, 1999.
19. Paula Vieira, Alistair MacDonald and Ben Dummet, “Two dead in Canada shootings,” The Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2014,
20. Ian Austen and Rick Gladstone, “Gunman panics Ottawa, killing soldier in spree at capital,” The New York Times, October 22, 2014.
21. David D. Kirkpatrick, “New freedoms in Tunisia drive support for ISIS,” The New York times, October 21, 2014.

Written by what's left

November 2, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Posted in Canada, Iraq, ISIS, Terrorism

The Myth of Syria’s Moderate Rebels

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By Stephen Gowans

Political Islam has a long history of cooperating with Western imperialism at certain times and in certain places, and of turning against it at other times and in other places. For example, Osama bin Laden cooperated with the United States to overthrow a progressive pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan, and then launched a jihad against the domination of the Middle East by the United States. Many Palestinians were sent to Afghanistan in the 1980s by the Muslim Brotherhood to struggle against the atheists in Kabul (much to the delight of Israel) only to return to join a Palestinian national liberation struggle against Israel in the ranks of Hamas.

What separates the rebels in Syria that the United States and its allies arm, train, fund and direct from those it seeks to degrade and ultimately destroy is not a secular vs. Islamist orientation. Even the so-called “moderate” rebels are under the sway of Islamist thinking. Instead the dividing line between the good “moderate” rebels and the bad “extremist” rebels is willingness to cooperate with the United States and the region’s former colonial powers. The “good” ones are under the control of the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies, or aren’t, but are working in directions that comport with Western foreign policy goals, while the “bad” ones are working in ways that frustrate the attainment of the foreign policy objectives of the West. In other words, one set of rebels is cooperating with Western imperialism while the other frustrates it.

The “moderate” Syrian rebels who US officials are counting on to battle the Islamic State as part of the Obama administration’s plan to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS comprise dozens of groups which report directly to the CIA [1] and are under the sway of Islamist thinking. [2] According to General Abdul-Ilah al Bashir, who led the Free Syrian Army before its collapse at the end of last year, the CIA has taken over direction of the rebel force and FSA groups now report directly to US intelligence. [3]

The groups are run from military command centers in Turkey and Jordan, staffed by intelligence agents of the United States and the Friends of Syria, a collection of former colonial powers and Sunni crowned dictatorships. The command centers furnish the rebels with arms, training, and salaries. The United States provides overall guidance, while Turkey manages the flow of rebels over its border into Syria, and Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states provide much of the funding. [4]

The centerpiece of the CIA-directed rebel grouping is the Hazm Movement, formerly known as Harakat Zaman Mohamed, or Movement of the Time of Muhammad. It is strongly backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and by key Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Qatar and Turkey. [5]

The US-backed rebels cooperate with the Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria, [6] which the UN Security Council denounced this summer along with ISIS for their “gross, systematic and widespread abuse of human rights” [7] but which the United States has left out of its war on the Islamic State, even though its origins and methods are the same as those of ISIS, and its goals similar. Accordingly, the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria will continue to coordinate operations with CIA-directed rebels, unhindered by US strikes.

Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, deems the idea of the moderate secular rebel a myth. “You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights…because they don’t exist.” [8]

Andrew J. Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who follows Syrian events, points out that most of the rebels backed by the United States come from “rural, Sunni areas where Islamist thinking has long held sway and often colors their thinking.” [9] They are not moderate fighters for secular liberal democratic values.

Veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn echoes these views. In his new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising (OR Books), Cockburn observes that there is “no dividing wall” between “America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” and ISIS and the Nusra Front. [10]

While US officials and Western mass media promote a false narrative of two sets of rebels occupying opposite ends of two different axes—Islamist vs. secular and extremist vs. moderate—the most relevant axis is one defined by the groups’ orientation toward the West.

Reflecting the ideology of their al-Qaeda progenitor, the Nusra Front and ISIS seek to bring historically Islamic regions under Sunni Islamist political control, which means the ejection of the United States and its local marionettes, the destruction of secular regimes, and the elimination of local “heresies”, including Shia Islam and its heterodox Alawi offshoot, to which Syrian president Bashar al-Assad belongs.

The CIA-directed rebels, in contrast, appear to have a more moderate attitude to the United States, and are open to working with Washington and its Arab and NATO allies. Hassan al-Hamada, a leader of one of the CIA-directed rebel groups says, “We want to be hand in hand with the West, and for the future of Syria to be with the West.” [11]

The word “moderate,” then, appears to have but one meaning—a willingness to work with the United States, under the direction of the CIA, and in cooperation with Western imperialism…at least for now.

1. Patrick Cockburn, “Syria and Iraq: Why US policy is fraught with danger,” The Independent, September 9, 2014.
2. Ben Hubbard, “U.S. goal is to make Syrian rebels viable,” The New York times, September 18, 2014.
3. Cockburn.
4. Hubbard.
5. Suhaib Anjarini, “Harakat Hazm: America’s new favourite jihadist group”, Al Akhbar English, May 22, 2014.
6. Hubbard.
7. UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014). http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sc11520.doc.htm
8. Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. pins hope on Syrian rebels with loyalties all over the map”, The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
9. Hubbard.
10. Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.
11. Hubbard.

Written by what's left

September 19, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Posted in ISIS, Political Islam, Syria

Western Leaders Fear-Monger to Mobilize Support for Air-Strikes on Syria

with 6 comments

By Stephen Gowans

One of the roles of leading politicians and top officials of the state is to enlist public support for policies which serve the goals of the upper stratum of the population from whose ranks they sometimes come and whose interests they almost invariably promote. When these policies are at odds with the interests of the majority, as they often are, the mobilization of public consent is possible only through deception. The deception is carried out through prevarication, equivocation, and fear-mongering, crystallized into misleading narratives which the mass media can be reliably counted on to amplify. So it is that Western officials have ramped up a campaign of deception to provide a pretext for military intervention in Syria to combat ISIS but which may very well serve as a Trojan horse to escalate the war on the Syrian government.

The foundations of the campaign were laid in March, when US officials began warning that Islamists bent on launching strikes against Europe and the United States were massing in Syria. [1] The campaign kicked into high gear with ISIS’s territorial gains in Iraq and the organization’s beheading of US journalist James Foley. Now US officials say they are contemplating air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria.

To justify the possibility of an air-war in Syria, US officials employ nebulous language about safeguarding US “security interests,” but neglect to spell out what those interests are or how they’re threatened. US defense secretary Chuck Hagel calls ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding that ISIS “is beyond anything that we’ve seen.” [2] Hagel doesn’t say how ISIS is a threat to even one US interest, let alone all of them, while his elevation of ISIS to a threat “beyond anything that we’ve seen” is transparent fear-mongering. Clearly, ISIS’s brutality in Iraq, its beheading of Foley, and its ability to seize and control territory, have been no more shocking than what has transpired in Syria, where ISIS and its fellow Islamists have carried out equally bloody displays of depraved cruelty, while seizing and controlling sizeable swaths of Syrian territory, amply assisted by members of the US-led Friends of Syria.

Hagel also invokes 9/11, suggesting that ISIS “is more of a threat than al Qaeda was before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.” [3] Invoking 9/11 invites the conclusion that without airstrikes on Syria to eliminate ISIS, that an attack on the United States on an order greater than 9/11 is a serious possibility, if not inevitable. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, also points to 9/11 to buttress the case for airstrikes, noting that “The attacks in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, cost $1 million. Today, we estimate the Islamic State has several billions.” The obvious conclusion Fabius wants us to draw is that ISIS will launch thousands of 9/11s. [4] The implied conclusion, however, is no more credible than the implied conclusion that the United States is on the brink of vaporizing the planet because it now has a nuclear arsenal that is vastly greater than the tiny one it had when it atom-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Capability does not necessarily equate to motivation or action. What’s more, the “FBI and Homeland Security Department say there are no specific or credible terror threats to the U.S. homeland from the Islamic State militant group.” [5]

General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered his own contribution to the emerging campaign of fear-mongering. Dempsey observed that ISIS aspires to absorb “Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria into its caliphate.” [6] This is manifestly beyond ISIS’s capabilities, and merits no serious discussion. Dempsey nevertheless adds that if ISIS “were to achieve that vision, it would fundamentally alter the face of the Middle East and create a security environment that would certainly threaten us in many ways.” [7] This is tantamount to saying “If Haiti had an arsenal of 200 thermonuclear weapons and an effective anti-ballistic missile defense system it would certainly threaten us in many ways.” What’s important here is the word “if.” If Barack Obama was a woman he would be the first female US president. If ISIS has the capability of absorbing a large part of the Middle East into a caliphate, it would be a threat to US control of the Middle East. But ISIS does not have this capability. Still, even if it did, it would not be a threat to US security, but to the security of Western oil industry profits.

For its part, The Wall Street Journal suggested that James Foley’s beheading was reason enough to warrant US airstrikes on Syria. [8] Yet beheadings, carried out by ISIS and other Islamists in Syria, and those carried out by US-ally Saudi Arabia against its own citizens, have hardly galvanized Washington to action. Washington’s Saudi ally “beheaded at least 19 convicted criminals since Aug. 4, nearly half of them for nonviolent offenses, including one for sorcery.” [9] These beheadings have been passed over by Western leaders in silence. They certainly haven’t been invoked as a reason to launch air strikes on the Saudi tyranny.

Also passed over in silence by the same Western states is the brutal, misogynist, medieval character of the anti-democratic Saudi regime, one of the principal “Friends of Syria.” In contrast, The New York Times reported that “The president and his top cabinet officials have all denounced the Islamic State as a medieval menace,” adding that US “Secretary of State John Kerry said the group should be destroyed.” [10] What the newspaper didn’t point out was that Saudi Arabia is just as much a “medieval menace” yet no US president or secretary of state would ever use this language to describe their ally, nor, more importantly, undertake a campaign to eliminate the medieval regime. This underscores the reality that Washington bears no animus toward medieval menaces—not when, as in the case of Syria, they operate against the government of a country targeted for regime change, not when they govern a source of immense petrochemical profits on terms favourable to Western oil companies, and not when, as in Afghanistan in the 1980s, they fight against a progressive, pro-Soviet government.

Washington’s campaign to mobilize public opinion for air strikes on Syria, then, has nothing whatever to do with eradicating medieval menaces. Nor has it anything to do with preventing the rise of a caliphate in the greater part of the Middle East, since ISIS hasn’t the capability to accomplish this aim. Even if it did, the rise of a caliphate is a matter for the people of the Middle East to decide, not Western powers. Lastly, until ISIS achieved startling territorial gains in Iraq, Washington was perfectly willing to allow, indeed, even to foster (what it now calls) “the cancer” of ISIS to “metastasize” throughout Syria. It expressed no apprehensions then about ISIS launching 9/11-style attacks on the United States, and did nothing to stop the flow of money to the anti-Assad group from supporters based in countries that make up its Friends of Syria (read Friends of US Imperialism) coalition. Warnings of an ISIS-engineered 9/11-style attack are, therefore, pure fear-mongering.

In light of the above, we ought to ask whether, once launched, a US air-war in Syria will expand its target list from ISIS to Syrian government forces? Is the campaign to mobilize public support for an air war against ISIS in Syria a Trojan horse to escalate the war on the Assad government, and on a broader level, against the interlocked Hezbollah-Syria-Iran resistance against US domination of Western Asia?

1. Eric Schmitt, “Qaeda militants seek Syria base, U.S. official say”, The New York Times, March 25, 2014.

2. Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper, “U.S. isn’t sure just how much to fear ISIS,” The New York Times, August 22, 2014.

3. Dion Nissenbaum, “U.S. considers attacks on ISIS in Syria”, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2014.

4. David Dauthier-Villars, “France calls for action to cut off ISIS money supply”, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2014.

5. Eileen Sullivan, “FBI: No credible threats to US from Islamic State,” The Associated Press, August 22, 2014.

6. Mazzetti and Cooper.

7. Mazzetti and Cooper.

8. Nissenbaum.

9. Rick Gladstone, “Saudi Arabia: Executions draw rebukes”, The New York Times, August 21, 2014.

10. Nissenbaum.

Written by what's left

August 24, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Posted in ISIS, Syria

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