Tag Archives: Qatar

Book review: Shadow Wars. The Secret Struggle for the Middle East by Christopher Davidson

Book review: Shadow Wars. The Secret Struggle for the Middle East by Christopher Davidson
by Ian Sinclair
Red Pepper
February-March 2017

Having published the critically-acclaimed After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies in 2012, with his new book Christopher Davidson has broadened his analysis out to the wider Middle East. For Davidson, a Reader in Politics at Durham University, ‘the primary blame for not only the failure of the Arab Spring, but also the dramatic and well-funded rise of Islamist extremist organizations’ such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State ‘must rest with the long-running policies of successive imperial and “advanced-capitalist” administrations’ – that is, the West.

The 670-page tome (including 120 pages of footnotes) begins with a fascinating survey of the US and UK’s long history of interference around the world, opposed to any independent and democratic forces which might endanger access to natural resources or reduce the West’s geo-political advantage. In the Middle East this often covert counter-revolutionary strategy meant backing monarchs, radical Islamists and other reactionary forces, with the US taking the reins from the fading British Empire in the early 1950s. Davidson’s frequent citing of British historian Mark Curtis and American dissident William Blum hint at his own politics, though Shadow Wars delivers more detail and expertise than either Curtis or Blum. For example, there is an absorbing section about the US and UK’s support for the mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union in 1980s Afghanistan. “The US deliberately chose to back the most dangerous elements of the insurgency”, Davidson notes. The danger of this Machiavellian strategy was obvious, with 9/11 the shocking blowback.

Likely to be provocative to many, Davidson highlights a number of uncomfortable facts in chapters titled ‘Enter the Islamic State – A Phantom Menace’ and, more controversially, ‘The Islamic State – A Strategic Asset’. There is a welcome mention of the formerly classified 2012 US Defence Intelligence Agency report that notes the West wanted a ‘Salafist Principality’ to be established in Eastern Syria. Davidson also highlights how US-UK close allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported the Islamic State – confirmed by Hillary Clinton’s recently leaked emails that show the former US Secretary of State explaining the two Gulf monarchies are providing ‘clandestine financial and logistic support’ to the Islamic State ‘and other radical Sunni groups in the region’. So much for the Clash of Civilizations.

An accessible, though scholarly, tour de force, Shadow Wars is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the West’s ongoing and deadly interventions in the Middle East.

Shadow Wars. The Secret Struggle for the Middle East is published by Oneworld Publications, priced £25.

*An edited version of this review appears in Red Pepper

My account of being censored by The New Arab about an article on Syria

My account of being censored by The New Arab about an article on Syria
by Ian Sinclair
11 February 2017

In August 2016 I received an email from the Assistant Editor of The New Arab, an online newspaper focussed on the Middle East, inviting me to write an article about climate change and the Middle East.

Though I was busy, I responded saying I would try to write something in the coming months. Aware that Wikipedia says The New Arab was owned by an investment company created by the Emir of Qatar I asked about the freedom to write critical things, including making criticisms of the Qatari Government. The New Arab upholds “professional standards… you may criticize whomever you want as long as do so in a respectable manner based on facts and logical rationale”, I was assured.

Over the next few months I wrote a couple of articles for The New Arab – on climate change and the GCC and on the US dominance of the United Nations.

After pitching successfully to the Comment Editor at The New Arab, on 2 February 2017 I submitted an article that asked why the media was ignoring leaked US government documents about Syria. This was important to highlight, I argued, because the documents completely contradicted the dominant narrative about the West and Syria that is endlessly repeated in the media. My article was published on 7 February 2017, and in the next couple of days was retweeted hundreds of times, and got over 5,000 Facebook shares.

However, when I went to read the comments under my article on the morning of 9 February 2017 I found that the article had been removed from The New Arab website. I emailed the Comment Editor, asking what had happened and was directed to the CEO of The New Arab. The CEO told me he had removed my article from the website because he “found it to be contrary to our editorial line.” He continued: “I made the decision to remove it from the website because our values should not be undermined. I have no problem with publishing some differences of opinion on the Syrian issue, but I cannot allow something to be published that undermines the revolution that started against what is a bloody and tyrannical regime.”

Referring to my “opinion”, he noted “I do not believe that the Syrian revolution was in any way a Western construct or something that was encouraged/egged on by the West. Syrian people went out to claim their freedoms and were suppressed. This is the main issue at hand. How and when this conflict began turning into a proxy war etc does not detract from that point.”

The CEO ended by noting “I certainly don’t wish to censor anything. You can criticize whom you want. But the issue here was not criticism. It was an inference that I cannot accept given our stance.”

I replied to the CEO:

“Dear [CEO]

Thanks for your reply.

By removing my article for the farcical reasons you give below you have, regrettably, massively undermined the credibility of The New Arab and yourself.

Very obviously my article does not ‘undermine the revolution’ or argue the revolution was a ‘Western construct’. There is a plethora of evidence that Western governments and its allies in the region have supported the insurgency – including the US government sources I quoted in the article you have censored.

I would like to thank [the Comment Editor and Assistant Editor], both of whom have been a pleasure to work with.

Kind regards

Ian Sinclair”

 

My article can be read here.

 

Gulf countries need revolutionary climate action, not glossy mega-projects

Gulf countries need revolutionary climate action, not glossy mega-projects
by Ian Sinclair
The New Arab
20 December 2016

In May 2016 researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute published a deeply concerning study for the Middle East. According to the academics, climate change could make large parts of the region uninhabitable. By the year 2100, midday temperatures on warm days could reach 50°C, with heat waves potentially occurring ten times more than today. The expected temperature rises could put “the very existence of its inhabitants in jeopardy”, noted Jos Lelieveld, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.

The future looks similarly bleak on the global level. In 2013 Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at University College London, explained that “We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that.”

What would a 4°C world look like, I asked Professor Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, earlier this year? “Global chaos and collapse I think would be a fair assessment”, was his frightening reply. He went on to list a number of likely outcomes: Sea level rise of one metre by 2100; an increase in the frequency and severity of storms; a 40 percent reduction in staple crop yields; substantial changes in rainfall patterns and massive migration.

In the face of this crisis, Middle East governments have slowly started to turn their attention to the problem of climate change, largely presenting it as an uncontroversial topic that requires technical solutions – a perfect example of fatally flawed “techno-optimism” if ever there was one.

A number of large-scale, press-friendly projects are being built, including Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and Masdar City near Abu Dhabi. “Designed to be zero-carbon and zero-waste, home to a population of 40,000 people, 50,000 commuters, in an area of six square kilometres” Masdar City is “playing a crucial role in the development of sustainable design and technology”, gushed Susan Lee from the University of Birmingham.

However, though it’s rarely said, these top-down mega projects are unlikely to help in addressing climate change. Take Masdar: in reality, as Grist noted earlier this year, it “is, essentially, the world’s most sustainable ghost town”, with only a small part of the planned city built and the completion date pushed back from 2016 to 2030.

According to Deutsche Welle, critics “see Masdar first and foremost as a clever project to improve Abu Dhabi’s image” when “it remains one of the world’s worst polluters”.

And it’s not just the United Arab Emirates. The World Wildlife Fund’s 2014 Living Planet report found Kuwait and Qatar have the world’s highest per capita ecological footprint. “If all people on the planet had the footprint of the average resident of Qatar, we would need 4.8 planets”, the report noted.

“The thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything”, Canadian author Naomi Klein argues in her seminal 2014 book on climate change. “It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand.” Klein maintains the scale of the problem means radical transformations are required in the political, economic and cultural spheres. In the Middle East this will mean revolutionary change. For example, the Paris climate agreement pledged to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”.

What does this mean for oil producing states? Using industry data, a recent report from US-based thinktank Oil Change International explained that “the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming”. Averting runaway climate change, according to the study, means no new fossil fuel extraction and some existing fields and mines closing before being fully exploited. Furthermore, Klein argues it is dangerous to consider environmental problems on their own. Rather they will only be solved together with other problems such as economic inequality, the corporate domination of the political and social world, consumerism and western imperialism. A classroom guide created to accompany Klein’s book even asks students to provide a “feminist ecological critique” of extractivism.

Many of the necessary changes will be difficult for rulers in the Middle East to contemplate. Analysing the Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index and the World Energy Council’s Energy Trilemma Index, Professor Robert Looney from the Naval Postgraduate School in California explains that democratic governments are “more likely to comply with global agreements that set specific targets for carbon agreements” and “give environmental sustainability priority over either energy security or affordable energy supplies”. Concerned about their own survival, authoritarian regimes will invariably prioritise energy security and equity, Looney argues, since rising fuel prices risk social unrest.

A media free of government censorship and corporate influence is a key component of Looney’s findings, as it creates an informed citizenry. And once large numbers of people understand the dire threat of climate change, they will likely push for government action. An independent and critical media also engenders discussion and disagreement. The alternative – sadly commonin the Middle East – is hugely counterproductive and threatening to young people and future generations as it muzzles criticism and serious debate. For example, one critic of Masdar (who described it as a “green Disneyland”) said they wished to remain anonymous “Otherwise, you could get in trouble in Abu Dhabi”.

Another key feature of more democratic societies, is an active and independent civil society. As freed slave Frederick Douglass once said “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Progressive and lasting change almost always comes from below – something Klein implicitly understands when she calls for a “grassroots anti-extraction uprising”.

The blocking of the Dakota Access pipeline in the United States, the cancellation of Margaret Thatcher’s road expansion plans in Britain (“the biggest road-building programme since the Romans”), the introduction of the United Kingdom’s groundbreaking 2008 Climate Change Act – all of these environmental victories happened because of long campaigns by activist groups overcoming state-corporate power.

In short, far from being an uncontroversial, technical issue, climate change is actually a real threat to the status quo – in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because if we are serious about addressing climate change, then we need to successfully challenge established power – that is the extractive-enriched, growth-obsessed, profit-driven, largely unelected elites whose actions have led us to this existential crisis point.

With some of the region’s governments repeatedly trying to impede international agreements to combat climate change, this is especially true for the Middle East. With time running out, the future of the Middle East and the wellbeing of humanity depends on how quickly we win the revolutionary changes that are so desperately needed.

 

Has the West and its allies “failed to seriously arm the revolution” in Syria?

Has the West and its allies “failed to seriously arm the revolution” in Syria?
by Ian Sinclair
5 February 2016

Here is my (unpublished) letter to the Guardian Review:

Dear Sir/Madam

Robin Yassin-Kassab argues “The Syrian people’s supposed ‘friends’ failed to seriously arm the revolution” (Guardian Review, 23 January).

In reality, the Financial Times reported in 2013 that Qatar had given $3 billion to the Syrian insurgency, while the New York Times recently noted estimates put Saudi Arabia’s support for the rebels “at several billion dollars.” In addition, the CIA’s $1 billion programme has trained and equipped 10,000 rebel fighters, according to US officials cited by the Washington Post

Yassin-Kassab’s implicit support for more arms to the rebels will likely escalate the conflict. As Oxfam America noted in 2013, “Providing more weapons will mean prolonged fighting and more civilian deaths, more long-term damage to infrastructure and the economy, and greater poverty in Syria.”

Kind regards

Ian Sinclair

10 facts the government doesn’t want you to know about Syria

10 facts the government doesn’t want you to know about Syria
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
10 December 2015

Following the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015, the British government has got its wish to join the air campaign against Islamic State (IS or ISIS) in Syria, winning the parliamentary vote on 2 December 2015.

With many of the government’s dubious assertions often either repeated or not examined by the media, in addition to the government choosing not to relay inconvenient information, here is a list of ten key facts that are essential to understanding the West’s involvement in Syria.

Fact 1: The West has been involved in the Syrian conflict since 2012

The dominant narrative, repeatedly pushed by the liberal media, is that the West has declined to get involved in the Syrian conflict, its inaction leading to the conflict escalating out of control.

In the real world the US started helping to arm the Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the Syrian government from summer 2012 onwards. By March 2013 the New York Times was quoting experts who said these arms shipments totalled 3,500 tons of military equipment. Citing Jordanian security sources, in the same month the Guardian reported that US, UK and French personnel were training Syrian rebels in Jordan. Later that year the New York Times noted that US and UK intelligence services were secretly working with Saudi Arabia to deliver weapons to the rebels. The US and UK cooperation with Saudi Arabia was covert, the report explained, because “American and British intelligence and Arab governments… do not want their support publicly known”. By June 2015 US officials told the Washington Post that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had trained and equipped 10,000 Syrian rebels at a cost of $1bn.

Fact 2: The West has known that extremists were prominent in the Syrian insurgency, and that the arms they sent into Syria have often ended up in the hands of extremists, since 2012

After “extensive interviews with Syria policymakers from the Obama Administration” McClatchy’s Hannah Allam recently noted the Obama Administration “was warned early on [in 2012] that al Qaida-linked fighters were gaining prominence within the anti-Assad struggle.”

Despite this, from 2012 the US has given a wink and a nod to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to support the Syrian rebels. This use of proxies has continued despite it being clear since at least October 2012 that arms provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia were going to hardline Islamic jihadists – a  front page New York Times headline stating ‘Rebel Arms Flow is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria’.

What is essential to understand here is that the US already knew Qatar had a predilection for arming extremists, following the December 2012 New York Times online headline: ‘US-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands’. Quoting US officials and foreign diplomats, the report summarises: “The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants”. US officials were aware of this “Within weeks of endorsing Qatar’s plan to send weapons there in spring 2011”, the New York Times notes.

Fact 3: The US has encouraged ‘moderate’ rebel groups to work with the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and has probably knowingly supported jihadis itself

In May 2015, Charles Lister, a leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, wrote about the US-led operations room in southern Turkey which co-ordinates the lethal support given to opposition groups in Syria, noting the US-led operations room “specifically encouraged a closer co-operation with Islamists commanding frontline operations,” including the Nusra Front. Furthermore, in July 2015 the New York Times reported that although the US-trained Division 30 Syrian rebels were attacked by the Nusra Front when they entered Syria after their training, US officials said “they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.”

In addition, a formerly classified US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report from 2012 noted that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI (al-Qaida in Iraq) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence of the report is as follows: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition”. US support for “the crazies” in Syria was confirmed by General Michael T Flynn, the Director of the DIA from 2012-14, in an interview with journalist Mehdi Hasan on Al-Jazeera in July 2015.

Fact 4: The West has prolonged the fighting and blocked a peaceful solution to the conflict

According to the prime minister’s official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria ,“since the start of the crisis the UK has worked for a political solution in Syria”.

In reality, by arming and training the Syrian opposition the West has helped to intensify and prolong the conflict. In May 2013 Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations warned the “Western arming of rebels is ill-advised given its… encouragement of escalation and maximalism”. In the same month Dr Christopher Phillips, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, noted that arming the rebels “will likely exacerbate and prolong the civil war”. More than two years later in October 2015 the New York Times noted that increased levels of US support to the rebels (and Russian support to the Syrian government) “have raised morale on both sides of the conflict, broadening war aims and hardening political positions, making a diplomatic settlement all the more unlikely.”

In addition, Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus at Oxford University, recently explained that Western insistence that Syrian president Bashar Assad must step down sabotaged Kofi Annan’s UN efforts to set up a peace deal and forced Kofi Annan to resign. Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, echoes this analysis: “The Western powers… sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting”, he wrote in the London Review of Books. Roberts concludes that “Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain’s contribution to it should be a matter of national shame.”

Fact 5: The West has helped to create the conditions in Syria and Iraq that have allowed IS to grow and prosper

The role of the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq in the rise of IS is relatively well known. But very few people make the connection between Western intervention in Syria and the growth of IS. In August 2014, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, argued that the “US government as a whole – and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.”

This is because, as two former NATO Secretary-Generals, Javier Solana and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, warned in June 2013: “Rather than secure humanitarian space and empower a political transition, Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country.” [my emphasis added] The Executive Director of the women’s human rights organisation MADRE, Yifat Susskind, agrees, noting in May 2013 that: “Funnelling more arms to the [Syrian] opposition would fuel their brutal battle tactics, intensify the war, and further diminish chances of a democratic outcome for Syria.”

Fact 6: The West’s allies in the region have been supporting extremists in Syria, including IS

As mentioned above, the West, as well as working closely with its allies in the region – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – to arm the rebels, has also allowed them to support the more extreme Syrian rebel groups. US Vice-President Joe Biden said in October 2014: “Our allies in the region were our largest problem”. Referring to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Biden explained “They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad; except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world”.

According to an August 2014 article in the Washington Post, Turkey “rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State and other jihadists fighting the Syrian Government. Wounded jihadists from IS and the Nusra Front were treated at Turkish hospitals while Turkish border towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms into Syria. IS “were able to grow in power partly by using the border region of a NATO member – Turkey – as a strategically vital supply route and entry point to wage their war”, the Washington Post notes. Similarly, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov reported in November 2015 that “over the past two years several senior ISIS members have told the Guardian that Turkey preferred to stay out of their way and rarely tackled them directly.”

Fact 7: Western airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have killed hundreds of civilians

Speaking to the House of Commons, the prime minister said there has been “no reports of civilian casualties” from the more than 300 UK airstrikes in Iraq on IS. The government’s claim was helpfully repeated by Labour MP Dan Jarvis and the media, with Iain Dale arguing the French airstrikes immediately after the attacks in Paris “targeted the training camps. So they are not targeting civilians. If you look at the number of civilian deaths from American and French airstrikes they are very, very small.”

Contrast Jarvis’s and Dale’s wishful thinking with the recent Mirror report that noted “Anti-ISIS activists in Syria claim a stadium, a museum, medical clinics and a political building have been hit after France launched airstrikes in retaliation for the Paris terror attack”. More broadly, in August 2015 Air Wars, an organisation run by a team of independent journalists, estimated that the 5,700 airstrikes against IS in Syria and Iraq has killed more than 450 civilians, including more than 100 children.

Fact 8: Western bombing of IS is counterproductive and has likely boosted recruitment to the group

In his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, the prime minister stated: “I believe that we should now take the decision to extend British airstrikes against ISIL into Syria, as an integral part of our comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIL and reduce the threat it poses to us.”

The problem with this argument is that Western bombing, as Professor of Peace Studies Paul Rogers explains, plays into IS’s narrative that it is the guardian of Islam under attack from “crusader” forces. Jurgen Todenhofer, a German author who spent ten days with IS in 2014, argues that Western airstrikes “will fill ISIS fighters with joy”, with the inevitable civilian casualties that come from bombing drawing in fresh recruits for their cause. James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), concurs, telling Congress in September 2014 that US bombing of IS in Iraq had increased support for the group.

This helps to explain why although “the US-led bombing campaign has killed an estimated 20,000 Islamic State fighters”, according to senior US military official quoted in an October 2015 USA Today report, IS’s “overall force… remains about where it was when the bombing started: 20,000 to 30,000 fighters.”

Fact 9: Western airstrikes will likely contribute to the refugee crisis

In his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, the prime minister expressed concern that “Half the population of Syria have been forced to flee their homes” with “over 4 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries” and “a further 6.5 million people are displaced inside the country”.

However, in November 2015 a group of Middle East specialists from the University of Oxford and the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) urged the government to reflect on whether the UK joining the air campaign in Syria will “impact on the refugee crisis.” Neil Quilliam, the acting head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, was blunter in his warning, noting that “there is a significant risk that, by increasing the violence through airstrikes, the UK will further contribute to the flow of refugees from Syria”. As was Melanie Ward, the Associate Director at the International Rescue Committee, who said an upsurge in air strikes in Syria “inevitably risks” an increase in people fleeing the conflict.

Fact 10: The Government’s claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels willing to work with the West is completely bogus

According to the prime minister’s official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria “there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.”

The Guardian reported that this claim “prompted an awkward stand-off” in the Commons Defence Committee, with the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff refusing to provide a breakdown of which groups made up the 70,000 figure. Pressed by committee chair Julian Lewis MP to identify the groups, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP replied feebly: “We will certainly reflect on that.” With pressure mounting The Times revealed the Ministry of Defence had warned the prime minister against claiming there were 70,000 moderate rebels ready to fight IS, fearing it would echo Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’.

After travelling to Cairo, Amman and Beirut as a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi argued that the government figure of 70,000 “must be treated with caution.” According to the military experts she met while on the official trip, there would be a struggle to find 20,000, she said.

Cockburn believes the existence of 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels willing to work with the West in fighting IS “is very debatable”. David Wearing, a Lecturer and Researcher on the Middle East at SOAS agrees, calling it “a completely nonsense number”. Professor Joshua Landis, the Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is also dismissive, as is Aymenn al-Tamimi, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum and specialist on the Syrian insurgency. Tamimi, according to Cockburn, warns that rebel groups “commonly exaggerate their numbers, are very fragmented and have failed to unite, despite years of war.” Furthermore he notes that the rebel groups often pretend to the outside world to be more moderate than they actually are.

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 June 2015

Reading radical alternative news and commentary about Western foreign policy often leads to intense self-doubt and to questions like “Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?” Or “Am I reading this right?” And even “Perhaps I am losing my mind?”

Two recent news reports about the US involvement in Syria have triggered these exact questions for me.

Last month a formerly classified August 2012 Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report was published by the right-wing watchdog Judicial Watch. In the heavily redacted document the DIA – the intelligence arm of the US Department of Defense – notes “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence in the report is this: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the [Assad] regime.” Later, the DIA makes another extraordinary statement: “There is the possibility of [the opposition] establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Charles Lister, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and arguably the leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, provided the second jaw-dropping reading experience in May 2015. “The US-led operations room in southern Turkey, which coordinates the provision of lethal and non-lethal support to vetted opposition groups… specifically encouraged a closer cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations”, including official al-Qaeda branch Jabhat al-Nusra, Lister explained in Foreign Policy.

So, to summarise, the West – the US and likely the UK too – were supporting the Syrian armed insurgency in 2012 in the full knowledge it was dominated by Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Three years later the US is encouraging rebel groups to cooperate with al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

What happened, you might well ask, to the epic, generational struggle against al-Qaeda and radical jihadists that we have been fighting since 2001 to save Western civilisation? A war and evil enemy, least we forget, that has been repeatedly hyped by a pliant media and supported by all the main political parties in the US and UK.

Except for Seumas Milne in the Guardian, the mainstream media have ignored the extraordinary revelations of the DIA and Lister. The BBC has, as far as I’m aware, not mentioned either on any of its many news platforms. Incredibly the highly respected Middle East specialist Shadi Hamid describes the Obama Administration as “opting to remain disengaged in Syria”.

In addition to this explosive new evidence of Western support for jihadists, the West’s key allies in the region have also been supporting the more extreme elements of the resistance to the Syrian government.

In August 2014 the Washington Post reported that before their blitz in Iraq “Turkey rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State, eager to aid any enemy of the Assad government. “Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front… were treated at Turkish hospitals”, the Post noted. “Most important, the Turks winked as… Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.”

The Wall Street Journal carried a similar report in March this year, except this time it concerned Israel and how some of the al-Nusra Front’s “severely wounded fighters are regularly taken across the frontier fence to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.”

Unsurprisingly, on this issue the Western media invariably report the official US Government line – that the US is opposed to these actions and is pressuring Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop supporting jihadists in Syria.

However, a close reading of mainstream news reports suggests that far from being opposed, the US is deeply involved in these nefarious networks. For example, earlier this year the Wall Street Journal published a story titled ‘Saudis Agree to Provide Syrian Rebels With Mobile Antiaircraft Missiles’. According to the report “Rebel leaders say they met with US and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30… That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons [snit-aircraft missiles].”

Writing about the increased coordinated support to the Syrian rebels provided by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov recently noted the Saudi king told allies “the US would not stand in the way.” And in June 2013 the Los Angeles Times noted the arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries” to Syrian rebels were “provided with assent from the Americans.”

Public denials at odds with covert actions are, of course, meat and potatoes when it comes to outsourcing foreign policy to regional proxies. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” the US-supported Yemeni President told US General David Petraeus in January 2010 about the US drone strikes in his country. According to the Washington Post, a similar deception has long been in effect between the US and Pakistan with the Pakistani Government publicly condemning US drone strikes, while at the same time secretly cooperating with the US.

And of course, if the US really felt as strongly about the destructive policies of their Middle East allies as they publicly claim to, then a simple way to pressure them to stop supporting jihadis in Syria would be for the US to threaten to stop selling their allies arms. In reality, the US continues to arm countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia despite – or perhaps because of – their support for the Syrian insurgency. In March 2015 the Stockholm Peace Research Institute noted that the GCC states and Turkey are “scheduled to receive further large order of major arms in the coming years” – mainly from the US and Europe.

It’s certainly possible I’m not reading the evidence correctly. I may be taking it out of context. There may well be good reasons the media has chosen not to cover the story. And I could well have lost my mind. But what if the reports point to a far more frightening conclusion – it’s not me that is mad and delusion but the entire media and political elite in the West?

Is Noam Chomsky right that the US doesn’t want regime change in Syria?

Is Noam Chomsky right that the US doesn’t want regime change in Syria?
by Ian Sinclair
Huffington Post
12 March 2014

Noam Chomsky is probably the most influential leftist on the planet right now. So when he argues the US “has shown no indication it wants the rebels to win in Syria”, as he did recently in an interview with the Voice of Russia, his opinion carries a lot of weight amongst progressives. But while I consider Chomsky one of the most intelligent analysts of US foreign policy, the facts strongly suggest the US is trying to overthrow the President Bashar al-Assad.

First, the Obama Administration’s public statements on the future of the Syrian president are quite clear. “Assad must go – and I believe he will go”, Obama stated in March 2013. Six months later US Secretary of State John Kerry reconfirmed “President Obama’s policy is that Assad must go.” While one should always be wary of taking the public utterances of those in power at face value, it is important to consider the enabling effect these statements of intent have on Syrian rebels and those who support them. Furthermore, US actions broadly match the US Government’s wish to see Assad overthrow. The New York Times certainly thinks so, reporting in July 2012 that the Obama administration has “abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad”.

From the early stages of the war the US has been “acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates”, according to the Wall Street Journal. By May 2013 the Financial Times estimated Qatar had provided $3 billion worth of arms to the rebels. Not content to leave the dirty work to its autocratic Gulf allies, the US has been playing a coordinating role in arming the rebels since before May 2012. Reporting on this deadly arms race in March 2013 the New York Times quoted an expert who estimated 3,500 tons of military equipment had been sent to the rebels by Arab Governments and Turkey with assistance from the CIA.

The US role goes beyond coordination. The CIA has been training and arming hundreds of rebels in Jordan and then sending them back to the killing fields in Syria. This is on top of significant amounts of non-lethal assistance the US has given to the rebels – vehicles, communications equipment, combat medical kits and 350,000 military food packets. In recent weeks the US has been increasing its financial assistance to rebels in southern Syria, giving millions of dollars to pay the monthly salaries of tens of thousands of insurgents.

The White House has repeatedly claimed it opposes sending in anti-aircraft missiles in case they got into the hands of extremists. However, last month the Wall Street Journal reported the US is complicit in doing exactly this. “Rebel leaders say they met with U.S. and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30 as the first round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva came to a close”, noted the story. “That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons [the anti-aircraft missiles].” The meeting likely took place in the military operations room in Amman which hosts intelligence agencies from 11 countries including the US, Saudi Arabia, France and the UK.

If the US doesn’t want to overthrow Assad, as Chomsky claims, why is it making it more likely by arming and training the rebels and giving a wink and a nod to their allies in the region to do the same? A common retort is the US is providing just enough assistance to pressure Assad but not for the rebels to win. If so, this is a very dangerous game to play – and one the US is unlikely to be able to control. Wars are unpredictable and US interference will only increase the conflict’s volatility. In addition, the anti-aircraft missiles Saudi Arabia plans to give to rebels with the tacit agreement of the US could tip the balance in the stalemated war in favour of the opposition, according to rebels.

The argument that the US doesn’t want to overthrow Assad assumes the US could easily do so if it wanted. But while the US certainly has the military might to quickly depose Assad it is constrained by realpolitik geopolitical considerations and, most importantly for anti-war and peace activists, public opinion. Take the Vietnam War, for example. In 1966 specialists at the Pentagon presented a plan, based on a computer model, to US President Lyndon Johnson to end the war and save lives – by nuking the country. On hearing this Johnson reportedly pointed out the window towards a crowd of protestors and said “I have one more problem for your computer. Will you feed into it how long it will take 500,000 angry Americans to climb the White House wall out there and lynch their President?” In short, while the US has always been able to technically destroy whichever enemy it has been fighting it has always been inhibited by what is politically possible.

On Syria the constraints on the Obama Administration are clear: US public opinion is firmly against military strikes and arming the rebels. This opposition is probably the main reason it is very difficult to get a clear understanding of the US’s (often covert) actions in Syria. However, what information that does exist in the public domain clearly points to the US providing substantial support to the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian Government.