Full Circle: MANPADS, Mi-8s and Muslim fundamentalists

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan the CIA helped fund and train Islamist guerillas. Despite the fact they were totalitarian religious fanatics and terrorists to boot, the US gave them money and material, including personal, portable, surface-to-air rockets known as Stingers, enabling them to take down Russian helicopters like the Mi-8.

Islamists down Mi-8 in Afghanistan, 1988.

Islamists down Russian Mi-8 in Afghanistan with US rockets, 1988.

It didn’t turn out too well.

During the Syrian Civil War, the CIA are helping to fund and train Islamist guerillas. Despite the fact they are totalitarian religious fanatics and terrorists to boot, the US are giving them money and material, including personal, portable, surface-to-air rockets known as MANPADS, enabling them to take down Russian helicopters like the Mi-8.

Islamists down Russian MI-8 in Syria with US rockets, 2016

Islamists down Russian Mi-8 in Syria with US rockets, 2016

There is no reason at all to think this will work out any better than it did last time.

Sadly the policy is supported by not just the current US President, but by his likely Democrat successor Hillary Clinton, the UK government and – at the time of blogging – most of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing, as Talleyrand said.

Decoding Richard Dearlove’s “popular uprising” speech

Since I last blogged (senior spooks briefing against Brexit), none other than Richard Dearlove, another former head of MI6, has surfaced on the BBC, espousing his own views on the European referendum. Dearlove gave a brief lecture during the broadcaster’s World On The Move Day, “a special day exploring how the movement of people is changing the world”.

Dearlove describing immigration as a terrorist threat.

Dearlove believes: a) immigration presents a terrorism threat, b) Europeans present a terrorism threat, c) terrorism, terrorism everywhere.

In Dearlove’s speech he repeated arguments he had earlier made in article for Prospect magazine this March: that the UK’s national security would not be jeopardized by leaving the EU. In fact, “there would be some gains if we left”, including the chance to dump the European Convention on Human Rights (an argument later echoed by the Home Secretary, although of course the ECHR is not an EU institution) and the ability to restrict inward immigration from the EU – because Dearlove, whatever his protestations to the contrary, directly and explicitly conflates immigration and terrorism.

As I blogged earlier, this view is not shared by David Omand (ex-GCHQ), John Sawers (ex-SIS), Jonathan Evans (ex-MI5), the European Union, NATO, President Obama, David Cameron, and a few others. Dearlove is a lone voice. He’s under absolutely no compulsion to stick his head above the parapet like this. Why is he doing it? Who is making him?

I don’t know, and neither does any other commentator, including those who speculate that it must have something to do with the Chilcot Inquiry. The publication of the Chilcot Inquiry has been delayed until after the EU referendum, something Dearlove knew before the rest of us. His public comments about Brexit would appear to have begun around the time he knew the referundum would be happening first. So what?

Dearlove is member of the Henry Jackson Society. I can tell you one thing from this, apart from the obvious: Richard Dearlove is not an intellectual. He is not a thinking man. Throw away any prejudice or presumption you might have about the sort of person who you think rises to the top of MI6 and replace it with the sort of prejudice you have about the sort of person who rises to the top of, say, the Environment Agency, or a local authority, or a chancellorship in a redbrick or former poly. I wonder about the extent of his self-awareness.

Close-reading a Dearlove speech is frustrating. Nevertheless, here is my run-down on Dearlove’s recent Brexit speech for the BBC:

0:37 Dearlove disavows that intelligence agencies form government policy

“Intelligence and security services are simply contributors to a strong policy-making,” he says, fluffing the line. This is an echo of his assertions at the Chilcot Inquiry, assertions that are palpably untrue, especially and particularly in the case of Iraq. Note also that he speaks of intelligence agencies generally. He doesn’t specify an agency or a country.

0:53 Continued justification for Middle East regime change

“History tells us that human tides are irresistable unless the gravitational pull that causes them is removed.” He then goes on to shoehorn in an awkward and clichéd Edward Gibbon reference about how the Roman Empire collapsed because it couldn’t manage the free movement of Europe’s tribes. Is this for the yanks? UK spooks love the America-as-Rome analogy, it makes them Ancient Greeks

3:18 The UK provides the EU’s counter-terrorism intel

The UK is the EU’s only member state whose intelligence agencies have a counter-terrorism capability, Dearlove argues, tacking on the usual riders about the tremendous global reputation of British intelligence-gathering. Neither of those points are true, they are sales puffs. But what is he selling, and to whom?

3:00 Bi-lateral intel-sharing arrangements with the UK

Dearlove signed up Hungary to one such arrangement after the end of the Cold War. The inference appears clear to me: the UK can act as a disributing centre of EU intelligence inside or outside the EU. I am beginning to think this is essentially an American-facing presentation about protecting the “special relationship” from any referendum fallout.

5:26 Dearlove actually refers to the UK as the US but corrects himself halfway through.

Freudian slip #1 (yes, this speech is about the special relationship)

5:50 “Intelligence and security liaison is highly pragmatic and outside the military sphere is not subject to formal treaty agreements.”

This is a key line. It stresses the idea that as well as being secret, undemocratic and unaccountable, intelligence liaison is essentially about perception: what you think you might get and who you think might supply it. Hence all these sales puffs. Hence all the crackpot realism and bullshit. These things are the lifeblood of intelligence as per Dearlove’s model. It also suggests the possiblity that there may be key negotiations underway right now, between the UK and the EU, using the UK’s impending EU referendum as leverage. If so, these negotiations have already been presented to the US as added value by their junior British partners.

6:12 Dearlove describes mass immigration as mass co-ordination but then corrects himself.

Freudian slip #2 (European mass co-ordination are what these negotiations are about)

6:30 The EU may have run its course. Our choice is going to be strategic.

“If Europe cannot act together to persuade a majority of its citizens that it can gain control of its migratory crisis then the EU will find itself at the mercy of a populist uprising which is already stirring. The stakes are very high and the UK referendum is the first roll of the dice in a bigger geopolitical game.”

The irresponsible puffs of a perception-centred former spymaster. Apparently a lot of the old Kremlinologists were prone to this kind of melodrama. It’s sales talk.

In short, I don’t think this has that much to do with Dearlove wanting to protect his reputation from the looming Chilcot Report. Chilcot won’t alienate Dearlove from his American sponsors, they expect him to get slated and they value him all the more for taking the hit. I think this is just Atlanticism, which, of course, is why we went to war in Iraq in the first place. The Henry Jackson Society, the Hudson Union Society (co-founded by Louise Mensch) and whatever other unsubtle proxies exist for concentrated neoconservative power are happy to have him.

I understand there was a panel Q and A afterwards in which Dearlove stated that “to offer visa-free access to 75 million Turks to stem the flow of migrants across the Aegean seems perverse, like storing gasoline next to the fire.”

Gasoline is not, of course, a British word. Immigration and counter-terrorism would present far smaller problems had we not helped destroy the sovereign nations of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, conflicts which are all conpsicuously absent from his speech. Dearlove bears a key responsibility for the problems he is taking money to advise us on, offering solutions you can rest assured will be either impossible or counter-productive. Thus the cycle of perception-led intelligence perpuates. When will it end? When the dollars stop.

On The Bombing Of Markets

Forget about the brokers in Shanghai.

On Sunday the 16th of August the market in Douma, an outer suburb of Damascus, was bombed. The news was first reported by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in a series of escalating bulletins until it finally arrived at the headline “more than 330 civilians killed and wounded in the genocide committed by the regime warplanes in Duma”.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

The “international community”, as the West and its satellites are fond of calling themselves, was quick to voice its outrage, as it has been throughout its five year campaign for Syrian regime change.

The UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien (ex-Cambridge, ex-Conservative MP), said he was “particularly appalled” at this “unlawful, unacceptable” targeting of non-combatants. The US State Department formally “condemns, in the strongest terms, the recent deadly airstrikes… on a market in the Damascus suburb of Douma that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds, including innocent women and children.”

National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price said: “This latest tragedy is just another reminder of the inhumane acts perpetrated daily by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.  The regime is responsible for killing thousands of innocent Syrian civilians and destroying entire towns and cities, historical sites, schools, mosques, markets, and hospitals.  These abhorrent actions underscore that the Assad regime has lost legitimacy and that the international community must do more to enable a genuine political transition.”

State Department Spokesman John Kirby said, the “airstrikes, following its other recent market bombings and attacks on medical facilities, demonstrate the regime’s disregard for human life. As we have said, Assad has no legitimacy to lead the Syrian people. The United States is working with our partners toward a genuine, negotiated political transition away from Assad that brings an end to such attacks and leads to a future that fulfils Syrians’ aspirations for freedom and dignity.”

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, inevitably chipped in. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (ex-Harrow, ex-Cambridge, son of Jock Colville, undisclosed relationship with the Foreign Office, wink wink), whose office has maintained since 2012 that they have “enough evidence of war crimes to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court”, was equally keen to voice his concern over “the outrageous bombing of a busy local marketplace.”

And so on, and so on.

Then the Douma Co-ordinating Committee, one of a network of committees set up on or before 2011, and funded by the US State Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, released a list of the dead (although it requires translation). It has 102 names on it. Ninety nine of them are men. Does that sound like a normal gender spread for an Arabic market? The Syrian government maintain they actually targeted a rebel HQ near the market. Given the fatalities, and Douma’s long-standing status as a rebel bastion, doesn’t that sound more plausible than the idea Assad’s air force are targeting Sunday markets?

For those keen to pore over pictures of this and other bombed markets, and ponder the damage and corpses therein, or lack therof, Eric Draitser has a compendium of links in this very relevant article. Draitser is of the opinion that the extant footage from Douma is far less gruesome than might be expected. What makes things murkier still is that soon afterwards all the bodies were buried in mass graves, so no identification or inquest is possible.What footage we do have reveals no sign at all of how the men were killed. They’re wrapped in blankets, and most do seem to be of fighting age. Draitser even speculates they might just as easily have been brought in from fighting elsewhere. Unsurprisingly it turns out that at least one of the Douma market victims miraculously survived.

Get into character Mohammad: you've just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

Mohammad has just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

In 2013 Douma was also the scene of another alleged war crime: a chemical weapons attack, one of several such attacks across Syria, attacks which were extensively recorded and reported. However, as with the market bombing, I’m not quite sure the evidence for these stacks up either (the UN feels the same way, so does Stratfor, and so does Gareth Porter, to name but a very few, while Mossad, the JIC and The Sun thought otherwise).

The story reminded me that despite the fact markets have no military value, they’re bombed all the time. Sometimes we presume it is simply an accident, like when the RAF bombed the market at Fallujah, killing between 50 people (the MoD’s figure, when they eventually admitted responsibility) and 200.  But in almost every case, with the exception of four or five relatively minor incidents in Israel, whenever markets have been bombed over the last twenty years or so, the victims have been Muslim (I have started to compile a spreadsheet). These bombings occur with incredible frequency, and an astonishing number of them are never claimed by any terrorist group. Isn’t that bizarre? It suggests a strategy of tension, or perhaps several of them. Certainly it warrants further study.

Most of all, the reports from Douma reminded me of the market bombings in Sarajevo, or the Markale massacres, as they are sometimes known. The market in Sarajevo was bombed three times: once in 1992, once in 1994, and again in 1995. Or perhaps more accurately, it was hit by 120mm mortar shells. On each occasion there was ambiguity about whether the Serbs were actually responsible. General Michael Rose believed the shells actually came from the Bosnian side. Multiple sources (such as Michael Rose, David Owen, Boutros Boutros Ghali, President Mitterand, and Yasushi Akashi, the UN Special Envoy for Bosnia) refer to a secret UN investigation which found exactly that. A second, non-secret UN report (the one intended for publication) confined itself to saying the attack could not be confidently attributed to any particular faction.

I have visited the market in Sarajevo. An arc of attack was not apparent. Sightlines were few and very narrow. It would take exceptional skill, I think, to accurately and reliably hit it with the groupings and timings we are asked to believe in. I do not seek to exonerate the Bosnian Serbs, who seem to have sniped and shelled Sarajevo at will, but the mortar attacks in question reveal what you might call a tradition of unattributed, misreported, propagandistic attacks on Muslim markets. And the CIA and the Saudi-funded Islamists were present then just as they are today.

Sarajevo market bombed. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

The bombing of Sarajevo market. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

In memoriam.

 

 

Further evidence of the Israeli-Saudi Alliance: Pinkwashing Yemen

This piece, by an American undergraduate intern at The Tower magazine, was picked up by the Irish Times on the weekend, and it is the most cynical bit of “pro-intervention” journalism I have seen for some time. Someone on Tara Street should get their knuckles rapped for running it, and not lightly.

Yemen threw off its Saudi-US puppet, the “internationally backed” Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in a popular uprising in January (Hadi come to power during the Arab Spring in a deal which meant his predecessor could step down without facing criminal charges; Hadi was the sole election candidate and he claimed to have won over 99% of the vote). The uprising had been conducted under the aegis of the Houthis, a Shia-orientated power bloc which represented huge swathes of the country. Naturally, the Saudi royalty and other Emirati were terrified, as their brittle monarchies are particularly susceptible to popular revolution. As they are wont to do (see Bahrain), they blamed Iranian subterfuge for the fall of Hadi, rather than admit to their own inherent, undemocratic weaknesses, and thus the Houthi are portrayed not as any kind of national movement but simply as the agents of Tehran.

Consequently, a military alliance has been formed, to take back the country for the ousted placeman (he resigned, actually, but the details are convoluted). The Saudis and the UAE have ground troops inside the country. The UAE would appear to be working in loose conjunction with Al Qaeda, also an active force inside southern Yemen. Egypt, under Sisi, has also allied itself with Riyadh, although only in so far ( I believe) as offering to deploy some friendly warships. The US and the UK, both long-term opponents of popular government in the Middle East, are helping with intelligence-sharing and targeting (and they’ve been atrocious at it). I wouldn’t be surprised if some spec ops were involved too.

Formally, Israel and Saudi Arabia are sworn enemies, but it’s long been speculated they formed a secret alliance after “the redirection” of 2007, a theory supported by Gladstone’s article. The Tower magazine is the house publication of The Israel Project, an organisation described (by its supporters) as “Israel’s most effective nongovernmental public relations agency”, being “a private initiative funded by wealthy backers that [engages] journalists (and others) with information targeting their working needs.”

Founded in 2002, The Israel Project quickly became “one of the Jewish community’s fastest-growing organizations”, and is noted (again, by its supporters) for its “aggressive, in-your-face, style of operation”. It is headed by a guy who used to work as communications director at AIPAC. Everything The Tower publishers serves to advance Israeli interests. By its own admission, the magazine and the body behind it serve no other purpose. Surely the Irish Times must know this? It explains the article is an extract from a longer Tower piece in the footer.

Gladstone’s article is an example of pinkwashing, which is not a uniquely Israeli technique by any means, but the country does have a reputation for doing rather a lot of it. Homophobia is a major problem inside Israel itself, of course, but it would much rather use LGBT rights as an excuse to bomb countries it sees as geopolitical threats than attend to its own domestic problems.

Gladstone is fairly simple in his approach. Essentially, he argues that the Houthi are terrible because they have made it more difficult for middle class homosexuals to have house parties. You might think the Saudi bombs posed a bigger danger, and to Yemeni of all sexualities, but that’s not how pinkwashing works.

Bombing for gay rights!

Bombing for gay rights!

Irish Times readers might be interested to know that the article was originally titled ‘Will Yemen’s Gay Community Survive the Iran-Backed Militias Trying to Take Over?’ However, the article offers absolutely no evidence for any increased jeopardy whatsoever, and omits the fact that in Yemen, as in many Arabic countries, homosexuality has long been punishable by death. In short, it forgoes all context in order to construe a Houthi-related human rights emergency. It also repeats unqualified claims that the Houthi are Iranian-backed, and falsely asserts that Hadi is Yemen’s legitimate leader.

I have contacted Gladstone’s sole named interviewee for his opinion on the article but he has not yet responded. I understand he left the Yemen when he was three.

For those who are interested, I blogged about pinkwashing here.

Media reportage of events in Yemen has been appalling, so I will endeavour to construct a reliable timeline sometime over the next few days. If this is possible I will blog it, but if you know where to find one, please say.

The Syrian Civil War and the UN five years in

It’s been a while since we heard anything about the evils of the Syrian government. There is only so much media bandwidth for moral condemnation, and much of that has been taken up by Russia and ISIS (and in America, Iran). Although a lot of money has been spent vilifying Syria, usually in very discreet ways, it has slipped from the limelight as Washington becomes increasingly persuaded that the way to break-up Syria is to drop Assad as a casus belli and adopt ISIS instead.

The most official body charged with investigating Syrian war crimes is the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. That the UN feels the need to include the words ‘independent’ and ‘international’ in the Commissions’s formal title shows how sensitive it is to accusations of Western influence, but these fears cannot be allayed by nomenclature. It doesn’t help that of the five founding Commissioners one was a Turk who had completed a PhD in America (and who even spun her resignation into anti-Assad propaganda), another is an American whose employment history prior to joining the UN is unknown, while a third commissioner and the chairman have both held positions at American universities. Turkey and America, of course, are two long-standing belligerents in Syria’s proxy war.

The Commission itself was born out of a UN resolution, but not one derived from the Security Council or the General Assembly. It was a consequence of S-17/1, passed by the UN Human Rights Council, which currently counts amongst its rotating members Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two notorious systematic human rights abusers who also happen to be the two key backers of the Islamist paramilitaries inside Syria (and also Iraq, and also Yemen). This was not an auspicious start.

The resolution, and by obligation the Commission, took as read that there were “continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, [and the] torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including of children.” This followed on from an earlier fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, a man who was previously Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States (Jordan being yet another opponent of the Syrian government). It’s worth pointing out the Human Rights Council could have made the same condemnation, almost word-for-word, as regards the US inside Iraq, or Saudi Arabia generally, of Qatar, or of Bahrain, of Israel, or any number of Western proxies. That it didn’t is another suggestion of institutional bias.

The Syrian Civil War is now in its fifth year, and the Commission has grown quiet. Its communications have been few. Nevertheless, its chair continues to present the crimes of the insurgents as lesser in scale, intent, and effect than that of the government, even going so far as to refute the idea that anti-government forces have any strategy to indiscriminately shell or bomb civilian areas. At the same time, the Commission has highlighted the use of “barrel bombs” by the Syrian Air Force. Barrel bombs are a crude aerial munition “increasingly employed… to reduce the cost of the protracted aerial campaigns while increasing its ability to extend them over more restive areas. It also allowed them to expand the fleet of aircraft used in assault operations to include transport helicopters.”

After Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was officially destroyed (as well as the architecture which housed them) barrel bombs were adopted by the opponents of the Syrian government as a new and media-friendly way to emphasise Assad’s immorality. All news outlets have carried the story (here’s the BBC). Yet while the Commission’s report accepts these weapons are the consequence of a shortage of materiel, its Chairman continues to maintain that Damascus retains a “proven ability to conduct information led and precise attacks on military objectives.” How, exactly? If Paulo Pinheiro is referring to ground operations, I would dearly like to know how keen he’d be to see his son pick up an assault rifle and storm an apartment block.

Whatever the aims of the Syrian Air Force, in the hands of the UN HRC (as with Amnesty International and countless other organisations) the barrel bomb was another attempt at a “red line” triggering Western intervention. Its opinion that “area bombardment is prohibited by international humanitarian law” is a gross simplification (see Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, added 1977), but even if it were not, it’s hopelessly one-sided to indict Syria while ignoring the historical and ongoing bombardments committed by other countries.

The only other comment recently offered by the Commission has been to welcome the release of three “human rights defenders”, Hussein Ghrer, Maen Darwish, and Hani Al-Zaytani, who worked for the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus. They were arrested in February 2012 on charges of “publicizing terrorist attacks” and “promoting terrorist activities”. They were released this summer. I have no knowledge of the facts of the case, or of the provenance of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus, but it is worth pointing out the law in our own country (and many others) is even more draconian, as the number of putative jihadis inside HMP Belmarsh testifies. Again, this has not met with any interest from the UN Human Rights Council.

The Commission’s most significant communication this year was the 64-page report it delivered this February. The report was originally expected to deal with allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government, allegations which Western media had reported as fact for a number of years, in broadcasts which sometimes resembled blatant propaganda. As regards these alleged CW attacks, most notably the attacks at Al Ghouta and Khan Al Assan, the Commission confined itself to two paragraphs and the following conclusion:

“The Commission’s evidentiary threshold was not met with regard to the perpetrator for these incidents.”

That was it. All those news reports, all those column inches, those hours of tv reportage and political debate, the rise from anonymity of bloggers like Brown Moses, have been swept under the carpet by a single sentence. Events, dear boy, events.

For those, like me, who believed the CW attacks were never anything more than anti-Syrian propaganda, the report is as close to vindication as we are ever likely to get, at least until the victims turn up in later life as unscathed survivors. I haven’t seen a UN chemical weapons report as deliberately equivocal since the Iran-Iraq War. If the Commission cannot bring itself to account for these incidents, at least its most neutral Commissioner has gone off-message to hint at the truth.  For now, the villain de jour is ISIS, and ironically it is ISIS which the West has seized on to justify its long-awaited bombing of the Syrian army – which in turn is the chief opponent of the Islamic State. I haven’t seen foreign policy as perverse as this since the Cold War.

Top jobs currently vacant in Riyadh and Sana’a

As I was penning my last post, two Middle Eastern countries lost their leaders.

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia, died in hospital from a lung condition. He was aged “about ninety” – nobody ever found out how old he was (I doubt there were any registry offices in mid-twenties Saudi Arabia). Abdullah was admitted to hospital some weeks ago, so if his decline was inevitable this would have influenced some recent political and parapolitical events. What observers of the mainstream media will notice is the way journalists, and especially American journalists, continually refer to the late king as a reformer. This is like referring to Louis XVIII as a reformer. Really it’s just a way of masking our support for a despicable regime: by blindly asserting the guy in charge is 0.01% better than his rivals, we can thus pretend he is worthy of our obsequious support. Hence all Saudi leaders are always referred to, absurdly, as modernisers and reformers. They are no such thing. The dynasty is inherently incapable of reform. Resisting reform is pretty much the Saudi raison d’etre. I mean look at this:

Some (by no mean all) draconian Saudi punishments. Source: Middle East Eye

Some (by no mean all) draconian Saudi punishments. Source: Middle East Eye

Whatever faces they might pull for the public, the knives will be out in the House of Saud. Saudi successions are rarely smooth, and how could they be, with so many foreign countries angling for influence? One obvious consequence has already occurred, and it is the fall from power of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in Yemen. I mentioned him in the post below; he was a pro-US Saudi-puppet. While Abdullah was ailing in hospital, the Yemen’s Houthi rebels surrounded the presidential palace. Unable to flee to Saudi Arabia as his predecessor did, Hadi resigned, as did his newly-appointed Prime Minister, and the rest of the cabinet (isn’t it strange how governments which claim to win over 99% of the votes in every election always end up tumultuously overthrown).

What this throws into relief the utter hypocrisy of US foreign policy – as does almost every major international event these days. Washington just lost their boy in Sana’a to a popular (and by definition) anti-American grassroots movement. Cue the inevitable drivel from the State Department about an illegitimate coup, as was noticably missing in their response to the military overthrow of an elected leader in Egypt, or the ousting, by shadowy neo-fascist gunmen, of an elected leader in the Ukraine. Some of the yanks are already calling for Hadi’s re-instatement – whereas you’ll remeber that the Russians had the good grace and common sense to pronounce Yanukovych utterly finished. As you listen to, and read about, the endless vilification of Russia, spare a moment to think about what our leaders look like in the Middle East.

Obama and Abdullah.

Obama and Abdullah.

Bush and Abdullah.

Bush and Abdullah.

Cameron and Abdullah

Cameron and Abdullah

Blair and Abdullah

Blair and Abdullah

Charlie Windsor dressing up for Abdullah (it's never happened the other way around).

Charlie Windsor dressing up for Abdullah (it’s never happened the other way around).

2015: A Year of Blow-back Beckons

If the Charlie Hebdo shootings signify anything, it’s that the year ahead will be one of blow-back for Western foreign policy. Despite the bold assertions of Obama’s State of the Union address, the high tide mark of Western influence has been reached. Ponder what is currently happening at home and abroad, and consider the context.

The so-called “Arab Spring” delivered the opposite of what our pundits and politicos promised. After a Western-sponsored coup d’etat Egypt is now a military dictatorship busily jailing and executing the elected Muslim Brotherhood it displaced. Meanwhile, GCC sponsorship and a NATO bombing campaign has turned Libya into a violent Islamist basket-case. In Yemen, despite widespread popular unrest, Saudi-puppet President Saleh hung on to power, ruling from Riyadh. Eventually his vice-president succeeded him, a man of almost identical political leanings, with what is claimed to be 99.8% of the vote (he was the only candidate in the election).

In Bahrain the government simply blamed the Shia for the uprisings and sprayed the protestors with bullets, torturing more than a few and cracking down on any sort of free speech and political assembly, a process which continues to this day. The Bahraini King did establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry to look into it all, which did confirm that yes, widespread human rights abuses from torture up to murder had taken place. It then suggested “recommendations” which would “improve accountability and bring government practice into line with international standards”. A tyrannical massacre was thus reduced to a matter of management, practices and standards. Bahrain’s Commission was such a staggering example of cynical state arrogance that I am sure it could only have been suggested by the mandarins of the British civil service.

In Tunisia alone things worked out reasonably well but the worst of the Arab Spring took place, of course, in Syria, where a brutal dictatorship had a long history of meeting popular uprisings with bloody suppression. The leaders there stood their ground, and what happened next revealed the true dynamics behind this so-called Arab Spring: the demonstrators turned out to be foreign-paid or foreign-born Islamist guerrillas with no central agenda, manifesto, or negotiating platform. Western media repeatedly and consistently misreported this fact, spreading instead all-too-familiar disinformation about WMD and human rights, and clinging to the manufactured Manichean narrative of good-democratic-Western-minded freedom fighters versus evil Arab dictator.

The reality is that Syria’s foreign-sponsored civil war made the incumbent government truly popular amongst the people who actually had to live in the country. Assad went from being a dictator to an elected president, one who had voluntarily disarmed his country of WMD under international supervision, and who was tabling substantial domestic reform. In contrast his opponents, those we pay and support, were silent, squabbling killers posting crazy YouTube videos. We know them now as the Islamic State. The idea that we could ever productively support a credible “moderate resistance” in Syria was either a fig-leaf to cloak our anti-democratic alliance with the Emiratis, or utter stupidity.

For those who could see all this, Kiev’s Euromaidan was simply the opening of a new front. Moscow had been one of Assad’s key supporters; Putin had been clear that Russia would veto any UN proposal for Western air strikes against the country. Russia had by then learnt the lessons of Libya: apparently we hadn’t. Thus the States, Israel, and the Emiratis lent their unconditional support to whoever promised they could shift the Ukraine out of its Russian orbit, a task almost as impossible and destructive as forcefully dislodging Gaddafi or Assad or Saddam. They were driven by the same “levitating self-confidence” (as John Le Carre put it) which saw them invade Iraq. Now, as will generally happen when you decide to challenge observable reality, everything is unravelling. Can we really insist it is perfectly legitimate to fund guerrillas in Syria, against an elected President, and at the same time isolate Russia on the grounds (for which we provide no evidence) that it is funding resistance fighters on its own doorstep? Fighters, one might add, who are resisting an unconstitutional government, and who are acting in pursuit of regional self-determination? It’s utter nonsense. Obama has no right to speak of advancing democracy in the Ukraine. Territorial integrity, perhaps, but no more.

The underlying point is that the West and its proxies have failed. Inevitably. Assad is staying, at least until his third seven year term expires in 2021. If social media is anything to go by, the chatter I’ve picked up suggests that Syrians are now more concerned with Lebanon and Iran than with the dwindling proponents of the Civil War, which is now in endgame, something that may be reflected in Israel’s airstrike against Iranian brigadier general Mohammad Ali Allah-Dadi. Terrorist bombings will continue, but recede to what the Royal Ulster Constabulary used to call “a tolerable degree of violence”.  Meanwhile IS will hold on to Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, which will become a dwindling pocket of heavily bombed jihadis. The House of Saud’s proposed security wall is a trick borrowed from Israel, and reveals not just a similar siege mentality, but the unspoken alliance which now exists between the Arab monarchies and the Zionist project. That alliance is one aspect of an over-arching change, further seen in the news that Saudia Arabia is re-opening its Embassy in Baghdad after a period of twenty-five years (that it didn’t open one during the American occupation is telling).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how high the Saudis build their wall. Acceptance of Assad is inevitable, as is rapprochement with Iran. As rapprochement nears, the propaganda against it will grow ever more ridiculous (see for example this piece of abject fantasy in Der Speigel). But it will happen. Then, in a process which has already started, a few hundred active, armed Islamist jihadis will return to their native Europe. Until now the West has either covertly facilitated or deliberately ignored their activities, because they were aligned to foreign policy goals. When the GCC realise Iran isn’t a threat, and the Emiratis reach an accomodation with Tehran,the only purchase anyone will have on these people will be their government handlers – assuming they had any.

Officially, the War on Terror has gone on for fourteen years, but these networks present something new. Until now, those Muslims arrested by British police for UK terrorism offences have generally been entrapped halfwits guilty of little more than saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, or downloading a dodgy PDF. The calibre of Islamist now returning from the Middle East is quite different. Consequently we will see an even greater reduction in our human rights and civil liberties: witness John Sawers’ witless appeal for The End Of The Internet As We Know It. While some of this blather is probably retrospective justification for collection techniques already underway, if there is anything more they can grab, the intelligence community will take it. Secrecy will become the new privacy, and not everyone will be able to afford it.

Much has been written about the increasing militarisation of US police departments, particularly in the US, where social division and material inequality only worsened during the country’s first black Presidency. The tear gas and Pentagon-supplied armoured vehicles of Ferguson are a symptom of this. Remember, this was a country that responded to the flooding of New Orleans by building impromptu prison camps. The American state is terrified of large public protest; as terrified as the Gulf monarchies, probably. The UK government isn’t that much different. From 2005 to 2010 they banned protest anywhere within half a mile of Westminster.

The reason the American government is so senstive about this is because they have spent the last two decades paying for “colour revolutions” in countries of interest, not just covertly but overtly, through the National Endowment for Democracy. Similarly, the Emiratis have been paying for the boots-on-the-ground in Libya and Syria and parts of Iraq, and look what they’ve achieved. There is a general strategy here.

Supposedly, we have spent the years since 9/11 making the Middle East safe for democracy. We have failed. Instead, we have become much more like the Gulf monarchies we prop up. Our democracies have grown brittle and autocratic. Our governments are unrepresentative. Our media is supine and craven. Our institutions are hollowed out. Our societies are divided by caste. This is the blow back of our long War on Terror: we have finally created an environment conducive to real terrorism.

 

 

Why Are We Still Reading The Guardian? OR Is Assad really murdering children by sabotaging UN measles vaccines?

Britain’s most liberal newspaper is no less inclined to yellow journalism than any of its (marginally) more right-wing rivals. That modern liberalism has reduced itself to a self-willing adjunct of neoconservatism is a tendency that has been outlined at length elsewhere. I am still shocked, however, when the Guardian presents me with obvious examples of this tendency in practice.

Look at this story, filed by correspondents in Cairo and South East Turkey, which reports that 34 children have been killed in northern Syria because the measles vaccine admistered to them by some undisclosed anti-Assad activist group had been (according to some floating mouthpiece of an entity referred to as “the rebel government”) sabotaged by government forces.

“Primary investigations point to a limited security breach by vandals likely connected to the regime, which has been attempting to target the medical sector in Free Syria in order to spread chaos,” claimed a man identified as “the rebel health minister”. The rebs have sent samples have been sent to Turkey for testing.

Really? Could this story possibly be true? It already shows all the hallmarks of anti-Assad propaganda: dead children and lethal chemicals. It was posted on The Guardian website without a comments section.

The truth was buried elsewhere in the Guardian website later that same day. The rebel medics had tragically mixed up a batch of measles vaccines with a batch of muscle relaxants, with fatal consqeuences.

The earlier story, a work of unabashed disinformation, cloaks the real questions which foreign correspondents should be asking; namely, how the “humanitarian narrative” is used to futher the interests of Western powers at the expense of Arabic soverignty and Arabic lives. This has been the case in the Middle East since the days of T E Lawrence and before. The refugee camps around Syria are teeming with intelligence officers and rebel recruiters of various stripes. Nobody reports on that. Why are illiterates, who cannot even read the packaging on the vaccine box, administering intravenous drugs to children? One suspects they were appointed to the task because of their political allegience, not their medical capability. How did this come about?

It is also worth pointing out how the first story reflects the fact that the rebels (the “side” our government supports) are less trustworthy than the Damascus government. They lie reflexively as a matter or course, a characterestic which is also frequently exhibited by the new government in Kiev, another bunch of usurpers Western governments are keen to prop up. This is why stories from Syria and Ukraine always come with the implicit editorial instruction to believe one side over the other: because the side shovelling us the stories are the prime fabricators in both cases.

The names of the two journalists who filed the first story are Patrick Kingsley and Mowaffaq Safadi.