Why the Arabs don’t want US in Syria

They don’t hate ‘our freedoms.’ They hate that we’ve betrayed our ideals in their own countries — for oil.

ByROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR

In part because my father was murdered by an Arab, I’ve made an effort to understand the impact of U.S. policy in the Mideast and particularly the factors that sometimes motivate bloodthirsty responses from the Islamic world against our country. As we focus on the rise of the Islamic State and search for the source of the savagery that took so many innocent lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology. Instead we should examine the more complex rationales of history and oil — and how they often point the finger of blame back at our own shores.

America’s unsavory record of violent interventions in Syria — little-known to the American people yet well-known to Syrians — sowed fertile ground for the violent Islamic jihadism that now complicates any effective response by our government to address the challenge of ISIL. So long as the American public and policymakers are unaware of this past, further interventions are likely only to compound the crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry this week announced a “provisional” ceasefire in Syria. But since U.S. leverage and prestige within Syria is minimal — and the ceasefire doesn’t include key combatants such as Islamic State and al Nusra — it’s bound to be a shaky truce at best. Similarly President Obama’s stepped-up military intervention in Libya — U.S. airstrikes targeted an Islamic State training camp last week — is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the radicals. As the New York Times reported in a December 8, 2015, front-page story, Islamic State political leaders and strategic planners are working to provoke an American military intervention. They know from experience this will flood their ranks with volunteer fighters, drown the voices of moderation and unify the Islamic world against America.

To understand this dynamic, we need to look at history from the Syrians’ perspective and particularly the seeds of the current conflict. Long before our 2003 occupation of Iraq triggered the Sunni uprising that has now morphed into the Islamic State, the CIA had nurtured violent jihadism as a Cold War weapon and freighted U.S./Syrian relationships with toxic baggage.

This did not happen without controversy at home. In July 1957, following a failed coup in Syria by the CIA, my uncle, Sen. John F. Kennedy, infuriated the Eisenhower White House, the leaders of both political parties and our European allies with a milestone speech endorsing the right of self-governance in the Arab world and an end to America’s imperialist meddling in Arab countries. Throughout my lifetime, and particularly during my frequent travels to the Mideast, countless Arabs have fondly recalled that speech to me as the clearest statement of the idealism they expected from the U.S. Kennedy’s speech was a call for recommitting America to the high values our country had championed in the Atlantic Charter; the formal pledge that all the former European colonies would have the right to self-determination following World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt had strong-armed Winston Churchill and the other allied leaders to sign the Atlantic Charter in 1941 as a precondition for U.S. support in the European war against fascism.

But thanks in large part to Allen Dulles and the CIA, whose foreign policy intrigues were often directly at odds with the stated policies of our nation, the idealistic path outlined in the Atlantic Charter was the road not taken. In 1957, my grandfather, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, sat on a secret committee charged with investigating the CIA’s clandestine mischief in the Mideast. The so called “Bruce-Lovett Report,” to which he was a signatory, described CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt, all common knowledge on the Arab street, but virtually unknown to the American people who believed, at face value, their government’s denials. The report blamed the CIA for the rampant anti-Americanism that was then mysteriously taking root “in the many countries in the world today.” The Bruce-Lovett Report pointed out that such interventions were antithetical to American values and had compromised America’s international leadership and moral authority without the knowledge of the American people. The report also said that the CIA never considered how we would treat such interventions if some foreign government were to engineer them in our country.

This is the bloody history that modern interventionists like George W. Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio miss when they recite their narcissistic trope that Mideast nationalists “hate us for our freedoms.” For the most part they don’t; instead they hate us for the way we betrayed those freedoms — our own ideals — within their borders.

For Americans to really understand what’s going on, it’s important to review some details about this sordid but little-remembered history. During the 1950s, President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers — CIA Director Allen Dulles and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles — rebuffed Soviet treaty proposals to leave the Middle East a neutral zone in the Cold War and let Arabs rule Arabia. Instead, they mounted a clandestine war against Arab nationalism — which Allen Dulles equated with communism — particularly when Arab self-rule threatened oil concessions. They pumped secret American military aid to tyrants in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon favoring puppets with conservative Jihadist ideologies that they regarded as a reliable antidote to Soviet Marxism. At a White House meeting between the CIA’s director of plans, Frank Wisner, and John Foster Dulles, in September 1957, Eisenhower advised the agency, “We should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect,” according to a memo recorded by his staff secretary, Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster.

The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949 — barely a year after the agency’s creation. Syrian patriots had declared war on the Nazis, expelled their Vichy French colonial rulers and crafted a fragile secularist democracy based on the American model. But in March 1949, Syria’s democratically elected president, Shukri-al-Quwatli, hesitated to approve the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, an American project intended to connect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to the ports of Lebanon via Syria. In his book, Legacy of Ashes, CIA historian Tim Weiner recounts that in retaliation for Al-Quwatli’s lack of enthusiasm for the U.S. pipeline, the CIA engineered a coup replacing al-Quwatli with the CIA’s handpicked dictator, a convicted swindler named Husni al-Za’im. Al-Za’im barely had time to dissolve parliament and approve the American pipeline before his countrymen deposed him, four and a half months into his regime.

Following several counter-coups in the newly destabilized country, the Syrian people again tried democracy in 1955, re-electing al-Quwatli and his National Party. Al-Quwatli was still a Cold War neutralist, but, stung by American involvement in his ouster, he now leaned toward the Soviet camp. That posture caused CIA Director Dulles to declare that “Syria is ripe for a coup” and send his two coup wizards, Kim Roosevelt and Rocky Stone, to Damascus.

Two years earlier, Roosevelt and Stone had orchestrated a coup in Iran against the democratically elected President Mohammed Mosaddegh, after Mosaddegh tried to renegotiate the terms of Iran’s lopsided contracts with the British oil giant Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP). Mosaddegh was the first elected leader in Iran’s 4,000-year history and a popular champion for democracy across the developing world. Mosaddegh expelled all British diplomats after uncovering a coup attempt by U.K. intelligence officers working in cahoots with BP. Mosaddegh, however, made the fatal mistake of resisting his advisers’ pleas to also expel the CIA, which, they correctly suspected, was complicit in the British plot. Mosaddegh idealized the U.S. as a role model for Iran’s new democracy and incapable of such perfidies. Despite Dulles’ needling, President Harry Truman had forbidden the CIA from actively joining the British caper to topple Mosaddegh. When Eisenhower took office in January 1953, he immediately unleashed Dulles. After ousting Mosaddegh in “Operation Ajax,” Stone and Roosevelt installed Shah Reza Pahlavi, who favored U.S. oil companies but whose two decades of CIA sponsored savagery toward his own people from the Peacock throne would finally ignite the 1979 Islamic revolution that has bedeviled our foreign policy for 35 years.

Flush from his Operation Ajax “success” in Iran, Stone arrived in Damascus in April 1957 with $3 million to arm and incite Islamic militants and to bribe Syrian military officers and politicians to overthrow al-Quwatli’s democratically elected secularist regime, according to Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA, by John Prados. Working with the Muslim Brotherhood and millions of dollars, Rocky Stone schemed to assassinate Syria’s chief of intelligence, the chief of its General Staff and the chief of the Communist Party, and to engineer “national conspiracies and various strong arm” provocations in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan that could be blamed on the Syrian Ba’athists. Tim Weiner describes in Legacy of Ashes how the CIA’s plan was to destabilize the Syrian government and create a pretext for an invasion by Iraq and Jordan, whose governments were already under CIA control. Kim Roosevelt forecast that the CIA’s newly installed puppet government would “rely first upon repressive measures and arbitrary exercise of power,” according to declassified CIA documents reported in The Guardian newspaper.

But all that CIA money failed to corrupt the Syrian military officers. The soldiers reported the CIA’s bribery attempts to the Ba’athist regime. In response, the Syrian army invaded the American Embassy, taking Stone prisoner. After harsh interrogation, Stone made a televised confession of his roles in the Iranian coup and the CIA’s aborted attempt to overthrow Syria’s legitimate government. The Syrians ejected Stone and two U.S. Embassy staffers—the first time any American State Department diplomat was barred from an Arab country. The Eisenhower White House hollowly dismissed Stone’s confession as “fabrications” and “slanders,” a denial swallowed whole by the American press, led by the New York Times and believed by the American people, who shared Mosaddegh’s idealistic view of their government. Syria purged all politicians sympathetic to the U.S. and executed for treason all military officers associated with the coup. In retaliation, the U.S. moved the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, threatened war and goaded Turkey to invade Syria. The Turks assembled 50,000 troops on Syria’s borders and backed down only in the face of unified opposition from the Arab League whose leaders were furious at the U.S. intervention. Even after its expulsion, the CIA continued its secret efforts to topple Syria’s democratically elected Ba’athist government. The CIA plotted with Britain’s MI6 to form a “Free Syria Committee” and armed the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate three Syrian government officials, who had helped expose “the American plot,” according to Matthew Jones in “The ‘Preferred Plan’: The Anglo-American Working Group Report on Covert Action in Syria, 1957.” The CIA’s mischief pushed Syria even further away from the U.S. and into prolonged alliances with Russia and Egypt.

Following the second Syrian coup attempt, anti-American riots rocked the Mideast from Lebanon to Algeria. Among the reverberations was the July 14, 1958 coup, led by the new wave of anti-American Army officers who overthrew Iraq’s pro-American monarch, Nuri al-Said. The coup leaders published secret government documents, exposing Nuri al-Said as a highly paid CIA puppet. In response to American treachery, the new Iraqi government invited Soviet diplomats and economic advisers to Iraq and turned its back on the West.

Having alienated Iraq and Syria, Kim Roosevelt fled the Mideast to work as an executive for the oil industry that he had served so well during his public service career at the CIA. Roosevelt’s replacement as CIA station chief, James Critchfield, attempted a failed assassination plot against the new Iraqi president using a toxic handkerchief, according to Weiner. Five years later, the CIA finally succeeded in deposing the Iraqi president and installing the Ba’ath Party in power in Iraq. A charismatic young murderer named Saddam Hussein was one of the distinguished leaders of the CIA’s Ba’athist team. The Ba’ath Party’s Secretary, Ali Saleh Sa’adi, who took office alongside Saddam Hussein, would later say, “We came to power on a CIA train,” according to A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, by Said Aburish, a journalist and author. Aburish recounted that the CIA supplied Saddam and his cronies a murder list of people who “had to be eliminated immediately in order to ensure success.” Tim Weiner writes that Critchfield later acknowledged that the CIA had, in essence, “created Saddam Hussein.” During the Reagan years, the CIA supplied Hussein with billions of dollars in training, Special Forces support, weapons and battlefield intelligence, knowing that he was using poisonous mustard and nerve gas and biological weapons — including anthrax obtained from the U.S. government — in his war against Iran. Reagan and his CIA director, Bill Casey, regarded Saddam as a potential friend to the U.S. oil industry and a sturdy barrier against the spread of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Their emissary, Donald Rumsfeld, presented Saddam with golden cowboy spurs and a menu of chemical/biological and conventional weapons on a 1983 trip to Baghdad. At the same time, the CIA was illegally supplying Saddam’s enemy, Iran, with thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight Iraq, a crime made famous during the Iran-Contra scandal. Jihadists from both sides later turned many of those CIA-supplied weapons against the American people.

Even as America contemplates yet another violent Mideast intervention, most Americans are unaware of the many ways that “blowback” from previous CIA blunders has helped craft the current crisis. The reverberations from decades of CIA shenanigans continue to echo across the Mideast today in national capitals and from mosques to madras schools over the wrecked landscape of democracy and moderate Islam that the CIA helped obliterate.

A parade of Iranian and Syrian dictators, including Bashar al-Assad and his father, have invoked the history of the CIA’s bloody coups as a pretext for their authoritarian rule, repressive tactics and their need for a strong Russian alliance. These stories are therefore well known to the people of Syria and Iran who naturally interpret talk of U.S. intervention in the context of that history.

While the compliant American press parrots the narrative that our military support for the Syrian insurgency is purely humanitarian, many Arabs see the present crisis as just another proxy war over pipelines and geopolitics. Before rushing deeper into the conflagration, it would be wise for us to consider the abundant facts supporting that perspective.

In their view, our war against Bashar Assad did not begin with the peaceful civil protests of the Arab Spring in 2011. Instead it began in 2000, when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500 kilometer pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Qatar shares with Iran the South Pars/North Dome gas field, the world’s richest natural gas repository. The international trade embargo until recently prohibited Iran from selling gas abroad. Meanwhile, Qatar’s gas can reach European markets only if it is liquefied and shipped by sea, a route that restricts volume and dramatically raises costs. The proposed pipeline would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey, which would pocket rich transit fees. The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would give the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. Qatar hosts two massive American military bases and the U.S. Central Command’s Mideast headquarters.

The EU, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, was equally hungry for the pipeline, which would have given its members cheap energy and relief from Vladimir Putin’s stifling economic and political leverage. Turkey, Russia’s second largest gas customer, was particularly anxious to end its reliance on its ancient rival and to position itself as the lucrative transect hub for Asian fuels to EU markets. The Qatari pipeline would have benefited Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni monarchy by giving it a foothold in Shia-dominated Syria. The Saudis’ geopolitical goal is to contain the economic and political power of the kingdom’s principal rival, Iran, a Shiite state, and close ally of Bashar Assad. The Saudi monarchy viewed the U.S.-sponsored Shiite takeover in Iraq (and, more recently, the termination of the Iran trade embargo) as a demotion to its regional power status and was already engaged in a proxy war against Tehran in Yemen, highlighted by the Saudi genocide against the Iranian backed Houthi tribe.

Of course, the Russians, who sell 70 percent of their gas exports to Europe, viewed the Qatar/Turkey pipeline as an existential threat. In Putin’s view, the Qatar pipeline is a NATO plot to change the status quo, deprive Russia of its only foothold in the Middle East, strangle the Russian economy and end Russian leverage in the European energy market. In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”

Assad further enraged the Gulf’s Sunni monarchs by endorsing a Russian-approved “Islamic pipeline” running from Iran’s side of the gas field through Syria and to the ports of Lebanon. The Islamic pipeline would make Shiite Iran, not Sunni Qatar, the principal supplier to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran’s influence in the Middke East and the world. Israel also was understandably determined to derail the Islamic pipeline, which would enrich Iran and Syria and presumably strengthen their proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative Bashar Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. It is important to note that this was well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad.

Bashar Assad’s family is Alawite, a Muslim sect widely perceived as aligned with the Shiite camp. “Bashar Assad was never supposed to be president,” journalist Seymour Hersh told me in an interview. “His father brought him back from medical school in London when his elder brother, the heir apparent, was killed in a car crash.” Before the war started, according to Hersh, Assad was moving to liberalize the country. “They had internet and newspapers and ATM machines and Assad wanted to move toward the west. After 9/11, he gave thousands of invaluable files to the CIA on jihadist radicals, who he considered a mutual enemy.” Assad’s regime was deliberately secular and Syria was impressively diverse. The Syrian government and military, for example, were 80 percent Sunni. Assad maintained peace among his diverse peoples by a strong, disciplined army loyal to the Assad family, an allegiance secured by a nationally esteemed and highly paid officer corps, a coldly efficient intelligence apparatus and a penchant for brutality that, prior to the war, was rather moderate compared to those of other Mideast leaders, including our current allies. According to Hersh, “He certainly wasn’t beheading people every Wednesday like the Saudis do in Mecca.”

Another veteran journalist, Bob Parry, echoes that assessment. “No one in the region has clean hands, but in the realms of torture, mass killings, [suppressing] civil liberties and supporting terrorism, Assad is much better than the Saudis.” No one believed that the regime was vulnerable to the anarchy that had riven Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. By the spring of 2011, there were small, peaceful demonstrations in Damascus against repression by Assad’s regime. These were mainly the effluvia of the Arab Spring that spread virally across the Arab League States the previous summer. However, WikiLeaks cables indicate that the CIA was already on the ground in Syria.

But the Sunni kingdoms with vast petrodollars at stake wanted a much deeper involvement from America. On September 4, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressional hearing that the Sunni kingdoms had offered to foot the bill for a U.S. invasion of Syria to oust Bashar Assad. “In fact, some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing, the way we’ve done it previously in other places [Iraq], they’ll carry the cost.” Kerry reiterated the offer to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.): “With respect to Arab countries offering to bear the costs of [an American invasion] to topple Assad, the answer is profoundly yes, they have. The offer is on the table.”

Despite pressure from Republicans, Barack Obama balked at hiring out young Americans to die as mercenaries for a pipeline conglomerate. Obama wisely ignored Republican clamoring to put ground troops in Syria or to funnel more funding to “moderate insurgents.” But by late 2011, Republican pressure and our Sunni allies had pushed the American government into the fray.

 

In 2011, the U.S. joined France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK to form the Friends of Syria Coalition, which formally demanded the removal of Assad. The CIA provided $6 million to Barada, a British TV channel, to produce pieces entreating Assad’s ouster. Saudi intelligence documents, published by WikiLeaks, show that by 2012, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were arming, training and funding radical jihadist Sunni fighters from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere to overthrow the Assad’s Shiite-allied regime. Qatar, which had the most to gain, invested $3 billion in building the insurgency and invited the Pentagon to train insurgents at U.S. bases in Qatar. According to an April 2014 article by Seymour Hersh, the CIA weapons ratlines were financed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The idea of fomenting a Sunni-Shiite civil war to weaken the Syrian and Iranian regimes in order to maintain control of the region’s petrochemical supplies was not a novel notion in the Pentagon’s lexicon. A damning 2008 Pentagon-funded Rand report proposed a precise blueprint for what was about to happen. That report observes that control of the Persian Gulf oil and gas deposits will remain, for the U.S., “a strategic priority” that “will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war.” Rand recommended using “covert action, information operations, unconventional warfare” to enforce a “divide and rule” strategy. “The United States and its local allies could use the nationalist jihadists to launch a proxy campaign” and “U.S. leaders could also choose to capitalize on the sustained Shia-Sunni conflict trajectory by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world … possibly supporting authoritative Sunni governments against a continuingly hostile Iran.”

As predicted, Assad’s overreaction to the foreign-made crisis — dropping barrel bombs onto Sunni strongholds and killing civilians — polarized Syria’s Shiite/Sunni divide and allowed U.S. policymakers to sell Americans the idea that the pipeline struggle was a humanitarian war. When Sunni soldiers of the Syrian Army began defecting in 2013, the western coalition armed the Free Syrian Army to further destabilize Syria. The press portrait of the Free Syrian Army as cohesive battalions of Syrian moderates was delusional. The dissolved units regrouped in hundreds of independent militias most of which were commanded by, or allied with, jihadi militants who were the most committed and effective fighters. By then, the Sunni armies of Al Qaeda in Iraq were crossing the border from Iraq into Syria and joining forces with the squadrons of deserters from the Free Syrian Army, many of them trained and armed by the U.S.

Despite the prevailing media portrait of a moderate Arab uprising against the tyrant Assad, U.S. intelligence planners knew from the outset that their pipeline proxies were radical jihadists who would probably carve themselves a brand new Islamic caliphate from the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq. Two years before ISIL throat cutters stepped on the world stage, a seven-page August 12, 2012, study by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, obtained by the right-wing group Judicial Watch, warned that thanks to the ongoing support by U.S./Sunni Coalition for radical Sunni Jihadists, “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (now ISIS), are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”

Using U.S. and Gulf state funding, these groups had turned the peaceful protests against Bashar Assad toward “a clear sectarian (Shiite vs. Sunni) direction.” The paper notes that the conflict had become a sectarian civil war supported by Sunni “religious and political powers.” The report paints the Syrian conflict as a global war for control of the region’s resources with “the west, Gulf countries and Turkey supporting [Assad’s] opposition, while Russia, China and Iran support the regime.” The Pentagon authors of the seven-page report appear to endorse the predicted advent of the ISIS caliphate: “If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” The Pentagon report warns that this new principality could move across the Iraqi border to Mosul and Ramadi and “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

Of course, this is precisely what has happened. Not coincidentally, the regions of Syria occupied by the Islamic State exactly encompass the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.

But then, in 2014, our Sunni proxies horrified the American people by severing heads and driving a million refugees toward Europe. “Strategies based upon the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend can be kind of blinding,” says Tim Clemente, who chaired the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force from 2004 to 2008 and served as liaison in Iraq between the FBI, the Iraqi National Police and the U.S. military. “We made the same mistake when we trained the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The moment the Russians left, our supposed friends started smashing antiquities, enslaving women, severing body parts and shooting at us,” Clemente told me in an interview.

When the Islamic State’s “Jihadi John” began murdering prisoners on TV, the White House pivoted, talking less about deposing Assad and more about regional stability. The Obama administration began putting daylight between itself and the insurgency we had funded. The White House pointed accusing fingers at our allies. On October 3, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden told students at the John F. Kennedy Jr. forum at the Institute of Politics at Harvard that “our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria.” He explained that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “so determined to take down Assad” that they had launched a “proxy Sunni-Shia war” funneling “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda” — the two groups that merged in 2014 to form the Islamic State. Biden seemed angered that our trusted “friends” could not be trusted to follow the American agenda.
Across the Mideast, Arab leaders routinely accuse the U.S. of having created the Islamic State. To most Americans, such accusations seem insane. However, to many Arabs, the evidence of U.S. involvement is so abundant that they conclude that our role in fostering the Islamic State must have been deliberate.

In fact, many of the Islamic State fighters and their commanders are ideological and organizational successors to the jihadists that the CIA has been nurturing for more than 30 years from Syria and Egypt to Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

Prior to the American invasion, there was no Al Qaeda in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. President George W. Bush destroyed Saddam’s secularist government, and his viceroy, Paul Bremer, in a monumental act of mismanagement, effectively created the Sunni Army, now named the Islamic State. Bremer elevated the Shiites to power and banned Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party, laying off some 700,000 mostly Sunni, government and party officials from ministers to schoolteachers. He then disbanded the 380,000-man army, which was 80 percent Sunni. Bremer’s actions stripped a million of Iraq’s Sunnis of rank, property, wealth and power; leaving a desperate underclass of angry, educated, capable, trained and heavily armed Sunnis with little left to lose. The Sunni insurgency named itself Al Qaeda in Iraq. Beginning in 2011, our allies funded the invasion by AQI fighters into Syria. In April 2013, having entered Syria, AQI changed its name to ISIL. According to Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker, “ISIS is run by a council of former Iraqi generals. … Many are members of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath Party who converted to radical Islam in American prisons.” The $500 million in U.S. military aid that Obama did send to Syria almost certainly ended up benefiting these militant jihadists. Tim Clemente, the former chairman of the FBI’s joint task force, told me that the difference between the Iraq and Syria conflicts is the millions of military-aged men who are fleeing the battlefield for Europe rather than staying to fight for their communities. The obvious explanation is that the nation’s moderates are fleeing a war that is not their war. They simply want to escape being crushed between the anvil of Assad’s Russian-backed tyranny and the vicious jihadist Sunni hammer that we had a hand in wielding in a global battle over competing pipelines. You can’t blame the Syrian people for not widely embracing a blueprint for their nation minted in either Washington or Moscow. The superpowers have left no options for an idealistic future that moderate Syrians might consider fighting for. And no one wants to die for a pipeline.

 

What is the answer? If our objective is long-term peace in the Mideast, self-government by the Arab nations and national security at home, we must undertake any new intervention in the region with an eye on history and an intense desire to learn its lessons. Only when we Americans understand the historical and political context of this conflict will we apply appropriate scrutiny to the decisions of our leaders. Using the same imagery and language that supported our 2003 war against Saddam Hussein, our political leaders led Americans to believe that our Syrian intervention is an idealistic war against tyranny, terrorism and religious fanaticism. We tend to dismiss as mere cynicism the views of those Arabs who see the current crisis as a rerun of the same old plots about pipelines and geopolitics. But, if we are to have an effective foreign policy, we must recognize the Syrian conflict is a war over control of resources indistinguishable from the myriad clandestine and undeclared oil wars we have been fighting in the Mideast for 65 years. And only when we see this conflict as a proxy war over a pipeline do events become comprehensible. It’s the only paradigm that explains why the GOP on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration are still fixated on regime change rather than regional stability, why the Obama administration can find no Syrian moderates to fight the war, why ISIL blew up a Russian passenger plane, why the Saudis just executed a powerful Shiite cleric only to have their embassy burned in Tehran, why Russia is bombing non-ISIL fighters and why Turkey went out of its way to shoot down a Russian jet. The million refugees now flooding into Europe are refugees of a pipeline war and CIA blundering.

Clemente compares ISIL to Colombia’s FARC — a drug cartel with a revolutionary ideology to inspire its footsoldiers. “You have to think of ISIS as an oil cartel,” Clemente said. “In the end, money is the governing rationale. The religious ideology is a tool that inspires its soldiers to give their lives for an oil cartel.”

Once we strip this conflict of its humanitarian patina and recognize the Syrian conflict as an oil war, our foreign policy strategy becomes clear. Like the Syrians fleeing for Europe, no American wants to send their child to die for a pipeline. Instead, our first priority should be the one no one ever mentions — we need to kick our Mideast oil jones, an increasingly feasible objective, as the U.S. becomes more energy independent. Next, we need to dramatically reduce our military profile in the Middle East and let the Arabs run Arabia. Other than humanitarian assistance and guaranteeing the security of Israel’s borders, the U.S. has no legitimate role in this conflict. While the facts prove that we played a role in creating the crisis, history shows that we have little power to resolve it.

As we contemplate history, it’s breathtaking to consider the astonishing consistency with which virtually every violent intervention in the Middle East since World War II by our country has resulted in miserable failure and horrendously costly blowback. A 1997 U.S. Department of Defense report found that “the data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement abroad and an increase in terrorist attacks against the U.S.” Let’s face it; what we call the “war on terror” is really just another oil war. We’ve squandered $6 trillion on three wars abroad and on constructing a national security warfare state at home since oilman Dick Cheney declared the “Long War” in 2001. The only winners have been the military contractors and oil companies that have pocketed historic profits, the intelligence agencies that have grown exponentially in power and influence to the detriment of our freedoms and the jihadists who invariably used our interventions as their most effective recruiting tool. We have compromised our values, butchered our own youth, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, subverted our idealism and squandered our national treasures in fruitless and costly adventures abroad. In the process, we have helped our worst enemies and turned America, once the world’s beacon of freedom, into a national security surveillance state and an international moral pariah.

America’s founding fathers warned Americans against standing armies, foreign entanglements and, in John Quincy Adams’ words, “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Those wise men understood that imperialism abroad is incompatible with democracy and civil rights at home. The Atlantic Charter echoed their seminal American ideal that each nation should have the right to self-determination. Over the past seven decades, the Dulles brothers, the Cheney gang, the neocons and their ilk have hijacked that fundamental principle of American idealism and deployed our military and intelligence apparatus to serve the mercantile interests of large corporations and particularly, the petroleum companies and military contractors that have literally made a killing from these conflicts.

It’s time for Americans to turn America away from this new imperialism and back to the path of idealism and democracy. We should let the Arabs govern Arabia and turn our energies to the great endeavor of nation building at home. We need to begin this process, not by invading Syria, but by ending the ruinous addiction to oil that has warped U.S. foreign policy for half a century.

This article has been updated to identify Robert Kennedy as U.S. Attorney General.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is the president of Waterkeeper Alliance. His newest book is Thimerosal: Let The Science Speak.

by Alfonso

 

The Bankruptcy of the American Empire Is Coming

“No matter what, U.S. troops are coming home. Better it be our decision than the debt collectors’.”

Stein’s Law at first glance might seem like a banal platitude. But we should be fully cognizant of its implications: an unsustainable system must have an end. The American empire is internally flawed, a fact that anti-imperialists both left and right should appreciate.

The United States’ national debt is approaching $22 trillion with a current federal budget deficit of over $800 billion. As Senator Rand Paul often points out, bankruptcy is the Sword of Damocles hanging perilously close to Uncle Sam’s neck. Outside of a handful of libertarian gadflies in Congress such as Paul, there is no serious political movement to curb the country’s wayward spending. It would take some upset of multiple times greater magnitude than Donald Trump’s 2016 victory to alter this course.

The United States holds the most debt of any country in the history of the world. In fairness, when our debt-to-GDP ratio is factored in, there are many countries in far more perilous economic situations than the U.S. But there will come a tipping point. How much debt can the system hold? When will the cracks grow too big to hide? When will the foundation crumble? There’s a great deal of ruin in a nation, said Adam Smith, and our ruin must ultimately come.

Is bankruptcy possible? As some Beltway economists remind us, no. Technically the government has the power to artificially create as many dollars as it needs to pay its debts. But this kind of hyper-inflation would deprive the U.S. dollar of any value and tank the global economy that trades with it. Simple failure to pay back our debt might even be a better scenario that such an inflationary hellscape.

When the world loses confidence in the American government’s ability to pay its debt, or the interest rate on our debt becomes unsustainably high, choices will have to be made. No more kicking the can down the road, no more 10-year projections to balance the budget. Congress, in a state of emergency, will have to take a buzzsaw to appropriations. And the empire will be the first thing to go.

Just like its warfare state, the government’s welfare state has plenty of internal calamities. But while it might be the preference of some megalomaniacal globalists to let the proles starve while preserving overseas holdings, it’s not going to happen. What would transpire if Social Security checks stopped showing up in mailboxes and Medicare benefits got cut off? When presented with that choice, will the average American choose his social safety net or continued funding for far-flung bases in Stuttgart, Okinawa, and Djibouti? Even the most militaristic congressperson will know which way to vote, lest they find a mob waiting outside their D.C. castles.

Neoconservatives constantly harp on the danger of vacuums. Without a U.S. presence, the logic goes, more sinister forces will take over. What happens when American troops must be evacuated from all over the world because we can’t afford to keep them there anymore? There’s no debate, no weighing of options, and no choice. If the money isn’t there, the money isn’t there. Nothing could tie the hands of America’s military more than a debt crisis. And if one happens, it will be in part because those same neoconservative intellectuals preached a multi-trillion-dollar global war to remake humanity in our image. Hubris leads to downfall.

This is the kind of danger that Rand Paul and others warn about. Not only are our undeclared wars illegal, counterintuitive, and destabilizing to foreign regions, they’re financially destabilizing for us as well.

A radical reexamination of America’s overseas assets and obligations must take place. Ideologically motivated wars have led us to the precipice of financial disaster. American foreign policy must adopt a limited, highly strategic view of its national interest and use its remaining wealth sparingly and only when necessary. Realism can stave off national ruin. Close bases in Germany and bring the money home, instead of forcing the troops to evacuate in the dead of night after it’s too late. Enter negotiations with the Taliban and have a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, lest it end with helicopters fleeing Kabul like they did Saigon. Make the hard choices before circumstances make them for you.

Our leaders ignore Stein’s Law at their own peril. No matter what, U.S. troops are coming home. Better it be our decision than the debt collectors’.

Source: The American Conservative

by Alfonso

 

Nobel Peace Prize 2.0

Rubikon advisory board member Daniele Ganser is awarded the Mind-Award for his character and work.

They still exist, the really great rays of hope, the really good news that stand out from the crowd of bad news: Dr. Daniele Ganser, Swiss historian, peace researcher and member of the RUBIKON advisory board, receives the Mind-Award 2018/19 for his character and work.

Awards of this kind are all the more beautiful if the winner has really earned them. In the case of Barack Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was a fake prize. The award to the former US President was then a perverse deception of the world population, an attempt to gloss over an aggressive American war policy that brought so much suffering to the world and once again showed us how predatory capitalism is increasingly succeeding in undermining all morals. All the more reason why the MIND Award for Daniele Ganser is an honest “Nobel Peace Prize 2.0”. For hardly any other peace activist in the German-speaking world places his work at the centre of the human family as much as the likeable Swiss, whose research does not shy away from the really explosive, system-critical questions.

Ganser, who seeks the truth with great courage and a straight back, who authentically lives what he speaks to thousands of people in his lectures, more than deserves this award. He told RUBIKON about his nomination: “I am delighted about the award. I hope it is an encouragement for all people to commit themselves to peace despite headwinds and devaluation and, whenever possible, to be mindful of the values of courage, love and truth. For when an honorable scientist like Daniele Ganser is defamed because of system-critical questions and dismissed from the universities, when provocative comments in social networks degrade one’s own person, when others allow and spread judgements that destroy one’s anonymity, it is a great art to react in these situations with calmness and peaceableness.

Daniele Ganser succeeds so convincingly that he becomes a crowd-puller. And even if he doesn’t want to be a bearer of hope for the masses, most people would probably wish for someone like him in a high political office, someone who has the welfare of the world and not of big business in mind. Because from the heart one can only serve one being, capital or love, Ganser clearly stands for love of man, nature and life in general. This is what distinguishes him and makes his MIND Award so valuable. In addition, the father of two – as a role model especially for the young generation – provides impressive proof that it is always worthwhile to consciously explore one’s inner world and draw the strength for one’s own life from the depths of the soul. Even via the screen and the Internet, Ganser succeeds in conveying these important messages undogmatically and thus establishing a true connection to his constantly growing community. Daniele Ganser touches with his words the people in their innermost, in their hearts, instead of only supplying their intellect with new information. The Swiss is a lighthouse, he infects people to do the same, to live attentively and to create peace with consciousness.

And something else distinguishes him: Daniele Ganser can listen. A quality that is increasingly being lost in our burnout-influenced society. Ganser always has an honest interest in his counterpart, he asks the right questions and remains empathetic – even in difficult, uncomfortable situations. In recent years he has repeatedly proven this in numerous interviews and publications. For all these reasons, the MIND Award will be presented to him on 26 March 2019 in the Montabaur City Hall as part of a peace event. A strong signal to further strengthen the peace movement in the coming years. And once again Daniele Ganser: “To be successful, the peace movement must strive for inner and outer peace at the same time. Inner peace can be strengthened by mindfulness, i.e. by observing one’s own thoughts and feelings. Besides, by remaining always objective and friendly in all debates in the tone, all the same whether the interlocutor chooses the left or the AfD, all the same whether he is Muslim or Christian or atheist. The peace movement can become stronger if it focuses on what unites us, on the fact that we all belong to the human family, with the deep conviction that in the 21st century we cannot solve the greatest problems with violence”.

The MIND Award sends a strong signal, at the right time, when it honors Daniele Ganser not only for his work, but also for his character. Because every human being makes an important contribution to the mood in our society and world. May this sign remind many of us that we can achieve much more with our being and our actions than with mere words. The reasons given by the MIND Award jury for the awarding of the prize, for example, are a clear reminder of this. Here is an excerpt: “Regardless of personal disadvantages, Ganser is on his way to enlightenment. It is his particular merit not only to uncover the many lies behind so-called political correctness, but also to stick to the truth when he is personally defamed for it. Thus he acts as a moral authority on the conscience of our society.

Whether he was defamed by the conspired mainstream opinion-makers as a so-called conspiracy theorist or by the hate organisation Wikipedia – he always opposed himself in his calm Swiss manner, underpinned by well-founded knowledge, and makes the background clear. Ganser counteracts his hostilities with personal attitude and action in words that which our world needs most urgently: Hope and Peace”.

Those who do not recognize and acknowledge this cannot do anything good for this planet.

Congratulations, Daniele Ganser!

Translated by Alfonso

 

 

The American war on terror has cost at least 500,000 dead.

According to estimates of the Costs of War Project of Brown University, half were civilians, the direct financial costs are estimated at 4.6 trillion US dollars

From the outset, the United States has refrained from counting the number of deaths and injuries in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Syria was not included in the report, where alone more than half a million people were killed. Other countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Libya or Niger were not included either. For Afghanistan and Iraq, the United Nations regularly publishes the number of war victims, and other organisations such as AirWars also try to give an overview by evaluating various sources.

Under Obama, the Pentagon only began to list civilian victims in Iraq and Syria who could practically not be denied, while all those killed were routinely described as militants. This led to such small figures that this could be described as alternative, at any rate extremely clarified facts that are far removed from reality. In June 2018, the Pentagon counted 499 civilians killed and 167 injured in US operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. However, the Pentagon felt compelled to present at least some figures, and other warring parties have kept them silent.

The victims were and are mainly the civilian population.

 Neta Crawford, the author of the current report, a professor of politics at Boston University and co-director of the Costs of War Project, also makes it clear that this is only an approximate estimate and that the wars are likely to have left many more dead. Not only civilians but also killed soldiers, policemen and militants were counted. The latter were also included because they were often civilians. So it is only about the victims of direct violence, not about the many people who died indirectly or as a result of displacement, for example as a result of war-related illnesses, lack of clean drinking water, lack of food or lack of medical care. If one were to include the number of indirect deaths, i.e. cynically the collaterals, one would have to speak of a million and more deaths as a result of the wars. If you look at the figures for Afghanistan and Pakistan (October 2001 to October 2018) and Iraq (March 2003 and October 2018), you will again notice what you already know, but what makes the reality of these asymmetric wars clear: In the total number of victims, the – of course exactly listed – numbers of killed US soldiers (6951) and allied soldiers (1464) are insignificant. Even if one includes the American contractors (7820), the respective native population has to bear the overwhelming burden if the USA or Germany are defended at the Hindu Kush or elsewhere. 362 journalists were killed, the vast majority in Iraq, and 566 aid workers, mostly in Afghanistan.

Almost 110,000 local soldiers and policemen have been killed as allies, half of them in Afghanistan, where there is still no end to the war in sight. Around 250,000 civilians are said to have lost their lives, the vast majority in Iraq, where the report estimates 182,272 to 204,575, and in Afghanistan “only” more than 38,000 so far. The number of “opposition fighters” killed is estimated at less than half of the civilian victims, namely between 109,396 and 114,471. According to the report, 42,000 were killed in Afghanistan, most of them in Afghanistan, and 34,806 to 39,881 in Iraq, slightly less. In Iraq in particular, however, the numbers can be far higher. Nobody knows how many civilians and militants were killed during the offensive, especially on Mosul, but also on other cities, and still lie under the rubble of the bombed city. There could be tens of thousands more dead civilians, especially since the government had instructed the people to stay in the city even before the offensive. The US government under president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama had no objection.

Millions of refugees and trillions in costs

Deaths are only the top, the number of injured, mutilated and traumatised is much higher. The latter include the displaced and fugitives. According to the report, there were 4.8 million refugees and displaced persons in Afghanistan in 2017, 3.25 million in Iraq and 12.5 million in Syria, compared with 380,000 in Pakistan. These figures show how the fight against terror is becoming terror for the local population and a burden for neighbouring countries. There are 1.3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and 900,000 in Iran. Most of the refugees from Iraq and Syria, around 3.5 million, live in Turkey. Iran has also welcomed one million Syrians and Iraqis in addition to the Afghans.

The financial costs of the war were also estimated again, including the costs for internal security in the context of the defence against terrorism, the expenses for the veterans and the interest for the pumped war expenses. By November 2017, expenditures for U.S. citizens are estimated at $4.351 trillion, including $534 million in interest. By the end of 2017 the costs will have risen to 4.632 trillion US dollars, and in 2018 alone almost 90 million US dollars in interest will have to be paid. And the interest on the debt taken out, which is why the costs of the war against Iraq were called peanuts under Bush, will rise by another trillion dollars in the next few decades.

by (Florian Rötzer)

 

Translated from German to Engish by alfonso

 

The Genocide

Concealed by war lies and propaganda, the Yemeni people are massacred visibly for all to see.

The war in Yemen is not a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran – even if the leading media suggest it time and again. Rannie Amiri explains that it is rather a one-sided offensive of the Saudis and their allies against the Huthi after they had ousted the Saudi-backed President Mansur Hadi in 2015. There can be no question of “rebels led by Iran” either. Because the Huthi are generally closer to the Sunni Saudis than the Shiite Iranians. The population of Yemen has to serve as a substitute for the “real enemy”.

There is no proxy war in Yemen!

Those in the Western media who are too busy trying to understand the complexities, subtleties and nuances of the Middle East often use the conclusion that all conflicts in this region are a kind of “proxy war” between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

This is usually due to ignorance. Conflicts are reduced to the lowest common denominator of “Sunnis versus Shiites”, or between the states that function as the most important patron saints for the two. But often it is deliberately concealed; it must be justified that a US ally causes regional chaos on the pretext of enclosing an enemy.

The most obvious and welcome scapegoat is Iran. The aspirations of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and, of course, Israel to curb Iran’s alleged expansionism are being watched idly. One of the most devastating and tragic episodes in the Middle East is currently taking place in Yemen. This is not, however, a de facto proxy war about which, according to the war financiers, we do not want to investigate any further because we are tired of the news.

Saudi Arabia against the Huthi

Despite constant statements to the contrary by the lazy media, there is no proxy war in Yemen. The war that has devastated the poorest country in the Arab world since March 2015 is a one-sided attack led by Saudi Arabia that has destroyed the state, its economy, its infrastructure and its social services to such an extent that malnutrition is widespread and a cholera epidemic is rampant. Allegedly, the military campaign carried out by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates served to expel Huthi-led rebels who, in January 2015, ousted the highly unpopular President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, a Saudis-backed puppet, from power. He had been elected in a vote in which he was the only candidate. He remained in power even after the expiry of a one-year mandate that had extended his term. The Huthi, a politico-religious group officially known as Ansar Allah and named after its founder Hussein Badreddin al-Huthi, had originally formed in opposition to Hadi’s predecessor, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

No Iranian rebels

The Huthi belong mainly to the Zaidites, who form a branch of the larger Shiite group within Islam. Branding the Huthi as “Iranian-backed Shiite rebels”, as is now common practice, allows a simple and useful categorization to identify “the bad guys” in the media of the West and the Gulf states. But that is a lie. The inconvenient fact is that the Zaidites are generally closer to Sunni Islam than Shiite Islam – and the Saudis-backed long-term military dictator Saleh was Zaidit. More importantly, apart from his declaration of solidarity with the Huthi, there is no conclusive evidence of military intervention by Iran or its allies in Yemen. On the contrary, and very clearly, the Saudi and Emirati inhumane bombings are the most blatant example of foreign interference in the internal affairs of another state.

When a school bus was hit in an air raid and 40 children were killed, the Saudi coalition initially justified this as a “legitimate military target” before an international outcry finally led to the conclusion that it had been different.

On the other hand, the Huthi’s irregular rocket attacks on Saudi military installations, which are cited as evidence of foreign military equipment, erroneously suggest that the Huthi are legitimate, capable, combat-tested forces. Apparently, the regime cannot understand that, despite daily attacks, they had the strength to strike back and demonstrate offensive rather than purely defensive capabilities.

Cruel and one-sided

In Yemen, there is no conflict between religious currents or representatives, but a war resulting from the aftermath of the fall of another Saudi-controlled ruler. At least 10,000 Yemenis have been killed since 2015. With a total population of 29 million, 22 million need some form of assistance, and eight million suffer from malnutrition. These numbers are expected to increase now that there is evidence that Saudi Arabia is attacking food supplies.

The war waged in Yemen by Saudi Arabia and its allies and their shameless use of US and British weapons borders on a veritable invasion. It is a unilateral, vicious military adventure that has driven millions of people into poverty and has so far proved totally unsuccessful in achieving its goals.

The only representatives in this conflict are the victims of its war crimes; innocent men, women and children who have starved to death or been killed. They are placeholders for a nebulous power that has yet to be determined.

Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on political events in the Middle East.

translate from German to English by Alfonso