Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
An article worth reading in The Intercept. Given the practices of some US allies (Egypt in the article at hand, but also Saudi Arabia, the successful version of ISIS), putting an end to ISIS will be difficult. The article, by Murtaza Hussain, begins:
For nearly two years, Mohamed Soltan, a 26-year-old citizen of both Egypt and America, endured torture, deprivation, and cruelty while locked in the prisons of Egyptian military dictator Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. In 2013, he was among thousands arrested in a country-wide crackdown of civil society activists, journalists, and members of the deposed government following Sisi’s coup and massacre of protestors in Cairo’s Raba’a Adawiya Square.
Soltan was released this year after a 400-day hunger strike in which he lost over 130 pounds and nearly died, saved only by the intervention of the American government on his behalf. Despite bending to pressure in his case, the Egyptian regime continues to imprison as many as 41,000 other political prisoners, recent Human Rights Watch estimates suggest. And Soltan worries that extremism is incubating in those facilities, where he witnessed and experienced torture. Today, he says that, through its oppressive practicesm, the Sisi government is effectively acting as a “recruiting agent” for extremist groups like Islamic State.
“The regime is fostering an environment in their prisons that makes them a fertile ground for that kind of ideology to flourish,” Soltan says. “The brutality and the overwhelming loss of hope is creating a situation which fits [Islamic State’s] narrative, and they’re using it to try and recruit people and spread their message.”
Despite Soltan’s ordeal, some of his own relatives support Sisi. Like many families in Egypt today, they are starkly divided between support for Sisi’s military regime and for the deposed government of Mohamed Morsi. Soltan’s father, Salah, who was also taken into custody, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and served in Morsi’s government, although Soltan himself remained aloof from the party. “I was against the policies of Morsi, but I would’ve liked to have seen a referendum or early elections instead of a coup,” Soltan says.
The Obama administration has taken a similarly mixed stand, occasionally criticizing Sisi’s human rights abuses even as it continues to send him roughly $1.5 billion in mostly military aid each year. . .
You can see which states immediately cave when threatened. No fight in ’em.
UPDATE: Didn’t Texas used to be brave? No more.
We need some revisions to the national anthem. “Home of the brave” seems grossly inaccurate nowadays.
The NY Times has an interesting column by Kamel Daoud, which seems appropriate to the brutal and tyrannical theocratic government of Saudi Arabia:
Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.
Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.
The West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns.
One might counter: Isn’t Saudi Arabia itself a possible target of Daesh? Yes, but to focus on that would be to overlook the strength of the ties between the reigning family and the clergy that accounts for its stability — and also, increasingly, for its precariousness. The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime.
One has to live in the Muslim world to understand the immense transformative influence of religious television channels on society by accessing its weak links: households, women, rural areas. Islamist culture is widespread in many countries — Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania. There are thousands of Islamist newspapers and clergies that impose a unitary vision of the world, tradition and clothing on the public space, on the wording of the government’s laws and on the rituals of a society they deem to be contaminated.
It is worth reading certain Islamist newspapers to see their reactions to the attacks in Paris. The West is cast as a land of “infidels.” The attacks were the result of the onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs have become the enemies of the secular and the Jews. The Palestinian question is invoked along with the rape of Iraq and the memory of colonial trauma, and packaged into a messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses. Such talk spreads in the social spaces below, while up above, political leaders send their condolences to France and denounce a crime against humanity. This totally schizophrenic situation parallels the West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia.
All of which leaves one skeptical of Western democracies’ thunderous declarations regarding the necessity of fighting terrorism. Their war can only be myopic, for it targets the effect rather than the cause. Since ISIS is first and foremost a culture, not a militia, how do you prevent future generations from turning to jihadism when the influence of Fatwa Valley and its clerics and its culture and its immense editorial industry remains intact?
Is curing the disease therefore a simple matter? Hardly. Saudi Arabia remains an ally of the West in the many chess games playing out in the Middle East. It is preferred to Iran, that gray Daesh. And there’s the trap. Denial creates the illusion of equilibrium. Jihadism is denounced as the scourge of the century but no consideration is given to what created it or supports it. This may allow saving face, but not saving lives.
Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: . . .
A couple of articles of interest:
15 wedding parties. (Signature strikes, since the identities of those attacked were clearly not known. But the US has decided that it can fire missiles at those whose behavior indicates that they are terrorists—like a few cars driving together to a wedding—and the dead are counted as enemy combatants unless someone raises a stink.)
But 15 wedding parties is only the partial toll.
Those whose children were killed in the US attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital are also likely to have some negative feelings about the US. It was a hospital, for the love of God. (Still, I should await the results of the investigation of the attack, done by those responsible for the attack. But I think I know how it will work out.)
The military promised a full investigation, and just to be extra sure that the investigation proceeds to a good conclusion, the military (and President Obama) have absolutely rejected any independent investigation. In their experience, if an organization makes a serious error, it works best for the organization to investigate itself. And, no doubt, it’s best of all if those directly responsible for the error do the investigation—after all, they were right on the spot when it happened, so they know more about what happened than anyone else. Do you see any problem with that?
Still, it would be good to have an update, especially since the military floated several different stories. From this excellent summary by Laura Gottesdiener at TomDispatch (and the whole column is definitely worth reading), following her detailed summary of the events of the attack:
. . . That’s one version of the story, based on a Doctors Without Borders preliminary report on the destruction of their hospital, released on November 5th, as well as on articles published by Reuters, the Associated Press, theWashington Post, the New York Times, and Al Jazeera, the testimonies of medical staff published by MSF, and a Democracy Now! interview with the executive director of MSF USA.
Here’s the second version of the story, the one we in the United States are meant to believe. It’s far more confusing and lacking in details, but don’t worry, it’s much shorter.
On October 3rd, an American AC-130 gunship “mistakenly struck” a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz. The attack was ordered by U.S. Special Operations forces, possibly at the behest of the Afghan army (ormaybe not).
Earlier contradictory accounts, all issued within the span of four days, go as follows: (1) it may not have been an American air strike; (2) the U.S. launched airstrikes in the neighborhood of the hospital and the facility was hit by accident; (3) the hospital was hit because American Special Operations forces were under fire near the hospital and called in the strikes in their own defense; (4) the facility was hit because Afghan forces supported by that Special Ops unit “advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces.”
As the story changed, culpability shifted back and forth. The Afghans, not the Americans, had called in the attack. No, the Afghans never directly called in the attack. The Americans called in the attack from within the U.S. chain of command.
In the end, the bottom line from Washington was: we’re conducting a full investigation and one of these days we’ll get back to you with the details.
This second version of the story (in its many iterations) came from commander of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan General John Campbell, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest, and Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook. Unnamed sources added some colorful, although unsupported allegations about a Pakistani intelligence agent or armed Taliban fighters being inside the hospital — despite all evidence to the contrary.
Campbell offered his “deepest condolences.” President Obama called the head of MSF and personally apologized for the “tragic incident.” The Pentagon promised to make “condolence payments” to the families of those killed.
Several investigations into the “incident” were launched by the Pentagon and a joint Afghan-NATO team. However, MSF’s repeated call for an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, established under the additional protocols to the Geneva Convention, have been ducked or ignored.
There is, at least, one aspect both accounts agree on: the timing.
It’s undisputed that the attack occurred on October 3, 2015 — just over nine months after President Obama officially declared the ending of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan. . .
One thing I had realized: the number of US attacks on wedding parties is greater than I thought. From the column introduction by Tom Englehardt:
. . . [A]t least eight wedding parties wiped out in whole or in part between December 2001 and December 2013 in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen by U.S. air power, and evidently two more barely a week apart this fall by the U.S.-backed Saudi air force, also in Yemen. In the first of those, two missiles reportedly tore through wedding tents in a village on the Red Sea, killing more than 130 celebrants, including women and children; in the second, a house 60 miles south of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, “where dozens of people were celebrating,” was hit leaving at least 28 dead. Cumulatively, over the years (by my informal count) close to 450 Iraqis, Afghans, and Yemenis have died in these disasters and many more were wounded. Each of the eviscerated weddings made the news somewhere in our world (or I wouldn’t have noticed), though with rare exceptions they never made the headlines and, of course, never did any of them get anything close to the 24/7 media spotlight we’ve grown so used to; nor, except perhaps at this website, has anyone attended to these disasters as a cumulative, repetitive set of events. . .
We lucky that this slaughter of civilians has not triggered a backlash from inhabitants of the region. Or, come to think of it, perhaps it has.
In Salon Ben Norton has a good potted history of how the US doesn’t seem to hesitate to destroy democratically elected governments to install right-wing dictatorships, a history that has aroused hatred for the US in some, as we see.
The soi-disant Land of the Free and Home of the Brave has a long and iniquitous history of overthrowing democratically elected leftist governments and propping up right-wing dictators in their place.
U.S. politicians rarely acknowledge this odious past — let alone acknowledge that such policies continue well into the present day.
In the second Democratic presidential debate, however, candidate Bernie Sanders condemned a long-standing government policy his peers rarely admit exists.
“I think we have a disagreement,” Sanders said of fellow presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “And the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq. If you look at history, you will find that regime change — whether it was in the early ’50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile, or whether it was overthrowing the government of Guatemala way back when — these invasions, these toppling of governments, regime changes have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue I’m a little bit more conservative than the secretary.”
“I am not a great fan of regime changes,” Sanders added.
“Regime change” is not a phrase you hear discussed honestly much in Washington, yet it is a common practice in and defining feature of U.S. foreign policy for well over a century. For many decades, leaders from both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, have pursued a bipartisan strategy of violently overthrowing democratically elected foreign governments that do not kowtow to U.S. orders.
In the debate, Sanders addressed three examples of U.S. regime change. There are scores of examples of American regime change, yet these are perhaps the most infamous instances.
Iran was once a secular democracy. You would not know this from contemporary discussions of the much demonized country in U.S. politics and media.
What happen to Iran’s democracy? The U.S. overthrew it in 1953, with the help of the U.K. Why? For oil.
Mohammad Mosaddegh may be the most popular leader in Iran’s long history. He was also Iran’s only democratically elected head of state.
In 1951, Mosaddegh was elected prime minister of Iran. He was not a socialist, and certainly not a communist — on the contrary, he repressed Iranian communists — but he pursued many progressive, social democratic policies. Mosaddegh pushed for land reform, established rent control, and created a social security system, while working to separate powers in the democratic government.
In the Cold War, however, a leader who deviated in any way from free-market orthodoxy and the Washington Consensus was deemed a threat. When Mossaddegh nationalized Iran’s large oil reserves, he crossed a line that Western capitalist nations would not tolerate.
The New York Times ran an article in 1951 titled “British Warn Iran of Serious Result if She Seizes Oil.” The piece, which is full of orientalist language, refers to Iranian oil as “British oil properties,” failing to acknowledge that Britain, which had previously occupied Iran, had seized that oil and claimed it as its own, administering it under the auspices of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which later became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and eventually British Petroleum and modern BP.
The Times article noted that the U.S. “shares with Britain the gravest concern about the possibility that Iranian oil, the biggest supply now available in the Near East, might be lost to the Western powers.” The British government is quoted making a thinly veiled threat.
This threat came into fruition in August 1953. In Operation Ajax, the CIA, working with its British equivalent MI6, carried out a coup, overthrowing the elected government of Iran and reinstalling the monarchy. The shah would remain a faithful Western ally until 1979, when the monarchy was abolished in the Iranian Revolution.
Less than a year after overthrowing Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister, the U.S. pursued a similar regime change policy in Guatemala, toppling the elected leader Jacobo Árbenz.
In 1944, Guatemalans waged a revolution, toppling the U.S.-backed right-wing dictator Jorge Ubico, who had ruled the country with an iron fist since 1931. Ubico, who fancied himself the 20th-century Napoleon, gave rich landowners and the U.S. corporation the United Fruit Company (which would later become Chiquita) free reign over Guatemala’s natural resources, and used the military to violently crush labor organizers.
Juan José Arévalo was elected into office in 1944. A liberal, he pursued very moderate policies, but the U.S. wanted a right-wing puppet regime that would allow U.S. corporations the same privileges granted to them by Ubico. In 1949, the U.S. backed an attempted coup, yet it failed.
In 1951, Árbenz was elected into office. Slightly to the left of Arévalo, Árbenz was still decidedly moderate. The U.S. claimed Árbenz was close to Guatemala’s communists, and warned he could ally with the Soviet Union. In reality, the opposite was true; Árbenz actually persecuted Guatemalan communists. At most, Árbenz was a social democrat, not even a socialist.
Yet Árbenz, like Mosaddegh, firmly believed that Guatemalans themselves, and not multinational corporations, should benefit from their country’s resources. He pursued land reform policies that would break up the control rich families and the United Fruit Company exercised over the country — and, for that reason, he was overthrown.
President Truman originally authorized a first coup attempt, Operation PBFORTUNE, in 1952. Yet details about the operation were leaked to the public, and the plan was abandoned. In 1954, in Operation PBSUCCESS, the CIA and U.S. State Department, under the Dulles Brothers, bombed Guatemala City and carried out a coup that violently toppled Guatemala’s democratic government.
The U.S. put into power right-wing tyrant Carlos Castillo Armas. For the next more than 50 years, until the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, Guatemala was ruled by a serious of authoritarian right-wing leaders who brutally repressed left-wing dissidents and carried out a campaign of genocide against the indigenous people of the country.
. . .
He includes Egypt, in 2013, and concludes:
There are scores of other examples of U.S.-led regime change.
- In 1964 the U.S. backed a coup in Brazil, toppling left-wing President João Goulart.
- In 1976, the U.S. supported a military coup in Argentina that replaced President Isabel Perón with General Jorge Rafael Videla. [This led to the torture and “disappearances” of many Argentinians, a plot driver in the wonderful movie El secreto de sus ojos, available on Amazon.com as The Secret in Their Eyes, well worth watching. – LG]
- In 2002, the U.S. backed a coup that overthrew democratically elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Chávez was so popular, however, that Venezuelans filled the street and demanded him back.
- In 2004, the U.S. overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
- In 2009, U.S.-trained far-right forces overthrew the democratically elected government of Honduras, with tacit support from Washington.
The list goes on.
Latin America, given its proximity to the U.S. and the strength of left-wing movements in the region, tends to endure the largest number of U.S. regime changes, yet the Middle East and many parts of Africa have seen their democratic governments overthrown as well.
From 1898 to 1994, Harvard University historian John Coatsworthdocumented at least 41 U.S. interventions in Latin America — an an average of one every 28 months for an entire century.
Numerous Latin American military dictators were trained at the School of the Americas, a U.S. Department of Defense Institute in Fort Benning, Georgia. The School of the Americas Watch, an activist organization that pushes for the closing of the SOA, has documented many of these regime changes, which have been carried out by both Republicans and Democrats.
Diplomatic cables released by whistleblowing journalism outlet WikiLeaks show the U.S. still maintains a systematic campaign of trying to overthrow Latin America’s left-wing governments.
By not just acknowledging the bloody and ignominious history of U.S. regime change, but also condemning it, Sen. Sanders was intrepidly trekking into controversial political territory into which few of his peers would dare to tread. Others would do well to learn from Bernie’s example.
Kevin Drum has a good post at Mother Jones:
Jeff Guo writes about the likelihood that the Paris attacks will inspire reprisals against Muslims:
“This is precisely what ISIS was aiming for — to provoke communities to commit actions against Muslims,” said Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland who studies how people become terrorists. “Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam.’”
….The researchers see the Paris attacks increasing radicalization in two potential ways. First, the killings project power and prestige, burnishing ISIS’s image and attracting those who want to feel potent themselves.
Second, the attacks will escalate tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. They have already led to some anti-Muslim activity, and will likely provoke more. Not only will these events make Muslims in the West feel marginalized, but they will also provide extremist propagandists with examples of Western oppression.
What really gets me about this is not just that it’s true. It’s that we’ve seen this movie before with Al-Qaeda. We know perfectly well that it’s ISIS that wants to turn this into a war of civilizations, just as Al-Qaeda wanted to do. It’s no secret. Why are so many conservative hawks so willing to play along with this?
More generally, it’s astonishing—or depressing, take your pick—how soon we forget what we learned just a few years ago. Should we send a massive force into Anbar to crush ISIS once and for all? Well, we’ve tried that before. Remember? We sent a massive force into Iraq and, sure enough, we toppled Saddam Hussein regular army units pretty quickly. Then, despite a huge military presence, the country fell apart. The Sunni insurgency lasted for years before it was finally beaten back. Then the Shiite government of Iraq decided that fealty to its Shia supporters was more important than uniting their country, and before long Anbar was in flames again, this time with ISIS leading the charge.
You want to take out ISIS? Me too. But if you want to do it fast in order to demonstrate how tough you are, it’s going to require 100,000 troops or more; it will cost hundreds or thousands of American lives; and the bill will run to tens of billions of dollars. Remember Fallujah? . . .
And in the same vein Mutaza Hussein notes in The Intercept:
IN A STATEMENT PUBLISHED in its online magazine, Dabiq, this February, the militant group the Islamic State warned that “Muslims in the West will soon find themselves between one of two choices.” Weeks earlier, a massacre had occurred at the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The attack stunned French society, while bringing to the surface already latent tensions between French Muslims and their fellow citizens.
While ISIS initially endorsed the killings on purely religious grounds, calling the murdered cartoonists blasphemers, in Dabiq the group offered another, more chilling rationale for its support.
The attack had “further [brought] division to the world,” the group said, boasting that it had polarized society and “eliminated the grayzone,” representing coexistence between religious groups. As a result, it said, Muslims living in the West would soon no longer be welcome in their own societies. Treated with increasing suspicion, distrust and hostility by their fellow citizens as a result of the deadly shooting, Western Muslims would soon be forced to “either apostatize … or they [migrate] to the Islamic State, and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens,” the group stated, while threatening of more attacks to come.
Last Friday, at roughly 9:20 p.m. local time in Paris, the Islamic State delivered on that threat. A group of young men pledging allegiance to the group, armed with firearms and explosives, carried out a series of coordinated bombing and shooting attacks on civilians in the heart of the city. Suicide bombers, wearing explosive vests packed with nails in order to maximize casualties, detonated themselves among crowds of young people, while men armed with assault rifles shot dead concertgoers and patrons in a restaurant.
By the time the attack was over, 132 people had been killed and hundreds more wounded in what was the worst terrorist attack in France’s modern history. In a statement issued online, ISIS claimed responsibility, stating that its operatives had “set out targeting the capital of prostitution and vice.”
It is tempting to view such violence as senseless and nihilistic. However, taking into account the Islamic State’s history, it is clear that such a determination would be a mistake. By launching increasingly shocking attacks against Western targets, the Islamic State is pursuing a specific goal — generating hostility between domestic Muslim populations and the broader societies that they live in.
Despite its dire connotations, such a strategy is achievable for the group. In fact, some group members have successfully implemented it before, in Iraq, when the Islamic State’s predecessor organization, al Qaeda in Iraq, purposely provoked a sectarian civil war in that country following the 2003 U.S. invasion.
In a 2004 letter to Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, laid out his proposal for provoking such a conflict, calling for terrorist attacks against the Shiite majority population that would lead to a harsh crackdown on the Sunni minority. In such a scenario, his group could then coerce the Sunni population into viewing it as their only protector. “If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war,” Zarqawi wrote, “it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death.”
The climax of this depraved strategy came in 2006, when an attack by al Qaeda in Iraq operatives succeeded in destroying the Al-Askari mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. The attack, which shocked Shiite Muslims across Iraq, ultimately succeeded in triggering a full-blown civil war that has not fully abated to this day.
The Islamic State has little hope of achieving that level of disastrous success in Western Europe or North America. But what the group is seeking to accomplish nonetheless mirrors its strategy of divide-and-conquer in Iraq. Through increasingly provocative terrorist attacks, hostage executions, and provocative threats, the Islamic State is consciously seeking to trigger a backlash by Western governments and citizens against the Muslim minorities living in their societies. By achieving this, the group hopes to polarize both sides against each other, locking them into an escalating spiral of alienation, hatred and collective retribution. In a such a scenario, the group can later attempt to pose as the only effective protector for increasingly beleaguered Western Muslims.
Following the deliberately shocking attacks in Paris, some nativist politicians in both Europe and the United States have already responded with calls to collectively punish Muslims en masse through discriminatory migration policies, restrictions on religious freedoms, and blanket surveillance by law enforcement.
While politically popular among some, such measures, effectively holding Muslims collectively to blame for the atrocities in Paris, would be self-defeating. The Islamic State is deeply unpopular among Muslims. Like their non-Muslim compatriots, French Muslims recoiled with disgust at the recent atrocities in Paris. Indeed, several of them were killed in the attacks.
As such, it would be both perverse and counterproductive to lump them together with ISIS and blame them for the group’s actions. Similarly, . . .