Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Istanbul Attacks : Turkey and the Growing Threat of ISIS Terror in Europe.

An attempted ISIS attack on London is likely in 2016 but Berlin could well be next. The terror attack on German tourists in Istanbul was about damaging Turkey's tourist business as well as sending the message to Germany, which pledged to indirectly assist the Western Powers in attacking the Caliphate, that they were getting closer.

The German Foreign Minister, Thomas de de Maiziere, on 16th January even suggested there was probably no evidence German citizens were targeted. With no hint of irony he claimed 'Germany and Turkey are coming even closer to each other", a claim that was truer than he could probably imagine.

Turkish officials, as well as Prime Minister Davutoğlu, claimed the suicide bomber was a Saudi-born Syrian refugee whose finger prints had been taken, as with those coming into the EU, but failed to be on any terrorist watch list. With security such as that, it is hardly suprising the risk of terrorist blowback increases

The other problem is Turkey has sought to use terror attacks as am ex post facto pretext to justify their own foreign policies, pretending that their own air strikes against ISIS had been thwarted by Russian intervention in the Syrian War which started on September 30 2015, some months after Turkey's own intervention on July 24.

Of course, Erdogan and Davutoğlu would want to blame Russia for having defeated their war on ISIS. For the Turkish AKP government never fought it, prefering to use the deal with the US to use Incirlik air base to launch their own air strikes against YGP aligned PKK militias and tilt the balance towards ISIS as a counter force.

The absurdity of this Turkish position has meant the US and Russia have effectively aligned to back the YPG  and its affiliated Sunni Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with air strikes while Turkey, a NATO state, had vowed never to allow Kurdish forces to advance west of the River Euphrates without a military response.

It could be that Turkish government officials are looking to divert attention from their own collusion with radical jihadists before 2014 and having allowed ISIS to retreat into Turkey the better to regroup and attack Kurdish militias as late as the beginning of 2015. Erdogan in 2016 clearly regards Kurdish irredentism as a greater threat.

The arrest of three Russian jihadists, presumably from Chechnya, seems politically convenient too given the recent hostilities between Turkey and Russia that escalated when the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet that was reported to have strayed into their air space. It shows Russia cannot control terrorists across borders too.

However, in effect, the US and Russia are acting, as Patrick Cockburn states, 'as though they were in a de facto alliance', leaving Turkey effectively excluded from having much to offer at the Geneva talks. Erdogan would be humiliated as he has staked his credibility as a regional power in overthrowing Assad and posing as Sunni Arab champion.

The danger is that Erdogan might not only step up the war against Kurdish nationalists within Turkey, and even clamp down on domestic critics ; he may gamble on ordering a  military intervention through a ground offensive in northern Syria to seize the territory between Jarabalus and Afrin

The aim would be to prevent the creation of a "Kurdish Corridor" from the frontier with Iraq to the Mediterranean. Yet it would contradict US strategy in Syria and could lead to direct conflict with Russia which would resist the incursion with aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles and force a change of tack from the West.

The upshot of that would be to draw Russia and the Kurdish PKK closer together with the PKK a proxy of Moscow and, in response, leading to a Pan-Turkic nationalist reaction as well covert backing for Turkic and Chechen jihadists in order to make problems for Putin again in Southern Russia.

The ultimate knock on effect of that would be the spread of radicalised jihadists and blowback risk  deep into Germany in continuity with the rising threats that have come from the Caucasus and Central Asia in the last decade and detailed by Guido Steinberg in German Jihad : The Internationalisation of Islamist Terrorism.

With huge unchecked numbers of migrants from Syria arriving through Turkey, some 1.1 million to date, that threat could increase with the strains put on German society should a Chinese financial or Saudi collapse-or both-crash trigger off a global economic crisis and slump with resulting mass unemployment.

Erdogan's lurch towards greater authoritarianism and militarism at home and abroad certainly would not be challenged by the EU or Germany because he could threaten to allow further numbers of migrants to travel west if Turkish interests are ignored over Syria in favour of Russia in the haste to finish off ISIS.

The migrant crisis is a handy means to extract money from the EU and as a bargaining lever both in 2016 and into the future as Central Europe gains up to a million mostly Muslims that would look to Turkey as a guarantor of their interests and religion in both Europe and Turkey, So the neo-Ottoman policy may be pursued by other means.

Turkey's policy has been consistently to big up the Kurdish PKK threat and effectively use ISIS as a check on them in Syria, something that continues to hold back the decisive possibility of destroying the Caliphate and which is clearly the source of the jihadist terror threat to the 'near' and 'far' enemies abroad

Germany may wish to cooperate with Turkey and it and the EU has no choice. But there is little possibility of defeating ISIS while Turkey continues to hope it could use Sunni jihadists as pieces on the regional chessboard in not only Syria but in the Caucasus region and eastwards in Xinjiang in China too.

 It is going to be incredibly difficult to end the war in Syria without persuading Erdogan to see sense. The Kurdish threat was not so great as ISIS will become now that it has shown belatedly that it needs to start sealing its borders with Syria and so incurring the end to ISIS's stand off with Ankara hitherto ( previously Kurds were targeted )

What certainly needs to happen-and has partly already occured and will happen anyway-is for European states to start restoring their border controls and ending the Schengen Agreement. Merkel is clearly deluded in this respect in believing continued mass migration and free movement across borders could coexist.

As John Gray put it,
'....uncontrolled immigration on the scale that has been reached in the past year cannot avoid posing security risks in conditions that ­approximate those of war. If Isis militants form only a tenth of 1 per cent of the ­million or so migrants who have entered Europe to date, a thousand or more new risks have been created. When it is recalled that the Isis militants who have returned from Syria to Britain are believed to number in the hundreds, the danger is clear enough. A major terrorist threat can be created by very few people.'

Argentina vs Britain and Corbyn vs Cameron: The Falklands and Oil.

The reason Argentina has become concerned with staking out claims to share sovereignty over the Falklands is the prospect of Britain developing the great oil wealth that lies offshore. Before the discovery of oil in 2010 and after the military defeat of 1982, Argentina was simply was not as interested in Las Malvinas

Corbyn's calls for a 'power sharing deal' with Argentina rests on a rather dubious comparison between Northern Ireland and the Falklands. Northern ireland broadly had two historic communities, one Catholic Irish and stressing its Irish identity and the other Protestant and 'Ulster', emphasising its British identity.

There is no comparison as regards the population of the Falklands where all its inhabitants are British and overwhelmingly voted to remain attached to Britain. If self determination means anything, then the message of the referendum in 2013 could not be clearer, in which case the question is one of power politics.

It could be that Corbyn supports self determination only when those claims are being made against 'Imperialist' and 'colonialist' powers; Palestinian claims are against Israel and, by extension, the US and 'the West' and so politically correct. The Falklanders are for Imperial power and, therefore, politically incorrect.

But Corbyn tends to look favourably with romantic zeal towards Latin American radical nationalism, whether Hugo Chavez's socialist populism in Venezuela or Cristine de Kirchner's attempts to wrest control over Argentina's economy and resources by renationalising the YPF out of the hands of Spain's Repsol.

Between 2012 and her electoral defeat in November 2015, President Kirchner attempted to resort to assertive nationalism, in the tradition of Peron, to boost her electoral fortunes and derive greater benefit from its shale oil reserves, as well as threatening to sue British oil companies exploring for off the Falklands.

It appears odd Corbyn is chose in late 2015 to express solidarity with the outgoing government and his idea of a 'power sharing deal', not least as the incoming President Macri has made plain he wants sovereignty disputes over territorial seas to be solved 'peacefully' through tactful diplomacy.

That was quite the reverse of Kirchner's accusations of 'British colonialism' and the Falkland islanders being nothing more than 'squatters', the implication being that they could at a future stage be removed from Argentinian property and expelled. That loathing was returned by denunciation of the 'Botox Queen'.

It would appear Kirchner's Justicialist Party value Corbyn as an asset given his other call for 'reasonable accomodation' as regards the Falklands. The Argentinian ambassador to London was quick to hail Corbyn as 'one of ours',a phrase that curiously sounds like Margaret Thatcher's 'one of us'

Of course, Thatcher's war in 1982 against the Argentine military junta's invasion and occupation was followed by he comments that the enemy without had been defeated and that with the hard left opposing her-including Jeremy Corbyn MP elected in 1983-it was time to take on 'the enemy within'.

Corbyn's comments could be portrayed as part of a determination to cosy up with populist and national forces opposed to Britain and the West's in Latin America now that President Macri has declared he wants a more global 'investor friendly' Argentina and struck a deal with US energy firms to develop its shale oil.

In practice, there should be no reason why Britain and Argentina could not cooperate the exploit the oil wealth in the region given that BP has previously been courted as a potential partner in developing the shale oil reserves. Corbyn seems to have assumed there is an actual ongoing conflict over the Falklands.

It could be Corbyn is wants shared sovereignty in place of the unilateral assertion of the Falklanders and Britain's right to develop all offshore oil reserves. That would make sense in the context of PM Cameron's staunch claim at Davos on January 21 2016 that there would be absolutely no negotiation on sovereignty.

Corbyn did not mention oil and neither did Cameron, though this is the real issue at stake, part of a New Global Great Game, what Michael Klare calls The Race for What's Left and a potential trigger for future resource wars as the Great Powers increasingly vie over access to energy and control over energy flows.

Given depleting gas reserves in the North Sea since 1999, the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, as a result of the contest between the West and Russia its taking of Crimean oil reserves, and the continued stalemate in Syria, control over Falkland reserves offers Britain the possibility of future energy security.
As Ministry of Defence made clear,
"By 2029 there is expected to be a considerable increase in demand for energy. In particular gas will be of increasing importance as states struggle to maintain energy supplies, Many boundary disputes, such as those in the Arctic, Gulf of Guinea and the South Atlantic will become inextricably linked to the securing of energy supplies."
It also offers the possibility of conflict if mishandled. However, that appeared to be a far more likely possibility under a government such as Kirchner's. Even so, the press release of Corbyn's talks with Alicia Castro on the day Hilary Benn, his rival as Shadow Foreign Secretary, declared his support for the Falklanders is curious,

Benn's interview in the Sunday Telegraph came just three days after Cameron declared at Davos that there would be no renegotiation of the sovereign status of the Falkland Islands and without Corbyn even having been asked for his own position in the light of the renewed press attention on his talks with the embassy.

Whatever is thought about Corbyn's position, it does seem there is an attempt to portray him as a 'national security threat' for challenging various shibboleths of British foreign policy that date back to the 1980s from the Falkland Islands to the supposed continuity in 2016 with the Cold War struggles against Russia.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Britain and the Saudi-Yemen War.

The disappearance of the Parliamentary watchdog on arms sales abroad is not so mysterious when it is considered that the Saudi military intervention in Yemen started in March 2015. There is no reason why government would want any sort of examination of the use of British made weapons in indiscrimate bombings.
The hope is that the 'forgotten war' would remain forgotten because aligning with Saudi Arabia against Houthi militias, backed by Iran, is considered a major geostrategic imperative required to check Iranian influence. It is part of the wider proxy war being played out across the region, most obviously in Syria.
Supposed realpolitik, therefore, trumps any humanitarian considerations the British government have. Britain is involved in milirarily assisting the Saudi war effort along with the US as a matter of intentional policy decisions based on the claim, as made by Phillip Hammond, that the Saudi War in Yemen is 'legitimate'.
The idea that humanitarian and military objectives are at odds presupposes that is a problem for Cameron's government but it is not. Certainly it would like to preserve its image as force for moral good in the world but it tends to think that this always dovetails perfectly with the power interests it backs.
The US directly supports Saudi Arabia's war.Britain supports the US to retain prestige as a Global Player that the Gulf States want to work with as a partner. Focusing on the narrow issue of whether war crimes have been committed, as important as that is, ignores the fact Saudi Arabia does as it pleases.
Saudi Arabia is regional hegemon and leader of a coalition of Gulf states blitzing Yemen. It includes Bahrain where Britain started work on the Mina Salman Port on October 31st 2015. Hammond said 'The presence of the Royal Navy in Bahrain is guaranteed into the future, ensuring Britain’s sustained presence east of Suez.'
How the Saudi led war contributes to 'regional stability' is not clear but the obvious fact is that it does not and it has little basis in legality according to international law experts. The war to reinstall Hadi at his request depends on his acceptance as the legitimate leader but this is just claim not a fact.
As Madawi Al-Rasheed claims 'The Saudi war on Yemen is not an inevitable war of self-defense forced on the leadership by Houthi expansion inside Saudi Arabia and undermining Saudi national security. Instead, it was a pre-emptive strike to inaugurate an aggressive Saudi regional foreign policy.'
The British government can hardly recognise that Saudi Arabia is committing war crimes with British made jets because it is directly complicit in having created-and in continuously maintaining-the Saudi war machine in 2015. FO legal advisers are claiming Britain could be tried for war crimes
Apart from that, the Saudi War is unwinnable and helping AQAP and ISIS to gain ground just as the proxy war in Syria has. The danger is that, along with disgruntled Shia within Saudi Arabia itself, jihadi violence will blowback as the war drains further the ability of the Al Saud monarchy to buy off discontent.
The collapse in the oil price has reduced oil revenue earnings drastically. But, even more bizarrely and dangerously, Saudi Arabia has actuallyACTIVELY aligned with AQAP as a means to roll back the Houthis despite the US having fought its drone war with the jihadists since the group was created in 2009.
Hammond made plain that British involvement in air strikes in Syria allowed Saudi Arabia to concentrate on the 'legitimate' Yemen War. It is hard to see how Britain's air strikes on ISIS are going to defeat global terrorism when its ally was ready to aid them in Yemen ready for ISIS to step in to take over.

Cold War Legacy: Why the US and Britain are standing by Saudi Arabia.

The US and Britain want to achieve preserving their hegemony in the Greater Middle East against that of rival powers, though it is misleading to claim that the Gulf powers are 'vassal states' ( Chomsky ). The truth is worse than that as it the Gulf states that have turned Britain into their servant.
Essentially, it is about preserving interests, the profits from the colossal arms trade, which Britain leads the world in with Saudi Arabia, and preference as an investment destination for Saudi petromoney. It is Britain that is dependent on Saudi Arabia rather than vice versa.
Fear of Saudi collapse is leading Britain and the US to demonstrate all the more that they are a loyal ally, especially after the nuclear deal with Iran which was about bringing Tehran in from the cold as a way to involve it in solving Syria as well as shoring up Shi'ite dominated Iraq.
The intractable problem is that while the US and Britain effectively help back internal repression in Saudi Arabia, the more likely it would increase resentment against the Saudi monarchy and the West. It will hasten too the emerging Sunni-Shi'ite clash that is developing across the region.
Western foreign policy has failed as has the old Cold War alliance system, which reached its nadir of 'effectiveness' in the 1980s with the Gulf States backing the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR and Saddam Hussein against what was then a revolutionary Islamist Iran.
The problem is that Iraq no longer acts as a 'balancing power' between Iran and Saudi Arabia as a consequence of the Bush's and Blair's invasion of 2003 and the fragmentation of the state into Kurdish, Shi'ite and Sunni territories. Iran is central to maintaining the Baghdad government.
The US and Britain has not quite got used to the idea, as remains clear with the disastrous policy towards Syria of demanding 'Assad must go', that it does not have the means to single-handedly determine events in the Greater Middle East along with Saudi Arabia.
On the contrary, the attempt to try and balance Iran's growing influence by aligning firmly with Saudi Arabia's policy elsewhere, as is the case on Syria and Yemen, is helping to ratchet up the proxy war and cause the chaos that ISIS has exploited
From one perspective, US and British foreign policy has helped replace the AQ threat with a worse one. From another, it could be considered that the war on ISIS has positive spin off benefits in testing out and developing the military technology, especially drones, and in selling more arms.
Yet, from another viewpoint, it makes no sense at all to be directly supporting a Saudi state that has openly backed AQ given that it is the terrorist atrocity of 9/11 that stimulated what was once called the 'war on terror' and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The idea the US and Britain have leverage over Riyadh is increasingly untenable. Cameron claimed the Saudis give him information which 'keeps us safe' from terrorism. Yet whatever truth there is in that ( which is highly questionable ), the source of global jihad ultimately emanates from Saudi Arabia.
Unlike during the Cold War, where these sorts of geopolitical power games and arms deals could be carried out at great distance from the West, the contribution these failed foreign policies are making towards anarchy and chaos will almost certainly blow back towards Europe and the US.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Donald Trump and the Terrorist Threat.

'The footage of Trump appeared between two clips of militant leader Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011, saying Muslims in the United States would face a choice between leaving for Islamic countries or staying at home to fight the West.'
Donald Trump's comments in the the Republican Presidential candidate race about stopping Muslims entering the US until the threat posed had been checked and 'understood' seem to have been seized upon by those who think that it makes for Somalia's jihadi al-Shabaab militants propaganda more effective.

What is strange about such claims is the assumption that it is Trump's uttered statements that apparently could lead Muslims within the US and the wider world towards anti-Western hatred. Yet it is unclear whether Trump's demagoguery stands out that much as something that could really radicalise.

After all, it is drone strikes are said to have played a role in recruiting for Al Qaida in Yemen as has the invasion and chaos created by the Saudi invasion and war with the HouthisContinually since 2001, politicians in the US and Britain have warned that military campaigns in Muslim lands are about 'keeping us safe here'.

What Trump has fastened on to is the idea that no matter what the US does abroad, Americans have not been safe from Islamist terrorism because 'we don't know who we are letting in'. Yet statistically most of the killing in US domestic 'terror' attacks have been committed by fanatics with guns who are not Islamists.
As the New York Times reported,
'Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.'
However, since 2001, the media image and presentation of terrorism as a threat has been something that emerges from out of 'the Muslim World' and which necessitates a military response. That was what 'the war on terror' was about, the all embracing pretext to commit to policies not strictly about anti-terrorism.

For the US is still in Afghanistan, but few seem to know why and 'public diplomacy' does not even invoke the terror threat any more. In fact the media has moved on to Syria and Iraq because of ISIS, the war on which is clearly about defeating a jihadi group that threatens and commits regional and global terrorism.

Yet to big up the case for military intervention, ISIS is termed an 'existential threat' to the West by politicians such as Cameron. When that sort of language is used, it is hardly surprising that when there evidence that ISIS operatives have been able to cross porous borders from Syria into the EU that there is alarm.

Obama himself, very sensibly, appears to have rejected the sort of language that Cameron was using as late as July 2015 about ISIL posing an 'existential threat'. Other repeated soudbites inherited from the George Bush and Tony Blair era that persist into the present include 'generational struggle'.

'Existential threat' was dropped by Obama in December 2015 because the threat level became so obvious in the course of that year.The need today is to play down the threat now that it has grown in order to avert a counter-productive level of fear that is manifesting itself across Europe and the US

While Trump is hardly helping America's image, he is not really so much worse than the other Republican candidates such as Ted Cruz who said "We will carpet bomb [ISIS] into oblivion. I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out". Carpet bombing would of course mean mass civilian casualties.

Politicians in the West seem to put too much of an emphasis on 'public diplomacy'. Even if Republican rants hardly help and make a bad situation worse, the real driving force behind ISIS style jihadi-terrorism remains Saudi Arabian and Gulf State funding and the continued proxy war these allies have with Russia and Iran. 

There is no sign yet that the Western powers are prepared to cut a deal with Russia to impose a peace on Syria to end the proxy war and so create then a Syrian force capable of retaking the lands annexed by the Caliphate. These momentous decisions-or lack of them-are far more important than Trump's poses.

The more Syria continues to collapse into barbarity and complete chaos as consequence, the more the primarily Sunni migrants will head through Turkey towards the EU and, in conjunction with ISIS plans to exploit that, the greater the threat of terrorism being associated with weakly enforced borders will be.

It is that terror threat being realised in waves of jihadist terror atrocities, such as have been visited upon Iraq and Syria blowing back into the West, that could stimulate a far right reaction and the increased polarisation in European societies that ISIS is hungering to exploit as part of its apocalyptic war.

Friday, 1 January 2016

David Cameron's New Year Message: Language, PR Politics and The Denial of Reality.

“When our national security is threatened by a seething hatred of the West, one that turns people against their country and can even turn them into murderous extremists, I want us to be very clear: you will not defeat us.
And we will not just confront the violence and the terror; we will take on their underlying poisonous narrative of grievance and resentment. We will come down hard on those who create the conditions for that narrative to flourish."
Prime Minister Cameron gave Christmas and New Year speeches to outline fairytales. As with any 'speech' by David Cameron, the emphasis is on the politically correct framing devices and use of words to recreate a fictional version of reality that would be absorbed passively in the age of the consumer.

A Cameron 'speech' has to be 'conservative' enough to allay fears of the real threats of ISIS terrorism by 'standing tall', remaining vigilant and 'tough' and 'taking the fight to them' through bombing the Caliphate in Syria. It has to be 'progressive' in promising an end to evil by taking on the 'root causes'

Any attempt to deal with 'the root causes' of evil 'extremism' is a radical progressive stance inherited from Tony Blair. The 'stance' and 'speeches' are infused with the sort of messianic certitude favoured by neoconservatives in the US with its portrayal of dark forces within that shall be vanquished by wars on evil.

Yet the idea that terrorism could be defeated by 'confronting a narrative' is ludicrous. For 'mainstream' politics no longer takes on ideas in the public arena but instead attempts to find acceptable public formats for reshaping perceptions through language from stilted phrases to emitting the right buzzwords.

There are a number of reasons why PR politics is futile. Stock phrases such as 'Islam is a religion of peace' are intended to assuage Muslims but only end up annoying others who can see quite plainly that, even aside from ISIS, that Islam must have 'something to do' with 'religiously inspired' violence.

Of course, ISIS does not represent Islam in its purest form. Yet its ideology and dogmas, its cultural frames of reference and language, from caliphate to kufr and jihad, all hail from a politicised interpretation of the Qu'ran and aspects of Islamic theology that ultimately stem from the Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia.

It is the oil rich kingdom that has bankrolled madrasas and jihadists across the Middle East and wider world and helped create ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The violence of the Caliphate is in 2015 blowing back westwards and its power and influence derive from its uses to regional powers that are Britain's allies.

If Cameron were to 'come down hard on those who create the conditions for that narrative to flourish' he would start with Riyadh. But there is evidence some Tory politicians have a close relationship with Saudi Arab donors and successive governments have not wanted to risk losing lucrative investments and arms deals.

So the promotion of Wahhabi teachings in Britain is considered less important than a report on the Muslim Brotherhood done to assess its threat of 'extremism'. As has become obvious in Syria, 'extremism' is a politically convenient word meaning jihadists who threaten British interests. 'Moderates' do not.

The danger with Cameron and the political class play acting with words and labels like this is that it creates a fantasy version of reality. This makes it easier to persist in folly, such as entering the war in Syria without a strategy ( other than making absurd claims about 70,000 "moderate rebels" waiting to storm Raqqa ).

The other more evident danger is that, instead of the jihadi-Islamist 'narrative' actually being 'challenged' from a standpoint of logic and reason, the hypocrisy of the British government stimulates ever greater cynicism among those claiming that the 'real threat' is actually the government 'narrative'.

This is as true whether from the populist right ( 'Islam is the problem' ) or Islamists ( 'real Islam is the solution' ) and so the potential for spiralling paranoia and mutual accusation intensifies rather than diminishes because reality is ever more boiled down into slogans and soundbites that prevent intelligent thought.

Hence Cameron's government gets more deeply drawn into contorted and clumsy attempts to police opinion and redefine what is 'extreme' and what is 'moderate' rather than commit to practical policies and the open political debate that would preserve a free society from the grip of the emerging security state.

The 'root causes' of terrorism come less from 'poisonous narratives' but from the practical empowerment of jihadi groups through Saudi Arab financing. This allows the material spread of their power in the real world and allows those tapping in to the ideas they promulgate to believe that in joining them the world can be changed.

The causes of radical jihadism are ultimately political and interconnected with the appeal of 'political religion' for those who can plainly see that Muslims across the Middle East are suffering, in part, because of Western foreign policies, no matter how these impacts are said to be unintended consequences.

Even if ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq, the political instability and violence that drives the sort of 'narrative' based on conspiracy theories and hatred of sinister Western and collusion with 'Zionist elites' is going to remain, not least as long as Saudi Arabia keeps relentlessly bankrolling and promoting these ideas.

It is very difficult to prate about promoting 'our values' when the reality is the British government firmly aligns with the biggest state sponsor of jihadist terrorism in the world which spends billions on supporting both terrorists and dictators such as Sisi in Egypt and fomenting proxy wars from Libya to Syria and Yemen.

The persistence in pursuing foreign policies that over time promote state collapse and civil war, despite intentions to the contrary, only generates larger number of those who associate the liberation of their own lands with the destruction of the 'imperialist' forces that have have create tyranny and oppression.

The reality is that if Britain, along with other western EU states, is going to be open to mass migration from those lands destabilised as a consequence partly of its foreign policy, it is going to invariably face resistance from within Muslim diapora communities by those who value religious identity over the nation.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Christopher Hitchens and Iraq War Polemics Revisited

 In a review of And Yet, Christopher Hitchen's posthumous collection of essays, Tim Adams writes
 'The essay Power Suits, which shows Hitchens at his most rigorous and obsessive, reveals how he became involved in the story that disclosed how only last-minute intervention from Tony Blair prevented US plans to blow up the al-Jazeera TV network headquarters in Qatar. 
It is a measure of Hitchens’s gift for triangulation that he could allow such revelations to exist alongside his qualified support for the “war on terror”. He backed himself into many corners with his arguments in favour of armed struggle against the “forces of al-Qaida, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein”'
Hitchens, contrary to misleading impressions suggesting otherwise, never became a neoconservative after 9/11 2001. He aligned himself with the Bush administration on both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars fought thereafter for what he saw as the same reason George Orwell sided with the West against Hitler; to preserve civilisation.

Far from this representing Hitchens having 'sold out', it was the logical extension of his admiration for Trotsky's 'moral moments' in having warned Europe about the spectre of fascist barbarianism in the 1930s ( as outlined in his essay The Old Man ). For Hitchens'. politicised religion and fascism went together hand in glove.

Those who saw Islamic fundamentalism as a vital new form of totalitarian threat to the Middle East and the wider world in the early 2000s believed that a war for civilisation was needed against these recrudescent forces. State totalitarianism of Saddam Hussein's kind and Islamist fascism were two forms of terror.

This stance, allowed Hitchens to take on activists in the 'anti-war' left who did tend to see all attacks on the west as a 'mere reflex reaction' to 'Western Imperialism'. Hitchen's position was that, in the wake of the end of the Cold War, the West had an obligation to try to put right what callous realpolitik had created in the past.

Most obviously, that meant supporting a war on the Taliban in Afghanistan as part of the 'war on terror', both the terror imposed by Al Qaida and the Taliban, a group empowered by Pakistan's ISI and Saudi Arabia as part of their and US support for the mujahadeen in the proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Hitchens consistently opposed the alignment with Islamist forces as a cynical means to defeat secular democratic forces in the Middle East. He was an ally of Edward Said on the issue of Palestine and why he blamed religious extremism and the backing it got from the US for making resolution of the conflict more difficult.

There a number of traps Hitchens fell into through his 'triangulation'. it was almost as though he saw the 'anti-war' activists as effectively collaborating with Islamofascist forces just as Stalinists had with other totalitarian forces in the 1930s, most obviously fascism, as a means to destroy Western Civilisation.

In reality, the StWC in Britain was not actually that important as their 'arguments' relied on cliched propaganda tropes as opposed to informed analysis as to the very great dangers of invading Iraq from a practical and ethical perspective. It was as though arguments for the invasion were arguments against these moral pygmies.

This is quite obviously true because those 'anti-war' leaders who gained the most media attention, not least in Britain were self promoting defenders of totalitarian regimes and militant Islamist politics, frauds, fools and fanatics such as Lindsey German, John Rees, Tariq Ali, Inayat Bunglawala, Tamimi Azzam and Anas al-Tikriti.

It was these 'anti-war' figures who dominated in the run up to 2003, constantly offering the idea that the Western lands had terrorism coming to them because of their 'foreign policy', flirting as closely as possible to the idea terror was a mere and regrettable reflex response to it without positing direct links.

In the sense that Hitchens combatted them and their rationalisations of Islamist jihadi-terrorism, he did an excellent job. When, however, he started to see them as one reason why the Western Powers should go into Iraq and fight the global 'war on terror', at home and abroad, he went badly wrong-as did the war )

For the invasion of Iraq did unleash sectarian conflicts and assist in creating ISIS. Moreover, it was far more important in promoting regional and global terrorism than any of these creepy individuals could have dreamed would happen when they opposed the Iraq War on the basis they hated the the US and the West.

Some of the best arguments for the invasion of Iraq were, therefore, that they just must have validity because the StWC consisted of such repellent leaders who cared more about hating the West than they did about liberating, for example, the Kurds who had been consistently betrayed by cynical Western strategies.

The heated polemics of the early 2000s, both for and against the Afghanistan or Iraq Wars, seem very dated in 2015. The drivel of 'anti-war' icon Tariq Ali, extolling 'the Iraqi resistance' against US Imperialism, a motley array of Baathists and Sunni jihadists, has a grim irony with the stunning re-emergence of that force as ISIS in 2014

Likewise the ignorance of 'pro-liberation' leftists as regards the history of the Middle East is clearer. The idea that by removing secular dictators that pluralist and inclusive democracies would arise, seems increasingly naive with the passage of time, though it seems to have finally been recognised as regards the Syria conflict.

It is clear both sides  within Britain on the left, pro-liberationists' and 'anti-war' types, had as much in common with each other as they had differences; the inability to accept reality, the desire to fit facts to the ideological prescriptions of the fighting creed and militant utopian dreams about how what 'we' do can 'change the world'.

Some Brief Thoughts on Hitchens and Chomsky.

Hitchens was a contrarian who found himself aligned with the Bush administration after 9/11 if only because he saw the US and its great post-cold war hyperpower as the only force that could successfully defend democracy across the world from the ultimate blind conformity of all-'theocratic fascism'.

To an extent, his stance was designed to go against what he saw as the dangerous conformism of the 'anti-war' intellectuals and publicists who he saw as blind to the real dangers of 'theocratic fascism' and how it emerged out of the failure of secular democracy to take root in the Middle East.

On a whole number of issues, Hitchens was passionately ranged against George Bush but he was equally as scathing about those more obsessed with what was wrong with the US to the degree that they though defending and extending democracy was a form of 'US Imperialism'.

So it depends on what 'fashionable opinion' means. The forthright atheism resonated with liberal New York-Washington beltway opinion. but, equally as true, hostility to jihadi-islamism involved attacking the 'fashionable opinion' of 'anti-war' populists ( e.g Michael Moore ) and, of course, Noam Chomsky.

Hitchens had once been aligned with Chomsky on many issues from Vietnam to Palestine. It seems Hitchens ultimately gave in to the idea that US superpower could, as with World war Two, be used to liberate the Middle East from fascism whereas Chomsky sees every war as just yet more 'imperialism'.

This is just to outline the debate as it once was. Chomsky argued that Hitchens was a conformist and even followed a 'religion' in believing George Bush would liberate Iraq. Hitchens, on the other hand, saw Chomsky as a reflexive rationaliser of intransigent dogmatic leftist and Islamist stances.

On balance both of them were wrong about Iraq. Chomsky was wrong to think the Bush administration did not, in fact, take seriously the idea it was liberating it from Saddam Hussein. Iraq for them, and those such as Hitchens who went along with it, was about effecting 'democratic revolution'.

Hitchens was wrong in believing that the Bush administration could deliver that in the circumstances and in failing to question the WMD pretexts that were given ( here Chomsky was right in insisting that the burden of proof lay with those promoting the war, though he would have found other reasons to oppose it ).

Neither thinker was that impressive on Iraq or US foreign policy. Both tended to be more obsessed with being 'right' against other intellectuals. For Chomsky, those who do not see every conflict as caused mostly by 'US Imperial Power', or those in positions of power who fail to condemn it as such, are 'commissars'.

Hitchens, on the other hand, tended to set forth a worldview in which the failure to be 'anti-fascist', in opposing the overthrow of Saddam or in taking on the Taliban were spineless 'appeasers' who betrayed the 'internationalist' history of the Western Left. It was not the most sensible way to discuss one bigger issue-'will it work?'

Ignoring the Reality of Geopolitics in the Middle East.

The problem with Hitchens was that he tended to see what he wanted to see as regards Iraq and it followed on from this idea of a new war for civilisation against totalitarian theocratic regimes that had started after 9/11 and had, at the time in 2003, seen the US 'successfully' overthrow the Taliban.

Ideologically, Hitchens regarded totalitarianism as an religious phenomenon, and to thereby overestimate it as a global threat, the better to take it on both at home and abroad. So he unified very different regimes and terror movements as though essentially part of one challenge to the free world.

That has a certain dramatic appeal and, in a sense, it is true that dictatorships in the Middle East tend to nurture fanatical jihadi oppositionists based on conspiracist interpretations of the world. But they were not the same and in most senses opposed to each other.

One reason for that, especially since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia and Iran have fought a proxy war in Iraq that has spread further afield. More more animus was directed towards Iran as part of an 'axis of evil' under Bush than it was towards the biggest sponsor of jihadism-Saudi Arabia.

The reasons were that the US had bases there to protect oil flows from the Persian Gulf and to contain Saddam or Iran. Saudi Arabia was a large supplier of oil at the time to the US and the Bush administration wanted to reduce that dependence by liberating Iraqi oil from Saddam's clutches.

By doing that it would be able to create a model US client state along democratic lines that would act as a regional beacon and trigger off demands for democracy across the borders of Iraq into Syria and Iran. But there was no way Saudi Arabia would allow Iran to extend its influence in this new democracy.

It was always highly likely that removing Saddam through a war would cause a sectarian war between Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs, not least as Iran and Saudi Arabia would try to extend their influence through backing militias and factions for geopolitical reasons.

Hitchens ignored that because one of his main concerns lay with the liberation of the Iraqi Kurds. Yet the 'no-fly zones' helped protect them from attacks by Saddam. He was effectively 'contained' in 2003. Yet the sanctions policy had created great suffering for ordinary Iraqis.

The war never appeared at the time as a straightfowardly 'imperialist' venture to liberals leftist supporters. They suspended their scepticism through the belief Saddam had caused enough humanitarian suffering; removing him would end both sanctions and offer an opportunity to rebuild Iraq.

There were less famous but more informed writers at the time than Hitchens who cautioned against it from John Gray to Malise Ruthven who, in A Fury for God, called the plans to invade Iraq 'incredibly risky' because of the geopolitical competition and threat of proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Battle for Sangin and the Pipeline of Peace : The New Great Game in Asia.

'The UK sent a modest contingent of British military advisers to Helmand at the weekend to support the overstretched forces. The 10 British troops, part of a 300-strong Nato force, are based at Camp Shorabak, about 50 miles from Sangin. The MoD said they would remain inside the camp to provide advice and infantry training'.
News that British troops are being redeployed once more in Helmland, to help the Afghan National Army repel the Taliban from the town of Sangin, proved that the vaunted 'drawdown' of troops never mean 'withdrawal'. The clue was in the wording, despite the official end to Britain's war in Afghanistan being trumpeted.

David Cameron's statement in 2014-'mission accomplished'- was a form of 'public diplomacy' to assure the British public that Britain had completed its job and that it was, to use Blair's old refrain, 'time to move on'. Only it was not and the central objective in 'staying the course' in Afghanistan remained unmentionable.

Helmland is strategically important because the TAPI gas pipeline finally started construction on December 13 2015 and will run via Kandahar. This pipeline is a very important part of the US-NATO war in Afghanistan and the Afghan government pledged 7000 troops to help defend and secure the pipeline route.
While the TAPI pipeline is routinely presented in Western 'public diplomacy' ( when it is mentioned at all ) as part of 'development economics', a project to help rebuild Afghanistan through providing energy and transit fees, it is disingenuous to pretend that it is not central to certain geopolitical ambitions in Central Asia.
'According to the Council of Foreign Relations, the pipeline has been a focus of US policy to contrast the influence of Russian and Chinese investments in the region. Dubbed as the ‘peace pipeline’ for bringing together rival countries like India and Pakistan, the project would also enable Turkmenistan to diversify its exports away from China.'
Turkmenistan has the world's second largest gas reserves. The US-NATO has largely given up on 'nation building' and has sought instead to pursue 'Afghanistanisation' whereby Western military experts, trainers and special-ops forces get native troops to protect and defend crucial resource interests.
TAPI is a rival to Iran's IP pipeline, all the more important now that the nuclear deal with Tehran means Iran will have sanctions lifted and be able to export gas to Pakistan. If the US does not want Iranian influence, in tandem with China, which is backing IP, to expand too far, then securing TAPI is vital to India's energy security
The US fears Iran and Pakistan aligning too closely and so threatening the relationship with Saudi Arabia just across the Persian Gulf. The nuclear deal was considered necessary to bring Iran out of the cold and to shore up the Shi'ite dominated Iraqi government against ISIS and its threat to global oil supplies.
Gaining Iran's cooperation is designed prevent the US being drawn back into Iraq after withdrawal in 2011 and the new focus on containing China (the 'pivot to Asia'). In that sense TAPI is vital to America's ability to project power and influence in Eurasia by getting India onside as part of a strategy to check Chinese influence.
TAPI has some role in that general strategy, of asserting US influence in rivalry with China and Russia, by diverting control over energy flows away from Russian control and not letting Turkmenistan become dominated by its main export partner in China ( after a pipeline was completed connecting the two in 2014 ).
This is the reality in the New Great Game. Afghanistan is regarded as the crucial 'land bridge' between Central Asia and the burgeoning energy hungry economies and demographically expanding societies of South Asia. It is also has copious quantities of mineral resources the Western powers wish to gain a stake in. 
' Since 2009, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) have provided $488 million toward the nation’s extractive industries supporting a variety of corporations like the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the US-based contractors Expertech Solutions and Hickory Ground Solutions.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Britain Enters the War in Syria : Cameron's Vote on Military Intervention and Corbyn's Defeat.

'Jeremy Corbyn is to offer a free vote to MPs on David Cameron’s proposals for UK to bomb Isis in Syria but will make clear that Labour party policy is to oppose airstrikes'.
Corbyn really had little choice, otherwise he would have potentially lost authority by trying and failing to exercise authority over the party so full of those prepared to back air strikes, not least because this issue was one that both they and Cameron sought to use in order to oust Corbyn from leadership of Labour.

While British military intervention was something Cameron has wanted in order to reaffirm Britain as 'global player', the rapid movement to join in the battle against IS is primarily about Britain's credibility as a world power, one capable of shaping a post-Assad Syria and to sit at the 'top table' when this diplomacy is going on.

To that extent, Corbyn offered an obstable to that which was then turned into a 'national security threat'. The British national security state created during the latter part of the Cold War on the US model is not there to be challenged by anything as unpredicatable as democratic accountability and so 'Corbyn must go'.

Those Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn are so because 'Britain as global player', no matter the actual dangers of the Syria 'strategy', is a fundamental interest both for their own careerist ambitions and also from an understanding that military action in Syria reassures the Gulf States that Britain is pledged to their defence.

Saudi Arabia is a source of huge investments in London and arms deals. Qatar is set to be an ever more important supplier of LNG ( liquefied natural gas ) for EU markets as European sources deplete-including Britain's North Sea reserves-and the Western Powers look for energy diversification away from Russia.

The real reason Syria has become a strategic battleground and such a brutal cockpit for regional and global proxy wars, is its position between the South Pars Persian Gulf gas field and the Eastern Mediterranean. Both Iran and Qatar want to run a gas pipeline through Syria in rivalry with each other.

With sanctions set to lifted on Iran, as a consequence of the nuclear deal and Iran's vital role in shoring up a Shi'ite dominated Iraqi state based in Baghdad and rolling back IS, the stakes in Syria have been raised further. The US risked alienating Saudi Arabia by seemingly allowing Iran to sell oil freely again and ceding control in Iraq.

Hence in Syria, Washington and London have sought to maintain the geopolitical fiction of a 'moderate rebel' force that should have a stake in determining a post-Assad political settlement. This has become even more important to maintain the Gulf States onside and to check Russia's recent direct military support for Assad.

Russian military intervention on October 29 2015 was the last straw for an increasingly humilated Cameron whose defeat in Parliament in a vote for air strikes on Assad halted the momentum towards Western intervention back in September 2013. Reversing that verdict -and the humiliation-is in part a vanity project.

Moreover, the IS role in blowing up the Russian airliner over Sinai and the Paris Black Friday Attacks provided the 'public diplomacy' opportunities ( pathologically referred to in the media as 'game changers' ) for Cameron to use the IS global threat as a pretext to enter the power contest in Syria as a military player.

Cameron is not naive enough to believe his own verbose memo about Britain's ability to 'make a difference' against IS or the fiction of 70,000 'moderate rebels' waiting in the wings to rally behind Britain's air strike in a massive assualt on Raqqa. It is more about being a 'global player' in determining events in Syria.

That clearly means not allowing the collapse of the 'moderate rebels' or 'third force' capable of checking Assad and defeating IS ( in theory ). With news of US special ops forces already fighting IS and William Hague calling for British ground troops, there are shades of the early years before US involvement in Vietnam.

As Patrick Cockburn drily pointed out with regards Cameron's case, ' In Syria, we are to look to 70,000 “moderate” fighters whose existence Mr Cameron revealed to the House of Commons, but nobody in Syria has ever heard of. Isis is not going to be defeated by these phantom armies which are to be Britain’s allies in Iraq and Syria.'

Britain obviously wants IS defeated but it is not the only priority. If it were, then Britain would have waited to see whether the Vienna agreement and the ceasefire between Assad and the 'moderate rebels' would first be put into place and, then, wait to see if it would stick before contemplating military action.

As it stand in the first week of December 2015, at least a month before the ceasefire was to have been acheived ( January 2016) , Britain's air strikes are about tilting the balance in Syria away from Assad back towards the 'moderate rebels' by backing unnamed militias first against ISIS.

Yet, unlike Assad's forces, the 'moderate rebels' consist of fissiparious militias that have proven incapable of working together. The Army of Conquest is dominated by militias whose ideology is not that dissimilar from IS. The real, more moderate secular forces, are concentrated in the south near Damascus.

The great danger is that, in contrast to Russia, the Western Powers would have to commit more ground troops in future to work along with rebel groups that have proven again and again incapable of being effective as a fighting force. Corbyn could have argued this, but reduced himself to platitudes.

Such is democracy. Corbyn will be defeated as communication and PR politics means that there are few who attempt to treat the British public as full of citizens capable of listening to or grasping coherent arguments as opposed to reacting to knee jerk policies designed to 'solve' the IS threat.

While Corbyn's arguments were not put as forceably as they might have been, his caution and arguments that the case has not been proven are far more convincing than Cameron's evasive and slimy spinning based on a media agenda and exploiting the fear of terrorism.

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Vienna Agreement and Cameron's Drive for British Intervention in Syria.

Cameron is already building up the 'public diplomacy' momentum behind winning a vote on air strikes in Syria for December 2015 without having first outlined any realistic strategy that would make them much more than part of his obsession with 'standing tall' and reaffirming Britain's status as a 'global player'.

This was clear after the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai. Then Cameron muscled in to claim IS had been involved and that he was at the forefront of protecting British citizens through emergency measures and privy to intelligence about IS threats that the rest of the world was not. It was as much about getting the necessary headlines.

Then, in line with the media management strategies Cameron is expert at as 'heir to Blair, a few days later Fallon started on cue to big up the case for British air strikes in Syria lest anyone forget what the larger aim of the British response to the blowing up of the Russian jet. All of this was carefully choreographed.

The danger with this sort of 'public diplomacy' is that it is inherently manipulative and is directed at exploiting public fears into stampeding public opinion and so MPs into supporting a policy for which there has not been a rational debate about the merits of firs. In fact that is the very purpose of this political culture of spin.

The Labour opposition, with the exception of its leader Jeremy Corbyn, indicated that it would not be prepared to swing decisively behind air strikes unless a coherent strategy was outlined by the government. Corbyn would seem to think there is no need to press the government on what, if any, strategy the government has.

The reason is because he is opposed to any military action without a 'political settlement'. This statement of the obvious that has potentially been invalidated by the Vienna agreement and the prospect of a UN Security Council backed war against IS in the wake of the Black Friday the 13th terror attacks on Paris.

Corbyn needs to scrutinize Cameron's proposals for joining air strikes in Syria and start asking hard questions about whether the PM really has a strategy other than just bombing Raqqa. For example what guarantees there are that the ceasefire by January 2016 will hold ( not least as Cameron wants air strikes before Christmas ).

Corbyn has flopped as an alternative leader. He is the unexpected leader of a party in crisis across Britain as it struggles to find an identity after Blair and Brown's years and the failure of Miliband. Corbyn does not seem to have made much impact at a time of heightened fear as IS goes on the rampage across the Middle East and into Europe. 

As John Gray summarised it,
"In a performance reminiscent of Peter Sellers’s Chauncey Gardiner in the film Being There, the Labour leader has emerged from the walled garden of the hard left to wander around the country, dispensing gnomic observations about peace and kindness. It’s a surreal kind of theatre rather than a new type of politics. There is no risk to Cameron"
The timing of the vote of air strikes for December 2015 shows that Cameron is less interested in whether the political and diplomatic settlement agreed on in Vienna sticks first before wasting the 'game changing' usefulness of the Paris attacks to rush through to a vote on air strikes that would make any opposition appear as though 'soft on terror'.

The ceasefire agreed at Vienna is for January 2016. Timing a vote for December means that no problems with not having first halted the proxy war between Assad and the Sunni insurgents not aligned with IS could delay Britain entering the war in Syria. Saudi Arabia declared it would convene a meeting of all Sunni groups on December 15th 2015.

Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam were invited to this convention, however, in an act that seems to challenge Russia's intentions in a paragraph of the second Vienna meeting’s final statement on 14 November. After discussing which groups are to be designated as 'terrorist', the communique continues:
“All members of the ISSG also pledged as individual countries and supporters of various belligerents to take all possible steps to require adherence to the ceasefire by these groups or individuals they support, supply or influence. The ceasefire would not apply to offensive or defensive actions against Da’esh or Nusra or any other group the ISSG agrees to deem terrorist“.
Cameron's drive towards war in Syria would appear to be more principally concerned about power politics and making Britain a 'global player' on a par with Russia after it intervened militarily in Syria on September 29 and pushed the Great Powers into discussing a deal to focus more on IS once it was clear Assad would not go.

There is no indication Britain has a strategy apart from joining in as part of air strikes in the hope it is would be seen to be playing a part and showing the Gulf States how it is dedicated to their defence as well as testing out British military hardware and signalling its commitment to the Gulf States.

As Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond put it after announcing the new British military base in Bahrain 'your security is our security''. It was necessary for Britain to revive its old East of Suez role when the US was refocusing and shifting its military weight towards containing China ( the Pivot to Asia ).

To that end the Defence Secratary Michael Fallon has repeated the line that Assad has to go, despite the fact Russian intervention means he would not at least before elections are due to be held, as set out on paper at least in the Vienna agreement, by 2017. On November 23 2015 he made it plain, that despite Russia and Iran's backing for Assad,
“There is international agreement now that Assad has to go and there has to be a more comprehensive government.”
There has been no international agreement at all on Assad's status which was pointedly left out of the talks at Vienna because it would have made diplomatic progress impossible. Saudi Arabia would appear to have stepped in to take control over the Sunni opposition to Assad and has maintained that he should not stand in future elections.

As a consequence, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the case for British air strikes is not about defeating IS only so much as positioning Britain, in advance of any diplomatic settlement, in a better bargaining position in trying to ensure it can determine the fate of Syria for the benefit of its Gulf State clients.

In that sense, there is a similarity between this diplomacy and that which happened between 1812 and 1815 when all the powers sought those decisive victories that would give them the decisive influence in reshaping the map of Europe ( through the Congress of Vienna ). It is very old fashioned Great Power politics of the old style at a global level.

The problem with that is there is no guarantee the Gulf States would honour the peace process and stop ratcheting up the proxy war with Iran through backing Sunni jihadist groups in the Army of Conquest as it has since March 2015. There has been no let up in the proxy war to the south in Yemen for a start.

Without that happening, because Russia is already supporting Assad, there would be no joint effort or coherent strategy to focus Syrian ground troops on IS. It would that should Assad and Russia advance too quickly against IS, other Sunni jihadist groups could start attacking Assad to the west in order to 'tilt' the balance of power away from him.

There is no indication which ground forces Britain would work with in defeating IS. It could be the Kurdish peshmerga as with the US or Arab-Kurdish forces including the YGP militias. Yet Turkey is intent on air strikes against PKK militias fighting IS because of its fear of Kurdish irredentism spreading across the border.

Cameron seems to have decided on commiting  Britain to a larger security role in the Greater Middle East and to defending the interests of the Gulf States at a time when their policies are making it ever more likely that the war against IS would not succeed without a durable ceasefire with Assad. The dangers of this are clear.

Not only would British air strikes make London a target for IS terror reprisals, they would lock Britain further into a war with no firm diplomatic end game in sight now that the Gulf States have demonstrated, in word and deed, that they are not that concerned with IS but more with Iran and with Assad in Syria.

Given that the November 23rd Strategic Defence & Security Review involves increasing Britain's 'special ops' forces for dealing with IS, it is clear this would leave open the way for being dragged in directly into a ground war with the Caliphate with all the potential for "mission creep" that could well involve if the strategy is flawed.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Britain and Resource Wars in the 21st Century.

Norton Taylor has drawn attention to the fact the alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states would be a feature of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) due to be unveiled on 23 November 2015. Yet it is vital to draw attention to the increased emphasis both NATO and the Britain has put on energy security.

The last SDSR in 2010 made plain that real threats to Britain's security are considered to be rising
'due to ourgrowing dependence on imports of fossil fuels at  the same time that global demand and competition for energy is increasing. Falling UK production of oil and gas, coupled with sustained demand, will make us increasingly reliant on fossil fuel imports'.
While Britain gets on a fraction of its oil from Saudi Arabia, with most coming from Norway or Russia or African OPEC nations -mostly Nigeria and Algeria-it imports an increasingly significant amount of LNG from Gulf States such as Qatar. Indeed Michael Fallon in 2013, as Energy Secratary, made this reliance clear.
"We are looking for more long-term gas supply contracts with Qatar – they have proved a very reliable partner...It's very important we strengthen our relationship with them. Already over half our gas comes from abroad and by 2030, it'll be three-quarters" LNG accounted for 28pc of the UK's gas imports last year, 98pc of those from Qatar.
In respect to Britain's geopolitical strategy, which involves building the base in Bahrain, supporting the Saudi war effort in Yemen and supporting "moderate rebels" in Syria, in alignment with the Saudis and Qatar, the ambition is to secure crucial strategic chokepoints in the Persian Gulf and between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

This is precisely why Philip Hammond is not that interested in the humanitarian consequences of Saudi Arabia bombing civilian targets in Houthi rebel held urban areas. The threat to the flow of oil tankers through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and Red Sea trade was a major concern for Saudi Arabia fearing Iranian proxy influence.

Even if Iran would be unlikely to cut off oil flows from Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, the pathological competition for influence and power in Syria is about the competition between Iran and Qatar for two rival gas pipelines between the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean and hence EU energy markets.

The construction of Britain's Bahrain base is about reassuring Britain's Gulf allies that they are pledged to their defence in the event of any threat, not least that of terrorist attacks from within, Iranian backing for Shi'ite rebels or the looming spectre of ISIS As Hammond put it '“Your security is our security.”

By pledging Britain so unconditionally to the defence of the increasingly unstable Gulf states, Hammond has determined that Britain would be pulled into a regionwide conflagration should this happen, as appears increasingly probable rentier regimes incapable of diversifying from oil faced with Islamist militancy.

The Saudi oil price war with Russia, one spurred on by the US shale oil 'revolution', was intended as a means to reconfigure global geopolitics and use galling oil revenues to cripple those powers opposing US world domination such as Venezuela, Iran and, most obviously, Russia itself.

Far from promoting 'stability', the strategy could end up destabilising Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies which have blamed Riyadh for plummeting oil revenues. The Saudis have been drawn into a Yemen quagmire and costs have escalated as revenues to buy off discontent fallen drastically.

ISIS has made repeated incursions into Saudi oil producing regions and in the Bastra region of Iraq as well as Al Qaida into Algeria. An oil price shock would boost their as yet relatively meagre oil revenues greatly and send the global economy into a tailspin as the East Asian economies are dependent upon Middle East oil.

The Russian Factor.

The next cause of global instability is that sanctions have helped drive Putin into entering Syria in order to combat both ISIS, a threat to the Russian Caucasus and its oil and gas pipelines in the region, as well as to decisively back Assad's state army against Qatari and Saudi-backed "moderate rebels".

Russia sought to tilt the balance away from their prospective gains because of the threat a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline would pose to Russia's control over energy supplies into the EU, its oil revenues and its global power projection. This was threatened in March 2015 by the Army of Conquest militia formation being created.

The Russian intervention would seem to be a ploy to increase oil prices and shore up Putin's oil revenues. It is more probable the move was about blocking off the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and retaining a strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean so that it could gain a stake in offshore Syrian and Israeli gas projects

This had been threatened by Army of Conquest gains in north-west Syria as the Gulf States and Turkey upped their supply of weapons to it, a formation that includes Al Qaida affiliated militias such as al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, militant Sunni jihadists wanting a Caliphate not so dissilimar from that of IS in Raqqa.

Western propaganda, via a pliant media, replicates the untruth that Assad faces 'moderate rebels' Yet it is unclear how far either the West would go in defending their interests should Russia succeed in 'degrading' the military capacity of the Army of Conquest, backed by a NATO member in the form of Erdogan's Turkey.

The Gulf States have put pressure on the Western Powers to back them in Syria. Meanwhile Saudi-Russian relations have continued to deteriorate amidst suspicions that Riyadh is covertly backing jihadists against Russia in Chechnya and Dagestan, as well as NGO groups in other strategic transit states in the Caucasus.

So Britain is pledged to defending the Gulf States. Even if the US is more focused the rise of China in 2015, the Saudi lobby and Republicans are staunchly for the alliance and a direct proxy war with Russia over both Syria and Ukraine.This could stimulate tensions in a region the SDSR cited as crucial to energy security-the Caspian.

There are all sorts of dangers that are being created by the adherence to a Cold War era alliance system in the Middle East. There needs to be a change in strategic thinking and a greater emphasis on energy independence through nuclear power and in energy saving measures.

These are the chilling realities of the world in the 21st century.