Monthly Archives: June 2018

Russia continues to spin Assad’s way out of any blame for chemical attacks

Further evidence of Russia’s continued cover-up of Assad’s atrocities emerges as France’s broadcasting regulator warns the French arm of Russia Today (RT) over a news report that dubbed over the voices of Syrian civilians with words they had not said. It noted that the testimony of a Syrian witness had been dubbed with a voice saying “words that bore no resemblance with what he had said”.

The CSA added that another witness had been dubbed with a voiceover saying that local residents had been ordered by militant group Jaysh al-Islam to simulate the effects of a chemical attack, “but the testimony did not mention any particular group”. France’s Audiovisual Council (CSA) accused the state-backed broadcaster with “failures of honesty, rigour of information and diversity of viewpoints”.

The news report, aired on 13 April, “contested the reality of chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian region of Eastern Ghouta.” The CSA further said the report demonstrated “an imbalance in analysis” of the situation in Syria and that “on a subject this sensitive, the different points of view should have been expressed”.

Why we shouldn’t ask Muslims to condemn terrorism

All of us should condemn terrorism–whether the perpetrators are Muslim extremists, white supremacists, Marxist revolutionaries, or our own government. But it’s time for us to stop asking Muslims to condemn terrorism under the assumption they are guilty of harboring terrorist sympathies or promoting violence until they prove otherwise. Renowned expert on Islamophobia Todd Green shows us how this line of questioning is riddled with false assumptions that say much more about “us” than “them.”Green offers three compelling reasons why we should stop asking Muslims to condemn terrorism:
1) The question wrongly assumes Islam is the driving force behind terrorism
2) The question ignores the many ways Muslims already condemn terrorism.
3) The question diverts attention from unjust Western violence

The Turkish democratic space and the future of the Middle East

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his re-election on the basis of unofficial results after winning 52.5 percent of the national vote for the presidency, as the first executive president on the terms of the April 2017 Constitutional Referendum. The presidency had also previously shifted from being determined by parliamentary vote to a direct plebiscite in 2014. Now that virtually all the 180,996 ballot boxes have been opened, the Turkish Election Board, confirms the result. This is Erdoğan’s thirteenth election win since his days as Istanbul mayor.

However, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) only winning 42.5% of the vote in the accompanying elections for the expanded parliament of 600 seats, clearly missed its target of a majority win. The popular vote it acquires translates into 292 seats. Nevertheless, the new government’s ease of manoeuvre in parliament, for legislative purposes, will be made possible through the continuation the AKP’s alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and Erdoğan’s alliance with its leader, Devlet Bahçeli.

Erdoğan’s main rival, Muharrem İnce, the presidential candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), was on 30.8 percent of the votes at the time of Erdoğan’s announcement. The CHP accused the Anadolu Agency of “manipulating” the vote count in its broadcasts in order to confuse matters, in a desperate manoeuvre to buy time as the CHP vote looked to be sharply down from its 25 % performance in the last (November 2015) elections. This is standard practice on the part of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who always cries foul as a habit, irrespective of the circumstances . His suspicion of ballot tampering was not based on any evidence, but on the mere fact of a turnaround in votes, which simply didn’t meet his expectations or predictions. İnce, however, performed much better in the presidential race than Kılıçdaroğlu did in the parliamentary race, and he conceded gracefully, pointing out that the massive lead Erdoğan enjoyed put the result beyond question.

Meral Akşener, leader of the newly founded right-wing İYİ (Good) Party, with a 7.4% result, failed to live up to the promise of her expected performance in the presidential race, where some polls had put her popularity at 20%. Furthermore her party only managed to scrape through into parliament due to her alliance with Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP.

The Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) succeeded in getting 11.2 percent of the national vote, helped especially by support from non-HDP voters, principally Turkey’s ultra-left voters, who deserted the CHP with negative consequences for the party. Compared with that, therefore, the HDP’s jailed presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş won a disproportionate 8.2 percent support, given that the support from the left was only directed at the party and not its leader.

These June 2018 elections mark the beginning of a new era in Turkey’s administrative system, and is an endorsement of the results of the 2017 Constitutional Referendum. Erdoğan’s tactic of allying with Bahçeli paid off. Erdoğan’s political successes have historically been predicated on carefully judged alliances both within and outside the AKP, although the alliance in the early days with the Fethullah Gülen cultic movement soured spectacularly as it began to plan an unconstitutional take-over through a widespread parallel (deep) state apparatus. This process culminated in the attempted coup in July 2016, and led to the current judicial process of the expurgation of the deep state, with the imposition of a state of emergency, yet to be lifted.

Now, Erdoğan’s AK Parti will clearly have to continue to work with the MHP as a coalition partner in parliament, to pass the legislation that will be needed to put flesh on the bones of the presidential system. Although the MHP is regularly tarred with the brush of “fascism” by ultra-left commentators, it is clear that it has nevertheless left behind the negative image it had in 1990s, when its youth movement fostered the violence of the “grey wolves”. The ultra-left’s continuation of the “fascist” meme in its current discourse about the MHP displays a nostalgia for the street battles and the ideological conflicts of the depressed 1990’s.

Indeed Bahçeli seems to have become a mainstay of the Turkish constitutional system. His wily political nous has positioned him as the “kingmaker” of Turkish politics ever since his call for a snap election back in 2002. He has predictably proved Akşener and the pundits wrong by garnering close to 12% of the parliamentary vote for the MHP. The MHP’s resilience seemed to surprise many among the commentariat as it now becomes a key player in parliament. The members of Akşener’s İYİ (Good) Party will find it hard to watch Bahçeli’s success, having defected from the MHP, and are likely to be attracted back into its fold as Akşener – unable to sit in parliament because she ran as presidential candidate – just watches.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s tactic to lend 15 CHP deputies to the İYİ (Good) Party, to help Akşener run as a presidential candidate and later ally with İYİ Party, was an act of self-immolation and sabotaged the CHP’s own chances, as Akşener attracted more votes from the CHP than from the AKP, and much less than was hoped from the MHP, which had been her main aim.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s tactic to put his party rival, Muharrem İnce, in as the presidential candidate, rather than run himself, allowed İnce to demonstrate an unexpected charisma and popularity, which helped him to win 30% of the national vote, or 7.3% more than the disappointing 22.7% achieved by the CHP. The CHP lost votes not only to the İYİ Party but also to the HDP, as a result of the ultra-left’s desertion of the CHP in its mission to drive the HDP over the 10 percent national threshold, and reduce the AKP’s lead in parliament. There will be considerable infighting in the CHP, which might consider an emergency congress to elect İnce as party chair ahead of the March 2019 municipal elections.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s various tactics, thus shorn of any long-term vision or programme competing with the AKP, is a complete failure. To the sense of catastrophe surrounding Kılıçdaroğlu, the bitter irony must added that the CHP’s lowest showing in the national vote since 2011 was  buoyed by the votes of an Islamic constituency. The CHP appropriated 671,000 votes from the Felicity (Saadet) Party, which had joined CHP’s “Nation Alliance”, but which had failed to pass the 10% threshold required to enter parliament. This failure thus adds 3 deputies to the CHP’s tally of 144 seats, an outcome which will haunt the remainder of Temel Karamollaoğlu’s political future, such as is it. His inability to attract voters away from the AKP for the Felicity Party will surely have drawn it to a close.

The HDP’s success is down to the ultra-left voters, but it gives the chance for the party now to draw a clear line between itself and the terror acts of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), despite sharing the same grassroots. This is a possibility since its leader, Demirtaş, serving a jail sentence for aiding and abetting terrorist violence, has recent admitted the error of the party’s previous support for the PKK as inconsistent with democratic participation. Furthermore, the presence of the HDP in parliament now gives the Turkish establishment a formal interlocutor for the Kurdish people and is thus a positive development. This is especially important in the light of the fact that Erdoğan’s alliance with Bahçeli will undoubtedly mean a ramping up of military action in Iraq and Syria against the PKK.

This particular outcome is significant. The HDP presence in parliament is a sweetener for Kurds, balancing out the harsh military action against the PKK. The Kurds might finally insist on full participation in the civil community represented by the Turkish democratic space, in which they have been offered full equality. The PKK umbrella group – the KCK – had rejected this in July 2015 in favour of war and the prospect of Kurdish national independence (Rojava), based on political opportunities afforded by Assad’s policies in Syria, on US logistical and weapons support from the US, and on financial support from the UAE/Saudi Arabia. The choice remains and is stark: the HDP will have more seats in parliament (67) as the MHP (50), and thus the wherewithal to negotiate with Erdoğan if it commits to a democratic agenda rather than blindly following the PKK’s programme of violence. A note of caution: the KCK’s hold on HDP deputies is, however, strong and not many share Demirtaş’ strength of mind.

As Erdoğan recently stated, the Kurds have a nation wherein the Kurdish language, Kurdish media, and Kurdish aspirations will flourish: it is called Turkey, the geographical designation. Bringing the enmity of Turks and Kurds to an end by sidelining the PKK’s divisiveness will also help stabilise both Iraq and Syria. While Syria has a long way to go yet to reach a political solution to its devastating crisis, Iraq’s political scene is developing apace. The acceptance by the Barzani clan of the lack of wisdom in the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) independence referendum, and of a renewed commitment to the Iraqi constitution – under pressure from Turkey, Iran and (from within) from the Talabani clan – was an important recent step towards Iraqi stability. But most important was the fact that the elections were a breakthrough in the process of overcoming the narrow Maliki-type of sectarian governance, while the post-election visit of Qasim Suleimani to Baghdad led to a shift in Sadr’s proposed alliance with Hadi al-Amiri, to one with al-Abadi, more conducive to political stability. This is surprising in that al-Amiri is much closer to Iran than Abadi.

In regards to Turkey itself, the electoral catastrophe suffered by Erdoğan’s opponents on June 24 is only partly due to Kılıçdaroğlu’s astonishing lack of political skills, and to Akşener’s delusions about her popularity among Turkish nationalists. It is also partly a result of the credit due to Erdoğan for his total transformation of the Turkish economy since the depressed 1990’s, and the quintupling of Turkish per capita incomes since. Above all, however, it is due mainly to the relentless attacks by the Western media on Erdoğan over the years, and the support – entirely transparent to the Turkish public – of its masters in the Western security state, of the Gülen movement  (aka FETÖ) and the PKK as Western proxies.

Erdoğan’s electoral success is thus mainly due to the continued perceived threat of interference by foreign powers in Turkey’s affairs by the people. Such interference, in their minds, promises only the same kind of devastation that is plainly evident in Turkey’s neighbourhood, and which is viscerally felt by Turks first-hand, from their need to support 4 million desperate refugees in their homeland. The reaction of the new middle classes who have risen during the Erdogan boom in this electoral cycle has thus, quite naturally, focused on defending the country’s integrity and sovereignty, reliving in this new chaotic era Mustafa Kemal’s rescue of the nation from dismemberment by foreign powers in 1919-23.

Kim and Trump: It Finally all Makes Sense

Trump cancels US participation in the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), against international law. This leads now to the (legal under the terms of the multilateral agreement) increase by the Iranian government (under pressure from the right-wing “Principalists” in its parliament) in the number of centrifuges it is deploying to enrich uranium. It is thus shortening the breakout time for acquiring a nuclear device.

Trump then makes a wild and vague deal with a like-minded dictator (Kim), which although historic and signed, is a threadbare rehash of previous agreements signed with North Korea in the 1994 and 2005.

So is the problem that North Korea actually has nukes and Iran doesn’t (yet)? Is the lesson that to impress the Americans you have to have nukes? Iran is going to attacked because it doesn’t have a deterrent? Maybe, but this is isn’t the essence of the problem. There is no plan to take on Iran militarily and actually never has been. Gareth Porter in Manufactured Crisis has shown that even Netanhayu was always bluffing about attacking Iran (it was all about bluff and counter-bluff on both sides), and Trump is certainly not going to want to put troops on the ground to fight Iran.

Both he and the Pentagon (although perhaps not his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser) understand the failure in Iraq, while Iran, on the other hand, has always been a much bigger fish.  Paul Jay sets out the case for “Trump the Peacemaker” being cover for preparing  war against Iran. Given Trump’s disconnected and impetuous policy-making this seems unlikely. One has to note that Iran is much more powerful (and its national security establishment – the IRGC- much more experienced) even than it was in 2003, while the US is beset with problems with all its allies across the world: problems of Trump’s own making. This is hardly an environment in which the US could plan a major military offensive against such an asymmetrically powerful nation.

Using its vast conventional missile capability Iran could easily destroy the Saudi Arabian Gawar oilfield (the planet’s largest single field), as well as Tel Aviv (either from Lebanon or even from Iran), irrespective of US patriot missiles protecting them (Russia has shown the limited capability of this kind of defence to concerted attacks). It could also block the Persian Gulf for traffic, especially the Straights of Hormuz, by sinking the US 6th Fleet, deploying and using SS-N-27A “Sizzler” missiles (ground to sea missiles that accelerate to twice the speed of sound, 2 km before their target, flying only feet above sea level). The US admits it has no defence for this capability. Iran acquired the technology from China, and all of China, Russia and India, as well as Iran possess them.

Such missiles are almost as strategically important as nuclear weapons, when a narrow objective like the straights of Hormuz is to be destroyed/blocked, while sizzler missiles are much more likely to be used in conflict than nuclear weapons, even if you possessed the latter.

In addition, as far as Trump’s own attitude to the region is concerned, we have to take into account the fact that he is pressuring the Pentagon on pulling out of Syria (which is why the Turks are now getting their way about the alliance between the US and the Kurds in Northern Syria, against the objections of CENTOM Chief Gen. Vogel). This goes against the views of his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser, whom Trump only hired in order to get a massive (2020) campaign donation from Rebecca Mercer. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo follows the President’s line and doesn’t deviate, taking on the Pentagon’s middle management, especially Joseph Votel on this matter. Votel doesn’t want to cooperate with the Turks after Erdoğan’s ejection of his allies and contacts within the Turkish army after the failure of their attempted coup in 2016.

Trump has no policy other than self-aggrandisement and getting re-elected. His Jerusalem move and cynical stroking of the Wailing Wall is all about campaign contributions and domestic political support. He did a lot for his base of religious nuts already with the Jerusalem decision, he doesn’t have to do more, no-one in the US political scene can now outflank him on the Zionist front. He isn’t going to risk all that by going to war in the exceptionally dangerous and ropey situation the US is in right now, against Iran.

So, on a lighter note, is the nub of the matter as to why cancel the JCPOA and then do a deal with Kim simply that he is an unaccountable dictator, whereas Iran is a complicated polity, with a parliament and an ideology that makes no sense to someone like him? Yes, but you have to understand the detail. A Tweet by Trump suddenly revealed all according to the BuzzFeed UK editor:

As Trump said in his Singapore press conference, these guys (meaning Kim and Co.) own all the real estate between China and South Korea – … can’t be bad, can it? If he had one iota of strategic sense though, he would have realised that in signing such a vague deal without easing sanctions, which was Kim’s main aim in the whole peace process, he has opened up the golden opportunity for China to do just that, and for Kim to launch (largely with Chinese and South Korean help) his own personal chain of hotels along the country’s beaches. Eat your heart out Donald…

Oil Kingdom In Crisis: Saudi Royal Family Rift Turns Violent

Saudi Arabia has plunged its immediate region into major strategic uncertainty. What can only be described as a serious outbreak of shooting in the Royal Palace in Riyadh on April 21, 2018, was the catalyst for events which could determine the fate of the Crown, the Kingdom, and the regional competition, particularly with Iran, for influence.

By June 1, 2018, however, the crisis seemed to be subsiding.

The delicacy of the situation posed serious questions for Russia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the US, in particular, in shaping their strategies, given that it raised serious questions over energy supply, the war in Yemen, control of the Red Sea, and the Eurasia-Africa links in the PRC’s Silk Route network. It is clear that the Saudi Government, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, itself was, even by early June 2018, uncertain how the situation would evolve.

Gregory Copley of Defense and Foreign Affairs noted recently: “Saudi Arabia now appears to have moved beyond the point of recovery, and could collapse at any time into internal conflict or fracturing.” On October 8, 2015, he had previously noted: “Concerns are growing within Saudi Arabia that the Kingdom is facing systemic challenges which could see its break-up within a decade or two.”

Matters came to a head on the evening of April 21, 2018, when heavy automatic weapons fire was heard over a fairly long timespan, coming from the compound of the Al-Khazami Palace in the neighborhood of Khuzama, in Riyadh. Government officials issued a report that the shooting was by Palace guards, firing at a civilian “toy” drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) which had strayed into forbidden airspace over the Palace. However, it was clear that some of the firing occurred within the Palace itself.

There were a significant number of casualties, and Riyadh had some discreet but clearly high-level funerals in the days which followed, although no announcements were subsequently made (even by early June 2018) of the deaths of any senior officials. It was understood that some visiting and very senior princes and officials were in the Palace with their armed bodyguards at the time of the incident.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was reported to have been struck by at least two rounds. The Government had said that King Salman bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud was not in the Palace at the time of the “drone incident”, and that he was at a family/military compound in the north-west of the Kingdom.

Other, private reports said that the King was in Riyadh at the time, and was quickly moved to a safe haven. The incident showed the extent of the anger felt by a significant number of family members of the House of Sa’ud toward Crown Prince Mohammed’s policies and methods.

Neither the King nor the Crown Prince appeared in open public situations from the time of the incident until early June 2018, although, on May 31, 2018, the Government released video footage of Crown Prince Mohammed meeting that day in Jeddah with Abd al-Rab Mansour al-Hadi, the Saudi-supported President of Yemen. What was significant about the video and still imagery released on May 31, 2018, was that one shot showed the Crown Prince standing and shaking hands with the President. King Salman met in Jeddah with the President the day before.

What is significant is that this was the first occasion in which Crown Prince Mohammed was shown standing since the April 21 shooting incident; all other imagery — and there was very little of that — only showed him seated. Clearly, however, if the Crown Prince was injured in the incident, then the wounds were not life-threatening, even though they were sufficient to ensure that he could not be presented to the public in a way which would allay rumors.

It has been confirmed that Crown Prince Mohammed was in a position to meet and conduct significant business with visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali on May 18, 2018, just 27 days after the shooting incident, although no imagery exists of their meetings during the official visit of Dr Abiy (May 18-20, 2018). This was a significant visit, not only due to some tensions between the Kingdom and Ethiopia, but because Crown Prince Mohammed was attempting to act as an intermediary between Ethiopia and Eritrea, healing several decades of tensions and, for Saudi Arabia, to ensure that the influence of Iran and Qatar in both countries was minimized.

[The Crown Prince also agreed to release 1,000 Ethiopians imprisoned for minor offences in the Kingdom, a move seen as positive in Ethiopia, but Prince Mohammed’s attempts to reduce the number of foreign workers in the Kingdom — which is under severe economic constraints — in 2017 saw 14,000 Ethiopians forcibly deported, and 70,000 voluntary returnees. Overall, the Kingdom wants to deport 500,000 Ethiopian workers, of whom some 160,000 have already left.]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Kingdom on April 28, 2018, a week after the shooting, and met with King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, but not with the Crown Prince.

Iraqi cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the key victor of the May 12, 2018, Iraq parliamentary elections, had requested to visit the Kingdom, to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed, after his visit to Kuwait on May 30, 2018. The Shi’a cleric had visited the Kingdom in 2017, and had been warmly received, because of his independence from Iran, a position which only became more valuable following his recent election win. But the Saudi Government asked him to delay his visit to the Kingdom, a sign that there were still difficulties in the country.

But what was also significant was that Crown Prince Mohammed and King Salman had apparently spent much of the five weeks after the incident ensconced in the Rabigh Palace — a military compound with its own port — in Makkah (Mecca) Province, on the Red Sea. There was some speculation that the choice of this compound gave the option of rapid departure from the Kingdom if medical conditions demanded a move, or if the internal situation worsened. Read original article