Category Archives: US Foreign Policy

We hear you! Bizarre US-Israeli strategy for régime change in Iran

It is clear that military action against Iran is out of the question for the US-Israeli axis, and that  harsh sanctions imposed against Iran and imposed with brute force against US allies around the world is the route that Trump and Pompeo are following. The idea is to destroy Iran’s economy and directly foment unrest to topple the Shia régime.

It is not a hidden secret that the U.S. and Israel have been supporting anti-régime protesters for at least a decade. Clandestine networks in Iran have been created by the US to provide Western media outlets with news stories about disruptions in Iran. This has involved smuggling satellite dishes into the country to receive radio and television broadcasts, while in Washington a coordination government office has been set up called Radio-TV Farda/Tomorrow.

Radio Free Europe, another U.S. radio-TV network serving the US security state, reports that more than 70 percent of Iranians use the satellite dishes. The dishes are illegal in Iran and are consistently been taken down by police. Encouraging youth in Iran to rebel against the system is relatively easy for Western intelligence services, given the repressive laws in the country and the thuggish methods of the Basij  (paramilitary volunteer militia) who impose them.

While the covert support for Iran unrest has been going on for years, Obama had subtly refused to support publicly the protests in Iran. But there is a bizarre twist in Netanhayu and  Pompeo, in their deluded arrogance and crass stupidity, regularly shouting their – “We hear you!” – support for demonstrators, calling out good wishes and issuing professions of concern. These efforts at destabilisation are clearly no longer covert, thus fatally undermining the legitimacy of the protesting groups.

These protesters have recently focused on closing down the iconic Grand Bazaar, which played a pivotal role in the 1979 Iranian revolution. However, although bazaaris are clearly unhappy about the state of the Iranian Rial, they are not the ones to initiate the closures, lending an artificial flavour to the events. Furthermore, the absence of the female chador in the new protests and their obvious narrow demographic character (youthful, male, urban), is an indication that things are not the same as in 1979. Iranian society has changed dramatically since the revolution.

In Rouhani’s call to allow the protests to take place, and in the ability of Iranian institutions to absorb them, we see a maturing of the Iranian state. There is also considerable awareness within Iran of the realities of politics in the West. No scales on Iranian eyes! Moreover, the open support in the US and Israel for the protests needs no interpretation. It is having the reverse effect of throwing the vast majority of the population behind the state, which we see in the vast pro-government demonstrations that follow any protest. All that Trump, Pompeo and Netanhayu are achieving here is the destruction of the ability of Europe and Japan to trade with Iran, disadvantaging them economically even as US tariffs are being imposed on European and Japanese goods, while NATO is being sidelined, and NATO members vilified for not spending enough on arms.

The result of all this is that Europe and Japan will suffer economically while Iranian trade with China, Russia, Turkey and the UAE (as principals and as middlemen) will boom.

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…

Iran wakes up to new choices: Pompeo’s bark aimed at whom?

Trump’s words upon pulling out of the JCPOA Iran deal were ‘that’s life’, the ‘Iranians have to learn what life’s about’, suggests a strongarm negotiating tactic. That this may be a reflection of a generalised Trump negotiating modus operandi is suggested by the fact that the Trump summit with Kim Jong-un is having its pre-conditions mollified. This is down to strong South Korean diplomatic intervention, which is establishing an important premise for the negotiations, namely that denuclearisation must inevitably be a gradual and scaled process. Imperiousness has given way to diplomacy.

But then came Pompeo’s bark during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, which talked about the ‘strongest sanctions in history’. Is that a continuation of the Trump ‘art of the deal’? The answer to that lies in establishing who Pompeo was actually barking at. It is most likely that it was a response to Europe’s knee-jerk rejection of Trump’s decision, and its disinterment of old laws intended to protect European companies from foreign (in this case US) sanctions. So it wasn’t really addressed to the Iranian people. By knobbling the Europeans, the White House expects to be able to achieve its end of suffocating Iran.

Iran isn’t North Korea though, and it doesn’t have a powerful US ally with a vested interest in the outcome (South Korea) intervening actively on its behalf to achieve peace. It does have many nations, however, that are adversaries of the US – China and Russia – that see Iran’s survival as important for their own independence and the success of their long-term projects. One US ally – Turkey – although this alliance is always ambivalent – is willing to brave US sanctions and take the consequences on the chin, for the same reasons. Despite the bible thumping, war-drum beating proclivities of the current White House, it is unlikely to take the US to fully-fledged war in the Middle East. It isn’t in Pompeo’s interests, nor in Trump’s, nor would the Pentagon (which understands the asymmetric military power of Iran) be enthusiastic, nor would Europe (across-the-board) be prepared now to provide the fig leaf of legitimacy that Bush acquired through Blair.

This doesn’t mean Trump won’t give Israel the backing and wherewithal to do what it wants in the Middle-East. But then, for years, Israel has been threatening to bomb Iran, and hasn’t done so, and this for many reasons that have been most eloquently spelled out in Gareth Porter’s book ‘Manufactured Crisis’ . Porter’s thesis that Netanhayu is a paper tiger, is borne out by Hassan Nasralla’s sober description of the essentially empty recent Israeli retaliatory strike that Lieberman was referring to when he said ‘we have wiped-out Iran’s military capacity in Syria’; the background to which events has been usefully summarised by Paul Rogers.

The judgement that Iranians are split over how to respond to Trump’s position and Pompeo’s bark, is a false description of the choices facing Iran. The Korean situation doesn’t involve any of the deep ideological bitterness between the people of the Middle-East and Israel/US, and none of the legacy of many recent wars and interventions there. Korea is an old war frozen in time. The choice Iran faces is between simply riding out the Trump administration(s) without changing anything, on the one hand, and actually making a nuclear bomb, on the other. Likely they will opt for the former, and seek to develop Iran economically without the West. So just as nothing will change from the Israeli side, nothing will change from the Iranian side. On the other hand, if the US ramps up pressure further, Iran will begin using its influence across the Middle East against its interests.

What will happen now is that the Iranian economy will merge deeper into the Chinese and Russian projects, which will help those countries widen their markets, and develop new products (commercial airliners, electronics, oil field services) that Iran needs and which those countries have been working on developing for years. With each passing day, trade between non-Western countries increases and as of 2009, has crossed the 50% mark in terms of the value of global trade.

 

The spirit of Gaza prevails over Israeli savagery and American religious extremism

As US President Donald Trump speaks on video from the White House, and his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner lead the American dedication of the “new” American embassy in Jerusalem, they are accompanied by anti-Semitic and Islamophobic Christian evangelicals, Robert Jeffress and John Hagee offering prayers.

This is a culmination of a Christian Zionist history begun by William Blackstone and Louis Brandeis, who manoeuvred Woodrow Wilson to accept and endorse American Zionism and the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which set the course for the establishment of the State of Israel. It has little to do with the interests of the Jews or the Israeli population, but is a drive by irrational adherents of magical religion in a Bible-thumping White House to bring about “end times”.

The Palestinian people are thus being sacrificed on an altar of madness in furious savagery that has become absolutely explicit in the mowing-down of peaceful protesters in Gaza in the past weeks by Israeli forces. Only a deranged White House can believe that the Palestinians will ever bow to Trump’s “Deal of the Century” (“Final Solution”?), and that the acquiescence of illegitimate Arab rulers to their insanity will help them. The latter are cowards, frightened of their own shadows, with little chance of medium-term survival in their respective countries.

It is a sign of a steep decline in the status of the US in the world that its interests have been hijacked by a small group of extremists and that its political and intellectual classes appear to carry on unperturbed by this insanity in an oxygen-free, helium-filled bubble . The chaos that the Christian Zionists have always wished for will now occur. This will not be at a cost to Arabs – that has already been paid long ago as their countries already lie in ruins.

As most sane Americans realise, it will principally be at a severe and irreversible cost to America’s reputation and interests. Even the opinion pages of the New York Times bristle with anguish at the absurd and painful spectacle in the media of “juxtaposed images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette” on the day of the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem.

After the destructive decision on the Iran Deal, will Trump’s hawkish team lead us inevitably to war?

Trump’s legacy will resemble a pile of rubble. There is no planning context to any of his negative actions, and so far there have been no positive legislative or executive actions or any kind. His tax cut was, after a tax cut, with little in terms of constructive thought about what it was for or what came with it, apart from the tired “trickle down” arguments.

It’s all been about obsessively taking down his predecessor’s legacy. This is so obsessive and all-consuming, it seems to be about the dregs of a slaver culture embodied in the man Trump, instinctively determined to eradicate all traces of black American endeavour. It is so instinctual and unreasoned that the destructiveness is almost childish. It is so dominant in the overall character of his presidency so far that, taken together with his early wish for rapprochement with Russia, and his general statements about the waste of money and time in making war in the Middle-East, it can be said that is not in any way linked to any wish to lead America to war.

If this turns out to be right, it would be ironic, because his bête noire – Obama – Nobel Peace laureate – was indeed a war president. However, Trump’s appointments of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo might appear, given their well-known hawkishness and their hate of Iran, to dictate a path to war. But while John Bolton may want to direct the president in that direction, so far this president has shown a very high propensity for not wanting to be directed, and firing anybody who tries. And while Mike Pompeo may be hawkish, he is, unlike either Bolton or Trump, keen on “consequences” and “what happens after”.

Thomas Wright writes in Politico about how Bolton and Pompeo are incompatible and how Pompeo’s aspirations make him a more cautious character than Bolton. He is politically a natural ally of Mattis, who strongly advised against destroying the Iran nuclear deal.  Mattis doesn’t like Bolton, although he admires Pompeo.  The alliance that looks like forming between the Pentagon and the State Department  that will serve the incumbents’ individual interests, besides Trump’s natural disinterest in actually starting wars, makes war unlikely. Furthermore Bolton’s role, it has to be emphasised, is advisory not executive.

By the looks of things, the (unintended) “consequences” of destroying the Iran nuclear deal that Pompeo will have his hands full dealing with, will have less to do with war in the Middle East, than with the ensuing  (major) rift with Europe, which is suffering economically and is growing tired of the wrecking-ball that is America. As far as actually engaging Iran militarily, the same reason still stands that led US military chiefs to avoid war with Iran in the past decade: they would lose. Another defeat would weaken the US global position even more catastrophically than the defeat of its professional army at the hands of a lightly-armed rebel insurgency in Iraq. Its withdrawal, after Petraeus’ massive payoff to the Sunni tribes was ignominious. The outcome of a war with Iran would be much worse, for the US and the world.

Bible thumping Trump cabinet, with foaming-at-the-mouth “spiritual” leader

Eli Clifton writes: An examination by LobeLog of statements and studies by Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo’s “spiritual adviser” reveals a deeply ingrained anti-Muslim theology coupled with a conviction that U.S. military engagement overseas is justified by nothing less than the Bible itself.

Ralph Drollinger, a 7’1” former professional basketball player who established Capitol Ministries in 1997, has drawn attention for his role as the organizer of a weekly prayer group in the White House. Attendees include Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, and cabinet secretaries Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, Sonny Perdue, and Jeff Sessions. But Pompeo’s association with the preacher goes back to at least October 2012, when his name was first listed as a sponsor of Drollinger’s weekly congressional Bible study group while the future CIA director was still a freshman congressman.

Drollinger’s White House followers are perhaps the most reactionary members of an increasingly rightwing administration. In an October 2017 interview with the German daily Welt am Sonntag, Drollinger, among other assertions, characterized the U.S. government as “an avenger of wrath,” hailed Trump as “an adjudicator of wrongdoing,” and claimed that women shouldn’t teach grown men.

Pompeo’s nomination to succeed the hapless Rex Tillerson is already under scrutiny for a variety of reasons, including his well-established hawkishness, his own history of anti-Muslim rhetoric, and his eagerness to take policy positions, even publicly, despite his position as head of the CIA. A number of Democratic senators and as well as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) have said they will oppose his nomination, and the Trump administration may find itself in a major confirmation battle next month.

His apparent affinity for Drollinger and his worldview are unlikely to make matters easier.

A Shared Islamophobia

Many of Drollinger’s Bible studies are posted on Capitol Ministries’s website, and his anti-Muslim perspective is sprinkled regularly into fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity.

In a March 2014 bible study, listing Pompeo as a cosponsor on the sidebar, Drollinger offered his own summary of Islam. He wrote:

This religion is based in part on plagiarisms from the Old Testament – plagiarisms that amount for much of the content of the Koran. To quickly illustrate this, note that in the Koran’s paraphrase and plagiarism of Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man in Our image” (a direct early OT reference to the Trinity) that Muslim scholars have no response to this and many other plagiary-related issues. In this instance, Muslims deny the Trinitarian nature of God, so they should have omitted borrowing this passage! This religion has historically spread through the sword and seeks nothing less than world conquest for Allah. Allah was the moon-god worshipped in the Middle Eastern part of the world long before Mohammed came on the scene to found his religion (hundreds of years after the life of Christ). Salvation per Islamic theology is not attained via a loving, self-sacrificing act of God (as per Christianity); it is attained by jihad, a sacrifice of self in combatting the infidels. Whereas in biblical Christianity, God gives His life for man, in Islam, man must give his life for his god.

According to a June 2014 bible study on “The Bible as an Aid to TST – Terrorist Sensitivity Training,”

NOT EVERY MUSLIM IS A TERRORIST BUT EVERY INTERNATIONAL TERRORIST IN RECENT HISTORY HAS BEEN A MUSLIM…

IS IT NOT DETESTABLE THAT THE ISLAMIC CLERGY FAIL TO CONDEMN THE EVIL THEIR FELLOW MUSLIMS DO IN THE NAME OF ISLAM?

 

Together, these insights serve to inform the world about the Islamic religion itself! And any serious and objective student of the Koran understands this: The book instructs its adherents to advance Islam by the sword. This is not in question.

That perspective closely mirrors controversial statements made by Pompeo a year earlier in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing when he inaccurately accused Muslim religious leaders of being “silent” in the aftermath of the attack and “potentially complicit.”

A 2013 Capitol Ministries study attributed theological differences to the reason the U.S. economy outpaced Buddhist and Muslim-majority countries. “The reason for this momentous growth is Christianity,” according to Drollinger.

Unlike other religions, Christianity combines rational thinking and human dignity. Hinduism teaches its adherents to empty their minds of rational thought. Islam on the other hand, rejects God’s incarnation through Christ, depriving its adherents of a role model of God’s characteristic humaneness. [editor’s note: One wonders what he thinks about Judaism.]

He later observed:

Hindu countries have been stymied in historic poverty. And no one needs to read a book to understand the lack of human dignity rooted in the culture of Islam. As a result, Muslim economies are largely built on western developed oil exportation.

Drollinger also compared Islam to communism in the March 2014 bible study: “Today Communism, in its atheistic political ideology is another such illustration; it persecutes the Church wherever it goes, as do Islamic ideologues as they expand their religiously exclusive political ideology.”

And according to a 2011 bible study,

Christianity places a high value on women (cf. Gal. 3:28). The husband therefore is to honor his wife, not diminish her, if he is to be effective in prayer (contr: male-chauvinistic Islam, wherein males “pray” numerous times per day). One’s attitude toward their mate, the Bible says, directly relates to their power in prayer.

A Shared Iranophobia

The June 2014 study went on to link this view of Islam to Iranian uranium enrichment:

Workers of iniquity know nothing of the just war theory; their very form of combat, rooted in the cowardly exploitation of innocent blood via surprise attacks bespeaks of their evil nature. Given this history of Islamist terrorism, especially their use of explosives to kill and injure innocent civilians, it follows that there is no way America or Israel should tolerate uranium enrichment programs in any theocratic Muslim country Given. God’s counsel via the clear principled instruction of Proverbs, specifically that evil men do not understand justice.

 

IT IS SHEER LUNACY FOR AMERICA TO PERMIT IRAN TO GO AS FAR AS THEY HAVE IN THEIR NUCLEAR PROGRAM!

Pompeo apparently shared Drollinger’s hawkish view. At the same time, he suggested that taking military action against Iran was preferable to negotiations, noting that, “…[I]t is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.” Just before his formal nomination as CIA director, he tweeted, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

A Question of Alignment

Pompeo’s decision to align himself with Drollinger shortly after his election to the House of Representatives in 2010 indicates that the Trump administration’s choice for the nation’s top diplomat might embrace, if not actively practice, a radical view of Christianity that has little or no respect for other faiths, particularly Islam and its 1.8 billion adherents.

For his part, Drollinger has never shied away from advancing his own view of Washington’s role in the world. According to a 2015 “Members Bible Study” on “The ISIS Threat” that listed Pompeo as a sponsor,

There can be no doubt that America’s presence throughout the world—its just, historic presence outside its own boundaries—be it as a member of NATO, signing the Monroe Doctrine, defense treaties with Taiwan and Israel, or its willing and welcomed presence to support military bases in the Philippines, Germany, Korea and Japan, have all greatly aided in peacemaking and peacekeeping throughout the world. This is the fruit of biblically justified intervention! When America is strong, and the threat of her intervening is ever-present the world is a much safer place. And the opposite is now increasingly apparent: When American intervention is of a lesser possibility, unrest and evil aggression rise.

Drollinger’s Capitol Ministries is hardly an upstart or small operation. Its website says, “Capitol Ministries plants and develops biblical ministries of evangelism and discipleship to Public Servants,” and boasts of “200 ministries in 200 countries,” “10,000 ministries in 33,000 cities,” “50 ministries in 50 states,” and “3 ministries in 3 branches.” The group’s strategy: “to reach Public Servants for Christ at every stop along their career paths, beginning with their first local elected or appointed positions and following as they ascend to higher office.” Read original article

Trump just gave a massive gift to Iran: the Arab autocrats should fear their street

 

Until now Iran had lost its credibility on the Arab Street, because of its rescue of the Assad regime. All will now be forgiven as the penny drops. The Iranians were perhaps right to support Bashar, despite his despicable character and his Neanderthal régime.

Trump’s move is -woefully, blatantly – in contempt of international law and UNSC resolutions, which the UNSC itself didn’t fail to point out to its US representative. The US has lost it’s position as a fair arbiter in the Middle East process – some say it has finally shown its hand – and now its international reputation is as sullied as Israel’s.

Liberal Jewish groups in the US see this danger clearly. The Union of Reform Judaism stated: ‘… any relocation of the American Embassy to West Jerusalem should be done in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike…the White House should not undermine these efforts by making unilateral decisions that are all but certain to exacerbate the conflict.’

J- Street released a statement saying that a Palestinian capital must also be established in the East Jerusalem: ‘… the effect of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or of declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital prior to a negotiated agreement will be to anger key Arab allies, foment regional instability and undermine nascent US diplomatic efforts to resolve the larger conflict.’

New Israel Fund also criticized the decision in a statement: ‘President Trump many not understand what’s at stake here, but we do. Moving the embassy risks igniting the tinderbox of anger, frustration and hopelessness that already exists in Jerusalem. Throwing…balance off with this unilateral gesture could have grave consequences.’

The US has either been sowing discord or waging war directly in the Middle East for 35 years. So far Iran won the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, the 2003-9 Iraq war, and the 2011-7 Syrian war. Let’s see what happens in the next war. Ali Abdulla al-Saleh supporter and funder of violence and militancy across the board is dead. Yemen is open. What will the Arab autocrats, who are the allies of the US, do apart from buy paintings by Leonardo for $450m, and yachts for $500m, all the while mistreating former Gulf allies?

Saudi Arabia’s formal statement denouncing the Trump decision belies their co-operation with him over this new roughing-up of the Palestinians. It smells of fear and double-dealing. The news from Jerusalem is being “managed” by Saudi authorities.

Hopefully, the liberal voices in America above will help undo Trump’s idiocy and the influence of the Christian right on US Middle East policy. Turkey’s efforts to create international consensus against this move will definitely help to keep the pressure on. Erdoğan calling the OIC to a conference on the matter of Jerusalem is a symbolic move, although welcome of course. What people don’t recognise, on the other hand, is the crucial importance of Turkey’s position as the energy transit hub for Mediterranean gas, offering the cheapest route to Europe, which Israel is banking on for its future.

Certainly Abbas has kicked the so-called peace process into the long grass. He doesn’t look too phased by the events and Mike Pence will be disappointed if he thinks he can restart peace talks on his visit to Israel next month.

Although the Palestinian Authority has continually disappointed in the prime task of keeping the Palestinians united and resisting pressure, Abbas has shown more mettle recently in taking Israel to the ICC.

 

The third act of the Iraqi Saga: Iraq coming together under Abadi

The final act of the Iraqi gambit launched  by G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” is underway, and may have a surprising outcome. After the 2003 US invasion and subsequent withdrawal, the US proceeded to gradually reinstate itself in Northern Iraq (and Syria) through it alliance with the Kurds, in what is ostensibly a campaign against DAESH/ISIS, the spread of which, however, there is now ample documentation to prove, the US had earlier helped to promote as part of a strategy to destabilise and remove the Assad régime in Damascus, and sever the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

The US had also helped the Iraqi army reorganise after its defeat in Mosul 2014, given that Daesh/ISIS was threatening the whole of Iraq at the time, and the Iraqi army would be necessary boots on the ground for a difficult campaign against a widely spread opponent. Ultimately, it was the reorganised Iraqi army, with a few US advisers, but nevertheless under Haidar el-Abadi’s leadership, that cut its teeth, and lost much blood, in retaking Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi was, until now, veering towards an alliance with the US against the rigidly pro-Iranian sections (e.g. Nouri al-Maliki) of the Iraqi political scene.

All this was before KRG referendum on independence and Trump’s speech decertifying the  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action  (JCPOA) P5+1+EU Iran Nuclear Deal, and his thinly veiled threats against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Together these spelled a potential reigniting of US ambitions to sever the bridge now between Iran and Syria (Assad having survived) with a Kurdish entity under its aegis. Furthermore, with a Kurdish population in Iran, a KRG-US alliance could potentially provide the US with direct and effective lever to undermine the Iranian régime. It was hardly likely that Iran, with its deep involvement in Iraq, and its need to keep the direct link with Syria would stand idly by and allow that situation to be realised.

Abadi’s reliance on the US to bolster his own position will now melt away, as he will build on his reputation as the conqueror of Mosul. This requires his continued campaigning to keep control over the Iraqi army forces, which have now become the foundation of his rule. The Iraqi PMM militia (el-Hashd el-Shaabi) represents a potential competitor, supported directly by Iran’s IRGC, that he needs to keep on a tight leash in all future conflict. This he can only do by keeping it marginalised as a force secondary to his own.  Trump’s speech will have pushed the IRGC to increase its investment in the PMM hugely to ensure the KRG/Peshmerga’s defeat (besides the effect it is having in raising the IRGC’s stock within Iran) . The US will continue to supply Abadi, irrespective of what he does, because he is their only potentially ally in Baghdad, while Abadi himself will focus on his race against these various mounting pressures.

The KRG’s independence referendum presented a opportunity that answered Abadi’s political needs. The US can now only sit and watch as tensions mount between two of its allies. Trump’s speech made this outcome inevitable. Abadi is on the road to turning himself into a indispensable political force in Iraq as he commits to marginalising the KRG by retaking the Kirkuk oil fields and thus the major source of its revenue. This, it would appear, he has begun to do as the Peshmerga retreat from Kirkuk. The revenue itself is of little import to a government in Baghdad that produces ten times as much oil in its southern provinces. The whole point is to render the KRG’s independence gambit cashless.

Given that the Peshmerga forces that abandoned their positions in Kirkuk belong to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) faction, it would appear that a deal has been struck between Baghdad and the PUK to unseat Barzani and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Irbil. Bafel Talabani, the son of PUK leader, the late Jalal Talabani, had opposed the referendum and had warned the Kurds were heading for disaster. Two large oil fields a bit further west of Kirkuk, Bai Hassan and Avana Dome, are as of writing, still under Kurdish management although the Peshmerga have now left. Temporary shutdown of oil production at the two field appears to have been reversed as the Iraqi government threatened to remove the management.

Kirkuk has been a bone of contention between Baghdad and the KDP Irbil since the very beginning of the functioning of the new Iraqi constitution. The Kurds had benefitted from US patronage ever since Bill Clinton’s no-fly zone. When the new constitution was written, the KRG was given special autonomy, but without Kirkuk which is only one-third Kurdish in demographic terms. However, it was KDP policy to change that situation by bussing Kurdish populations into Kirkuk, changing, in a phase made famous by the Israelis, “facts on the ground”. This led to bad relations with the Federal Government in Baghdad, whose leaders eventually stopped paying the KRG bureaucracy’s salaries. The referendum was only to go ahead because of the personal intervention of Kirkuk’s hawkish Kurdish governor, Najmeddin Karim. Now he has been stripped of all his powers.

What is helping Abadi to reach his goal is the fact that the US has managed to so undermine its relationship with Turkey, with its Kurdish alliances, that the Turks are now opening new direct border connections with Iraq that bypass its erstwhile KRG. This has led to the complete regional isolation of the KRG, given that Iran is also now effectively closing its own border points with the Kurdish enclave at Haji Omaran, Parwezkhan and Bashmaq. Thus under total siege, KRG’s president Masoud Barzani’s position is unenviable. Time and history is on Abadi’s side, and potentially a military triumph in Kirkuk will mean the survival of Iraq as a nation and its astonishing retreat from the brink of partition.

This will also give hope to Sunnis in Iraq, as a post-campaign consolidation of Abadi’s power vis-à-vis Iranian elements in Iraq, will require that he brings Sunnis under his political tent. This outcome would need to involve a rebalancing of the post-war sectarian régime in Baghdad with its lack of governing capability, but is likely to occur as a result of the new tripartite interaction between Turkey, Iran and Iraq at multiple economic, political and security levels and the need to satisfy the broad range of interests all this entails.

What is now abundantly clear is that the G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” has failed, and since the beginning of the Astana process, regional powers are consolidating their hold on the region’s security, and sidelining the US. It is remarkable that, unlike Syria, which is now merely a de juro entity, Iraq looks like it will regain its sovereignty. The defeat of the KDP, will bring the KRG back as a player within the Baghdad political scene, while the clear need to include Sunnis in the process will likely be answered by Abadi, for his own political reasons, quite besides it being part of a regional settlement. It all may collapse again, but this is unlikely.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s various attacks on the Federal government over the past two years, has made it clear that there is a strong current in Shia politics in favour of an Iraqi nationalist stance, independent of Iran which Abadi can rely on, and which he can now invest in virtue of his new stature since in success in Mosul, and in Kirkuk (although this last success has something also to do with negotiations between the PUK/Talabani clan and the IRGC’s Qasim Suleimani that took place in Suleimaniya during the KRG’s referendum). A democratic federated Iraq may slowly be emerging, and the era of ethno-nationalisms fading.

 

 

The failed 2016 Turkish coup and the role of the US

The sign on the bus carrying participants to trials of those accused of organising the attempted 15th July 2016 coup reads; “We have not forgotten July 15, we will not let it be forgotten”.

On July 15th 2016, a military coup was hatched which included the attempted assassination of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It failed, and has since been the centre-piece of massive  investigation, arrests, and court proceedings. Fethullah Gülen, who resides permanently in the US in a compound in rural Pennsylvania, was without doubt the focal figure in this coup, which included hundreds of his followers in the organisation known in Turkey as FETÖ. Attempts to characterise the coup as fake and organised by the country’s government have foundered on the evidence. Requests for Gülen’s extradition have been met in the US justice system by total silence – neither acquiescence nor rejection based on evidence-based arguments.

This is despite the fact that the US has supplied documentation to Turkish authorities, which has allowed them to convict Kemal Batmaz as being one of the two leaders of the coup (along with fugitive Adil Öksüz). The document from US border security affirms visits by Kemal Batmaz to Fethullah Gülen in the US, which he had previously denied. It is now fairly obvious that this evidence is as damning of Gülen as  it is of Batmaz.

Now outgoing US Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass,  has caused problems for himself over his strong reaction to journalist reports that an unregistered US Istanbul Consulate staffer was a FETÖ operative. There has been tension between Turkish authorities and the US Embassy on the FETÖ debacle on a number of previous occasions. Before Adil Öksüz disappeared following his controversial and sudden release from custody arranged by FETÖ-linked judges , he received a call from an Istanbul telephone number registered to the U.S. Consulate. Upon being questioned on the matter, US authorities claimed he had been called merely to be told that his visa application had been canceled.

Secondly, FETÖ leaders Muharrem Gözüküçük and Bayram Andaç called the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Consulate one day after the raid by FETÖ-linked officials on trucks belonging to the intelligence services (MİT) in March 2014, which were delivering aid and weapons to Turkmen tribes. This raid was a ploy orchestrated by Fethullah Gülen through former Adana prosecutor Özcan Şişman to implicate the Turkish government as a supplier of weapons to ISIS. Given the evidence from an August 2012 document that the US Defense Dept. was deeply involved in the plan to allow ISIS expansion into Syria in the first place, this was a clear attempt to shift blame onto the Turkish government, using friendly Turkish deep state elements in order to do so.

Furthermore, in respect of Turkey’s ongoing fight against the PKK, Hamza Uluçay, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Adana for 36 years was charged six months ago with having close ties to the organisation, officially proscribed both in Turkey and the US.

Ambassador Bass says that the arrest now of US Istanbul Consulate staffer Metin Topuz is an outrage and on his view, ‘without merit’. Turkish authorities hold, however, that he actually does not exist on the list of accreditations with the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and therefore should not be on concern to the Ambassador. To add to the confusion, Topuz himself maintains he worked for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), raising suspicions of CIA links. He is charged with espionage and violating the constitutional order: “The suspect had phone contacts with 121 people investigated for links to FETÖ and contacted people using ByLock hundreds of times,” the indictment reported by Anadolu Agency (AA) claims, referring to the encrypted messaging app used by the terrorist group.

Ambassador Bass’ reaction to the situation was to disaccredit a number of journalists reporting on these cases, preventing them from asking questions at his pre-departure press conference. Following that, the US suspended non-immigrant visa applications from Turkey. The sudden action, which appears to have backing at Foggy Bottom, occurred without any prior warning, and seems to be both an admission of guilt (“she both protest too much”), and an act that seems to be designed only to be solved by some kind of covert bargaining. However, in retaliation Turkish visa applications for US citizens have been suspended.

If State Department officials believe that this arm-twisting (essentially taking US – Turkish commercial activity hostage) will lead to the Turkish government rolling-over, they might well be mistaken. It is not merely that the Turks have so far been unmoved by any and all attacks over the roll-over of their state of emergency and accusation of human rights abuses associated with their arrests over the matter of the coup. More generally, in terms of the direction of world trade, “times have changed”, in case this hadn’t been noticed.