The Unlikely AMEXIT: Pivoting away from the Middle East

By Richard Falk

The Case for Disengagement

A few years ago Barack Obama made much of an American pivot to East Asia, a recognition of China’s emergence and regional assertiveness, and the related claim that the American role in Asia-Pacific should be treated as a prime strategic interest that China needed to be made to respect.

The shift also involved the recognition by Obama that the United States had become overly and unsuccessfully engaged in Middle Eastern politics creating incentives to adjust foreign policy priorities. The 2012 pivot was an overdue correction of the neocon approach to the region during the presidency of George W. Bush that reached its climax with the disastrous 2003 intervention in Iraq, which continues to cause negative reverberations throughout the region.

It was then that the idiocy of ‘democracy promotion’ gave an idealistic edge to America’s military intervention and the delusion prospect of the occupiers receiving a warm welcome from the Iraqi people hit a stone wall of unanticipated resistance.

In retrospect, it seems evident that despite the much publicized ‘pivot’ the United States has not disengaged from the Middle East. Its policies are tied as ever to Israel, and its fully engaged in the military campaigns taking place in Syria and against DAESH.

In a recent article in The National Interest, Mohammed Ayoob, proposes a gradual American disengagement from the region. He makes a highly intelligent and informed strategic interest argument based on Israel’s military superiority, the reduced Western dependence on Gulf oil, and the nuclear agreement with Iran.

In effect, Ayoob convincingly contends that Read More »

Is ISIS on the wane?

By Jonathan Power

Within a matter of days a self-appointed ISIS “lone wolf”, Omar Mateen, with no actual links to home office Isis has created mayhem in Orlando, Florida, with his killing of 49 people in a gay club, and the Iraq army has pushed Isis troops out of most of the important city of Falluja.

Maybe it is an exaggeration to say that ISIS is on the run its bailiwicks of Iraq and Syria but it is certainly taking very bad hits. Two years after sweeping through northern Iraq and capturing the oil city of Mosul in 2014 they are now on the defensive. ISIS has lost nearly half of the Iraqi territory it held. (i.e. an area about half that of the UK). It has lost much of its oil infrastructure.

It is taking lots of casualties. In Syria it is fighting on two contradictory fronts – the regime in Damascus, supported by Iran and Russia and against the non-Islamist rebels, supported by the US and the Arab states.

Meanwhile the flow of foreign fighters on which it has depended is slowing up and large numbers are returning home. Funding is drying up.

This indeed is why Mateen, the lone wolf, is so important to ISIS. ISIS spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, has asked ISIS sympathisers to stay where they are. “The smallest action you do in the heart of [your] land is better and more enduring to us than what you would do if you were with us.”

Is this a switch in tactics? We do not know yet.

What we do know is Read More »

Is Islam violent?

By Jonathan Power

Is Islam violent? ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In Pakistan, there is Lashkar-e-Taiba and the attempted murderer of the schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai. Immigrant Moroccan men roughly pushing women and fondling them in the crowd in Cologne. Murderous bombs in Paris. Ayan Hirsi Ali, a Somali female author who was raised a Muslim, writes, “Violence is inherent in Islam- it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.”

The late Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, argued that in the later years of the last century and the early years of this an uncannily high percentage of the world’s violent conflicts took place between Muslims and non-Muslims: Turks versus Greeks, Russians versus Chechens, Bosnian Muslims and Albanians versus Serbs, Armenians versus Azeris, Uighurs versus Han Chinese, Indian Hindus versus Muslims, and Arabs versus Jews.

Yet most Muslims don’t commit acts of violence. If Islam is intrinsically violent then roughly a billion believers either do not understand their own religion, or are too cowardly or unfaithful to follow its precepts. That is my sarcasm but, indeed, this is what the violent Islamists say.

Westerners have a tendency to create myths about the teachings of Mohammed in the Koran. An outrageous one is the claim that an adulterous woman should be stoned. But the only teaching in any world major religion advocating stoning can be found in the Jewish Old Testament. (Paradoxically, the Jews haven’t practiced this for millennia but Saudi Arabia does today.)

Scholars like Huntington have given the impression that Islam is a much more violent religion than Christianity.

But another point of view is Professor John Owen’s. He writes in his book, Confronting Political Islam: “A broad view of the history of the Middle East suggests that Islam is much like other religions. It is marked by times and places of conquest and brutality, but also by times and places of peace……Christendom has had its sustained spasms of violence, both to outsiders with the Crusades and fellow believers, as in the Counter Reformation and the Inquisition”. And we should add in as in World War 1 and 2.

We shouldn’t forget that Mohammad Khatami, a former president of Iran, repeatedly condemned the 9/11 attacks and declared that suicide bombers wouldn’t go to heaven.

However, the fact is that Mohammed behaved in a very different way than Jesus. He was more in line with the sometimes violent and warlike Old Testament Jewish leaders. In 630 AD Mohammed himself led his troops to conquer Mecca. By the time of his death two years later most of the Arabs of the western part of Arabia were Muslims by conquest.

Within 20 years of Mohammed’s death the Muslims had conquered large parts of the Roman Empire and had absorbed the almighty Persian. Within a 100 years Mohammed’s followers had established an empire greater than Rome at its zenith. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Islam had spread as far east as India, Indonesia and parts of China. In Africa it was introduced on the back of the slave trade.

In total contrast the Christians submitted themselves to the lions rather than fight and not until the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity some 300 years after Jesus’ death did Christianity take on the role of running a state with all its well-embedded military traditions.Read More »

ISIS and the Sykes-Picot backlash

By Richard Falk

Part 1

One of the seemingly permanent contributions of Europe to the manner of organizing international society was to create a strong consensus in support of the idea that only a territorially delimited sovereign state is entitled to the full privileges of membership. The United Nations, the institutional embodiment of international society recognizes this principle by limiting membership in the Organization to ‘states.’

Of course, there is an enormous variation in the size, population, military capabilities, resource endowments, and de facto autonomy among states. At one extreme are gigantic states such as China and India with populations of over 1 billion, while at the other are such tiny countries such as Liechtenstein or Vanuatu that mostly rely on diplomacy and police rather than gun powder and armies for security.

All four of these political entities have the same single vote when it comes to action in the General Assembly or as participants at global conferences such at the recently concluded Paris Summit on climate change, although the geopolitics is supreme in the Security Council and the corridors outside the meeting rooms.

From the point of view of international law and organizational theory we continue to live in a state-centric world order early in the 21st century. At the same time, the juridical notion of the equality of states that is the foundation of diplomatic protocol should not lead us astray.

The shaping of world order remains mainly the work of the heavyweight states that act on the basis of geopolitical calculations with respect for international law and morality displayed only as convenient. Yet the political monoculture of territorial states remains formally the exclusive foundation of world order, but its political reality is being challenged in various settings, and no where more so than in the Middle East.

This is somewhat surprising. It might have been Read More »

Saudi support for extremism must be halted

By Jonathan Power

December 8th 2015

On Sunday the German vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, publicly accused Saudi Arabia of financing Islamic extremism in the West and warned that it must stop.
He said that the Saudi regime is funding extremist mosques and communities that pose a danger to public security. “We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Gabriel told the newspaper, Bild am Sonntag in an interview.

At last some Western leaders are grasping the Saudi Arabian nettle. For too long the country has been given a clean pass. Saudi Arabia’s oil and massive arms purchases have made Western politicians mute for decade upon decade. But now, with clear evidence that Saudi Arabia has allowed rich Saudis to fund first Al Qaeda and more recently Islamic State (ISIS), Western leaders are waking up to what their expediency has tolerated and allowed.

Thanks to Wikileaks we know that Hillary Clinton when Secretary of State wrote in a cable in December 2009 that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al-Qaida, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan.” Lately, running for president, she has been explicit in her warnings.

Why has it taken so long for eyes to begin to open?

In his autobiography Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service (home of James Bond), wrote that some time before 9/11 Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington, told him that “The time is not far off in the Middle East when it will be literally ‘God Help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

Dearlove, speaking last week, said he has no doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with their governments turning a blind eye, have played a central role in the IS surge. “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously”, he said.

Saudi Arabia over the next few years may well come to regret Read More »

The World Must Stop the Saudi Massacre of the Yemenis

By Farhang Jahanpour

After four weeks of savage bombing of their impoverished neighbor, Yemen, the Saudis declared “Mission Accomplished”, and promised to halt their aerial bombardment at midnight on 22 April 2015. Yet only three hours later, they resumed their attacks with greater intensity from the sea and the air.

Although the conflict in Yemen has been going on for four years, it was the new 79-year old Saudi King Salman and his young son Muhammad bin Salman (believed to be between 27 and 33 years old) who has been appointed defense minister as well as running the royal court and the newly formed Economic and Development Affairs Council, in addition to being a member of the Political and Security Affairs Council, another key decision-making body, who decided to start the aerial bombing of Yemen.

The Saudis turning Yemen into another Libya or Syria
After having helped the attacks on Libya that resulted in the ouster of Mu’ammar Qadhafi and the mayhem that has followed, after supporting the Sunni insurgents to fight against the Iraqi Shi’a-led government causing tens of thousands of casualties as the result of suicide bombings, organizing and supporting terrorists to oust President Bashar Asad in Syria that have morphed into the terrorist group ISIS that has destabilized both Syria and Iraq and the entire region, and after sending forces to Bahrain to put down the pro-democracy movement in that country, it seems now it is Yemen’s turn to be turned into a failed state.

During the first four weeks of air strikes the Saudis have pummelled 18 of Yemen’s 22 provinces, striking schools, homes, refugee camps, crowded residential areas, power and water infrastructure, dairy factories and humanitarian aid supply, as well as blowing up a large part of Sanaa which is a world heritage site.

According to World Health Organization, at least 944 people were killed and 3,500 wounded in the first four weeks of the air strikes (some put the figures much higher). Hospitals are short of electricity and there is acute shortage of medicine to take care of thousands of wounded Yemenis who are in urgent need of treatment.

Furthermore, the entire country is without power, Read More »

TFF PressInfo 297: Misleading the world on Iran’s “bomb”

By Jonathan Power

December 23, 2014

The negotiations over Iran’s supposed nuclear bomb-building abilities seem to be stuck in a rut. Given the detailed undertakings by Iran incorporated in the interim agreement made last year it should have only been a hop, skip and a jump to forge a final agreement.

In reality it hasn’t been so easy. Over many years the US with European connivance most – not always – of the time manufactured and manipulated the whole crisis. To overcome the suspicions aroused by that, now past, tactic is not easy. That is not just my opinion after following this subject for 30 years. It is that of the former vice-chair of the US National Intelligence Council, Graham Fuller.

Now a new book, “Manufactured Crisis” by the astute investigative journalist, Gareth Porter, has taken the lid off the attempt by the US, often in collusion with Israel, to paint Iran into a corner, whilst shunning any effort by Iran to resolve the dispute.

But before we get into that I want to make one point about the Islamic sense of morality. Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, the successive top clerics and paramount leaders of the country, have made it clear on a number of occasions that for their country to build a nuclear bomb would go against Islamic belief and jurisprudence.

I don’t find this difficult to believe – during the bitter and savage war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1980 when Iran lost 2 million people Iran refused to deploy chemical weapons even though Iraq did. They too were regarded as un-Islamic. Iran has been consistent in its morality. Iran’s religious practice today is about as far away from the Islamic State or Pakistan’s Taliban as you can get.Read More »

Controlling ISIS without bombing

By Jonathan Power

A Western viewpoint (courtesy of Aubrey Bailey): “Some of our friends support our enemies, and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

If the people we want to defeat are defeated they might be replaced by people we like even less. And all this was started by us, the West, invading a country to drive out terrorists who weren’t actually there until we went to drive them out”.

Those are the conundrums that President Barack Obama and his Western and Arab allies are facing in trying to defeat ISIS.

Well, if the saying that “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is an Arab one then the West has its: “When you are in a hole stop digging”.

The hole digging has been going on since President Jimmy Carter, persuaded by his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, provided sophisticated armaments to the Mujahidin fighting the invading Soviet army in Afghanistan back in the 1980s. Not surprisingly the arms of the Mujahidin fell into the hands of the resurgent Taliban which protected Al Qaeda.Read More »

Vi skulle have gjort noget af dette i stedet for krig…

Af Jan Øberg

Jan Oberg

Åbn øjnene for muligheder istedet for “Øje for øje”

Princippet om øje for øje vil en dag gøre hele verden blind – som Gandhi, der den 2. oktober fødtes for 145 år siden, så klogt sagde.

Det er imidlertid dét princip den danske regering, et stort flertal i Folketinget og efter sigende 62% af den danske befolkning nu følger når Danmark går i krig for 5. gang på 15 år.

Danmark bomber sammen med de store NATO-lande USA, England og Frankrig og så nogle arabiske småstater. Ud af 193 lande i verden!

Som kritiker af en militaristisk – men ikke aktiv – udenrigspolitik får jeg ofte spørgsmålet hvad Danmark (jeg siger ikke ”vi”) i stedet skulle have gjort.

Svarene forudsætter dels en anden måde at tænke på og en vis uddannelse og dels nogle konkrete ideer, der skulle kunne implementeres.

Her er nogle hurtigt nedfældede svar på de to dimensioner – ingen rangordning, tingene er alle vigtige:Read More »

TFF PressInfo 278: September 11 – The War on Terror is a – predictable – fiasco

By Jan Oberg, TFF co-founder

TFF PressInfo 278

Lund, Sweden September 11, 2014

President Obama’s speech last night

This speech is a record low in terms of moral and intellectual analysis: What it boils down to is war – i.e. killing every single ISIS person anywhere, people who he compares to cancer cells.

The war on terror has always been about killing terrorists but you can not kill an ism – terrorism. To do something about the causes that compel people to become terrorists would be much more efficient.

The President has said repeatedly that a lasting solution is political, not military. The speech, however, is exclusively military – not a word of political, psychological or other insights: No, we kill people because we think it is wrong to kill people…

The speech can be seen as a proof of how utterly misguided the U.S. response to 9/11 was – had it been more intelligence and less revenge-oriented, there would neither have been a devastating Iraq war nor an ISIS.

It’s difficult to be Number One in a rank order. You ony teach downward. If you are Number Twenty, there are 19 others to learn from. It seems as if the United States, inside its exceptionalist box, is now unable to learn lessons.Read More »