More on the neocon ISIS Tilt

Michael Oren at Aspen: Genocide has its uses…s

Michael Oren at Aspen: Genocide has its uses…s

Here is Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., holding forth on the subject of ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham — in conversation with the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 27:

 Keep in mind that I don’t speak for the [Israeli] government, I’m speaking for me … and what I’m going to say is harsh, perhaps a little edgy, but if we have to choose the lesser of evils here, the lesser evil is the Sunnis over the Shiites. …  It’s an evil, a terrible evil.  Again, they’ve just taken out 1700 former Iraqi soldiers and shot them in a field.  But who are they fighting against?  They’re fighting against a proxy with Iran that’s complicit in the murder of 160,000 people in Syria.  You know, do the math.  And again, one side is armed with suicide bombers in Iraq and the other side has access to nuclear military capabilities.  So from Israel’s perspective, you know, if there has got to be an evil that is going to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail….

This is horrifying, of course, although I don’t know who is worse, the speaker, his bland interlocutor, or upscale festival-goers listening to nonsense without a murmur of protest.  Oren’s charge that Iran is complicit in the murder of 160,000 people in Syria is an outrage.  While Teheran certainly has its crimes to answer for, it is the U.S. and its Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf who have funded the Syrian civil war and kept it going long after it began degenerating into a sectarian bloodbath.  Patrick Cockburn, the London Independent’s brilliant Middle East correspondent, recently recounted a conversation with Richard Dearlove, the former head with MI6, the British secret intelligence unit, who in turn quoted a rather offhand remark by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi ambassador in Washington and until recently head of Saudi intelligence.  “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard,” Prince Bandar told him, “when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia.’  More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”  That was prior to 9/11, according to Dearlove, which is to say back in the days when Riyadh was still funding Osama bin Laden and the Saudi-Iranian conflict was still in its infancy.  Since then, we have seen the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which infuriated the Saudis by installing a Shiite-dominated government, and then the Arab Spring, which tore apart the compromises holding the region together and pitched the Muslim world into headlong sectarian strife.

Now the Saudis are funding a Sunni fundamentalists who are out to slaughter every last Shiite, beginning with the Syrian Alawites then moving into the Shiites in Iraq.  In the process, it also wishes to enslave the Christian population of both countries.  Yet this is the group that Oren now regards as the lesser evil.  Isn’t it remarkable that a country founded on revulsion against genocide now views an Alawite genocide with something less than alarm?

Oren, of course, is disingenuous in insisting the he does not speak for the Israeli government.  In fact, his views perfectly mirror the thinking of the ultra-rightists currently running the Jewish state.  A few days before Oren spoke in Aspen, Benjamin Netanyahu was only slightly more circumspect on “Meet the Press.”  When asked what the U.S. should do to counter ISIS, he replied that militant Shiites and Sunnis are  both anti-American.  “And when your enemies are fighting each other,” he said, “don’t strengthen either one of them.  Weaken both.  And I think by far the worst outcome that could come out of this is that one of these factions, Iran, would come out with nuclear weapons capability.”

A plague on both their houses, but an extra-special plague on the Shiites.  When asked whether the U.S. should launch air strikes against ISIS, Netanyahu went on to say: “I think that there are two actions you have to take.  One is to take the action you deem necessary to counter the ISIS takeover of Iraq.  And the second is not to allow Iran to dominate Iraq the way it dominated Lebanon and Syria.  So you actually have to work on both sides.”  Give Maliki just enough aid, in other words, to prolong the slaughter indefinitely.   Then, when the countryside is littered with countless bodies, blame it all on primitive Arab bloodlust.

A Friend Writes…

Philip D. Zelikow: Admirably candid about neocon intentions

Philip D. Zelikow: Admirably candid about neocon intentions

Further evidence that the neocons are continuing their pro-ISIS tilt can be found in a column by Philip D. Zelikow that ran in The International New York Times on July 5.  Zelikow, a high-ranking member of George W. Bush’s State Department, executive director the 9/11 commission, and of course an enthusiastic supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, had this to say about the dismemberment of Iraq and Syria:

The most destructive outside force pushing violent Islamist extremism is the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Revolutionary Guards.  Our current policy seems to recognize that, but we must stick to it, swayed neither by artificial deadlines nor dreams of holding Iraq together by going easier on Tehran.  Iran’s interventions across the region are part of the problem; they cannot reliably be restrained by agreement.  Still, negotiators can make Iran choose between economic recovery and military advancement, as we are now trying to do in the nuclear talks.  Sanctions should be relieved only if Iran offers to comprehensively roll back that program.  If needed, American military power can be readied to maintain or strengthen the sanctions.

Second, the United States should not join in the Iraqi government counteroffensive to reconquer northern and western Iraq.  Let that divisive government, like the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, reap the balance of power that its narrow policies have sown.  The United States should not expect to be able to fashion desirable replacement regimes, and there is no compelling American interest now in restoring the unity of Iraq or Syria.  Their borders reflect only the British-French bargains that divided the spoils of World War I.

ISIS may seem like a super-Al Qaeda, but Zelikow’s advice is not to be deceived.  Iran remains “the most destructive outside force pushing violent Islamic terrorism” and hence is still the real enemy in the Middle East.  Because ISIS is only a pale imitation, moreover, the Obama administration should do nothing to challenge it head on.  It should not support Iraq’s counteroffensive and should continue to apply military pressure against Iraq’s main ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran.  It should also see the ISIS-Kurdish dismemberment of Iraq as a fait accompli and recognize that Maliki — and, by implication, Syria’s Assad — are now reaping the whirlwind that their “narrow policies have sown.”

Could anyone imagine a more glaring violation of the old Bush doctrine that people like Zelikow once espoused?  According to Bush, Al Qaeda represents pure metaphysical evil and anyone who has anything to do with it will wind up morally besmirched.  “If you harbor a terrorist, you’re equally as guilty as the terrorists,” he declared.  But now Zelikow informs us that ISIS is less important than Iran, that the U.S. should not allow itself to be dragged into the fight to roll it back, and that, in any event, its rise is somehow a case of poetic justice.

Indeed, his column implies something more.  In expressing a certain satisfaction that Maliki and Assad are reaping what they have sown, he is essentially advising the White House to recognize ISIS as a de-facto asset.  Obama obviously should not embrace it too closely, but neither should he be unduly concerned about its activities.  For the moment, ISIS’ efforts do not go counter to U.S. interests, so why not leave al-Baghdadi alone in his mini-caliphate and hope that he continues to apply pressure against Bashar al-Assad?

Zelikow is a blazing hypocrite, obviously.  But to be fair, the Middle East has never been more overflowing with hypocrisy.  ISIS created a mini-revolution with its June blitzkrieg.  It completely upset all the old alliances, which were coming apart at the seams but now are completely in tatters.  Everyone is scrambling for new allies as a consequence and tossing old principles overboard.  The U.S. professes to be anti-terrorist but, in sponsoring sectarian warfare against Assad, it has in fact been playing footsie for years with people who make Osama bin Laden look like Bill Moyers.  Now it thinks it can make use of ISIS to secure a momentary advantage against Syria, Iran, and, to a degree, Iraq as well.   Israel also claims to be anti-terrorist.  But since a battle-hardened Baathist state is the last thing it wants on its northern border, it would not be unduly upset if ragtag Salafists caused heads to roll in Damascus.

Saudi attitudes are particularly complex.  Contrary to Zelikow, the people who have really sown the whirlwind are King Abdullah and the exceedingly mysterious Bandar bin Sultan, Dubya’s former bosom buddy and, until recently, chief of Saudi intelligence.  Today’s Wall Street Journal quotes an unnamed U.S. official as declaring, “There was no question that Bandar and private Saudi people were pouring money into” anti-Maliki tribal groups who became the backbone of the ISIS-led Sunni jihad.  But now Abdullah is worried that he has gone too far and that a victorious ISIS will turn against him just as Al-Qaeda turned against the Saudi monarchy in the years following 9/11.  If so, his fear is that he will wind up as the latest victim of Chop Chop Square, the Riyadh plaza famous for its public decapitations.  It would be real poetic justice if he did.  But with neocons like Zelikow now firmly in control of U.S. foreign policy, the Obama administration is determined to stand by its oldest Mideastern ally — at least for now.