Obama: Born-Again Neocon

Preparing to wage war on Syria…

Preparing to wage war on Syria…

“Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams once observed.  No matter how much you wish they’d go away, yet they continue squatting in the middle of the road, like some angry wildebeest, refusing to budge.  In view of Obama’s upcoming speech on ISIS and the general rush to war, here are a few unbudgeable facts that have come to light in recent weeks and are all but guaranteed to make mincemeat of his foreign policy:

  • Steven Sotfloff, the freelance journalist beheaded last week, turns out to have been sold to ISIS by U.S.-backed rebel forces in Syria.  As a family spokesman put it, “We believe these so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support – one of them sold him probably for something between $25,000 and 50,000 and that was the reason he was captured.”
  • A field report by Conflict Armament Research, a private study group in the UK, has reported that much of military hardware intended for “moderate” Syrian rebels has wound up in the hands of ISIS, either because ISIS captured it or, according to The New York Times, because they were “sold or traded to ISIS by corrupt members of the rebel ranks.”
  • Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has made it clear in an interview in late August that any attempt by the U.S. to bomb ISIS forces in his country would be viewed as an act of aggression unless Syria’s gives its specific approval, something it is unlikely to grant as long as the United States funds the on-going civil war.
  • A new book says CIA commandos sent to rescue U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 were ordered to hold off so that friendly local forces could do the job instead.  Yet the commandos suspected throughout that their so-called friends were really working for the other side.  “What’s the difference between how Libyans look when they’re coming to help you versus when they’re coming to kill you?” one joked.  “Not much.”
  • A Norwegian TV news team has brought back footage of members of the Azov Battalion, one of a number of far-right volunteer outfits fighting against Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine, sporting helmets adorned with swastikas and SS insignias.

What does it all mean?  Simply that much as the Obama administration wishes that the facts would just go away, they insist on doing otherwise.  The president has asked for $500 million in military aid for pro-U.S. rebels on the premise that the hardware will be carefully targeted to insure that none of it winds up in the hands of ISIS or other such groups.  Yet, as the Conflict Armament Research report show, such assurances are meaningless.  The idea that the U.S. can distinguish so-called moderate rebel forces from the hard-line holy warriors of ISIS and Al-Nusra is no more believable today than in Benghazi in 2012.  The notion that the rebels fall neatly into two groups, secularists and fanatics, is also absurd.  After three years of civil war, the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army has all but collapsed while the remaining forces have been marked by a pronounced ideological convergence.  Whether or not they fly the ISIS flag, they all believe in more or less the same thing, i.e. militant Sunni Islam, holy war, the imposition of shari’a, and a genocidal hatred for Shi‘ties, Alawites, Christians, and all other “idolators” and “apostates.”

Equally nonsensical is the idea that the U.S. can field an anti-Assad force while simultaneously waging war against ISIS.  If it bombs ISIS, then Syrian government forces will advance to fill in the vacuum.  In the highly unlikely event that the Free Syrian Army succeeds in pushing Assad back, then ISIS will be only a step or two behind.  If Assad’s government was to suddenly collapse, then ISIS would almost certainly come out on top not only because it is better armed and more experienced than the FSA, but because its militant Sunni politics mesh far better with those of the bulk of the anti-Assad forces.  After all, if you were a Sunni fundamentalist with an RPG on your shoulder and a Qur’an in your back pocket, who would you support, the new Sunni caliphate that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared or a group that, as Patrick Cockburn reports, is little more than a front for the CIA?

The U.S. has set itself two contradictory goals, the overthrow of Assad on one hand and the destruction his archenemy ISIS on the other, which is why it will almost certainly fail in either or both.  Three years ago, Obama was riding high after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Now Al Qaeda and its various offshoots are metastasizing from Nigeria to Iraq.  Simultaneously, the president finds himself mired in a civil war in the eastern Ukraine in which the official fiction that groups like the Azov Battalion are nothing more than liberal patriots is becoming harder and harder to maintain.  As neo-Nazis and white supremacists from as far away as Sweden flock to Azov with its swastikas, “wolfsangels,” and SS insignias, a fascist army has been raining down rockets and shells on a major European city (as Robert Parry reports in Consortiumnews.com) for the first time in seventy years.  Yet the U.S. cheers from the sidelines.  It’s a situation that even the lapdog press is unable to cover up, which is why alarming news stories have been finding their way into the Guardian, Foreign Policy, and even (if only in the tiniest dribs and drabs) The New York Times.

Referring to the Azov Battalion as “openly Nazi,” FP, for one, declared:

Pro-Russian forces have said they are fighting against Ukrainian nationalists and “fascists”  in the conflict, and in the case of Azov and other battalions, these claims are essentially true.

In other words, it’s Russia that’s telling the truth and the U.S. that is participating in a cover-up.  Rather than learning from his mistakes, Obama seems determined to repeat them — in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and undoubtedly other areas as well.  On Monday, The Times reported that Obama was calling in a group of well-known Middle East “experts” to advise on his next move, prominent Bushies like Stephen J. Hadley and Richard N. Haass as well as Democrats like Samuel R. Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Strobe Talbott, and Jane Harman.  With the exception of Brzezinski, all are hardliners who backed Dubya’s 2003 invasion of Iraq to the hilt and were hence party to one of the most disastrous decisions in U.S. military history.  Asking such people for advice is rather like asking an arsonist to help put out a raging house fire.  As a critic of the 2003 invasion, Obama was elected to clean house, yet he has done nothing but sit back while neocons and neolibs strengthen their grip on the Pentagon and Department of State.  The more Obama tries to be both a good antiwar liberal and a hard-nosed neocon, the more confused and muddled his foreign policy becomes.  He wishes reality would allow him to have it both ways, but reality refuses to comply.

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.


A World War III Lexicon

Oceania has always been  at war with Eurasia….

Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia….

Exciting news!  World War III is busting out all over – in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and East Asia!  For perplexed souls wondering how the earth got itself into such a sorry mess, here’s a political lexicon to help make sense of it all.

Terrorism: Extreme violence directed at U.S. interests.

Shock and Awe: Extreme violence directed at people the U.S. doesn’t like. e.g. Saddam Hussein.

Freedom Fighter: Anyone who practices extreme violence in an authorized manner, e.g. Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Terrorist: Anyone who practices extreme violence in an unauthorized manner, e.g. Osama bin Laden after he turned against the United States in 1998.

Islam: Noble religious tradition dating from the seventh century.

Islamism: Noble religious tradition taken to political extremes.

Jihad: Noble religious tradition taken to violent extremes.  Laudable when aligned with U.S. interests as in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  (See “freedom fighter.”)  Reprehensible when not.

Sectarian: Any Shiite who behaves in a way prejudicial to Sunni interests, e.g. Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Non-sectarian: Any Sunni who behaves in a way prejudicial to Shiite interests, e.g. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Extremist: Any Muslim who turns Islam into a source of hatred and fanaticism, e.g. Al Qaeda, Al-Nusra, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Moderate: Any citizen of a pro-U.S. Persian Gulf state even if he funds Al Qaeda, Al-Nusra, or ISIS.

Axis of Evil: Formerly Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, but since reconfigured now that Baghdad is in the U.S. fold and Iran may be needed to beat back ISIS.  Putin’s Russia and Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela may be added at some future date.

Bush Doctrine (“If you harbor a terrorist, you’re equally as guilty as the terrorists”): Formerly applicable to Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan under the Taliban, but never to Saudi Arabia even though Hillary Clinton admitted back when she was secretary of state that Saudis “constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”  Kuwait and Qatar are also exempt, as are Turkey and Jordan even though they have allowed terrorists to use their territory to stage attacks inside Syria.  Applicability to Iran currently uncertain.

Democracy: Essential goal for all Middle Eastern states except certain Sunni oil producers in the Persian Gulf.

Repression: What Bashar al-Assad did in crushing popular protests in 2011.

Restoring Law and Order: What U.S. ally Bahrain did in crushing popular protests in 2011.

Propaganda: Information, communications, etc. contrary to U.S. interests.

Crude propaganda: Russian information, communications, etc. contrary to U.S. interests.

Caricatures in the Russian media’s fun-house mirror: Moscow’s cockeyed view of world events in The New York Times’ offhand description.  (See Andrew E. Kramer, “Front and Center in Ukraine Race, a Leader of the Far Right,” Mar. 11, 2014.)

Caricatures in the American media’s fun-house mirror: Contradiction in terms since U.S. media are always rigorously objective.

World War II: Great military conflict won by Tom Hanks at D-Day.

Battle of Stalingrad: Great military conflict that can be safely ignored since everyone knows the combatants were morally indistinguishable. For an extended disquisition on Soviet-Nazi moral equivalency, see Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, 2010.

Genocide: Greatest conceivable political crime unless it involves the Syrian Alawites, in which case it is simply part of the price of ridding Syria of Assad family tyranny.  (Sorry about that.)

Safe Haven: Something that John Kerry says that ISIS must absolutely be denied, except in Syria where the U.S. has been providing it for years by sponsoring sectarian warfare against the Assad regime.

Political debate: A process that lesser countries engage in but never the U.S. because Americans know what’s right without even having to think about it.

Indispensable nation: America due to its unerring moral compass.

American exceptionalism: The doctrine that the aforementioned moral compass exempts the U.S. from ordinary legal standards and allows it to assume the role of global dictator.

Energy conservation: Something for dispensable nations to worry about.

Bonus question: How do you tell a good neo-Nazi from a bad neo-Nazi?

Answer: A bad neo-Nazi is someone like France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, who taunts Jews and makes light of the Holocaust.  An even worse neo-Nazi is one who gains real political power, e.g. the Jobbik Party following its strong showing in the Hungarian elections last January or Jörg Haider when his far-right Austrian Freedom Party became part of the ruling coalition in the year 2000.  But a neo-Nazi who becomes part of a pro-U.S. government in an important swing state is another story.  This is why Svoboda Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok, who once railed against “the Moscow-Jewish mafia” ruling the Ukraine, was granted a friendly photo op with assistant U.S. secretary of state Victoria Nuland in February.  Anti-Semitism is very bad unless it’s on the side of the U.S., in which case it’s no longer anti-Semitism at all.



The Obama Straddle


State Department spokesman Jen Psaki: Budding young war criminal.

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki: Budding young war criminal.

Why isn’t Barack Obama pouring troops and weapons into Iraq in response to ISIS’s dramatic offensive?  Most liberals assume that the president has at last learned the lesson of Libya and other such misadventures, which is that bombing not only doesn’t work, but that often backfires, spreading the fires of Islamic terrorism all the faster.  Obama is thus getting in touch with his inner non-interventionist.  But State Department spokesman Jen Psaki’s daily press briefing on Tuesday suggests something more complicated.  Here is what Psaki had to say when a reporter asked her reaction to Iraqi Prime Minister’s charge that Saudi Arabia has been supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham both “financially and morally”:

PSAKI: Well, that’s the opposite of what the Iraqi people need right now, and we have continued to make the case to Prime Minister Maliki – Ambassador Beecroft met with him just yesterday – that taking steps to govern in a nonsectarian way, to be more inclusive to increased support to the security forces is what his focus should be on.  And this is obviously the opposite of what that is.  It’s inaccurate and, frankly, offensive.  

QUESTION: Would you say that –

QUESTION: Sorry. What –

QUESTION: – he is fanning the flames of sectarianism

QUESTION: – is inaccurate?

PSAKI: The comments that he made.

QUESTION: What is inaccurate and offensive?

PSAKI: The comments he made.  I would –

QUESTION: About Saudi?


QUESTION: Would you say that Maliki is basically fanning the flames of sectarianism?

PSAKI: I think I would say there’s more that can be done to be more inclusive and govern in a nonsectarian manner.

QUESTION: And one more – sorry James – on this.  Saudi Arabia called the events in Iraq a Sunni revolution, adding that the sectarian – that the exclusionary policies in Iraq over the past three years are behind the recent unrest in the country.  Do you agree with the Saudis on this?

PSAKI: Well, I – the way we see this is that the situation is complex, and there are some tribes and key local Sunni politicians have joined with the Iraqi Government.  Others are working with ISIL through violence to destabilize the government.  Those working with ISIL are, of course, supporting terrorists who adhere to an extreme ideology, which believes that Shia should be killed based on their sect alone.  Obviously, our view is that there needs to be – the way that Iraq is governed by the leaders needs to take into account the legitimate grievances of all of the people.

QUESTION: That means you don’t agree with them that what’s happening is a Sunni revolution?

PSAKI: I think I made my comments clear.

But what, precisely, is inaccurate about Maliki’s statement?  Administration officials have long complained that Saudi Arabia, not to mention Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, were looking the other way while it came to private donations to Al Qaeda and like-minded groups.  In Hillary Clinton’s 2009 Wikileaks memo, the then-secretary of state complained that “while the kingdom … takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”  The memo goes on to note that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” and that various restrictions put in place by Riyadh “fail to include multilateral organizations such as the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY).  Intelligence suggests that these groups continue to send money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas.” While shutting down some channels, in other words, the Saudis have left others wide open.   David Cohen, under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, made essentially the same point just this past March.  Although Cohen’s focus was on Kuwait and Qatar, he made it clear that the problem was regional:

Donors who already harbor sympathies for Syrian extremists have found in Kuwait fundraisers who openly advertise their ability to move funds to fighters in Syria.  Constraining this flow of funds is particularly challenging in an era when social media allows anyone with an Internet connection to set himself up as an international terrorist financier.  We see this activity most prominently in Kuwait and Qatar, where fundraisers aggressively solicit donations online from supporters in other countries, notably Saudi Arabia, which have banned unauthorized fundraising campaigns for Syria.  

Nothing had changed. While the Saudis continued to impose certain restrictions, fundraisers have no trouble getting around them. Money continues to flow to Al-Nusra, ISIS, and other such groups from sources throughout the peninsula.  So why does Jen Psaki now describe Maliki’s remarks as inaccurate? Admittedly, Psaki is an unscrupulous hack who will say anything to advance the latest State Department line.  But her words are revealing nonetheless.  What seems to be going on here is that the Obama administration is engaged in a delicate balancing act between defending Iraq and appeasing the Persian Gulf forces that fund ISIS and side with it in its battle against the Baghdad government.  Obama is wavering in between the pro and anti-ISIS elements, neither supporting the effort to tear Iraq into pieces nor opposing it either. In a bizarre but nonetheless interesting item on the Washington Post website, Marc Lynch, a professor at George Washington University, observed:

Many of the most vocal Arab backers of Syria’s rebels support what they cast as an Iraqi popular revolution against an Iranian-backed sectarian despot.  They equate the Iraqi uprising with the Syrian uprising, as a Sunni revolution against a Shiite tyrant, and actively oppose U.S. or Arab intervention against it.

ISIS may be a mite over-aggressive, but its heart is basically in the right place — or so Saudis, Kuwaitis, et al. seem to believe.  Lynch quotes a popular Saudi professor named Ahmed bin Rashed bin Said as declaring, “We must support the Sunnis of Iraq not only because they represent the Arab and Islamic face of Iraq, but to save Syria and limit Iran and protect the Gulf.”  He also quotes Faisal bin Jassim al-Thani, a Qatari journalist: “Hezbollah and the United States and the United Arab Emirates are all in Maliki’s trench while the people and the ulema and the honest ones are with the revolution.” ( Actually, Lynch notes, the UAE has withdrawn its ambassador from Iraq and is now critical of Maliki.)  According to a McClatchy news service article, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa, a former Qatari ambassador to the U.S, recently tweeted:

For the West or Iran or the two working together to fight beside Maliki against Sunni Arabs will be seen as another conspiracy against Sunni.

Psaki’s failure to forthrightly condemn the characterization of the ISIS offensive as a “Sunni revolution” indicates that the State Department is struggling to accommodate the Saudi perspective.  So Obama is not heading off in a new direction after all, but standing by his old policy of endlessly appeasing Persian Gulf interests.  Or, to put it a bit more kindly, he’s trying to head off an all-out sectarian war involving Iraq, Iran, Syria, and possibly the gulf states too by reassuring Riyadh that he continues to tilt in its direction.  But it still means the same thing, i.e. countenancing mass murder or at least not opposing it too strenuously.  Has American policy ever been more bankrupt?

Postscript: The lead story in today’s Wall Street Journal (“U.S. Signals Iraq’s Maliki Should Go”) quotes White House spokesman Jay Carney as saying that regardless of whether Maliki stays or someone else takes his place, “we will aggressively attempt to impress upon that leader the absolute necessity of rejecting sectarian governance.”

Sorry, but what government is more aggressively sectarian than Saudi Arabia’s?  Riyadh terrorizes propagates ultra-Sunni Wahhabism throughout the world, it terrorizes its own 15-percent Shiite minority into submission, and in March 2011 it sent troops to crush a democratic protest movement among Shiites in neighboring Bahrain.  Non-sectarianism is an absolute necessity for Iraq, yet Saudi Arabia gets a free pass.  How do these people look themselves in the mirror?

Nine things wrong with US Mideast policy

 Alfred E. Neuman: The genius behind U.S. Mideastern policy?

Alfred E. Neuman: The genius behind U.S. Mideastern policy?

The disaster in Iraq has exposed a rich vein of incompetence not only in the White House but in the press.  In a recent column, Roger Cohen points out in the Times that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, carried out under entirely false pretenses, has backfired in any number of ways.  It has played into the hands America’s nemesis, Iran, while infuriating Saudi Arabia, a key ally.  It upset the Sunni-Shiite balance of power, leading to the all-oout sectarian warfare that is now engulfing the region.  It encouraged the growth of  Al Qaeda in Iraq and has forced Washington to seek help from Tehran.  Yet help is not likely to be forthcoming due to resistance everywhere from Riyadh and Tel Aviv to Capitol Hill.  In the end, Cohen throws up his hands and declares: “A logical approach in the Middle East is seldom a feasible approach.” Nonsense.  It is not logic that got the U.S. into this mess, but a tower of illogic that neocons like Cohen have helped build up to frightful proportions.  Why is U.S. policy in the Middle East such an utter mess?  Let us count the ways.

  1. The United States pretends to oppose militant Islam yet allies itself with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and other Persian Gulf states that are the prime funders of jihad throughout the globe.  In a secret 2009 memo made public by Wikileaks, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton observed that the Saudis “constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”  Yet Washington has done nothing to force the Saudis to turn off the spigot.  To the contrary, Obama has fairly fawned over the Persian Gulf tyrants, bowing low to Saudi King Abdullah during a G-20 summit meeting in 2009 and absurdly praising Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani for promoting democracy everywhere but in his own country.
  2. The U.S. claims to oppose religious fundamentalism, yet supports Saudi Wahhabists who, since the 1980s, have funded the construction of thousands of mosques and madrasas from Indonesia to London, every last one a breeding ground for violence and intolerance.
  3. It claims to oppose religious sectarianism, yet, directly or indirectly, has backed sectarian forces in Syria and Iraq that are now slaughtering every last Shiite they can get their hands on.
  4. It claims to back only moderate, secular forces in Syria.  Yet the Free Syrian Army, the chief object of its affections, has been implicated in anti-Christian atrocities and has collaborated militarily with Al-Nusra.
  5. The U.S. has never officially repudiated George W. Bush’s absurd “Axis of Evil” rhetoric even though it now seeks a rapprochement with Iran, number two on Dubya’s list of evil-doers.
  6. It tosses the “terrorism” label about with abandon despite the facet that years of misuse have rendered the term all but meaningless.
  7. It has provided Israel and Saudi Arabia with open-ended security guarantees that effectively allow either country to lead it about by the nose.  With ISIS now tearing Iraq into little bits and pieces, it is therefore at a loss over what to do.  If it allies with Iran, it will infuriate both Riyadh and Tel Aviv.  If it doesn’t, it will have to stand by and watch as Iran, Iraq, and likely Syria as well form themselves into a Shiite arc of resistance while ISIS carves out a caliphate extending from t the Tigris and Euphrates he Mediterranean.
  8. It claims to want nothing more than stability in the Middle East, yet by pouring hundreds of billions of dollars a year into the region in the form of energy revenue, much of which is then used to purchase U.S. military hardware, it is pouring oil on the fire.  Saudi Arabia is a basket case.  Besides oil, it exports nothing but Qur’ans and holy warriors.  It devotes 13 percent of GDP to the military (Israel devotes only about 9 percent)l, yet in the event of a real war it would be a sitting duck.  Besides oil, it exports nothing other than Qur’ans and holy warriors.  Yet the Obama administration is tied to it hand and foot.
  9. The U.S. has done nothing to rein in a monstrous oil economy that is at the heart of today’s turmoil.  Even Thomas L. Friedman is occasionally right about certain things, and one of those is a carbon tax, which, if adopted, would have a wide range of positive effects.  It would reduce CO2 output, it would reduce highway congestion and suburban sprawl, and it would send energy prices falling through the floor. With the Persian Gulf states losing much of their economic clout, funding for groups like ISIS would plummet. Yet the U.S. is paralyzed. It prefers to watch its empire collapse all around it rather than engage in meaningful reform.

This is the equivalent of a four-way head-on collision.  U.S. policy in the Middle East is so rickety and absurd that the entire structure is now crashing down around us.  Ordinary people could not come up with something so ridiculous. Rather, it took some of the best minds in the country working together for decades on end.  Unchastened, neocons are now scouring the globe for fresh disasters in the making – in the Ukraine, in the Baltic, and perhaps the East China Sea.  Is this the way empires end, not with a ban or a whimper but a sigh of confusion?

The coverup continues….

The Svoboda wolfsangel.  IF you think this looks like a swastika, you're a Russian dupe….

The wolfsangel, the Svoboda Party’s chosen insignia.  If you think this resembles a swastika, you’re obviously a Russian dupe….

I came across a curious article by someone named Alina Polyakova on The New Republic website.  Entitled “Russia Can’t Decide If Ukrainian Jews are Villains or Victims,” it dished up the usual White House-NATO rant about how Putin & Co. are exaggerating the role the Svoboda (Freedom) Party and the Right Sector in the new government of Arseniy Yatsenyuk for propagandistic purposes.  So what if Svoboda originally called itself the Social-National Party of Ukraine in imitation of Hitler’s National Socialists?  So what if it used a modified swastika known as a wolfsangel, or wolf’s hook, as its party insignia?  Ditto party leader Oleh Tyahnybok’s declaration of war against the “Russian-Jewish mafia” allegedly calling the shots in the Ukraine or the torchlight parades party members are fond of holding in honor of the Waffen SS Galicia Division.

None of it matters, according to TNR’s Polyakova, because Svoboda has matured.  Now that it has gotten a taste of power, she writes,

Svoboda has moderated its rhetoric and softened its image. In the interim government, Svoboda members hold three out of twenty positions, and most Ukrainians would no longer call the party “radical.”  Many jokingly call it “white and fluffy”: harmless as a bunny.

As for the Right Sector, the masked street fighters who spearheaded the assault on the former government of Viktor Yanukovych, they are also not the storm troopers they are often made out to be.  According to Polyakova:

The group styles itself as a nationalist organization in the tradition of Stepan Bandera, a polarizing historical figure.  Bandera led a guerrilla army fighting for Ukrainian independence during World War II, but was condemned as a traitor and Nazi collaborator by the Soviet Union.  KGB agents assassinated Bandera in Munich in 1959.  Yet Bandera also spent two years in a Nazi concentration camp, complicating his depiction as a Nazi stooge.  Historical evidence suggests that Bandera and his followers were not programmatic anti-Semites, but rather ruthless militants willing to murder anyone – Jews, Russians, Poles, and even Ukrainians – who stood in the way of their political goals.  In western Ukraine, where Bandera fought his battles, he is now remembered as a hero and freedom fighter.  In the south and east, he is still remembered as a Nazi collaborator. 

Since Bandera was something other than a “programmatic” anti-Semite, his sins were of a lesser order.  Since he didn’t launch pogroms against Jews alone but against non-Ukrainians in general, Jews have no more reason to be afraid than, say, Russians (who are in fact up in arms).  So don’t worry, the latter-day Banderites are cute as bunnies while it’s Putin who is the new Hitler.  Just keep repeating: Russians bad, Banderivtsi white, fluffy, and adorable….

What makes this all so amusing, in a ghastly way, is where it appears.  In the bad old days under former editor Martin Peretz, The New Republic was notorious for spying anti-Semites behind every rock and tree.  Peretz was an equal-opportunity paranoid, pointing an accusing finger not just at Arabs and assorted left-leaning Europeans, but at American Jews like The New Yorker’s David Remnick and Rick Hertzberg, mild liberals who gave aid and comfort to the enemy, according to Peretz, by letting slip a mild criticism of the Jewish state.  “[D]espite all the true evil in the world,” Peretz noted darkly in 2011, “the designated target of the chic progressives, including alienated Jews, is the Jewish state.  There are many predecessors of the type in history.”

But that was the old New Republic.  The new New Republic dismisses Svoboda as harmless, argues that the Right Sector’s anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, and describes Stepan Bandera as merely “polarizing.”  (What next — Hitler as “controversial”?)  In a few short years, it has gone from hyper-vigilance over the threat of anti-Semitism to anger at Putin for so much as raising the subject.

Polyakova and her editors are misinformed: Bandera’s anti-Semitism could not have been more “programmatic.”  Dmytro Dontsov, whose ideas inspired the formation of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in 1929, a portion of which Bandera would go on to lead, has been described as “an organic anti-Semite” who translated the anti-Semitic writings of Hitler, Goebbels, and others for the benefit of his fellow militants. Volodymyr Martynets, editor of the OUN’s most important ideological journal, described Jews as “parasitical … morally damaging … corrupting … racially unsuited for miscegenation and assimilation,” while Bandera and his followers issued a general call on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Russia to “combat Jews as supporters of the Muscovite-Bolshevik regime.”  Following the German invasion, Stepan Lenkavskyi, the chief ideologist of the Banderites, urged the physical elimination of Ukrainian Jewry, while Iaroslav Stetsko, prime minister of the new pro-Nazi Ukrainian state, called for “the destruction of the Jews and the expedience of bringing German methods of exterminating Jewry to Ukraine….”  (For more on this, see Pers Anders Rudling, “Anti-semitism and the extreme right in contemporary Ukraine,” in Andrea Mammone, Emmanuel Godin and Brian Jenkins, eds., Mapping the Extreme Right in Contemporary Europe: From Local to Transnational (London: Routledge, 2012), esp. pp. 190-91.)

Not only did Banderivtsi participate in the slaughter of thousands of Jews after June 1941, but they also killed anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 Poles in an effort to purify the western Ukraine in 1943-44.  While it’s true that the Germans clapped Bandera in prison, they released him in 1944 as they set about creating a special Ukrainian unit of the Waffen SS, the same “Galicia Division” that the Svoboda Party now celebrates.

“The past is never dead,” said Faulkner. “It’s not even past.”  This is why Tyahnybok gave his now-notorious speech in 2004 lauding the Banderites for fighting “against the Muscovites, Germans, Jews, and other scum who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state” and why another Svoboda firebrand, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, according to Pers Anders Rudling, described the Holocaust in 2011 as “a bright episode in European civilization.”

So how does one explain TNR’s journey from paranoia to complacency?  Although many leftists see the magazine as little more than a mouthpiece for AIPAC and Tel Aviv, its prime loyalty has always been to the State Department, especially the “neo-liberal” wing of the foreign-policy establishment headed by Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, and now John Kerry.  The Israelis are not as hostile to Putin as one might think, while the Anglo-American liberal media, from the London Review of Books to The New York TImes and TNR, have been far quicker to jump on the hate-Russia bandwagon.  Liberals raised a clamor when Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party entered the Austrian government in 2000 and when the equally far-right Jobbik Party became a major power broker in Hungary as well.  Yet the current attitude with regard to Svoboda and the Right Sector is one of hear, speak, and see no evil.  Thanks to the Internet, information has never been more abundant, yet the punditocracy has never been more timid and conformist.