I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to write this article because it’s a very sensitive subject for many people. I ultimately decided to write it because I thought it was interesting enough that it may make you think a little deeper about the events happening around you…especially if you found yourself doing a lot of deep thinking yesterday.
I’m not here to say that Bush did 9/11, or that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, or anything related to the popular conspiracy theories that the 9/11 attack was an elaborate set up by the US government to justify invading the Middle East. What I am here to do is tell you about a bill in Congress that has bipartisan support and has been publicly supported by both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. But as of two days ago this bill will be vetoed by President Barack Obama. We have been well aware for years that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. But fifteen years after those attacks, this bill would now allow the victims and their families to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a US ally, for the role it may have played in supporting the hijackers who flew two planes into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.
I, like most of you, was very young when 9/11 happened. I was 8 years old in 2001 and only remember little of what happened. Many of you probably have stories of being pulled out from school, or seeing it happen to your friends, maybe having your teachers tell you, hearing from your siblings, friends, relatives etc. Where were you when you first heard about 9/11?
I don’t remember hearing anything about it while at school, my only recollection was walking home from the bus and seeing my Mom in front of the TV using the VCR to record the news onto a cassette tape. Maybe she couldn’t believe what she was seeing and wanted to record it.
The September 11 attack on the World Trade Center is one of the most important events not only in American history, but world history. It is certainly the most significant event of our lifetime. How our nation responded to that horrific act of terror, which left 3,000 dead in the heart of New York City, has largely determined the world we live in today. The national security apparatus put in place after these attacks is represented in many of our modern day clashes with the government like dealing with the aftermath of invading Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, NSA surveillance programs even the Apple vs. FBI showdown.
So why after 15 years is Congress re-visiting 9/11 now?
The legacy of 9/11 understandably cast its shadow over the primary election in New York two days ago. Perhaps that’s what made the timing so interesting as the night before the primary both Democratic Presidential candidates came out in support of Congress’s move to pass a bill called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
The bill would make it easier for the victims and families of 9/11 to sue official members of a state government if they played a direct role in assisting or abetting the 9/11 hijackers. The bill would remove what’s called “sovereign immunity” – the idea that a state government cannot be held legally responsible for any wrongdoing and is thus protected from civil suits or criminal prosecution.
This bill is coming on the heels of recent calls on the government to declassify the final 28 pages from the 2002 Joint Inquiry findings into the causes of the attack, which were ultimately left out of the 9/11 Commission report. Published in 2004, the 9/11 Commission was the final report from the congressional investigation into the causes and events leading up to the attack on the World Trade Center. The report is almost 600 pages long but does not include the final 28 pages from the chapter of the Joint Inquiry findings titled “Part 4: Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters.” The Bush administration sealed the pages and said that their publication would damage American intelligence operations and reveal “sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror.”
Anyone in Congress can can actually read the 28 pages, but they must go through a difficult process to get clearance from the House Intelligence Committee to do so. After obtaining permission, they can read the 28 pages inside a highly secure, soundproof facility in the basement of the U.S. Capitol. They are not allowed to bring support staff with them, take any notes, and are observed closely while reading them.
“It’s so secret that I had to get all of my security clearances and go into the bowels of Congress with someone looking over my shoulder.” – Thomas Keane, Chairman of 9/11 commission final report
While in Congress, Bernie Sanders has not read the 28 pages thus far, and actually said he won’t, while Hillary Clinton would not comment when asked if she had read them.
But from those who have read the documents, which has not been many apparently, there has been an ongoing push to declassify these last pages of the 9/11 report for several years. They claim that there is no information in them that would damage national security. Senator Richard Shelby, speaking at the time as ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, said, “I went back and read those pages thoroughly. My judgment is that 95 percent of that information could be declassified. Walter Jones, a Republican congressman from North Carolina who has read the missing pages also contended, “There’s nothing in it about national security.”
So if there really is nothing damaging to national security in these sealed 28 pages, what is actually in them and why won’t the government release them to the public?
According to former Florida Senator Bob Graham and others:
“The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier.”
“Those twenty-eight pages tell a story that has been completely removed from the 9/11 Report,” Lynch maintains. The evidence of Saudi government support for the 9/11 hijacking is “very disturbing,” and that “the real question is whether it was sanctioned at the royal-family level or beneath that, and whether these leads were followed through.”
If the final 28 pages are declassified by the Obama administration and made public, then it could be used as evidence in numerous on-going lawsuits filed by the families of 9/11 victims. These suits target Saudi charities, banks, and individuals. The plaintiffs believe that the withheld 28 pages will support their allegation that the 9/11 hijackers received direct assistance from Saudi government officials in the United States. President Obama has twice promised to release the 28 pages, but so far has failed to do so.
In 2005, the government of Saudi Arabia was dismissed from the suits on the grounds of sovereign immunity. But in July 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the Kingdom as a defendant. Now Congress is coming together on a bill to codify dismissing a “sovereign immunity” defense from these issues entirely.
Barack Obama landed in Saudi Arabia yesterday for his last official state visit to the kingdom. The meeting was to primarily discuss the nuclear deal with Iran but there was much speculation that the 9/11 bill and 28 pages would be brought up. Apparently it was not.
So despite having the support of virtually all Congressional Democrats, as well as BOTH Democratic Presidential candidates, what is President Obama’s reason for not supporting this bill aiding the lawsuits of 9/11 victims and ultimately not declassifying the final 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report?
On Monday April 18th, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had this to say on the issue:
“Given the long list of concerns I have expressed … it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the president would sign the bill as it’s currently drafted.”
“It could put the United States and our taxpayers and our service members and our diplomats at significant risk if other countries were to adopt a similar law”
“The whole notion of sovereign immunity is at stake.”
For the White House, the primary issue is not even the 28 pages, but the legal implications of signing this bill which would remove sovereign immunity. All those who oppose the bill believe that if the US passes this law then other countries could pass similar laws which would put US government officials at risk of being sued for having ties to terrorist attacks against foreign governments.
This is perhaps an unsurprising concern given that the United States could be considered one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terrorism. In the last 50 years, there is an abundance of documented proof that the US, through the CIA, has directly supported government coups, terrorist groups and paramilitaries in over 35 countries from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. The highest profile of these was the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration with the US funding “death squads” in Nicaragua. A much more comprehensive summary and analysis of the CIA’s misadventures around the world can be found here (highly recommend giving the table of contents a skim). On that note, what exactly is the CIA doing right now in Syria?
So understandably, the United States government does not want to open Pandora’s box of litigation and possibly be held accountable in court for its own part in inciting acts of terrorism abroad. Just like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
However, the threat of future lawsuits is not the only deterrent that’s keeping the Obama administration from signing off on the bill. Last week, Saudi Arabia threatened to sell off close to $1 trillion in US assets if the bill was passed and signed into law.
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir came to Washington himself to personally deliver the message that if the US passed this bill, it would sell off $750 billion worth of US Treasury securities and other assets before they could be frozen by an American court.
Several economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through on that threat, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. In the same press conference, White House press secretary Earnest said
“A country with a modern and large economy like Saudi Arabia would not benefit from a destabilized global financial market, and neither would the United States”
But even if the Saudis don’t respond by selling U.S. treasuries, they have other ways to harm the United States. Saudi Arabia has largely been paying for America’s efforts to train “moderate” rebels in Syria in their civil war against Bashar al-Assad’s government. They could curtail that support and instead funnel all their money to al-Qaeda backed groups like the Al-Nusra Front, although there are reports that this is already happening. Regardless, without Saudi support the United States has little hope of brokering a political deal that begins to end Syria’s catastrophic five year civil war.
So given all of these seemingly legitimate concerns from the Obama administration about the bill, why have a majority of the Democrats in Congress and both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders bucked Obama’s wishes and pushed for the bill?
Given that this story has only been around for a week, we can only assume that they truly have placed the needs of the 9/11 victims and their families over the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and the risk of potential litigation against the United States. It is again worth noting that Sanders and Clinton came out in support of the bill, the day before the New York primary. But only Sanders has called on Obama to declassify the remaining 28 pages from the 9/11 Commission. We’ll see how opinions change now that Obama has said he will veto it. Currently it doesn’t seem possible to support the bill but not de-classifying the 28 pages or vice versa, the two remain inextricably tied to each other.
So beyond all the politicking happening behind the scenes for who does and doesn’t support the bill/declassifying the pages, what actually is the specific connection between the Saudi Arabian government and the 9/11 hijackers?
Here is what the 9/11 Commission report concluded –
“Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of Al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization”
The fifteen year long secret of how Saudi Arabia was involved in 9/11 goes beyond locking up 28 pages in a vault in the US Capitol basement. Federal investigations were cut short, and co-conspirators were even left off the hook.
The story in the 28 pages picks up with the arrival of two young Saudis in Los Angeles in January 2000 – Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. These two were the first wave of the 9/11 hijackers – neither of them spoke English well or had much money. Given this, the task of learning how to pilot a Boeing jetliner on their own seems…improbable.
Two weeks after their arrival, a man named Omar al-Bayoumi met with the two at a halal restaurant in Culver City. Bayoumi was an employee of the Saudi aviation-services company Dallah Avco.
Bayoumi Hazmi Mihidhar
Before meeting with Hazmi and Mihidhar, Bayoumi spent about an hour meeting with an official from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Los Angeles – Fahad al-Thumairy. In 2003, Thumairy was stripped of his diplomatic visa and deported because of suspected ties to terrorists.
After meeting with Thumairy, Bayoumi met the two hijackers-to-be and invited them to move to San Diego, where he set them up in his same apartment complex. Because the two had no checking account, he paid their security deposit and rent. He also introduced them to other members of the local Arab community, including the imam of a local mosque, Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki later became the most prominent spokesperson for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but was killed in a drone strike in 2011.
Bayoumi was in frequent contact with the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., and with the consulate in Los Angeles. After two months, Bayoumi’s wife began receiving monthly stipends of around $2,000. By September 11th, 2001, $130,000 was transferred into Bayoumi’s wife’s bank account. With the money, Bayoumi was able to obtain Social Security cards for the two hijackers and arranged flying lessons at flight schools in Florida.
The stipends came in the form of cashier’s checks, purchased from Washington’s Riggs Bank by Princess Haifa bint Faisal. She is the daughter of the late King Faisal and wife of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States – Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Federal investigators in the 9/11 task force said virtually every road led back to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, as well as the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. Yet time and time again, they were called off from pursuing leads because of “diplomatic immunity.”
One FBI investigator complained that instead of investigating Bandar, the US government protected him. Literally. He said the State Department assigned a security detail to help guard Bandar not only at the embassy, but also at his mansion in McLean, Virginia.
Former FBI agent John Guandolo, who worked 9/11 and related al Qaeda cases out of the bureau’s Washington field office, says Bandar should have been a key suspect in the 9/11 probe.
“The Saudi ambassador funded two of the 9/11 hijackers through a third party,” Guandolo said. “He should be treated as a terrorist suspect, as should other members of the Saudi elite class who the US government knows are currently funding the global jihad.”
The source added that the task force wanted to jail a number of embassy employees, “but the embassy complained to the US attorney” and their diplomatic visas were revoked as a compromise. “The FBI was thwarted from interviewing the Saudis we wanted to interview by the White House,” said former FBI agent Mark Rossini, who was involved in the investigation of al Qaeda and the hijackers. The White House “let them off the hook.”
What’s more, Rossini said the bureau was told no subpoenas could be served to produce evidence tying the departing Saudi suspects to the 9/11 attacks. The FBI, in turn, iced local investigations that led back to the Saudis. Bandar ultimately was ousted from his role by the new Saudi King Salman in 2013.
Those who have read the 28 pages believe they contain “incontrovertible evidence” that Prince Bandar, along with other Saudi government officials and members of the Saudi family, were directly linked to funding the hijackers in 9/11. Bandar’s father was Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who became the Crown prince and heir apparent to the Saudi throne in 2005 until his death in 2011.
What information exists in the classified 28 pages which may implicate what knowledge the crown prince or even then King Abdullahhimself had of one of their own funneling money to two of the hijackers? Do we really believe that one of the most sophisticated terror attacks in world history was autonomously planned and executed by Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda organization with no help?
Fifteen years after 9/11, it’s time to finally unmask the true perpetrators of our nation’s worst terrorist attack. The current support in Congress and in the Presidential campaign is a sign that we believe the victims of 9/11 and their families finally deserve justice for the crimes committed by government officials of a declared United States ally. Although Obama is currently threatening to veto the bill in its current form, maybe he will warm up to de-classifying the sealed 9/11 pages and allow some version of the bill to go through.
But how will our current Presidential candidates navigate these dangerous waters with one of our most complicated allies? Given one candidates particular history with the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, is it fair to also begin questioning what role Saudi Arabia played there as well?
Ultimately this issue boils down to this – how likely it is that the Justice for the Sponsors of Terrorism Act and the de-classification of the final 28 pages of the 9/11 commission would irreparably damage our relationship with the Saudi Kingdom or at least threaten even more global instability?
This is the story of The Azure Management Group and its on going litigation against The United States Department of State and one of Asia’s largest coffee manufacturers based in Vietnam – the Trung Nguyên Coffee Company.
This story was brought to me by CEO of Azure Management Group Eric Shafer, asking that someone speak out on this issue. These events
The war in Syria has been going on for five-years.
Who is fighting who in Syria?
The battle in Syria is represented by two sides: President Bashar al-Assad vs. Rebel groups trying to overthrow the government. The 5 year civil war in Syria has ballooned beyond just these two as numerous other players have now gotten involved.
A couple things you may have noticed from this list –
1 – The US finds itself against Russia in an unrelated country (shocking)
2 – ISIS and Al Qaeda are fighting on the same side as the US against Assad?? This is partly what makes the Syrian war so complicated. The US is caught between fighting to remove Assad and also eliminating ISIS and Al Qaeda, even though they are also trying to get rid of Assad (although ISIS and Al Qaeda are also fighting with each other too…we’ll get there). Until the United States and its allies pick one side, I believe the war will not have an end in sight for years to come. At this point, we either have to support (or not oppose) a president who uses chemical weapons on his own people, or a group that’s beheading people in the streets and burning them in cages. Great options, I know.
3 – What’s Kurdistan, I don’t see it on the map? This is a country you’ve never heard of because it’s not even a real country yet! The Kurdish people are an ethnic group spread across the region with their own language, culture and national identity. They wish to form their own autonomous nation, but their desired borders currently overlap with Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Kurds in Syria see the chaos as their chance to form their own country. The Kurds are an incredibly important player in this conflict, and have a very complex relationship with Turkey, a US ally. Though I have placed the Kurds on the “anti-Assad” side, they are undeniably fearful that whoever would come after him could be even worse for the Kurdish struggle for independence.
Why is each side fighting?
The conflict goes well beyond deciding to topple Assad or not, there are now a range of regional disputes being settled.
There are the four wars currently happening in Syria – the first two have more basic premises and outcomes and the second two are larger philosophical wars that our world has been engaged in for decades and even centuries.
War #1 – The War for Who Governs Syria
This war is being fought between the Syrian government and the rebel groups who seek to create a new government. The outcome will either be a continuation of Assad’s government or a new government that comes to power (either through an election or military force).
This battle is happening in the southern and western half of Syria, closer to the Mediterranean.
War #2 – The War to Re-Draw National Borders in the Middle East
Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh) Kurdish soldier
This war is happening in two separate veins and both groups are trying to topple Assad.
a. ISIS vs. Everyone – ISIS wants to erase all borders and establish an Islamic caliphate across the Middle East and parts of Africa, Europe and Asia. The US is not supporting them (publicly).
b. Kurdistan vs. Basically Everyone – the Kurds want to establish an autonomous Kurdish nation in the Middle East. They want current governments in the region and ISIS to cede parts of their land to form this new state. The United States is supporting the Kurds because they are fighting ISIS.
The outcome is either the establishment of an Islamic caliphate controlled by ISIS or the establishment of some form of a new Kurdistan in the Middle East. Or neither happens and we let these issues fester for decades, because why try and actually solve any problem in the Middle East?
These battles are happening in the eastern half of Syria, closer to Iraq.
War #3 – The War for Islamic influence in the Middle East
King Salman – Saudi Arabia Ayatollah Khamenei – Iran
The Sunni-Shiite split has existed for centuries since the death of the prophet Muhammad and is an integral part of almost every modern day conflict in the Middle East.
The ancient schism in Islam between is represented today by the Sunni-led kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Shia-led clerics of Iran.
President Assad and the ruling Syrian government are primarily Alawite Muslims, a sub sect of Shia Islam. Thus Iran and other Shiite powers in the region have thrown their support behind him, while Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states oppose Assad and would rather have a Sunni-led Syrian government in power.
But mixed into all of this has been the modern rise of a particularly violent form of Islam – Salafism.
The origins and development of this rivalry in Islam will be discussed along with its implications for US strategy in the region. Suffice it to say, the failure of world powers over decades to properly account for the religious power dynamics in the Middle East has perpetually led to failed interventions, sectarian civil wars and the modern day rise of radical Islamic terrorism.
War #4 – The War for American Influence in the Middle East
Erdoğan – Turkey and Obama – US Vladimir Putin – Russia
This is a proxy war being fought primarily between the United States and Russia, but includes Turkey as well.
For many, US involvement in the war is seen simply as a human rights issue to respond to the atrocities of war carried out by Assad and the resulting refugee crisis that has spilled into Europe. While that may be true at some level, America has a range of vital interests in the Middle East that are threatened if the instability in Syria consumes the whole region. These include:
(1) Securing affordable energy resources (Sustaining the “petrodollar” system)
(2) Maintaining the security of critical waterways for international commerce (Suez canal, Persian gulf, Mediterranean Sea)
(3) Fighting the spread of Islamic terrorism and weapons proliferation(ISIS, Al Qaeda and its affiliates)
(4) Protecting Israel
If the United States is doing something in the Middle East, it’s likely to advance one or more of these goals. Russian interests in the region mirror some of these but is at odds with others – both sides have strategic interests at stake in Syria. I’ll get into how the objectives outlined above are present in Syria’s now five-year civil war.
////War #1 – The War for Who Governs Syria////
So how did this war even start?
The Arab Spring and the Start of the Syrian Revolution (Early 2011)
Let’s turn back the clock to my junior year of high school – February 2011. While I was busy watching the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the first demonstrations against Syrian government were being held. These demonstrations demanding political reform were part of a series of uprisings happening across the region at the time – most notably in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. The uprisings were largely born out of discontent with high unemployment, poverty, increasing food prices, restrictions on free speech and corruption in the government. This revolutionary wave across the Middle East and North Africa between 2011-2012 was dubbed the “Arab Spring“.
The Assad family has ruled Syria for 46 years. Beginning in 1970, Syrian general Hafez al-Assad led a military coup to overthrow the sitting government and became the sole ruler of Syria with a single-party government, the Ba’ath Party. Hafez al Assad’s oldest son Bassel al-Assad was expected to succeed him until his death in a car accident in 1994. As a result, after Hafez’s death in 2000 the torch was passed to his second son with no political experience and who was training to be an ophthalmologist in London at the time – Bashar al-Assad. In his 11th year as President, the Arab Spring came to Syria.
The Syrian war started in the city of Daraa, a suburb of the capitol, Damascus. On March 6th, 2011 fifteen teenagers were arrested for writing “the people want the regime to fall” on walls across the city. Their arrest and alleged torture by the military police led to demonstrations and protests around the city. However, these peaceful demonstrations were met with violent crackdowns from Assad’s government – which feared for its survival as the governments of Tunisia and Egypt had just been toppled. On March 18th, government security forces opened fire on protestors in Daara killing four people. And then shit hit the fan.
After the deaths in Daara, large scale protests broke out across other major Syrian cities. Clashes between protestors and military police escalated violently with casualties on both sides. Alleging that the violence was instigated by protestors, Assad’s forces began imprisoning hundreds of protestors, outright killing many and even firing on their funeral processions. At a rally in April 2011, 72 protestors were shot and killed by Assad’s forces, shocking many around the world. This marked a turning point in the war – what started out as demonstrations for democratic reform in Syria now changed to demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.
How the Assad government chose to respond to at this crucial point in April-May 2011 would set the stage for why the current situation in Syria looks the way it does.
Before the unrest escalated to all out civil war, Assad tried to do the following things:
1 – Make political concessions to the opposition (while still suppressing protests).Assad promised a constitutional referendum allowing a multi-party system along with other proposed democratic reforms like greater press freedom.
However, these promises were largely dismissed as they were criticized as too little too late following violent crackdowns and were simply vague proposals with no concrete action.
the Syrian government states it is fighting “foreign-backed armed gangs” and “terrorist groups” and will continue to do so until “security and order are restored,” reports ABC.
These failed attempts at reform and reconciliation are why many believed there was no viable path forward in Syria without Assad stepping down from power.
2 – Release political prisoners. Assad began releasing prisoners as a sign of good will in loosening his grip on the crackdowns. But in reality, the prisoners he was releasing were not those taken in from the demonstrations, but known Islamic jihadists that were being held in the infamous Sedanya Prison (think Syria’s Guantanamo).
Unfortunately none of these tactics ultimately worked. As the opposition to Assad began to grow violent, Syria seemed headed for out civil war.
♦ Syria Descends Into Civil War – Armed Opposition Groups Form (2011-2012) ♦
In July 2011, two months after 70+ protesters were killed in Daara, a group of officers led by a colonel in the Syrian Air Force named Riad al-Assad (not related to Bashar) defected from the national Syrian army. They created the first organized rebel group against the government – the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
In a YouTube video announcing their defection, they declared the primary aim of the FSA was to protect unarmed protesters and to “bring down the regime.” They seek to replace Assad’s government with a secular, free democracy. Following Riad and his group’s defection, thousands of Syrian military officers began deserting President Assad’s army and joining the rebellion. By December 2011, it was reported that close to 10,000 officers defected to the FSA.
Jake Sullivan email – Contact said they had a chance to spend some time with a RIA-Novosti reporter in Damascus who is an Arabist and has been there for a dozen years. This reporter noted that Assad is widely despised across Syria, though support in Damascus is fairly strong and there is a lot of fear of Syria descending into a hellish civil war along sectarian lines. Ria reporter compared situation there with Russia, saying many want change, many hate their leader (Syrians hate Assad, Russians despise Putin), but few want revolutionary change; they want reform.
However, the Free Syrian Army was not the only resistance group that emerged to remove Bashar al-Assad from power – enter Al Qaeda. The infamous Islamic terror group, which was previously led by Osama bin-Laden and was responsible for the 9/11 terror attack, saw the chaos in Syria as an opportunity to gain power. Al Qaeda created a branch in Syria called Jabhat al-Nusra or the al-Nusra Front.
Unfortunately I wish I could just claim that these are the only two rebel groups fighting Assad’s government, but they were just the first.
♦ How International Diplomacy Failed In Syria (2011-2012) ♦
Starting from the modest protests against Assad to the violent uprising and formation of armed opposition groups, world powers have kept a close eye on the events unfolding in Syria. But I think it is clear to everyone now in 2016 that a diplomatic solution was not achieved in the early stages which has allowed one of the greatest human disasters in history to spread through the Middle East and now spill into Europe.
Understanding why international diplomacy did not work in Syria may actually be the most important lesson in this article because it illuminates what the international objectives in the Middle East are and the constraints the US faces in shaping the world order the way it deems necessary. Perhaps more importantly is seeing who was involved in why diplomacy failed because most of these people still hold their positions and will shape international politics in the future.
Before I look at how diplomacy unfolded, there are two overarching themes that defined the international negotiations to get a peace deal in Syria.
While NATO was accelerating its airstrikes against Gaddafi in June-July of 2011, the protests against Assad in Syria began to grow seriously violent leading up to the Free Syrian Army being formed. A month later in August 2011, the US and it’s allies officially made their position clear – Bashar al-Assad must go. But the implementation of that declaration is what has marred Obama’s legacy as having one of the most ineffectual foreign policy decisions.
For those who don’t know how the United Nations takes action, on any resolution there has to be unanimous consent amongst the five permanent members of the Security Council called the P5. The P5 include the US, Russia, Britain, France and China. If even one member vetoes a resolution then nothing goes in effect.
When the UN Security Council voted to impose a No Fly Zone in Libya back in March 2011, Russia and China abstained from the vote thus allowing it to pass. Seven months later in October 2011, Russia and China would use their veto power to prevent the UN from taking action in Syria. The October veto would even lead Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, to walk out in protest.
UN Security Council Resolution 612 was largely a condemnation of Assad and simply demanded an end to all violence and accountability for human rights abuses. It was a fairly bland resolution, but it did included this stipulation:
11. Expresses its intention to review Syria’s implementation of this resolution within 30 days and to consider its options, including measures under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations;
The resolution carried the threat of Article 41’s arms embargo and economic sanctions on Assad if he did not abide by the terms in the resolution. Although this language in the resolution was carefully negotiated to avoid a veto by saying the UN would only “consider” sanctions against Assad, Russia and the other so-called BRICS nations didn’t buy it.
According to the New York Times, Russia along with Brazil, India, China and South Africa objected to even the idea of sanctions against Assad because the UN Security Council’s resolution on Libya, which only authorized “humanitarian assistance“, had been twisted to encompass a NATO war to overthrow the Libyan government. Russia and other major powers were determined not to repeat that by supporting any UN resolution that could leave the door open to a military intervention. They insisted that any regime change be led by the Syrian people themselves and that approving a possible Syrian intervention after Libya would cement a precedent that would approve the violation of state sovereignty from outside powers; a dangerous position for an international organization built on the cooperation of autonomous states.
Analysts observed that other countries were so afraid of a repeat of NATO’s war against Gaddafi that Russia and China’s veto was more of a rebuke to the UN’s actions in Libya rather than truly opposing reform in Syria. For the countries afraid of what a military intervention to oust Assad would look like, it certainly did not help that Muammar Gaddafi suffered a gruesome death at the hands of a bayonet just two weeks after the UN Security Council met to discuss Syria. Or as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously put it, “We came, we saw, he died.”
But likely, geopolitics played the primary role in Russia’s veto. Russia was primarily concerned that if President Assad goes, its influence in the Middle East will disappear with him.
“Syria is the only country in the Middle East which follows our advice, this is the country where we can exercise certain tangible influence,” says Ruslan Pukhov, Defense Analyst at .
“Of course, the loss of Syria will mean we will have no influence in this region at all. It has some symbolic value for the Russian authorities and the foreign policy establishment as a sign of Russia as a great power.”
Following the veto of the October 2011 UN resolution, it was time for the Americans to re-calculate their approach. There were two defining events in 2012 where world powers could have compromised on a solution to Syria: the February 2012 UN Security Council meeting and the June 2012 Geneva Conference.
World powers met again at the United Nations one month later in February 2012 to arrive at a solution to Syria’s crisis. The diplomatic battle was waged on the international stage primarily by two individuals: on the Russian side was foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and on the American side was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
On one end, Russia wanted to retain Bashar al-Assad in power not only because he was their ally and last foothold in the Middle East, but they started to view the escalation of the Syrian conflict as one increasingly instigated by the protestors, and was taking on strongly sectarian Islamist elements with the emergence of the al-Nusra Front in Syria. According to Steve Rosenberg of BBC, Russia expected only one of two outcomes to take place in the Syrian civil war: either Assad stays in power, ensuring their stronghold influence in the Middle East region, or, radical Islamists take over, creating a terror threat for Russia.
On the other side, the United States saw Assad as a brutal dictator who had lost his legitimacy to rule after killing hundreds of his own people and committing “widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms“. Clinton had in fact already branded Assad as a “war criminal”. As for what came after Assad, diplomats involved in the negotiations commented, “At the time, the west was fixated on Assad leaving. As if that was the beginning and the end of the strategy and then all else would fall into place.”
“I know that some members here are concerned that we are headed toward another Libya. That is a false analogy. Syria is a unique situation that requires its own approach, tailored to the specific circumstances occurring there. And that is exactly what the Arab League has proposed — a path for a political transition that would preserve Syria’s unity and institutions.”
Amazingly, the American diplomats learned few lessons from the October veto and proposed this UN Security Council resolution with the following passages.
The Russians again didn’t buy it. The language was vague enough for them that they believed it would open the door to a possible U.N. or NATO led invasion to topple Assad.
The draft “is missing the most important thing: a clear clause ruling out the possibility that the resolution could be used to justify military intervention in Syrian affairs from outside. For this reason I see no chance this draft could be adopted” – Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, February 2012
For them, the resolution which called on the UN to provide “all necessary assistance” with the threat of unspecified “further measures” sounded eerily familiar to UN Security Council Resolution 1973 in March 2011 which stated the willingness of the UN to “take all necessary measures to protect civilians” in Libya. The “all necessary measures” phrase was invoked under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine to justify the NATO invasion of Libya to topple Muammar Gaddafi.
“The Libyan case was the final straw for the Russians, hence their October veto of the first Syrian resolution,” said George Lopez, a professor at Notre Dame University, “The second veto on Saturday was more of the same.”
China publicly defended their veto saying, “The United Nations can stop aggression, but it cannot force a country to replace its regime.” Russia and China both sought to maintain their long-standing principle of non-interference in foreign countries (probably because they don’t want to encourage intervening in countries that commit human rights abuses *cough*).
But incredibly, US diplomats may have actually passed up a workable solution with Russia at the February 2012 meeting rather than propose another resolution that would get vetoed.
According to former Finnish president and Nobel Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, who was involved in the February UN Security Council discussions, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin proposed a three-point plan which not only claimed to bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table but result in a political transition that saw Assad stepping down from power.
Vitaly Churkin “said three things,” according to Ahtisaari, “One — we should not give arms to the opposition. Two — we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three — we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.”
While publicly supporting Assad and even continuing to sell arms to the Assad regime during the uprisings, Russian officials privately appeared to be suggesting that Moscow wasn’t committed to Assad remaining in charge but still insisted on the regime spearheading the process of internal dialogue and reconciliation. “We in Russia have no illusion about this regime,” says Russian MP Andrei Klimov, “The only thing we’d like to have is a peaceful exit. We don’t want to prolong this regime for decades or centuries. Our task is to find a peaceful solution as soon as possible.”
“Nothing happened because I think [the Western diplomats], and many others, were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks so there was no need to do anything”, Ahtisaari said.
“He [Obama] thought Assad would go the way Mubarak went,” said Dennis Ross a former Middle East adviser to Obama, referring to the quick departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Indeed US officials had been saying Assad’s departure was imminent and inevitable for months – either by assassination, an internal coup or stepping down from military defeat.
Other have refuted the claim that
This may explain one of the most confounding questions of the early diplomatic efforts by the United States – why would Hillary Clinton and the US diplomats push another UN resolution that they knew would almost certainly be vetoed by Russia under the same pretenses of their October veto? There wasn’t a clause that explicitly ruled out military intervention and Russia and China were clearly worried this could be a repeat of Libya, why didn’t we propose something more negotiable?
The Americans thought all the cards were in their hands, thinking that Assad’s fall was inevitable regardless of what they did. To me, this is why the US never proposed a ceasefire of any kind, rather they continued to push demands that Assad immediately leave as a precondition to any peace deal. The argument being – any diplomatic proposal for peace that could result in Assad staying in power was less preferable than letting the violence in Syria continue if it meant Assad would get deposed.
“Some influential members of the international community, unfortunately including those sitting around this table, from the very beginning of the Syrian process have been undermining the opportunity for a political settlement” – Vitaly Churkin, February 2012
I did a quick Freedom of Information search on the State Department’s site for Secretary Clinton’s communications leading up to, and after the February 2012 Security Council meeting to get a better idea of what the American strategy during the negotiations really was. Unsurprisingly, almost all the e-mails relating to Syria during this time have been redacted (1/22, 1/27, 1/31, 2/8). But one of those e-mails in fact makes an explicit reference to a discussion of a “weak res vs. veto” four days before the February 4th vote. Though the e-mail is almost entirely redacted, it means Clinton and her team were considering a softer UN resolution that could get approved, but ultimately chose to push a resolution that they knew would get vetoed.
The calculation behind pushing for a stronger resolution that risked getting veto seems to be that: either the Russians and Chinese would either accept the American terms for U.N. intervention in Syria (which would not explicitly rule out external military intervention), or nothing would happen and Russia and China would take the blame for the continuing violence in Syria while Assad was likely fall anyway.
What certainly did not make things better was the American outrage over Russia continuing to support and sell arms to Assad. While obviously repugnant to the rest of the world, the Russians saw this as an incredible hypocrisy on the part of the American diplomats to demand that Russia’s ally go, but did more than turn a blind eye to a different humanitarian crisis happening at the same time in Bahrain.
Often called the “Forgotten Revolution” of the Arab Spring, the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain saw hundreds of thousands in the streets demanding the removal of the Al Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain. The protests in Bahrain occurred concurrently with those in Syria and Libya in February 2011, both inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Like Assad, Bahrain’s leaders engaged in a brutal crackdown of the protests which included arbitrary imprisonment, torturing of prisoners, denial of medical care and out right killing of over a hundred protestors by government police.
At the onset of the protests Obama voiced support for a “dialogue initiative” between the monarchy and the opposition, but as the government response turned violent, the US spoke out against the crackdown. When the crown prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa visited Washington DC in June 2011, Obama and Clinton publicly asked the Bahrain monarchy to “hold accountable” those responsible for human-rights abuses against unarmed demonstrators. Clinton urged a “return to a process that will result in real, meaningful changes for the people there.”
The US in fact went to such great lengths to AVOID looking like it supported the protestors in Bahrain that the State Department blanked a media story where someone from the opposition stated that the United States supported them. This March 2011 e-mail exchange is from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffery Feltman.
Hillary Clinton: [REDACTED] just told my husband that the oppo [opposition] in Bahrain posted on their website that they met w the #2 in our embassy who told them that the US supported them and their demands which was very upsetting to everyone. What’s the story?
Jeffery Feltman: A breakaway part of the opposition did a sit-in outside the embassy and presented a petition. A political officer (not #2) received the petition, as is customary, and urged the opposition to begin the dialogue. The petitioners then gave a false story about what our person said. The Embassy immediately went out on twitter, Facebook, the Embassy website, and via an Embassy press release and corrected the record. The petitioners later apologized on Bahraini TV. [REDACTED] Certainly in Bahrain, the Embassy blanked the media with the correct story.
But to many observers, this came as no surprise – Bahrain is one of the America’s most vital allies in the Middle East. It is home to the U.S. Navy’s critically important 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf meant to deter Iran. After Obama publicly berated King Khalifa for cracking down on the protestors, envoys for the king and his Arab allies came to the White House with a carefully coordinated message – if the Obama administration did not stand squarely behind the monarchy, they warned Bahrain’s government could fall, costing America a critical ally and potentially moving the country toward Iran’s orbit.
“Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule,” said a U.S. official. “Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail.”
As the US slowly started an about-face on Bahrain, the uprisings against the monarchy soon turned into resentment against America, as they saw the US turn its back on them while supporting the Syrian uprising and others in the region. This was further enflamed as one of the key lynchpins in the US-Bahrain relationship continued. Since 1993, the US defense industry has sold over $400 million dollars of arms to Bahrain; including a wide variety of weapons systems, ammunition, American tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships. And like Russia’s arms relationship with Assad, this showed no sign of letting up.
“Why is the US determined to sell weapons to Bahrain after the Bahraini authorities, with help from the Saudis, suppressed the Arab Spring in Bahrain? Russia doesn’t see any problems selling weapons to Syria if the CIA and French and British secret services are shipping military hardware via Turkey to the rebels.” – Russian Defense Analyst Ruslan Pukhov, head of the arms trade think tank CAST.
Bashar al-Assad with Vladimir Putin Obama w/ Bahraini prince Hamad al-Khalifa
That is not to say Russia didn’t see Assad as a brutal dictator. “We in Russia have no illusion about this regime,” says Russian MP Andrei Klimov, “The only thing we’d like to have is a peaceful exit. We don’t want to prolong this regime for decades or centuries. Our task is to find a peaceful solution as soon as possible.” But if Moscow began to feel that it has more to lose than to gain from backing President Assad, the Syrian leader might find himself coming under pressure from the East as well as the West.
Indeed, with the mounting death toll in Syria Russian negotiators began saying they were not insisting that Assad must remain in power at all costs, but that any decision on whether or not he should step down should come from the Syrian people, many of whom actually supported Assad in the middle/upper classes of Syria, not from outside pressure or military intervention as happened last year in Libya. Whether or not that fairly reasonable stance was simply posturing, I’d have to ask Churkin and Lavrov myself, but Russia understandably did not want to encourage a precedent of international military intervention in countries with poor democracy and human rights records…
Amazingly despite all the double speak and hypocrisy from both the United States and Russia, there would be one last chance for peace – the June 2012 Geneva Conference. At this point, almost 10,000 people lay dead in Syria with Assad’s brutal attacks in the city of Homs being called genocidal. Following Russia and China’s February 2012 veto, two important events concurrently happened leading up to the June Geneva Conference.
In the two months before the June 2012 Geneva conference, Kofi Annan proceeded to meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow and with Assad in Damascus where he secured both Russia and Syria’s approval for a Six Point peace plan. Amongst other things, Annan’s plan would lead to a “cessation of armed violence in all its forms” the release of a “arbitrarily detained persons” and the Syrian government would “pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres”. However, the plan did not impose any deadline for Assad, nor call for him to leave power.
The Clinton-Sarkozy led initiative not only officially recognized the Syrian National Council (SNC) who’s military wing was the Free Syrian Army as a legitimate governing alternative to Bashar al Assad, but also agreed to provide “all possible assistance” in helping them. This promise for assistance to the opposition will be incredibly significant just five months later when an infamous terrorist attack occurs at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
These two countering diplomatic tracks, Kofi Annan’s Six Point plan and the Friends of Syria initiative, would meet at the June 2012 Geneva conference.
At the Geneva Conference, world powers ultimately agreed to adopt Kofi Annan’s Six Point Plan as the next step forward in the Syrian peace process despite reports that Assad was already violating the terms it agreed to. On June 30th, 2012 the “Action Group for Syria” published a Final Communiqué from the Geneva talks outlining the implementation of Annan’s plan. The sticking point from the talks would be that in order to “secure full implementation of the six-point plan”, they required “agreed on guidelines and principles for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”
The establishment of a transitional governing body which can establish a neutral environment in which the transition can take place. That means that the transitional governing body would exercise full executive powers. It could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent.
Lavrov noted that the group’s final communique includes no demand for Assad to step down, saying that a call to exclude anyone from the unity talks would undermine negotiations or a new government and would twist the intent of the Six Point peace plan agreed upon by Russia and Assad’s government.
Clinton acknowledged what she called “minor textual changes” in Annan’s proposal but said they did not affect the substance of what was decided at the meeting. “We read the results to be the same,” Clinton said. “Assad will still have to go.” “We and our partners made absolutely clear to Russia and China that it is now incumbent upon them to show Assad the writing on the wall.”
This disagreement between Lavrov and Clinton over their interpretations of what the Geneva Communique
The UN high commissioner said she was now calling the situation in Syria “a non-international internal armed conflict,” the legal term for a civil war.
personal fate of Assad in this new transitional unity government would mark the beginning of the end for Kofi Annan’s fledging peace plan, and with it the last workable plan to resolve the Syrian conflict that would present itself for the next four years to present day.
After the Final Communique was published, Kofi Annan flew from Geneva to Moscow and gained what he believed to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consent to begin to quietly push Assad out. But suddenly both the U.S. and Britain issued public calls for Assad’s ouster, and Annan felt blindsided. Immediately afterward, against his advice, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice offered up a “Chapter 7” resolution opening the door to force against Assad, which Annan felt was premature. Annan resigned as the official envoy to Syria a month later.
At the time, the soft-spoken Ghanaian diplomat was cagey about his reasons, appearing to blame all sides. “I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved,” Annan told reporters in Geneva. He also criticized what he called “finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council.” But former senior aides and U.N. officials say in private that Annan blamed the Obama administration in large part. “The U.S. couldn’t even stand by an agreement that the secretary of State had signed in Geneva,” said one former close Annan aide who would discuss the talks only on condition of anonymity. “He quit in frustration. I think it was clear that the White House was very worried about seeming to do a deal with the Russians and being soft on Putin during the campaign.” (This was highlighted by an embarrassing live mic moment where Obama admitted to his Russian counterpart that he would have more flexibility for negotiation after his re-election).
A current senior State Department official concedes that one of the problems with making the Annan communique work may have been Clinton’s distaste for getting involved in extended direct mediation, in dramatic contrast to her successor John Kerry, who has opened up negotiations on several fronts at once—with Syria and the Russians, with Iran, and between the Palestinians and Israelis. “We’ve made more trips to the Mideast in the last nine months than she made in four years,” says this official.
While Clinton excelled at “soft” power—selling America’s message abroad—one emerging criticism of her four-year tenure at State was that she consistently avoided getting her hands dirty with direct mediation. Clinton agreed to leave key negotiations in crisis spots—in particular the Mideast and south-central Asia—to special envoys such as George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, and she rarely stepped in as each of them failed. Veteran reporter David Rohde, in an assessment as Clinton was leaving office in January 2013, suggested that Clinton wanted to avoid embarrassment or failure ahead of a 2016 presidential run; he quoted one State Department official as saying that he was “really happy to have someone in the job who does not retain political ambitions.” (end quote of Hirsh’s article)
All of this makes Clinton’s remarks at a February 2016 debate between her and Bernie Sanders all the more incredulous.
“But I would add this. You know, the Security Council finally got around to adopting a resolution. At the core of that resolution is an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva, which set forth a cease-fire and moving toward a political resolution, trying to bring the parties at stake in Syria together”
Her taking credit for an eventual ceasefire negotiated by John Kerry even led Columbia University professor Jeffery Sachs and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to say, “This is the kind of compulsive misrepresentation that makes Clinton unfit to be President. Clinton’s role in Syria has been to help instigate and prolong the Syrian bloodbath, not to bring it to a close.”
Now while it’s easy to criticize Hillary Clinton for her short-comings in diplomatic engagements to bring peace to Syria, there is a lot of blame to share. Ultimately it was Russian and Chinese refusal to accept any U.N. resolution that truly led to the escalating violence with over half a million dead in Syria we see today.
But it’s important to remember that the refusal of Russia to agree to every proposal for international action were largely for these fairly legitimate reasons:
(1) A fear that the proposed Security Council resolution would result in a U.N.-authorized military intervention to oust Assad rather than a political transition led by the Syrian people, like had happened in Libya last year.
It should have been the responsibility of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and the American diplomats to work with these concerns and create a solution that was palatable to all and saved lives in Syria. That clearly did not happen even when there were avenues to do so. Call it diplomatic hardball, but Russia’sSergey Lavrov certainly has no love lost for the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton who he said intentionally foiled the Russian “reset”. Leading one to wonder whether relations with Russia will be much better under a new Clinton administration.
I can say in no uncertain terms that by the end of the summer of 2012
But one interesting perspective left out of all the squabbling between the world’s superpowers was what the Assad government was saying the whole time.
The Assad government has long maintained that the uprising had nothing to do with demands for political change, but was rather a foreign plot by the enemies of Syria to pay radical jihadis to destabilize the country. Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, accused Gulf Arab nations of harboring the religious sheiks who issued the religious writs, or fatwas, sanctioning the fight in Syria as a sacred duty.
It’s easy the simplify the war in Syria as one where the US and Russia are fighting for democracy vs autocratic dictatorships. I mean when I think about why America and its European allies want to get rid of Assad I felt like a I came to a pretty basic conclusion – he’s a dictator killing his own people protesting against his repressive government. As the protector of democracy and human rights in the world, the United States sees its role to step in where those ideals are not being upheld.
But why are other Arab nations clamoring for the toppling of Assad? Given that many of these other countries have even less democratic forms of governments and have their own histories of human rights abuses, why would they want to encourage international intervention in Syria?
That’s why before I proceed into the next phase of the Syrian conflict after the failure of diplomacy, I want to step back and look more critically at the central question of the Syrian war – why are we trying so hard to get rid of Bashar al Assad again?
What Is At Stake for World Powers in Syria
Here is the table at the beginning which showed who’s fighting on which side.
I’ve crossed out all the non-state actors like Hezbollah, Kurdistan, ISIS and Al Qaeda, they are revolutionary causes and organizations, but do not function completely as nation-states.
At the top you have a repeat of the Cold War divide between the US and its European allies against Russia. Amongst the Middle Eastern countries that are fighting each other, it looks fairly divided along Sunni/Shiite lines and Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite, a subsect of Shia Islam. Iran and Iraq are a majority Shiite population while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations are a majority Sunni population.
But historical rivalries aside, these are largely two reasons global powers can claim to be to fighting to depose Bashar al-Assad as President of Syria, and one of them is far less talked about than the other.
1) Crimes against humanity – brutal crackdown of dissent, alleged torture, bombing of civilian homes, chemical weapons use
2) The natural gas pipeline wars
While it’d be nice to think that everyone really has spent the last 5 years angry about Assad’s human rights violations, here’s a map that should make it abundantly clear what the real war is being fought over.
On July 25th, 2011, only five months into the Syrian uprising, Bashar al Assad quietly signed a $10 billion gas-pipeline deal to start building the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, thus officially rejecting Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey’s oil and gas plans into Europe.
The South Pars / North Dome field is a natural gas condensate field located in the Persian Gulf. It is the world’s largest gas field, shared between Iran and Qatar. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the field holds an estimated 1,800 trillion cubic feet of in-situ natural gas and some 50 billion barrels of natural gas condensates otherwise known as liquified-natural-gas (LNG).
Iran has maritime rights over the South Pars region while Qatar has maritime rights to drill in the North Dome. Both nations have a competing desire to developing these oil and gas fields, construct a pipeline through the Middle East and sell gas in the European market, which, again, Russia currently dominates.
The pipeline saga began in 2009 when Qatar proposed to Assad the construction of a joint pipeline from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey to sell LNG to Europe. Assad said no. Instead, he opted to build an alternate 3,480 mile “Islamic pipeline” with his fellow Shiite partners in the Middle East – Iraq and Iran.
Russia supports this pipeline between Iran, Iraq and Syria even if it would let Europe diversify away from Russian gas, because at least the gas was flowing through Russia allies, as opposed to US-backed Saudi Arabia and Qatar and NATO member Turkey, thus Russia could better influence output, pricing decisions etc. When Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement with Qatar, he even said he did so “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”
Since Assad’s rejection of the Qatari proposed pipeline in 2009 and the Arab Spring uprisings in Syria two years later, it should not come as a surprise that the spurned countries – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – have each poured billions into funding and arming the Syrian rebels seeking to oust Assad and place a regime that will approve their pipeline.
But the larger question now is, why is the United States becoming so invested in the Syrian conflict? What would we stand to gain by a Qatar-Saudi-Turkey pipeline? While they are obviously our allies, this seems like their war to fight.
As is clear from our lack of enthusiasm for the Arab Spring in Bahrain, a desire for democracy and human rights is not (and has never been) our motivating interest in the Middle East. The answer to these question lies in the foundation for all US action in the Middle East – the petrodollar.
You will probably never hear a mention of the petrodollar on the news, but it could be considered the most important political and economic scheme in the entire global economy. It’s origin, development and use will be more intricately fleshed out in Part 4 of this series when I examine the history of US intervention in the Middle East, but as a preview here is the central premise of the petrodollar system:
US efforts to oust the Syrian government due to oil interests in the region did not begin in 2011, however. In late 1945, the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) announced plans to construct the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line (TAPLINE) from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean. With U.S. help, ARAMCO secured rights-of-way from Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The Syrian government, however, refused to grant passage to the pipeline.
Saudi Arabia’s pipeline plans into Europe, which were foiled in the 1940’s, have been put on hold until the Arab Spring in 2011 when Assad’s regime in Syria became vulnerable. This time again, the United States would use the CIA to attempt to overthrow the Syrian government.
Operation Zero Footprint: Benghazi and the Covert Arming of Syria’s Rebels (2012)
Given the stakes in Syria, the United States and its Middle East allies had an obvious vested interest in supporting the opposition to Assad even in the early stages of the revolution.
Luckily for the Obama administration, opposition to the Syrian government did not end with the CIA-led coup of the Syrian government in 1949. This 2009 WikiLeaks cable reveals that under the auspices of an initiative in Syria called “Supporting Democratic Reform” the US has been covertly funding opposition to Assad’s government since 2006 – five years before the start of their civil war. The cable sent from the US embassy in Damascus even expresses concern that some of the projects being funded by the US (to the tune of $12 million), if discovered by the Syrian government, would be perceived as “an attempt to undermine the Assad regime”.
This part of the war has remained largely under wraps because there has been no formal declaration of war against the Syrian government by any country nor has the United Nations sanctioned any humanitarian or military intervention into the Syrian conflict.
The so-called “Rat Line” to covertly arm Syria’s rebels went as followed: the weapons from Libya were shipped out from the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where they were received at the US Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey and then moved through Turkey’s southern border into the hands of Syrian rebels.
As the name suggests, Operation Zero Footprint was supposed to be just that – a mission that was to leave no footprint of the US’s activities in the area. In order to avoid Congressional authorization and public scrutiny, the clandestine operation was financed largely by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar with logistical and transportation support coming from Qatar and Turkey.
If you had not already guessed, this entire scheme unraveled on September 11th, 2012 when a terrorist attack killed 4 Americans at the departure point of these weapons, the US consulate in Benghazi.
According to German intelligence, Turkey has been funding the Islamist Groups according to German intelligence and the 2014 NIO scandal in Turkey, it became abundantly clear that Turkey was the primarily supplier of arms to the jihadist rebel groups in Syria.
US funded arms to Libya and not just through covert CIA means, but were tacitly approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department despite a United Nations ban on arms shipments to Libya. The DOJ is in fact prosecuting Fresno, California based arms producer Mark Turi who alleges that the DOJ is prosecuting him to cover Hillary Clinton and the State Department’s re-negotiation with Qatar despite visible proof that boxes marked for the Qatar Army were sent to Islamist militants in Libya to topple Gaddafi.
The Dutch delegation asked this 59-country parliament which of the specific “banner men” under the FSA they are funding. They refused to answer that question in this published report in Danish (Google will translate to English).
Ultimately answering the question, why was Chris Stevens even in Benghazi at the time?
Libya was supposed to be no longer a conflict-zone
**Side-bar: Correcting Benghazi (!!) **
As most are aware, four Americans died on September 11th, 2012 at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya as a result of a terrorist attack. What the Obama administration did or did not know after the attack is the subject of much speculation. But the whole incident has become so politicized that even saying the word ‘Benghazi’ has become a running joke. Many believe this whole controversy is much ado about nothing and is simply a right-wing conspiracy.
Whether or not Clinton lied to the family members of the victims is still a matter of debate as two family members have claimed Clinton did blame a YouTube video for the attack while four family members have claimed she did not.
But more importantly, as a result of the numerous Congressional investigations and State Department reviews into the Benghazi attacks, it’s estimated that there were approximately 600 “requests and concerns” for security upgrades from U.S. officials in Benghazi before the attack. The State Department has admitted to rejecting these requests. Congress has accused Clinton and the State Department of rejecting these requests due to being more interested in presenting a picture of an improving situation in Libya rather than ensuring the safety of its staff there.
Sen. Rand Paul: My question is, is the US involved in any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?
Hillary Clinton: To Turkey? I’ll have to take that question for the record. That’s, nobody’s ever raised that with me.
Sen. Rand Paul: It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons. And what I’d like to know is, that annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries? Any countries, Turkey included?
Hillary Clinton: Well, Senator you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. And, I will see what information was available.
Sen. Rand Paul: You’re saying you don’t know?
Hillary Clinton: I do not know. I don’t have any information on that.
This is also part of the reason that Jason Chaffetz’s referral to the FBI into whether Hillary Clinton lied under oath to Congress matters. Did the FBI find information in either the emails Hillary turned over or deleted ones they recovered which would prove that she was intimately aware of the joint CIA-State Department operation to ship weapons to the Syrian rebels through Benghazi?
♦ Syrian Civil War Escalates Into Global Proxy War (2012-2013) ♦
Who’s Sarin? Chemical Warfare and Obama’s Red Line That Wasn’t (2013)
Virtually everyone in the US, including Obama, wanted to support the opposition in Syria. But the question was whether the US should send Stinger missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, or offer moral support and humanitarian aid and stay out of the conflict.
There are now reportedly over 1,000 armed opposition groups against Assad – commanding over 100,000 men and women. But a lot of them have formed rivalries against each other. Combine that with multiple alliances, brigades, factions and subfactions that are constantly merging and disbanding and you have a battle field that’s a complete mess of confusion as to who is actually fighting who and with whom.
There have been many efforts to try and organize the hundreds armed opposition groups, especially by BBC, the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and the Institute for the Study of War. However, I felt that too often they lost the forest for the trees and I came away more confused than I did enlightened. After hours of trying to piece together all the different rebel groups and their overlapping allegiances and rivalries, here is my attempt to organize the chaos in Syria.
To keep it as simple as possible, I put all the rebel groups against Assad’s government under three umbrella categories: Moderate, Jihadist or Kurdish.
All three groups want to impose a different vision of a post-Assad Syria. Moderate forces would like to establish a free, secular government (we hope). Jihadist groups want to create an Islamist state governed by Sharia law. Kurdish forces just want a new government that is pro-Kurdish independence (remember the Kurds are an ethnic group that wants its own country, they are fighting for this slice of Syria as part of their new country.)
Though all the groups are in opposition to Assad, they are now brutally fighting amongst each other for territory across Syria. Even groups with the same ideology are fighting internally with each other, creating more factions and rivalries. Personally, I’m amazed that these groups disagree enough that they’re losing sight of their larger shared goal which is to remove Assad from power.But from personal experience I know brown people have insane drama, so maybe I should be less surprised.
One thing we do need to see though, is where exactly are all these rebel groups, estimated to be over 1000, getting money and weapons to fight this war?
It should not surprise anyone that Ahrar al-Sham’s leadership “The founders of the movement are all former political prisoners who were detained in the infamous Sednaya prison near Damascus,” the source said.
When State Department spokesman Mark Toner was asked about Ahrar al-Sham and the fact that a representative of their organization allegedly visited the United States, he responded by saying “Ahrar al-Sham is not a designated foreign terrorist organization organization”
The Assad government has a well-practiced negotiating apparatus. It has relied on more or less the same individuals in every negotiation, including a core group made up of Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad, the veteran diplomat Ahmed Arnous, and a few others. They operate under the direct oversight of Assad himself and while the government cannot be accused of flexibility or creative diplomacy, it enjoys the great diplomatic benefit of being disciplined and on-message.
The same cannot be said of the opposition, which is a mess of fractious factions. It has never managed to produce a team of negotiators that represent even a thin sliver of the insurgency on the ground. When the last round of negotiations was held in January and February 2014, the so-called Geneva II talks, the opposition delegation had extremely limited support from armed rebels on the ground and none of them were on the negotiating team. Whenever the opposition in exile meets, foreign diplomats can be seen stalking the hotel lobbies, desperately trying to shepherd all of their Syrian clients in the same direction.
The second reason for the recent strikes against rebel areas is that the Assad regime faces two main foes in Syria: IS, against which the United States is leading an international coalition, and rebels backed by a variety of regional powers, most notably Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In that context, it is only logical that the regime would prefer eliminating an enemy that receives backing, weapons and funds from regional sources, and leave the task of weakening its primary enemy, IS, to the international coalition. Consequently, the regime’s presumed elimination of Syrian rebels would force the international community and the factions that back those rebels into allying themselves with Assad to finish off IS.
The businessman cites Raqqa’s mobile phone service as an example of how there is commerce between the regime, Syrian businesses, and ISIS. The country’s two main mobile phone operators still work in Raqqa. “Both operators send engineers to ISIS-controlled areas to repair damages at the towers,” he says. In addition, there are regular shipments of food to Raqqa. “ISIS charges a small tax for all trucks bringing food into Raqqa [including the businessman’s trucks], and they give receipts stamped with the ISIS logo. It is all very well organized.”
This table does have a few short-comings though.
First, joint operations rooms have blurred the lines between Moderate, Jihadist and Kurdish opposition groups.
The battlefield in Syria is characterized by dozens of joint operations groups that have attempted to organize like-minded rebel factions together, but all too often they include rebel groups ascribing to different religious and political ideologies. Many of the joint operations are united more by geography in trying to control a particular area or city of Syria, rather than their political end-goals. All of this has huge ramifications when foreign powers get involved in the war.
For example, the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council (SRCC) is probably the largest of these joint operations umbrellas consisting of an alliance between 72 different rebel groups. The SRCC features prominent moderate forces like the Free Syrian Army and the A&D Front but also includes groups with known jihadist leadership like Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam. However, the SRCC doesn’t include two of Syria’s largest rebel factions – Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front nor any group from the Kurdish opposition.
Conversely you have the Army of Conquest, a joint operations room which coordinates with jihadist rebel groups exclusively – combining the ones part of the SRCC as well as the al-Nusra Front. But even the extremists have disagreements – jihadist rebel group Jund al-Asqa recently left the Army of Conquest because its other members did not support ISIS.
All of this is super confusing and there’s no easy way to simplify it because there is no one umbrella group that has all the rebels in Syria fighting under one banner. But the rifts within these joint operations highlight the second problem with the table above – it does not include ISIS.
♦ (3) The Birth of ISIS and Radical Islam’s War With Itself (2013-2014) ♦
The introduction of the Islamic State into the Syrian conflict in the summer of 2014, three years after Syria’s civil war was underway, really threw a wrench into this whole fiasco.
I’m going to explore ISIS in greater depth in Part 2 of this series, but ISIS was essentially born out of a dispute between Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq, then called the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
In February 2014, ISI claimed that Al Qaeda’s newly formed al-Nusra Front in Syria was part of ISI and tried to combine the two. al-Nusra and Al Qaeda’s senior leadership balked at the combination and ordered ISI to focus on Iraq and for al-Nusra to operate separately in Syria. ISI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi refused and split with Al Qaeda. He then transformed ISI into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and has since blazed a bloodthirsty trail across Iraq into Syria.
After ISIS boldly declared a caliphate across its seized territory in June 2014 and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the “leader for Muslims everywhere”, Al Qaeda disavowed the group and the two are now viciously battling for who leads the Islamic jihad movement. Despite both Al Qaeda and ISIS preaching a similar message of global jihad and fighting to remove Bashar al-Assad from power, their methods and vision differ enough that the two are willing to go to war with each other.
However, the introduction of ISIS substantially changed the power dynamics of the Syrian conflict. ISIS is so horrifyingly brutal and vicious to anyone that doesn’t submit to their rule that everyone in these joint operating rooms fighting Assad suddenly had a decision to to make – do we join ISIS and fight Assad or do we fight both ISIS and Assad?
This is the quagmire in Syria that the world finds itself in. And it has all worked in favor of keeping Bashar al-Assad in power. Every major rebel group in Syria has rejected ISIS and their repressive rule and are now fighting a two-front war against Assad in the west and against ISIS in the east.
♦ (4) How America Lost The War – The Current Situation in Syria (2015-2016) ♦
Assad is aware his enemies are caught in between and has so far been tacitly helping ISIS defeat the other rebel groups. This includes regime air support for ISIS over Aleppo, buying their stolen oil, even maintaining their cell phone service. Assad’s calculation is that if his army and ISIS can eliminate the Syrian rebels, then it would force the international community that backs the rebels into now allying themselves with Assad to finish off ISIS. Assad and ISIS are “frenemies” right now until the Syrian rebels are defeated.
That’s why the options for the US look so bad right now. Moderate rebels groups are being pummeled on three fronts – Assad, ISIS and Al Qaeda jihadist rebel groups. And I haven’t even brought up the fourth front which was the six months of airstrikes starting in September 2015 carried out by Russia against Syrian rebel groups, both jihadist and moderate. So if the moderate rebels collapse, which it appears to be, which of these three do you want to assume control of Syria: Assad, ISIS or Al Qaeda?
For Al Qaeda’s jihadist rebel groups in Syria, their primary goal is to defeat the moderate rebels and the Assad regime, not ISIS. “Once they … get rid of all the other groups, the al-Nusra Front can finally duke it out between them and ISIS for who’s the worst,” said Ali Soufan, the CEO of strategic-security firm The Soufan Group.
Let’s see how everyone’s doing right now.
As we see, ISIS crossed over Iraq and has captured virtually the entire Eastern half of the Syria. The Kurdish opposition has secured much of the north and is battling with ISIS to keep it that way. The primary campaigns between Assad and the rebels are being waged in the western and southern half of Syria in Aleppo, Idlib and Homs. As ISIS continues to move westward across Syria, the rebel groups committed to opposing ISIS will have a difficult decision to make.
Assad even held an election three years later in 2014, where he ended up overwhelmingly winning re-election. The election was not recognized by the United States and the international community largely because many areas under rebel control did not even vote. However, an international delegation determined that the election was “free, fair and transparent”…weird.
These failed attempts at reform and reconciliation are why many believed there was no viable path forward in Syria without the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power.
As the conflict continues, increasing amounts of Syrians are displaced from their homes. As of October 2015, the United Nations estimates there are more than 4 million registered Syrian refugees, most going to Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan.
Another formerly glorious nation, Damascus was the highlight of cosmopolitan culture in the Middle East, lay in ruin.
*Sidebar: Elizabeth O’Bagy – Wrongfully Disgraced Analyst?*
Elizabeth O’Bagy was a 26 year old Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. She published this 2012 report detailing the landscape of all the different Syrian rebel factions and ultimately recommended that the US should more intensively arm specific moderate forces to counter the increasing jihadist influence in Syria. Her op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal was referenced by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain when they supported efforts to arm moderate Syrian rebels against Bashar al-Assad.
O’Bagy was later fired from the Institute for misrepresenting her credentials – she did not have a Ph. D when she claimed to (although she did hold a bachelors and Masters degree in Arabic from Georgetown). But more importantly, she failed to disclose her affiliation with the Syria Emergency Task Force – an organization that was lobbying Congress for the removal of President Assad. Her work was accused of being written by the same individuals pushing for arming the Syrian rebels, and started to be rejected in foreign policy circles.
I’m usually on the side of these things alleging conflict of interest and a misrepresentation of the truth, but I actually think O’Bagy was wrongly disgraced and fired from her position. Her report is one of the most thorough and nuanced analyses of the battlefield in Syria, despite not having a Phd. I had written a lot of my own findings of the war before I found her report and ultimately agreed with most of its conclusions and recommendations. If she was being bought out, it’s very hard to tell from her work.
A TIME profile on her said that at the young age of 26, O’Bagy had made over a half a dozen trips into rebel-held parts of Syria and met many of the leaders of the more than 1,000 brigades that make up Syria’s opposition. Her passage into these war-torn regions was organized by the Syrian Emergency Task Force.
“O’Bagy became the de facto expert on Syria because she was virtually the only person with first hand knowledge of what has become one of the murkiest of modern wars, seen by the West mostly in a collection of YouTube videos and frontline tweets.”
“The worst part for me,” she says, tearing up in the three-hour TIME interview, “is that because I messed up, because I made this mistake, really good people doing really good things in Syria are being ignored.”
Elizabeth O’Bagy was hired as an aide for John McCain after her firing. When asked of her controversy, John McCain told The Arizona Republic that, “The points O’Bagy made have been corroborated by many others to me.”
If you’re out there reading this Elizabeth, I gotchu too
♦ (V) What Should The United States Do Next? ♦
My recommendation: It’s clear that the United States cannot win the war to remove Bashar al-Assad’s government without supporting an extremist faction in the fight.
“By proclaiming itself specifically as a revolutionary movement fundamentally opposed to the Assad regime, Al Qaeda has sealed its future in part to that of Bashar al-Assad. Should one remain, the other will invariably survive also,” he said.
Yet other joint coalitions like the Euphrates Volcano consist of Free Syrian Army factions and Kurdish YPG units who are both fighting together, mostly against ISIS
The emergence of indigenous Salafi-jihadist groups such as Jabhat Nusra is far more dangerous to the long-term stability of the Syrian state than foreign jihadist groups because it represents a metamorphosis of a Salafi-jihadist ideology into a domestic platform that is able to achieve popular resonance.
One of the most important things I learned in the process of reading and researching about the Syrian war in general was that one’s opinion of it swung wildly based on where you were from.
One of the things I enjoy doing the most is reading the comments on articles I read because I feel like I come away with a different perspective many times. I don’t even remember which article I found these comments on but I copied them into the article because I felt like they provided a really refreshing take on both sides of the Syrian conflict. I don’t know who either of these people are at all.
Phillip Davis on Facebook:
When, as they so often do, a dictatorship degenerates into chaos and civil war, the lion’s share of the blame must be placed on the dictatorial regime and its supporters, both domestic and foreign. When the Assad Regime was faced with peaceful protests, it chose to respond by unleashing goon squads and it’s not so secret police on the protesters and imprisoning protest leaders. When that failed, it unleashed the military. It mattered not one whit whether the protestors were Islamist extremists, advocates of a more open democratic society or merely Syrians fed up with the repression, corruption and poverty. It didn’t matter whether the protesters had outside support or not. All that mattered was that they challenged the Assad Regime’s absolute power to rule the peoples of Syria. So spare us the deflection of blame to Turkey, the US, Europe or anyone else; whatever their responsibility for the condition of Syria today pales in comparison to that of the Assad family, its Regime, the Alawites, Russia and Iran.
Libya was the pin in the grenade for the African continent exploding over Europe. Syria is also the pin in the granade that, if left to fail, would explode the entire Middle East.
Yes, there has been much culpability from multiple directions for the situation in Syria. As convenient as it may have been to try and blame Assad for everything, this was just not the case, nor should it be seen that way.
If we are to blame anything, it is the degree to which we endorse violent overthrow of Governments as a means toward change. It is the degree to which neighbours can tolerate seeing the countries next to them developing towards greater democracy, stronger infrastructure, success as a tourist destination, etc, without having to come up with some pre-text to bomb them to bits.
It is the degree to which the biggest boys in the sandpit learn to respect the right of the smaller boys in the sandpit to not always follow their rules and do what they want them to do, but to demand the right to quietly do their own thing without harassment.
1 – Will you continue to push for Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power?
2 – Will you continue to arm Syrian rebels like the Free Syrian Army? Would you stop helping the FSA if they form an alliance with Islamist rebel forces like the Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar ah-Sham or Jaysh-al Islam?
////War #2 – The War to Re-Draw National Borders in the Middle East////
This war is the reason the conflict in Syria really has no end in sight. Let’s move past the debate over who specifically should govern Syria because the question that needs to be answered now is – should we fundamentally change the national borders of countries in the Middle East?
There are two groups that say we should – a terrorist organization, ISIS, and an ethnic group, the Kurds. Most of the rest of the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey)…don’t want this to happen. I’ll let you know now, if the United States is serious about solving the endless recurring conflicts in the Middle East then it must push for the formation of a new, independent nation of Kurdistan.
Why wasn’t there already a Kurdish state in the Middle East? Well let’s go back to how the the nations of the Middle East were created in the first place…because that will explain why the region has been fraught with ethnic tension and unrest for the past 100 years.
When borders are drawn this way, two bad things happen:
1) Single ethnic or religious groups are split apart into separate countries
2) Different and often unfriendly groups are shoved together and told to share resources, get along, and bond together over national pride for a just-made-up nation. This inevitably leads to one group taking power and oppressing the others – resulting in bloody rebellions, coups, and sectarian violence.
For any of you readers considering creating a new, tense nation of ethnic and religious groups who don’t like each other, I’ve been researching this shit all month and I have advice for you:
Your new nation is like a bubbling soup inside a pressure cooker and it’s gonna spew itself all over the kitchen unless you have one critical thing that can keep things in order: a tight lid.
The nation version of a tight lid can be either a strong western occupying power or an iron fist dictator with a scary military machine at his whim—without one of these, your nation will fall apart.
Four largest ethnicities in the Middle East: Arab, Persian, Turk, Kurdish
(2) Kurdistan – The Forgotten Ethnicity of the Middle East
Here is a map of the distribution of the Kurds across the Middle East. From the map you would see that this is how the Kurds are distributed:
50% are living in Turkey,
22% are living in Iraq
22% are living in Iran
5% are living in Syria
Kurdish is an official language only in Iraq. I mention language because you can only declare independence if you have an identity and a common language. This is why the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian regime have been denying the Kurds their language in order to destroy their identity.
(3) The Fall of Saddam Hussein and the Rise of the Islamic State (ISIS)
In 2012, however, AQI — which renamed itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) after Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. strike in 2006 — began to bounce back. One of the factors that led to this resurgence was the Syrian uprising. In late summer 2011, ISI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dispatched operatives to Syria to set up a new jihadist organization. Among them was Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, the leader of what would become JN, which officially announced itself in late January 2012. By November 2012, Jawlani had built JN into one of the opposition’s best fighting forces, and locals viewed its members as fair arbiters when dealing with corruption and social services.
Due to these successes, Baghdadi changed the name of his group from ISI to ISIS in April 2013. He likely believed that it was acceptable to publicly announce what was already known: that JN and ISI were one and the same. Yet this did not sit well with Jawlani — he rebuffed the change and reaffirmed his allegiance to AQC chief Zawahiri, who later tried (and failed) to nullify Baghdadi’s power play. Amid the confusion, many Syrian jihadists left JN for ISIS, while Baghdadi himself moved from Iraq and established a base in Syria, according to the State Department. ISIS also began to attract a growing number of foreign fighters.
“But the declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria,” he added.
He said the declaration, and the nomination of al-Baghdadi as caliph, by a group “known for its atrocities and radical views” fail to meet strict conditions dictated by sharia law.
As with any US strategy against an enemy, the first step is to be a part of creating the enemy in the first place. Have you ever heard someone say “oh you know the US like trains terrorists right?” and it’s just too strong of a statement on face for you to be on board with.
“He was a perfect soldier from his first days, and everyone knew he was a star,” an unnamed former comrade who is still active in the Georgian military told McClatchy DC. “We were well trained by American special forces units, and he was the star pupil.”
At the end of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, Batirashivili left the Georgian military but was arrested in 2010 for weapons possession, spending 16 months in prison. After his release, he disappeared in 2012 telling his father he was leaving for Istanbul, Turkey. He reappeared in Syria in 2013 commanding the jihadist Syrian rebel group Jaysh al Muhajireen, before he swore allegiance to ISIS.
Batirashvili’s key battlefield success was orchestrating the capture of Syria’s Menagh Air Base in a joint operation with the US-supported Free Syrian Army. Batirashvili’s tactics to help capture the air base after two years of failed attempts, “helped to legitimize ISIS in militant circles, including in the North Caucasus,” said Michael Cecire, an analyst of extremism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Batirashvili’s ability to demonstrate ISIS’ tactical prowess attracted fighters in droves from other factions and tipped the scales in foreign fighter flow and recruitment.” Ethnic Chechens, who are a majority Muslim, aren ow thought to be one of the largest groups of foreign fighters in the Islamic State.
One of my old debate friends at Wake Forest, Bennett Clifford, has written extensively about the factors involved in foreign fighters leaving from Georgia and the Caucuses to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
////War #3 – The War for Islamic Influence in the Middle East////
1) The Great Islamic Schism – Sunni vs Shi’ite
The difference between Arab and Persian – they are united by the same religion but are vastly different culturally.
Modern day Iran, which was formerly Persia, used to practice Zoroastrianism. This is actually one of the world’s oldest religions, formed 3500 years ago. Many of popular religious themes like a “messiah”, “heaven” and “hell” originated here and went on to influence Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The Onion even parodied western religions borrowing the “messiah” theme from Zoroastrianism
Muslim clerics have been partners in power in Saudi Arabia since the 18th century, when the king’s ancestor, Mohammed Ibn Saud, made a deal with Mohammed ibn-Abd al-Wahhab, a charismatic Muslim who led a fundamentalist religious revival in Arabia. From that moment to the present day, the House of Saud has ruled Arabia (as it has for most of the past 250 years) in concert with the leaders of the Wahhabi religious establishment.
Shiites feel discriminated across the Middle East because they’re a minority across Gulf Nations
This divide has existed for
Last three decades there’s been a politicization and militarlization of these religious issues. Three factors
Failure of fair distribution of power and wealth in Middle East, any disequilibrium creates animosity
Decline of ideological politicalism, Arab Nationalism and Marxism in the 60s, this gave rise to political Islam
Islamic Revolution of 1979. Islamization of culture and politics
Although there are myriad Shia subsects, modern Shia Islam has been divided into three main groupings: Twelvers, Ismailis and Zaidis, with Twelver Shia being the largest and most influential group among Shia
“I did not know it then—perhaps I did not want to know—but it is clear to me now that the Americans wanted me out. Clearly this is what the human rights advocates in the State Department wanted … What was I to make of the Administration’s sudden decision to call former Under Secretary of State George Ball to the White House as an adviser on Iran? … Ball was among those Americans who wanted to abandon me and ultimately my country” – Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi
Global Research: Anglo-American strategy in the region thus developed and changed at this time, as “There was this idea that the Islamic forces could be used against the Soviet Union. The theory was, there was an arc of crisis, and so an arc of Islam could be mobilized to contain the Soviets. It was a Brzezinski concept.” Bilderberg member, Bernard Lewis, presented a British-American strategy to the Bilderberg Group during the 1979 meeting, which, “endorsed the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement behind Khomeini, in order to promote balkanization of the entire Muslim Near East along tribal and religious lines. Lewis argued that the West should encourage autonomous groups such as the Kurds, Armenians, Lebanese Maronites, Ethiopian Copts, Azerbaijani Turks, and so forth. The chaos would spread in what he termed an ‘Arc of Crisis,’ which would spill over into the Muslim regions of the Soviet Union.” Since the Soviet Union was viewed as a secular and atheist regime, having oppressed religion within its sphere of influence, the rise of radical Islamic influence and governments in the Middle East and Central Asia would ensure that Soviet influence would not enter into the region, as radical Muslims would view the Soviets with more distrust than the Americans. The Anglo-Americans positioned themselves as the lesser of two evils.
After Mosul fell to ISIS in 2014, the late Prince Saud al-Faisal who also served as the country’s foreign minister protested with US Secretary of State John Kerry, claiming that “Daesh [ISIS] is our [Sunni] response to your support for the Da’wa,” which stands as the Shia Islamist ruling party of Iraq, which is aligned with Iran.
This embarrassing report from Jeff Stein at the New York Times where senior members of the intelligence community, FBI and House Select Intelligence Committee did not the difference between Sunni’s and Shiite’s and which one nations like Iran
As for what is happening among Iran’s Shi’ites, many — as seen in their failed uprising of 2009 — do not support their present terrorist government. It appears that a large number of Iranians would like nothing better than to have the Iranian regime replaced by one that could get along with the outside world. What Iranians say they most want is an end to their misery under this regime and an end of their country being thought of as a pariah state.
Another effect noted by political scientist Gilles Kepel, is that the initial attraction of the Islamic Revolution to Sunnis as well as Shia, and Khomeini’s desire to export his revolution motivated the Saudi establishment to shore up its “religious legitimacy” with more strictness in religion (and with jihad in Afghanistan) to compete with Iran’s revolutionary ideology. But doing so in Saudi meant a more anti-Shia policies because Saudi’s own native Sunni school of Islam is Wahhabism, which includes the prohibition of Shia Islam itself, as strict Wahhabis do not consider Shia to be Islamic. This new strictness was spread not only among Saudis in the kingdom but thousands of students and Saudi funded schools and international Islamist volunteers who came to training camps in Peshawar Pakistan in the 1980s to learn to fight jihad in Afghanistan and went home in the 1990s to fight jihad.
At first, the people of Iran did not accept Khomeini’s radical interpretation of Islam and Islamic theocracy. Millions of Iranians resisted, but thousands were executed without trials as a message to the rest of the society. The event that cemented Khomeini’s unjust rule over Iran was the Iranian-American hostage crisis, which Mansoor says was cunningly triggered by intelligence officials in Khomeini’s camp and Bush Sr.’s camp.
Symbolically, the hostage crisis was very powerful. It radicalized the Iranian people, immortalized Khomeini, made President Carter look weak, made President Reagan look strong, and made the American people hate Iran.
“I don’t think they were scared into the release,” Houghton said. “In all likelihood, they released the hostages because they needed the sanctions we’d placed on them lifted so they could finance their war with Iraq.”
This has been described as unity of traditionalists in the face of the twin threats of “secularism and colonialism.”
The Suni-Shiite divisions being sown today is a contemporary iteration of medieval era wars between the Sunni Ottoman empire and the Shia Safavid empire for control over Arab territories. With present-day Turkey joining hands with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan to fuel the Sunni insurgency against Assad, there is a lingering symbolism of the bloody past that pitted Muslim against Muslim.
4) The Cold War Comes to Afghanistan and the Creation of Al Qaeda
This is rise of radical Islam was really fueled when the United States inserted itself into a rivalry that went back to the 19th century battle between British Empire and Russian Empire for control of Central Asia. These imperial wars for control of Afghanistan, Persia and various Central Asian states has been called “The Great Game“.
US action in Afghanistan is now called Great Game II
“The Shia’s are just as much our enemies as the Americans are”
America is just the newest in a long series of enemies of radical Islam.
Al Qaeda emerged out of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. As the Soviets prepared to withdraw, Osama Bin Laden and a few of his close associates—high on their perceived victory over the mighty Soviet Union—decided to capitalize on the network they had built to take jihad global. Bin Laden’s vision was to create a vanguard of elite fighters who could lead the global jihad project and bring together the hundreds of small jihadist groups struggling, often feebly, against their own regimes under a single umbrella. By the mid-1990s, he wanted to reorient the movement as a whole, focusing it on what he saw as the bigger enemy underwriting all these corrupt local regimes: the United States. For local jihadists, pledging allegiance to Bin Laden and adopting the Al Qaeda brand meant obtaining access to a wide range of assets: money, weapons, logistical support, expertise, and, of course, training—Al Qaeda training camps were the Ivy Leagues of jihadist education.
While many Muslims adapted to the fast-paced changes common to Western industrialization and modernization, some Muslims rejected them. Instead, they created a rigid ideology imbedded in the traditional values and laws of the Koran. This is the phenomenon known today as Islamic fundamentalism, or Islamism.
Islamism came to be seen as a struggle to return to the glorious days when Islam reigned supreme. It represents a yearning for the “pure” Islam as practiced by the prophet. Not unlike the American Amish, the movement rejects much that is innovative. Islamists, however, take the rejection of modernity a step further. They perceive those who have introduced these innovations (the West) as its enemy.
a bitter hatred for Western ideas, including capitalism, individualism, and consumerism. It rejects the West and much that it has to offer (with the exception of weapons, medicines, and other useful technologies
“Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are aware of the enemies’ conspiracies. We decided to take measures to confront such plots. Hopefully, this will strengthen Muslim countries against oppressive pressure by the imperialist front.” – Ahmadinajad
4) Sectarian Flames Reawaken- America’s War on Terror Comes to Iraq
The sectarian fire lit by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has not only not subsided there, but also taken a more advanced and destructive avatar in Syria
“The fall of the House of Assad could well ignite a sectarian war between the Shiites and the majority Sunnis of the region drawing in Iran, which, in the view of Israeli commanders would not be a bad thing for Israel and its Western allies” Sidney Blumental wrote in a 2012 email to Hillary Clinton.
“There is neither a Shiite nor a Sunni crescent. We have an Islamic moon. We, Muslims, are in a world where we must be united,” the Iranian president said. “Does the destruction of Syria help strengthen Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or other countries? Is anyone pleased by Syria’s destruction, apart from Israel?”
4) The Crisis of Political Islam – Turkey, ISIS etc
More liberal Islamists are willing to accept the principle that governments should be elected in free competitive elections and that a degree of political pluralism is desirable, but they insist that a true separation of state and religion is unacceptable, and that laws made by elected parliaments cannot contradict Islamic law. Even Arab intellectuals who personally embrace Western values caution about trying to impose Western models on Arab societies.
On September 16, 2001, George W. Bush referred to the war in Afghanistan as a Crusade: “This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while. And the American people must be patient. I’m going to be patient.”
In Britain, chrisitians joined iraq war to kill muslims
NSA Snowden, FBI-Apple encryption
I had a long compromise with myself about which picture from the Abu Ghraib torture files I would show in this article. There were so many horrifyingly graphic photos of what was done by American soldiers
so many things I had not even conceived of that I cou
“Whether it is being just a company or ‘more than just a company,’ Google’s geopolitical aspirations are firmly enmeshed within the foreign-policy agenda of the world’s largest superpower.” – Julian Assange
One thing I found myself asking when I was younger was…what does Al Qaeda even want?
America has basically been war with Al Qaeda my entire life – I was 7 years old when 9/11 happened in 2001. And throughout
According to al-Banna, contemporary Islam had lost its social dominance, because most Muslims had been corrupted by Western influences. Sharia law based on the Qur’an and theSunnah were seen as laws passed down by God that should be applied to all parts of life, including the organization of the government and the handling of everyday problems.
According to Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist and author who has spent time in prison with Al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s strategy plan consists of 7 phases and is similar to the plan described in Al Qaeda’s Strategy to the year 2020. These findings are from a book Hussein wrote in 2005, so read everything knowing that this is what Al Qaeda has said what its plan is for the past decade.
1) The Awakening. This phase was supposed to last from 2001 to 2003. The goal of the phase is to provoke the United States to attack a Muslim country by executing an attack on US soil that kills many civilians.
2) Opening Eyes This phase was supposed to last from 2003 to 2006. The goal of this phase was to recruit young men to the cause and to transform the al-Qaeda group into a movement. Iraq was supposed to become the center of all operations with financial and military support for bases in other states.
3) Arising and Standing up, was supposed to last from 2007 to 2010. In this phase, al-Qaeda wanted to execute additional attacks and focus their attention on Syria. Hussein believed that other countries in the Arabian Peninsula were also in danger.
4) In the fourth phase, al-Qaeda expected a steady growth among their ranks and territories due to the declining power of the regimes in the Arabian Peninsula. The main focus of attack in this phase was supposed to be on oil suppliers and Cyberterrorism, targeting the US economy and military infrastructure.
5) The fifth phase is the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate, which was projected between 2013 and 2016. In this phase, al-Qaeda expected the resistance from Israel to be heavily reduced.
6) The sixth phase is described as the declaration of an “Islamic Army” and a “fight between believers and non-believers”, also called “total confrontation”.
7) Definitive Victory, the seventh and last phase is projected to be completed by 2020. The US economy will finally collapse by the year 2020, under the strain of multiple engagements in numerous places, making the worldwide economic system, which is dependent on the U.S., also collapse. This will lead to global political instability, which in turn leads to a global jihad led by al-Qaeda. A WahhabiCaliphate will then be installed across the world, following the collapse of the U.S. and the rest of the Western world countries. The world will be “beaten down” by the Islamic Army. According to the 7 phase strategy, the war isn’t projected to last longer than 2 years.
////War #4 – The War for American Influence in the Middle East////
“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know” – Harry Truman
I debated with myself about getting into the history, but in order to really understand what the United States is doing in Syria we need to understand the history of America’s relationship with the Middle East. While it may take a second to the present day, I think you’ll notice….patterns of behavior along the way. There are three countries in particular we need to look at before we get to Syria: Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya.
So how did the United States first get involved in the Middle East?
The year was 1971…
(1) America’s Connection to Saudi Arabia – The Formation of the “Petrodollar”
In the heat of Vietnam War protests, the opening of Disney World and the release of Led Zeppelin IV another significant event was happening in 1971 – Richard Nixon re-wrote the global financial system by ending the convertibility of dollars to gold.
Up till 1971, any central bank with dollar bills could go to the US Treasury and exchange $35 in cash for an ounce of gold. This was the system agreed upon by world powers at the Bretton-Woods conference at the end of World War II.
In 1944 seeing that the victory of the Allied forces was inevitable, forty-four countries met in Bretton-Woods, New Hampshire to devise a scheme to regulate the international financial order after the war would end. To promote the ease of international trade and to help fund postwar reconstruction, they decided that the American dollar would serve as the world’s reserve currency.
What is a reserve currency? This is the currency that international commodities are priced in and the currency used by countries to settle debts with each other.
For example, if Mexico wanted to buy a car from Japan then it would pay for it in dollars rather than having to exchange their money from pesos to yen to buy Japanese goods. You may be thinking – well don’t they still have to exchange pesos to dollars to make the purchase? Yes they would, but this is why foreign countries try and hold large amounts of dollars in reserve so they always have cash on hand to make international purchases. Precisely why it’s called the “reserve currency”.
After placing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, the nations at Bretton-Woods agreed to tie the dollar’s value to a set amount of gold at a fixed exchanged rate – $35 for an ounce of gold. This created a stable platform for the global economy because now the exchange rates for all currencies had a fixed value in terms of gold. The US Treasury had close to 2/3rds of the world’s gold supply at the time so this was an easy promise for the US to keep if someone wanted to cash in dollars for gold.
The Bretton-Woods conference also created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) both of which are now under the umbrella of the World Bank Group.
If you’re wondering where Russia was during all of this given that they were also one of the Allied powers (and a major reason we even won World War II), they were actually in attendance at Bretton-Woods. But they declined to ratify the final agreements, charging that the institutions created were “branches of Wall Street”.
–Quick (but important) aside —
The dollar being the international reserve currency is an incredibly important part of our global financial system and deserves an entirely separate article written about it. But one fundamental aspect of it is that its created a conflict-of-interest for the United States which has been termed the Triffin dilemma. (Good video on it here)
The US has an incentive to run massive trade deficits with other countries because they are always demanding more US dollars to hold in reserve – it’s the only way they can buy major goods internationally. Thus America is forced to spend more dollars than it takes in, in order to keep more dollars in circulation (if you’ve heard the word ‘liquidity‘ before). So to keep the global financial system moving, America has to run a huge deficit, which in turn creates other problems for the dollar…thus the dilemma.
But this set up is also why America can import goods so cheaply! Everything is priced in dollars and we don’t need to exchange our currency/hold reserves like other countries do. To anyone who’s travelled abroad you may have noticed it’s actually more expensive to buy things in Europe and even in parts of Asia than it would be in America. We’re basically one of the cheapest places to buy electronics in the world.
After the 2008 financial crisis the People’s Bank of China in fact explicitly namedthe Triffin dilemma as the root cause of the economiccollapse because it led to a hoarding of cash causing the Global Savings glut.
China argues for a gradual move away from the U.S. dollar and towards the use of IMF special drawing rights (SDRs) as a global reserve currency. British economist John Maynard Keynes actually lobbied for this system the whole time at Bretton-Woods in 1944 but was overruled by the Americans during negotiations.
The large global trade deals we see passed in Congress like NAFTA and the TPP (ratified 3 months ago) are at their core, vehicles to maintain the dollar as the principal means of trade around the world. Thus continuing to fulfill the artificial demand for dollars only because it’s the reserve currency…we’re not really an export economy anymore so people don’t need to buy things from us.
Okay great, so what does any of this have to do with Saudi Arabia?
Remember I delved into all of this because Nixon eliminated the Bretton Woods dollars-for-gold system in 1971. Instead, he reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia to tie the value of the dollar to a different commodity – the price of oil.
Before we get there, why did Nixon find this necessary to do this in the first place?
With the United States spending a massive amount of money on the war in Vietnam along with a ballooning trade deficit, it became clear to other countries that the US was printing more currency than it had redeemable in gold. In economic terms it means they thought the dollar was “overvalued” and started withdrawing gold for dollars. This set off a run on the dollar with everyone dumping the dollar for gold. This climaxed in 1971 when France attempted to withdraw its gold and Nixon refused.
In August 1971, Nixon made a televised speech which came to be known as the “Nixon Shock“
“I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury to take the action necessary to defend the dollar against the speculators. I have directed Secretary Connolly to suspend temporarily the convertibility of the dollar into gold or other reserve assets, except in amounts and conditions determined to be in the interest of monetary stability and in the best interest of United States.”
This was not a temporary suspension as Nixon claimed, but rather a permanent default. For the nations of the world who entrusted the United States with their gold, this was outright theft. Thus marked the end of the nearly 30 year Bretton-Woods financial system – the international reserve currency was no longer tied to a fixed asset. Overnight, the US dollar transformed into what is called “fiat currency” – intrinsically valueless money used as currency because of government decree. Since other major currencies were convertible only into dollars, they too became fiat money.
Now that the dollar was no longer backed by any tangible good, the US Federal Reserve and American banking system was free to print money out of thin air. Which they gladly did instead of taking steps to ease the US trade deficit which would require the US to stop printing money. However, the ability to print money freely comes with a danger – each new printed dollar devalues the existing money supply already in circulation, resulting in inflation. And that’s precisely what happened two years after Nixon’s decree. In 1973, the US entered a devastating period of “stagflation” where both inflation AND unemployment was high causing the deepest recession since the Great Depression. To keep the American economy afloat there needed to be a new demand for dollars to counterbalance the newly issued currency.
Enter the world’s first global oil crisis.
The oil embargo of 1973 is one of the defining events of world history and has guided American foreign policy in the Middle East since. The infamous event when OPEC spiked oil prices from around $3/gallon to over $12/gallon created economic shockwaves in America and around the world. Oil is perhaps the most important shared commodity in the world other than water. Without oil not only is there no transportation anywhere but hundreds of other daily-use products. We are literally surrounded by products made from oil.
“A century ago, petroleum – what we call oil – was just an obscure commodity; today it is almost as vital to human existence as water”
**If you want to know why petroleum is so valuable for humans, it’s because it mostly contains “hydrocarbons” which are just molecules with hydrogen-carbon bonds. This bond stores a great deal of chemical energy and when a hydrocarbon is burned, these bonds break apart forming carbon dioxide and water which reacts with oxygen to create a fire. There’re also a bunch of other properties like melting point, viscosity, stability etc which make it good for plastics and other products, but I’m drifting..
The oil embargo prompted a global recession so severe that the UK even instituted a three-day work week and speed limits on US highways were reduced from 75 mph to 55 mph in order to get drivers to conserve gas. For the developing world, the effect of the embargo was staggering – in order to purchase more expensive oil, Asian and African countries went into a colossal debt that affected their development for years to come.
While it has been traditionally thought that the oil squeeze was a punishment from Saudi Arabia and OPEC for America supporting Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the embargo was actually a very deliberate calculation made by the American banking system and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to create demand for the faltering US dollar.
The price of oil rarely wavered. From 1947 to 1967, the dollar price of oil had risen by less than two percent per year. But in 1973, the United States led by Henry Kissinger orchestrated the OPEC price increase through Shah Pahlavi, the leader of Iran. The 400% increase in oil prices left the world scrambling to quickly accumulate more US dollars to afford the more expensive oil – all discussion of moving away from the dollar was tabled.
“Why are you against the increase in the price of oil? That is what they want. Ask Henry Kissinger—he is the one who wants a higher price.” – Reza Shah Pahlavi to Saudi oil minister Sheikh Yaki Yamani, 1973
Once Kissinger ensured a sharp global demand for dollars, he went to Saudi Arabia with a proposal to lock in this demand for decades to come – the “petrodollar”. In 1974, Kissinger met with the Saudi Kingdom’s ruling House of Saud to offer a largely unpublicized four-part deal called the US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation.
(1) Provide military protection for Saudi Arabia from Israel and any other Middle Eastern state, such as Shiite Iran, that might attempt to destabilize the Sunni kingdom.
(2) Sell the Saudis any weapons they needed.
(3) Provide technical assistance in building infrastructure and a modern state
(4) Secure the Saud family’s place as rulers of the country indefinitely.
—In return, Saudi Arabia would do the following:—
(1) They would make all oil sales in US dollars only.
(2) They would invest their surplus oil proceeds in U.S. Treasuries.
This was a perfect arrangement for both parties.
Saudi Arabia is a sparsely populated country with an incredible amount of wealth. It sits in a dangerous neighborhood in the Middle East surrounded by powerful nations where religious squabbles frequently turn violent. Thus it welcomed unconditional protection from one of the world’s preeminent militaries and America’s help in modernizing their country.
This is why many who come to America from Saudi Arabia may feel this way –
“If you were a U.S. businessperson doing business in Saudi Arabia, the apparatus there would be entirely familiar to you because it looks and operates very much like its counterpart agencies in the U.S.”….”Arriving in Saudi Arabia, going through customs and immigration, is just like arriving in the U.S.” The Saudi banking system, financial markets and many other governmental practices and institutions, all were shaped or influenced by advisers hired under the Joint Commission.
The United States on the other hand was able to accomplish two critical goals at once that allowed it to ascend as the world’s pre-eminent power over the last 40 years: it was able to sustain a new demand for the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency AND was able to secure a vital energy resource more cheaply than the rest of the world.
If you’re a country that doesn’t produce oil, then you have to buy it. And if you’re buying it on the world market then you’re probably getting it from one of the OPEC nations. After Kissinger’s visit, Saudi Arabia and shortly thereafter all OPEC nations, would only sell you oil in dollars indefinitely. Other countries now had no choice but to buy and hold large reserves of unstable dollars because they would not be able to purchase oil without dollars. As a result of this agreement, the dollar then became the only medium in which energy exchange could be transacted. This underpinned its reserve currency status through the need for foreign governments to hold dollars; recirculated the dollar costs of oil back into the U.S. financial system and — crucially — made the dollar effectively convertible into barrels of oil. The dollar was moved from a gold standard onto a crude oil standard. Thus the creation of the “petrodollar” – a vehicle to guarantee a constant demand for dollars whose value was linked to oil through the OPEC pricing standards.
But even more so, if you’re an oil producing nation then any surpluses generated from selling oil had to be invested back into the United States by buying US Treasury bonds. This was the second term of the agreement and was a means to create value for the dollar that was demanded by the large financial institutions working with Kissinger. The forced investment of surplus oil profits into the US banking system came to be known as “petrodollar recycling“. However, these investments have also acted as “hostage capital“. In the event of a political conflict between the United States and an oil-exporting nation, the US can confiscate or freeze these invested assets. Despite its obvious betrayal of free-market principles, the US used this tactic twice in the 1980s against Iranian and Libyan assets, in the 90’s against Iraq and Kuwait and again in 2003 against Iraq.
The most important lesson in all of this, however, is the importance of the institution that controls the US dollar in shaping American foreign policy – the US Federal Reserve.
The inflow of dollars made from every sale of oil over the past 40 years has allowed the US to finance the world’s largest military. But above all, Kissinger’s petrodollar scheme established perhaps the most vital pillar in American global power more than its military strength – dollar hegemony. The ability to shape the world order as the backbone of the global economy.
Now with this new alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia held together by the petrodollar system, the oil embargo ended. America’s hold on the global financial system and its need for cheap, abundant energy would not be threatened again. More importantly, the shock of the oil embargo on the American public would help the US government justify future interventions as a means to prevent such an energy crisis from ever happening again.
As such, since the oil embargo and Saudi Arabian-US agreement there has been an interesting trend amongst oil-producing nations who have tried to move away from the petrodollar system.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing collapse of the Soviet Union, America arose as the sole global power. It had no rival.
From this shift in the balance of power in the world, the neo-conservative (“neocon”) ideology began to gain traction in foreign policy circles. Neoconservatives advocate for the promotion of democracy and American national interest in global affairs – including by means of military force.
This ideology believes that authoritarian states are inherently destabilizing and dangerous, and that it is both a moral good and a strategic necessity for America to replace those dictatorships with democracy. They see America’s role to be the world’s unquestioned moral and military leader.
Despite the name, the neoconservative ideology actually has its roots with American socialists in the 1960’s who opposed Soviet communism (socialism vs communism). They criticized the liberal anti-war activism against Vietnam as non-interventionist and anti-American when communism was threatening to spread. Thus, they came to be known as “neo” or “new” conservatives.
**This is important because neoconservatism is a fundamentally liberal idea formed by Democrats who viewed non-interventionism as a failure of the US to promote liberal ideals globally. As a result, when it comes to foreign policy this ideology continues to permeate BOTH political parties**
One of the defining works of the neoconservative ideology was a report published by a conservative think-tank called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). They published a report in 2000 called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century”
The report contained key tenets of the neoconservative ideology like:
“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.
The report also contained some oddly prophetic sections….like this blurb under the chapter titled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”
Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.
And this section under the chapter titled “Repositioning Today’s Force”
After eight years of no-fly-zone operations, there is little reason to anticipate that the U.S. air presence in the region should diminish significantly as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. Although Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational forces, it has become apparent that this is now a semi-permanent mission. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.
A completely reasonable question after reading these passages would be – Why we are talking about the possibility of a catastrophic new Pearl Harbor-like attack and Saddam Hussein being removed from power in the year 2000?
These may have been legitimate academic questions at the time, especially given Bush Sr’s Gulf War in the 90s. But to many, these statements eerily foreshadowed the events that would follow one year after George W. Bush assumed office. The World Trade Center was attacked in 2001 and the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Why does this matter at all? Several key authors of this report turned up in high places in the Bush administration.
The report even self-admittedly describes itself as “building upon the defense strategy outlined by the Cheney Defense Department in the waning days of the Bush Administration.” (Dick Cheney was the Defense Secretary in Bush Sr’s administration)
But imagine these connections being made in real-time in 2002-2003, leading up to the decision to invade Iraq.
You have an academic report published from one of the highest profile research think-tanks in America which: outlines a strategy for US military dominance globally, openly postulates a new Pearl Harbor event, and considers the possibility of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Then half of the authors who wrote that report went to go work in the White House and Pentagon the next year where all of those things happened.
When you string all those events together, it seems less surprising why the Bush administration made the decisions it did.
The book made a litany of alleged linkages between Saddam’s Iraqi intelligence and the 9/11 hijackers as well as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (yeah there was two…). Her claims were refuted by counter-terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Daniel Benjamin who also said the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies looked extensively into her claims and did not corroborate them. I’ve written about the role of the Saudi Arabian government in supporting the 9/11 hijackers here. Many have said the neo-conservative “obsession” with Mylroie’s work was not born out of a true belief in her claims but rather that it fueled the narrative they pushed to create national support for the invasion of Iraq.
The same individuals who earnestly supported Mylroie’s work also supported a series of articles from now disgraced New York Times reporter Judith Miller about the presence of WMD materials in Iraq.
Suffice it to say the two reasons American’s were told why we were invading Iraq – that Saddam Hussein was in any way connected to the 9/11 plot and/or harbored weapons of mass destruction – have been widely discredited as faulty information, even by our own government.
Many of these leading neo-conservatives (including Mylroie) currently hold positions at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a public policy think tank in DC. Almost all worked at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)….an organization Ted Cruz called “a pit of vipers” (despite his wife having worked there?). Many were also a part of Jeb Bush’s foreign policy team (shocking).
Digression for an anecdote –
I actually have one distinct memory from when I was like 10 or 11 when I saw my first anti-war protest. I was visiting New York or Pennsylvania (I think..) and my family happened upon a protest. When we stopped to watch this small group of people protesting, one of the protesters handed me a case with two CDs (with badly sharpie’d titles) and said we should look into 9/11 and Iraq. And then he said all the answers were on there if we wanted to know what happened.
I don’t know how I remember this event because I never ended up seeing what was on the CDs, but I think it stuck in my mind because I remember being stunned that there were actually people who thought we needed to question something like 9/11 or invading Iraq. I mean duh, I was in the 6th grade.
But the most disturbing revelation in all my research was seeing that the neocon imagination for US global dominance was never intended to end with Iraq.
In a memoir written by 4-star General Wesley Clark, he tells a story of speaking with a “senior general” at the Pentagon ten days after the 9/11 attack. The general told him, “We’re going to attack Iraq. The decision has basically been made.”
Six weeks later, Clark returned to Washington to see the same general and inquired whether the plan to strike Iraq was still under consideration. This was the general’s response:
“‘Oh, it’s worse than that,’ he said, holding up a memo on his desk. ‘Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.”
These are the seven countries that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allegedly outlined back in 2001 to “take out”: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Iran
Let’s pretend for a moment that this entire story is made up and there was no such memo ever written. How are these seven countries doing today?
Iraq – Invaded in 2003
Libya – Invaded in 2011
Syria – Global proxy war since 2011
Lebanon – War with Israel in 2006 and embroiled in Syrian conflict
But other than being in the Middle East/North Africa and having been in a near constant state turmoil, observers have noted that these 7 countries have one particular thing in common – none are members of the Bank for International Settlements.
As Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz commented, “It was inconceivable that a regime, such as that in Kuwait, could risk engaging in a conspiracy of such magnitude against a large, strong country such as Iraq, if it were not being supported and protected by a great power; and that power was the United States.”
Of all the terrible stuff Saddam did, he also unfortunately gave the world his eldest son Uday Hussein. This dude was messed up on so many levels, but here’re two of his hallmark achievements:
(1) Imprisoning and torturing Iraqi athletes who didn’t perform up to his expectations (like failing to make the 1994 FIFA World Cup Finals).
(2) Killing his father’s personal valet and food taster, Kamel Gegeo, with an electric carving knife at a large house party for the Egyptian Prime Minister’s wife.
Although, apparently he killed his father’s valet under the orders of his mother because the valet introduced Saddam to a younger woman who ended up becoming his mistress then secretly became his second wife. Saddam’s first wife wasn’t standing for that shit….hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Scrambling to give substance to President Bush’s ringing call for a democratic transformation of the Middle East, administration officials are preparing a “Greater Middle East Initiative” to be launched at the G-8 summit meeting at Sea Island, Georgia, in early June. The initiative, administration officials say, will bring together the United States, Europe, and the “Greater Middle East” (including not only the Arab world but also Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and Turkey) around a far-reaching set of commitments aimed at helping transform the region politically, economically, and socially. The initiative is intended to be a vital, visionary complement to the war on terrorism. Although plans for the initiative are still in progress, the emerging outline is clear, thanks to a leaked U.S. working paper prepared for the G-8 summit and off-the record comments by U.S. officials. Building on the diagnosis of the Arab world’s shortcomings presented in the 2002 Arab Human Development Report, the initiative sets three reform priorities: promoting democracy and good governance, building a knowledge society, and expanding economic opportunities.
It was on this betrayal of trust of the American people that Barack Obama was elected as President in 2008.
While the Bush administration was judged by the outcomes of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration should and will be judged for the outcomes of its intervention in Libya and Syria.
So how did the Obama administration even find itself in Libya?
This book published in September 2015 by Dr. Ahmed Bensaada asserts that the US government in fact instigated the Arab Spring. He cites a paper trail of money allegedly revealed by WikiLeaks which details how central figures in the Libyan, Egyptian and Syrian revolutions had not only attended State Department funded “democracy promotion conferences and workshops” as well as “cyber activism training sessions” but also “underwent guerrilla training sponsored by the CIA, Mossad, Chad and Saudi Arabia.” (The book is in French, so if anyone who reads French wants to order the book and tell me how well sourced these claims are that would be sweet.)
Here is what we know for sure though: As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was the leading supporter in the White House for regime change in Libya.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Clinton was a major influence in President Barack Obama’s decision to go to war. Gates recounted Obama once telling him a debate in the Oval Office on the issue was split “51-49.”
“I’ve always thought that Hillary’s support for the broader mission in Libya put the president on the 51 side of the line for a more aggressive approach,” Gates said.
On the “49” side opposing military intervention in Libya were Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
All three women were involved in one particular event – the Rwandan genocide of 1993.
The inability or failure of the Clinton administration to do anything about the genocide would form her later views on possible military interventions. Susan Rice said of the experience: “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”
Power once called Clinton “a monster” capable of “stooping to anything…you just look at her and think, ‘ergh.’ ” That was during the 2008 campaign, and she resigned from Obama’s campaign shortly after those remarks were published.
Keib also spoke about the challenges facing Libya as it builds a democracy. He said that now was not the time for Libya’s eastern Cyrenaica province, home to most of the country’s oil, to be pushing for greater autonomy.
Several thousand delegates in the eastern city of Benghazi announced on Tuesday that they were setting up a council to run Cyrenaica – birthplace a year ago of the rebellion that ousted Gaddafi – in defiance of the government in Tripoli.
The National Transitional Council (NTC), the body internationally recognized as Libya’s post-Gaddafi leadership, is already struggling to assert its authority over militias and towns which pay little heed to Tripoli.
“This is not the time. I know some of the people who are doing this … I guarantee you, this is a minority,” Keib told the International Peace Institute.
Moves toward greater autonomy in the province may worry international oil companies because it raises the prospect of them having to renegotiate their contracts with a new entity.
Landler: If you look at the way she’s approached Syria, starting out forward-leaning on aiding the rebels back in 2012 and continuing to favor a no-fly zone today, I would argue that she still believes that Libya could end well—
Goldberg: She thinks that even today?
Landler: Even today, that it could end well. My view on Obama is—and you may or may not agree with this—that he looked at Libya and it confirmed all the preexisting problems he had with interventionism
Goldberg: He never really wanted to do it.
Landler: He didn’t want to do it, and then he did it, and then it turned out badly, and this confirmed his instincts.
Does the invasion of Libya have anything to do with the “petrodollar” system?
Adopted by Malaysia becuase Sharia Law prohibits the charging of interest
Robert Wenzel in the Economic Policy Journal, remarked,
“I have never before heard of a central bank being created in just a matter of weeks out of a popular uprising. This suggests we have a bit more than a rag tag bunch of rebels running around and that there are some pretty sophisticated influences.”
This seems like coincidental timing, do you have any hard evidence that attempting to alter currency policy directly led to military invasion in Libya?
Yes I do. And it’s thanks to Hillary Clinton and her e-mail scandal.
Anyone who has read my previous work looking at Clinton’s e-mail scandal has heard the name “Sidney Blumenthal.” Blumenthal was an employee of the Clinton Foundation who was one of Hillary’s closest confidants while she was Secretary of State – especially during the crisis in Libya. Washington Post fact-checkers disagree with this claim.
Here is an email from April 2011 from Sidney Blumenthal to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the subject line: “France’s client & Qaddafi’s gold”
On April 2, 2011 sources with access to advisors to Saif al-Islam Qaddafi stated in strictest confidence that while the freezing of Libya’s foreign bank accounts presents Muammar Qaddafi with serious challenges, his ability to equip and maintain his armed forces and intelligence services remains intact. According to sensitive information available to this these individuals, Qaddafi’s government holds 143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver. During late March, 2011 these stocks were moved to SABHA (south west in the direction of the Libyan border with Niger and Chad); taken from the vaults of the Libyan Central Bank in Tripoli. This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).
(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.According to these individuals Sarkozy’s plans are driven by the following issues:
a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,
b. Increase French influence in North Africa,
c. Improve his internal political situation in France,
d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world
e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in, Francophone Africa.)
This brings us to the present day —
(4) America’s Proxy War in Syria – The New Cold War
[W]hoever controls the Middle East controls the global oil spigot and whoever controls the global oil spigot can control the global economy, at least for the near future. (Harvey 2005: 19)
The so-called ‘Carter Doctrine’ of January 1980 perhaps symbolises this heightened significance of the region’s oil for the US state more than anything else: ‘Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force’
(1) Securing affordable energy resources (Sustaining the “petrodollar” system)
(2) Maintaining the security of critical waterways for international commerce (Suez canal, Persian gulf, Mediterranean Sea)
(3) Fighting the spread of Islamic terrorism and weapons proliferation (ISIS, Al Qaeda and its affiliates)
(4) Protecting Israel
Goldberg: So follow this through. January, 2017, let’s say she becomes president. What could change in U.S. Syria policy?
Landler: Well I think that she’s wanted, from the very start, to do something to change the equation on the ground. And President Obama, I think, concluded you couldn’t do enough to change the equation without a major military intervention. I think she will at least explore the possibility of a no-fly zone and creating humanitarian corridors. And I think that she would be willing to substantially expand the level of aid we’re giving to rebel groups [for instance with] MANPADS, and things like that.
Goldberg: In your understanding, she was never convinced of Obama’s argument that if the U.S. gives them MANPADS and then one is used by someone to shoot down an El Al jet—
Landler: I think she worried about that because she was part of the original debate on what kinds of arms should go to the rebels. And at that point everyone agreed that MANPADS were out of the question because of the danger that you talked about. But I just wonder now, faced with a situation that’s just catastrophically worse than it was four years ago, [if] she would be willing to take that extra step. I can’t say I know that. I’m surmising this based on the public statements she’s made. She calls it an intensification and acceleration of Obama’s strategy, but that can take only so many forms.
Does the war in Syria have anything to do with the “petrodollar” system?
An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas”
Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer with the largest known oil reserves, is the leader of OPEC. It is the only member of the OPEC cartel that does not have an allotted production quota. It is the “swing producer,” i.e., it can increase or decrease oil production to bring oil draught or glut in the world market. This enables it more or less to determine prices.
Whether Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration were motivated by the same fears of a gold Dinar is just speculation at this point, I could not find any evidence that specifically tied the administration to this justification for intervention.
While Clinton excelled at “soft” power—selling America’s message abroad—one emerging criticism of her four-year tenure at State was that she consistently avoided getting her hands dirty with direct mediation. Clinton agreed to leave key negotiations in crisis spots—in particular the Mideast and south-central Asia—to special envoys such as George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, and she rarely stepped in as each of them failed. Veteran reporter David Rohde, in an assessment as Clinton was leaving office in January, suggested that Clinton wanted to avoid embarrassment or failure ahead of a 2016 presidential run; he quoted one State Department official as saying that he was “really happy to have someone in the job who does not retain political ambitions.”
Remember, these the core tenets of neo-conservatism:
“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges;
a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad;
and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.
Future Prediction # 2 – NATO War with Russia in Eastern Europe/Baltics
“With respect to the Ukraine, people here have to band together from other parts of Europe to help,” Trump said. “Whether it’s Germany or other of the countries, I don’t think you’re getting the support you need.”
The remarks were consistent with his previous comments that the crisis in Ukraine is a European problem, and that the United States should avoid becoming involved in addressing the situation. “I don’t like what’s happening with Ukraine,” he said on Meet the Press in August. “But that’s really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us. And they should be leading some of this charge.”
His NATO support has long been colored by his view that it gives European countries a pathway to place the burden of international responsibility on the United States. In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” Trump wrote that “their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually.”
Intervention in Ukraine – Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland married to Rebuilding America’s defenses author Robert Kagan
Donald Trump is free game for everything he has said about: women, minorities, Muslims, the disabled, prisoners of war etc etc etc
And maybe his views and rhetoric on those issues will spill over to how he conducts his foreign policy. That is certainly fair to assume and should worry anyone because so much of statecraft and peacekeeping is diplomacy and personal relations.
Are Western beliefs and modes of governance better for someone to live? This is rooted in our fear of communism.