Monthly Archives: October 2011

West’s Spring lacks focus

By Dafydd Taylor

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Beginning in Tunisia, 2011 has seen the large parts of the world convulsed by protest. The Middle East and North Africa, Europe and the United States have each witnessed challenges to existing power structures not seen in decades, in some cases centuries.

The protests have various proximate causes. In Egypt and Tunisia world commodity price movements causing inflation in markets for basic foodstuffs were significant. In southern Europe policies of austerity aimed at saving the Euro are fundamental.

In the United Kingdom and US decades of stagnation in real wages for ordinary people coupled with fury at the financial system in general, and investment bankers in particular, have been prime motivators. Yet despite these differences there are also fundamental similarities.

The protesters are leadlerless. Some, for example in Syria (Hamza Ali al-Khateeb) and in Tunisia (Mohamed Bouazizi), are inspired by individuals. But these individuals are martyrs, not leaders.

This can be witnessed in the long and torturous policy discussions held at The “Occupy” protests in London and New York. The agenda of the protests is chaotic and poorly defined, but being leaderless also imparts a great strength. When a group has a leader, if that leader can be eliminated or discredited the protest is weakened. That is not a possibility with a leaderless protest.

These protests are also greatly aided by new technology. Communication is online, there is little by the way of great speeches, Twitter hastags being more significant. As the protesters are generally much younger than the elites which they oppose, greater use of new technology is inevitable.

Finally, the occupation of public space, taking over city center squares, remaining there day and night until some set of objectives can first be agreed, then attained, is the signature modus operandi. This form of protest may or may not be new, but it feels new. Both the protesters and the elites feel it is unprecedented.

That makes it as good as new. Since the industrial revolution, the Western world has been at the forefront of human development. In simple economic terms, in methods of production and communication. In the arts, in political and personal freedoms, thought and philosophy. Perhaps most importantly through European imperialism the West came to dominate the globe in a way no single cultural bloc had ever done before.

Much has been written about how China is set to become the world’s dominant economic power, thus striking a blow against a keystone of Western dominance. This can hardly be denied. Much has also been written on the implications of the revolutions across the Middle east and North Africa, the Arab Spring.

One effect that has inspired rather less comment has been the spread of this type of protest to the West. Western media largely report the Occupy wall Street protest as the inspiration for other protest across the world. But this new form of protest took the ancient route out of the Arab world, through Spain.

Inspiring the young Spanish Indignados to occupy squares in cities across their country, before moving across the Atlantic to America. There is little, if anything, new in the “Occupy” protests that was not already present in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

While it is not correct to say nothing new has come out of the Arab world in recent times, it is a very long time indeed since the West has followed the Arab world. For all the bellicose rhetoric of Islamist fundamentalism, Osama bin Laden could scarcely dream of such success.

It has been noted the loss of compliant dictator allies in the Arab world could diminish Western influence. This change, however, represents not just renewed confidence amongst Arab nations, but a blow to Western intellectual and political leadership. The protesters may not acknowledge or even be aware of the leadership of the Arab spring.

That will not alter the facts. Some Wall Street protesters have remarked that there is greater freedom of assembly in Cairo than in New York. In London, they camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral because protest at the Stock Exchange or the City is simply not permitted.

In North Africa the protesters have removed the dictators in Egypt and Tunisia. With the North Atlantic Treaty Organization acting as an auxiliary air force the regime in Libya has been annihilated. In Bahrain the protests were crushed with the support of troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council.

How successful they can be in the West remains a matter of conjecture. The extent to which the euro crisis is successfully managed must be of critical importance. As will the management of the ongoing financial and housing crisis in the US.

The quality of Western political leadership fails to inspire, in the European Union and on the Capitol in Washington individuals seem to prefer the political safety of deadlock to radical action. Yet while the Arab protester could cry out for democracy, those in the West are left with less inspiring rhetoric.

Perhaps the Western protesters need a form of inspiration more familiar to their Arab counterparts. If the authorities seek to make an example of some individuals in order to end the protests, they will create martyrs. That could be the factor which transforms the discontent into something more focussed and urgent.

I am no more inspired by the methods of the Western police in London and New York than I am by those of the politicians.

Dafydd Taylor is a UK-based political analyst.

(Copyright 2011 Dafydd Taylor.)

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online’s regular contributors.

Libya: NATO’s black hole

Despite the smugness and arrogance on the smirking face of David “If I have to pay anything back, then I shall” Cameron, the Libya escapade has been yet another geopolitical disaster for NATO, destroying the credibility of the organization once and for all and rendering its leaders liable for prosecution for war crimes.

The five-letter word Libya will be branded across the forehead of NATO and its military and political leaders for the rest of eternity, since due to the increased powers of communication which come with the internet, out goes the notion that the victor writes the pages of the annals of history.

Libya is a disaster not only for NATO but also for the political leaders of the FUKUS three, the three-pronged assault on human decency provided by France, the UK and (who else?) the US.

For a start, what happened in Libya cannot and must not go unsaid and must constitute the basis for a prosecution of the Organization, the International Criminal Court at The Hague for perversion of justice, and of course the military and political leaders of NATO for war crimes, occasioning murder, instigation to murder, attempted murder, grievous and actual bodily harm, wanton destruction of property (public and private), criminal damage, vandalism, breach of the UN Charter, breach of UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973 (2011) covering the incident, breach of the Geneva Conventions, breach of all the norms in diplomatic custom, customary and international law.

This massive and clear breach of law and violation of human rights could not be more serious or have deeper implications for the legacy of Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama, whose callous and total disrespect for human life and absence of human feelings was so apparent when they refused even to apologise when the grandchildren of Colonel Gaddafi were murdered in a NATO terrorist strike on a private home.

The names David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama could be synonymous with the names of the children their forces murdered in cold blood: child murderers. How would they feel if the same thing happened to their families? Would they sit smirking?

On a less personal level, the political credibility of NATO has once and for all been destroyed, as if after Iraq anyone had any doubts…destroyed to such an extent that the geo-strategic capacity of this evil organization has seen a shift away from its control. After Libya, it is clear what NATO is, and therefore its very existence is an insult to its founding principles, an insult to international law, an insult to human dignity.

NATO, it is clear, is an organization which panders to the whims of the lobbies and cliques which gravitate around the White House, dictating its policy, and, in the words of the White House itself, involving its NATO neighbours to reduce the financial load on the US of A and save the lives of American boys.

In Libya, NATO protected civilians from terrorists by bombing them, unleashed the most horrific elements from the dregs of Libyan society – terrorists, rapists, murderers, looters, arsonists, vandals, torturers – on the citizens of Libya, together with vandals from abroad, flown in from other theatres of war where they had been combating NATO forces. So many were they, and so high were the casualties against the heroic Libyan Armed Forces, that some observers say NATO threw them into Libya on purpose, so that many of them would die, and therefore pose less of a risk to its schemes elsewhere in the future.

Finally, NATO’s actions in Libya have sent a very clear message to all that the last thing you do is get rid of your Weapons of Mass Destruction, since this cowardly organization only attacks those who cannot defend themselves and when they do not have the weaponry to reply. That makes the world a much more dangerous place, and for this reason NATO and its leaders have no further part to play in the destiny of Humankind.

Libya was indeed NATO’s grave in the hearts and minds of the international community and in future, its “mission creep” policies of lying about its intentions from the outset will ensure that its plans are never approved in the UN Security Council, pushing the world one further step towards the brink of tension and eventual conflict.

NATO is A Terrorist Organization and must be stopped. Now. Therefore in conclusion, whatever the outcome with Muammar al-Qathafi, as NATO exits Libya with its tail between its legs, hated, knowing it cheated…Gaddafi 1 NATO 0. In Libya, NATO lost far more than Gaddafi and Gaddafi, a hero, won more than NATO could ever gain. After all, you do not win a boxing match by having 15 fighters in the ring armed with machine guns and you do not lose by standing up to them for eight months, alone.

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“Rebuilding America’s Defenses” – A Summary Blueprint of the PNAC Plan for U.S. Global Hegemony

Some people have compared it to Hitler’s publication of Mein Kampf, which was ignored until after the war was over.

Full text of Rebuilding America’s Defenses here


By Bette Stockbauer

05/06/03: When the Bush administration started lobbying for war with Iraq, they used as rationale a definition of preemption (generally meaning anticipatory use of force in the face of an imminent attack) that was broadened to allow for the waging of a preventive war in which force may be used even without evidence of an imminent attack.They also were able to convince much of the American public that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the attacks of 9/11, despite the fact that no evidence of a link has been uncovered. Consequently, many people supported the war on the basis of 1) a policy that has no legal basis in international law and 2) a totally unfounded claim of Iraqi guilt.

What most people do not know, however, is that certain high ranking officials in the Bush administration have been working for regime change in Iraq for the past decade, long before terrorism became an important issue for our country. In 1997 they formed an organization called the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). They have sought the establishment of a much stronger U.S. presence throughout the Mideast and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein has been their number one target for regime change. Members of this group drafted and successfully passed through Congress the Iraqi Liberation Act, giving legal sanctions for an invasion of the country, and funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to Hussein opposition groups called the Iraqi National Congress and The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

The PNAC philosophy was formed in response to the ending of Cold War hostilities with Russia and the emergence of America as the world’s only preeminent superpower. Claiming that this is a “strategic moment” that should not be squandered, members of PNAC say that America should use its position to advance its power and interests into all areas of the globe. They believe the time is ripe for establishing democracies in regimes considered hostile to U.S. interests and are not hesitant to advise the use of military means to achieve those ends.

PNAC members on the Bush team include Vice-President Dick Cheney and his top national security assistant, I. Lewis Libby; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; National Security Council member Eliot Abrams; Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton; and former Chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle. Other PNAC members exerting influence on U.S. policy are the President of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq Randy Scheunemann, Republican Party leader Bruce Jackson and current PNAC chairman William Kristol, conservative writer for the Weekly Standard. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother and governor of Florida, is also a member.

Their campaign to overthrow Hussein was unsuccessful during the Clinton presidency and early days of Bush’s term, but on 9/11 they found the event they needed to push for the overthrow of Hussein. Within 24 hours both Wolfowitz and Cheney were calling for an invasion of Iraq, even before anyone knew who had been responsible for the attacks.

Individuals who now belong to PNAC have been influencing White House policy since the Reagan era, calling for coups in Central America and claiming that a nuclear war with Russia could be “winnable.” Richard Perle is one of their most prominent spokesmen. He and Michael Ledeen (of the American Enterprise Institute), who is currently lobbying for war with Syria and Iran, have adopted a stance that they call “total war” — the ability to wage multiple simultaneous wars around the globe to achieve American ends. Recently Perle commented on America’s war on terrorism: “No stages,” he said, “This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq . . . this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war . . . our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”

Members of PNAC are so self-assured they are advancing America’s best interests that they publish policy papers specifically outlining their plans, plans that many fear may be laying the groundwork for a third world war. Their ideas are peculiarly atavistic, considering the friendly ties that have been forged between most of the major nations during the past ten years.

Their central policy document is entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses (RAD),” published on their website at It outlines a plan for American hegemony in the coming years, pinpointing “problem areas” of the world and suggesting regime change of unfavorable governments so that eventually the whole world will be unified under the banner of American democracy.

Already we are seeing evidence of PNAC influence on U.S. policy. For instance, the concept of “Homeland Defense” comes straight from “RAD.” Iran, Iraq and North Korea, nations that George Bush calls the “Axis of Evil”, are listed together in “RAD” several times as possible military threats to the U.S. There is a suggestion that military spending be increased to 3.8 percent of the GDP, exactly the amount (over and above present expenses for the Iraqi campaign) Bush has proposed for next year’s budget. Its basic statement of policy bespeaks and advocates the very essence of the idea of preemptive engagement.

Bush’s National Security Strategy of September 20, 2002, adopted PNAC ideas and emphasized a broadened definition of preemption. Since we are already hearing accusations against regimes in Iran and Syria, will they be slated next for invasion?

The document is written with all of the single-mindedness, unilateralism and inattention to international ramifications (with either friend or foe) that the Bush administration displayed in its current build-up for war with Iraq. There is even assertion of the necessity of American political leadership overriding that of the U.N. (p. 11), a policy that was sadly played out when the U.S. invaded Iraq without the approval of either the U.N. or the international community.

Rebuilding America’s Defenses

I believe that “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of our planet. Since the document is over 80 pages long I have created a summary of its major ideas in order to make it more accessible.

Subject areas are arranged under 4 categories: A. Pax Americana — outlining the rationale for global empire, B. Securing Global Hegemony — pinpointing regions that are considered trouble spots for U.S. policy, C. Rebuilding the Military — plans for expansion of U.S. military might, and D. Future Wars of Pax Americana — the “RAD” vision of complete control of land, sea, air, space and cyberspace.

As much as possible I have used direct quotations followed by page numbers so that the reader can consult the original. My personal comments are in italics.

For further reading about the PNAC, see the following articles: (Information Clearing House has many excellent articles about the PNAC.) (this article is followed by a long list of links to published articles about the plans of the Bush Administration influenced by the PNAC.)

A. Pax Americana

“It is not a choice between preeminence today and preeminence tomorrow. Global leadership is not something exercised at our leisure, when the mood strikes us or when our core national security interests are directly threatened; then it is already too late. Rather, it is a choice whether or not to maintain American military preeminence, to secure American geopolitical leadership, and to preserve the American peace” (p. 76).

The building of Pax Americana has become possible, claims “RAD,” because the fall of the Soviet Union has given the U.S. status as the world’s singular superpower. It must now work hard not only to maintain that position, but to spread its influence into geographic areas that are ideologically opposed to our influence. Decrying reductions in defense spending during the Clinton years “RAD” propounds the theory that the only way to preserve peace in the coming era will be to increase military forces for the purpose of waging multiple wars to subdue countries which may stand in the way of U.S. global preeminence.

Their flaws in logic are obvious to people of conscience, namely, 1) a combative posture on our part will not secure peace, but will rather engender fear throughout the world and begin anew the arms race, only this time with far more contenders, and 2) democracy, by its very definition, cannot be imposed by force.

Following is the preamble to the document:

“As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s most preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievement of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

“[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.

“Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of the past century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership” (from the Project’s Statement of Principles).

Four Vital Missions

PNAC members believe that there are four vital missions “demanded by U. S. global leadership,” but claim that “current American armed forces are ill-prepared to execute” these missions.

“Homeland Defense. America must defend its homeland. During the Cold War, nuclear deterrence was the key element in homeland defense; it remains essential. But the new century has brought with it new challenges. While reconfiguring its nuclear force, the United States also must counteract the effects of the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction that may soon allow lesser states to deter U.S. military action by threatening U.S. allies and the American homeland itself. Of all the new and current missions for U.S. armed forces, this must have priority.

“Large Wars. Second, the United States must retain sufficient forces able to rapidly deploy and win multiple simultaneous large-scale wars and also to be able to respond to unanticipated contingencies in regions where it does not maintain forward-based forces. This resembles the ‘two-war’ standard that has been the basis of U.S. force planning over the past decade. Yet this standard needs to be updated to account for new realities and potential new conflicts.

“Constabulary Duties. Third, the Pentagon must retain forces to preserve the current peace in ways that fall short of conduction major theater campaigns. A decade’s experience and the policies of two administrations have shown that such forces must be expanded to meet the needs of the new, long-term NATO mission in the Balkans, the continuing no-fly-zone and other missions in Southwest Asia, and other presence missions in vital regions of East Asia. These duties are today’s most frequent missions, requiring forces configured for combat but capable of long-term, independent constabulary operations.

“Transform U.S. Armed Forces. Finally, the Pentagon must begin now to exploit the so-called ‘revolution in military affairs,’ sparked by the introduction of advanced technologies into military systems; this must be regarded as a separate and critical mission worthy of a share of force structure and defense budgets” (p. 6).

“In conclusion, it should be clear that these four essential missions for maintaining American military preeminence are quite separate and distinct from one another – none should be considered a ‘lesser included case’ of another, even though they are closely related and may, in some cases, require similar sorts of forces. Conversely, the failure to provide sufficient forces to execute these four missions must result in problems for American strategy. The failure to build missile defenses will put America and her allies at grave risk and compromise the exercise of American power abroad. Conventional forces that are insufficient to fight multiple theater wars simultaneously cannot protect American global interests and allies. Neglect or withdrawal from constabulary missions will increase the likelihood of larger wars breaking out and encourage petty tyrants to defy American interests and ideals. And the failure to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges will ensure that the current Pax Americana comes to an early end” (p. 13).

On Usurping the Power of the UN

“Further, these constabulary missions are far more complex and likely to generate violence than traditional ‘peacekeeping’ missions. For one, they demand American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations, as the failure of the UN mission in the Balkans and the relative success of NATO operations there attests.

“Nor can the United States assume a UN-like stance of neutrality; the preponderance of American power is so great and its global interests so wide that it cannot pretend to be indifferent to the political outcome in the Balkans, the Persian Gulf or even when it deploys forces in Africa. Finally, these missions demand forces basically configured for combat. While they also demand personnel with special language, logistics and other support skills, the first order of business in missions such as in the Balkans is to establish security, stability and order. American troops, in particular, must be regarded as part of an overwhelmingly powerful force” (p. 11).

On Preserving American Preeminence

“Since today’s peace is the unique product of American preeminence, a failure to preserve that preeminence allows others an opportunity to shape the world in ways antithetical to American interests and principles. The price of American preeminence is that, just as it was actively obtained, it must be actively maintained” (p. 73).

“The fourth element in American force posture – and certainly the one which holds the key to any longer-term hopes to extend the current Pax Americana – is the mission to transform U.S. military forces to meet new geopolitical and technological challenges” (p. 11).

“America’s armed forces, it seemed, could either prepare for the future by retreating from its role as the essential defender of today’s global security order, or it could take care of current business but be unprepared for tomorrow’s threats and tomorrow’s battlefields” (p. i).

“Moreover, America stands at the head of a system of alliances which includes the world’s other leading democratic powers. At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible. There are, however, potentially powerful states dissatisfied with the current situation and eager to change it, if they can, in directions that endanger the relatively peaceful, prosperous and free condition the world enjoys today. Up to now, they have been deterred from doing so by the capability and global presence of American military power. But, as that power declines, relatively and absolutely, the happy conditions that follow from it will be inevitably undermined” (p. i).

B. Securing Global Hegemony

“In a larger sense, the new president will choose whether today’s ‘unipolar moment,’ to use columnist Charles Krauthammer’s phrase for America’s current geopolitical preeminence, will be extended along with the peace and prosperity that it provides” (p. 4).

“RAD” takes the posture that only the U.S. should manipulate international relations and points out “trouble spots” that may cause future problems, like Iraq, Iran, Korea and all of East Asia. There is concern that several nations might come together to challenge U.S. interests. Consequently any nation that produces nuclear weapons or engages in significant arms build-up will be viewed as a potential threat.

“America’s global leadership, and its role as the guarantor of the current great-power peace, relies upon the safety of the American homeland; the preservation of a favorable balance of power in Europe, the Middle East and surrounding energy-producing region, and East Asia; and the general stability of the international system of nation-states relative to terrorists, organized crime, and other ‘non-state actors.’ The relative importance of these elements, and the threats to U.S. interests, may rise and fall over time. Europe, for example, is now extraordinarily peaceful and stable, despite the turmoil in the Balkans. Conversely, East Asia appears to be entering a period with increased potential for instability and competition. In the Gulf, American power and presence has achieved relative external security for U.S. allies, but the longer-term prospects are murkier. Generally, American strategy for the coming decades should seek to consolidate the great victories won in the 20th century – which have made Germany and Japan into stable democracies, for example – maintain stability in the Middle East, while setting the conditions for 21st century successes, especially in East Asia.

“A retreat from any one of these requirements would call America’s status as the world’s leading power into question. As we have seen, even a small failure like that in Somalia or a halting and incomplete triumph as in the Balkans can cast doubt on American credibility. The failure to define a coherent global security and military strategy during the post-Cold War period has invited challenges; states seeking to establish regional hegemony continue to probe for the limits of the American security perimeter” (p. 5).

Iraq and the Persian Gulf

“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” (p. 17).

“In the Persian Gulf region, the presence of American forces, along with British and French units, has become a semi-permanent fact of life. Though the immediate mission of those forces is to enforce the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, they represent the long-term commitment of the United States and its major allies to a region of vital importance. Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein” (p. 14).

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What Explains US’s Anti-Iran Tirade

By M K Bhadrakumar

October 31, 2011 “Rediff Blog” — The Barack Obama administration has visibly rachetted up its anti-Iran rhetoric. There is a scramble for explanations why the theatre of the absurd is being enacted all over again – the ‘evil empire’, etc. Iranians themselves saw this as a clever ploy by the Obama administration to turn attention away from the ‘Wall’ protests in the US. True, the protests are not fading and the authorities have no clue how to handle protests.

But that alone doesn’t quite explain why Obama should risk his reputation by mouthing such a bizarre story about the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. Even the US’s allies are looking embarrassed and all they can say is that Tehran should seriously look into Obama’s grievance.

Another, more plausible explanation is that Obama is gearing up for a tough -re-election campaign and a bit of Iran-bashing may ingratiate him with the Israel Lobby, which holds purse-strings and can influence media opinion. Patrick Cockburn, whose views I respect, warns that Obama may go for a confrontation with Iran to contrive a scenario that goes to show he is a decisive leader and good enough for another 4 years for the (gullible) American people.

Then, there is a viewpoint that this is a strategic move by Obama and bit by bit he is making sure that everything adds up finally to a case for war on Iran in the fulness of time . But I discount it for the present for a variety of reasons starting from that Iran is by no means comparable to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

There could be another powerful motive, though. To my mind, Obama is assuaging the fears of the US’s two most important allies in region – Israel and Saudi Arabia – that it is far from the case that the sun is setting for American military might in the Middle East. 

The anti-Iran rhetoric coincides with: a) Iraq snub to the US pleas to allow a long-term troop presence; b) Syrian regime showing no real sign of cracks yet despite the outside intervention; c) rise of islamist fervor in the region. All these accentuate Israel’s acute sense of insecurity. Jerusalem Post is bitterabout Obama’s announcement of US troop withdrawal from Iraq. 

But Saudi Arabia is a case by itself. I am surprised that Al Jazeera featured such a brutally frank assessment of the instability in Saudi Arabia. A decadent regime is tottering and a “critical period of domestic and foreign uncertainty” lies ahead not only for the Kingdom but for the entire region. “[King] Abdullah’s octogenarian line of successors recalls the final years of the Soviet Union, when one infirm leader after another succeeded to power for a brief period of inert rule.” US needs to figure out how to hold the crumbling citadel together and, most important, ensure Iran doesn’t give it a final push. The Al Jazeera opinion-piece is here.


US bracing for a fight in Persian Gulf

October 30, 2011 — There is greater clarity today than at anytime yesterday evening on what is prompting the US’s anti-Iran tirade. The New York Times reports Sunday that US is embarking on a big military build-up in the Persian Gulf region.

In the absence of a coherent policy toward Iran, with the loss of military presence in Iraq, with Saudi Arabia inexorably descending into crisis, with the ‘pro-West’ Arab oligarchies getting afraid of the dark, with the Aran Spring poised to arrive in the Persian Gulf, with Egypt preoccupied with its own regeneration and the israelis in existential despair, US is doing what comes most natural to it, namely, arrest the march of history with gunboats and missiles.

Barack Obama is already under some pressure at home, being lampooned for his exciting doctrine of the US “leading from behind” during the Libyan intervention. On top of it, he is now coming under domestic compulsion to show he is not lacking in a regional strategy in the Middle East. The withdrawal from Iraq is traumatic for a host of segments of political opinion in the US – ranging from the neocons to the war veterans, Pentagon, the liberals, Republicans to the Israeli Lobby. A group of influential senators have asked for hearings on Obama’s decision. Sen Joe Lieberman’s presence suggests that the israeli Lobby is pushing Obama against the wall which he can disregard only at some risk in an election year.


The NYT report says that in addition to ‘repositioning’ US combat troops in Kuwait, the naval presence in the Persian Gulf will be beefed up. Conceivably, the frightened Arab oligarchies will be asked to foot the bills for this big deployment. Most interestingly, US is also proposing a new regional security architecture to be choreographed around its military presence which would “integrate air and naval patrols and missile defence.” (By the way, a bonus will be that the ABM ring around Russia is further tightening. Don’t overlook that there is also a slice of the ‘new great game’ here with Russia about to sign up with the GCC a Memorandum of Understanding on ’strategic dialogue and cooperation’. ) 

Maybe Patrick Cockburn has a point: Obama could be bracing for a fight with Iran. Doubtless, the best way for him to console the Israelis will be to come down on Iran. That of course won’t solve the US’s accumulating problems in the Middle East, but may help Obama’s election campaign. 

Meanwhile, Iran can be trusted not to give any outright excuse for a fight with US, as it knows things are in any case working out favorably for it (even without it doing anything), and its ’soft power’ will only increase as the Islamist forces come to the fore wherever the ancien regimes capsize – be it Egypt or Libya – as Iran’s defence minister pointed out

The bankruptcy in the American thinking on Iran is simply astounding. The Israeli tail is wagging the dog. After 3 decades of the ‘containment’ policy toward Iran that the US vainly pursued with dismal results, when a fine mind like Fareed Zakaria suggests more of the same, a nadir has been reached. But then, FZ has his ears glued to the ground, too, and attunes himself quickly. Does he know something we do’nt?

U.S. Planning Troop Buildup in Gulf After Exit From Iraq


October 30, 2011 “New York Times” — MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.

After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.

In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.

With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.

The size of the standby American combat force to be based in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer expected in coming days. Officers at the Central Command headquarters here declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that successful deployment plans from past decades could be incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the region.

For example, in the time between the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States Army kept at least a combat battalion — and sometimes a full combat brigade — in Kuwait year-round, along with an enormous arsenal ready to be unpacked should even more troops have been called to the region.

“Back to the future” is how Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, described planning for a new posture in the Gulf. He said the command was focusing on smaller but highly capable deployments and training partnerships with regional militaries. “We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a big ‘boots on the ground’ presence,” General Horst said. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.”

Mr. Obama and his senior national security advisers have sought to reassure allies and answer critics, including many Republicans, that the United States will not abandon its commitments in the Persian Gulf even as it winds down the war in Iraq and looks ahead to doing the same in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and to the future of that region, which holds such promise and should be freed from outside interference to continue on a pathway to democracy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Tajikistan after the president’s announcement.

During town-hall-style meetings with military personnel in Asia last week, the secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta, noted that the United States had 40,000 troops in the region, including 23,000 in Kuwait, though the bulk of those serve as logistical support for the forces in Iraq.

As they undertake this effort, the Pentagon and its Central Command, which oversees operations in the region, have begun a significant rearrangement of American forces, acutely aware of the political and budgetary constraints facing the United States, including at least $450 billion of cuts in military spending over the next decade as part of the agreement to reduce the budget deficit.

Officers at Central Command said that the post-Iraq era required them to seek more efficient ways to deploy forces and maximize cooperation with regional partners. One significant outcome of the coming cuts, officials said, could be a steep decrease in the number of intelligence analysts assigned to the region. At the same time, officers hope to expand security relationships in the region. General Horst said that training exercises were “a sign of commitment to presence, a sign of commitment of resources, and a sign of commitment in building partner capability and partner capacity.”

Col. John G. Worman, Central Command’s chief for exercises, noted a Persian Gulf milestone: For the first time, he said, the military of Iraq had been invited to participate in a regional exercise in Jordan next year, called Eager Lion 12, built around the threat of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

Another part of the administration’s post-Iraq planning involves the Gulf Cooperation Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia. It has increasingly sought to exert its diplomatic and military influence in the region and beyond. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, for example, sent combat aircraft to the Mediterranean as part of the NATO-led intervention in Libya, while Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates each have forces in Afghanistan.

At the same time, however, the council sent a mostly Saudi ground force into Bahrain to support that government’s suppression of demonstrations this year, despite international criticism.

Despite such concerns, the administration has proposed establishing a stronger, multilateral security alliance with the six nations and the United States. Mr. Panetta and Mrs. Clinton outlined the proposal in an unusual joint meeting with the council on the sidelines of the United Nations in New York last month.

The proposal still requires the approval of the council, whose leaders will meet again in December in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and the kind of multilateral collaboration that the administration envisions must overcome rivalries among the six nations.

“It’s not going to be a NATO tomorrow,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations still under way, “but the idea is to move to a more integrated effort.”

Iran, as it has been for more than three decades, remains the most worrisome threat to many of those nations, as well as to Iraq itself, where it has re-established political, cultural and economic ties, even as it provided covert support for Shiite insurgents who have battled American forces.

“They’re worried that the American withdrawal will leave a vacuum, that their being close by will always make anyone think twice before taking any action,” Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, said in an interview, referring to officials in the Persian Gulf region.

Sheik Khalid was in Washington last week for meetings with the administration and Congress. “There’s no doubt it will create a vacuum,” he said, “and it may invite regional powers to exert more overt action in Iraq.”

He added that the administration’s proposal to expand its security relationship with the Persian Gulf nations would not “replace what’s going on in Iraq” but was required in the wake of the withdrawal to demonstrate a unified defense in a dangerous region. “Now the game is different,” he said. “We’ll have to be partners in operations, in issues and in many ways that we should work together.”

At home, Iraq has long been a matter of intense dispute. Some foreign policy analysts and Democrats — and a few Republicans — say the United States has remained in Iraq for too long. Others, including many Republicans and military analysts, have criticized Mr. Obama’s announcement of a final withdrawal, expressing fear that Iraq remained too weak and unstable.

“The U.S. will have to come to terms with an Iraq that is unable to defend itself for at least a decade,” Adam Mausner and Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote after the withdrawal announcement.

Twelve Republican Senators demanded hearings on the administration’s ending of negotiations with the Iraqis — for now at least — on the continuation of American training and on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq.

“As you know, the complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq is likely to be viewed as a strategic victory by our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime,” the senators wrote Wednesday in a letter to the chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

Thom Shanker reported from MacDill Air Force Base, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

New York Times

Turkey’s Erdogan Holds Assad’s Fate in his Hands

Syrian protesters and army defectors can only dent Assad’s iron hold on the country, unless, that is, Turkey continues to silently sponsor his opponents.

By Anshel Pfeffer

October 30, 2011 “Haaretz” – -It’s been eight months of bloody crackdowns, and Bashar Assad is still standing. NATO, the Arab League, and the United Nations would never confront him, whether his men continue to slaughter dozens of civilians every day, or not. He is flanked by Iran and Hezbollah, with Russia and China continuing to back him up diplomatically.

Even the defections from his military and the rebellions within it have yet to endanger Assad’s rule, and will continue to fail as long as the Alwai top brass remains loyal to the president. As of now, they have no one else to be loyal to.

But, it appears that Assad has one weak point, one to which his adversaries are aiming for with a pointed dagger. The one man holding Assad’s future in his hands is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose soldiers have in the last four months, silently and surely, created a buffer zone between the two countries.

Last week, the Turkish Foreign Ministry invited global media outlets to hold interviews with Colonel Riad al-Assad, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, an organization that has already began targeting Syrian forces along the Turkey-Syria border, and that includes many army defectors.

The Free Syrian Army cannot threaten the Assad regime in any real way, but, with Turkish backing, it has begun to expand a limited enclave along the northern part of the border.

Meanwhile, the bloody confrontations between Assad’s military and Syrian protesters – protesters who are gradually morphing into armed rebels – have been concentrated in three cities: Idlib, Hama, and Homs in northwestern Syria.

Notice the map. Those three cities are perpendicular to the border with Turkey in the north, and serve as the axis around which a rebel stronghold may be formed in the coming weeks and months.

If Turkey continues to sponsor these activities, Syria will find it very difficult to retake that area. And if that line stabilizes, it will soon turn into a wedge that will sever Syria from its only seaports in Latakia and Tartus. That would pose as a strategic threat to Assad’s rule.

Just as the rebellion in Libya began in earnest when the rebels took over Benghazi, so will the fall of Itlib, Hama, and Homs mark the end of the Assad line. It all depends on Erdogan’s will.


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Al-Saud: A despotic monarchy in decay

Written by Lal Khan

At the funeral of Crown Prince Sultan we had the spectacle not only of the Saudi monarchs but most of the rulers who had flown in to attend the ceremony. Fear of the mass revolt that has been raging in the region was palpable at the gathering.

The hesitation of the sick octogenarian King Abdullah and his camarilla in nominating the new crown prince reveals the lack of confidence of these rulers facing the revolt of the masses, and also the deep fissures and ferocious conflicts within the Al-Saud family made up of more than 10,000 princes and princelings that are involved in the massive plunder of the country’s wealth.

The unflinching support of the US and the Western Imperialism for this despotic regime is a blatant refutation of their charade of “democracy” and “human rights”. The criminal silence on the Saudi invasion and brutalities in Bahrain by the so-called “international community” and the “free” media shows the extreme of their hypocrisy and treachery. But after all this pseudo-state and the monarchy were fabricated by these very imperialist powers to impose their hegemony in the region and to plunder its oil wealth. In fact they carved out different states, most of them artificial, at the beginning of the last century. The implanted rulers used these rentier states for their own loot and extravagant lavish lifestyles.

In a plea of subservience sent to C. A. Kemball, the British Resident in the Gulf from 1900 to 1904, the founder of the present ruling dynasty in Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, said, “May the eyes of the British Government be fixed upon us and may we be considered as your protégés.” After the treaty of Darea in 1915 with the British representative Sir Percy Cox, Ibn Saud’s realm was fundamentally reduced to the status of a British protectorate. After the capture of Hijaz in 1925 the monarchy was formally established with imperialist backing.

The Americans arrived in the 1930’s. The businessman-philanthropist Charles Crane and oilman Lloyd Hamilton arrived with the “American invasion” of Arabia in 1933. British business followed British colonialism, but with the Americans it was the oil companies. The American diplomats and politicians sought to initially accommodate local rulers to make money. Roosevelt did not smoke during his 1945 meeting with Ibn Saud, but the imperious Churchill would not refrain from doing so.

President Truman seconded the guarantee of the security of the royal family’s reign, originally proclaimed by President Roosevelt. This stipulation has prevailed till today. The US ceded the conduct of relations with Saudi Arabia to the oil companies. In 1947-48 the American Government prevailed on ARAMCO (Arab American Oil Company) to expand its Government Relations Department and transferred crypto-diplomats and CIA agents to staff it. A tax break known as ‘The Golden Gimmick’ was awarded to the oil conglomerate. The US military base at the oil city of Dhahran was expanded. Washington-based senior CIA officials went to the Kingdom in the 1950’s and advised the King on everything from the use of fly killers to hiring public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. The process is more advanced now.

Ibn Saud and his sons who have been the Kings slavishly carried out the dictates of imperialism in the Middle East and the so-called Muslim countries. During the 1950’s and the 1960’s when there was the rise of anti-imperialist Arab nationalism and left-wing currents were growing, the Saudi regime played a counter-revolutionary role. The Saudis opposed Nasser in Egypt, and the left-wing governments that came to power in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. They used their money to prop up Wahabi Islam, that was the precursor of modern fundamentalism, from the Middle East to South East Asia to the South Asian subcontinent. They poured money into the PLO to curb the left wing within the Palestinian movement.

This monarchy had tried to develop its own imperialist hegemony throughout the region. Said K. Aburish writes in his book, The House of Saud, “Saudi actions in the Muslim world followed the same line. Pakistan was supported so long as it followed a Saudi line and did not try to act independently and lead. Pakistani president Ali Bhutto’s refusal to follow this formula saw Saudi Arabia provide his army with financial help and promises of more to overthrow him.”

Domestically it is perhaps the most brutal regime on the planet. Beheadings, amputations of limbs and summary executions without trials are being carried out to this day. The elimination of opponents can take hideous forms. King Feisal ordered 29 Airfoce officers suspected of conspiracy to be ejected from planes without parachutes. The King of Saudi Arabia in the order of importance he assigns to his functions, is head of the Al Saud family, the Prime Minister and Chief Executive of the central government, the Supreme Religious Imam, custodian of the Holy Kaaba, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Chief Justice. There is no real executive, legislative or judicial authority to question his decisions.

These monarchs are also notorious for their hedonistic lifestyles. According to the German magazine Stern, King Fahd lost around 20 million dollars in one evening in Monte Carlo. Apart from numerous palaces on the ground, his flying Palace, a Boeing 747, was fitted with a sauna, a lift, chandeliers and gold bathroom fixtures, and his $50 million yacht was equally lavish. According to an Arab journalist the 42 sons of Ibn Saud had more than 1400 wives.

The conditions of the masses are appalling, especially for the millions of immigrant workers from Pakistan and other Asian countries. The vicious Saudi nouveaux riches labour suppliers trade mercilessly in human commodities. They are then retailed to others. Workers cannot change employment without release from the employer who imports them. The retailers charge them up to 50% of their salary just for visas. Sleeping in discarded shipping containers they have no social security coverage. The sick expatriate worker is at the mercy of his employer. Women are oppressed in pre-medieval fashion. Like slave owners these bosses are callous the the nth degree.

The first political revolts came from the oil workers of ARAMCO in Dhahran in the 1950’s. There have been innumerable strikes and protests unreported by the media ever since. Most were crushed in blood. Now growth and construction are rapidly declining. Military expenditure and  spending on the luxury of the House of Saud are a drag on the economy. There have been budget deficits for years in spite of high oil revenues. Unemployment is rising fast.

Few predicted the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. A revolutionary explosion in Saudi Arabia would smash the despotic monarchy and the capitalist system it is there to preserve. On this basis, the imperialist stranglehold on this region will be broken.


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