Saturday, April 8, 2017

Trump’s Dramatic Turnaround on Syria: Principles vs Pragmatism

A few weeks ago, couple of caricatures went viral on the social media. In one of those caricatures, Donald Trump was depicted as a child sitting on a chair and Putin was shown whispering something into Trump’s ears from behind. And in the other, Steve Bannon was shown mumbling something into Trump’s ears with a sly smile on his face.

The meaning conveyed by those cunningly crafted caricatures was to show that Trump lacks the intelligence to think for himself and that he is being played around by Putin and Bannon. Those caricatures must have affronted the vanity of Donald Trump to an extent that after that, he has become cold towards Putin and has recently removed Bannon from the National Security Council.

Donald Trump is an overgrown child whose vocabulary does not extends beyond a few words like “amazing” and “tremendous,” and whose frequent spelling mistakes on his Twitter timeline like “unpresidented” have made him a laughing stock for journalists and academics alike. It is very easy for the neuroscientists on the payroll of corporate media to manipulate the minds of such puerile politicians and to lead them by the nose to toe the line of political establishments, particularly on foreign policy matters.

It is not a coincidence that only a day before an international conference on Syria was scheduled to be held in Brussels, a chemical weapons attack took place in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib governorate which was blamed on the Syrian government by the mainstream media.

Similarly, it is not a coincidence that the Obama Administration’s proverbial “Red Line” has been crossed in Syria only a day after a breaking news made the headlines that the editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper, Ibrahim al-Amin, had revealed in his recent editorial [1] that Tulsi Gabbard, the United States Representative for Hawaii whose trip to Syria in January and meeting with Bashar al-Assad was widely reported in media, had conveyed President Trump’s offer of cooperation to Assad during the meeting.

Apart from Tulsi Gabbard, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have also stated on the record [2] recently that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is the first priority of the Trump Administration and that the fate of Bashar al-Assad is of least concern to the new administration.

In a dramatic turn of events after the chemical weapons attack, however, the US has launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate from where the Syrian plane apparently flew to the chemical weapons strike site in Khan Sheikhoun. And Secretary Tillerson said the US has a "very high level of confidence" that the Syrian regime has carried out at least three attacks in recent weeks, including on Tuesday, using Sarin and nerve gas.

Unlike dyed-in-the-wool politicians, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appeared that Donald Trump not only follows news from conservative mainstream outlets, like Fox News, but that he has also been familiar with alternative news perspectives, such as Breitbart’s, no matter how racist and xenophobic.

Thus, Donald Trump is fully aware that the conflict in Syria is a proxy war initiated by the Western political establishments and their regional Middle Eastern allies against the Syrian government. And he is also mindful of the fact that militants are being funded, trained and armed in the training camps located in the Turkey-Syria border regions to the north of Syria and the Jordan-Syria border regions to the south of Syria.

Moreover, isn’t it ironic that when the “visibly moved and tearful” Donald Trump appeared on television to make a historic statement after the chemical weapons’ attack that “the attack has crossed a lot lines for me,” he was standing next to King Abdullah of Jordan who has been instrumental in creating a carnage in Syria that has claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and displaced half of Syrian population?

According to an informative December 2013 report [3] from a newspaper affiliated with UAE’s government which takes the side of Syrian opposition against the Syrian government, it is clearly spelled out that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

Thus, compared to the conventional attitude of the globalists, for an anti-status-quo administration that promised reforms and a radically different approach to foreign affairs during the election campaign, Donald Trump has let down his Alt-Right electoral base by conducting cruise missile strikes in Syria and by adopting the militarist tone and tenor of his interventionist predecessors.

As I have already mentioned that lack of understanding is not a factor here. Donald Trump is mindful of the ground realities of the Syrian theater of proxy wars. More than realization, it was required of him to take a moral stand on his principles. But expecting from a morally weak and impotent old fart to stand by his principles who was in the habit of grabbing Miss Universe pageants by their genitals and was fond of watching prostitutes perform “golden shower” in the presidential suites of Moscow’s five-star hotels is a bit na├»ve.

The Trump Administration is fully aware that a covert war is being waged against the Shi’a-dominated regime by the latter’s regional foes. America’s interest in the Syrian proxy war is partly about ensuring Israel’s regional security and partly about doing the bidding of America’s regional, Sunni allies: Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab States.

Saudi Arabia which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-dominated Iran in the regional geopolitics was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003. The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab World.

But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently elections were held in Iraq which were swept by Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iran and Iraq to Syria and Lebanon.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on the traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian resistance axis.

Finally, the Trump Administration found itself on the crossroads to choose between the non-interventionist ideals of its electoral base or to pursue the militarist, regime change policy of its predecessors in order to protect the interests of America’s regional, Middle Eastern allies in a power struggle for regional dominance which has spilled a lot of innocent blood and has reduced a whole country of 22 million people to rubble, and it has chosen the destructive path of political pragmatism over pacifist principles.

The choice was predetermined, however, because the Trump Administration has already held several face-to-face meetings with America’s longstanding allies, such as Benjamin Netanyahu, King Abdullah of Jordan, Erdogan of Turkey and the heir apparent to the Saudi throne Prince Mohammad bin Salman. An hour-long phone call to Vladimir Putin and a message of reconciliation to Bashar al-Assad through Tulsi Gabbard were simply not enough to revise America’s longstanding policy in the Middle East.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Trump Administration's Reversal of Obama Era Policy in Syria

The editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s prestigious al-Akhbar newspaper, Ibrahim al-Amin, has revealed in his recent editorial [1] that Tulsi Gabbard, the United States Representative for Hawaii whose trip to Syria in January and meeting with Bashar al-Assad was widely reported in media, had conveyed President Trump’s offer of cooperation to Assad during the meeting.

The editorial in Arabic is full of detailed accounts of Gabbard's conversations with Assad, her airport handlers, security detail, etc. Although al-Akhbar newspaper generally takes the side of the Assad regime against the Syrian opposition but its reporting over the years, particularly on the conflict in Syria, has been fairly balanced, insightful and highly credible.

Moreover, what lends further credence to Ibrahim al-Amin’s account of Tulsi Gabbard’s meeting with Bashar al-Assad is the fact that the views of Gabbard and Donald Trump on the crisis in Syria are quite similar. In fact, she is the only unorthodox Democrat whose radical views on most subjects, and particularly on Syria, are widely respected by the new Alt-Right administration.

Although Gabbard has subsequently denied al-Akhbar’s report, but it was only a pro-forma denial expressed in a 140 lettered tweet without any real conviction in it. After posting the tweet, Gabbard went on to discuss healthcare reforms and Hawaii’s weather on her official Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The English translation of a relevant excerpt from the Arabic editorial reads as follows:

Tulsi Gabbard asked Assad: “If President Trump contacted you, would you answer the call?” Assad replied: “Is this a hypothetical question, or a proposal?” Gabbard: “It’s not hypothetical. This is a question to you coming from President Trump which he asked me to convey to you. So let me repeat the question: If President Trump contacted you, would you answer the call?” Assad replied: “Of course. And I’ll give you a number where I can be reached quickly.”

Apart from Tulsi Gabbard, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have also stated on the record recently that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is the first priority of the Trump Administration and that the fate of Bashar al-Assad is of least concern to the new administration.

Moreover, on the campaign trail, in his speeches as well as on TV debates with other presidential contenders, Donald Trump repeatedly mentioned that he has a ‘secret plan’ for defeating the Islamic State without elaborating what the plan is? To the careful observers of the US-led war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, however, the outlines of Trump’s ‘secret plan’ to defeat Islamic State, particularly in Syria, are now getting obvious.

As far as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq is concerned, the Trump Administration is continuing with the policy of its predecessor. The Trump Administration’s policy in Syria, however, is markedly different from the regime change policy of the Obama Administration.

Unlike Iraq where the US is providing air and logistical support to Iraq’s armed forces and allied militia in their battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State militants, the conflict in Syria is much more complex that involves the Syrian government, the Sunni Arab militant groups, the Kurds, Turkey and Russia.

Regarding the recapture of Palmyra from the Islamic State by the Syrian regime, a March 2 article in the Washington Post carried a rather paradoxical headline: “Hezbollah, Russia and the US help Syria retake Palmyra” [2]. The article by Liz Sly offers clues as to how the Syrian conflict might transform under the new Trump Administration.

Under the previous Obama Administration, the unstated but known policy in Syria was regime change, and any collaboration with the Syrian regime against the Islamic State was simply not on the cards. The Trump Administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective, a fact which is obvious from Donald Trump’s statements on Syria and more recently, from Ibrahim al-Amin’s testimony on Tulsi Gabbard’s message of cooperation from President Trump to Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, unlike the Obama Administration which was hostile to Russia’s interference in Syria, the Trump Administration is on friendly terms with Assad’s main backer in Syria, i.e. Russia.

It is stated in the aforementioned article by Liz Sly that the US carried out 45 air strikes in the vicinity of Palmyra against the Islamic State’s targets in the month of February alone, which must have indirectly helped the Syrian government troops and the allied Hezbollah militia to recapture Palmyra along with Russia’s air support.

Although expecting a radical departure from the six years-long Obama Administration’s policy of training and arming the Sunni Arab militants against the Syrian regime by the Trump Administration is unlikely. However, the latter regards jihadists as a much bigger threat to America’s security than the former. Therefore some indirect support and a certain level of collaboration with Russia and the Syrian government against radical Islamists cannot be ruled out.

What would be different in the respective Syria policy of the two markedly different US administrations, however, is that while the Obama Administration did avail itself of the opportunity to strike an alliance with the Kurds against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but it was simply not possible for it to come up with an out of the box solution and use the Shi’a-dominated regime and allied militias against the Sunni Arab militant groups particularly the Islamic State.

The Trump Administration, however, is not hampered by the botched legacy of the Obama Administration in Syria, and therefore it might align itself with the Kurds as well as the Russians and the Syrian government against the Islamic State’s militants in Syria.

Two obstacles to such a natural alignment of interests, however, are: firstly, Israel’s objections regarding the threat that Hezbollah poses to its regional security; and secondly, Turkey which is a NATO member and has throughout nurtured several Sunni Arab militant groups during the six years-long conflict would have serious reservations against the new American administration’s partnership not only with the Russians and the Syrian government but also with the PYD/YPG Kurds in Syria, which Turkey regards as an offshoot of separatist PKK Kurds in southeast Turkey.

It would be pertinent to mention here that unlike the pro-US, Iraqi Kurds led by Masoud Barzani, the Syrian PYD/YPG Kurds as well as the Syrian government are also ideologically aligned, because both are socialists and have traditionally been in the Russian sphere of influence.

Moreover, it should also be kept in mind that the Syrian civil war is actually a three-way conflict between the Sunni Arab militants, the Shi’a Arab regime and the Syrian Kurds. And the net beneficiaries of this conflict have been the Syrian Kurds who have expanded their area of control by aligning themselves first with the Syrian regime against the Sunni Arab militants since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to August 2014, when the US policy in Syria was regime change and the CIA was indiscriminately training and arming the Sunni Arab militants against the Shi’a-dominated regime in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan with the help of America’s regional allies: Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, all of which belong to the Sunni denomination.

In August 2014, however, the US declared a war against one faction of the Sunni Arab militants, i.e. the Islamic State, when the latter overran Mosul and Anbar in June 2014, and the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy and started conducting air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq from where the occupying US troops had withdrawn only in December 2011.

After that reversal of policy by the Obama Administration, the Syrian Kurds took advantage of the opportunity and struck an alliance with the US against the Islamic State at Masoud Barzani’s bidding, thus further buttressing their position against the Sunni Arab militants as well as the Syrian government.

More to the point, for the first three years of the Syrian civil war, from August 2011 to August 2014, an informal pact existed between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds against the onslaught of the Sunni Arab militants, until the Kurds broke off that arrangement to become the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s policy in the region.

According to the aforementioned pact, the Syrian government informally acknowledged Kurdish autonomy; and in return, the Kurdish militia defended the areas in northeastern Syria, particularly al-Hasakah, alongside the Syrian government troops against the advancing Sunni Arab militant groups, particularly the Islamic State.

Additionally, with Russia’s blessings, a new alliance between the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government against the Sunni Arab militants has already been forged, and it would be a wise move by the Trump Administration to take advantage of the opportunity and to avail itself of a two-pronged strategy to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State: that is, to use the Syrian government troops to put pressure from the south and the Kurds to lead the charge from the north of the Islamic State’s bastion in Syria.

According to a March 22 article [3] by Michael Gordon and Anne Bernard for the New York Times, the US had airlifted hundreds of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces’ fighters and their American military advisers to take control of the Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River near Lake Assad, in order to cut off the western approaches to Raqqa.

Moreover, the Syrian government and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are already collaborating in Manbij where the Kurds have handed over several villages to the Syrian government troops in order to create a buffer zone and to avoid confrontation with the Turkish troops and the allied Sunni Arab militant groups, who have recently liberated al-Bab from the Islamic State.

Furthermore, Karen De Young and Liz Sly mentioned in a March 4 article [4] for the Washington Post that the Russian and the Syrian government’s convoys had already arrived in Manbij and the US government had been informed about the movement by the Russians.

In the same article, the aforementioned reporters have also made another startling revelation: “Trump has said repeatedly that the US and Russia should cooperate against the Islamic State, and he has indicated that the future of Russia-backed Assad is of less concern to him.” Thus, it appears, that the interests of all the major players in Syria have converged on defeating the Islamic State, and the Obama era policy of regime change has been put on the back burner.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How the Conflict in Syria Benefits Washington’s Allies?

George Bush and King Salman.
In the wake of Arab Spring uprisings in March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarization of conflict. Moreover, the withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq was completed in December 2011. Thus, during the initial few months of the Syrian conflict, the United States troops were still stationed across the border in Iraq.

More to the point, the United States Defense Intelligence Agency’s declassified report [1] of 2012 clearly spelled out the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in northeastern Syria in the event of an outbreak of a civil war in Syria. Under pressure from the Zionist lobby in Washington, however, the Obama Administration deliberately suppressed the report and also overlooked the view in general that a civil war in Syria will give birth to radical Islamic jihadists.

The hawks in Washington were fully aware of the consequences of their actions in Syria, but they kept pursuing the ill-fated policy of nurturing militants in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to weaken the Baathist regime in Syria.

The single biggest threat to Israel’s regional security has been posed by the Shi’a resistance axis, which is comprised of Iran, the Assad regime in Syria and their Lebanon-based surrogate, Hezbollah. During the course of 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel; and Israel’s defense community realized for the first time the nature of threat that Hezbollah and its patrons, Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, posed to Israel’s regional security.

Those were only unguided rockets but it was a wakeup call for Israel’s military strategists that what will happen if Iran passed the guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel?

The American interest in the Syrian civil war is partly about ensuring Israel’s regional security and partly it is about doing the bidding of America’s regional Sunni allies: Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab States. Saudi Arabia, which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-dominated Iran in the regional geopolitics, was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.

The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against the Iranian influence in the Arab World. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently elections were held in Iraq which were swept by the Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iran and Iraq to Syria and Lebanon.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian resistance axis.

Regarding the Western interest in collaborating with the Gulf Arab States against their regional rivals, bear in mind that in April last year, the Saudi foreign minister threatened [2] that the Saudi kingdom would sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets if Congress passed a bill that would allow the Americans to sue the Saudi government in the United States courts for its role in the September 11, 2001 terror attack.

Moreover, $750 billion is only the Saudi investment in the United States, if we add its investment in the Western Europe and the investments of UAE, Kuwait and Qatar in the Western economies, the sum total would amount to trillions of dollars of Gulf’s investments in North America and Western Europe. Only yesterday, Middle East Eye published a report [3] that Qatar has invested $50 billion in the UK and that its property portfolio in London is three times larger than the Queen’s.

Furthermore, in order to bring home the significance of Persian Gulf’s oil in the energy-starved industrialized world, here are a few rough stats from the OPEC data: Saudi Arabia has world’s largest proven crude oil reserves of 265 billion barrels and its daily oil production exceeds 10 million barrels; Iran and Iraq, each, has 150 billion barrels reserves and has the capacity to produce 5 million barrels per day, each; while UAE and Kuwait, each, has 100 billion barrels reserves and produces 3 million barrels per day, each; thus, all the littoral states of the Persian Gulf, together, hold more than half of world’s 1500 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves.

Additionally, regarding the Western defense production industry’s sales of arms to the Gulf Arab States, a report [4] authored by William Hartung of the US-based Center for International Policy found that the Obama Administration had offered Saudi Arabia more than $115 billion in weapons, military equipment and training during its eight years tenure. Similarly, £43 billion Al-Yamamah arms deal between the BAE Systems of UK and Saudi Arabia is another case in point.

Thus, keeping the economic dependence of the Western countries on the Gulf Arab States in mind during the times of global recession when most of manufacturing has been outsourced to China, it is unsurprising that when the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decided to provide training and arms to Sunni Arab jihadists in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan against the Shi’a-dominated regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Obama Administration was left with no other choice but to toe the destructive policy of its regional Middle Eastern allies despite the sectarian nature of the proxy war and its attendant consequences of breeding a new generation of Islamic jihadists who would become a long-term security risk not only to the Middle East but also to the Western countries.

Similarly, when King Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, decided to invade Yemen in March 2015, once again, the Obama Administration had to yield to the dictates of Saudi Arabia and UAE by fully coordinating the Gulf-led military campaign in Yemen not only by providing intelligence, planning and logistical support but also by selling billions of dollars’ worth of arms and ammunition to the Gulf Arab States during the conflict.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Trump’s ‘Secret Plan’ to Defeat Islamic State Revealed

Donald Trump and Mohammad bin Salman.
On the campaign trail, in his speeches as well as on TV debates with other presidential contenders, Donald Trump repeatedly mentioned that he has a ‘secret plan’ for defeating Islamic State without elaborating what the plan is? To the careful observers of the US-led war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, however, the outlines of Trump’s ‘secret plan’ to defeat Islamic State, particularly in Syria, are now getting obvious.

As far as the fight against Islamic State in Iraq is concerned, the Trump Administration is continuing with the policy of its predecessor. The Trump Administration’s policy in Syria, however, is markedly different from the regime change policy of the Obama Administration.

Unlike Iraq where the US is providing air and logistical support to Iraq’s armed forces and allied militia in their battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State, the conflict in Syria is much more complex that involves the Syrian government, the Sunni Arab militant groups, the Kurds, Turkey and Russia.

Regarding the recapture of Palmyra from Islamic State by the Syrian regime, a March 2 article in the Washington Post carried a rather paradoxical headline: “Hezbollah, Russia and the US help Syria retake Palmyra” [1]. The article by Liz Sly offers clues as to how the Syrian conflict might transform under the new Trump Administration.

Under the previous Obama Administration, the unstated but known policy in Syria was regime change, and any collaboration with the Syrian regime against Islamic State was simply not on the cards. The Trump Administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective, a fact which is obvious from Donald Trump’s statements on Syria during and after the campaign. Moreover, unlike the Obama Administration which was hostile to Russia’s interference in Syria, the Trump Administration is on friendly terms with Assad’s main backer in Syria, i.e. Russia.

It is stated in the aforementioned article by Liz Sly that the US carried out 45 air strikes in the vicinity of Palmyra against Islamic State’s targets in the month of February alone, which must have indirectly helped the Syrian government troops and Hezbollah militia to recapture Palmyra along with Russia’s air support.

Although expecting a radical departure from the six years-long Obama Administration’s policy of training and arming the Sunni Arab militants against the Syrian regime by the Trump Administration is unlikely. However, the latter regards jihadists as a much bigger threat to America’s security than the former. Therefore some indirect support and a certain level of collaboration with Russia and the Syrian government against radical Islamists cannot be ruled out.

Here, let me emphasize that President Trump has been in the office for only two months, it’s too early to predict his approach to the region once he has been fully briefed and has assumed a position of responsibility. His stance on the Middle East region and Syria in particular will unfold in the coming months and years.

What would be different in the respective Syria policy of the two markedly different US administrations, however, is that while the Obama Administration did avail itself of the opportunity to strike an alliance with Kurds against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but it was simply not possible for it to come up with an out of the box solution and use the Shi’a-dominated regime and allied militias against the Sunni Arab militant groups particularly the Islamic State.

The Trump Administration, however, is not hampered by the botched legacy of the Obama Administration in Syria, and therefore it might align itself with the Kurds as well as the Russians and the Syrian government against Islamic State’s militants in Syria.

Two obstacles to such a natural alignment of interests, however, are: firstly, Israel’s objections regarding the threat that Hezbollah poses to its regional security; and secondly, Turkey which is a NATO member and has throughout nurtured several Sunni Arab militant groups during the six years-long conflict would have serious reservations against the new American administration’s partnership not only with the Russians and the Syrian government but also with the PYD/YPG Kurds in Syria, which Turkey regards as an offshoot of separatist PKK Kurds in southeast Turkey.

It would be pertinent to mention here that unlike the pro-US, Iraqi Kurds led by Masoud Barzani, the Syrian PYD/YPG Kurds as well as the Syrian government are ideologically aligned, because both are socialists and have traditionally been in the Russian sphere of influence.

Moreover, it should also be kept in mind that the Syrian civil war is actually a three-way conflict between the Sunni Arab militants, the Shi’a Arab regime and the Syrian Kurds. And the net beneficiaries of this conflict have been the Syrian Kurds who have expanded their area of control by aligning themselves first with the Syrian regime against the Sunni Arab militants since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to August 2014, when the US policy in Syria was regime change and the CIA was indiscriminately training and arming the Sunni Arab militants against the Shi’a-dominated regime in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan with the help of America’s regional allies: Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, all of which belong to the Sunni denomination.

In August 2014, however, the US declared a war against one faction of the Sunni Arab militants, i.e. the Islamic State, when the latter overran Mosul and Anbar in June 2014, and the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy and started conducting air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq from where the occupying US troops had withdrawn only in December 2011.

After that reversal of policy by the Obama Administration, the Syrian Kurds took advantage of the opportunity and struck an alliance with the US against the Islamic State at Masoud Barzani’s bidding, thus further buttressing their position against the Sunni Arab militants as well as the Syrian government.

More to the point, for the first three years of the Syrian civil war, from August 2011 to August 2014, an informal pact existed between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds against the onslaught of the Sunni Arab militants, until the Kurds broke off that arrangement to become the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s policy in the region.

According to the aforementioned pact, the Syrian government informally acknowledged Kurdish autonomy; and in return, the Kurdish militia defended the areas in northeastern Syria, particularly al-Hasakah, alongside the Syrian government troops against the advancing Sunni Arab militant groups, particularly the Islamic State.

Additionally, with Russia’s blessings, a new alliance between the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government against the Sunni Arab militants has already been forged, and it would be a wise move by the Trump Administration to take advantage of the opportunity and to avail itself of a two-pronged strategy to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State: that is, to use the Syrian government troops to put pressure from the south and the Kurds to lead the charge from the north of Islamic State’s bastion in Syria.

According to a March 22 article [2] by Michael Gordon and Anne Bernard for the New York Times, the US had airlifted hundreds of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces’ fighters and their American military advisers to take control of the Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River near Lake Assad, in order to cut off the western approaches to Raqqa.

Moreover, the Syrian government and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are already collaborating in Manbij where the Kurds have handed over several villages to the Syrian government troops in order to create a buffer zone and to avoid confrontation with the Turkish troops and the allied Sunni Arab militant groups, who have recently liberated al-Bab from Islamic State and have now set their sights on Manbij.

Furthermore, Karen De Young and Liz Sly mentioned in a March 4 article [3] for the Washington Post that the Russian and the Syrian government’s convoys had already arrived in Manbij and the US government had been informed about the movement by the Russians.

In the same article, the aforementioned reporters have also made another startling revelation: “Trump has said repeatedly that the US and Russia should cooperate against the Islamic State, and he has indicated that the future of Russia-backed Assad is of less concern to him.” Thus, it appears, that the interests of all the major players in Syria have converged on defeating Islamic State, and the Obama era policy of regime change has been put on the back burner.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How Ambassador Haqqani’s Confession Validates Seymour Hersh’s Account of Bin Laden’s Killing?

Husain Haqqani, Kerry and Zardari.
In his March 10 article [1] for the Washington Post, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time of Osama Bin Laden’s execution, Husain Haqqani, has confessed to his role in facilitating the assassination of Bin Laden in May 2011. Haqqani identified the then-president Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani as his “civilian leaders”, and revealed, “In November 2011, I was forced to resign as ambassador after Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus gained the upper hand in the country’s perennial power struggle. Among the security establishment’s grievances against me was the charge that I had facilitated the presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army — even though I had acted under the authorization of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders.”

Haqqani wrote: “The relationships I forged with members of Obama’s campaign team also led to closer cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in fighting terrorism over the three and a half  years I served as ambassador. These connections eventually enabled the United States to discover and eliminate bin Laden without depending on Pakistan’s intelligence service or military, which were suspected of sympathy toward Islamist militants.”

The former ambassador said, “Friends I made from the Obama campaign were able to ask, three years later, as National Security Council officials, for help in stationing U.S. Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan. I brought the request directly to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who approved. Although the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation, these locally stationed Americans proved invaluable when Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.”

This confessional statement by Ambassador Haqqani lends further credence to Seymour Hersh’s account of the assassination of Bin Laden in his book and article, The Killing of Osama Bin Laden [2]. According to Hersh, the initial, tentative plan of the Obama Administration regarding the disclosure of the execution of Osama bin Laden to the press was that he had been killed in a drone strike in the Hindu Kush mountains on the Afghan side of the border. But things didn’t go as planned during the operation as a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Osama Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound and the whole town now knew that an operation is underway.

Therefore, the initial plan was abandoned and the Obama Administration had to go public within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story. This fact explains so many contradictions and discrepancies in the official account of the story, the biggest being that the United States Navy Seals conducted a raid deep inside Pakistani territory on a garrison town without the permission of Pakistani authorities.

Moreover, according to a May 2015 AFP report [3], Pakistan’s military sources had confirmed that there was a Pakistani defector who had met several times with Jonathan Bank, the CIA’s then-station chief in Islamabad, as a consequence of which the Pakistani intelligence disclosed Bank’s name to local newspapers and he had to leave Pakistan in a hurry in December 2010 because his cover was blown.

Seymour Hersh has posited in his investigative report on the Bin Laden operation in Abbottabad that the Saudi royal family had asked Pakistan as a favor to keep Bin Laden under protective custody, because he was a scion of a powerful Saudi-Yemeni Bin Laden Group and it was simply inconceivable for the Saudis to hand him over to the US.

Additionally, it should be kept in mind that the Pakistani military and Saudi Arabia have very deep and institutionalized links: thousands of Pakistani retired and serving army officers work on deputations in the Gulf States; furthermore, during the ‘80s, when Saudi Arabia lacked an efficient intelligence set-up, the Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) virtually played the role of Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence service.

But once the Pakistani walk-in colonel, as stated in the aforementioned AFP report, had told then-CIA station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Bank, that a high-value al Qaeda leader had been hiding in an ISI’s safe house in Abbottabad, right next to the Pakistan’s Military Academy, and after that when the CIA obtained further proof in the form of Bin Laden’s DNA through the fake vaccination program carried out by Dr. Shakil Afridi, then it was no longer possible for Pakistan’s security establishment to deny the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

In his book, Seymour Hersh has already postulated various theories that why it was not possible for Pakistan’s military authorities to simply hand Bin Laden over to the US. Here, let me only add that in May 2011, Pakistan had a liberal and US-friendly Pakistan People’s Party’s government in power. And as Ambassador Haqqani has pointed out in his article that the then-army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the ISI head, Shuja Pasha, were complicit in harboring Bin Laden, thus it cannot be ruled out that Pakistan’s military authorities might still have had strong objections to the US Navy Seals carrying out a raid in the garrison town of Abbottabad.

But Pakistan’s civilian administration under the former President Asif Ali Zardari must have persuaded the army chief and the ISI head to order the Pakistan Air Force and the Air Defense Corps to stand down during the operation. Ambassador Haqqani’s role in this saga ruffled the feathers of Pakistan’s security establishment to an extent that Husain Haqqani was later implicated in a criminal case regarding his memo to Admiral Mike Mullen and eventually Ambassador Haqqani had to resign in November 2011, just six months after the Operation Neptune Spear.

Moreover, Greg Miller of the Washington Post posited in his last year’s May 5 report [4] that Mark Kelton, the CIA station chief in Islamabad at the time of Bin Laden’s execution in Abbottabad, was poisoned by the ISI. The only purpose of this leak, five years after the operation, seems to be to discredit Seymour Hersh’s account in which he has proven beyond doubt that Pakistan’s government fully cooperated with the US during the operation. It is not a coincidence that this news report was released only within a month of the publication of Seymour Hersh’s book: The Killing of Osama bin Laden.

It should be remembered here that Mark Kelton succeeded Jonathan Bank in January 2011, after the latter’s name was made public by the ISI due to Bank’s “suspicious activities.” Hersh has mentioned in his report that the Pakistani walk-in colonel had met Jonathan Bank and had told the latter that Bin Laden was hiding in a compound in Abbottabad under the protective custody of the ISI. But in order to be sure, the US needed further proof, that’s why they arranged the fake vaccination program run by Dr. Shakil Afridi to obtain Bin Laden’s DNA samples.

The original deal between the Obama and Zardari administrations was that the story would be made public a week after the operation, as mentioned by Hersh in his report, that Bin Laden had been killed/captured in the Hindu Kush mountains on the Afghan side of the border. The crashed Black Hawk in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, however, made that impossible.

The Obama Administration had to improvise within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story, and they tried to gain maximum political mileage out of the incident in order to secure a second term for Obama in the US presidential elections of 2012. This fact explains so many contradictions and loopholes in the official version of the story, as I have already mentioned.

Although Seymour Hersh has claimed in his version of the story that the Pakistani military authorities were also on-board months before the operation, let me clarify, however, that according to the inside sources of Pakistan’s security establishment, only the Pakistani civilian administration under the Zardari-led and the US-friendly Pakistan People’s Party administration was on-board; and the military authorities, who were instrumental in harboring Bin Laden and his family for five years, were intimated only at the eleventh hour.

Moreover, even though Ambassador Haqqani has maintained in his confessional statement that the US “officially kept us out of the loop about the operation,” but in the same sentence, he further states, “the locally stationed CIA operatives [who were issued visas by the Zardari Administration] proved invaluable when Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.” Thus, this “official” denial can only be construed as nothing more than an excuse for the sake of plausible deniability.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How Orientalism pitted Hindus against Muslims in India?

Jinnah and the Mountbattens.
The most outstanding feature of Islam is its history; if you study Islamic history, you would come to realize that Islam did not spread by force alone, it was the superior moral appeal of its peerless ethics that won the hearts and minds of medieval masses. For instance: Mongols conquered most of the eastern lands of the Islamic Empire during the thirteenth century, however, the Muslims of those lands did not convert to the religion of the conquerors: that is, the Mongolian Shamanism. Instead, the conquerors adopted the religion of the vanquished, i.e. Islam. Not only the Mongols, but several Turkish tribes also voluntarily converted to Islam. Such was the beauty of Islamic teachings and its sublime moral appeal in ancient times.

During the medieval times, when Europe was going through an age of intellectual and moral regression, Islamic culture thrived and flourished under the Abbasids, Ottomans and Mughals. Muslims ruled over India for more than six centuries; despite that, at the time of the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, Hindus outnumbered Muslims three to one (there were only 100 million Muslims in the population of 400 million Indians in 1947). That’s how tolerant and inclusive Islamic culture was back then. By comparison, the Red Indians of America and the Aborigines of Australia were reduced to a tiny minority of those continents after the European invasions.

The Sultanate of Delhi and the Mughal Empire were regarded as benevolent rulers by ancient historians. But when India was conquered by the British Empire, their Orientalist historians deliberately propagated the myth of supposedly “savage and rapacious” rule of Muslims in India in order to sow the seeds of dissension between Muslims and Hindus. In the nineteenth century, the newly established British education system in India deliberately portrayed Muslim rulers of India as marauders, rapists and looters in order to malign them. By contrast, the British rule in India was portrayed in a positive light: that the British Empire built roads and railways and established schools, colleges and hospitals in India.

If we were to compare the British and Muslim rules in India, the Muslim rulers at least resided in India and shared their wealth and fortune with their subjects. The British rule, on the other hand, was a foreign rule; the affairs of the state were run by viceroys and governors on the behalf of the monarchs of England who resided thousands of miles away in London. A small number of European colonizers in India treated their subjects as untouchables; they traded raw materials for pennies and sent finished goods back to the Indian market with huge profits, thus enriching themselves and the British Empire.

Up until 1857, the Hindus and Muslims of India were united enough to rise up in arms together against the British colonizers under the nominal command of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. But after that, the British education system introduced by Lord Macaulay in India entrenched communal divisions and made it virtually impossible for Hindus and Muslims to understand each other, even though both religious communities were the victims of exploitation of foreign rule.

Regarding the notion peddled by the Orientalist historians that Muslims or Islam were somehow foreign to India, we need to settle on the definition of nativity first. If an Indian settles in the US, for instance, how would you define such a first generation immigrant? Since he was brought up in India and subsequently migrated to a Western country, therefore such a first generation Indian-American would have more in common with Indians than Americans, as such. But how would you identify the children of an immigrant who have been brought up and educated in the West? The second generation Indian-Americans, for all practical purposes, would be more American than Indian in their outlooks.

Similarly, although I concede that the invading armies of Muslim rulers from Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran were foreign to India; but once they settled in India, made Delhi their seat of governance, intermarried and gave birth to Indian children, then how come the descendants of such benevolent rulers be labeled as foreign invaders? Excluding a few odd adventurers, like Mahmud of Ghazni, who had his seat of government in Afghanistan but plundered the wealth of India by conducting raids on Somnath, the Muslim rulers of India, particularly the Sultanate of Delhi and the Mughal Empire, were as much native to India as the Hindu and Sikh rajas and maharajas.

Notwithstanding, the only true sociological definition of nation is ethno-linguistic group. The concept of modern nation state, particularly in multiethnic federations like India and Pakistan, is an artificial construct which is predicated on nothing substantive but on myths, fables and symbols. Rather than monolithic communities, the Hindus and Muslims of India were more parochial and tribal in character.

The astute Orientalist historians of British India debunked the myth of six centuries’ old Muslim rule in India by calling them “marauders” and substituted it with the fables of the pre-Christ Maurya Empire in order to forge and reify Hindu identity against Muslims. The primary concern of impoverished Indian masses was to earn bread and butter for their families. The metanarratives of Hindu and Muslim nationalism were taught by the British rulers, Hindu elites and Muslim ashrafiya to their subjects in order to distract and exploit them.

Here, let me clarify that I am not giving a free pass to the Muslim rulers of India. Their rule must have been as tyrannical as any other undemocratic, elitist rule throughout the history has been. I am only contending that the Muslim rulers were deliberately singled out and vilified in order to sow the seeds of dissension between the two communities.

After all, if the British rulers who resided in England and ruled over India can be hailed as saviors who built roads and railways and established schools, colleges and hospitals, not by academics but by common Indian citizens, then why can’t the Sultanate of Delhi and the Mughal Empire that ensured peace and stability in India and built architectural wonders in Delhi, Lahore and Agra be granted a similar level of deference?

By the British divide-and-rule policy in the Indian context, it is generally assumed by Indian historians that the British rulers used the Muslim minority against the Hindu majority by giving the former preferential treatment, separate electorates etc. but the fact is often overlooked that the British imperialists in equal measure used the Hindus against the Muslims by vilifying the latter’s culture, rule and religion.

Moreover, the partition of Bengal on religious lines in 1905 was another classic instance of the British divide-and-rule policy through demographic change. In this case, the British imperialists cleverly partitioned the Hindu-majority Bengal province into the Muslim-majority East Bengal and the Hindu-majority West Bengal. As a consequence, the Hindus felt aggrieved and launched a mass movement against the partition; the Raj obliged the Hindus by accepting their demand of reunifying Bengal in 1911 which created a sense of alienation and deprivation among Muslims.

This time around, however, despite unifying the province along linguistic lines, at the same time the British rulers split up Bihar and Orissa province to the west and Assam province to the east; thus, reducing the initial Hindu majority (pre-1905) that included Bihar, Orissa and Assam, in favor of Muslim majority (post-1911) in the reunified Bengal. Additionally, the British rulers also devised separate electorates for Muslims in 1909; thus, pitting one community against the other which had lived peacefully for centuries before the arrival of British in India.

Finally, rather than cultivating inclusive Indian nationalism that would glorify Hindu, Muslim and Sikh identities and histories in equal measure, the British rulers maliciously nurtured exclusionary Hindu and Muslim nationalism in order to divide the communities and prolong the British rule. As several contemporary Indian historians have contended that Muslim nationalism in India was a reaction to exclusionary Hindu nationalism.

The political leadership of India was the product of British education system that forged artificial identities and entrenched communal divisions, therefore it was not possible for them to rise above their communal prejudices and work for the betterment of all Indians as a nation. This self-serving, divide-and-rule policy by the British rulers and their Hindu, Muslim and Sikh collaborators eventually led to a carnage and mass exodus of people on the eve of independence the likes of which history has seldom witnessed.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

How Syrian conflict will play out under Trump Administration?

A recent article in the Washington Post has carried a rather paradoxical headline: “Hezbollah, Russia and the US help Syria retake Palmyra,” [1] but it also offers clues as to how the Syrian theater of proxy wars might transform under the new Trump Administration. Under the previous Obama Administration, the unstated but known policy in Syria had been regime change, and any collaboration with the Syrian government against the Islamic State had simply not been on the cards.

The Trump Administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective, a fact which is obvious from Donald Trump’s statements on Syria during and after the campaign. Being an ardent supporter of Israel, Donald Trump has assured Benjamin Netanyahu that he will regard Israel’s regional security as seriously as the security of the US, therefore it is implausible that the Trump Administration would directly collaborate with the Syrian government, Hezbollah, or the Iranian resistance axis in general which is the single biggest threat to Israel’s regional security.

It is mentioned in the aforementioned article by Liz Sly, however, that the US has carried out 45 air strikes in the vicinity of Palmyra against the Islamic State targets in the month of February, which must have “indirectly” helped the Syrian government and Hezbollah militia recapture Palmyra along with Russia’s air support.

As I have mentioned before that expecting a radical departure from the six year long, Obama Administration’s policy of training and arming Sunni militants against the Shi’a regime by the Trump Administration is unlikely. However, the latter regards Sunni jihadists as a much bigger threat to America’s security than the former. Therefore some indirect support and a certain level of collaboration with the Russians and the Syrian government against the radical Sunni Islamists cannot be ruled out.

Here let me emphasize that President Trump has been in the office for less than two months, it’s too early to predict his approach to the region once he has been fully briefed and has assumed a position of responsibility. His stance on the Middle East region and Syria in particular will unfold in the coming months and years.

What would be different in the respective Syria policy of the two markedly different US administrations, however, is that while the Obama Administration did avail itself of the opportunity to strike an alliance with Kurds against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but it was simply not possible for them to come up with an out of the box solution and use Shi’a militants against Sunni jihadists.

The Trump Administration, however, is not hampered by the botched legacy of the Obama Administration in Syria, and therefore it might align itself with the Kurds as well as the Russians and the Syrian government against the Islamic State militants in Syria.

Two obstacles to such a natural alignment of interests, however, are: firstly, Israel’s objections regarding the threat that Hezbollah poses to its regional security; and secondly, Turkey which is a NATO member and has throughout nurtured several Sunni militant groups during the six year long civil war would have serious reservations against the new American administration’s partnership not only with the Russians and the Syrian government but also with the PYD/YPG Kurds in Syria, which Turkey regards as an offshoot of separatist PKK Kurds in southeast Turkey.

It should be remembered here that the Syrian civil war is actually a three-way conflict between the Sunni Arab militants, the Shi’a Arab regime and the Syrian Kurds. And the net beneficiaries of this conflict have been the Syrian Kurds who have expanded their area of control by cleverly aligning themselves first with the Syrian regime against the Sunni Arab militants since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to August 2014 when the US declared a war against one faction of the Sunni Arab militants, i.e. the Islamic State, after the latter overran Mosul in June 2014; and then the Syrian Kurds aligned themselves with the US against the Islamic State, thus further buttressing their position against the Sunni Arab militants as well as the Syrian regime.

Although the Sunni Arab militants have also scored numerous victories in their battle against the Shi’a regime, but their battlefield victories have mostly been ephemeral. They have already been evicted from Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq and their withdrawal from Mosul against the Iraqi armed forces with American air and logistical support is only a matter of time.

In Syria, the Sunni Arab militants have already been routed from east Aleppo by the Syrian government troops with Russian air support. Although the Islamic State is still occupying Raqqa and parts of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, but it’s obvious that the Islamic State is going to lose Raqqa either to the Syrian Kurds or to the Syrian government. The Islamic State has already lost Palmyra to the Syrian government troops and its gains in Deir ez-Zor don’t appear sustainable either.

The only permanent gains of the Sunni Arab militants would be Idlib in western Syria, Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria, and a few pockets in northern Syria, like al-Bab, which has already changed hands from the extreme faction of Sunni Arab jihadists, the Islamic State, to the relatively moderate factions of the Sunni Arab militants through Turkish support and intervention.

Notwithstanding, as I have already mentioned that for the first three years of Syrian civil war, from August 2011 to August 2014, an informal pact had existed between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds against the onslaught of the Sunni Arab militants, until the Kurds broke off that arrangement to become the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s policy in the region.

According to the aforementioned pact, the Syrian government had informally acknowledged Kurdish autonomy and in return the Kurdish militia had defended the areas in northeastern Syria, particularly al-Hasakah, alongside the Syrian government troops against the advancing Sunni Arab militant groups.

Moreover, it would also be pertinent to mention that unlike the pro-America Iraqi Kurds led by Massoud Barzani, the Syrian PYD Kurds as well as the Syrian government are also ideologically aligned, because both are socialists and have traditionally been under Russian sphere of influence.

Thus, another such alliance between the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government against the Islamic State is plausible, and it would be a wise move by the Trump Administration to avail itself of a two-pronged strategy to liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State: that is, to use the Syrian government troops to put pressure from the south and the Kurds to lead the charge from the north of Islamic State’s capital Raqqa.

What lends further credence to this theory is the fact that the Syrian government and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are already collaborating in Manbij where the Kurds have handed over several villages to the Syrian government troops in order to create a buffer zone and to avoid confrontation with the Turkish troops and the allied Sunni militants, who have recently liberated al-Bab from the Islamic State and have now set their eyes on Manbij.

Karen De Young and Liz Sly mention in another article [2] of the Washington Post that Russian and Syrian government’s convoys had already been headed towards Manbij and the US government had been informed about the movement by the Russians.

In the same article, the aforementioned reporters had also made another startling revelation: “Trump has said repeatedly that the US and Russia should cooperate against the Islamic State, and he has indicated that the future of Russia-backed Assad is of less concern to him.” Thus, it appears, that the interests of all the major players in Syria have converged on defeating the Islamic State, and the Obama era policy of regime change has been put on the back burner.