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.