Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Trumps on tour: Donald and Melania (plus Ivanka) are greeted by the Saudi king as they land in Riyadh for his crucial first test abroad

President Donald Trump, pictured with first lady Melania, touched down Saturday in the Middle Eastern country of Saudi Arabia after tweeting about his excitement for his first 'big foreign trip'

President Donald Trump has landed in Saudi Arabia as he begins his first foreign tour since taking office.

He touched down in the Middle East this morning, hours after tweeting about his excitement for his first ‘big foreign trip.’

Trump flew to the capital Riyadh overnight on Air Force One – becoming the only president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas as president.

His arrival following a 6,700-mile flight was met with the pomp usually reserved for the likes of a Papal welcome in South America.

The president got the red carpet treatment – literally – and some airport workers took off their shoes before manicuring it with brooms in 97-degree heat.

The Saudi King later presented Trump with the kingdom’s top civilian honor, the gold King Abdulaziz medal, at the royal court.


Saudi Arabia Whines US Has Too Much Control Over World’s Oil

May 14, 2017 1 comment

(Daily Caller News Foundation) The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) asked the U.S. to stop producing so much oil, according to a report Thursday.

Saudi Arabia Whines US Has Too Much Control Over World’s Oil

OPEC’s report blames the U.S. in particular because hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has greatly increased American oil production. The new production has led a lengthy period of very low oil prices. OPEC claims raising global oil prices will “require the collective efforts of all oil producers” and should be done “not only for the benefit of the individual countries, but also for the general prosperity of the world economy.”

New American oil production is undermining OPEC’s efforts to keep global prices between $50 and $60 per barrel, with current prices hovering around $47 a barrel.

“I think [OPEC] are now acutely aware that they don’t have the kind of influence they used to have 10 years ago, and that shale is now the swing producer in the market,” Tom Pugh, commodities economist at Capital Economics, told CNN Money.

As U.S. oil production continues increasing, OPEC oil gets edged out of the lucrative American oil market. America imported about 60 percent of its oil in 2007, but by 2014, the U.S. only imported 27 percent of its oil — that’s the lowest level since 1985, according to government data. The rising oil production has reduced demand for Saudi oil abroad too, keeping prices low.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects oil production to top 9 million barrels a day in 2017. The U.S. surpassed both Saudi Arabia and Russia in 2015 as the world’s largest and fastest-growing producer of oil.

OPEC de-facto leader, Saudi Arabia, is increasingly unable to control the global oil supply because of rising energy production in the U.S., Russia and Iran.

“Saudi Arabia is under extraordinary pressure both internally and externally,” Dr. Jean-Marc Rickli, a risk analyst at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told The Wall Street Journal.

The world’s biggest crude exporter is conceding ground to enact a steep oil production cut in order to prop up the low global price of oil, causing the Kingdom to rapidly lose market share and influence over other OPEC members.

The Saudis convinced OPEC to cut production to raise prices in November, but OPEC countries can’t cope with low crude prices and already appear to be cheating to balance their national budgets. Such cheating keeps oil from rising, further weakening Saudi control over OPEC.

Though Saudi Arabia can likely handle cheap oil better than other OPEC countries, it is expecting a budget deficit of $140 billion— roughly 20 percent of the country’s economy. The fiscal outlook for the country looks so dire when compared to 2013’s surplus of $48 billion, that the International Monetary Fund warned it could go through its fiscal reserves within five years. Saudi oil export revenues dropped 46 percent in just a year and the country is selling bonds for the first time since 2007.

Republished with permission from Daily Caller News Foundation via iCopyright license.

Russia to Establish A Naval Base in Yemen? Implications for US Military Involvement in Syria?

“If You Take East-Syria, I’ll Take That Yemeni Port”

Moon of Alabama

Will the U.S. leave Syria if doing so prevents a Russian fleet in Yemen? 

The question seems weird but if Russia succeeds with its negotiations in Yemen it will soon have to be asked.

A U.S. neoconservative outlet recently published an interesting but mostly unsourced bit about Yemen:

Russia is mediating negotiations for a political solution to the Yemen conflict outside of UN channels as a means to secure naval bases in Yemen. Russia is pursuing political negotiations with the UAE and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh by beginning to discuss the future consensus Yemeni government. Saleh’s support for the Houthis is critical for the al Houthi-Saleh bloc to retain its influence across northern and central Yemen. The UAE may see this settlement as a way to halt the expansion of Iran’s influence in Yemen and to limit bearing further costs associated with the Yemeni war. Saleh previously expressed willingness to grant Russia military basing rights in Yemen. This basing would allow Russia to project power into one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in the Red Sea and the Bab al Mandab strait, a global maritime chokepoint.

Back in August 2016 the former Yemeni president Saleh had indeed made an offer to Russia:

“In the fight against terrorism we reach out and offer all facilities. Our airports, our ports… We are ready to provide this to the Russian Federation,” Saleh said in an interview in Sanaa.

No one (but Russia?) took Saleh serious at that time. He was not, and is not, in a position to achieve control over Aden in southern Yemen nor any other relevant Yemeni port.

I also doubted the recent report. Yes, until the early 1990s the Soviet Union had bases in southern Yemen and thousands of military advisers and trainers worked in the country. But Russia currently does not have the naval resources, nor the immediate interest, to open a new base in the area. Or so I thought.

But a well-informed source in Yemen dispelled my doubts. It confirmed the report. Russia is negotiating with the UAE, the Houthi/Saleh alliance and the various southern groups in Yemen over a peace deal and has been doing so for the last six month. The deal would include Russian naval basing rights in Aden.


The red lights must be flashing at CENTCOM, the Pentagon and the National Security Council. For the last twenty-five years the Arab Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea were largely U.S. controlled waters. That China recently opened an “anti-piracy” base in Djibouti has already led to concerns. Now the Russians are coming!!!

The Saudi war on Yemen, actively supported by the U.S., is going nowhere. The Saudis are daily losing soldiers to Yemeni incursions (vid) into south Saudi Arabia. There is no chance that Saudi supported forces will take the Houthi/Saleh controlled northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa. The United Arab Emirates has supported the Saudi war with capable forces. But the UAE only wants Aden port and its nearby oil-loading facilities for its DP World port management business. The Saudis want the ports as outlets for their oil exports away from their Persian Gulf ports that Iran could easily disable. But they also want to control all of Yemen.

The Saudis hired Al-Qaeda in Yemen to fight as their proxy force. But neither the U.S. nor the UAE agree to that ploy. UAE forces in Yemen were attacked by AQ. The U.S. fears AQ in Yemen as a potential source of international attacks. Since the beginning of the year the U.S. and UAE special forces have raided or bombed a number of Al-Qaeda concentration in Yemen. The Saudis were surprised but could hardly protest. Al-Qaeda was their last ace in the game. They have lost it.

The Saudis are pulling back from their planned invasion on Yemen’s Red Sea coast in Hodeidah. The port is currently the only one through which food aid is shipped to the besieged and starving northern areas. The UN had protested against an attack on it and the U.S. has held back support for the operation. The Houthis and Saleh will likely agree to some UN control over the port. While the Saudis allege that the port is for smuggling arms from Iran, the Houthi know well that this has not been the case.

The Saudi fear of an Iranian stronghold in Yemen is baseless. The alleged Iranian support for the Houthis never materialized. During more than two years of war no Iranian was killed, captured or even seen in Yemen. The ballistic missiles the Houthis are using against Saudi Arabia are old Soviet types including locally modified SA-2/S-75 air defense missiles. The Yemeni army had purchased and stashed many of those while Iran had never owned that type. The military supplies the Houthis use is not of Iranian origin but taken from Saudi deliveries to its proxy fighters in Yemen. The Houthi simply capture or buy from them whatever they need.

There were recent protests in Aden against the U.S./Saudi puppet president of Yemen, Hadi. He had resided there for a few weeks but had to flee back to his luxury hotel suite in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While Hadi is officially in control and responsible for Aden no government wages have been paid, utilities are out and various gangs control and fight each other over parts of the city. Party headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood aligned Islah party, which supports Hadi, have been burned down.

The UAE has had enough of it:

The Emiratis are beginning to tire of their bickering wards. Officials who hoped that Aden would be a model for the rest of Yemen now fear that leaving the south on autopilot might only condemn the country to instability. And that might engulf the whole Arabian peninsula. Thousands of fighters they have trained have gone AWOL (after collecting their pay). Motivating recruits to push north is an uphill task even with the payment of bonuses. Those who were happy to fight for their own homes seem unenthused about fighting for somebody else’s.

If the Saleh/Houthi alliance can make peace with the southern movements that so far supported Hadi, the war can be ended within a few month. Russia can moderate the negotiations and provide, to some degree, guarantees. Unlike the U.S. it is seen as neutral and sober by all sides of the conflict. The UAE and the Saudis will have to pay up for the carnage they caused. The UAE would probably get commercial Aden port rights for its DP World business. The Saudis would only get some peace within their borders. But by now the Saudis are likely to agree to such a deal – if only to keep face while ending that calamitous adventure in Yemen.

As for the naval port and Russian basing rights – these are excellent bargains in negotiations with the U.S. over Syria. If the U.S. insists on controlling eastern Syria the Russians can send some submarines, a destroyer and other combatants to Aden and install some very capable air and sea defenses to keep their ships and the harbor safe.

If the U.S. agrees to leave Syria alone then a small rusty Russian corvette in Aden, without air defenses, would probably do. The Pentagon and the White House would have a choice to make: keep primacy in the seas of the area or have the constant menace of a nearby Russian “fleet in being” on their back. Is a troublesome occupation of east-Syria really worth that hassle?

The Trump Team Is Still Searching for a Two-State Solution

April 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Washington, DC is dealing with a lot of problems these days. Drama over the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives is pretty much all that people seem to care about these days. Talks over keeping the government open after April 28 are proceeding apace. And the aftermath of the Obamacare repeal is still hovering above the capital city like a dark storm cloud. Outside of the first U.S. missile strikes on the Assad regime since the Syrian civil war began, it’s almost as if everything else in the world is unimportant.

And yet there are things going on in the world today that are even more consequential to America’s national security than how much money Paul Manafort may have made in Ukraine or whether the federal government runs out of money by the end of next month. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to name one major issue.

Trump’s envoy for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, has been flying in and out of the Middle East like so many peace negotiators before him. Greenblatt perhaps has the most thankless job in the foreign-policy community: trying to find just the right combination of honey and vinegar to convince Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the table. The fact that he needs to do this at the same time as he must reassure Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington has Israel’s core interests in mind is the proverbial circling of the square. As former State Department negotiator Aaron David Miller has written for CNN, “The chances of the Trump administration waking the patient up, let alone facilitating a real road to recovery, are well . . . pretty close to zero.” This is coming from a man who spent most of his career trying to strike the ultimate bargain in the Holy Land, so he knows something about getting two intransigent parties in the same room.

It’s not going to be easy for Jason Greenblatt.

But for those who continue believe that the two-state solution is ultimately the only formula that will provide Israelis and Palestinians with the right mix of self-determination, security and peace, Greenblatt’s meetings with Israeli and Palestinian diplomats over the last two weeks are an encouraging sign that the Trump administration seems serious about putting out feelers.

The only thing predictable about Mideast peace negotiations is that Netanyahu and Abbas don’t particularly like or trust one another. Rightly or wrongly, Abbas sees Netanyahu as a right-wing extremist who views placating his domestic political base as more important to his personal legacy than risking his political future by providing the Palestinians with the concessions they seek. Netanyahu, in turn, sees in Abbas a weak politician who is past his prime, doesn’t have the power to get the Palestinian people behind him, and a figure who can’t guarantee that a Palestinian state wouldn’t deteriorate into another Gaza Strip. Rushing into talks, even if the Palestinians agreed to talks, is bound to fail and set back the peace process even further.

Greenblatt has chosen to take a more deliberative approach. He’s made the rounds in Israel, Ramallah, Washington and on the sidelines of the Arab League Summit this week, poking and prodding about what the stakeholders would like to see in any deal and whether there’s enough common ground that a more formal process can be launched. That’s the way to do it.

Again, we haven’t a clue as to whether the Trump administration will be anymore successful than the Clinton, Bush or Obama administrations before it. Mideast peace talks tend to have the effect of causing migraines, heart palpitations, ulcers and a general sense of psychologic daze (just as President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State John Kerry). Greenblatt and his superiors in the White House may get to that point as well.

But at least they are starting this painful but necessary endeavor with eyes wide open.

Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.

Image: Old City of Jerusalem through barbed wire. Pixabay/Public domain

Luring Trump into Mideast Wars

April 11, 2017 1 comment


Frog-Marching Donald Trump entered military terra incognita on Thursday by launching an illegal Tomahawk missile strike on an air base in eastern Syria. Beyond the clear violation of international law, the practical results are likely to be disastrous, drawing the U.S. deeper into the Syrian quagmire.

But it would be a mistake to focus all the criticism on Trump. Not only are Democrats also at fault, but a good argument could be made that they bear even greater responsibility.

For years, near-total unanimity has reigned on Capitol Hill concerning America’s latest villains du jour, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Congressmen, senators, think-tank strategists, and op-ed analysts all have agreed that Putin and Assad are the prime enemies of “peace,” by which is meant global American hegemony, and that therefore the U.S. must stop at nothing to weaken or neutralize them or force them to exit the world stage.

Until recently, in fact, just about the only politically significant dissenter was Trump. Accusing reporters of twisting the news at a tumultuous press conference in late February, he told them,

“Now tomorrow, you’ll say, ‘Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia, this is terrible.’ It’s not terrible. It’s good.”

But since getting along with Russia was terrible for America’s perpetually bellicose foreign-policy establishment, Official Washington declared war on Trump, building on Hillary Clinton’s charge during the last presidential debate that he was Putin’s “puppet.” It became the conventional wisdom that Trump was a “Siberian candidate” being inserted in the White House by a satanic Kremlin determined to bend freedom-loving Americans to its will.

As Inauguration Day approached, President Obama’s intelligence chiefs pulled out all stops to persuade the public that (a) Russian intelligence had engineered Clinton’s defeat by hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computers and placing thousands of embarrassing emails in the hands of WikiLeaks and that (b) Trump was somehow complicit in the effort.

The campaign was highly effective. The alleged Putin-Trump relationship was a major feature at the anti-Trump protests surrounding his inauguration and the major U.S. news media pounded on the Russia “scandal” daily.

On Feb. 13, barely four weeks after taking office, Trump crumbled under a mounting barrage of political abuse and gave National Security Adviser Michael Flynn the boot after it was revealed that he had talked with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition, supposedly in violation of the 1799 Logan Act, an absurd piece of ancient legislation that even The New York Times referred to as “a dusty, old law” that should have been repealed generations ago.

Under Media Pressure

A day later, the administration reeled again when the Times charged in a front-page exposé that “members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”

The article provided no evidence and no names and said nothing about whether such contacts were knowing or unknowing, i.e., whether they involved a John le Carré-style midnight rendezvous or merely an exchange of pleasantries with someone who may or may not have been connected to the FSB, as Russia’s version of the CIA is known.

In a March 6 article entitled “Pause This Presidency,” Times columnist Charles M. Blow called for little less than a coup d’état:

“The American people must immediately demand a cessation of all consequential actions by this ‘president’ until we can be assured that Russian efforts to hack our election … did not also include collusion with or cover-up by anyone involved in the Trump campaign and now administration.”

How “the American people” would demand such a cessation or who would provide such assurances was not specified.

On March 31, CNN quoted an unnamed senior administration official saying that Trump’s hopes of a rapprochement with Russia were fading because he “believes in the current atmosphere – with so much media scrutiny and ongoing probes into Trump-Russia ties and election meddling – that it won’t be possible to ‘make a deal.’”

Thus, Trump found himself increasingly boxed in by hostile forces. But he still tried to fulfill his promise to concentrate on defeating terrorists in Syria and Iraq. On March 30, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. administration “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” but to concentrate on defeating Al Qaeda and ISIS instead.

But the more Trump contemplated his predicament in the following days, the more he realized how untenable it had come. Tuesday’s poison-gas incident in Idlib thus offered a way out regardless of who was actually responsible. The only way for Trump to make peace with the “deep state” in Washington was by waging war on Syria.

Finally, on Thursday, hours before Trump sent a volley of cruise missiles wafting towards Syria, Hillary Clinton taunted him by declaring that

America “should take out his [Assad’s] airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people.”

The effect was to all but force Trump to show that he was every bit as macho as the former First Lady.

Frog-Marching Trump

Trump is certainly a fool for going ahead with such an attack in clear contravention of international law and entangling the United States more deeply into the complicated Syrian conflict. But the blame also should go to the people who frog-marched him to the precipice and then all but commanded him to step over the edge.

Within hours, all the usual suspects were congratulating one of the most scorned U.S. presidents in history for taking the leap.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said:

“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described Trump’s missile barrage as “a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.”

Republican super-hawks Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, previously as anti-administration as any Democrat, issued a joint statement declaring that Trump “deserves the support of the American people,” while liberal heart-throb Sen. Elizabeth Warren also agreed that “the Syrian regime must be held accountable for this horrific act.”

The Guardian, as fiercely anti-Trump as it is anti-Putin and anti-Assad, conceded that “Donald Trump has made his point” and that the next step would be up to Russia. All in all, Trump had never gotten such good press. It’s clear that Official Washington was pleased with Trump’s handiwork and was eager to encourage him to do more.

But the missile barrage was not just an assault on Syria but on reason and good sense, too. Although the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor tried to make it seem that the only critics of the missile barrage are members of the alt-right “known for espousing racist, anti-Semitic and sexist points of view,” the fact is that criticism flowed in from other quarters.

At Alternet, Vijay Prashad pointed out that there were few independent observers in Khan Shaykhun, the farming town where the April 4 incident occurred, to provide an accurate account. Eyewitnesses “with the densest relationship to the armed opposition,” he wrote, “are the first to claim that this attack was done by the government.”

Consortiumnews’ Robert Parry pointed out that rather than dropping the gas themselves, Syrian or Russian warplanes could well have triggered an outbreak by bombing a facility containing “chemicals that the rebels were planning to use in some future attack.” Parry also noted that Al Qaeda, which controls Idlib province, could have “staged the incident to elicit precisely the international outrage directed at Assad as has occurred.”

[Previously, United Nations investigators have received eyewitness testimony from Syrians about rebels staging an alleged chlorine-bomb attack so it would be pinned on the Assad regime.]

Something similar may well have occurred in August 2013, a sarin-gas missile attack on the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds and that appears to have been launched from a rebel-controlled area two kilometers away. The two incidents are curiously parallel.

The August 2013 incident, which horrified the world and brought the Obama administration to the brink of its own attack on the Syrian government, occurred just days after a U.N. team had arrived in Damascus to investigate an alleged chemical attack by rebels against Syrian government troops some four months earlier.

It made little sense for the Assad regime to have invited U.N. investigators in and then launch a more horrific chemical-weapons attack just miles from the investigators’ hotel. It would be a bit like someone inviting a police inspector to dinner and then committing a murder in full view.

Not Making Sense

As one independent analysis noted in 2013, the Assad regime would have to have decided to carry out a large-scale attack “despite (a) making steady gains against rebel positions, (b) receiving a direct threat from the US that the use of chemical weapons would trigger intervention, (c) having constantly assured their Russian allies that they will not use such weapons, (d) prior to the attack, only using non-lethal chemicals and only against military targets.”

The Assad government would also have had to decide “to (a) send forces into rebel-held area, where they are exposed to sniper fire from multiple directions, (b) use locally manufactured short-range rockets, instead of any of the long-range high quality chemical weapons in their arsenal, and (c) use low quality sarin.”

All of which seems supremely unlikely, but much of the mainstream U.S. media still treats the 2013 sarin-gas attack as the undeniable case of Assad crossing Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons. And the highly dubious 2013 incident is cited as a key reason to believe that Assad has done it again. [Recently, The New York Times has quietly backed off the 2013 claims although not explicitly retracting its earlier reporting blaming the attack on the Assad regime.]

Assad would have possibly even stronger reasons not to deploy sarin gas on April 4, 2017. He would have to make a conscious decision to court world opprobrium at a time when the tide of the war was finally turning in his favor with the liberation of Aleppo last December and with most world leaders having concluded that the Assad regime was here to stay.

To have produced and deployed a sarin bomb would have meant deliberately risking military intervention more than three years after Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations to destroy its entire chemical-weapons stockpile so as to avoid … military intervention.

All of which seems supremely unlikely as well. It would be an act of suicide – and after holding off a combined U.S., Saudi, Qatari, and Turkish assault for half a decade or more, one thing that Assad does not appear to be is suicidal.

Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said,

“there is no doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for this horrific attack,” in reality there is plenty of doubt.

Nevertheless, Trump decided to fire away before the facts were in because the enemy he is most worried about is not the one half a world away in Syria, but the Democratic-neocon alliance in his own backyard. The political warfare in Washington is now generating more agony from real wars in the Middle East.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

Does Trump Have a Strategy to Win the Global War?

March 27, 2017 Leave a comment

The Wall Street Journal is delighted to hear Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s tough words on North Korea and China.

“Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Mr. Tillerson said, referring to the Obama Administration policy of waiting for North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions or collapse. A day earlier he criticized “20 years” of a “failed approach” to the North’s nuclear ambitions.

I, too, appreciate the secretary of state’s candor. But straight talk isn’t going to be enough. As the Journal concedes,

He and President Trump are trying to persuade China that the new Administration is serious about stopping the North before it could explode a nuclear weapon over U.S. territory. China has ignored U.S. pleas in the past, so the test will be getting Beijing to believe the new Administration isn’t bluffing.

How are we supposed to get the Chinese to change their minds? Words aren’t going to be good enough; the Chinese, and the North Koreans, will have to see real evidence of American resolve, which has been lacking for three decades.

The Trump administration’s national security policy was to have been much more muscular than Obama’s, as incarnate in the appointments of notoriously tough military leaders at the National Security Council (first General Flynn, then General McMaster) and the Department of Defense (General Mattis). So far at least, this has not happened; the enemy coalition has been more active, starting with North Korea, and continuing with China, Russia, and Iran.

You can see the enemy moving in and around Libya, now a major regional hot spot. Sub-Saharan African countries see a significant influx of radical Islamist terrorists across Libya’a southern border, and are urging the United States and Europe to take forceful action. Meanwhile, in the north, the Egyptians are turning to unlikely allies to fight Libyan-based terrorists. All of a sudden, Russian special forces have turned up in Egypt within range of Libya. “It is very concerning,” Marine General Thomas Waldhauser. U.S. Africom commander, said to Senator John McCain in recent testimony.

“General Haftar has visited, as you said, on the carrier with the Russians. He’s also visited in the country of Russia. Also, this week it’s reported in the open press, [Prime Minister Fayez al-] Sarraj from the Government of National Accord has also visited Russia.

This is doubly worrisome, both because the Russians are moving some of their best fighters onto the Libyan battleground, and because it shows that the Egyptian government is cooperating with Vladimir Putin. This shows, once again, that General el-Sisi does not feel entirely comfortable with his American allies, and is hedging his security bets. Not good news for the Trump administration.

The Chinese are also stepping up their Middle East activities, especially in Egypt.

Iran has gotten busier in Yemen, funneling weapons (including drones and MANPADS), money, and advisers to their Houthi proxies in the ongoing war against Saudi Arabia. And the Iranians are quite provocative in the main shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf, manning their weapons as they draw within a thousand yards of U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Yes, the Iranians are testing the intentions of President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis, and this sort of war game enables the Tehran regime to brag that they are the dominant force in those crucial waters.

Oddly, the toughest American verbiage toward Iran thus far has come from our ambassador to the United States, Nikki Haley, who has actually called for the expulsion of Iranians and their proxies from Syria.  You can safely assume that Ambassador Haley didn’t ad lib that language; the president, the relevant cabinet secretaries, and the national security adviser surely signed off on it.

Watch to see if our actions are in sync with these words. So far, it’s been the usual sanctions, with a high concentration of Russian targets. In recent days,

The U.S. sanctioned 30 individuals and entities from 10 countries, many of them Chinese and Russian, for transferring sensitive missile technology to Iran and flouting export controls on Iran, North Korea and Syria, the State Department said Friday.

The sanctions, imposed on Tuesday, include 11 companies and individuals that have provided materials to Iran’s ballistic missile program. The State Department is concerned in part because the U.S. has seen evidence that Iran is providing missile support to the Houthis in Yemen.

At the same time, we are dispatching fighters—mostly Marines, it seems– to Syria, in the anti-ISIS campaign, and we are still fighting alongside Iran forces in Iraq.

So what’s our policy? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. We say we want Iran out of Syria, but we’re in league with the Iranians in some battles. We want a closer relationship with Egypt, but Sisi clearly has his doubts, and is taking out insurance by working with Putin. We are rhetorically tough against North Korea (an intimate of Iran), and slap sanctions against those who help them, but there is as yet no sign that we understand we’re in a world war, nor that we have a global strategy capable of winning it.

If we want to change the global battlefield, we are going to have to defeat the keystones of the enemy alliance. The best place to start is with Iran, and the best way to do it is politically, not military.

General McMaster does not seem to agree. His predecessor “put Iran on notice,” but McMaster avoids even the sort of verbal conflict with the Islamic Republic that many expected on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, that just arrived. Instead of denouncing the Tehran regime, the official American statement was bland. Short version: “I hope you have a fine time, especially all my Iranian-American friends.” Not a word about Iranian-American hostages in Tehran, nor about the constant Iranian threats against the United States, nor about the calls to kill Americans.

So there’s some good words from Tillerson and Haley, and some weak words from the Oval Office. There is still no definition of our mission in the global war, and no strategy for victory.

We’ll see that—or not—soon enough.

Tillerson pledges long-term US military role in Iraq and Syria

March 24, 2017 Leave a comment
Jordan Shilton

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared Washington’s intention to keep troops deployed more or less indefinitely in the territories now occupied by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in remarks delivered at the beginning of a two-day meeting of the US-organized anti-ISIS coalition in Washington.

“The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS,” he told an audience that included Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He gave no indication of when, if ever, US troops could be withdrawn from a war zone extending across Iraq and Syria, where there has been fighting of greater or lesser intensity throughout the 14 years since the US first invaded Iraq.

Tillerson also called for the establishment of “interim zones of stability” in Syria to which refugees from the US-instigated civil war that has raged throughout that country for the past six years could be forcibly returned. Areas will be deemed “safe” if they have been initially cleared of ISIS, an absurdly low standard given the deadly conflicts which continue to rage between different factions in the Syrian civil war.

He also stressed that these areas would come under the control of local governments installed by Washington, presumably drawn from the Kurds and Sunni Islamist opposition forces sponsored by the Pentagon and CIA as part of the US war for regime change against the Assad government in Damascus.

Trump’s secretary of state also demanded a greater commitment both militarily and financially from the 68 countries represented at the meeting. A State Department release prior to the meeting said a key goal would be to “accelerate international efforts to defeat ISIS.”

Tillerson emphasized that US troops would effectively be engaged in a permanent occupation of neighboring Iraq. Even after ISIS is defeated in Mosul, where hundreds of civilians have been killed by the US-backed offensive on the Iraq’s second-largest city, the US military would remain there, Tillerson insisted.

“Local leaders and local governments will take on the process of restoring their communities in the wake of ISIS with our support,” he said. “The development of a rejuvenated civil society in these places will lead to a disenfranchisement of ISIS and the emergence of stability and peace where there was once chaos and suffering. But none of this will happen automatically. We all need to support this effort.”

Such bogus claims about bringing “democracy” and “freedom” to Iraq were employed by the Bush administration in 2003 to justify its illegal invasion, which led to the deaths of upwards of a million Iraqis and helped create the conditions under which ISIS could emerge.

Under Obama and now Trump, Washington has seized on the threat posed by ISIS to justify a bloody war in the Middle East which has already claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Behind the propaganda, US imperialism’s real goal is the consolidation of its control over the energy-rich region by bringing about regime change in Damascus and stabilizing the puppet government in Baghdad. In the process, the United States and its imperialist allies have laid waste to both countries, claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and forced millions more to flee their homes.

In a remark that amounts to a blank check to the US to wage war wherever it sees fit, Tillerson ominously warned that ISIS could emerge anywhere after it is defeated in the current fighting. “As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere,” he said. “We must ensure ISIS cannot gain or maintain footholds in new regions of the world.”

Even as the secretary of state delivered his comments, a major operation has been launched in Syria by US special forces to provide support to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in an assault behind ISIS lines. US troops and SDF militia were flown into a location close to a dam on the Euphrates River which they aim to take from ISIS so as to open up a new route into Raqqa, the Jihadi group’s de facto capital.

While reports sought to maintain the fiction that the US military personnel were there as “advisers,” they are to all intents and purposes engaged in a combat mission. Col. Joe Scrocca, spokesman for the US military intervention in Syria and Iraq, admitted as much when he noted that the mission behind enemy lines could take “weeks” to complete.

In preparation for the offensive, US aircraft intensified its ruthless bombardment of the Raqqa area. One of these strikes destroyed a school building Tuesday that was being used to house refugees forced to flee their homes from the fighting. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which described the attack as a “massacre,” 33 bodies were recovered from the rubble. The casualty figure could be much higher since activists reported up to 100 people were living there. The activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said the whereabouts of 50 families living at the school remains unknown.

The news came just five days after US warplanes partially destroyed a mosque in Idlib Province, killing at least 42 civilians. The US military announced Tuesday it was conducting an official investigation into the incident. A statement from the US-led coalition denied striking the school near Raqqa.

An estimated 116 civilians have been killed in US-led air strikes in Syria since March 8, while in Mosul, the numbers of deaths have risen sharply as Iraqi forces and US aircraft have begun targeting the densely populated western part of the city. More than 1,000 civilians were killed or injured in February alone. In comments to the Intercept, journalist Anand Gopal described US air strikes in Mosul as “hitting pretty much everything in sight.” Gopal added, “It’s a real humanitarian disaster that’s unfolding as we speak.”

The blatant disregard for civilian lives is the direct product of Trump’s granting of expanded powers to the Pentagon and US military commanders in the region to launch attacks. This means that air strikes can be conducted without any oversight from the White House, insuring a more rapid and intensive pace than under Obama, when such oversight did not prevent frequent civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, a collection of Al Qaeda affiliates and other Islamist groups continued to attack Damascus on Wednesday. Reports spoke of indiscriminate shelling by the Jihadis of the al-Mazraa district of the capital, where the Russian embassy is located. Syrian government sources reported that reinforcements had been sent to the eastern Damascus neighborhood of Jobar, as well as to the city of Hama where another Jihadi attack is under way.

The Trump administration’s intensification of the Syrian conflict takes place in a region which is increasingly destabilized and threatens to trigger a broader war with disastrous consequences. As well as the US, a number of European imperialist powers, including Britain, France and Germany, have forces deployed in the region to enforce their own great power ambitions.

Russia, which intervened in 2015 to prop up the Assad regime, is also strengthening its presence in the contested northwest of Syria, where its military personnel will carry out training of the Kurdish YPG militia, which is also receiving support from the US. This will further antagonize Turkey as Ankara is not prepared to tolerate the consolidation of a Kurdish-controlled autonomous region on its border. Ankara also views Iran with mounting hostility, accusing it of seeking to expand its influence in Syria.

Even within the US-led coalition, differences exist over Syrian policy. Speaking to the Washington Post, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault complained that he had been “hoping for more specifics” from the Trump administration. Ayrault stated Washington had to concentrate on “all aspects” of the Syrian conflict and not just military operations against ISIS, and demanded a “clear idea” on what Russia’s role would be.

The intensification of the Syrian war and the real prospect that it could trigger a far broader conflict underscores the urgent necessity for the construction of an international antiwar movement in the working class to oppose the reckless policies of the imperialist pyromaniacs, both in the Trump administration and the capitals of Europe.

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