25 September 2015

Why is US Foreign Policy a Shambles?

It is obvious that the foreign policy — or grand strategy — of the United States is a shambles of contradictions. 
To wit: The end of the Cold War mutated into a pointless expansion of NATO, in direct violation of promises made to President Gorbachev in exchange for the Soviet decision to withdraw from Eastern Europe and acquiesce in the unification of Germany.  9-11 triggered a state of perpetual war, with the US lashing out in a welter of unfocused directions having nothing to do with 9-11, triggering all sorts of unintended consequences. Syria is a case in point:  The US is now fighting ISIS, which emerged from the ashes the US created by its invasion of Iraq — an unprovoked invasion of a country that had nothing to do with 9-11.  At the same time, the US is trying to topple the Assad government, yet the Assad government is the primary bulwark fighting ISIS.  The US is in a de facto anti-ISIS alliance with the Syrian Kurdish forces (PYK), yet the PYK is allied with the Turkish PKK Kurdish forces, and the PKK is on the US terrorist list, not to mention being a contributing factor in the reigniting of the Turkish - Kurdish war that risks destabilizing Turkey.  The United States’ meddling in the Ukraine (and to a lesser extent Georgia and possibly Moldova) has placed the world on the cusp of  a new cold war with Russia, yet the US is pivoting east to confront China in the East China Sea, in effect threatening to drive China and Russia into a powerful anti-American Eurasian alliance.  Likewise, the contradictions in our policies in Yemen, Iran, and Libya serve to enrich this collage of intellectual incoherence.
The lack of focus and overstretch of belligerent actions by the United States are antitheses of sound strategic and grand-strategic thought, which at a minimum involves the determination of focus and intent as well as the disciplined choosing of a harmonious mix of main efforts and supporting efforts to achieve those goals. Moreover, America’s strategic incoherence is bound to increase in the coming year, because the United States just began its quadrennial 24/7 campaign for President, with each of the current candidates (Bernie Sanders possibly excepted — school is out) appealing to the basest domestic impulses in an effort to out-tough all the others in foreign policy.
So, given this state of confusion, it is reasonable to ask: What drives the foreign policy of the United States? 
Are US leaders, opinion makers, and the American people simply stupid, as many pol-mil ivory tower intellectuals believe?  If this were the case, then the solution is to put these pol-mil wise men (The Best and Brightest) in charge of rationalizing US foreign policy, and all will be well.
Or, is this incoherence a natural product of a deeper, unseen political-economy that thrives on the chaos it creates?  I am not suggesting a centrally run conspiracy, but the product of a quiet evolution — the emergence of an order without design — brought about by political-economic actors competing and cooperating to influence government policies that feed their self interest at the expense of the national interest.  In this case, the source of the problem would lie in how the chaos confers benefits (money and power) on the factions creating that chaos. If this were the case, America's foreign policy shambles would be a structural reflection of the factionalism in domestic politics overwhelming the checks and balances of the American constitutional design — or, if you will, it would be a 21st Century mutation of the problem spelled out by James Madison in Federalist 10. This idea brings me to the emergence of the American Deep State described here by Mike Lofgren*, a brilliant political historian who spent most of his almost thirty years on Capital Hill as a Republican staffer on the House and Senate Budget Committees.  Lofgren’s trenchant analysis has been expanded into a blockbuster book: The Deep State: Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government that will hit the stands next January.
For those readers who doubt the hidden hand of the Deep State, I am attaching a superb piece of investigative journalism by Ken Silverstein, entitled “How to Make Millions by Selling War”.   I urge you to read it carefully.  Silverstein describes the shadowy operations of Bruce Jackson, one of those clean cut anonymous Washington insiders and influence peddlers who has made millions for himself and billions for his clients and employers by promoting NATO expansion, the Iraq War, the confrontations with Russia and China, etc.  Although not one American in ten thousand would recognize his name, Jackson and other Deep State operatives like him effectively wield more power than the elected politicians whom they bribe and manipulate into ratifying these destructive and self-defeating policies. The fact that the incoherent foreign policy resulting from their efforts is dragging America into the gutter is of no consequence to the deep state operators in the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex — which, as Lofgren explains, is but one wing of the American Deep State.
The only way to restore coherence in America’s dysfunctional foreign policy is to follow the money and change its flow.  But most of the Wise Men inside the Beltway who are calling for sanity have no interest in this grubby issue.
Chuck Spinney

* Lofgren is a close colleague and valued friend of mine.

How to Make Millions by Selling War
by Ken Silverstein, Vice.com, September 17, 2015
Last September, a man named Bruce Jackson hosted a party for his vineyard's 2014 wines at his 18th-century Chateau Les Conseillans, which sits in the rolling hills of Bordeaux. The afternoon before the party, he took some guests, among them a documentary filmmaker and a former colleague of mine, for a tour of the estate ground, wearing a bland blue suit that matched his mild, drab persona. With his short, carefully combed gray hair, he resembles the conservative columnist George Will, or any number of the people floating around Washington DC's interlocking social circles of foreign policy think-tankers, defense contractors, and lobbyists, which are in fact the exact circles he moves seamlessly in.

Interim Georgian President Nino Burjanadze, right, and the President of the US Committee on NATO, Bruce Jackson, talk to the press at a joint press conference after their meeting in Tbilisi in November 2003. Photo by BESO GULASHVILI/AFP/Getty Images
There was a smell in the air of grass, lilacs, and grapes from Jackson's vineyard, which includes a Merlot plot dating back to 1953. Much of the chateau itself was erected in the 1700s, but it now boasts haute bourgeois furnishings with a 2,000-square-foot kitchen (with brand new steel sinks and Swedish faucets). The property includes a pine forest and an impeccable pool whose water appears a dark, warm blue.
For the guests that evening, there would be duck confit, crawfish canap├ęs, and a three-piece jazz band.
"I like the quiet of the Bordeaux and the pace of the wine growing," Jackson said when asked about his new hobby while strolling through the $4 million estate, which is surrounded by springs and woods that are on France's list of ecologically protected sites (he purchased the land in 2011). "It's a slower-paced environment, and you get actually more thinking done."
My former colleague, hoping to prod Jackson on foreign policy, turned the conversation to Iraq, where that very day 17 people had been killed in bombings and shootings and a mass grave containing the bodies of 15 truck drivers had been discovered. That sort of bad day has been horrifically common since US troops deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003, with the Islamic State recently beheading American journalists, conducting mass executions of Iraqi soldiers, and attracting recruits from across the West with horrific propaganda videos.
Jackson has more history with Iraq than your average rich-guy dilettante grape grower. The year before the US invasion, Jackson—then a Lockheed Martin executive—founded, with encouragement from White House officials, a group called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which helped advocate for the war. He agreed to serve as the chairman of the board of the Committee, even though he later acknowledged, in a 2007 Playboy interview, that at the time he "knew nothing about Iraq."
In the run-up to the Iraq War, top advocates forecast that the whole thing would be a "cakewalk" and swore up and down that they were motivated by a heartfelt desire to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein's ouster would only be a first step in "the reconstruction of [Iraq's] economy and the establishment of political pluralism, democratic institutions, and the rule of law," Jackson pledged on the day the Committee was announced in late 2002.
When asked about the outcome of the American invasion on that afternoon, Jackson acknowledged that America's fateful excursion there was "just a complete screw-up" and laid the blame on Bush administration officials. "The greatest mistake was letting [Donald] Rumsfeld run the damn thing," he said. "He didn't talk to anybody, didn't talk to our allies."
Unlike Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and other high-ranking officials who have been blamed for the disaster of the Iraq War, no one has ever protested against Jackson. There are few pictures of him online, and hardly anyone outside select corridors in DC seems to have paid him much mind. But the man has had a long, cushy career circulating in the halls of power—banging the drums of war, profiting from foreign adventures, and playing a key role in NGOs that have paid him and his loved ones generous salaries. He's a sort of neocon Forest Gump who's been hanging out in government circles for decades, assisting with the expansion of the ever-larger military industrial complex while amassing the kind of fortune that allows him to buy a vineyard in France and maintain an estate in DC.
He's not uniquely rich or uniquely powerful or uniquely evil by the standards of the crowd he runs with, but it's worth looking at the life and times of Bruce Jackson to see how one maintains power in DC, and what one does with that power.
Bruce Jackson's father was an investment banker and senior CIA official who specialized in psychological warfare; his mother was a socialite who would later marry a US Senator. Jackson grew up thoroughly inside the Beltway and came of age during the Reagan years. By 1986, he was a military intelligence officer working in the Pentagon on nuclear weapons policy and renting a modest apartment at 1711 Massachusetts Avenue NW, according to public records and that year's DC White Pages. Four years later, he left his government job to take a position in New York with Lehman Brothers, where he was a strategist for proprietary trading. (Basically, that's the often shady practice where a bank or financial institution trades on its own account or money rather than that of a customer.)
He returned to Washington in 1993 to work as an executive at Martin Marietta, which merged with the Lockheed Corporation two years later to become the defense contractor behemoth Lockheed Martin. In 1997, Jackson was put in charge of finding overseas markets for the company's military toys.
A decade later, it wouldn't be controversial to argue that both the US and Iraq came out as losers in the war, but it was a win-win for Jackson and Lockheed.
One useful tool was the Committee to Expand NATO, an NGO that Jackson had formed in 1996. He never disclosed who funded it—he's claimed that he paid the bills himself with the money he made on Wall Street—but a few news reports have said that arms manufacturers backed the organization.
That a weapons manufacturing executive headed the committee led to some skepticism in Congress. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa called NATO expansion "a Marshall Plan for defense contractors" and a Republican aide on Capitol Hill joked that arms dealers were so intent on lobbying for expansion that, "We'll probably be giving landlocked Hungary a new navy."
The Senate approved NATO admission for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1998, and for ten other former Soviet Bloc states later, exactly as Jackson's group proposed. This was probably one of the biggest arms deals of all time, since new NATO members were required to junk their old Soviet military hardware and replace it with Western arms—like the stuff made by Lockheed Martin.
Meanwhile, Jackson was pushing for war with Iraq in his capacity as executive director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the neocon think tank that was created in 1997 and called for a return to "a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity." Its other members included subsequent Bush administration officials like Cheney and Rumsfeld, and war hacks like William Kristol and Richard Perle. In 1998, PNAC wrote a letter to Congress calling for Hussein's ouster and laid out what became the blueprint to achieve it. Nine days after 9/11, the group issued a public letter, addressed to President Bush, calling for regime change in Iraq—whether Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the attacks or not.
In late 2002, Jackson founded the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq at the request of then-deputy national security advisor Stephen Hadley (who was later the author of a 2014 Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Americans Can Be Proud of What Was Achieved in Iraq"). The Bush administration had already decided to go to war it but it was still "struggling with a rationale," Hadley told him, according to the Playboy article.
The rest is literally history: The White House won that struggle with rationale, the invasion was launched, Poland sent 2,500 troops to support it, and in exchange the former Soviet state was able to buy $5.5 billion worth of Lockheed's F-16 fighters, in what Euromoney later revealed to be an "off-balance-sheet deal" arranged by JPMorgan and guaranteed by the US government.
A decade later, it wouldn't be controversial to argue that both the US and Iraq came out as losers in the war, but it was a win-win for Jackson and Lockheed. The company's stock price more than doubled in the first five years after the invasion, and in the summer of 2006, Jackson bought a property in Northwest DC—assessed at $1.95 million—which has five bedrooms, a fireplace, and a deck.
Since then, Jackson has run or had a key role in three entities, all registered to the address of his DC estate: Bruce P. Jackson Consulting, the Project on Transitional Democracies (PTD), and We Remember Foundation. It's impossible to know all that much about his private consulting business, but the PTD and We Remember are nonprofits, and are therefore required to file annual IRS disclosure forms that offer some information.
The mission of We Remember, which operated as a tax-exempt 501c(3) between 2002 and 2009, was to fight for "justice" for dissidents disappeared or murdered by the government of Belarus, such as the first husband of Jackson's second wife, Irina Krasovskaya, who was the group's president.
The PTD's stated mission has been to promote "democratic change" in Euro-Atlantic governments, primarily the former Soviet bloc. According to its 2012 IRS disclosure forms, it "provided multiple briefings" on Russia and Eastern Europe to the Obama White House, State Department, and National Security Council, and Jackson regularly met with foreign and US officials. According to 2013 disclosure forms, the group devoted a notable chunk of its time to Ukraine and has apparently prepared "numerous policy briefing papers" on the country.
IRS-designated nonprofits are supposed to have independent boards that provide oversight and make sure that they don't misspend their tax-free money. But Jackson was on the board of both nonprofits, and the other members have been his friends and loved ones.
The PTD's original board from 2002 was composed of Jackson, Randy Scheunemann (a former Rumsfeld adviser with whom Jackson founded the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq), and Julie Finley, a major Republican fundraiser. She had been a founding member of the US Committee on NATO—in 2002, she and Jackson met with a senior Vatican official to ask for the Pope's endorsement of NATO expansion—and of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.
These nonprofits brought in serious cash—about $6 million for the PTD and $500,000 for We Remember. Of that, Jackson saw about $1.2 million, and his wife nabbed another $200,000. The PTD spent nearly $2.6 million on travel, of which a good amount seems to have been primarily used to fly Jackson around the world first class and put him up at luxury hotels while he spoke at conferences, according to sources with knowledge of his activities. His destinations in recent years have included Montenegro, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Slovakia, England, Morocco, Wales and Bordeaux, his second home, where he claimed to have lectured at a "Georgian seminar."
The nonprofits also apparently served as personal piggybanks. The PTD once fronted Jackson a $150,000 advance on salary and on another occasion offered him a $70,000 interest-free loan. In 2008, We Remember loaned him $25,000 for "home office construction" at his DC estate and in 2006, PTD signed a lease that paid Jackson $36,000 annually to rent the space with tax-exempt money. The PTD also agreed to pick up 38 percent of the Jackson family's utilities, insurance, maid service, property taxes, security, and maintenance.
Jackson's wife received approximately $130,000 in salary from her role as president of We Remember, and when the group dissolved as a 501c(3) in 2009, it transferred its $146,000 in remaining assets to the PTD. But We Remember didn't completely ignore victims of government repression in Belarus: During the course of its existence it made three grants totaling about $5,000—1 percent of the $500,000 it raised—to "families of political prisoners and those that have disappeared."
When I described the way these nonprofits operated to Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor and associate dean at Notre Dame Law School, he said, 
"What you're describing is not uncommon. You have an influential person who founded a nonprofit and lines up friends and they treat the nonprofit as a spending pool. They pay themselves a nice salary and travel. But it's supposed to be a charity, and the government has an interest in how these nonprofits are run. There might not be any red flags here, but there is definitely a perception problem. There are at least yellow flags and maybe more, it would depend on getting full information. And even if this doesn't violate tax law, that doesn't mean the public shouldn't be concerned about this type of thing."
Nonprofits don' t have to disclose their donors, but We Remember's 2005 filing to the IRS that included a list of contributors appears to have been accidentally made public. By far the biggest donor to We Remember, which had begun the year with $358.97 in cash, was a company controlled by Ukraine oligarch Rinat Akhmetov that kicked in $300,000. Akhmetov, who has a fortune estimated at $7.6 billion, "is reputed to have emerged from a bloody power struggle among organized crime groups in the 1990s that sought to control the mighty coal and steel assets of the Soviet Union," according to the New York Times.
For decades, Akhmetov supported the fabulously corrupt Viktor Yanukovych, the two-time Ukrainian Prime Minister who was elected president in 2010. Yanukovych was forced from power by popular protests in February of last year, which triggered near civil war in Ukraine and an ongoing confrontation with Russia. Soon thereafter, in a move rather obviously required by political realities, Akhmetov broke with his former beneficiary.
Jackson has been periodically identified in US and Ukrainian press accounts as an adviser to Akhmetov, Yanukovych, and their shared political party. In 2007, Jackson and Paul Manafort (a lobbyist whose other clients have included two of the most corrupt rulers of modern times, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos) arranged meetings for Yanukovych in DC with US government officials, including then US Vice President Cheney. Two years ago, after Yanukovych's election as president, Jackson set up DC appointments for the Ukrainian foreign minister, who "kept interrupting everybody" during meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (It should be noted that Yanukovych's opponents are reportedly as corrupt as he is and have paid millions over the years for their own American lobbyists.)
At around the same time, a reliable source told me, Jackson was holding court at a private club in Washington and loudly boasted, while drinking scotch and smoking a cigar, that he and Manafort were working together on Yanukovych's PR efforts, but that Jackson himself was the real brains behind the operation.
All of which may explain how Jackson's views on Ukraine have shifted over the years.
Back in 2002, the Associated Press reported that Jackson, who was identified as "a Washington-based political adviser," had recently met with a pro-Western opposition leader and criticized the first Yanukovych government. Three years later, during February 2005 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jackson said Russia had spent $300 million "to basically rig the outcome" of an election that Yanukovych had won the year before and hailed the "Orange Revolution "that swept aside his "autocratic regime."
We Remember's 2005 IRS form doesn't provide a date for Akhmetov's contribution, but by the following year Jackson was introducing Yanucovych to Cheney and other Washington VIPs, and has never, as far as I can tell, had a bad word to say about him since.
In a March 2010 speech to the US-Ukraine Business Council, Jackson said the Obama administration should "wholeheartedly engage" with Yanukovych, who had been inaugurated as president the prior month. Whereas in 2005 Jackson had urged the US Senate to shun Yanukovych's "corrupt business allies," he now declared that engagement needed to include "the so-called oligarchs."

Islamic State fighters are all over Iraq and Syria. Photo courtesy of VICE News
A story the following year in a pro-government Ukrainian newspaper said Jackson—described as a "renowned American expert"—considered Yanukovych to be a determined reformer who was "really tormented by the corruption that is killing his country." Jackson said that people in Yanukovych's administration "aren't really bad people... They are not stone-cold killers."
Jackson was still on Yanukovych's side early last year, after his government killed dozens of protesters and he'd fled to Russia. "What worries him, Mr. Jackson said, is that the new government is too beholden to the people's movement on the Maidan," the New York Times reported in March 2014.
Through it all, Jackson has kept coming back to his French chateau. "We've done pretty well; these are all are Bordeaux trees," he told his guests as he led them through his vineyards. "We... went back to indigenous stuff." He even dreams that his estate might eventually be the site of a famous international declaration. "It's a little pretentious, but someday we'll write a treaty here on something," he said. "And actually, the 'Treaty of Les Conseillians' has a nice ring to it."

When I called Jackson for comment on the nonprofits in February, he declined to give any, other than to say that he was in the process of shutting down the Project on Transnational Democracies.
"We haven't had a grant in two years," Jackson told me before hanging up. In a follow-up email conversation in late April, he said the nonprofit was dissolved.
"It had not received any contributions for at least a couple of years and has not paid salaries since the early years of the last decade," Jackson wrote.
And by the way, a warning about the wine Jackson produces: It's pretty shitty, I'm told by one person who sampled it, so whatever you think of the Iraq War, don't buy it—or anything else he's selling in the future.
Follow Ken Silverstein on Twitter.

11 September 2015

Refugee Flows: a Grand Strategic Weapon of Mass Destruction

by FRANKLIN SPINNEY, Counterpunch, SEPTEMBER 11, 2015
One could argue that the massive refugee flows triggered primarily by ISIS and al Nusrah, and possibly accelerated by alleged indiscriminate attacks on civilians by the al-Assad regime, have mutated into a powerful grand-strategic weapon of mass destruction. I use the term “grand strategic” advisedly, because it involves more the sustainment of cohesion and morale among our allies and attracting the support of as-yet uncommitted nations around the world than it does defeating military forces on the battlefield. [Interested readers can find my discussion of the nature of grand strategy at this link.]
Whether intentionally or not — and I think intentionally — the tactics and operations of ISIS and al Nusrah (who are supported financially by wealthy Salafis in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies) have unleashed a wave of terror that has created a flood of refugees in Syria and Iraq.  This refugee crisis is placing the United States, its European allies, and Israel on the horns of a grand-strategic dilemma that promises to become much worse as the cold, rainy winter season approaches.
Our NATO allies, including an increasingly ambivalent Turkey, simply do not have the resources or political will to absorb the millions of desperate people now on the move. The proximate causes of these refugee flows may be the tactics of terror unleashed by Salafi forces, but it is common knowledge that the emergence of ISIS and al Nusrah has been midwifed by America’s interventions and policies in the Middle East — particularly (1) our unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003, made without UN authorization and with only limited international support, and (2) by our uncritical support of Israel’s desire to topple the Assad regime in Syria.  Sooner or later, if this humanitarian catastrophe continues to worsen, any remaining empathy held by our allies in Europe and neutral parties around the world for the foreign policy of United States will dissolve into finger pointing, particularly if domestic politics in the US continue to foment war on behalf of Israel, while using the politics of fear to make the US people even more immigration phobic.
Israel’s role in this crisis remains murky but pernicious, with Prime Minister Netanyahu providing verbal if not material support for the overthrow of the Assad Regime by ISIS. Last October, for example, he claimed that Iran is a greater threat than ISIS to both Israel and the world.  Netanyahu is keen to take down the Assad government in Syria, because President Assad is a supporter of Hezbollah and receives support from Iran.  To this end his Likud government has formed a de facto alliance with powerful anti-Shi’a members of the Saudi government and the Gulf States who are also keen to take down Assad and the Shi’a dominated government in Iraq.  Developments in Iraq and Syria are working to reinforce the Saudi’s long standing fear that Iran’s Shi’a influence will spill over the Shi’a areas of eastern Saudi Arabia, which happen to be where most Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth is located.
Indeed, our so-called Arab Allies in the so-called anti-ISIS war — i.e., Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States — have been complicit in financing the rise of ISIS, although by mostly unofficial means such as “charitable” donations.  By extension, they are also complicit in the unleashing of the ISIS terror in Syria, which spilled over to threaten the Shi’a dominated government of Iraq.  Moreover, these conservative Sunni monarchies are already overburdened demographically with immigrants imported to do menial work, and they have Shi’a related minority problems.  In other words, they lack both the capacity as well as any desire to absorb a significant part of the flood of impoverished refugees their policies helped to create.  That leaves Jordan, already overloaded with Palestinian refugees, trapped in the middle, between the Jihadis triggering the flood and an increasingly intolerant Israel.
Where will this refugee crisis end?
We need only to place it in the context of the long festering problem of Palestinian refugees to realize how the new flood of more than 4 million additional refugees will overwhelm any hope for stability in the Arab lands of the Middle East.
Once again, Israel is at the center of the matter.
As the civil rights activist and concentration camp surviver Israel Shahak explained in 1982, the state of Israel, with American acquiescence if not cooperation, has long sought to break up the Arab world into non-cooperative, squabbling, or warring tribal factions. Given the history of implacable hostility by the governments of Syria and Iraq towards the existence of a Jewish state on Arab land, such a neocolonial divide-and-conquer attitude might be understandable in conventional nation versus nation conflicts.  But as the rise of ISIS and al Nusrah have shown, it is now dangerously out of date, given the nature of global communications and non state actors.   Pro-Israeli American neocons, who promoted the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Assad regime, may well think that Israel is the prime strategic beneficiary of the breakup of Iraq and Syria.  However, the reality is that Israel is now faced with the spectre of horrendous and unending blowback over the long term at the more decisive grand strategic level of conflict.
To see the outlines of this looming spectre, one needs only to consider the fate and implications of the Palestinian question.
The UNRA reports that, in addition to the 2 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in Gaza and in the West Bank, there are almost 3 million Palestinian refugees living in squalid refugee camps in Arab nations bordering on Israel, including 449,000 in Lebanon, 499,000 in Syria, and over 2,000,000 in Jordan.  These people are mostly descendants of the 700,000 original refugees created by the 1948 War and who, for one reason or another, have not been absorbed as citizens of other countries.  This map depicts the distribution of these refugee camps.

The flood of four million Syrian refugees triggered by ISIS, perhaps with strategic foresight, includes and may well be augmented by a flood of desperate stateless Palestinians pouring out of squalid refugee camps in Syria into Lebanon and into Jordan.  But both nations are already overwhelmed by Palestinian refugees.  Such a flood is likely to destabilize Jordan, heretofore a zone of relative stability, thereby expanding the war and the accompanying humanitarian crisis.  A crisis in an overburdened Jordan might even trigger a flood of Palestinians toward the Palestinian areas of Israel, for the simple reason that there is nowhere else for Palestinians to go.  But this would intensify what Israelis like call “the demographic threat” and might well precipitate a slaughter by panicky self righteous Israelis claiming their god given right to the former Palestinian lands of the West Bank.
There are already early warning signs of such a development. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has already asked the United Nations, the European Union and other players to pressure Israel to allow Palestinian refugees fleeing ISIS into Palestinian areas of the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be walking into a grand strategic trap set either deliberately or inadvertently by ISIS.  He just declared he will not allow Israel to be “submerged” by refugees, claiming that Israel must control its borders (meaning the borders of the occupied West Bank), because Israel is small country, “without demographic or geographic depth.” He announced that Israel would react to this threat by building yet another fence, this time along the Lower Jordan River to prevent those desperate Palestinians spilling out of the squalid refugee camps in Syria and into Jordan from leaking across the Lower Jordan into what is left of the Palestinian areas of the West Bank. The new fence would be in addition to the 240 km fence along the Egyptian border, the fence along the Syrian border in the Golan Heights, and the grotesquely twisting wall winding its way around illegal settlements in the West Bank.  This latest fencing scheme will, in effect turn Israel into a giant self-imposed ghetto, surrounded on three sides by a sea of festering human misery, with Gaza and Areas A and B of the West Bank being sealed off ghettos of festering misery inside the larger Israeli ghetto.  Given Israel’s unquestioned military superiority, such an inhuman arrangement may be enforced with increasing brutality into the medium term, but there is no way such a blight on humanity can end well for Israel.  Netanyahu is turning Osama’s vision of Israel as an isolated Crusader State immersed in a sea of hostility into a reality.
Ironically, there may be only one country left in the neighborhood with a grand strategic interest in de-powering the crisis created by ISIS and its Salafi allies with a possibility, albeit a remote one, of placing the evolution of human conditions in the Middle East onto a healthier pathway.
That nation is Iran, as ace investigative reporter Gareth Porter explains in a very important essay in the Middle East Eye, which I urge readers to study carefully.  While Porter does not address the specific refugee issues highlighted above, he explains (1) the reasons why US and Iran are on a convergent grand strategic pathway in the Middle East; and (2), how domestic politics in the U.S., particularly those of (a) the Israeli lobby and (b) the political economy of the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex, to which I would add (c) the political economy of the American oil industry are combining to trump any movement toward a constructive modus vivendi with Iran.

Such a rapprochement, if carefully explored in the spirit of the foreign policy enunciated by John Quincy Adams in 1821, may be a necessary if not sufficient condition underpinning any sensible grand strategy for extricating the United States from the no-win quagmire it has created for itself by its short-sighted meddling in the Middle East. Otherwise, as Adams prophetically warned,  if America continues intervening abroad “in search of monsters to destroy,” America will end up trying to be … “the dictatress of the world. [but] She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit…”

Summary of the Refugee Crisis

Attached is a superb summary of the refugee situation that has been midwifed in large part, but not entirely, by the actions of the US and its allies in the so-called Global War On Terror (GWOT).  The author, Patrick Cockburn, is one of the finest reporters now covering events in the Middle East.

Refugee crisis: 
Where are all these people coming from and why?
PATRICK COCKBURN, Independent, Tuesday 08 September 2015
[Reposted with permission of the author]
It is an era of violence in the Middle East and North Africa, with nine civil wars now going on in Islamic countries between Pakistan and Nigeria. This is why there are so many refugees fleeing for their lives. Half of the 23 million population of Syria have been forced from their homes, with four million becoming refugees in other countries.
Some 2.6 million Iraqis have been displaced by Islamic State – Isis – offensives in the last year and squat in tents or half-finished buildings. Unnoticed by the outside world, some 1.5 million people have been displaced in South Sudan since fighting there resumed at the end of 2013.
Other parts of the world, notably south-east Asia, have become more peaceful over the last 50 years or so, but in the vast swathe of territory between the Hindu Kush mountains and the western side of the Sahara, religious, ethnic and separatist conflicts are tearing countries apart. Everywhere states are collapsing, weakening or are under attack; and, in many of these places, extreme Sunni Islamist insurgencies are on the rise which use terror against civilians in order to provoke mass flight.
Another feature of these wars is that none of them show any sign of ending, so people cannot go back to their homes. Most Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan in 2011 and 2012, believed the war in Syria would soon be over and they could return. It is only in the last couple of years that they have realised that this is not going to happen and they must seek permanent sanctuary elsewhere. The very length of these wars means immense and irreversible destruction of all means of making a living, so refugees, who at first just sought safety, are also driven by economic necessity.
The world’s main sources of refugees. Credit: The Independent
Such wars are currently being waged in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, south-east Turkey,Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and north-east Nigeria. A few of them began a long time ago, an example being Somalia, where the state collapsed in 1991 and has never been rebuilt, with warlords, extreme jihadis, rival parties and foreign soldiers controlling different parts of the country. But most of these wars started after 2001 and many after 2011. All-out civil war in Yemen only got under way last year, while the Turkish-Kurdish civil war, which has killed 40,000 people since 1984, resumed this July with airstrikes and guerrilla raids. It is escalating rapidly: a truckload of Turkish soldiers were blown up at the weekend by Kurdish PKK guerrillas.
When Somalia fell apart, a process which a disastrous US military intervention failed to reverse in 1992-94, it seemed to be a marginal event, insignificant for the rest of the world. The country became a “failed state”, a phrase used in pitying or dismissive terms as it became the realm of pirates, kidnappers and al-Qa’ida bombers. But the rest of the world should regard such failed states with fear as well as contempt, because it is such places – Afghanistan in the 1990s and Iraq since 2003 – that have incubated movements like the Taliban, al-Qa’ida and Isis. All three combine fanatical religious belief with military expertise. Somalia once seemed to be an exceptional case but “Somalianisation” has turned out to be the fate of a whole series of countries, notably Libya, Iraq and Syria, where until recently people had enough food, education and healthcare.
All wars are dangerous, and civil wars have always been notoriously merciless, with religious wars the worst of all. These are what are now happening in the Middle East and North Africa, with Isis – and al-Qa’ida clones such as Jabhat al-Nusra or Ahrar al-Sham in Syria – ritually murdering their opponents and justifying their actions by pointing to the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas by the Assad government.
What is a little different in these wars is that Isis deliberately publicises its atrocities against Shia, Yazidis or anybody else it deems its enemies. This means that people caught up in these conflicts, particularly since the declaration of Islamic State in June last year, suffer an extra charge of fear which makes it more likely that they will flee and not come back. This is as true for professors in Mosul University in Iraq as it is for villagers in Nigeria, Cameroon or Mali. Unsurprisingly, Isis’s advances in Iraq have produced great waves of refugees who have all too good an idea of what will happen to them if they do not run away.
In Iraq and Syria, we are back to a period of drastic demographic change not seen in the region since the Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee by the Israelis in 1948, or when the Christians were exterminated or driven out of what is now modern Turkey in the decade after 1914. Multi-confessional societies in Iraq and Syria are splitting apart with horrendous consequences. Foreign powers either did not know or did not care what sectarian demons they were releasing in these countries by disrupting the old status quo.
The former Iraqi National Security Advisor, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, used to tell American political leaders, who glibly suggested that Iraq’s communal problems could be solved by dividing up the country between Sunni, Shia and Kurds, that they should understand what a bloody process this would be, inevitably bringing about massacres and mass flight “similar to the Partition of India in 1947″.
Why are so many of these states falling apart now and generating great floods of refugees? What internal flaws or unsustainable outside pressures do they have in common? Most of them achieved self-determination when imperial powers withdrew after the Second World War. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were ruled by military leaders who ran police states and justified their monopolies of power and wealth by claiming that they were necessary to establish public order, modernise their countries, gain control of natural resources and withstand fissiparous sectarian and ethnic pressures.
These were generally nationalist and often socialist regimes whose outlook was overwhelmingly secular. Because these justifications for authoritarianism were usually hypocritical, self-interested and masked pervasive corruption by the ruling elite, it was often forgotten that countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya had powerful central governments for a reason – and would disintegrate without them.
It is these regimes that have been weakening and are collapsing across the Middle East and North Africa. Nationalism and socialism no longer provide the ideological glue to hold together secular states or to motivate people to fight for them to the last bullet, as believers do for the fanatical and violent brand of Sunni Islam espoused by Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. Iraqi officials admit that one of the reasons the Iraqi army disintegrated in 20014 and has never been successfully reconstituted is that “very few Iraqis are prepared to die for Iraq.”
Sectarian groups like Isis deliberately carry out atrocities against Shia and others in the knowledge that it will provoke retaliation against the Sunni that will leave them with no alternative but to look to Isis as their defenders. Fostering communal hatred works in Isis’s favour, and it is cross-infecting countries such as Yemen, where previously there was little consciousness of the sectarian divide, though one third of its 25 million population belong to the Shia Zaydi sect.
The likelihood of mass flight becomes even greater. Earlier this year, when there were rumours of an Iraqi Army and Shia militia assault aimed at recapturing the overwhelming Sunni city of Mosul this spring, the World Health Organisation and the UN High Commission for Refugees began pre-positioning food to feed another one million people who they expected to flee.
Europeans were jolted by pictures of the little drowned body of Alyan Kurdi lying on a beach in Turkey and half-starved Syrians crammed into Hungarian trains. But in the Middle East the new wretched diaspora of the powerless and the dispossessed has been evident for the last three or four years. In May, I was about to cross the Tigris River between Syria and Iraq in a boat with a Kurdish woman and her family when she and her children were ordered off because one letter spelling a name on her permit was incorrect.
“But I’ve been waiting three days with my family on the river bank!” she screamed in despair. I was heading for Erbil, the Kurdish capital, which aspired until a year ago to be “the new Dubai” but is now full of refugees huddling in half-completed hotels, malls and luxury blocks.
What is to be done to stop these horrors? Perhaps the first question is how we can prevent them from getting worse, keeping in mind that five out of the nine wars have begun since 2011. There is a danger that by attributing mass flight to too many diverse causes, including climate change, political leaders responsible for these disasters get off the hook and are free of public pressure to act effectively to bring them to an end.
The present refugee crisis in Europe is very much the conflict in Syria having a real impact on the continent for the first time. True, the security vacuum in Libya has meant that the country is now the conduit for people from impoverished and war-torn countries on the edges of the Sahara. It is from Libya’s 1,100-mile coastline that 114,000 refugees have made their way to Italy so far this year, not counting the several thousands who drowned on the way. Yet, bad though this is, the situation is not much different from last year, when 112,000 made their way to Italy by this route.
Very different is the war in Syria and Iraq which has seen the number of people trying to reach Greece by sea jump from 45,000 to 239,000 over the same period. For three decades Afghanistan has produced the greatest number of refugees, according to the UNHCR; but in the past year Syria has taken its place, and one new refugee in four worldwide is now a Syrian. A whole society has been destroyed, and the outside world has done very little to stop this happening. Despite a recent flurry of diplomatic activity, none of the many players in the Syrian crisis shows urgency in trying to end it.
Syria and Iraq are at the heart of the present crisis over refugees in another way, because it is there that Isis and al-Qa’ida-type groups control substantial territory and are able to spread their sectarian poison to the rest of the Islamic world. They energise gangs of killers who operate in much the same way whether they are in Nigeria, Pakistan, Yemen or Syria.

The mass flight of people will go on as long as the war in Syria and Iraq continues.

04 September 2015

Should the West Partition Iraq?

Some people still cling to the belief that a formal partition of Iraq into three states — sometimes referred to as Shiastan, Sunnistan, and Kurdistan — would cure the chaos the United States created when it invaded Iraq in the Spring of 2003.  
Partition is a simple idea that grabs the imagination. But the nation-building wannabes inside the beltway have a poor track record when it comes to creating designer nations in the Middle East. 
Attached herewith is an exchange between Ambassador Edward Peck and the historian William R. Polk.  Together, they explain succinctly why the principle of parsimony does not hold when it comes to Iraq: there is no Occam’s Razor to cut through the mess we created in Iraq.  Moreover, as Polk suggests, the destructive effects accompanying partition will continue the spillover into Syria and Turkey.  And while Lebanon is not mentioned, what affects Syria affects Lebanon and the Palestinian question.
(Each has graciously given me permission to distribute their exchange. Explanatory Note, The following text refers to the adherents of Shia sect of Islam as ‘Shia.’  Technically, ‘Shia’ is an adjective, but it is used as a noun in most American writings.  The corresponding noun is ‘Shii.’  but the noun form is used rarely; so avoid any confusion, this paper adopts the convention of using the term “Shia” as if it were both a noun and an adjective.)
Chuck Spinney
On 31 August 2015, Ambassador Edward Peck wrote
Note: Ambassador Edward Peck is a retired foreign service officer who specialized in the Arab world between 1956 and 1989, with many postings abroad as well as in Washington. Overseas, he was Chief of Mission in Iraq and Mauritania, and an Embassy Officer in Sweden, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt.  In Washington, he served as Deputy Director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism at the Reagan White House; at State, Deputy Coordinator for Global Covert Intelligence Programs; Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Director, Egyptian Affairs; Liaison Officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon  Shortly after 9-11, he argued against the invasion of Iraq in a CNN Crossfire Interview (8 October 2001), asking "when you take out Saddam Hussein, what happens after that? And we don’t have a clue. Nobody knows, but it's probably going to be bad. A lot of people are going to be very upset, because our role in this world does not include deciding who rules Iraq.” [transcript].   
Those who understood in realistic terms what the 'nation' of Iraq really was could have predicted with confidence exactly what would happen if Saddam was removed.  Many tried, but were ignored by those who were absolutely certain they knew better or did not really care about the results.   The first group did not want to be proven right, but was.  The second group was totally wrong, and the already massive, widespread, disastrous consequences of their actions will probably have to be cataloged by historians.
In the meantime, some still believe that the ongoing catastrophe can be resolved by a simplistic step: Partition. The history of that process in Africa, India/Pakistan, Sudan, former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Israel/Palestine, Ireland, provides compelling evidence of how partition works in the real world.  They have often been very bloody, residual tensions always remain and in many cases intensify. Some people managed to get across the frontiers alive; far more died or became refugees.  Moreover, in the least disastrous cases of partition and population exchange, only two groups were involved, and that condition does not apply to Iraq, in spades.
There is talk of a Shiastan, Sunnistan and Kurdistan.  Forget for a moment Turkey's multiple, uncompromising declarations, and current underlining actions, that there will never be a Kurdistan, and consider where people who are not viewed or accepted as members of those three groups will go.  There are several, some of them large, and the Big Three have already victimized them: Yazidi, Mandean, Shabak, Turkmen, Jewish, Christian, and more. Where will they go, how will they get there, and what will happen to those who manage to get to wherever they are displaced?
By definition, the multiple, complicated, dangerous and bloody problems in the Middle East do not lend themselves to simple solutions.  Even if the three-way partition of Iraq had any chance of meaningful success, wherever the new borders are will be subject to the reactions of those on the inside as well as those in other countries where similar populations and problems exist and will persist.
The point of this dissertation is that what's-her-name's box has been opened, and the lid thrown away.  As much as it's needed, and wanted, there is no workable short-term solution available.  The current tragic situation benefits no one, and is very likely to get much worse before it gets any better.  I profoundly hope I am wrong.

On 1 Sep 2015, William R. Polk’s response
[William R. Polk, is a prominent historian specializing in the Islamic world and guerrilla warfare and is well known to most readers on this list.  His bio can be found on his website and several  of his essays are posted on this page of the Blaster blog.]
Thank you for your note of warning.
I have written about many of the factors relating to the partition issue in the book I did with George McGovern on how to get Out of Iraq (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), my book Understanding Iraq  (New York: HarperCollins, 2005 & 2006), and in my Open Letter to the President in the Nation (19 October 2009). 
As you point out, positions on the issue of Iraq were both fixed and simplistic.  To the best of my knowledge, there never has been any informed or open-minded discussion.  
You point, briefly, at the problems that would be involved in what some commentators advocate, partition.  But advocacy for imposed partition remains in the public eye. After all, it seems, at least at first sight, so logical:  Iraq is a mess, the Iraqis don’t get along and the country is “artificial.”
So now, let me comment on the proposal for partition:
Before the American invasion, partition would have been much more difficult than it became.  That is because the populations of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra were mixed.  When I lived there in the 1950s, my neighbors were Sunnis, Shias, Christians, even one Jew and both Arabs and Kurds.  Today, after the horrible episodes of ethnic and religious/ethnic “cleansing,” neighborhoods are practically homogeneous. Minorities have been driven out or murdered.   However, that is not the end of the story:  villages and towns, each of which may today be homogenous, are juxtaposed to others nearby that are at least religiously different.  So, any plan to divide Iraq would have to carry even further the displacement of populations.  
 And, the populations don’t fit exactly in the “natural” and historical devisions.  The Sunnis, still a powerful group in Iraqi society, would have no city:  Not much is left of Falluja and it was never a great center;  Basra and Baghdad are today Shia (Karbala always had been);  and Mosul is racially, religiously and culturally complex.  The Sunni Arabs and even the Turkomans would not be able to live easily or even securely  in Kirkuk.  So, as I see it, division is a recipe for further pain and suffering.  That is point number 1.
Point number 2 is that the splitting up of Iraq would be to create a new “Balkans."  There would be considerable potential for war among the three states.  Not only would the populations have deep and bitter memories of one another, but the states would vary greatly in current wealth and potential wealth. Whatever area is assigned to the Sunnis probably has little actual wealth, although there is considerable potential for oil production north and west of Mosul.  The Kurds are relatively well off in terms of oil and water.  Oil is still flowing, and Kurdistan has a lot of water for agriculture.  The Iraqi Kurdish population is relatively unified (despite linguistic and other divisions from their Kurdish “brothers” just beyond the current frontiers).  The Shias would have the bulk of the resources.  The potential for oil in the south is enormous  and, for what it’s worth, the Shias have access to the sea.  So, I suggest that it is predictable that there will be ample grounds for friction and much of it.  That, I would argue, is neither in the interest of the “Iraqis” as a whole or any part of them.  Partition certainly is not, as some have argued, a recipe for peace and stability.  So, it should not be seen to be in our interest either.
Peripheral to this point are several external issues:
They begin with, it is a virtual certainty that Iraqi Kurdistan would be unable to stay out of the affairs and aspirations of Iranian, Syrian and, above all, Turkish Kurdish areas.  So, unless or until a complete “Kurdistan” is created, partial measures will almost certainly produce continual  friction  among themselves, their non-Kurdish neighbors  and with Turkey. 
The relationship of Shia “Iraq,” that is Basra and Baghdad provinces, to Iran raises a number of issues including potential friction with Saudi Arabia and even with little but rich Kuwait, both of which have long feared Iran and would probably seek to “destabilize” the Shia alliance. There is a long history of wars over this issue during Ottoman and Safavid times.  Even if they have long since been forgotten, the issues that caused them remain.
The Sunni Arab area is already under attack by the Islamic State. If it were set adrift, no one could predict what would happen.  In fear of its richer Shia and Kurdish areas, it might willingly join the Sunni Arab Islamic State, or it might fight a desperate war to keep separate.  Either way, peace will be elusive and even more people will be harmed.  
Point number 3 is that arrogating the right to set up, divide or reform other states is a policy that we (under President Wilson in the build-up to the Paris Peace Conference) and Britain (under Winston Churchill as Colonial Secretary in 1920) did that was bitterly resented by those on whom they operated.  Perhaps inevitably, if ironically, it was both premature (in that it was effected before conditions for its “success” did not yet exist)  and too late (in that the events it was meant to head off had already transpired).  Something like that policy has been resurrected and made more politically correct by being renamed “nation building” and/or “regime  change.”   Under whatever name,  it is still, it seems to me, exactly what America should not be doing.   I believe it is morally wrong.  But even if one sets aside our proclaimed national principles, it is unwise.  We are not smart enough, and today we are not liked enough to have our policies accepted without threats or force or vast amounts of money.  President Wilson could get away with it; we cannot.  Going down that road leads only to unending hostility.
If, on the contrary, without our overt or covert involvement, moves toward some sort of a federation of Iraq are made by some plausible collection of local authorities, we should still look carefully and soberly at it.  What seems wise or even clever at the moment may look very different a short time later.  If to the best of our judgment, it seems to be based on self-evident logic and has sufficient local support, we  (but  preferably not unilaterally) should consider what we  might do to assuage the pain and, perhaps, to grease the points of friction.  But, to the maximum extent the Congress will allow us to do, we should stay in the background.  That is, we should  support the UN in carrying out the task of “peace seeking” and then of “peace keeping.”  We should remind ourselves constantly that even if we did them for the best of motives, our ventures into running other people’s societies have ended badly.  (The title, though not the text, of Peter van Buren’s book catches the theme, We Meant Well.)  Arguably, and I fear rightly, we didn’t often even mean “well" except for what at the moment seemed to us to be in our own short-term interests, or we could not think of anything else to do.  Where are there examples of moves toward what I have called “affordable world security?”  Quick fixes instead of  finding lasting solutions describes much of our venture in world affairs over the last generation.   Therefore, I think we need to be as cautious as possible, so that our government employees do not blunder into what seems at least to them a clever move.  
To try to avoid leaping before looking, Churchill (for all of his faults and the myopia of his brand of imperialism) had the bright idea at the end of World War I of getting together all of the main ‘players,’  even including some of the natives, to discuss what should be done, in British imperial interests, of course.  Is it beyond our wit to do something similar to examine carefully and responsibly Iraqi interests, safety and peace today?