How China and Russia are running rings around Washington

A geopolitical “big bang” just happened in Eurasia, and it’s not good for United States

How China and Russia are running rings around Washington Russian President Vladimir Putin (Credit: AP/Ivan Sekretarev)
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch

Let’s start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations — the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS’ New Development Bank) — whose acronyms you’re unlikely to recognize either.  Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.

Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi have been actively establishing interlocking security guarantees. They have been simultaneously calling the Atlanticist bluff when it comes to the endless drumbeat of attention given to the flimsy meme of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”  And a few days before the Vienna nuclear negotiations finally culminated in an agreement, all of this came together at a twin BRICS/SCO summit in Ufa, Russia — a place you’ve undoubtedly never heard of and a meeting that got next to no attention in the U.S.  And yet sooner or later, these developments will ensure that the War Party in Washington and assorted neocons (as well as neoliberalcons) already breathing hard over the Iran deal will sweat bullets as their narratives about how the world works crumble.

The Eurasian Silk Road

With the Vienna deal, whose interminable build-up I had the dubious pleasure of following closely, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his diplomatic team have pulled the near-impossible out of an extremely crumpled magician’s hat: an agreement that might actually end sanctions against their country from an asymmetric, largely manufactured conflict.

Think of that meeting in Ufa, the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan, as a preamble to the long-delayed agreement in Vienna. It caught the new dynamics of the Eurasian continent and signaled the future geopolitical Big Bangness of it all. At Ufa, from July 8th to 10th, the 7th BRICS summit and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit overlapped just as a possible Vienna deal was devouring one deadline after another.

Consider it a diplomatic masterstroke of Vladmir Putin’s Russia to have merged those two summits with an informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Call it a soft power declaration of war against Washington’s imperial logic, one that would highlight the breadth and depth of an evolving Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Putting all those heads of state attending each of the meetings under one roof, Moscow offered a vision of an emerging, coordinated geopolitical structure anchored in Eurasian integration. Thus, the importance of Iran: no matter what happens post-Vienna, Iran will be a vital hub/node/crossroads in Eurasia for this new structure.

If you read the declaration that came out of the BRICS summit, one detail should strike you: the austerity-ridden European Union (EU) is barely mentioned. And that’s not an oversight. From the point of view of the leaders of key BRICS nations, they are offering a new approach to Eurasia, the very opposite of the language of sanctions.

Here are just a few examples of the dizzying activity that took place at Ufa, all of it ignored by the American mainstream media. In their meetings, President Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked in a practical way to advance what is essentially a Chinese vision of a future Eurasia knit together by a series of interlocking “new Silk Roads.” Modi approved more Chinese investment in his country, while Xi and Modi together pledged to work to solve the joint border issues that have dogged their countries and, in at least one case, led to war.

The NDB, the BRICS’ response to the World Bank, was officially launched with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other developing nations across the Global South — all in their own currencies, which means bypassing the U.S. dollar.  Given its membership, the NDB’s money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed, in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB’s attempt to break a Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility of someday aidingin the reconstruction of Syria.

You won’t be surprised to learn that both the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the NDB are headquartered in China and will work to complement each other’s efforts. At the same time, Russia’s foreign investment arm, the Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), signed a memorandum of understanding with funds from other BRICS countries and so launched an informal investment consortium in which China’s Silk Road Fund and India’s Infrastructure Development Finance Company will be key partners.

Full Spectrum Transportation Dominance

On the ground level, this should be thought of as part of the New Great Game in Eurasia. Its flip side is the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Pacific and the Atlantic version of the same, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which Washington is trying to advance to maintain U.S. global economic dominance. The question these conflicting plans raise is how to integrate trade and commerce across that vast region. From the Chinese and Russian perspectives, Eurasia is to be integrated via a complex network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines, ports, airports, pipelines, and fiber optic cables. By land, sea, and air, the resulting New Silk Roads are meant to create an economic version of the Pentagon’s doctrine of “Full Spectrum Dominance” — a vision that already has Chinese corporate executives crisscrossing Eurasia sealing infrastructure deals.

For Beijing — back to a 7% growth rate in the second quarter of 2015 despite a recent near-panic on the country’s stock markets — it makes perfect economic sense: as labor costs rise, production will be relocated from the country’s Eastern seaboard to its cheaper Western reaches, while the natural outlets for the production of just about everything will be those parallel and interlocking “belts” of the new Silk Roads.

Meanwhile, Russia is pushing to modernize and diversify its energy-exploitation-dependent economy. Among other things, its leaders hope that the mix of those developing Silk Roads and the tying together of the Eurasian Economic Union — Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — will translate into myriad transportation and construction projects for which the country’s industrial and engineering know-how will prove crucial.

As the EEU has begun establishing free trade zones with India, Iran, Vietnam, Egypt, and Latin America’s Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), the initial stages of this integration process already reach beyond Eurasia. Meanwhile, the SCO, which began as little more than a security forum, is expanding and moving into the field of economic cooperation.  Its countries, especially four Central Asian “stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) will rely ever more on the Chinese-driven Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the NDB. At Ufa, India and Pakistan finalized an upgrading process in which they have moved from observers to members of the SCO. This makes it an alternative G8.

In the meantime, when it comes to embattled Afghanistan, the BRICS nations and the SCO have now called upon “the armed opposition to disarm, accept the Constitution of Afghanistan, and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations.” Translation: within the framework of Afghan national unity, the organization would accept the Taliban as part of a future government. Their hopes, with the integration of the region in mind, would be for a future stable Afghanistan able to absorb more Chinese, Russian, Indian, and Iranian investment, and the construction — finally! — of a long-planned, $10 billion, 1,420-kilometer-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline that would benefit those energy-hungry new SCO members, Pakistan and India. (They would each receive 42% of the gas, the remaining 16% going to Afghanistan.)

Central Asia is, at the moment, geographic ground zero for the convergence of the economic urges of China, Russia, and India. It was no happenstance that, on his way to Ufa, Prime Minister Modi stopped off in Central Asia.  Like the Chinese leadership in Beijing, Moscow looks forward (as a recent document puts it) to the “interpenetration and integration of the EEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt” into a “Greater Eurasia” and a “steady, developing, safe common neighborhood” for both Russia and China.

And don’t forget Iran. In early 2016, once economic sanctions are fully lifted, it is expected to join the SCO, turning it into a G9. As its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, made clear recently to Russia’s Channel 1 television, Tehran considers the two countries strategic partners. “Russia,” he said, “has been the most important participant in Iran’s nuclear program and it will continue under the current agreement to be Iran’s major nuclear partner.” The same will, he added, be true when it comes to “oil and gas cooperation,” given the shared interest of those two energy-rich nations in “maintaining stability in global market prices.”

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  

 

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

They are getting crazier, Cruz says Iran could set off Electro Magnetic Pulse over east coast

Cruz says Iran could set off Electro Magnetic Pulse over east coast, killing 10s of millions
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Ted Cruz hosted a roundtable on the Iran deal yesterday. Video below. He says the Iranian deal is “catastrophic” because it will fund terrorism and allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. He must be auditioning for Sheldon Adelson’s money. Cruz said: I agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that the threat of a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to the state of Israel… The odds are unacceptably high they would use those nuclear weapons in the skies of Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles. But the threat that is posed to the United States of America is even qualitatively greater.

The single greatest threat if Iran acquired even a single nuclear weapon would be that they would place that weapon on a rocket on a ship anywhere up and down the Atlantic and they would fire that rocket straight into the air into the atmosphere and if it got high enough and they could detonate a nuclear war head, it would set off what’s called an Electro Magnetic Pulse, an EMP. An EMP would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard. The EMP would shut down the stock market and all financial systems, shut down delivery of food, water, heat, air, and basic transportation, Cruz said. The projections are that an EMP over the eastern seaboard would cost the lives of tens of millions of Americans. And they don’t need targeting equipment… They need to fire straight in the air.

Austria shows the way, marking gun-toting G.I. Joe with return to sender

Armed US Soldiers Arrested in Vienna Airport on Their Way to Ukraine

The soldiers carried assault rifles in their luggage, but had no approval, Kurier reported.

A few days ago, a group of American soldiers caused a security alert at Vienna’s Schwechat airport. The men were stopped while trying to travel with army weapons to Ukraine without any necessary permits, the newspaper wrote.

The Austrian police had to intervene and remove the weapons. An investigation into the case was launched.

The nine US soldiers were on their way from Washington to Ukraine, where they were to be deployed.

“However, since there were problems with their connecting flight after a stopover in Schwechat, they had to rebook their flight and, therefore, leave the transit area,” Colonel Michael Bauer, Defense Ministry spokesman said.

M16 assault rifles and pistols were discovered in the luggage of the American soldiers at a security checkpoint. The incident caused huge shock, because the weapons were not declared and registered and, thus, carried illegally.The soldiers had not obtained the required transit approval by Austria. In special cases, the stay or transit of foreign military forces may be officially allowed after completing the application procedure, but the US soldiers did not send any required requests.

The attempt by the American embassy to obtain the approval after the incident was rejected for legal reasons. Instead of going to Ukraine, the soldiers had to fly back home to Washington and were allowed to take the weapons with them, the newspaper reported.

Read more: http://sputniknews.com/europe/20150730/1025209858.html#ixzz3hSUNLfoc

Killing of three Palestinians in a week shouldn’t be business as usual, imagine if they had been self proclaimed “chosen ones”

SEE ALSO

Palestinian man dies during attempted arrest by Israeli security forces

Israeli forces injure 14 after funeral of Palestinian teen

Jerusalem: Child injured after police assaulted him at home, police station

Settlers assault the elderly Sarah Nabali

Settlers attack Palestinian bus driver in East Jerusalem

The occupation arrests 10 children and one young man from Esawyeh

Killing of three Palestinians in a week shouldn’t be business as usual

If it had been Palestinians who killed three Israelis, we would be having a very different conversation about a ‘worrying escalation’ or ‘wave of violence.’

An aunt of Muhammad Abu Latifa cries at his funeral in Qalandia Refugee Camp in between Ramallah and Jerusalem, July 27, 2015. Abu Latifa was killed while fleeing Israeli special police commandos during an arrest raid on his home early that morning. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli military forces shot and killed three Palestinians in the last week. All three killings took place during raids in the middle of the night to detain suspects in crimes we know nothing about, sometimes crimes the suspects know nothing about. Although it appears there was some level of resistance in the three attempted arrests, there is no evidence at all that any of the three were armed or posed a mortal threat when they were killed.

In the early hours of Monday morning, soldiers and police commandos entered the Qalandiya Refugee Camp looking for 18-year-old Muhammad Abu Latifa on suspicion of weapons trafficking, though some reports say simply, “terror activities.” According to the IDF, Latifa was shot in the leg while trying to escape to a nearby roof, from which he fell to his death. His family claims he was simply shot to death, and a report published on +972 on Monday shows evidence that challenges the IDF account.

Some reports in Israeli outlets, like Haaretz, didn’t even bother to speak to anyone from the family and only provided the IDF account. Ynet’s English site reported the story with an appalling headline that left many dumbfounded: “Parkour in Palestine: Fleeing suspect falls to his death,” playing on the acrobatic sport that has become popular among young Palestinians, who use their bodies to jump on and between buildings and urban obstacles. It was the top story on their homepage for several hours before being changed. Ynet declined to comment when I approached them asking them what they were thinking.

Ynetnews.com homepage screengrab

The previous Thursday, Falah Abu Maria, 52, died after being shot twice in the chest by Israeli soldiers who tried to enter his family home in the West Bank village of Beit Omar, near Hebron, at 3:30 a.m. Again, Israeli media primarily adopted the IDF version that the fully armed combat soldiers “encountered resistance,” which was enough to justify his death, at least as far as Israeli mainstream media goes.

A report in The Telegraph, which consisted primarily of an interview with family members who witnessed the shooting, contradicts IDF Spokesperson’s claims that the forces were confronted by a “violent mob” throwing stones at them. According to Abu Maria’s daughter-in-law, not a single stone was thrown, but Abu Maria did throw a plastic potted plant at the soldiers after watching soldiers shoot his son Mohammed, 24, in both of his legs at point black range. According to the family, Abu Maria thought his son had been killed, and in the rage of the moment threw a small plant at the soldiers, for which he got two bullets straight in the chest.

In the third incident, just 24 hours earlier, 21-year-old Muhammad Ahmad Alawneh was shot and killed by IDF soldiers in the West Bank village of Burkin near Jenin. The IDF and Border Police claimed firebombs were hurled at them, though there are no reports that Alauna threw one. In some reports, he threw a stone.

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers raiding a Palestinian home and making an arrest in 2012 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Three unarmed Palestinians killed in one week is alarming. If it were three Israelis, the news of the “escalation” or “wave of violence” would surely be much more widespread in both local and international media. But it is not only the frequency of these events; it is the fact that they are accepted as routine — and legitimate — operations in Israel.

Israeli soldiers force their way into a home in the dead of night, fully armed, masked and protected. They don’t need a warrant, and the suspects don’t have any rights. Israeli army claims that soldiers’ lives were at risk is what justifies the killing of unarmed Palestinians. Sound familiar? That is because it has happened over and over again for nearly 50 years.

The very nature of the relationship between occupier and occupied, between the soldier and the enemy, to which Israelis have become so accustomed and desensitized, somehow makes the killing of three Palestinians into a non-event that mainstream Israeli journalists don’t bother to question.

NATO plans to bolster Turkey’s “security”, in other words to assist in the Kurdish genocide

NATO Winds Up Emergency Meeting on Plans to Bolster Turkey’s Security

Amid rising tensions following the air strikes launched by Ankara against Kurdish fighters as well as the Islamic State (IS), and warnings of a civil war breaking out in Turkey, an emergency NATO’s Council meeting took place on July 28 in Brussels under Article 4 of the alliance’s founding treaty to gauge the threat the Islamic State extremist group poses to Turkey, and the actions Turkish authorities are taking in response. 

The clause allows members to request a summit if their territorial integrity or security is threatened. The session is only the fifth Article 4 meeting since the alliance was formed in 1949. The first three sessions were all called for by Turkey; once in 2003 over the invasion of Iraq, and twice in 2012 because of incidents on the 900 km long Syrian border.

The Alliance gave Turkey full support in fighting militants beyond its borders in Syria and Iraq and stepping up its role in the US-led fight against the Islamic State. The final North Atlantic Council’s statement says «The security of the Alliance is indivisible, and we stand in strong solidarity with Turkey. We will continue to follow the developments on the South-Eastern border of NATO very closely».

«We all stand united in condemning terrorism, in solidarity with Turkey, «NATO Secretary General Yens Stoltenberg told a news conference.

There was no request for help from the country that has the second largest military in the alliance. Yens Stoltenberg defended NATO’s limited role in the fight against the Islamic State, arguing the alliance was already active in combating terrorism across the Mediterranean, in Afghanistan, in Jordan and Iraq as part of a US-led coalition.

Ankara: game-changing about face

For a long time Turkey had been reluctant to join the US-led coalition against the IS. It had been often accused of turning a blind eye to extremists, including foreign recruits, who crossed into Syria from Turkey to fight against Syrian government forces. Last week it made an about-face to grant NATO an access to its air facilities. In a series of cross-border strikes since July 24, Turkey has not only targeted the IS but also Kurdish fighters affiliated with forces battling the extremists in Syria and Iraq. With more than 1.8 million Syrian refugees on its soil, Turkey has long campaigned for a «no-fly zone» in northern Syria to keep Islamic State and Kurdish militants from its border and help stem the tide of displaced civilians trying get to the country. The plan is likely to involve the establishment of a de facto no-fly zone 88km (55 miles) wide and 40km (25 miles) deep in northern Syria.

Ankara and Washington agreed to drive Islamic State fighters from northern Syria. Discussions were ongoing about the size and scope of the planned zone. Attacks on Kurds have also become a headache for the US, which works with troops from the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit fighting the IS on the ground. For almost a year, Kurdish rebels – the People’s Protection Units (YPG) closely allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – have represented Washington’s best hope for confronting the IS on the ground in Syria.

Turkey and the US agreed on a plan to rout the IS from a strip of Syrian land close to the Turkish border. The rest of the frontier is controlled by Kurdish fighters or Syrian rebels. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said both Turkey and the US wanted to see Syria’s what he called «moderate opposition» forces replace IS fighters near the Turkish border.

Under the plans, the militants would be removed from a 68-mile (109km) stretch west of the Euphrates River. Such a deal would significantly increase the scope of the US-led air war against the Islamists in northern Syria. Last week Turkey agreed to allow the US to use its air base in Incirlik to launch air strikes against the IS. The NATO air facility lies in Turkey’s Adana province. Its proximity to Syria would put US fighter jets closer to IS positions and allow a wider range of aircraft to take part in combat missions.

Turkey’s long-awaited involvement in the international coalition against the IS, flying combat missions and making its vital airbases available to US jets, has been described as a possible «game changer».

NATO – questioned unanimity

European allies, who need Turkey‘s help to combat jihadi fighters returning to Europe, said Turkey’s decision to hit PKK camps in Iraq at the weekend was justified. But they made it clear at the same time they do not want Turkish President Erdogan to abandon several years of a domestic peace process which they supported. German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Dovutoglu in a telephone call on July 26 to respect the principle of proportionality and not to give up on the Kurdish peace process.

While the NATO meeting was in session, Turkish President Erdogan told a news conference it was impossible to continue the peace process with Kurdish militants who claimed responsibility for the killing of two Turkish police officers after the students massacre.

NATO ambassadors were said not to have been aware of Mr. Erdogan’s remarks, and they did not feature in the discussion.

NATO members have different points of view on the matter. The US supports Turkey against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, while Germany stands for talks saying Kurds are not the Islamic State and it would be wrong to lump them all together.

NATO allies have many times told Turkey to strengthen the Syria border, but it had other priorities – toppling the Syrian regime and countering the alleged threat coming from Syrian Kurds. The armed conflict with Kurds has been lasting for 30 years with the death toll of 40 thousand. There have been increasing claims from Ankara that the Kurdish ambitions to create an independent homeland, part of it from Turkish territory, are being rekindled.

The European Commission on July 28 also repeated its concern to keep the peace process alive. Turkey is a candidate negotiating for EU membership.

On July 24, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and HDP head Selahattin Demirtas, stressing the «fundamental importance» of keeping the peace process with the Kurdish people «alive and on track». This is a signal that the EU has a very strong commitment to the peace process.

There are further concerns over security. Both the US and Turkey have stated that they would not put troops on the ground in the «safety zone». The Western-backed Free Syrian Army remains relatively powerless and a Pentagon scheme to train fighters has yielded only around 50 so far. Another American plan to create a «Sunni awakening» using tribal fighters modelled on a force in Iraq during US occupation is more of a pipe dream.

The fears are strong, and rightfully so, that a security vacuum could be filled by radical groups.

Turkey: alleged motives behind stated security concerns

Turkey’s bombing campaign has sparked nightly protests in Istanbul and other Turkish cities. A peace process, although very fragile, was reached with them during the last two years. The full-size attack on the PKK may look disproportionate putting the peace process into question.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) headed by President Erdogan is looking for a partner for a new coalition government as it lost the parliamentary majority in last month’s election for the first time since 2002.

It’s natural to surmise that the rising tensions serve the interests of the ruling party. With the election lost it has to form a coalition in a limited period of time. If it fails, a new election will be scheduled. Focusing public attention on outside threats is the way to win votes. It’s also obvious that now Turkey has to face at least four enemies: Islamists, Syrian Kurds, Kurds living in Turkey and the Syrian government forces. True, an escalation may be dangerous but it may frustrate the talks on forming a coalition to provide the ruling party with wide public support before a snap election.

In a comment on Erdogan’s words about Kurds who «threaten our national unity and brotherhood», the leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party – the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – dismissed the claim. HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas insisted his party’s only crime was winning 13% of the vote in June elections.

Implications of having buffer zone in place

With political support from NATO Turkey can launch the process of creating a buffer zone inside Syria that it has long sought while the U.S. is able to clamp down on a section of the border that serves as the Islamic State’s main lifeline to the outside world.

The both sides hope that Syrian rebels being trained and equipped in Turkey and Jordan by the United States and its allies would be able to play a key role linking up with other militants already fighting Islamic State. If the plans go through, the Syrian «moderate» forces will get US air support – a factor that allowed Kurdish forces gradually seize parts of northern Syria along the border.

The US has secured a kind of tacit agreement with the Syria government of Bashar Assad not to challenge coalition planes carrying out daily airstrikes in his country. Turkey joining the air campaign may complicate that arrangement. Turkey and Syria have a history of shooting down each other’s aircraft with aggressive rules of engagement put in place.

With the focus of the campaign on Islamic State, America and Turkey are expecting this new phase of the campaign to put pressure on the Syrian President Assad.

There is something the NATO meeting omitted. Turkey and the U.S. are basing their action on Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, a collective or unilateral self-defense clause, and two Security Council resolutions that also form the basis of the 60-member international coalition against the Islamic State.

But the buffer zone in question is to be established on the territory of another state and only the UN Security Council can take the decision to establish it. Declaring buffer and «no-fly» zones NATO would be in violation of international law. Once established, the zone would sooner or later certainly involve the deployment of foreign forces on Syrian soil. It’s the first step to putting boots on the ground – something nobody wants. But this development of events is very much likely as history shows. There is another important aspect to mention here – a no-fly zone could set a precedent of similar zones hampering the use of air power by Syrian military, which relies heavily on it combatting rebels including the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army. And it’s a tall order to distinguish Muslim radicals from what is called «moderate» opposition. NATO has just approved a very dangerous step to escalation in the volatile region.

Another terrorists group looking for USA & Turkey’s sponsorship in Syria

Meet Syria`s Fake Moderates

In the midst of debate over how (or whether) to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East, a Salafi-jihadist group in northern Syria has presented a means to do just this. In a set of op-eds in the Washington Post and the Telegraph, the Ahrar al-Sham movement has made an appeal to Western governments: Recognize us as being part of the moderate rebel forces and support our fight against Bashar al-Assad, the Iranian-backed forces in Syria, and ISIS.

This may be a tempting option, particularly to those who criticize how few rebels Washington currently supports and lament the weakness of the forces it does support. Ahrar al-Sham claims to be a moderate movement that represents the Syrian majority—a natural force that is palatable to both Syrians and the West. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey would welcome the move from Washington as it would assure them that despite engagement with Iran, the United States remains solidly committed to countering its influence in the Middle East. The United States has already indicated it will help Turkey establish a safe zone—a move that will indirectly support Ahrar al-Sham and others.

Extending further support would be a grave mistake, however. Not only could it mean providing U.S. aid, training, and money for a jihadist group with unpredictable shifting alliances and membership, it would also further exacerbate the already heightened sectarian tensions in Syria—despite the group’s claims to the contrary.

In March 2015, Ahrar al-Sham joined with the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front along with a handful of other militias in the “Army of Conquest” alliance. Though Ahrar al-Sham had previously received most of its support from Qatar and Kuwait, under the new umbrella group, it received a great deal more support, principally from Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

This was prompted by an important, yet somewhat overlooked, shift in Saudi policy. As the United States and the rest of the P5+1 were making progress in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, the Saudi government doubled down on countering Iran’s regional influence. Not only did it begin its air campaign against the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, it also abandoned its anti-Islamist policy of only supporting anti-al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. In May, after Saudi Arabia came together with its former rivals Qatar and Turkey, the three provided direct logistical and material support to the Army of Conquest, leading to important victories against the Assad regime in northern Syria.

To reinforce the recent victories and protect the Army of Conquest and other militias, Turkey and Saudi Arabia called for the United States to establish a no-fly zone and a safe zone protecting northeastern Syria from ISIS and the Assad regime. The United States has long been reluctant, but last week, after Turkey agreed to let U.S. fighters conduct bombing runs on ISIS from its Incirlik airbase—part of its new, more aggressive anti-ISIS stance following the Suruç bombing this month—Washington agreed to closer cooperation with Turkey in forming a de-facto safe zone. The move will inevitably benefit Ahrar al-Sham, Nusra, and others giving them a secure space to resupply and stage operations.

To further assuage the United States, it would certainly be convenient for these groups to portray themselves as moderates—especially as Washington and Turkey may soon be contemplating the composition of Syrian forces that will protect the safe zone. Qatar tried and failed to encourage Nusra to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Subsequent reports of Nusra fighters in the Army of Conquest killing Druze villagers certainly didn’t help support the notion that the group was becoming moderate.

Ahrar al-Sham’s leadership however, has been far more successful than its Nusra counterparts in presenting a friendly face to the West. Earlier this month, in his Washington Post and Telegraph op-eds, the movement’s head of political relations Labib al-Nahhas asked Washington and the West to “open [their] eyes” to Ahrar al-Sham as an option. He presented a polished image of the organization: They believe in countering ISIS with a “homegrown Sunni alternative” and bringing an end to the Assad regime that is responsible for Syria’s sectarianism. They believe in a “national unifying project” for the country—not only representing the majority Sunni population but also protecting minority groups and their aspirations.

This all sounds well and good, and the pieces were well crafted for a Western audience, but this rhetoric doesn’t match with the actions of group it purports to represent.

Since its founding in 2011, Ahrar al-Sham has been a group with many faces. The organization has continually denied its connections to al-Qaeda, and yet many of its senior leaders have had links to it—including one who was simultaneously serving in Ahrar al-Sham and as al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s representative in the Levant.

The group proclaims to be a domestic Syrian force that has not invited foreign influence as the Assad regime has, and yet it operates predominantly on Gulf money and has allied itself with organizations such as Nusra, ISIS, and others that rely heavily on foreign fighters. At times Ahrar al-Sham has presented itself as merely a conservative Islamist movement, not an extremist one, calling for a Syria that while based on Islamic principles is built on unity and protection of its minorities. At other times its leadership has used divisive rhetoric, particularly targeting Shiites. Human Rights Watch, moreover, has documented Ahrar al-Sham, alongside other Salafi groups, engaging in mass killings of Alawite villagers in the Latakia countryside. Ahrar al-Sham says it will stand against and fight ISIS, and yet just last week Arabic media reported that dozens of its members fought alongside ISIS in the Yarmouk refugee camp. The group is the embodiment of double-speak.

Make no mistake; al-Nahhas is correct on one account. For Syria to ever see some kind of stability—something that seems quite distant—and to meaningfully counter ISIS, Syria’s Sunni majority needs to have a voice in Damascus. It was indeed the exclusion of this community by Assad in Syria (and Iraqi Sunnis by Nouri al-Maliki) that stoked the sectarianism that facilitated ISIS’s rise in the first place. Even so, supporting Ahrar al-Sham or similar groups is not the answer. Such action would intensify, not alleviate, the sectarian tensions in the country.

Russian “Threat” Proves American Ignorance, Arrogance and Hypocrisy

The Russian Threat

Russian “Threat” Proves American Ignorance, Arrogance and Hypocrisy

A recent story headlined on CNN.com asked the question, “Why is Russia sending bombers close to U.S. airspace?”, after several Russian military aircraft flew near U.S. airspace along the coasts of Alaska and California. Perhaps a better question would be why has Russia waited so long to do so?

The story includes a smattering of ominous, juvenile-level rhetoric from Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Republican Congressman from Illinois, who describes what Russia is doing as an “act of aggression.” He compares Vladimir Putin to a diminutive school bully who acts overly tough, no doubt an allusion to Russia’s reduced influence in world affairs since the end of the Cold War.

Kinzinger’s quotes make him sound more like the loveable, rotund idiot Tommy Callahan portrayed by Chris Farley in “Tommy Boy” – ‘Like, you’re not even gonna believe what those Russians are doing. It’s not really cool.’ But, I guess since Kinzinger “served” in the Air Force and “sat” on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he’s a reliable source to judge the behavior of Vlad Putin and the Russian military.

Americans should not be surprised that the Russians are sending aircraft close to American airspace. Considering what the U.S. government and military has been doing for twenty-five years, Russia’s sorties should be an expected minimum response by Moscow. Be thankful they aren’t like the U.S. government and overact to threats that don’t exist.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the United States has proceeded to encircle Russia by expanding NATO and the number of military bases ever-closer to Russian soil. Go to Google images and type “United States encircling Russia” and a number of maps pop up showing the extent of this policy. One image jokingly makes the statement: “Russia Wants War: Look how close they put their country to our military bases.”

The United States regularly conducts military “exercises” with allies in areas of Eastern Europe formerly controlled by the Soviet Union. In the post-Cold War era, NATO has become nothing more than a collection of vassal states under the overbearing and near-tyrannical control of the U.S. government and military, much like the Warsaw Pact used to be under the Soviets.

Adding more countries to NATO does nothing for the security needs of member states. They serve as sacrificial pawns in a giant game of geopolitical chess played by the U.S. government and its crazies who run the military. Military bases allow the United States proximity to Russian territory. Most Americans remain ignorant of all this. For many of those who are aware, too many drink the government/media Kool-Aid that says this is necessary for U.S. “security”.

The current situation in Ukraine was instigated by the United States. The collapse of the government, the civil war and the installation of a pro-American government, all the consequence of American meddling in the affairs of a country bordering Russia. As usual, the American media played its usual role, selling the government’s version of reality, thus making it easy to cast Putin and the Russians as the bad guys.

The Russian response, the annexation of the Crimea, moving troops near the border, whatever, would all seem reasonable to Americans if a similar crisis was happening in Mexico. Imagine the Russians deciding they didn’t like a Mexican government they claimed was too pro-American and took measures to cause its collapse, then taking an active part to ensure a government friendly to Moscow took its place. That’s what the United States has effectively done in Ukraine.

Too many Americans just don’t understand how the world works and how their own government is the instigator of so much strife in the world. If they can think they sure don’t demonstrate an ability or willingness to do so. If they did they would honestly and rationally conclude that their own government is provoking Russian near intrusions into U.S. airspace.

But since coming to that conclusion would require reading (sorry, no pictures, no tracing your finger slowly across the page, and absolutely no mouthing the words as you read them) and thinking about information more than a few minutes into the past, that’s not gonna happen. So when Americans read about Russian military aircraft flying near U.S. airspace they’re outraged because that’s the easiest reaction.

Maybe that’s exactly what the U.S. government wants. As the article points out, U.S. military surveillance can track Russian military aircraft before they leave Russian airspace. Let them get close and then intercept. Feign outrage and foster fears of Russian aggression. The terrorist bogeyman is getting old so why not return to an old favorite. All governments need a bad guy; if one’s not readily available then fabricate one. As history has demonstrated, the U.S. government is hands down, best at that.

Reaction to these Russian flights just proves what critics of American policy have been saying since the Bush administration cherry-picked “intelligence” to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, taking the United States down a permanent path of financial destruction through stupid, unnecessary and unwinnable military operations.

If another country acted similarly the American government would be ablaze with self-righteous outrage. The media would perform like the trained seal that it is and toot the government’s propaganda horn, riling the American people into an irrational, frothing patriotic fervor.  Among the political class there would be calls for economic sanctions and, if the country was small and weak, threats of imminent military action.

And we do that for non-existent threats. General Joseph Dunford, nominee for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Russia an “existential threat” to the United States. No doubt many Americans would, like zombies, nod in agreement, all because of what the media told them about outdated Russian aircraft flying close to U.S. airspace.

Ignoring tangible and ongoing threats to Russian security instigated by the United States over the last quarter century demonstrates that when it comes to American foreign policy and assessing its real consequences, ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy remains the order of the day.

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