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Middle East

Iraq: A surreal consensus on withdrawal

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Pax Amercana vs offshore balancing

The latest jargon justifying imperialism, as if straight from the business page contrasts Pax Americana, where if they behave well, clients become more prosperous and more democratic. If that fails but you have a few reliable regional partners, there is an offshore balancing system, where the empire’s quislings bear the primary responsibility for dealing with crises on the ground, and US military strategy is oriented toward policing the seas and skies. Nothing new except the name.  The British were masters of ‘offshore balancing’.

Since the Cold War, and especially since 1991, the Pax Americana idea has predominated. But in the Middle East, Dohat lectures, there has been no real evolution toward democracy among our network of allies; instead, their persistent corruption has fed terrorism and contributed to al-Qaeda’s rise. All is the fault of the stupid, greedy towel heads. Apparently Bin Laden can’t see the difference between local and foreign greedy bastards.

Hence the Bush administration’s post-9/11 decision to try to “start afresh, by transforming a rogue state into a regional model”, a foundation for a new American-led order that would be “less morally compromised than the old”. That order did not, of course, emerge. Instead, the obliteration of Iraq destroyed the only vaguely functional regime in the Middle East, killing 100,000s of innocent Iraqis (who knows how many? According to the invader chief, General Tommy Franks, “We don’t do body counts).

A “different bad actor”, Iran, ended up empowered, which in a sense led to the Arab Spring and the civil wars that followed. Iran is the only Muslim country that has successfully resisted imperialism, and as such was an inspiration to Muslims both Shia and Sunni.

Withdrawal from Iraq and a “ light-footprint approach to counterterrorism”, the “strange dance with Bashar al-Assad”, “limited intervention against ISIS” all aim at a more “offshore” approach to the Middle East’s problems according to the shamelessly sycophantic guru of US atrocities Dohat. Likewise, the long-sought détente with Iran, which Dohat vainly hopes will push Tehran to join Riyadh, Cairo and Tel Aviv in a “multipolar order”.

The US ‘matures’

The US has been shaping imperialism—the Great Games—even before the eclipse of the British Empire as a result of WWI. The US was a junior player, but admired as the up-and-comer by Kipling, who wrote his most famous paean to imperialism “the white man’s burden” not in reference to the genocidal Boer War, but to the US war against the Philippines, where 10,000 of rebels had just defeated the Spanish in a war of independence and were duly dispatched by US forces, gunned down by nifty new machine guns.

Kipling justified the US slaughter as a noble enterprise: Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need;... [in] The savage wars of peace. (first published in McClure 1899) The real US policy was the Monroe Doctrine (1823), promoting the idea of national and continental self-sufficiency and the drive for hegemony by the dominant power as much for supremacy as for economic interest. Poor Mexico, poor Cuba … but poor Philippines?

Apparently the conflicts over the years have had nothing to do with US aggression, despite the fact that the venerable FDR—icon of the liberals—created the Saudi monster in the 1930s (and had assassinated more than one Latin American leader),  proto-Israel plotted brilliantly from the 1930s for ethnic cleansing and just plain murder of the natives in the Zionist zeal to create a Disney ‘Holy Land’ (what must God be thinking). ISIS is not a result of the Bushes obliterating Iraq, but an age-old grudge match between Sunni and Shia.

Islamic politics

Meanwhile, the local Muslims have been praying devoutly five times a day, celebrating the grueling Ramadan fast, but increasingly worried about the schemes plotted against their lands, which raised the alarm of jihad.

The first instance of the root word j-h-d in the Quran is: “Therefore do not obey the negators, but strive against them with the Quran. (25:52) The only clear call to armed jihad in the Quran is when you are directly attacked: it then is an ‘individual duty’ (fard ayn) to fight to defend yourself and your community. “To those against whom war is made, permission is given to fight, and ... [to] those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right for no cause except that they say: ‘Our Lord is Allah!’” (22:39–40)

The wars against Israel in 1948 and 1973 were fard kifayah, which the community as a whole was pressed to support, announced by the Muslim leaders (in lieu of the absent Caliph). But the organizer of the boycott, Saudi King Faisal (the only Saudi monarch deserving respect), was abandoned by his Arab allies and assassinated in 1975 by his half-brother’s son, Faisal bin Musaid, who had just come back from studies in the US. He was replaced by the more compliant King Fahd, who went as far as accepting a permanent US military presence on Saudi territory.

The disillusion from these intrigues and wars grated on all Muslims, who came to the logical conclusion that their Muslim rulers were serving imperialism and Israel, not Islam, The result was an underground fard ayn, relying on the Quran, but without clear authority. Self-styled theorists like Qutb and Osama Bin Laden, brilliant and charismatic scholar/activists, considered ways to fight the kufar, so insolently lording it over the ummah, forcing its degenerate culture on their children, educating its scholars in American secularism, filling its airwaves with pornography, violence, and even ridicule of the Prophet Muhammad.

Islam looks for ways of diffusing conflict even when neither side is ‘correct’, a timeless truth which the Dohats are unable to fathom. Political power is central to Islam; you can’t relieve oppression/ injustice if you are weak.

Prophet Muhammad was a brilliant political strategist, and went from simple trader to head of a powerful new socio-political and religious formation in a few decades. Prophet Muhammad was the first to build a political formation from scratch, providing a template for any future Islamic society. The prophetic mission lasted 23 years, and the next 10 years saw the rapid triumph of Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula, the result of careful planning, strategic alliances, and judicious use of force to neutralize the power of enemies without wholesale destruction or massacres.

What is important is to preserve the sanctity of Islam in the face of schemes to undermine it. This is exactly the situation today. ISIS and the Houthi must work with Shia and all other sincere Muslims—this requires compromise from all sides—to expel the US and end the Saudi complicity with the US and Israel. If the Saudi rulers can risk throwing in the towel, there is no need for a Saudi revolution. Revolutions are always messy. Best to find compromise.

Liberal crocodile tears

Western liberals crow about ISIS beheadings (it’s actually considered to be more humane than such western practices as electrocution (or death by drone)). What really bugs me is when western media claim that the beheading is used as entertainment for the towel heads. The beheading is officiated by an imam who explains the reason for the beheading (usually treason or fornication). It’s not our cup of tea, but who cares what western liberals on CNN think, except other western liberals? What good have western liberals EVER done in the world of politics.

Recall the 1930s, when liberals denounced Stalin for killing people, some of whom were no doubt saboteurs, but like today in Iraq, many of whom were just unenthusiastic about his socialism, caught in the crossfire. Stalin had good reason to be paranoid about his ‘liberals’. The West invaded Russia in 1918 and again in 1941, and after WWII, constantly threatened to ‘liberate’ the socialist bloc, engaging in countless acts of sabotage to bring the anti-imperialist rival system down.

So where are western liberals in all this, supposedly concerned about human rights, about protecting us all from violence? In the 1930s–1940s, they became fanatical anti-communists, earning their keep from the CIA et al, and eventually morphing into the neocons.

Today, apart from a few saints like Ralph Nader, they are like a chorus of harpies, supporting the US bombing of just about any resistance fighter in Syria and Iraq, no matter whether Sunni or Shia, and for over a decade, the fearless Taleban, who have endured untold torture and death at US hands, and miraculously have endured, awaiting the final helicopter escape of US troops.

There is no need to quibble over ISIS’s crude social justice. They are the paranoid offspring of the invasion, and will only quieten down when the hateful invader is gone. Genuine conservatives (not the neos) are anti-imperialist if only because conflict is bad for business and the money men are smart enough to realize it undermines US influence around the world. Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th president) opposed the Spanish and Philippine Wars, and was a member of the Anti-Imperialist League. Bill Kaufman, Pat Buchanan, and Ron Paul all spoke strongly against the Iraq war.

Of the major Western antiwar organizations, United for Peace and Justice has never supported the insurgency, and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism and the Stop the War Coalition have sat on the fence in quintessential liberal fashion.  Most organizations fret over the rebels’ crude insurgency, ignoring the real devil, showing their unprincipled cowardice. If a million protestors went to the Pentagon and refused to budge till the bombing stopped and the troops were leaving, THAT would be courageous—and doable—for sincere activists.


US-Yemen: Beheading the Dragon

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IS continues to confound. Not only for its ability to outmanoeuver the US (remember it is a rag-tag unfunded collection of wildly courageous jihadists fight a monster Goliath) but for its defiance in pursuing its grim revolutionary justice despite the threats of empire. They believe in the old fashion justice of Muhammad’s time (though Muhammad was very sparing in cuttings, encouraging remorse, forgiveness and financial compensation paid to the victim or heirs of a victim in the cases of murder, bodily harm or property damage.
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US-Yemen: Stalingrad begins

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The world’s bastion of peace is packing up its bombs and tanks in a humiliating retreat from the desert of Yemen. How could this be? After all, the US has been directing events in Yemen, more or less, since WWII, dominated by US dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. After the collapse of the Arab world’s only communist state, South Yemen, in 1991, it looked like clear sailing. But sadly, fantasy and reality have little in common in the intractable Middle East.

Yemen is most celebrated as the fatherland of jihadist Osama Bin Laden (his father was a Yemeni-born Saudi construction billionaire with close ties to the Saudi royal family). Osama was energized in his tender youth in the 1970s to travel the Middle East exhorting independence fighters to fight the kufar with increasingly alarming tactics—and success. But that is ancient history now. He was gunned down unarmed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011 and dumped unceremoniously in the ocean, in yet another US insult to the Muslim world.

Hillary got into gear shortly after in 2011, visiting Yemen to explain the anomaly of the Arab Spring as due to a “youth bulge”, not anything to do with assassinating the local folk hero, dropping hundreds of bombs on innocent civilians, etc. To pare down the “bulge” Obama provided a soupcon of US-style democracy, including an end to Saleh’s dreams of lifetime dictatorship, passing his legacy on to the equally corrupt but spineless vice president Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi.

“We support an inclusive government,” Clinton replied when asked how the Obama administration could support Saleh’s government and human rights at the same time. “We see that Yemen is going through a transition. And you’re right: it could one way or the other. It could go the right way or the wrong way.” (I’m not making this absurd statement up.)

Hillary just made it home in time to read CNN reports of Yemen’s mass uprising, which Obama petulantly hailed not as a yearning for freedom, but as “an obstruction to be neutralized”. Al-Qaeda capitalized on Saleh’s distraction in the cities to expand its ranks and territorial control in Yemen’s southern governorates; Saleh’s US-trained counter-terrorism forces made things worse by targeting revolutionaries and tribesmen eager to rid Yemen of the US, rather than any pesky al-Qaeda terrorists. After all, what use is Yemen if it becomes independent and kicks out the real sponsors of terrorism—Washington and its allies, namely Saudi Arabia and European partners?

Hadi of course approves of US drone strikes in Yemen, as part of the White House and State Department’s “Partnering with the People of Yemen”. Yemen’s revolution is effectively over in the eyes of UN, EU and GCC powers, and they have stopped at nothing to control its current “transition”. There has been mounting violence by rival armed groups in Yemen, including Houthi rebels, al-Qaeda and IS. The UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting, perhaps hoping for a Pascal resurrection of a peaceful Yemen (long ago crucified by US lust). President Hadi already fled to the southern port city of Aden after the capital was taken over by Houthis last month.

Late on Saturday, US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke confirmed the start of the US Stalingrad retreat: “Due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the US government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen,” though it would continue to support Yemen’s “political transition” and monitor terrorist threats emanating from the country, adding in a Hillaryesque nonsequitur: “There is no military solution to Yemen’s current crisis.” On Friday, President Hadi resolutely demanded that the rebels withdraw from Sanaa in his first televised address since fleeing the city.

The Muslim world has had more than its share of US-backed coups—Syria (1949+), Iran (1953), Turkey (1960, 1971, 1980), Iraq (1963), Libya (1969), Pakistan (1977), Yemen (1978). And they all backfired. Yemen’s travails are merely the latest in this sordid litany.

Just as communism arose out of the contradictions of imperialism a century ago, Islamic revolution is the inevitable result of today’s version of imperialism. IS may be harsh and uncompromising, but it should be treated with respect, not vilified. The caliphate project, implementing sharia, the determination to overthrow the Saudi monarchy, the rejection of fiat money—these are legitimate goals and deserve serious analysis. The caliphate project is now on track after almost a century of Muslim humiliation; the corrupt Saudi Arabia is identified as the Muslim world’s ‘enemy at home’. Given the continually exploding financial crises in the West, ISIS says the new gold-backed currency will take the group out of “the oppressors’ money system”, and return control over the money supply from bankers to the state.

They are the bottom line for Muslims.

PressTV interview: Zionists, Saudis seek more destruction in Syria

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The Zionists and Saudi Arabia are seeking to create more “destruction and war” in Syria amid efforts by Iran to establish peace in the Arab country, says an author and journalist in Toronto.

Reagan and "friends' in 1985

US Secretary of State John Kerry is pursuing “a non-militaristic” solution to the Syrian crisis, “but at the same time cowing to US foreign policy, said Eric Walberg, a Canadian writer on the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia.

In an interview with CBS News on Sunday, Kerry said Washington should finally negotiate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reach an agreement over the country’s conflict.

The top US diplomat said his country is looking for steps to bring the Syrian president to the negotiation table.

Commenting to Press TV on Tuesday, Walberg said, “Negotiations with Assad are an excellent idea, long overdue; they’re opposed of course by the cowardly Saudis” and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

“For them it’s great to have more destruction in Syria, more civil war; they don’t want peace,” he added. “The Zionists want war, Kerry wants some peace, the Saudis want war, of course, Iran wants peace.”

The notion that negotiating with Assad will cause militants fighting against Damascus to shift their support for the ISIL terrorist group is a “Zionist nonsense,” Walberg argued. “The Zionists have spread their wing so far, they don’t know even what their saying half the time.”

American officials had repeatedly announced that the future political system of the Middle Eastern country should not include Assad.

Many of the militants described as “moderate” were trained by the CIA two years ago and later joined ISIL, which now controls some parts of Syria and Iraq.

Saudi elephants

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Saudi duplicity is backfiring royally. The architect of Abdullah’s worst foreign policies Tuwaijri is gone, but does Abdullah’s successor Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud have the guts to face Saudi Arabia’s many nightmares?

The death of King Abdullah in January 2015 confirmed the contradictions at work in Saudi politics. The architect of Abdullah's destructive policies, President of the Royal Court Khalid al-Tuwaijri, was immediately dismissed, replace by Prince Muqrin. Tuwaijri was the key player in foreign intrigues—to subvert the Egyptian revolution, to send in the troops to crush the uprising in Bahrain, to finance ISIL in Syria in the early stages of the civil war along his previous ‘ally’ Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

As Abdullah lay dying, the Zaidi Shia Houthis in Yemen were occupying the presidential palace in Sana, a plan plotted by former Yemeni dictator Saleh and the United Arab Emirates (Saudi allies), keen to undermine the democratic transformation of Yemen that Islah, the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, was trying to effect.

The entire focus of Abdullah’s foreign policy after 2011 was to stop the Arab spring in its tracks in Tunisia and Egypt, bribe their leaders with Saudi billions, and crush all forces capable of mounting an effective opposition in the Gulf States. Everything else, including the rise of Saudi's foremost regional rival Iran, became subservient to that paramount aim to crush democratic political Islam.

The Yemen plan backfired when Islah refused the bait to take up arms to resist the Houthi advance. As a result, the Houthis took more control than they were expected to, and Yemen now looks like Syria in reverse. Al-Qaeda's claim to be the only fighters prepared to defend Sunni tribesmen, has just been given a major boost.


Obsession with Iran

The elephant in the room here is Iran. Why are the Saudis sooo hostile to Iran? Iran has never publically called for their overthrow. It has made countless offers of dialogue over many long decades. It's more a question of the Saudis trying to use Sunni-Shia sectarianism to hide their irrelevance to the Muslim world (and the world at large)

What they fear is the example the Iranians provide. Their relevance to the Muslim world, despite the Shia-Sunni differences, continues to grow. The thought of a ‘Shia crescent’ terrifies the Saudis, not because it means war or some apocalypse, but because it would lead to a stable Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Did I hear you mention Pakistan? It too would also be revealed as irrelevant to the region’s peace if Iran were let back in the fold.

When the US figures this out, the days of the Saudi dictatorship/ monarchy will be numbered. Iran will take its place as the more reliable, sensible—Islamic—state in the region, the only state not afraid of genuine democracy.  

The Shia revolution in Iran had echoes in the Sunni world from the start in 1979. It inspired a young Egyptian Muslim Brother, Essam el-Erian (now imprisoned Freedom and Justice Party vice-chairman and MP), to say at that time, “Young people believe Islam is the solution to the ills in society after the failure of western democracy, socialism and communism to address the political and socio-economic difficulties.” It prompted Saudi rebels to occupy the Kaaba that same year in an attempt to spark revolution, Syrian Islamists to rise against their secular dictator Hafez al-Assad in 1980, and future al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri to conspire to assassinate Egyptian president Sadat in 1981.

Pakistan adds its two cents

Most of the terrorists (those implicated in the 9/11 hijackings, the foreign fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s and now in Syria/ Iraq) were/are understandably disaffected Saudis, rich on oil wealth, educated at western universities (or unemployed), yet disgusted by the Saudi alliance with imperialism (and by implication, with Israel) that was blessed by the Wahhabi establishment—so-called neo-Wahhabis. They found allies in their Pakistani brothers, betrayed, first, at ‘independence’ when the British handed Muslim Kashmir over to India, and then again when Reagan declared ‘victory’ over the Evil (Soviet) Empire in 1990 and decided they were really terrorists after all.

CIA analysts coined a term for this type of counterproductive outcome resulting from attempts to manipulate political developments—“blowback”—in its internal analysis of its own orchestration of the 1953 coup in Iran, warning of future anti-Americanism as a result of the coup. The neo-Wahhabis provide another, even more serious instance of blowback, where the revolutionaries, angry with Muslim official complicity with imperialism, started using strategies of revolution and the arms of the imperialists against both the US and their own leaders and peoples.

They are the bitter fruits (for us all, Muslim and non-Muslim) now being reaped in the so-called Global War on Terror, which targets all Islamists, lumping together genuine terrorists, teenage Palestinian rock-throwers, Hizbullah resistance fighters, and elected Hamas, Iranian and Egyptian politicians.

Egypt was a ray of hope

Like the Iranians, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood tried hard to square the circle with the Saudis but Saudi chauvinism trumps belief. The willingness of the Saudis to sacrifice thousands of Egyptian Muslims is shocking, though not out of character. Remember the1979 seige of Mecca by French Special Forces, who killed hundreds, possible some of the same 'Spetsnaz' who are murdering Muslims on the streets of France today.

Foreign relations under Egypt’s MB were shifting towards a more confrontational stance with Israel, defying Israel on Gaza, and moving towards more cooperation with other Islamic governments and movements, in particular Iran, but also throughout the Muslim world, while avoiding any open challenge to the Saudi monarchy.

President Mohamed Morsi was not oblivious to Saudi concerns. He made no sudden overtures to Iran. His first stop was Saudi Arabia, which initially promised support. The Morsi government delayed and delayed on the ‘generous’ IMF loan, finally proposing a compromise that included a demand to cancel part of what it termed the ‘odious debt’ from Mubarak years—which it was. The Islamists’ constitution—accepted by a popular vote, but post-coup replaced by another authorized by the military—put the family squarely at its heart, confirming both individual rights regardless of belief, status or ethnicity, and responsibilities.
These tantalizing developments confirm the validity of the MB strategy of confronting imperialism, coincidentally exposing the venality of the Saudis. All the sweet words of Morsi fell on deaf ears.

Guardian of the Holy Places

So do the Saudis at least protect the holy places? Ninety percent of pre-twentieth century architecture in Mecca and Medina has been razed, with more to come. According to the Washington-based Gulf Institute. Saudi authorities maintain they have the sole right to decide what should happen to the historic sites in Medina and Mecca.

In 1925, they leveled the cemeteries in Medina (where the Prophet’s grandson Hasan and Imam Jafar al-Sadiq are buried), and Mecca (where the Prophet’s grandfather and other ancestors are buried). They built the 600m tall Abraj al-Bait (Royal Hotel Clock Tower, second tallest building in the world after the Dubai Khalifa tower) beside the holy mosque of Mecca. It houses luxury hotels and apartments and is located on a five-storey shopping mall, where the Ottoman Ajyad fortress (1781) once stood, built to defend Mecca from Bedouin bandits like the Saudis.

Currently, as part of their plans to turn the Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina into the world’s largest building (capacity 1.6 million), they are threatening to destroy the thirteenth century green dome which holds the tombs of the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar, mosques dedicated to Abu Bakr and Umar, and the Masjid Ghamama, built to mark the spot where the Prophet gave his first prayers for the Eid festival. The Saudis have announced no plans to preserve or move the three mosques, which have existed since the seventh century and are covered by Ottoman-era structures. A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and endorsed by Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, called for the dome to be demolished and the graves of Muhammad, Abu Bakr and Umar to be flattened.

There is surely a tidal wave of anger and despair among all Muslims over this betrayal of Islam, including  among Saudis. We can only shudder as the slow motion train wreck proceeds.


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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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