Friday, 02 June 2017 16:56

Jordan Not to Send Any Troops to Syria

Jordan’s official stance regarding Syrian conflict supports peaceful resolution, yet reports have appeared in the media claiming that the kingdom is readying for a ground invasion of Syria. As “Eager Lion” military exercises in Jordan this year coincided with the intensified anti-terrorist fighting along Jordan-Syrian border, the media speculated about the US, British and Jordanian joint plan to send ground troops across the Syrian border. The news triggered brief war of words between Syria and Jordan, while Jordanian officials reiterated that no Jordan’s troops will be sent to Syria. 

Late in April during a meeting with Jordanian journalists King Abdullah II reiterated his country’s commitment to the peaceful solution of the Syrian conflict, adding that Jordan will keep its military in combat readiness in order to prevent any conflict spillover across the border onto its territory.

The King then stated that, “We will not allow the developments in Syria to pose threats to Jordan. We are continuing with our policy of deep defence without the need to have the Jordanian army involved inside the Syrian territories.”

The King’s aforementioned statement, along with other Jordanian official statements, clearly demonstrates that the news about Jordanian troops in Syria can be labeled ‘fake news’, the kind the media has been awash with since Trump’s election.

What could then be behind these and similar allegations and fake news reports about the Syrian war situation and peace negotiation attempts, and why should they appear now?

A look back at recent developments in the diplomatic circles, including the US and its Arab allies, where Jordan plays prominent role as a peace broker, including Syrian and the Palestinian-Israeli files, there are evidently elements both in the US political establishment and elsewhere that prefer the continuation of conflict to peace.

For example, during the last round of Syrian peace negotiations in Astana, Kazakhstan a tripartite agreement on establishment of ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria was signed, with Russia, Iran and Turkey as guarantors. While the US administration welcomed the ‘safe zones’, the anti-Trump establishment attacked it and liberal media continued with familiar tune that America ‘should do more’, calling for military involvement in both Syria and Iraq.

Shortly after the safe zones agreement was reached, president Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. Right after the meeting the uncorroborated reports appeared in the leading US media that the US president has shared sensitive intel with the Russians, allegedly endangering an ally’s spy embedded within the ISIS/Daesh ranks.

Israeli media claimed the intel sharing put the life of its agent in jeopardy, while some Arab media disputed it saying the ally in question was Jordan. Israel complained that the intel sharing was undermining its efforts to establish an historic alliance with some Gulf Arab states.

The key issue regarding the intel sharing claim is the timing of the news release and its effects on the efforts of the US president to resolve the problems inherited from previous administrations while establishing credibility in the eyes of the electorate.

Since inauguration Trump and his close associates have been targeted by the US mainstream media on diverse accounts, including his campaign promise to collaborate with all countries, including Russia. The Trump Russian connection saga culminated in ‘Russia hacking the elections’ claims, and the subsequent dismissals and resignations of number of Trump’s key allies.

Until today the war within the US establishment against Trump has not ceased, in fact, it seems to have intensified. Following the establishment of the Syrian de-escalation zones spearheaded by Russia, and Trump’s meeting with two Russian diplomats, the US president’s antagonists had to turn up the heat. So, it is likely that the whole story regarding intel sharing is in most part fabrication aimed to undermine Trump as president, as well as derail his efforts to find the solution for the Palestinian – Israeli issue where both Jordan and Israel are important actors.

Jordan has played a prominent role in promoting two-state solution for Palestine issue, and in anti-terrorism efforts in Syria and Iraq, hence those who oppose either may seek to undermine Jordan’s reputation as a reliable partner of both Russia and the US. Such unsubstantiated media claims have only one purpose – spoiling relationships.

In a similar vein, claims of Jordan’s troops intervening in Syrian south seek to undermine the efforts the kingdom has made in preserving its own security amidst mayhem on its doorstep, while building cooperation with both the US and Russia – two major international actors in the region.

Various Jordanian officials, including Jordan’s King, consider Russian role in Syria crucial in diminishing terrorist activities in the country. Jordan and Russia face similar situation in Syria, regarding terrorism, as the kingdom does. Around the same number of Russian citizens have joined terrorist ranks in Syria, as have Jordanian, so Jordan understands Russia’s vital need to prevent these fighters from returning home, carrying out terrorist acts and indoctrinating others on Russian territory. Latest statement of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is a proof of this, as he stated that Russia will destroy ISIS/Daesh terrorists in every part of Syria.

As for Russia so for Jordan – geography is destiny. Jordan’s central location in the Middle East determines its foreign policy orientation. Situated in the heart of the Middle East the Kingdom is deemed an oasis of peace and stability in the region fraught with peril and an important partner by both Russia and the West. As its future hinges on the regional security and stability relationships with all countries, especially those with high stakes in the Middle East are paramount. Riddled with the problem of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees Jordan seeks to balance its foreign relations in line with its national security interests.

The security of the Syrian southern border is of great concern to Jordan, and the quickest possible reestablishment of law and order, and cessation of hostilities in Syria are very much in Jordan’s interest. As the global powers have stepped up anti-terrorist efforts, including Russia and the US-NATO and its Arab allies, Syrian Army will succeed in reestablishing control over the country. Government retake of territorial control and elimination of terrorist pockets would enable the refugees to return to their homes, and most importantly, relieve the economic and security burden the refugee issue has placed on Jordan.

Whether we like or dislike Assad, he is a legitimate president of the Syrian Arab Republic, according to the international law. Every country in the world has political opposition, and whether it has a say in a particular country’s governance is an internal issue of each country.

The world has witnessed the outcomes of Iraqi, and Libyan regime change interventions. Egypt had also ousted its long-term president Mubarak during the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ only to elect an even worse one, who within a year managed to bring country’s economy and security to the brink of collapse, and had to be removed by a military coup.

International relations studies recognize that every country’s road to democracy takes a different trajectory, and the majority of political experts today admit that Syrian conflict was not entirely of internal making. As for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, it is certainly not its job to decide the ruler of Syria. This is the matter that Syrian people have to decide on through a political process embedded within the country’s constitution and the norms of the international law. No country, including Jordan, would like outsiders to dictate its system of governance, and the same goes for Syria. Moreover, Jordan sees no threat from the current government of Syria, and has no intention of sending its troops to fight on its territory as doing so would represent the breach of its neighbors sovereignty and territorial integrity – which Jordan respects and will continue to respect.

Shehab Al Makahleh is a co-founder of Geostrategic Media, author, security and policy analyst

Published in Tribune

Saudi Arabia is ready for US President Donald Trump’s visit amidst mounting concerns about his temperament towards Arab and Sunni Muslim strategies to combat terrorism.

On his first overseas trip, Trump will seize this visit to cement ties with Arabs and Sunni Muslims in a bid to shove aside Iran, a rival for Sunni Muslims as he claimed on many occasions.

With Saudi preparations to dazzle the American president for his visit to Riyadh, where King Salman, his Crown Prince  and Minister of Interior Mohammad bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammad bin Salman try hard to prove to Trump that Saudi Arabia is the center of influence in the region as there will be a meeting on the tripartite summits for the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism which groups officials and officers from the concerned Muslim and Arab states along with the Americans.

The importance of the visit stems from the accompanying delegation which includes amongst others the National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, at a time many Saudi analysts believe that “Trump will not come to Riyadh because he loves us. The Gulf and Muslim leaders will not come to Riyadh because they love him. The common interests of these international leaders are what bring them together in Riyadh including issues ranging from terrorism to rekindling U.S. ties post-Obama.”

The other topics on his agenda are Iran and Syria as Riyadh has hailed Trump's rigid rhetoric on Iran regarding the nuclear deal. Other analysts from Saudi believe that such a visit would restore what Obama ruined during his tenure, describing Trump’s electoral campaign slogans against Muslims as mere propaganda.

The summit between Trump and Saudi royals will helps Saudis build on the visit to display that Saudi Arabia is an earnest honest reliable and credible partner in the war on terror and is sincere to fight radicalism.

With all eyes on the American president’s visit, the most of the regional moves currently being made by the US in the Middle East region which include the Eager Lion military exercises in Jordan aim to declare war on terrorism and those who support them, entailing drying up terrorists’ financial resources and criminalizing radical factions.

This summit comes after a closed door meeting in Washington DC early May between some Arab countries and the Americans regarding the coming scenario in the region starting from the Arab-Muslim-American Summit in Riyadh and the military drills in Jordan which would be a sign for Iran on the eve of its presidential elections.

The summit would result in imposing financial sanctions on the some Iranian figures, supporters and sympathizers around the world. Amongst the moves will be further measures to monitor money transfers to create difficulties for it Iranian leadership in financing its political and military structures in Syria and Iraq.

The Summit in Riyadh will also close the curtain on the war on Al-Nusra Front and Daesh in line with Astana agreement which delegated this mission to liquidate these factions to the moderate Syrian opposition factions backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Regarding Daesh, the terrorist faction has lost Mosul strategic locations and the war on Raqqa to liberate it from this terrorism group will start soon shortly after mid-Ramadan through the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The war will start once there is adequate number of American tanks and armored vehicles. That explains why the Americans approved the decision to arm the Kurds with heavy artillery.

Once terrorist in Syria and Iraq are destroyed, there will be no reason for any Iranian presence in both countries, thus, a new economic war will start on Iran accordingly if it refuses to withdraw from both countries.

This is also on the agenda of the summit between Arabs and Trump. Will this lead to a future war in the region?

What American analysts are gleeful about is that the visit aims to send powerful messages from the new president to Sunni countries that after 8 years of strained ties under former president Barack Obama, a new page has been opened with an announcement of setting up an Arab NATO led by the US and funded by the countries of the region.  

Published in Tribune

Eager to unlock the door to US-Arab cooperation on tackling regional issues following decades of disappointment with Washington’s lack of understanding of their concerns, three Arab leaders are engaging US President Donald Trump’s new administration over the next month.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met Trump at the White House on April 3; Jordan’s King Abdullah II will be in Washington on April 5; and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to follow later this month or in May. In their meetings, these leaders hope to discuss a number of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the civil war in Libya, and the threat posed by global terrorist organizations. 

In their meeting on April 3, Trump and Sisi discussed holding an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in the United States in June and renewing joint military exercises, which former US President Barack Obama halted in response to the Egyptian military government's bloody crackdown on protesters in 2013. The Egyptian leader, a former chief of the armed forces, sought logistical support from the United States for the Egyptian army in its fight against terrorism in the Sinai. Sisi would like Trump to focus more on ending the six-year-old civil war in Egypt's western neighbor—Libya. The two leaders also discussed regional issues, including Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. 

Abdullah, who hosted the Arab League Summit in Amman on March 29, is eager to solve a number of regional conflicts. Jordan is an important player in US-led military campaigns against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Abdullah will discuss with Trump the position of Arab leaders on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis—at the summit in Amman Arab leaders reiterated their support for an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and opposed the construction of more settlements.

Jordan has playedan active role in Arab efforts to end the stalemate in talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The king himself has advocated for Palestinian national aspirations. On his previous visit to Washington in February, Abdullah sought to persuade the new US administration to reverse itsrhetoric about moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to call for a freeze of settlement construction in the West Bank. In his meeting with Trump, Abdullah will likely reiterate Arab support fora two-state solution. Thus, this time, the royal visit aims to make Trump more sympathetic toward the Arab perspective on the Palestinian issue.

On his visit to Washington, Abbas is expected to ask Trump to seriously consider a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and will reiterate the Arab position that a two-state solution is impossible without East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. In his meeting with Trump, Abbas will likely argue that if there is no Palestinian state, no one in the Middle East, including Israelis, will enjoy the benefits of peace. Denying the Palestinians their right to statehood will only lead to a rise in the level of terrorism and extremism.

The Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement that on the sidelines of last month’s Arab League Summit, Abbas, Abdullah, and Sisi coordinated their positions on a number of regional issues and decided what they would discuss when they visit the White House.

These visits to Washington come at time when the greater Middle East is beset by numerous wars and political crises. Restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks based on the Arab Peace Initiative adopted at the Beirut Arab Summit in 2002, which calls for “land for peace,” is a high priority for the Egyptian and Jordanian governments, as well as the Palestinian people. 

The Oslo Accords initiated a period of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, delayed permanent status talks on Jerusalem, and paved the way for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Two decades later, however, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved and there is still no sovereign and independent Palestinian state. Obama—who believed that a multilateral effort, and not a single power, would be able to help reach a final settlement—was unable to resolve the crisis.

The Arab leaders want international powers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis because they believe that if a peace agreement is reached it will resonate positively throughout the region and the world.

One positive outcome of the Amman summit was that it put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, overlooked for many years due to other conflicts and threats of extremism in the Middle East, back in the spotlight. In their final statement, Arab League Secretary General Ahmad Aboul Gheit reaffirmed a “commitment to the two-state solution and to the right of the State of Palestine to restore its sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.”

Will the Trump administration ask Israelis and Palestinians to prepare for talks in the near future? Will Jordan be in charge of liaising between regional actors and the United States in coordination with the United Nations (UN) and the Arab League? Will the forty-fifth US president become more sympathetic to Egypt’s agendas in Libya and in the Sinai? The answers to these questions remain to be seen.

What is known is that Abdullah, Sisi, and Abbas will do their best to convince Trump to begin taking more seriouslytheir ideas to resolve crises that threaten the security of Americans and Arabs alike.

For decades, Arabs have been justifiably disappointed with Washington’s stance on issues in the Middle East. The Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinianleaders are hoping to convince Trump to shift course and take Arab interests and concerns into account more than his predecessor did. If Washington fails to help the Arab world resolve its conflicts, there will be tectonic shifts toward radicalism, endangering governments in the region and opening the gate to even more chaos.

Initially published by Atlantic Council: 
Shehab al-Makahleh (Sam Mak) is a senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics with experience as a political advisor in the United Arab Emirates. IMESClub Member. 

Published in Tribune
Saturday, 18 March 2017 22:11

A Saudi Royal Visits Trump

While Saudi Arabia’s King Salman was on the fourth leg of his three-week Asia tour, his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), became the first Saudi royal to visit the White House during the administration of US President Donald J. Trump. With the king wrapping up his state visit in Japan before going to China, and MbS in Washington, the timing sent a message that Riyadh is seeking to work with allies, friends, and partners across the world. These visits occurred at a time when the kingdom is pursuing an economic transformation in line with Vision 2030, a blueprint for improving the future of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is also facing a host of financial challenges stemming from cheap oil as well as ongoing security crises near and within its borders.

MbS’ visit to Washington and his meeting with Trump on March 14 provided clear signals that the United States considers Saudi Arabia a major ally and MbS a credible partner. Trump and MbS’ meeting may suggest that the White House views the thirty-one-year-old deputy crown prince as the next king of Saudi Arabia, a future leader to depend on in the Middle East, and a representative of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Yet the meetings in Washington may also leave the impression that the United States is trying to balance its relations with both MbS and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef (MbN), suggested by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo’s visit to Riyadh in February where he met with MbN and awarded him with a medal for his counterterrorism efforts.

MbS, who is charge of all Saudi economic portfolios and is a businessman who owns many companies, seeks to establish a sovereign wealth fund (SWF), a pillar of Vision 2030. This could possibly be the largest SWF in the world, worth $2 trillion, depending on the sale of 5 percent of Saudi oil company Aramco’s shares.

The reception MbS received in Washington sent a signal that the Trump administration has given the deputy crown prince carte blanche to discuss all economic, political, military, and security portfolios as he has, arguably, become the kingdom’s first decision maker. 

At the top of the agenda in Washington, Trump and MbS discussed countering “Iran’s destabilizing regional activities,” and exploring “steps across a broad range of political, military, security, economic, cultural, and social dimensions to further strengthen” US-Saudi strategic relations, according to a White House statement.

Trump and MbS also discussed former US President Barak Obama’s decision to suspend the sale of precision-guided munitions to Riyadh in response to high civilian casualties caused by the Saudi military intervention in Yemen. US officials pointed out that Trump was considering ending the ban and approving the sale of such munitions, and all that is left is a White House approval. It should be noted that the kingdom’s military spending, which surpassed $87 billion last year, has almost doubled since 2006. 

Saudi investments in the United States were also discussed on the Washington visit. Saudi Oil Minister Khalef Al Faleh, who is close to MbS, said that the kingdom would invest in US infrastructure projects, including fossil fuel. These investments could help to grow the economy and create new job opportunities, which Trump promised during his election campaign.

The visits of both the king and his son to Asia and the United States, respectively, aim to strengthen the kingdom’s economic, military, and political alliances with major world players. This could set the kingdom’s economy on a positive trajectory. The Saudi economy suffered a setback because of plummeting oil prices that have left a huge budget deficit in the kingdom.

An outstanding issue, which will remain a source of tension in Washington-Riyadh relations, is the controversial Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The US law, which passed last year despite Obama’s veto, implies that the Saudi government was partially culpable for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and permits victims’ family members to sue the kingdom in US courts. Trump, on the campaign trail, supported JASTA. It is unclear how his administration will address the legislation and future problems it will undoubtedly create in US-Saudi ties.

MbS’ trip to the White House was about resetting US-Saudi relations in the wake of the Obama presidency, which one of the crown prince’s senior advisers described as a “period of difference of opinion” between Washington and Riyadh. The Saudi leadership is cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration will reverse what it sees as the Obama administration’s flawed policies and strategies vis-à-vis Iran, which, either intentionally or unintentionally, empowered Tehran to expand and consolidate its influence across Middle East. MbS’ visit to Washington signaled that Riyadh is determined to foster close ties with the Trump administration.

Shehab al-Makahleh (Sam Mak) is a senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics with experience as a political advisor in the United Arab Emirates.

Initially published by Atlantic Council:

Published in Tribune

“Patience is a virtue,” according to an ancient piece of wisdom. There is no doubt that for the eight long years of Barack Obama’s presidency, Riyadh’s patience was tested to the max by an administration that seemed — intentionally or not — adamant on punishing allies and rewarding foes.
Yet the Saudis persisted, and like a true and solid ally, they took it on the chin. They refused to follow the Iranian model of exploiting such situations to their benefit by advocating anti-Americanism, and kept on giving honest and valuable advice to Washington.
Toward the end of Obama’s tenure last year, America failed to respond adequately when the Houthis attacked a US Navy ship in Bab Al-Mandab no less than three times. At that point, it became clear that the “Obama Doctrine” jeopardized the position of moderate US allies in the region, empowered rogue states such as Iran, allowed the Syrian regime to continue murdering its own people, and shattered the image of the US as a superpower that is able to maintain order and intervene for the sake of peace and stability worldwide.
At that point, it seemed Riyadh and Washington could not have been any further apart regarding their perspectives on regional affairs. Yet Obama was replaced by a president who also could not have been further apart from him.

The historic Saudi-US relations are back on track. We should now expect a serious joint effort to restore stability to our region.

Faisal J. Abbas

Relations back on track
It was ironic to see how Obama went from hero to zero over his two terms. One cannot help but remember all the optimism that accompanied his rise to power, particularly in the Arab world after his now-famous Cairo speech. Yet given that all his talk of a “new beginning” nearly brought an end to the region as we know it, most Arabs now hopefully know that actions speak louder than words.
President Donald Trump may be criticized for his rhetoric, and he may not be all hugs and kisses like his predecessor was. But when it comes to the stuff that really matters to us — his policies — one cannot but give them two thumbs up.
If anything was proven during the recent meeting between Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the first Arab/Muslim official to meet him at the White House — it is that historic Saudi-US relations are back on track. As such, we should now expect a serious joint effort to restore stability to our region.
I say this not only because of the change that has occurred in Washington, but because of the change that has occurred in Saudi Arabia over the past two years. Today there is a young, dynamic, proactive leadership in Riyadh that the new US administration can work with.
The new Saudi spirit, embodied in the deputy crown prince, is one that means business, and has made reform and progression its main mandate (compared to Tehran, which has only used the money from the nuclear deal to further spread chaos and terror in the region).
Riyadh has also established, and is home to, the Islamic military alliance to combat Daesh, something the Trump administration has been clear it intends to pursue seriously. The White House understands the importance of having Saudi Arabia, as the land of the Two Holy Mosques, on its side in such delicate matters.
It is easy for a country such as Iran — which harbors and supports Shiite militias and Al-Qaeda leaders — to say placing additional security measures against its citizens is an attack on all Muslims. But this is simply not true. Each country has the right to secure its borders, especially when it comes to countries that do not share biometric or intelligence data with it.
Saudi Arabia can play a vital role in both offering correct advice and weighing in when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This will prove crucial for Trump if he intends to fulfill what he said about brokering a historic deal to end this longstanding conflict.
Riyadh can also revert back to having a reliable ally with significant influence to help end the conflict in Yemen and push through a political solution that can restore a legitimate government, end the misery of the Yemeni people, and launch a massive reconstruction campaign that will bring back peace and prosperity.


• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. He can be reached on Twitter @FaisalJAbbas :

Published in Tribune

Iraqi troops are advancing in Mosul, taking new districts from Daesh. The liberation of the city is entailing high civilian losses and a humanitarian crisis, the scale of which is yet to be evaluated. The psychological consequences of Mosul’s occupation by Daesh will become apparent, as its devilish ideology has been poisoning the whole population.

The city’s full liberation is a matter of days or weeks of fierce battles. Mosul is an important milestone in defeating Daesh on the ground, with Raqqa its last bastion. The recent meeting of US, Russian and Turkish military chiefs ahead of the Raqqa operation promises full-scale coordination of their forces.

But Daesh will not surrender easily, and even as it loses territory and strongholds, its ideology will not vanish under bombs and shelling. Raqqa is depicted as a decisive battle against terrorism and extremism, but is that really the case? No doubt the fall of Raqqa is a crucial step in defeating Daesh as a state-like structure, but what about its ideology?

With the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, the international community, led by the US, celebrated a decisive victory over “Islamic” terrorism. But terrorism is like a Lernaean Hydra, a many-headed serpent in Greek mythology: For every head chopped off, it regrows a couple of new ones. To the huge disappointment of the international community, eliminating a concrete symbol of the phenomenon does not eliminate the phenomenon itself.

It is much easier to eradicate a symbol than fight the phenomenon, especially when it comes to ideology. A symbol is used by geopolitical powers as a self-promotion instrument, first to increase the perception of their importance in fighting this symbol, then after its eradication, to seize a PR opportunity and consolidate their positions as righteous fighters against evil. Thus, this fight turns into a show, without an in-depth or far-reaching strategy.

The core of the phenomenon of Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups lays far beyond their leaders, flags and territorial gains. They represent vicious facets of the same current, mutilating religion to serve the purely political goals of certain people and groups. The spread of extremist ideology relies on four i’s: Ignorance, injustice, interventionism and impotence. Only tackling them will enable the complete eradication of radical ideology.

Terrorism is like a many-headed serpent in Greek mythology: For every head chopped off, it regrows a couple of new ones. To the huge disappointment of the international community, eliminating a concrete symbol of the phenomenon does not eliminate the phenomenon itself.

Maria Dubovikova

Ignorance is the main assistant of the spread of extremist ideology. Ironically, the same ignorance nourishes Islamophobia worldwide, which assists the spread of extremism. It is a vicious circle, helping recruiters in Muslim communities that live in non-Muslim countries.

Injustice — political, social and so on — is used by recruiters, as it creates fertile soil for the spread of extremist ideology. Injustice refers not only to Muslim countries, but to the whole world. It occurs not just in authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, but also in democracies. The Arab world has good prospects of minimizing social and political injustice via sustainable development of civil society, but prospects for the West are far less positive.

Western interventionism and policies toward the Muslim world are another serious factor fueling extremism. It is becoming a far more serious issue as the Arab world is chosen as a battlefield for geopolitical and sectarian clashes. As such, Western interventionism is a sustainable source of the very ideology it is officially fighting to eradicate.

The helplessness of some moderate clerics is another important factor. They appear unable to adequately withstand extremist propaganda. They are inactive and passive compared to extremists. They hardly use modern technology or the Internet to deliver messages of peace to their congregations and the world, leaving this space for extremists and their messages of war. They lack adequate contact with the youth, unlike terrorist recruiters, who are brilliant psychologists.

These pillars of extremism must be tackled after liberating Mosul and Raqqa. They are responsible for spreading extremist ideology, brainwashing people and gaining new followers. No PR or self-promotion can be made fighting these pillars. Eliminating them takes time and enormous effort, the results of which cannot be privatized by certain players.

The key to eradicating “Islamic” terrorism is also found in two words starting with the letter “i”: Islam and integrity. Islam means peace, which is the only format in which it should be spread and cultivated. The integrity of the Muslim world will thwart extremists. United Arab and Muslim worlds can finally take their fate into their own, proper hands, and claim equality and respect on the world stage, preventing all external attempts to intervene and impose.


Initially published in Arab News: 

Published in Tribune
Tuesday, 14 February 2017 21:59

Deciphering Trump’s Opaque Foreign Policy

President Trump has set loose several competing – and contradictory – strands of foreign policy with the big question now whether he can avoid tripping himself up, writes ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

It is now a commonplace to note that President Trump is advocating a mercantilist “America First” foreign policy, at odds with the prevailing globalist view of a cosmopolitan, super-culture; that he is intent on dismantling this globalist zeitgeist that he believes imposes moral and cultural norms which have weakened America’s mercantile “animal spirits” and whose embrace of the politics of diversity has sapped the strength from America’s moral and cultural sinews.


In practice, the policy that emerges will not be so black and white, or so easily categorized. “Team Trump,” in fact, embraces three distinct approaches: the “benevolent American hegemon” traditionalists, the Christian warriors pitted against an Islamic “hostile” ethos – and, of course, Trump’s own “America First” mercantilism. Each of these trends distrusts the other, yet must ally with one or the other in order to balance the third or at least avoid having it act as spoiler.

This inter-connectivity makes it especially hard to read the runes – the Trump administration’s marks of mysterious significance – of likely U.S. policy given the jostling and elbowing ahead between three distinct world views. And it is made even harder given President Trump’s and strategic adviser Steve Bannon’s deliberate embrace of a politics of feint and distraction, to throw opponents off-balance.

Trump’s style of mercantilist politics – though novel in our era – is not new. It has occurred before, and in its earlier setting led to profound geo-political consequences. It led then to war and ultimately to the emergence of a new geo-political order.

That is not necessarily to say that the same will occur today, but on Sept. 17, 1656, Oliver Cromwell, a Protestant puritan who had fought a civil war in England against its Establishment and its élite and who had deposed and then executed the reigning king, addressed his revolutionary parliamentarians in Westminster by posing the question: Who are our enemies? There was, he answered to the gathered parliamentarians, an alignment of “wicked men” in the world led by a powerful state – Catholic Spain with the Pope at its head. The “enmity” that Cromwell’s countrymen faced was, at its root, the evil of a religion – Catholicism – that “refused the Englishman’s desire for simple liberties … that put men under restraint … [and] under which there was no freedom.”

Since Cromwell’s day, the mainly English-speaking (Protestant) world has demonized its “enemies” as opponents of “God’s will” through their clinging to the failings of a static and backward religious ethic (as the Puritans characterized Catholicism). And, as for the complaint of “restraint” and “lack of liberty”? At its crux lay English frustration at the impediments faced by its traders and merchants. The Puritans of that time saw in Catholicism an ethos that was not welcoming to individual enterprise, to profit or to trade.

English “hawks” – usually Puritans and merchants – wanted an aggressive anti-Spanish policy that would open new markets to burgeoning English trade. Catholicism was not an ethos, the Cromwellians fervently and dogmatically asserted, in which the nascent capitalism of the time could thrive.

Cromwell’s address to Parliament in 1656 was an early articulation of the Protestant ethic: one that has contributed hugely to shaping American entrepreneurial capitalism, and in taking America to its position of power (Steve Bannon does in fact acknowledge the parallel: “I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors,” he once said to a reporter).

A Religious War

Today, for one significant Trump constituency (the Tea Party base), Iran is today’s Spain, and it is Islam (vice Catholicism) that is frustrating “God’s will,” by embracing an ethos that hates the Christian “ethic.” And, it is secular globalization that has sapped America’s mercantile animal spirits, imposed restrictions on trade (i.e. NAFTA), and whose cultural and “value” norms are sapping America’s moral and spiritual muscularity.

Why should this Cromwell analogy matter today? In one sense, Trump had little choice. In opposing the (“restrictive”) globalist, foreign policy – with its spinal cord of a U.S.-led global defense sphere – the President needed to stand up some alternative foreign policy to the embedded totem of “America as the gyroscope of the global order.”

Pure mercantilism – in the style of businessman negotiator-ism – is not really, of itself, a foreign policy. The power of the “benign U.S. hegemon” meme would require something more powerful to be set up, over, and against it, to balance it out. Trump has opted for the “Christianity in peril” narrative. It is one that touches on deeply buried cultural veins of Protestant imagery within the President’s Tea Party constituency.

Retired General Michael Flynn, now Trump’s National Security Advisor, perhaps best represents this religiously based, pro-Christian Republican foreign policy, while retired General James Mattis, now U.S. Defense Secretary, perhaps has a foot in both Republican camps — as Martin Wright from Brookings explains:

“Republican foreign policy since 9/11 has had two basic strands, which sometimes contradict each other. The first is that the United States is in an existential fight against radical Islam. The second is that America’s global interests involve the maintenance of U.S. leadership in Europe and East Asia — interests, in other words, that extend far beyond combating radical Islam. The Republican establishment has always toed the line on the first, but it has increasingly focused much more on the second. The global war on terror has, of late, taken second place to balancing China and containing Russia.

“But a group within the Republican tent never made this shift. These are the people who believe the United States is engaged in a war against radical Islam that is equivalent to World War II or the Cold War. They believe it is a struggle rooted in religion to which all else should be subservient — that America’s overwhelming focus must be on radical Islam instead of revisionist powers in Europe or Asia. They also generally favor moving away from a values-based foreign policy to harsh methods to wage a major war.

“For the most part, the leaders of this school of thought have been dismissed as cranks or ideologues. But their views were widely shared in the Republican electorate, who were increasingly alarmed by the Islamic State. And they found an ally in Trump.” (emphasis added)

In short, we should expect the Administration’s policy to oscillate between these two poles of Republican foreign policy, as Trump plays off one against another, in order to insert his own (“non – foreign policy”) of radical mercantilism. The Cromwellian meme of making Iran the “number one” terrorist state and radical Islam the “hostile ethos” does fit well for the U.S. President to embrace the businessman-negotiator modus operandi  under the cover of belligerency towards the Islamic “ethos.”

A Popular ‘Enemy’

Belligerency towards Iran is, of course, popular and in this way Trump’s policy translates well or at least understandably to the mores of the Washington Beltway. This “hostile Islam” meme also provides the rationale (defeating Islamic terror) for détente with Russia. I have suggested earlier that détente with Russia is key to Trump’s dismantling of Washington’s “benign hegemon” global defense sphere. Trump argues that the “blanket” U.S. defense sphere precisely limits the possibilities for the U.S. to negotiate advantageous trade terms with its allies on a case-by-case bilateral basis.

In effect, under the cover of fighting a hostile Islamic “ethos,” Trump can pursue détente with Russia – and then toughly “businessman-negotiate” with allied states (now stripped of the Russian “threat” elevating them to a status as America’s somehow privileged, defense allies). This seems to be Secretary Tillerson’s intended role.

Martin Wright again: “This is why naming Rex Tillerson as secretary of state was so important for Trump. A week before he was named, Trump’s senior aide Kellyanne Conway told the press that Trump was expanding the list of names for secretary of state and that the most important consideration was that the nominee ‘would be to implement and adhere to the president-elect’s America-first foreign policy — if you will, his view of the world.’ The implication was clear: [Mitt] Romney, David Petraeus, and others would not fit the bill, so Trump would have to look elsewhere. He found Tillerson.

“Tillerson is a pragmatist and a dealmaker. In many ways, he is a traditionalist. After all, he was endorsed by James Baker, Robert Gates, Hadley, and Condoleezza Rice. However, Trump also sees him, based on his personal relationship with Putin and opposition to sanctions on Russia, as someone willing to cut deals with strongmen and who sees national security through an economic lens and is thus an embodiment of his own America First views. Speaking in Wisconsin hours after naming Tillerson, Trump said, ‘Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don’t get along with, and some people don’t like that. They don’t want them to be friendly. That’s why I’m doing the deal with Rex, ‘cause I like what this is all about.’” (emphasis added)

Is this – the war with a “hostile Islamic ethos” – then just a ploy, a diversion? Something for Iran to ignore? We suspect that Iran should not assume that Trump’s targeting of Iran and radical Islam is just some harmless diversion. It is not likely that Trump actively seeks war with Iran, but were Iran to be perceived to be deliberately humiliating Trump or America, the President (self-confessedly) is not of a temperament to let any humiliation pass. He likes to repay those who do him harm, ten-fold.

End of White America

But additionally, since, as polls show, and a leading American commentator on religion and politics, Robert Jones, has written, the Trump phenomenon is also deeply connected with the end of an American era: The End of White Christian America (as his book is entitled). In point of fact, the era has already passed. For, as Jones notes, “1993 was the last year in which America was majority white, and Protestant.”

Jones writes of the “vertigo” felt – even within the insular settings of many Southern and Midwestern towns where white Protestant conservatives continue to dominate society, and politics – at their “loss of place at the center of American culture, democracy and cultural power.”

Salt has been rubbed into this wound by a Democratic Party that has somewhat reveled in the passing of white majority America and exacerbated the sore through rebranding itself as the new “majority” of minorities. Jones remarks that while some in America “might celebrate” its passing, white Christian America did provide some kind of “civic glue,” and he ruminates on how the sense of void and anxiety on “what might serve that purpose [in the future], might well turn destructive.”

This is, Iran might recall, Trump’s core constituency, which he must mollify if he is to remain in office. The destructive impulse of Tea Party-ists, if scratched repeatedly, might seek to let off steam at some convenient target.

But secondly, it seems that Trump shares in some measure, this embrace of Judeo-Christian values. Certainly Steve Bannon does. He has said plainly that American capitalism – if it is to survive – must be reconnected to Judeo-Christian values. But what explains Trump’s paradoxical focus on Iran, which is fighting Islamic radicalism, rather than say, Saudi Arabia, which is not?

Here, Martin Wright gives us the clue: “In January and February [2016], Trump was under pressure to unveil a foreign-policy team. The Republican foreign-policy establishment overwhelmingly condemned him, largely because of his America First views. It was at this point that retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn started advising him. … Several weeks after Flynn came on board, Trump rolled out a list of foreign-policy advisors. Most were completely unknown, but the name Walid Phares stood out. Phares has a controversial past as a leading figure in a Lebanese Christian militia, and is known as a hard-liner in the war on terror.”

Mother Jones’ investigative report is plain: Phares, a Lebanese Christian Maronite, is a Samir Gagea man, who has a long history, dating back to Lebanon’s civil war of (intellectual) animosity towards Iran and Syria. It seems Trump (and Flynn too?) may have imbibed deeply at the bitter well of Lebanese prejudice and civil war hatreds?

Translating the Runes

So what do the runes tell us? The occult alphabet of Trump’s foreign policy will prove hard to read. The essential tension between, on the one hand, the “America Firsters” and the religious warriors – and all those who adhere to the American “traditionalist” policy position – portends the prospect of policies that might oscillate, from time to time, between these three diverse and conflicting poles.

Let us remind ourselves – “traditionalist” includes “all those officials who support the institutions of American power, and are generally comfortable with the post-World War II bipartisan consensus on U.S. strategy, even though they may seek to change it on the margins.”

It is quite likely that some of Trump’s team members who are mercantilists (such as Tillerson) or “Christian warriors” (such as Flynn), might be “bi-polar”: that is to say will be pulled in both directions on certain policy issues. We perhaps might be advised, therefore, to disregard most leaks, as more likely to constitute self-serving exercises directed towards influencing the internal struggle within “the team” (i.e. kite-flying exercises), rather than as true leaks that describe a genuine consensus reached within the “team.”

But the runes will be harder to read precisely because of Trump’s tactics of feints and distractions. As one astute chess-coach-turned-analyst has observed, Trump seems to be a pretty accomplished hand at chess:

“Chess is a game where the number of possible positions rises at an astronomical rate. By the 2nd move of the game there are already 400 possible positions, and after each person moves twice, that number rises to 8902. My coach explained to me that I was not trained enough to even begin to keep track of those things and that my only chance of ever winning was to take the initiative and never give it up. ‘You must know what your opponent will do next by playing his game for him.’ was the advice I received.

“Now, I won’t bore you with the particulars but it boiled down to throwing punches, at each and every turn without exception. In other words, if my opponent must always waste his turn responding to what I am doing, then he never gets an opportunity to come at me in the millions of possibilities that reside in the game. Again, if I throw the punch – even one that can be easily blocked, then I only have to worry about one combination and not millions.

“My Russian chess coach next taught me that I should Proudly Announce what exactly I am doing and why I am doing it. He explained to me that bad chess players believe that they can hide their strategy even though all the pieces are right there in plain sight for anyone to see. A good chess player has no fear of this because they will choose positions that are unassailable so why not announce them? As a coach, I made all of my students tell each other why they were making the moves that they made as well as what they were planning next. It entirely removed luck from the game and quickly made them into superior players.

“My Russian coach next stressed Time as something I should focus on to round out my game. He said that I shouldn’t move the same piece twice in a row and that my ‘wild punches’ should focus on getting my pieces on to the board and into play as quickly as possible. So, if I do everything correctly, I have an opponent that will have a disorganized defense, no offense and few pieces even in play and this will work 9 out of 10 times. The only time it doesn’t work for me is when I go against players that have memorized hundreds of games and have memorized how to get out of these traps. With all that said, let’s see if President Trump is playing chess.

“First, we can all agree that Trump, if nothing else, throws a lot of punches. We really saw this in the primaries where barely a day could go by without some scandal that would supposedly end his presidential bid. His opponents and the press erroneously thought that responding to each and every “outrage’ was the correct thing to do without ever taking the time to think whether or not they had just walked into a trap. They would use their turn to block his Twitter attack but he wouldn’t move that [chess] piece again once that was in play but, instead, brought on the next outrage – just like my [Russian chess] coach instructed me to do.

“Second, Trump is very vocal in what he is going to do. Just like I had my students announced to each other their [chess] strategy, Trump has been nothing but transparent about what he intends to do. After all, announcing your plans only works if your position is unassailable. It demoralizes your opponent. You rub their face in it. Another benefit to being vocal is that it encourages your opponent to bring out his favorite piece to deal with said announced plans. This is a big mistake as any good chess player will quickly recognize which piece his opponent favors and then go take them.

“Time has been the one area that our president is having problems. Executive Orders and Twitter Wars have pushed the opposition off balance but he has not been able to use this time to get all of his pieces into play. The Justice Department (his Queen) is still stuck behind a wall of pawns. Furthermore, only 5 of his 15 Cabinet picks have been confirmed as of this writing. Without control over these departments, the president can fight a war of attrition but he really can’t go on the offensive. In chess, I will gladly trade a piece for a piece if it means you have to waste your turn dealing with it. It isn’t a long term strategy if you do not have all of your pieces ready to go.”

Well, maybe its best just to sit and observe, and stop trying to read the runes?

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.

Initially published by

Published in Tribune

The West blames Russia for the bloody mess in Syria, but U.S. Special Forces saw close up how the chaotic U.S. policy of aiding Syrian jihadists enabled Al Qaeda and ISIS to rip Syria apart, explains ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

“No one on the ground believes in this mission or this effort”, a former Green Beret writes of America’s covert and clandestine programs to train and arm Syrian insurgents, “they know we are just training the next generation of jihadis, so they are sabotaging it by saying, ‘Fuck it, who cares?’”. “I don’t want to be responsible for Nusra guys saying they were trained by Americans,” the Green Beret added.

In a detailed report, US Special Forces Sabotage White House Policy gone Disastrously Wrong with Covert Ops in Syria, Jack Murphy, himself a former Green Beret (U.S. Special Forces), recounts a former CIA officer having told him how the “the Syria covert action program is [CIA Director John] Brennan’s baby …Brennan was the one who breathed life into the Syrian Task Force … John Brennan loved that regime-change bullshit.”

Journalist James Foley shortly before he was executed by an Islamic State operative.

Journalist James Foley shortly before he was executed by an Islamic State operative.

In gist, Murphy tells the story of U.S. Special Forces under one Presidential authority, arming Syrian anti-ISIS forces, whilst the CIA, obsessed with overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad, and operating under a separate Presidential authority, conducts a separate and parallel program to arm anti-Assad insurgents.

Murphy’s report makes clear the CIA disdain for combatting ISIS (though this altered somewhat with the beheading of American journalist James Foley in August 2014): “With the CIA wanting little to do with anti-ISIS operations as they are focused on bringing down the Assad regime, the agency kicked the can over to 5th Special Forces Group. Basing themselves out of Jordan and Turkey” — operating under “military activities” authority, rather than under the CIA’s coveted Title 50 covert action authority.

The “untold story,” Murphy writes, is one of abuse, as well as bureaucratic infighting, which has only contributed to perpetuating the Syrian conflict.

But it is not the “turf wars,” nor the “abuse and waste,” which occupies the central part of Murphy’s long report, that truly matters; nor even the contradictory and self-defeating nature of U.S. objectives pursued. Rather, the report tells us quite plainly why the attempted ceasefires have failed (although this is not explicitly treated in the analysis), and it helps explain why parts of the U.S. Administration (Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and CIA Director Brenner) have declined to comply with President Obama’s will – as expressed in the diplomatic accord (the recent ceasefire) reached with the Russian Federation.

The story is much worse than that hinted in Murphy’s title: it underlies the present mess which constitutes relations between the U.S. and Russia, and the collapse of the ceasefire.

“The FSA [the alleged “moderates” of the Free Syria Army] made for a viable partner force for the CIA on the surface, as they were anti-regime, ostensibly having the same goal as the seventh floor at Langley” [the floor of the CIA headquarters occupied by the Director and his staff] – i.e. the ousting of President Assad.

But in practice, as Murphy states bluntly: “distinguishing between the FSA and al-Nusra is impossible, because they are virtually the same organization. As early as 2013, FSA commanders were defecting with their entire units to join al-Nusra. There, they still retain the FSA monicker, but it is merely for show, to give the appearance of secularism so they can maintain access to weaponry provided by the CIA and Saudi intelligence services. The reality is that the FSA is little more than a cover for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra. …

“The fact that the FSA simply passed American-made weaponry off to al-Nusra is also unsurprising considering that the CIA’s vetting process of militias in Syria is lacklustre, consisting of little more than running traces in old databases. These traces rely on knowing the individuals’ real names in the first place, and assume that they were even fighting-age males when the data was collected by CTC [Counterterrorism Centre] years prior.”

Sympathy for Al Qaeda

Nor, confirms Murphy, was vetting any better with the 5th Special Forces operating out of Turkey: “[It consisted of] a database check and an interview. The rebels know how to sell themselves to the Americans during such interviews, but they still let things slip occasionally. ‘I don’t understand why people don’t like al-Nusra,’ one rebel told the American soldiers. Many had sympathies with the terrorist groups such as Nusra and ISIS.”

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Others simply were not fit to be soldiers. “They don’t want to be warriors. They are all cowards. That is the moderate rebel,” a Green Beret told Murphy, who adds:

“Pallets of weapons and rows of trucks delivered to Turkey for American-sponsored rebel groups simply sit and collect dust because of disputes over title authorities [i.e. Presidential authorities] and funding sources, while authorization to conduct training for the militias is turned on and off at a whim. One day they will be told to train, the next day not to, and the day after only to train senior leaders. Some Green Berets believe that this hesitation comes from the White House getting wind that most of the militia members are affiliated with Nusra and other extremist groups.” [emphasis added.]

Murphy writes: “While the games continue on, morale sinks for the Special Forces men in Turkey. Often disguised in Turkish military uniform, one of the Green Berets described his job as, ‘Sitting in the back room, drinking chai while watching the Turks train future terrorists’ …

“Among the rebels that U.S. Special Forces and Turkish Special Forces were training, ‘A good 95 percent of them were either working in terrorist organizations or were sympathetic to them,’ a Green Beret associated with the program said, adding, ‘A good majority of them admitted that they had no issues with ISIS and that their issue was with the Kurds and the Syrian regime.’”

Buried in the text is this stunning one-line conclusion: “after ISIS is defeated, the real war begins. CIA-backed FSA elements will openly become al-Nusra; while Special Forces-backed FSA elements like the New Syrian Army will fight alongside the Assad regime. Then the CIA’s militia and the Special Forces’ militia will kill each other.

Well, that says it all: the U.S. has created a ‘monster’ which it cannot control if it wanted to (and Ashton Carter and John Brennan have no interest to “control it” — they still seek to use it).

U.S. Objectives in Syria

Professor Michael Brenner, having attended a high-level combined U.S. security and intelligence conference in Texas last week, summed up their apparent objectives in Syria, inter alia, as:

Video of the Russian SU-24 exploding in flames inside Syrian territory after it was shot down by Turkish air-to-air missiles on Nov. 24, 2015.

Video of the Russian SU-24 exploding in flames inside Syrian territory after it was shot down by Turkish air-to-air missiles on Nov. 24, 2015.

–Thwarting Russia in Syria.

–Ousting Assad.

–Marginalizing and weakening Iran by breaking the Shi’ite Crescent.

–Facilitating some kind of Sunni entity in Anbar and eastern Syria. How can we prevent it falling under the sway of al-Qaeda?  Answer: Hope that the Turks can “domesticate” al-Nusra.

–Wear down and slowly fragment ISIS. Success on this score can cover failure on all others in domestic opinion.

Jack Murphy explains succinctly why this “monster” cannot be controlled: “In December of 2014, al-Nusra used the American-made TOW missiles to rout another anti-regime CIA proxy force called the Syrian Revolutionary Front from several bases in Idlib province. The province is now the de facto caliphate of al-Nusra.

That Nusra captured TOW missiles from the now-defunct Syrian Revolutionary Front is unsurprising, but that the same anti-tank weapons supplied to the FSA ended up in Nusra hands is even less surprising when one understands the internal dynamics of the Syrian conflict, i.e. the factional warfare between the disparate American forces, with the result that “Many [U.S. military trainers] are actively sabotaging the programs by stalling and doing nothing, knowing that the supposedly secular rebels they are expected to train are actually al-Nusra terrorists.”

How then could there ever be the separation of “moderates” from Al-Nusra – as required by the two cessations of hostilities accords (February and September 2016)? The entire Murphy narrative shows that the “moderates” and al-Nusra cannot meaningfully be distinguished from each other, let alone separated from each other, because “they are virtually the same organization.”

The Russians are right: the CIA and the Defense Department never had the intention to comply with the accord – because they could not. The Russians are also right that the U.S. has had no intention to defeat al-Nusra – as required by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2268 (2016).

So how did the U.S. get into this “Left Hand/Right Hand” mess – with the U.S. President authorizing an accord with the Russian Federation, while in parallel, his Defense Secretary was refusing to comply with it? Well, one interesting snippet in Murphy’s piece refers to “hesitations” in the militia training program thought to stem from the White House getting wind that most of the militia members were “affiliated with Nusra and other extremist groups.”

Obama’s Inklings

It sounds from this as if the White House somehow only had “inklings” of “the jihadi monster” emerging in Syria – despite that understanding being common knowledge to most on-the-ground trainers in Syria. Was this so? Did Obama truly believe that there were “moderates” who could be separated? Or, was he persuaded by someone to go along with it, in order to give a “time out” in order for the CIA to re-supply its insurgent forces (the CIA inserted 3,000 tons of weapons and munitions to the insurgents during the February 2016 ceasefire, according to IHS Janes’).


U.S.-backed Syrian "moderate" rebels smile as they prepare to behead a 12-year-old boy (left), whose severed head is held aloft triumphantly in a later part of the video. [Screenshot from the YouTube video]

U.S.-backed Syrian “moderate” rebels smile as they prepare to behead a 12-year-old boy (left), whose severed head is held aloft triumphantly in a later part of the video. [Screenshot from the YouTube video]

Support for the hypothesis that Obama may not have been fully aware of this reality comes from Yochi Dreazen and Séan Naylor (Foreign Policy’s senior staff writer on counter-terrorism and intelligence), who noted (in May 2015) that Obama himself seemed to take a shot at the CIA and other intelligence agencies in an interview in late 2014, when he said the community had collectively “underestimated” how much Syria’s chaos would spur the emergence of the Islamic State.


In the same article, Naylor charts the power of the CIA as rooted in its East Coast Ivy League power network, its primacy within the intelligence machinery, its direct access to the Oval Office and its nearly unqualified support in Congress. Naylor illustrates the CIA’s privileged position within the Establishment by quoting Hank Crumpton, who had a long CIA career before becoming the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism.

Crumpton told Foreign Policy that when “then-Director Tenet, declared ‘war’ on Al-Qaeda as far back as 1998, “you didn’t have the Secretary of Defense [declaring war]; you didn’t have the FBI director or anyone else in the intelligence community taking that kind of leadership role.”

Perhaps it is simply – in Obama’s prescient words – the case that “the CIA usually gets what it wants.”

Perhaps it did: Putin demonized, (and Trump tarred by association); the Sunni Al Qaeda “monster” – now too powerful to be easily defeated, but too weak to completely succeed – intended as the “albatross” hung around Russia and Iran’s neck, and damn the Europeans whose back will be broken by waves of ensuing refugees. Pity Syria.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.

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Published in Tribune
Although Riyadh and Ankara are independent players whose interests are not always aligned with those of Washington, they will most likely support the deal promoted by the United States and Russia.
Earlier this week, Russia and the United States agreed on a new ceasefire for Syria that would take effect Saturday. Valdai Club expert Irina Zvyagelskaya believes the deal can seriously change the situation on the ground.

“This agreement is the only option for Syria that can de-escalate the conflict or at least lay the groundwork for de-escalation,” Zvyagelskaya, senior fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told Valdaiclub.comin a telephone interview Wednesday.

“The deal has demonstrated once again that Russia and the US have common political interests. Both Russia and the United States recognize that the Syrian conflict has no military solution and a political mechanism must be launched,” she pointed out.

“It is important that Moscow and Washington, as they are trying to broker a peace deal, can rely on a broad group of countries, which share their goals,” she said referring to the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).

Zvyagelskaya singled out several problems she believes will arise during the deal implementation. “First of all, it will be hard to establish who observes the deal and who does not,” she said. “It means that those parties to the conflict which are ready to cease fire must explicitly claim that,” the scholar pointed out.

Russia has played a significant role by persuading the Syrian government to start negotiating with those opposition forces, which are ready for peace, Zvyagelskaya said. “Now it is crucial that the United States uses its clout to mitigate the positions of the forces it supports,” she added.

Asked if other countries of the region, which are known to support opposition forces in Syria, could prevent implementation of the deal, the scholar said she did not expect Turkey or Saudi Arabia to disrupt the agreement. “Although Riyadh and Ankara are independent players whose interests are not always aligned with those of Washington, they will most likely support the deal promoted by the United States and Russia,” Zvyagelskaya said.
Initially published by Valdai Club
Published in Interviews
Saturday, 29 August 2015 21:22

Fighting Against ISIS’s “Soft Power”

British Prime Minister David Cameron devoted his recent speech in Birmingham to the struggle against religious extremism, primarily Islamic. This speech is a prelude to the expected publication of a new five-year strategy for combating extremism. Apparently, it reflects the main elements of this strategy, above all, the need for the ideological consolidation of Britain’s civil society.

Describing the current state of affairs, Cameron emphasized ISIS's attractiveness for a considerable number of young Brits. According to various estimates, from 700 to 1,500 Brits have joined ISIS since 2012. Cameron mentioned four main reasons why ISIS seems so attractive: the question of identity, ISIS’s “energizing” nature, its appealing ideological concepts based on radicalism and a conspiracy-based world view, and finally, the fact that extremists are allowed “to set the terms of the debate”: “Ask yourself, how is it possible that when young teenagers leave their London homes to fight for ISIL, the debate all too often focuses on whether the security services are to blame? And how can it be that after the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, weeks were spent discussing the limits of free speech and satire, rather than whether terrorists should be executing people full stop?” 

Describing ways of countering these four root causes of extremism, Cameron emphasized the need to oppose ISIS’s mad ideas with traditional British values: freedom of speech and assembly, sexual equality, multiculturalism (sic!), freedom of convictions, a parliamentary system, etc.

All this is very typical and indicative.

First, the Birmingham speech in and of itself demonstrates the growing importance of fighting extremism in the domestic political arena, and this applies not only to the United Kingdom but to many other countries as well.

Second, unlike many domestic analysts who speak about the failure of multicultural policy, Cameron sees it as the foundation of the British nation and one of its basic values.

Third, to follow the logic of the British Government, the fight against ISIS should primarily be waged on the ideological front, thereby promoting the consolidation of society, and this is an important point.

In fact, this is a confrontation of two systems of values or two “soft powers”: Britain's “soft power” versus ISIS's “soft power”. Britain’s “soft power” means Western “soft power”; all British values mentioned by Cameron are identical to European or liberal values.  

In general, a striving to consolidate a value-based identity has become a trend of the past year across the most diverse countries. Speaking at Al-Azhar University last January, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi urged Islamic scholars to create “a revolution inside Islam.” He said a bunch of extremists should not be allowed to speak on behalf of a world religion.

It would be appropriate to mention in this context numerous initiatives of Muslim intellectuals, decisions adopted by the Organization of Islamic Conference on countering the ISIS threat and new programs on the development of Islamic education in Tunisia.

It is also possible to recall the Russian Government's stake on enhancing patriotism and traditional values. Statements in this vein have been made throughout the past year. Although in the Russian case the ideological quest is primarily determined by the confrontation with the West rather than the extremist danger, the ISIS threat is playing a key role in some Russian regions (primarily Chechnya). Typically, the British and Russian (especially Chechen) concepts of countering extremism are built on opposite logic to a certain extent. The British Government insists on the consolidation of liberal values while Cameron is indignant over the debates on freedom of speech following the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. In the meantime, the Russian Government is trying to demonstrate its super-conservative attitudes, in religion as well. It is no accident that participants in numerous rallies in Chechnya and other Muslim regions of Russia protested against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad rather than supporting the victims of the terrorist act.

It's clear that attempts to confront ISIS ideologically are an admission of the inability to deal with it militarily, and not only because ISIS is stronger than, say, al-Qaeda, but also because the world has become weaker. It simply does not know how to defeat ISIS (nor does it know how to defeat the Taliban or what to do about Libya, Syria and Iraq).

At the same time, placing emphasis on extremism (which may be embodied not only by ISIS but also by nationalists) has become a convenient instrument for consolidating societies. To a certain extent, the authorities are interested in exaggerating the threat. Cameron compares ISIS with the ideologies of nationalism and communism.

Finally, the most important point is that the popularity of extremism compels the governments of the most diverse countries to revise their own value systems. The problems that societies are facing along this path in Britain, Russia and a number of Arab countries are not political and not even ideological, but philosophical. They lie in the deteriorating crisis of the world outlook that has taken shape in the modern era. This crisis, which was described by post-modernist philosophers half a century ago, is now entering its final stage, in which ideological concepts resting on a certain philosophical basis – cogito ergo sum – no longer allow people to answer major existential questions. The absence of answers prompts people to seek consolation in archaic philosophical systems like those of ISIS or neo-Nazis, whom Cameron also mentions.

The common feature of these systems is their emphatic anti-humanism, which allows them to find in the surrounding world values that are more important than humans.

Politicians, propagandists, journalists or advertisers cannot win the battle against such philosophies, such worldviews, but it can be won by intellectuals, whose philosophical ideas have become an urgent political necessity.

Previously published by Valdai Club  

Russian version of the article was exclusively published by IMESClub:

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