Making Unnecessary Enemies in Yemen

The Saudi-Israeli tandem is trying to pull the U.S. and other militaries into the Yemeni civil war by arguing that the Houthi rebels are Iranian proxies. But the reality is much more nuanced and the American interest may go in a different direction, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

A strong Manichean streak runs through American perceptions of the outside world.  That streak involves a habit of seeing all conflict and instability in binomial terms, a presumption that one of the perceived two sides is good and the other bad, and an urge to weigh in on the presumptively good side.

The influence that these tendencies have had on U.S. policy has varied over time. The influence was readily apparent, for example, during the George W. Bush administration’s days of “you’re either with us or with the terrorists.” The Obama administration has tried to move in a less Manichean and more realist direction, especially in conducting diplomacy with Iran and in so doing opening a door to a more fruitful all-azimuths diplomacy in the Middle East generally.

But the current administration still operates in a political environment in which the old perceptual habits set limits on what the administration can do, or perhaps push it into doing things it might not otherwise have done.

There have been ample demonstrations throughout the Middle East of how inaccurate and inapplicable the Manichean perspective is. There is Iraq, where the United States and the Iranian bête noire are on the same side in countering the so-called Islamic State or ISIS. There is the even more complicated deadly brawl in Syria, where the people who from the viewpoint of the West are the closest thing to good guys are opposing the same regime that also is opposed by ISIS and the local al-Qaeda affiliate.

At least as clear a lesson both in the fallacies of the Manichean perspective and the mistake of the United States taking sides in such conflicts is found in the current strife in Yemen. But the lesson does not seem to have been learned, as reflected in U.S. support for the Saudi military intervention in Yemen. Three major features of the conflict in Yemen are pertinent to that lesson.

One is that the conflict is at least as complicated and multidimensional as any others in the Middle East. It is impossible to draw a line that would put everyone worth supporting on one side and everyone worth opposing on the other, or even to come close to doing that.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, often considered the most capable Al-Qaeda affiliate today, is completely at odds with, and a confirmed enemy of, the Houthi forces who are the principal target of the U.S.-backed Saudi intervention. One of the most significant allies of the Houthis is Ali Abdullah Saleh, who for three decades was America’s guy as ruler of Yemen.

Second, this war is, as Adam Baron has put it, “by and large, an internal Yemeni political conflict” that “remains deeply rooted in local Yemeni issues.” This fact has been obscured by those who, intent on depicting Iran as a dangerous wide-ranging regional renegade, portray the Houthi rebellion as part of some Iranian expansionist plan. It is nothing of the sort.

The Houthis have been driven for years by grievances involving the distribution of resources and power within Yemen, and their more recent gains have mostly reflected the sympathy for those grievances among other Yemeni elements who have been similarly displeased and disadvantaged by the most recent Yemeni regimes.

Third, the motivations of outside actors intervening in this conflict are not ones that the United States ought to associate itself with. One set of motivations is sectarian. There is no advantage at all, and lots of disadvantage, for the United States to be seen identifying with one side or another in sectarian disputes within the Muslim world.

Another set of motivations, rooted in decades of Saudi-Yemeni strife dating back to when the expansion of the Saudi kingdom first led to seizure of traditionally Yemeni provinces and to lingering border disputes, involves a Saudi desire to exercise dominance over the Arabian Peninsula and in particular this part of it.

Graham Fuller observes, “Riyadh has always loathed Yemeni feistiness, independence, its revolutionary politics, and even its experiments with democracy.”

The Saudis publicly play up the Iranian angle, but what they really don’t like about the Houthis is that they haven’t been able to buy off the Houthis as effectively as they have many other Yemeni elements. The Saudi objective of maintaining this kind of overlordship over its neighbors is also not an interest that the United States shares.

And yet the urge to take sides and intervene persists, as reflected in recent remarks about the Yemeni case by John McCain. The urge pays insufficient heed either to what is in U.S. interests or to what is effective. McCain asserted that the Saudis did not seek advance coordination with the United States concerning their intervention “because they believe we are siding with Iran.”

Actually, according to a senior officer at U.S. Central Command, “The reason the Saudis didn’t inform us of their plans is because they knew we would have told them exactly what we think, that it was a bad idea.”

We know that the Obama administration is feeling the need these days to appear supportive of the Gulf Arabs because of angst related to the impending nuclear agreement with Iran. And if catering to that angst is one of the prices that has to be paid to get the agreement and, through it, to get closer to liberating U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East from rigid side-taking in the future, then this policy may turn out to be on balance worthwhile.

But the Yemeni conflict itself still ought to serve as a lesson in the multiple reasons the United States would be better off to resist its side-taking urge.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




How Ukraine Commemorates the Holocaust

Exclusive: Pundit Thomas Friedman says the new Ukraine regime “shares our values” but as much of the world marked the 70th anniversary of the Nazi Holocaust finally being ended by Russian and U.S. armies politicians in Kiev were busy honoring Ukraine’s Nazi collaborators, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The U.S.-backed Ukrainian government came up with a curious way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust being brought to an end. The parliament in Kiev voted to extend official recognition to Ukrainian fascists who collaborated with the Nazis in killing Jews.

Though Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. media continue to dutifully ignore the key role played by neo-Nazis in Ukraine’s February 2014 coup and in the post-coup regime’s subsequent military offensives against ethnic Russians in the east, Ukrainian politicians can’t stop their arms from snapping into Heil Hitler salutes like the fictional character Dr. Strangelove. They can’t hold back this reflex even as the world stopped this week to recall the Nazi barbarity that claimed the lives of some six million Jews as well as other minorities.

On April 9, the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill making the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army eligible for official government recognition, a demand that has been pushed by Ukraine’s current neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist movements, the same forces that spearheaded the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and then the slaughter of thousands of ethnic Russians who resisted the new order.

Ukraine’s honor-the-Nazi-collaborators vote came amid increased repression of opposition politicians and journalists who dare to criticize the U.S.-backed regime as it moves to repudiate the political settlement envisioned by February’s Minsk-2 agreement and instead prepares for a resumption of the war to crush the resistance in eastern Ukraine once and for all. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s ‘Poison Pill’ for Peace Talks.”]

Emergence of ‘Death Squads’

Over the past several months, there have been about ten mysterious deaths of opposition figures some that the government claimed to be suicides while others were clearly murders. It now appears that pro-government “death squads” are operating with impunity in Kiev.

On Wednesday, Oleg Kalashnikov, a political leader of the opposition Party of Regions, was shot to death in his home. Kalashnikov had been campaigning for the right of Ukrainians to celebrate the Allied victory in World War II, a gesture that infuriated some western Ukrainian neo-Nazis who identify with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich and who now feel they have the current government in their corner.

On Thursday, unidentified gunmen murdered Ukrainian journalist Oles Buzina, a regime critic who had protested censorship being imposed on news outlets that didn’t toe the government’s propaganda line. Buzina had been denounced by a pro-regime “journalistic” outfit which operated under the Orwellian name “Stop Censorship” and demanded that Buzina be banned from making media appearances because he was “an agent of the Kremlin.”

This week, another dissident journalist Serhiy Sukhobok was reportedly killed in Kiev, amid sketchy accounts that his assailants may have been caught although the Ukrainian government has withheld details.

These deaths are mostly ignored by the mainstream U.S. news media or are mentioned only in briefs with the victims dismissed as “pro-Russian.” After all, these “death squad” activities, which have also been occurring in government-controlled sections of eastern Ukraine, conflict with the preferred State Department narrative of the Kiev regime busy implementing “democratic reforms.”

But many of those “democratic reforms” amount to slashing old-age pensions, removing worker protections, and hiking the price of heating fuel as demanded by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a $17.5 billion bailout for Ukraine’s collapsing financial structure.

Similarly, the decision by the Ukrainian parliament to bend to the demands of neo-Nazi and other ultra-right groups to honor Ukraine’s World War II fascists is also downplayed or ignored by the major U.S. media.

The Holocaust in Ukraine

During World War II, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, an offshoot of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, collaborated with the Nazis in their orgy of mass murder against Jews, Poles and other minority groups. The UIA also joined with the Nazis in fighting against the Soviet Union’s Red Army, although some UIA elements did ultimately turn against the Germans over their occupation of Ukraine.

Ukraine was the site of several major Holocaust atrocities including the infamous massacre at Babi Yar in Kiev, where local Ukrainian fascists worked alongside the Nazi SS in funneling tens of thousands of Jews to a ravine where they were slaughtered and buried.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned Ukraine’s recognition of the UIA as well as a second bill that equated Communist and Nazi crimes.

“The passage of a ban on Nazism and Communism equates the most genocidal regime in human history with the regime which liberated Auschwitz and helped end the reign of terror of the Third Reich,” said Wiesenthal Center director for Eastern European Affairs Dr. Efraim Zuroff, adding:

“In the same spirit the decision to honor local Nazi collaborators and grant them special benefits turns Hitler’s henchmen into heroes despite their active and zealous participation in the mass murder of innocent Jews. These attempts to rewrite history, which are prevalent throughout post-Communist Eastern Europe, can never erase the crimes committed by Nazi collaborators in these countries, and only proves that they clearly lack the Western values which they claim to have embraced upon their transition to democracy.”

Not Seeing Nazis

Despite propaganda efforts by the Obama administration and the major U.S. news media to play down western Ukraine’s legacy of Nazi collaboration, one of the heroes honored during the Maidan protests, which led to the Feb. 22, 2014 coup, was Stepan Bandera, an OUN leader who worked with the Nazis before falling out with them over issues of Ukrainian independence.

After spearheading the 2014 coup, the neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist militias from western Ukraine were enlisted as the shock troops to attack ethnic Russian cities in eastern Ukraine, which had been the political base for ousted President Yanukovych. Even though some of those militias sported Swastikas and SS symbols, the mainstream U.S. news media either ignored those inconvenient realities or acknowledged them in the final paragraphs of long stories. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.”]

The recognition of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army was demanded last October by Ukraine’s right-wing and neo-Nazi groups, including the Svoboda party and the Right Sektor, which surrounded the parliament in Kiev with 8,000 protesters.

At that time, with U.S. officials sensitive to the image of the Ukrainian government caving in to rioters carrying neo-Nazi banners, the legislation was defeated. However, in recent weeks with the Kiev leadership leaning more heavily on the neo-Nazis and other ultra-nationalists to carry out the war against ethnic Russians in the east, more concessions are being made to the extremists.

Lurches to the Right

These lurches to the right have again been largely ignored by the mainstream U.S. media, which continues to blame the ethnic Russians for not submitting to the post-coup regime in Kiev and to demonize Russian President Vladimir Putin as the supposed instigator of all the trouble.

But the Jerusalem Post noted, “While Jewish worries over anti-Semitism have been on the back burner due to the war [in Ukraine], several recent developments have shown that antipathy toward Jews, or at least indifference toward such attitudes when held by important military or political figures, still exists in Ukraine.

“Last November Jewish organizations expressed their displeasure when it was disclosed that the newly appointed police chief for the Ukrainian province in which Kiev is located came under fire after it was alleged that he had past ties with a neo-Nazi organization.”

The Jerusalem Post also took note of the Kiev regime’s recent appointment of right-wing extremist Dimitri Jarosch, who organized many of the fighters behind the February 2014 putsch, to be an official adviser to the army leadership.

The larger historical context is that Nazism has been deeply rooted in western Ukraine since World War II, especially in cities like Lviv, where a cemetery to the veterans of the Galician SS, a Ukrainian affiliate of the Nazi SS, is maintained. These old passions were brought to the surface again in the battle to oust Yanukovych and sever historic ties to Russia.

The muscle behind the U.S.-backed Maidan protests against Yanukovych came from neo-Nazi militias trained in western Ukraine, organized into 100-man brigades and bused to Kiev. After the coup, neo-Nazi leader Andriy Parubiy, who was commander of the Maidan “self-defense forces,” was elevated to national security chief and soon announced that the Maidan militia forces would be incorporated into the National Guard and sent to eastern Ukraine to fight ethnic Russians resisting the coup.

As the U.S. government and media cheered on this “anti-terrorist operation,” the neo-Nazis and other right-wing battalions engaged in brutal street fighting against Russian ethnic rebels. Only occasionally did this nasty reality slip into the major U.S. news media. For instance, an Aug. 10, 2014 article in the New York Times mentioned the neo-Nazi paramilitaries at the end of a lengthy story on another topic.

“The fighting for Donetsk has taken on a lethal pattern: The regular army bombards separatist positions from afar, followed by chaotic, violent assaults by some of the half-dozen or so paramilitary groups surrounding Donetsk who are willing to plunge into urban combat,” the Times reported.

“Officials in Kiev say the militias and the army coordinate their actions, but the militias, which count about 7,000 fighters, are angry and, at times, uncontrollable. One known as Azov, which took over the village of Marinka, flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Discovers Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis at War.”]

Meeting the Nazis

The conservative London Telegraph offered more details about the Azov battalion in an article by correspondent Tom Parfitt, who wrote: “Kiev’s use of volunteer paramilitaries to stamp out the Russian-backed Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ should send a shiver down Europe’s spine.

“Recently formed battalions such as Donbas, Dnipro and Azov, with several thousand men under their command, are officially under the control of the interior ministry but their financing is murky, their training inadequate and their ideology often alarming. The Azov men use the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner and members of the battalion are openly white supremacists, or anti-Semites.”

Based on interviews with militia members, the Telegraph reported that some of the fighters doubted the reality of the Holocaust, expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and acknowledged that they are indeed Nazis.

Andriy Biletsky, the Azov commander, “is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly,” according to the Telegraph article which quoted a commentary by Biletsky as declaring: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”

In other words, for the first time since World War II, a government had dispatched Nazi storm troopers to attack a European population and officials in Kiev knew what they were doing. The Telegraph questioned Ukrainian authorities in Kiev who acknowledged that they were aware of the extremist ideologies of some militias but insisted that the higher priority was having troops who were strongly motivated to fight. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ignoring Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Storm Troopers.”]

Since the coup, the New York Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets have decried any recognition of the significant neo-Nazi presence in Ukraine as “Russian propaganda.” So, Ukraine’s new initiative to honor Nazi collaborators in legislation coinciding with the commemoration of the end of the Holocaust also must be ignored.

The pro-coup propaganda in the U.S. media has been so pervasive that a powerful “group think” took hold with the Kiev regime revered as white-hatted “good guys,” certainly not brown-shirted neo-Nazis. Or as the New York Times’ dimwitted foreign policy pundit Thomas L. Friedman declared in a column earlier this year, the new leaders of Ukraine “share our values.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Anti-Islam Hate in City of Brotherly Love

Though the First Amendment protected the right of American Nazis to march through Jewish neighborhoods of Skokie, Illinois, in 1978, the provocation was universally condemned. Now, an Islamophobic group is posting Muslim-bashing ads on Philadelphia buses, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On April 1, an anti-Muslim advertisement started appearing on 84 municipal buses in the Philadelphia regional area. The ad space was purchased for a four-week period by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), which paid $30,000 to run its message: a picture from the early 1940s of Adolf Hitler speaking to Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti (chief Muslim religious authority) of Jerusalem, with an accompanying text, “Islamic Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran” and a call to “end all aid to Islamic countries.”

Philadelphia is just the latest city to experience this sort of offensive Islamophobia. Indeed, running Islamophobic attack ads on transit systems across the nation seems to be AFDI’s specialty.

The AFDI is part of an extremist organization called Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), which is led by the hyperactive Islamophobe and strident rightwing Zionist Pamela Geller. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has long tracked right-wing extremist organizations, has labeled the SOIA a “hate group.”

Philadelphia’s regional transit authority (SEPTA) tried to refuse the advertisement because it so blatantly did what it incorrectly alleged the Quran does – promote hatred. But the AFDI took SEPTA to court and won with a freedom of speech argument.

Analyzing the AFDI Advertisement

The ad now appearing in the Philadelphia area is actually a piece of propaganda. There is no accurate context given for the photo it displays, and the reference to the Quran lacks a citation. So let’s fill in what is missing with some analysis.

-The Photograph of the Grand Mufti Speaking to Hitler: Amin al-Husseini (1895-1974) was a member of a leading family in Jerusalem. Early in the British occupation of Palestine he was appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, making him one of the most influential Muslim leaders in the colony.

The British assumed they could control Husseini, who was only 26 years old at the time, and hoped that his appointment would placate Arab nationalist feelings. However, they had seriously underestimated him. Husseini’s goal was to achieve independence for Arab Palestine, and that made him a staunch opponent of the Zionist colonial project.

When a major anti-colonial Arab revolt broke out in 1936, the British mistakenly believed that Husseini was one of its major organizers and sought to arrest him. If they had managed to do so he probably would have been deported to one of Britain’s African colonies. To avoid this fate, Husseini fled to Iraq, which at this time was also a British colony in open revolt. When the British suppressed the Iraqi rebellion, Husseini fled to Fascist Italy from where he was eventually moved to Germany.

The advertisement that now appears on Philadelphia area buses shows Husseini speaking with Adolf Hitler. The implication, which is false, is that Palestine’s Muslim religious leader was himself a Nazi. If one does the research, one can find other pictures and documents that show Husseini recruiting Muslim soldiers in the Balkans to fight in the German army. He also did propaganda broadcasts in Arabic for the Germans urging resistance to British imperialism.

Thus, it cannot be denied that he collaborated with Nazi Germany during the war years. However, none of this activity was undertaken because he was a Nazi. It was done because he was opposed to British imperial rule in Palestine and other Arab territories. If the British had been at war with Sweden instead of Germany, Husseini would have sought refuge among the Swedes and broadcast propaganda for them.

The same can be said for Husseini’s attitude toward a Jewish Palestine. He was adamantly against it. When he proclaimed, as part of his pro-German propaganda, that he wished to see Jews driven from the Arab lands, the most logical interpretation of this statement is that it was Zionist Jews he sought expelled, for in other statements to German leaders of the time he said the best solution for Palestine was for the Jews to go back to their countries of origin.

Thus, Husseini’s statement seems to have no relevance for Palestine’s indigenous Sephardic Jews. There is no convincing evidence that he supported the Holocaust (though he was aware of it) despite an on-going Zionist effort to make it appear that he did.

Whatever one might think of the Mufti’s activities in wartime Germany, he was driven to them not by any belief in Nazi doctrines, but by the ongoing oppression of his native land by British policies in support of Zionist ambitions. Much like the British and American wartime alliance with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union or, for that matter, the U.S. alliance with Osama bin Laden and the Mujahedin in Afghanistan, Husseini’s alliance with Hitler’s Germany was a function of the enemy of my enemy is, at least for the moment, my friend.

– “Jew Hatred” and the Quran: The AFDI bus ad goes on to declare that “Jew Hatred” can be found in the Quran. It is hard to take such a charge seriously, because the Quran, like the Old and New Testaments, is a book of scripture in which one can find, and then misinterpret, almost anything one wants.

Thus, through selective and out-of-context quoting, or by simple innuendo, one can make outrageous accusations. Of course, the present bus ad forgoes quotation or citation and just makes an unsupported declaration.

One has to keep in mind that the Quran is approximately 1,500 years old, and so framing the attitude of all modern Muslims in terms of a few statements critical of early Seventh-Century Jews (while ignoring statements that are positive) is like saying that all educated English people dislike Jews because they revere the same Shakespeare who, in the late Sixteenth Century, wrote the Merchant of Venice.

Actually, if you compare the Quran and the Old Testament on the violent treatment of “the other,” the Old Testament is much worse. It is a very bloody affair (for instance, see book 1 of Samuel), featuring a wrathful deity who arranges cruel fates for any group that gets in the way of ancient Hebrews.

My personal opinion is that such a God deserves to be avoided rather than worshipped. On the other hand, the Quran’s portrayal of hell is pretty awful, but then its pains and tortures are attributed to that same wrathful deity found in the Old Testament.

Just to be even-handed on this topic, the New Testament’s Book of Revelation seems to inspire many Christian fundamentalists to earnestly yearn for global annihilation.

-Stop the Aid!: Finally, the ad calls for a halt to aid going to Islamic countries. Actually, this might not be a bad idea, considering that a lot of this aid is made up of loan guarantees to dictatorships for the purchase of U.S. weapons. If we could balance this out by halting the yearly $3 billion-plus in aid to Israel, we would have a win-win situation. However, on both counts the U.S. munitions manufactures would scream bloody murder (pun intended) because they are the ones profiting from such “aid.”

When a bigoted extremist like Pamela Geller places misleading and hate-promoting propaganda on buses, the Zionist establishment has nothing critical to say. They treat it as if it is all very proper and upheld by “free speech.”

However, when supporters of the Palestinian cause put up billboards picturing a series of maps that show the absorption of Arab Palestine by Zionist settlers between1948 and today, pious rabbis and Zionist lobbyists protest and call it “anti-Semitic.” Hypocrisy is the name of the game.

This is all about the ongoing battle to control the message: that is the history and reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the early 1970s, when I started supporting the Palestinian cause, the Zionists had a near monopoly on that message. There were almost no venues that would allow someone who was pro-Palestinian to speak or publish, and on the rare occasion that one found a platform, one was subjected to heckling and threats.

The situation has really changed. At least outside of the Washington Beltway, those who support Palestinian rights are on the offensive, and the Zionists on the defensive. However, the Zionists certainly have not given up, and the most egregious of them, such as those at the AFDI, still lash out with hate-filled messages. So, the fight goes on.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Syrian Rebels Caught in ‘False-Flag’ Kidnapping

Exclusive: In August 2013, when the U.S. government almost went to war in Syria over a Sarin attack, suspicions that it was a rebel “false-flag” were ridiculed. But new disclosures about a rebel role in kidnapping NBC’s Richard Engel several months earlier show the rebels knew such propaganda tricks, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In December 2012, Syria’s U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels pulled off a false-flag kidnapping and “rescue” of NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his crew, getting the crime blamed on a militia tied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a propaganda scam that NBC played along with despite having evidence of the truth.

On Wednesday, Engel, who had blamed an Assad-linked Shiite militia in reports both for NBC and Vanity Fair, acknowledged that a new examination of the case persuaded him that “the group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia.” He added that the kidnappers “put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite shabiha militiamen.”

According to an account published by the New York Times on Thursday in its “Business Day” section NBC executives had evidence from the beginning that the actual kidnappers were part of “a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.”

The Free Syrian Army has been the principal rebel force supported by the U.S. government which, in April 2013, several months after Engel’s high-profile ordeal, earmarked $123 million in aid to the group to carry out its war against Assad’s government.

The other significance of the Syrian rebels’ successful false-flag kidnapping/rescue of Engel is that it may have encouraged them to sponsor other events that would be blamed on the Syrian government and excite the U.S. government and media to intervene militarily against Assad.

On Aug. 21, 2013, a mysterious Sarin gas attack outside Damascus killed several hundred people, causing U.S. officials, journalists and human rights activists to immediately leap to the conclusion that Assad was responsible and that he had crossed President Barack Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and thus deserved U.S. military retaliation.

Within days, this political-media hysteria brought the United States to the verge of a sustained bombing campaign against the Syrian military before contrary evidence began emerging suggesting that extremist elements of the Syrian rebel force may have deployed the Sarin as a false-flag event. Obama pulled back at the last moment, infuriating America’s influential neoconservatives who had long put “regime change” in Syria near the top of their to-do list.

In retrospect, the aborted U.S. bombing campaign, if carried out, might well have so devastated the Syrian military that the gates of Damascus would have fallen open to the two most powerful rebel armies, Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the hyper-brutal Islamic State, meaning that the black flag of Islamic terrorism might have been raised over one of the Mideast’s most important capitals.

Dangers of Bad Journalism

The revelations about Engel’s staged kidnapping/rescue also illuminate the dangers of biased mainstream U.S. journalism in which the big news organizations take sides in a conflict overseas and shed even the pretense of professional objectivity.

In the case of Syria, the major U.S. media put on blinders for many months to pretend that Assad was opposed by “moderate” rebels until it became impossible to deny that the dominant rebel forces were Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State. In late September 2013, many of the U.S.-backed, supposedly “moderate” rebels realigned themselves with Al-Qaeda’s affiliate.

In the case of Ukraine, U.S. journalists have put on their blinders again so as not to notice that the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev has relied on neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists to wage an “anti-terrorist operation” against ethnic Russians in the east who have resisted the overthrow of their elected President Viktor Yanukovych. When it comes to Ukraine, the more than 5,000 deaths mostly ethnic Russians in the east are all blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.”]

These biased storylines with the “U.S. side” wearing white hats and the other side wearing black hats are not only bad journalism but invite atrocities because the “U.S. side” knows that the U.S. mainstream media with reflexively blame any horrors on the black-hatted “bad guys.”

In the case of Engel’s staged kidnapping/rescue, the New York Times belatedly reexamined the case not in the context of a disinformation campaign designed to excite war against Syria’s Assad but as a follow-up to disclosures that NBC’s longtime anchor Brian Williams had exaggerated the danger he was in while covering the Iraq War in 2003 explaining the story’s placement in the business section where such media articles often go.

The most serious journalistic offense by NBC in this case appeared to be that it was aware of the behind-the-scenes reality that individuals associated with the U.S.-backed rebels were likely responsible but still let Engel go on the air to point the finger of blame in Assad’s direction.

The Times reported that the kidnapping “group, known as the North Idlib Falcons Brigade, was led by two men, Azzo Qassab and Shukri Ajouj, who had a history of smuggling and other crimes. NBC executives were informed of Mr. Ajouj and Mr. Qassab’s possible involvement during and after Mr. Engels’s captivity, according to current and former NBC employees and others who helped search for Mr. Engel, including political activists and security professionals.

“Still, the network moved quickly to put Mr. Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events. NBC’s own assessment during the kidnapping had focused on Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj, according to a half-dozen people involved in the recovery effort.

“NBC had received GPS data from the team’s emergency beacon that showed it had been held early in the abduction at a chicken farm widely known by local residents and other rebels to be controlled by the Sunni criminal group.

“NBC had sent an Arab envoy into Syria to drive past the farm, according to three people involved in the efforts to locate Mr. Engel, and engaged in outreach to local commanders for help in obtaining the team’s release. These three people declined to be identified, citing safety considerations.

“Ali Bakran, a rebel commander who assisted in the search, said in an interview that when he confronted Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj with the GPS map, ‘Azzo and Shukri both acknowledged having the NBC reporters.’ Several rebels and others with detailed knowledge of the episode said that the safe release of NBC’s team was staged after consultation with rebel leaders when it became clear that holding them might imperil the rebel efforts to court Western support.

“Abu Hassan, a local medic who is close to the rebel movement, and who was involved in seeking the team’s release, said that when the kidnappers realized that all the other rebels in the area were working to get the captives out, they decided to create a ruse to free them and blame the kidnapping on the Assad regime. ‘It was there that the play was completed,’ he said, speaking of the section of road Mr. Engel and the team were freed on.

“Thaer al-Sheib, another local man connected with the rebel movement who sought the NBC team, said that on the day of the release ‘we heard some random shots for less than a minute coming from the direction of the farm.’ He said that Abu Ayman, the rebel commander credited with freeing the team, is related by marriage to Mr. Ajouj, and that he staged the rescue.”

The Sarin Mystery

While it’s impossible to determine whether the successful scam about Engel’s kidnapping/rescue influenced the thinking of other Syrian rebels to sponsor a false-flag attack using Sarin, some of the same propaganda factors applied with the U.S. news media jumping to conclusions about Assad’s responsibility for the Sarin deaths and then ridiculing any doubters.

Yet, like the Engel kidnapping affair, there were immediate reasons to doubt the “group think” on the Sarin attack, especially since Assad had just invited United Nations inspectors to Syria to investigate what he claimed was an earlier use of chemical weapons by the rebels. As the inspectors were unpacking their bags in Damascus, the Sarin attack occurred in a Damascus suburb, a provocation that quickly forced the inspectors to address the new incident instead.

The inspectors were under extraordinary U.S. pressure to implicate Assad — especially after Secretary of State John Kerry described a massive Sarin attack using multiple rockets that he said could only have come from a Syrian military base. But the inspectors only found one crudely made Sarin-laden rocket and when rocket experts examined it, they estimated that it could only travel a couple of kilometers, meaning it was likely fired from rebel-controlled territory. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

Even as the evidence implicating the Syrian government evaporated, the mainstream U.S. news media and many wannabe important bloggers continued to defend the earlier “group think” on the Sarin attack and reject the possibility that the sainted rebels had done it. But the false-flag Engel kidnapping/rescue shows that such propaganda stunts were in the rebels’ bag of tricks.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Did Money Seal Israeli-Saudi Alliance?

Special Report: The odd-couple relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel may have been sealed with more than a mutual desire to kiss-off Iran. According to an intelligence source, there was a dowry involved, too, with the Saudis reportedly giving Israel some $16 billion, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

For more than half a century, Saudi Arabia has tried to use its vast oil wealth to build a lobby in the United States that could rival the imposing Israel Lobby. At top dollar, the Saudis hired law firms and PR specialists and exploited personal connections to powerful families like the Bushes but the Saudis never could build the kind of grassroots political organization that has given Israel and its American backers such extraordinary clout.

Indeed, Americans who did take Saudi money including academic institutions and non-governmental organizations were often pilloried as tools of the Arabs, with the Israel Lobby and its propagandists raising the political cost of accepting Saudi largesse so high that many people and institutions shied away.

But Saudi Arabia may have found another way to buy influence inside the United States by giving money to Israel and currying favor with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over the past several years, as both Saudi Arabia and Israel have identified Iran and the so-called “Shiite crescent” as their principal enemies, this once-unthinkable alliance has become possible and the Saudis, as they are wont to do, may have thrown lots of money into the deal.

According to a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts, the Saudis have given Israel at least $16 billion over the past 2 ½ years, funneling the money through a third-country Arab state and into an Israeli “development” account in Europe to help finance infrastructure inside Israel. The source first called the account “a Netanyahu slush fund,” but later refined that characterization, saying the money was used for public projects such as building settlements in the West Bank.

In other words, according to this information, the Saudis concluded that if you can’t beat the Israel Lobby, try buying it. And, if that is the case, the Saudis have found their behind-the-scenes collaboration with Israel extremely valuable. Netanyahu has played a key role in lining up the U.S. Congress to fight an international agreement to resolve a long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

Urged on by Netanyahu, the Republican majority and many Democrats have committed themselves to destroying the framework agreement hammered out on April 2 by Iran and six world powers, including the United States. The deal would impose strict inspections and other limits to guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful.

By crashing the deal, Israel and Saudi Arabia would open the door to more punitive sanctions on Iran and possibly clear the way for Israeli airstrikes, with Saudi Arabia granting over-flight permission to Israeli warplanes. The Saudi-Israeli tandem also might hope to pull in the U.S. military to inflict even more devastation on Iranian targets.

Neither the Israeli nor Saudi governments responded to requests for comment on Saudi payments into an Israeli account.

Congressional Acclaim

The reported Saudi-to-Israel money transfers put Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to a cheering joint session of the U.S. Congress in a different light, too. The Prime Minister’s bitter denunciations of Iran before hundreds of transfixed American lawmakers could be viewed as him demonstrating his value to the Saudi royals who could never dream of getting that kind of reaction themselves.

Indeed, as Congress now moves to sabotage the Iranian nuclear agreement, the Saudis could be finding that whatever money they invested in Israel is money well spent. The Saudis seem especially alarmed that the nuclear agreement would prompt the world community to lift sanctions on Iran, thus allowing its economy and its influence to grow.

To prevent that, the Saudis desperately want to draw the United States in on the Sunni side of the historic Sunni-Shiite conflict, with Netanyahu serving as a crucial middleman by defying President Barack Obama on the Iran deal and bringing the full force of the Israel Lobby to bear on Congress and on the opinion circles of Official Washington.

If Netanyahu and the Saudis succeed in collapsing the Iran nuclear framework agreement, they will have made great strides toward enlisting the United States as the primary military force on the Sunni side of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide, a dispute that dates back to the succession struggle after Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632.

This ancient feud has become a Saudi obsession over the past several decades, at least since Iran’s Shiite revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979 and brought to power the Islamic government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Upset with the ouster of a fellow monarch, the Shah, and fearing the spread of Khomeini’s ascetic form of Shiite Islamic governance, the Saudi royals summoned Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni, to Riyadh on Aug. 5, 1980, to encourage him to invade Iran.

According to top secret “Talking Points” that Secretary of State Alexander Haig prepared for a briefing of President Ronald Reagan after Haig’s April 1981 trip to the Middle East, Haig wrote that Saudi Prince Fahd said he told the Iraqis that an invasion of Iran would have U.S. support.

“It was interesting to confirm that President [Jimmy] Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd,” Haig wrote, in the document that I discovered in U.S. congressional files in 1994. Though Carter has denied encouraging the Iraqi invasion, which came as Iran was holding 52 U.S. diplomats hostage, Haig’s “Talking Points” suggest that the Saudis at least led Hussein to believe that the war had U.S. blessings.

Haig also noted that even after the overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of the Islamic state under Khomeini, Israel sought to maintain its clandestine relations with Iran by serving as an arms supplier. Haig reported that “Both [Egypt’s Anwar] Sadat and [Saudi Prince] Fahd [explained that] Iran is receiving military spares for U.S. equipment from Israel.”

Those Israeli weapons sales continued through the eight bloody years of the Iran-Iraq War with some estimates of the value reaching into the scores of billions of dollar. The Israelis even helped bring the Reagan administration into the deals in the mid-1980s with the so-called Iran-Contra arms shipments that involved secret off-the-books bank accounts in Europe and led to the worst scandal of Reagan’s presidency.

Rise of the Neocons

In the 1990s with the Iran-Iraq war over and Iran’s treasury depleted Israeli attitudes cooled toward its erstwhile trading partner. Meanwhile, American neocons juiced by the demonstration of U.S. military supremacy against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union leaving the U.S. as “the sole superpower” began advising Netanyahu on employing “regime change” to alter the Mideast dynamic.

During Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign, prominent neocons including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith outlined the plan in a policy paper entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The document argued that “Israel can shape its strategic environment  by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right, as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

The overriding point of this neocon strategy was that by imposing “regime change” in Muslim nations that were deemed hostile to Israel, new friendly governments could be put in place, thus leaving Israel’s close-in enemies Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon without outside sponsors. Starved of money, these troublesome enemies would be forced to accept Israel’s terms. “The Realm” would be secured.

The neocons first target was Sunni-ruled Iraq, as their Project for the New American Century made clear in 1998, but Syria and Iran were next on the hit list. Syria is governed by the Assads who are Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and Iran is governed by Shiites. The neocon plan was to use U.S. military force or other means of subversion to take out all three regimes.

However, when the neocons got their chance to invade Iraq in 2003, they inadvertently tipped the Mideast balance in favor of the Shiites, since Iraq’s Shiite majority gained control under the U.S. military occupation. Plus, the disastrous U.S. war precluded the neocons from completing their agenda of enforced “regime change” in Syria and Iran.

With the new Iraqi government suddenly friendly with Iran’s Shiite leaders, Saudi Arabia became increasingly alarmed. Israel was also coming to view the so-called “Shiite crescent” from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut as a strategic threat.

Saudi Arabia, working with Turkey, took aim at the center of that crescent in 2011 by supporting a Sunni-led opposition to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a set of protests that quickly spiraled into bloody terrorist attacks and harsh military repression.

By 2013, it was clear that the principal fighters against Assad’s government were not the fictional “moderates” touted by the U.S. mainstream media but Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and a hyper-brutal Al-Qaeda spinoff that arose in resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and evolved into the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” or simply the “Islamic State.”

Israeli Preference

To the surprise of some observers, Israel began voicing a preference for Al-Qaeda’s militants over the relatively secular Assad government, which was viewed as the protectors of Alawites, Shiites, Christians and other Syrian minorities terrified of the Saudi-backed Sunni extremists.

In September 2013, in one of the most explicit expressions of Israel’s views, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

Oren expanded on his position in June 2014 at an Aspen Institute conference. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria.

“From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

On Oct. 1, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hinted at the new Israeli-Saudi relationship in his United Nations General Assembly speech, which was largely devoted to excoriating Iran over its nuclear program and threatening a unilateral Israeli military strike.

Amid the bellicosity, Netanyahu dropped in a largely missed clue about the evolving power relationships in the Middle East, saying: “The dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy. And this affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”

The next day, Israel’s Channel 2 TV news reported that senior Israeli security officials had met with a high-level Gulf state counterpart in Jerusalem, believed to be Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States who was then head of Saudi intelligence.

The reality of this unlikely alliance has even reached the mainstream U.S. media. For instance, Time magazine correspondent Joe Klein described the new coziness in an article in the Jan. 19, 2015 issue: “On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

“They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had ‘crossed the Rubicon’ and ‘don’t want to fight Israel anymore.’”

While the Saudis may still pay lip service to the plight of the Palestinians, that issue is no longer much of a priority. Indeed, the Saudi royals may view the Palestinians, many of whom are secular having seen first-hand the evils of Islamic extremism, as something of a regional threat to the Saudi monarchical governance which is based on an ultra-fundamentalist form of Islam known as Wahhabism. That some of the reported $16 billion Saudi payment to Israel was going to finance Israeli settlements on the Palestinian West Bank would further reflect this Saudi indifference.

In 2013, again collaborating with Israel, Saudi Arabia helped deal a devastating blow to the 1.8 million Palestinians locked in the Gaza Strip. They had received some relief when Egypt elected the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi, who relaxed the embargo on passage between Egyptian territory and Gaza.

But the Saudis saw the populist Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to monarchical rule and Israel was angry over Morsi’s apparent sympathy for Hamas, the party ruling Gaza. So, Saudi Arabia and Israel supported a military coup which removed Morsi from power. The two countries then showed off their complementary powers: the Saudis helped the government of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with money and oil, while Israel had its lobby work the corridors of power in Washington to prevent retaliation for the ouster of an elected government.

Back to Syria

Israel’s growing collaboration with Saudi Arabia and the two governments’ mutual hatred of the “Shiite crescent” have extended into a tacit alliance with Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria, with which the Israelis have what amounts to a non-aggression pact, even caring for Nusra fighters in Israeli hospitals and mounting lethal air attacks against Lebanese and Iranian advisers to the Syrian military.

Israel’s preference for the Saudi-backed jihadists over Iranian allies in Syria was a little-noticed subtext of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress on March 3, urging the U.S. government to shift its focus from fighting Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to fighting Iran. He trivialized the danger from the Islamic State with its “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.

To the applause of Congress, he claimed “Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.” His choice of capitals was peculiar, however, because Iran took none of those capitals by force and, indeed, was simply supporting the embattled government of Syria and was allied with Shiite elements of the government of Lebanon.

As for Iraq, Iran’s allies were installed not by Iran but by President George W. Bush via the U.S. invasion. And, in Yemen, a long-festering sectarian conflict has led to the capture of Sanaa by Houthi rebels who are Zaydi Shiites, an offshoot of Shia Islam that is actually closer to some Sunni sects.

The Houthis deny that they are agents of Iran, and Western intelligence services believe that Iranian support has consisted mostly of some funding. Former CIA official Graham E. Fuller has called the notion “that the Houthis represent the cutting edge of Iranian imperialism in Arabia as trumpeted by the Saudis” a “myth.” He added:

“The Zaydi Shia, including the Houthis, over history have never had a lot to do with Iran. But as internal struggles within Yemen have gone on, some of the Houthis have more recently been happy to take Iranian coin and perhaps some weapons, just as so many others, both Sunni and Shia, are on the Saudi payroll. The Houthis furthermore hate al-Qaeda and hate the Islamic State.”

Indeed, the Saudi airstrikes, which have reportedly killed hundreds of Yemeni civilians, have aided the Yemen-based “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” by limiting Houthi attacks on the terrorists and enabling AQAP to overrun a prison and free scores of its militants.

But President Obama, recognizing the joint power of the Saudis and Israelis to destroy the Iran nuclear deal, authorized support for the Saudi airstrikes from U.S. intelligence while rushing military resupplies to the Saudis. In effect, Obama is trading U.S. support for Saudi aggression in a neighboring country for what he hopes might be some political space for the Iran-nuclear agreement.

New Terrorist Gains

Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies, along with Turkey, are also ramping up support in Syria for Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State. Flush with jihadist reinforcements, the two terrorist organizations have seized new territory in recent weeks, including the Islamic State creating a humanitarian crisis by attacking a Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus.

All of these Saudi actions have drawn minimal criticism from mainstream U.S. media and political circles, in part, because the Saudis now have the protection of the Israel Lobby, which has kept American attention on the supposed threat from Iran, including allegedly controversial statements from Iranian leaders about their insistence that economic sanctions be lifted once the nuclear agreement is signed and/or implemented.

Neocon warmongers have even been granted space in major U.S. newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, to openly advocate for the bombing of Iran despite the risk that destroying Iran’s nuclear reactors could inflict both human and environmental devastation. That might serve the Saudi-Israeli interests by forcing Iran to focus exclusively on a domestic crisis but it would amount to a major war crime. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Publishes Call to Bomb Iran.”]

The strategic benefit for Israel and Saudi Arabia would be that with Iran unable to assist the Iraqis and the Syrians in their desperate struggles against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Sunni jihadists might well be hoisting the black flag of their dystopian philosophy over Damascus, if not Baghdad. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]

Beyond the slaughter of innocents that would follow and the likelihood of new terrorist attacks on the West such a victory would almost surely force whoever is the U.S. president to recommit hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to remove Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State from power. It would be a war of vast expense in money and blood with little prospect of American success.

If Saudi Arabia’s petrodollars helped secure Israel’s assistance in creating such a potential hell on earth, the Saudi royals might consider it the best money they ever spent and the resulting orgy of military spending by the U.S. government might benefit some well-connected neocons, too but the many victims of this madness would certainly feel otherwise as might the vast majority of the American people.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




America’s Overuse of the Sanctions Option

America’s use of economic sanctions to punish various foreign adversaries has grown so promiscuous that U.S. businesses often don’t know when they might be crossing some legal line, thus inflicting financial pain not only on other countries but on the U.S. economy, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The roots and manifestations of American exceptionalist thinking go way back. One of those manifestations is the use of economic measures as a weapon intended to coerce or deny. The specific thinking involved is that such measures employed by the United States, and even the United States alone, should be enough to induce or force change in other countries.

The thinking is solipsistic insofar as it centers narrowly on the idea of American will and the exercise of American power and, as too often has been the case, pays insufficient attention either to the other nation’s motivations or to what damage or denial the United States is inflicting on itself.

More than two centuries ago the young American republic made one of its first big attempts at such economic warfare. The Embargo Act of 1807 shut down U.S. overseas trade in an attempt to get the warring European powers Britain and France to respect U.S. neutrality.

President Thomas Jefferson’s intentions were honorable in that he genuinely sought neutrality in the European war, unlike so many today who, if they see an armed conflict going on somewhere in the world, believe it necessary for the United States to take sides even if there are bad guys on more than one side. Jefferson also saw the embargo as an alternative to war rather than a prelude to it, unlike many today, who are both sanctions hawks and military hawks.

But the embargo was a miserable failure on all counts. Prosecuting war in Europe with all means available was much more important to Britain and France than was anything that the American republic could do to them.

The economic damage to the United States was severe, especially in New England, which sank into depression. And the United States would eventually wind up going to war anyway, against Britain in 1812. Realizing the mistake, Jefferson signed a repeal of the embargo in the closing days of his presidency in 1809.

With the American economy and American power having expanded over the subsequent 200 years, the temptation to think in terms of American denial of trade being an all-powerful tool has become all the greater. But the thinking is still erroneous, as demonstrated by the miserable failure of the half-century-old embargo against Cuba. That embargo has caused no favorable change in Cuban policies or politics, and probably has only retarded what change would have been taking place for other reasons.

Economically it has not caused another depression in New England, but the fact that it has been a negative for the U.S. economy is reflected in support by U.S. business interests, as represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for change in policy toward Cuba. President Barack Obama deserves credit for bringing about as much change as it is in his power to effect, but the embargo itself will not come down until the U.S. Congress displays changed thinking too.

The President also deserves similar credit for a redirection of policy on Iran, but there also is a similar solipsistic, sanctions-happy attitude in Congress that applies to Iran. That attitude persists despite the substantial damage to the U .S. economy from those sanctions, the years of a sanctions-centered approach having failed to achieve any positive results until there was also engagement and negotiation, and the self-contradictory nature of the stated purposes for keeping those sanctions in place.

The obsessive persistence of this attitude (besides, to be sure, the malign influence of other factors, such as an oppose-anything-Obama-does mindset) is demonstrated by Republican presidential candidates, including the just-declared Marco Rubio, saying that they would, if elected president, re-impose whatever sanctions had been suspended or lifted in accordance with any agreement on the Iranian nuclear program.

The biggest question about such a pledge is why, if Iran had by that time complied for three years with severe restrictions on its program, any U.S. president would want to demolish all those restrictions on the Iranian program (because that’s what deal-killing sanctions would do) and allow the Iranians to expand their nuclear activities as fast as they wanted.

The further question about the sanctions themselves is how they could be expected to have any effect at all when the United States would be clearly responsible for killing the deal and when the rest of the world, operating under a new United Nations resolution, would have moved on toward doing normal business with Iran.

The rest of the world includes our closest European allies, as Britain and France, among others, would help to write another chapter in America’s unflattering history of ill-advised economic warfare. The United States would be left as lonely and feckless as it has been with the embargo against Cuba.

If even Thomas Jefferson screwed up on this subject, perhaps it’s too much to expect today’s politicians to do much better, although they do have a lot more national experience to go on. And Jefferson realized his mistake and corrected it much more quickly than what we’ve seen happening in Congress on Cuba and Iran.

Oh, and there’s that issue about the danger of war. Given the way the Iranian nuclear issue has been playing out, the risk of a war occurring in the wake of a destruction by the United States of the negotiated agreement on the subject is probably even greater than the risk that impressment of seamen and other maritime issues posed leading up to war in 1812.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Russia Impinges on Israeli ‘Right’ to Bomb Iran

Exclusive: American neocons are in a lather over Russia’s decision to go ahead with the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. The apparent outrage is that Iran thinks it has a right to protect its citizens from Israel’s right to launch airstrikes into Iran’s territory, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern

The front page of the neocon flagship Washington Post on Tuesday warned that the Russians have decided, despite U.S. objections, “to send an advanced air-defense system to Iran … potentially altering the strategic balance in the Middle East.”

So, at least, says the lede of an article entitled “Putin lifts 5-year hold on missile sale to Iran” by Karoun Demirjian, whose editors apparently took it upon themselves to sex up the first paragraph, which was not at all supported by the rest of her story which was factual and fair balanced, even.

Not only did Demirjian include much of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s explanation of Moscow’s decision to end its self-imposed restriction on the delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, but she mentioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s umpteenth warning on Monday about “the prospect of airstrikes to destroy or hinder Tehran’s nuclear program.”

Lavrov noted that United Nations resolutions “did not impose any restrictions on providing air defense weapons to Iran” and described the “separate Russian free-will embargo” as “irrelevant” in the light of the “meaningful progress” achieved by the negotiated framework deal of April 2 in which Iran accepted unprecedented constraints on its nuclear program to show that it was intended for peaceful purposes only.

The Russian Foreign Minister emphasized that the S-300 is a “completely defensive weapon [that] will not endanger the security of any state in the region, certainly including Israel.” Pointing to “the extremely tense situation in the region around Iran, he said modern air-defense systems are vitally important for that country.” Lavrov added that by freezing the S-300 contract for five years, Russia also had lost a lot of money. (The deal is said to be worth $800 million.)

Predictably, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told Fox News that the air-defense system would be a “game-changer” for Israel regarding air strikes. According to Bolton, once the system is in place, only stealth bombers would be able to penetrate Iranian space, and only the U.S. has those and was not likely to use them.

The U.S. media also highlighted comments by popular go-to retired Air Force three-star General David A. Deptula, who served as Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance until he retired in 2010 to make some real money. Deptula called delivering the S-300 system to Iran “significant, as it complicates the calculus for planning any military action involving air strikes.”

It strikes me as a bit strange that the media likes to feature retired generals like Deptula, whose reputation for integrity are not the best. Deptula has been temporarily barred from doing business with the government after what Air Force Deputy General Counsel Randy Grandon described as “particularly egregious” breaches of post-employment rules. He remains, however, a media favorite.

Adding to his woes, Deptula was also caught with 125 classified documents on his personal laptop including 10 labeled “Secret,” 14 labeled “Top Secret” and one with the high protection of “Secret, Compartmented Information.” Deptula pleaded ignorance and was let off further proof that different standards apply to generals like Deptula and David Petraeus.

A More Subdued Tone

The S-300 announcement hit as Secretary of State John Kerry was testifying on Capitol Hill about the framework deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Speaking later to Fox News, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, professed shock that Kerry did not seem more upset. According to Kinzinger, Kerry actually said, “You have to understand Iran’s perspective.”

And in keeping with Kerry’s tone of sang-froid, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, referring to the S-300 deal, said, “We see this as separate from the negotiations [regarding Iran’s nuclear program], and we don’t think this will have an impact on our unity.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest took the S-300 announcement with his customary, studied earnestness. Referring not only to the decision to deliver the S-300s but also to reports of a $20 billion barter deal that would involve Russia buying 500,000 barrels of oil a day in return for Russian grain, equipment and construction materials, Earnest referred to “potential sanctions concerns” and said the U.S. would “evaluate these two proposals moving forward,” adding that the U.S. has been in direct touch with Russia to make sure the Russians understand and they do the potential concerns that we have.”

With respect to the various sanctions against Iran, I believe this nonchalant tone can be seen largely as whistling in the dark. With the S-300 and the barter deals, Russia is putting a huge dent in the sanctions regimes. From now on, money is likely to call the shots, as competitors vie for various slices of the Iranian and the Russian pie. Whether or not there is a final agreement by the end of June on the Iranian nuclear issue, Washington is not likely to be able to hold the line on sanctions and will become even more isolated if it persists in trying.

Worse still for the neocons and others who favor using sanctions to punish Russia over Ukraine, the lifting of sanctions against Iran may have a cascading effect. If, for example, the Ukrainian ceasefire holds more or less over the next months, it is possible that the $1.5 billion sale of two French-built Mistral-Class helicopter carrier ships to Russia, concluded four years ago, will go through.

The contract does not expire for two months and Russia’s state arms exporter is trying to work out a compromise before taking France to court. Russian officials are expressing hope that a compromise can be reached within the time left.

And, regarding the outrage among neocons over the audacious idea that Iran should be allowed to defend itself against airstrikes, there is the “exceptional” argument that Israel, United States and their allies should have the unchallenged right to bomb Iran or any other country as they see fit and that the targeted country should have no right to protect its people, indeed that trying to defend itself is some kind of unacceptable provocation.

There is also the hypocrisy regarding how the neocons like to differentiate between “defensive” and “offensive” weapons when the question is about giving U.S.-backed governments weapons that have dual purposes, that can be used offensively as well as defensively.

For instance, in regard to Ukraine earlier this year, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland counseled U.S. officials to portray the delivery of sophisticated U.S. military hardware to the coup regime in Kiev as “defensive,” even though the weapons had an offensive capacity, such as targeting ethnic Russian rebels firing artillery or mortars at Ukrainian troops attacking eastern Ukraine.

According to the German newspaper, Bild, which published an intercepted conversation between Nuland and U.S. officials in Munich, Germany, she said, “I’d strongly urge you to use the phrase ‘defensive systems’ that we would deliver to oppose Putin’s ‘offensive systems.’”

However, NATO Commander and Air Force General Philip Breedlove left little doubt that these “defensive” weapons would help the Ukrainian government pursue its military objectives by enabling more effective concentration of fire. “Russian artillery is by far what kills most Ukrainian soldiers, so a system is needed that can localize the source of fire and repress it,” Breedlove reportedly said.

So, when “defensive” weapons help a U.S.-backed regime kill its opponents, that’s fine. However, if some truly defensive weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles to protect a country’s cities, go to a nation that Israel might want to bomb, then that is unacceptable.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his earlier, 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he led the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief.  He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




Saudis Pour Oil on the Mideast Fire

Saudi Arabia, now in alliance with Israel and with tacit U.S. approval, is dragging the Middle East into a nightmare of sectarian conflict, pitting its own warplanes and Sunni terrorists against Shiites, Christians and other minorities as part of a misguided competition with Iran, as Anthony F. Shaker describes.

Anthony F. Shaker

While denouncing Iran and its supposed Yemeni “Shi’a” allies in a recent speech, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Saud ibn Nayyef bin Abdel Aziz, put his country’s Shi’a community, fellow citizens, squarely in his sights.

“While our country is going through what it is going through and standing together as one bloc,” he ranted, “we find the descendants of the Safavid Abdullah ibn Saba who try to divide that bloc.”

“Abdullah ibn Saba” refers to a Seventh-Century Jewish convert to Islam whose existence is uncertain but who has become a useful myth. True to every other brand of Salafist takfiris, Wahhabi clerics and Saudi government officials alike insist that a Jew “founded” Shi’ism and that his purpose was to destroy Islam from within.

Happily for them this unsavory and, to historians, comically false claim connects “Iran” and “Shi’ism” to the “Jews.”

Yet, there is nothing out of the ordinary in the governor’s diatribe. The United States’ second most important ally in the Middle East fully intends to play its sectarian card to the hilt. The signs are everywhere.

Saudi Arabia has for decades been operating international youth organizations and “Islamic centers” dedicated to the spread of the Wahhabi ideology in Great Britain, North and South America, Asia, and Africa. These organizations have created the “religious” environment that is enticing so many young people to join jihadi causes in Syria, Iraq and other countries.

Thanks to their pervasive influence, the Saudi government has been able to take on the role of defending “Sunni” Islam. But there is a reason why it has taken decades for such patronizing revisionism of Islam to gain traction among Sunni Muslims.

The Saudis’ official religion, Wahhabism, was founded by an itinerant heretic named Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. Before he died in 1792, he managed to make alliance with violent tribesmen of the al-Saud tribe in the remote Najd desert. At the behest of the Ottomans, though, Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali promptly crushed the movement in a military campaign that lasted seven years starting in 1811.

British Interference

It was only thanks to the British-orchestrated insurrection against the Ottomans around World War I that the House of Saud re-entered history big time. It is hardly a coincidence that wartime marked also the precise point in time when terrorism became an element in the Middle East equation.

With the situation in Palestine approaching a point of no return, the British government wanted quickly to install al-Saud as the new custodians of the two sacred cities, Mecca and Medina, based on a view modeled explicitly on the Vatican State. It mattered little that such an institution would be utterly alien to Muslims.

The British ended up placing Saudi princelings in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, for good measure. This was how the House of Saud was able to extend its influence in many directions, laying the foundation for a new ethnicity in the form of “Arabism,” given the weakness of its Islamic credentials.

It is often forgotten that Wahhabism permeated even the secular debate in the Arabic-speaking world, especially in Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s. Many movements around the world began to pattern themselves on Mussollini’s fascist phalanges. The Muslim Brotherhood is only the most prominent. They benefited from both the latter’s organizational strengths and the illusion of a homegrown, Wahhabi-inspired religiosity.

“Arabism” and “pan-Arabism” of course, are the other card that Saudi Arabia has recently been playing at the League of Arab States to keep other “Arabs” in line in times of crisis, specifically, against Iran. Never mind that before World War I the word “Arab” used to carry a distinctly pejorative meaning. The truth is that the Wahhabi Saudis have been playing both cards since World War II for purposes that have nothing to do with either religion or the welfare of the Arabic-speaking world.

While their brazen anti-Shi’sm has taken alarming proportions since war broke out in Syria, the politics of “religious purity” is looking more like a flimsy cover, designed less to accommodate their designs on the region than to hide a deep-seated panic.

With Saudi Arabia’s frontal assault on the sovereign state of Yemen, its armed forces and its fragile ethnic mosaic, Saudi King Salman thought he had executed a master stroke by extending the sectarian virus to yet another country, with no consequences except for Iran. Backed by his trillion-dollar paper economy, King Salman continues to point accusingly at Iran for supposedly arming the Houthi-led Ansarullah party and for wanting to “dominate” neighboring states.

Unfortunately for the aging Saudi monarch, it takes two to tango. Iran for obvious strategic reasons would never think of playing a similar card even if it wanted to. Why should it? It has lots of “Sunni” friends.

The most that the Saudis can boast, on the other hand, are surreptitious links with a cult-like organization of Iranian exiles called the Mujahidin-e Khalq, with its well-documented history of mass murder and a longstanding association with the Israeli Mossad. This underlying imbalance of forces aggravates the Saudi hysteria over Iran’s “overreach” in Yemen, even though the Zaydis there are doctrinally closer to the four branches of so-called Sunni Islam than to Twelver Shi’a.

In the real world, a Saudi miscalculation in Yemen, triggered by the Americans’ defensively reactive approval of the air strikes, would risk incalculable and largely self-inflicted damage to Western interests. Instead of toning down this Saudi sectarianism, though, King Salman is ratcheting it up on the home front too, as he tries to repress the Shi’a community in the oil-producing eastern province.

“If you look at any local media here as well as in the mosques, it is all full of sectarianism. Everybody is talking about Shiite and Sunni, saying the Shiites endanger the safety of the Sunnis,” Middle East Eye reported one eastern resident of Qatif as saying.

A Tight Corner

The Saudis have now maneuvered themselves into a tight corner. Not even Saudi-dependent Pakistan will come to their aid; and Egypt is “there but not there.” If the Saudi king fails to “destroy” the Houthi-led Ansarullah party, a goal he has repeatedly declared, together with the bulk of the Yemeni army, he could never regain his country’s pride of place under the American wing, alongside Israel. In his tunnel vision, that would only leave Iran unshackled and free to “reign” wherever it pleases.

So far, Saudi Arabia has been relying on secret international networks that the Saudis helped create but which are associated with al-Qaeda, foremost, but also the Syrian Ahrar al-Sham (of the Islamic Front), Nusra Front and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). The object is to destabilize or pile pressure on any wayward state.

These organizations may be the Saudis’ only remaining true allies in the region but they have almost unlimited manpower. Their members are drawn from more than a hundred nations, the largest European contingency of which has been consistently French. Every few months a new army is raised from the tens of thousands of rootless indoctrinated “Muslims” rushing to visit unspeakable violence upon fellow Muslims and minorities.

There is now solid evidence that Saudi Arabia, together with Turkey, is facilitating this flow of jihadist manpower.

Just before Saudi Arabia’s bombardment of Yemen, terrorist organizations received a second wind in Syria from the thousands of specially trained fighters that had slipped inside the country. They seized a key town near the Jordanian border in the south and the provincial capital of Idlib near Turkey in the north. Saudi officials have made no secret that they were involved and that a new management has taken over, a clear rebuff to American reticence.

Israel is very happy. It has been trying for months to provide cover and logistics to allow those same terrorists to hold on to the Golan permanently, where it has no intention of ceding annexed Syrian territory, peace treaty or no peace.

Foreign-sponsored Wahhabis have proved their mettle fomenting violent sectarian hatreds where none existed before in the history of Islamic civlization. But their real talent is state demolition, under the cover of religious ideology. Nothing more. They have the means to impose their ramshackled set of “Shari’a” laws, the legal origins of which no one can quite make out.

These are not your run-of-the-mill Che Guevera idealists, liberationist “Vietcong” or even the diabolical Khmer Rouges. Nor are they “traditionalists” by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, theirs is the same vicious ideology that is broadcast daily and prayer-like across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Slowly Awakening

Western politicians and media are only now awakening to Saudi Arabia’s sickly obsession, since the 1980s, with cleansing Islam of its Shi’a Muslim populations. Although this is integral to Saudi foreign policy, there is an interesting element of skullduggery to the whole affair.

The Saudis have been playing the anti-Shi’a card in secret league with the “Jewish State,” as Middle East specialists today can vouch. It was in “secret” only because nearly every Middle Easterner regards Israel as little more than a foreign colony.

Anti-Shi’ism provides the Saudis with a temporary respite. After Iran’s revolution, the Saudis rose to the occasion and helped bankroll Iraq’s Saddam Hussein when his war against Iran began to falter. Besides trying to drown Iran in blood, and despite Iran’s untold military and civilian casualties and thousands of victims of chemical weapons from the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, the Saudis figure that a nice Sunni-Shi’a conflict may now pay better dividends.

It might even induce Israel to make a few minor concessions to the weak Palestinians and settle the whole “irritating” problem of Palestine. Miscalculating, the Saudis remain dogged in their “secret” alliance with Israel.

But the European Union too had been making its calculations, given the dimming prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace after several initiatives by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama turned into foreign-policy fiascos. With Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ongoing feud with Obama, the West seems to have no idea how to deal with Israel’s unending subjugation of the Palestinians.

But it is the United States that faces the starkest of choices. One is to support the Saudi-Israeli rampage across the Middle East and risk the region’s social and political collapse as well as a final military conflagration. Or, beat a hasty retreat and let the people of Iran find their natural, rightful place in a part of the world they have inhabited continuously for at least 5,000 years, before the Western colonialism and its aftermath blew everything apart.

Sadly, the Western plan on paper has been, yesterday as it is today, to carve the Middle East up into ethno-religious enclaves. The only conceivable reasoning for this is the forlorn hope that that it will somehow confer at least short-term “legitimacy” on the idea of a “Jewish State,” as Israel leaders stridently demand.

King Salman needs the Sunni-Shia conflict more than ever, too, just to perpetuate the waning rule of his dynasty and the aberrant social conditions of his subjects. Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism has rotted away society to the core, just as it has everywhere else it has taken root.

Dr. In’am al-Rabu’i, the president of children’s studies at the Armed Forces Hospital in Jeddah, warns that the country suffers from widespread sexual ailments. This has been known for some time. But a recent study has shown that a whopping 23 percent of all Saudi children have been raped at least once, mostly within families.

This is a country whose vitality has been sapped, yet it sits atop an ocean of oil. That the world economy depends on this oil should not give terrorism carte blanche.

One is hard-pressed to see how the West could be allies at all with a government which couldn’t be bothered to hide its terrorist connections anymore. It is patently wrong to ascribe the Saudi present animosities toward Iran to “ancient religious disputes,” much less throw the blame equally on all parties and lay back to watch the fireworks.

Anthony F. Shaker, PhD is a Middle East specialist and a visiting scholar at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. He has authored numerous articles on strategic affairs, as well as academic books and papers on the history of Islam.




Neocon ‘Chaos Promotion’ in the Mideast

Exclusive: After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, America’s neocons thought no country could stand up to the high-tech U.S. military, and they realized the Soviet Union was no longer around to limit U.S. actions. So, the “regime change” strategy was born and many have died, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Former Washington insider and four-star General Wesley Clark spilled the beans several years ago on how Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative co-conspirators implemented their sweeping plan to destabilize key Middle Eastern countries once it became clear that post-Soviet Russia “won’t stop us.”

As I recently reviewed a YouTube eight-minute clip of General Clark’s October 2007 speech, what leaped out at me was that the neocons had been enabled by their assessment that after the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia had become neutralized and posed no deterrent to U.S. military action in the Middle East.

While Clark’s public exposé largely escaped attention in the neocon-friendly “mainstream media” (surprise, surprise!), he recounted being told by a senior general at the Pentagon shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 about the Donald Rumsfeld/Paul Wolfowitz-led plan for “regime change” in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.

This was startling enough, I grant you, since officially the United States presents itself as a nation that respects international law, frowns upon other powerful nations overthrowing the governments of weaker states, and in the aftermath of World War II condemned past aggressions by Nazi Germany and decried Soviet “subversion” of pro-U.S. nations.

But what caught my eye this time was the significance of Clark’s depiction of Wolfowitz in 1992 gloating over what he judged to be a major lesson learned from the Desert Storm attack on Iraq in 1991; namely, “the Soviets won’t stop us.”

That remark directly addresses a question that has troubled me since March 2003 when George W. Bush attacked Iraq. Would the neocons widely known as “the crazies” at least among the remaining sane people of Washington have been crazy enough to opt for war to re-arrange the Middle East if the Soviet Union had not fallen apart in 1991?

The question is not an idle one. Despite the debacle in Iraq and elsewhere, the neocon “crazies” still exercise huge influence in Establishment Washington. Thus, the question now becomes whether, with Russia far more stable and much stronger, the “crazies” are prepared to risk military escalation with Russia over Ukraine, what retired U.S. diplomat William R. Polk deemed a potentially dangerous nuclear confrontation, a “Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse.”

Putin’s Comment

The geopolitical vacuum that enabled the neocons to try out their “regime change” scheme in the Middle East may have been what Russian President Vladimir Putin was referring to in his state-of-the-nation address on April 25, 2005, when he called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [past] century.” Putin’s comment has been a favorite meme of those who seek to demonize Putin by portraying him as lusting to re-establish a powerful USSR through aggression in Europe.

But, commenting two years after the Iraq invasion, Putin seemed correct at least in how the neocons exploited the absence of the Russian counterweight to over-extend American power in ways that were harmful to the world, devastating to the people at the receiving end of the neocon interventions, and even detrimental to the United States.

If one takes a step back and attempts an unbiased look at the spread of violence in the Middle East over the past quarter-century, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Putin’s comment was on the mark. With Russia a much-weakened military power in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was nothing to deter U.S. policymakers from the kind of adventurism at Russia’s soft underbelly that, in earlier years, would have carried considerable risk of armed U.S.-USSR confrontation.

I lived in the USSR during the 1970s and would not wish that kind of restrictive regime on anyone. Until it fell apart, though, it was militarily strong enough to deter Wolfowitz-style adventurism. And I will say that for the millions of people now dead, injured or displaced by U.S. military action in the Middle East over the past dozen years the collapse of the Soviet Union as a deterrent to U.S. war-making was not only a “geopolitical catastrophe” but an unmitigated disaster.

Visiting Wolfowitz

In his 2007 speech, General Clark related how in early 1991 he dropped in on Paul Wolfowitz, then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (and later, from 2001 to 2005, Deputy Secretary of Defense). It was just after a major Shia uprising in Iraq in March 1991. President George H.W. Bush’s administration had provoked it, but then did nothing to rescue the Shia from brutal retaliation by Saddam Hussein, who had just survived his Persian Gulf defeat.

According to Clark, Wolfowitz said: “We should have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein. The truth is, one thing we did learn is that we can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won’t stop us. We’ve got about five or 10 years to clean up those old Soviet client regimes Syria, Iran (sic), Iraq before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us.”

It’s now been more than 10 years, of course. But do not be deceived into thinking Wolfowitz and his neocon colleagues believe they have failed in any major way. The unrest they initiated keeps mounting in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Lebanon not to mention fresh violence now in full swing in Yemen and the crisis in Ukraine. Yet, the Teflon coating painted on the neocons continues to cover and protect them in the “mainstream media.”

True, one neocon disappointment is Iran. It is more stable and less isolated than before; it is playing a sophisticated role in Iraq; and it is on the verge of concluding a major nuclear agreement with the West barring the throwing of a neocon/Israeli monkey wrench into the works to thwart it, as has been done in the past.

An earlier setback for the neocons came at the end of August 2013 when President Barack Obama decided not to let himself be mouse-trapped by the neocons into ordering U.S. forces to attack Syria. Wolfowitz et al. were on the threshold of having the U.S. formally join the war against Bashar al-Assad’s government of Syria when there was the proverbial slip between cup and lip. With the aid of the neocons’ new devil-incarnate Vladimir Putin, Obama faced them down and avoided war.

A week after it became clear that the neocons were not going to get their war in Syria, I found myself at the main CNN studio in Washington together with Paul Wolfowitz and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, another important neocon. As I reported in “How War on Syria Lost Its Way,” the scene was surreal funereal, even, with both Wolfowitz and Lieberman very much down-in-the-mouth, behaving as though they had just watched their favorite team lose the Super Bowl.

Israeli/Neocon Preferences

But the neocons are nothing if not resilient. Despite their grotesque disasters, like the Iraq War, and their disappointments, like not getting their war on Syria, they neither learn lessons nor change goals. They just readjust their aim, shooting now at Putin over Ukraine as a way to clear the path again for “regime change” in Syria and Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Neocons Seek to Destabilize Russia.”]

The neocons also can take some solace from their “success” at enflaming the Middle East with Shia and Sunni now at each other’s throats — a bad thing for many people of the world and certainly for the many innocent victims in the region, but not so bad for the neocons. After all, it is the view of Israeli leaders and their neocon bedfellows (and women) that the internecine wars among Muslims provide at least some short-term advantages for Israel as it consolidates control over the Palestinian West Bank.

In a Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity memorandum for President Obama on Sept. 6, 2013, we called attention to an uncommonly candid report about Israeli/neocon motivation, written by none other than the Israel-friendly New York Times Bureau Chief in Jerusalem Jodi Rudoren on Sept. 2, 2013, just two days after Obama took advantage of Putin’s success in persuading the Syrians to allow their chemical weapons to be destroyed and called off the planned attack on Syria, causing consternation among neocons in Washington.

Rudoren can perhaps be excused for her naive lack of “political correctness.” She had been barely a year on the job, had very little prior experience with reporting on the Middle East, and in the excitement about the almost-attack on Syria she apparently forgot the strictures normally imposed on the Times’ reporting from Jerusalem. In any case, Israel’s priorities became crystal clear in what Rudoren wrote.

In her article, entitled “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria,” Rudoren noted that the Israelis were arguing, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria’s (then) 2 ½-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, was no outcome:

“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.

“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win, we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”

Clear enough? If this is the way Israel’s leaders continue to regard the situation in Syria, then they look on deeper U.S. involvement overt or covert as likely to ensure that there is no early resolution of the conflict there. The longer Sunni and Shia are killing each other, not only in Syria but also across the region as a whole, the safer Tel Aviv’s leaders calculate Israel is.

Favoring Jihadis

But Israeli leaders have also made clear that if one side must win, they would prefer the Sunni side, despite its bloody extremists from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In September 2013, shortly after Rudoren’s article, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

In June 2014, Oren then speaking as a former ambassador said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

Netanyahu sounded a similar theme in his March 3, 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress in which he trivialized the threat from the Islamic State with its “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” when compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.

That Syria’s main ally is Iran with which it has a mutual defense treaty plays a role in Israeli calculations. Accordingly, while some Western leaders would like to achieve a realistic if imperfect settlement of the Syrian civil war, others who enjoy considerable influence in Washington would just as soon see the Assad government and the entire region bleed out.

As cynical and cruel as this strategy is, it isn’t all that hard to understand. Yet, it seems to be one of those complicated, politically charged situations well above the pay-grade of the sophomores advising President Obama who, sad to say, are no match for the neocons in the Washington Establishment. Not to mention the Netanyahu-mesmerized Congress.

Corker Uncorked

Speaking of Congress, a year after Rudoren’s report, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, divulged some details about the military attack that had been planned against Syria, while lamenting that it was canceled.

In doing so, Corker called Obama’s abrupt change on Aug. 31, 2013, in opting for negotiations over open war on Syria, “the worst moment in U.S. foreign policy since I’ve been here.” Following the neocon script, Corker blasted the deal (since fully implemented) with Putin and the Syrians to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.

Corker complained, “In essence I’m sorry to be slightly rhetorical we jumped into Putin’s lap.” A big No-No, of course especially in Congress to “jump into Putin’s lap” even though Obama was able to achieve the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons without the United States jumping into another Middle East war.

It would have been nice, of course, if General Clark had thought to share his inside-Pentagon information earlier with the rest of us. In no way should he be seen as a whistleblower.

At the time of his September 2007 speech, he was deep into his quixotic attempt to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. In other words, Clark broke the omerta code of silence observed by virtually all U.S. generals, even post-retirement, merely to put some distance between himself and the debacle in Iraq and win some favor among anti-war Democrats. It didn’t work, so he endorsed Hillary Clinton; that didn’t work, so he endorsed Barack Obama.

Wolfowitz, typically, has landed on his feet. He is now presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s foreign policy/defense adviser, no doubt outlining his preferred approach to the Middle East chessboard to his new boss. Does anyone know the plural of “bedlam?”

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served for a total of 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and CIA analyst and is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




How Washington Adds to Yemen’s Nightmare

Exclusive: Tangled in corrupt old alliances, such as with the Saudi monarchy, the Obama administration has now joined a war in Yemen that pits some of the region’s most anti-democratic forces and Al-Qaeda against a home-grown rebel movement with limited backing from Iran, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

“So often, when we insert ourselves in ways that go beyond persuasion, it’s counterproductive, it backfires,” President Barack Obama told a recent news conference held at the Summit of the Americas. It’s a powerful insight he would do well to remember when he next takes stock of America’s latest intervention in Yemen.

Joining a growing list of U.S. foreign policy failures in the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria and Libya, Yemen is fast becoming a humanitarian disaster. Its indigenous conflict, cruelly fueled by Washington and Saudi Arabia, has killed hundreds of people, wounded more than 2,000, and displaced more than a quarter million people, according to the United Nations. All this at a time when 16 million of its desperately poor inhabitants are critically short of food, water and fuel.

map-yemen

Good luck trying to find any good guys among the various warring factions in Yemen; you certainly won’t find a single good actor among any of the intervening foreign powers.

On the one hand, you have the Houthi rebels, named after the former religious leader of a minority Shiite sect known as the Zaydis. Earlier this year they overran most of the country after years of resisting oppressive central government rule. Their key issues are political, not religious, including how to divide the country’s energy revenue between regions.

Backing the Houthi rebels, for now, are army units loyal to Washington’s previously favored strongman, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Saleh previously fought the Houthis but switched sides to undermine his successor as president.) The Houthis also enjoy support from the Tehran regime, which sees an opportunity to meddle in Saudi Arabia’s backyard.

Lined up against them is the Yemen branch of the Islamic State; Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies; the military junta in Egypt; and an indicted war criminal, the president of Sudan.

Oh yes, and the Obama administration, which once again is directly or indirectly allied with Islamist extremists and the region’s most anti-democratic forces. Following Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes, the New York Times reported, local al-Qaeda fighters seized control of the capital of Yemen’s “oil-rich Hadhramaut Province,” while “al-Qaeda’s strongest opponents, the Houthis and Yemen’s American-trained counterterrorism troops, have been busy fending off attacks from the Saudi military.”

As usual, the administration isn’t sending any “boots on the ground,” to avoid political backlash at home. But it is providing “logistical and intelligence support” for bombing runs by Saudi Arabia, including refueling operations and rescue missions to save Saudi pilots who ejected from their American-supplied F-15 fighter-bombers. Washington is also stepping up weapons deliveries to members of the Saudi-led coalition.

This naked aggression against a sovereign state has never been approved by the UN Security Council and stands in apparent violation of the United Nations charter. Congress has not approved this latest act of war either. “Right now (the operation) does not have any foundation in international law,” complained Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,not that anyone in the United States cared what he had to say.

American disregard for international law is so complete that hardly anyone cared what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had to say about the war in Yemen, either.

“The coalition air raids, and the continuing attempts by the Houthis and their allied armed groups to expand their power, have turned an internal political crisis into a violent conflict that risks deep and long-lasting regional repercussions,” he declared. “The last thing the region and our world need is more of the chaos and crimes we have seen in Libya and Syria.”

The Obama administration barely even bothered to justify its support for outside military intervention into Yemen’s civil war. Depending on whether you believe the National Security Council, the State Department or the White House press office, the administration is either seeking to “defend Saudi Arabia’s border,” to support “the legitimate president of Yemen,” or to promote negotiations among the warring parties.

In a typical example of unconscious doublespeak, Secretary of State John Kerry told an interviewer that Washington was “not going to stand by while the region is destabilized,” as if bombing will somehow stabilize Yemen.

What really motivates Washington was probably best explained by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, who said U.S. support “may give the Saudis some comfort that, even if we do reach an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be willing to confront Iran as it tries to expand its quite nefarious influence.”

Although the Houthis are an authentic home-grown force, and has important doctrinal differences with Iran, Saudi Arabia sees Iranian puppet masters behind every Shiite-led movement in the Middle East, just as Washington saw Soviet control behind every Third World rebellion during the Cold War.

Since Iran replaced Israel as Saudi Arabia’s chief bête noir, Riyadh has openly questioned whether the Obama administration can be trusted any longer as an ally and even threatened to downgrade its relations with Washington. Obama has sought to reassure the oil kingdom by approving $46 billion in new arms sales, and by insisting that his administration will resist the spread of Iran’s influence, by force if necessary, everywhere in the region.

Decades before Iran became an enemy, however, Saudi Arabia began intervening in its southern neighbor. Besides grabbing land, the Saudis poured vast sums of money into Yemen to promote its extreme brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. In 2009, it invaded northern Yemen to attack the Houthis, unsuccessfully.

Washington has also inserted itself in Yemen’s civil conflicts for decades. In 1962, the Kennedy administration and the Saudi monarchy backed a bloody tribal insurgency against a pro-Egyptian regime in what was then North Yemen (the “Yemen Arab Republic”). Joining them in this covert operation were Israel and Iran, then ruled by the Shah. And among the insurgents they supported were Yemeni followers of the Zaydi sect, who would later be known as the Houthis. Few Yemenis probably care to savor the ironies.

President Obama’s interventions in Yemen until recently could be summed up in one word: drones. He directed an infamous drone strike in December 2009, which killed 41 civilians, many of them women and children; later, Obama later prevailed on the president of Yemen to jail the Yemeni journalist who exposed that drone attack. Another drone strike in 2013 wiped out members of a wedding party. U.S. drone strikes have continued to kill innocent civilians into 2015.

Washington’s single-minded focus on counter-terrorism not only created new recruits for al-Qaeda but predictably helped set the stage for the latest crisis. As Brandeis University researcher Aaron Zelin warned in 2010:

“The politics are treacherous. Launching drone strikes could hinder efforts to solve the northern and southern conflict peacefully. . . . If the United States tried to target an AQAP operative in a Huthi stronghold in northern Yemen and accidentally killed individuals who sympathize with the Huthi cause, it would most likely break the fragile peace and lead to a resumption and major escalation of war between the Huthis and the Yemeni government.

“Further, in the past round of battle from August, 2009 to February, 2010, Saudi Arabia , which collects a large amount of American military aid , overtly entered the war. A small counterterrorism operation could quickly spiral into a regional war that has nothing to do with AQAP, but could further destabilize the security situation in Yemen and detract from the fight against AQAP.”

Zelin recommended that Washington shift its focus from military aid to leading an international donor initiative to reduce poverty, diversify Yemen’s economy and help the country’s swelling refugee population,as well as encouraging the country to peacefully resolve conflicts with the Houthis and other aggrieved groups.

Instead, as documented by Human Rights Watch, Yemen’s government repeatedly used U.S. military aid to support an all-out assault against the Houthis (“Operation Scorched Earth”), causing extensive civilian casualties. The latest round of conflict, leading to Houthi victories, began in September 2014, just after the White House declared that the success of America’s counterterrorism strategy in Yemen was a “model” for dealing with militants everywhere.

If Washington had instead listened to Zelin and other experts, the United States might today be helping to heal the country, reducing the appeal of Islamist extremists and rebel insurgents alike. Instead, we find ourselves supporting bombing runs by a Wahhabist regime against the enemies of al-Qaeda in Yemen, in the name of containing Iran. Is it any wonder that U.S. foreign policy is in such shambles?

Jonathan Marshall is an independent researcher living in San Anselmo, California. His last articles for Consortiumnews were “Unjust Aftermath: Post-Noriega Panama”; “The Earlier 9/11 Acts of Terror”; “America’s Earlier Embrace of Torture”; “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions; andNeocons Want Regime Change in Iran.