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Union: 70 percent of Gaza workers live in poverty

Thu, 1 Oct 2015 - 11:13pm

Ma’an News Agency | – –

GAZA (Ma’an) — Around 70 percent of workers in Gaza live in poverty, the director of the Gaza General Federation of Trade Unions, Sami al-Amsi, said on Thursday.

Al-Amsi, at a press conference, warned that Gaza would face a “catastrophe” that will effect the majority of the coastal enclave’s population if the government does not form a clear plan to ease their suffering.

Al-Amsi said the Gaza Strip is suffering from the “worst economic crisis in decades,” and called for the opening of border crossings, while stressing the importance of the reconstruction process, which would decrease unemployment by providing jobs to thousands.

He called on the Palestinian unity government to take responsibility for the Gaza Strip, noting that since its formation last year, temporary employment programs have been canceled and workers have only been provided “unfulfilled promises.”

In May, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported thatreconstruction since Israel’s 2014 Gaza offensive has been significantly lower than expected, while the World Bank reported that the strip was facing a “dangerous fiscal crisis.”

Over 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the offensive, which caused severe damage to housing and infrastructure.

Unemployment in Gaza increased in 2014 “to reach 44 percent — probably the highest in the world,” the World Bank reported.

“Gaza’s unemployment and poverty figures are very troubling and the economic outlook is worrying,” the World Bank quoted Palestinian territories director Steen Lau Jorgensen as saying in a statement.

The UN has repeatedly warned of further conflict in the area if the reconstruction process continues at such slow pace, emphasizing that Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is worsened by Israel’s continued blockade on the strip.

Israel severely limits the amount of building materials allowed into Gaza as part of its blockade, which is supported in the south by Egypt.

Critics of the blockade have called for it to be fully lifted to allow reconstruction, warning that an ongoing humanitarian crisis could fuel further conflict.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Ruptly from last month: State of Palestine: 13,000 UNRWA workers march through Gaza while on strike

Trump Supports Putin’s Russia Policy in Syria

Wed, 30 Sep 2015 - 11:42pm

Erin Burnett | (CNN news video) | – –

“Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with CNN’s Erin Burnett on foreign policy issues including Iran, Syria and ISIS.”

CNN: “Donald Trump: ‘Let Russia fight ISIS'”

Afghanistan: The Taliban reign of Fear in Kunduz belies Charm Offensive

Wed, 30 Sep 2015 - 11:34pm

By Frud Bezhan | ( RFE/ RL) | – –

An expected Afghan government counteroffensive to retake Kunduz from the Taliban appears to have largely stalled as troops await reinforcements.”

“The citizens of Kunduz should not worry about safeguarding their lives and properties. Carry out your ordinary livelihoods in absolute security. All traders, workers, staff of hospitals, municipality, and governing bodies should continue their daily routines without any fear or intimidation.”

So read a statement attributed to Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur on September 28, hours after the militant group seized control of the northern city of Kunduz in the biggest victory of its 14-year insurgency.

But while Taliban commanders have confirmed they have received orders to treat locals well, residents of the vanquished city say they are living in fear since the takeover.

They describe the destruction of shops, government buildings, and the offices of UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

One eyewitness to the scene in Kunduz, speaking to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, described the provincial capital as a “ghost town.”

Fear Reigns

“Nobody is going outside,” said the eyewitness. “A lot of shops remain closed. There is a lot of fear among the people here.”

The Taliban is infamous for enforcing a strict interpretation of Islamic law during its five-year rule from 1996-2001. And it appears to have wasted little time reimposing its will upon its return to control in Kunduz, despite its official claims otherwise.

The eyewitness added that the Taliban was conducting door-to-door searches for Afghan security personnel and government employees.
INFOGRAPHIC: Afghanistan’s New Northern Flash Points

“I’ve seen and heard of government staff being detained, beaten, and even killed,” said the witness, who spoke to RFE/RL after fleeing to the neighboring province of Takhar.

“They have ransacked shops and torched people’s homes,” the eyewitness added. “Everyone is trying to leave the city to escape the Taliban.”

Winning Hearts And Minds

The Taliban appears to be trying to use its first seizure of a major urban center in 14 years as a PR opportunity to demonstrate how much it has changed.

The group has been directed “to take care of the local community by winning their hearts and minds through good behavior and self-respect instead of bullets,” one Taliban commander told the AFP news agency.

Such an approach would contrast sharply with its history of carrying out brutal public executions and floggings, banning girls from going to school, and outlawing all forms of entertainment, including music and film.

Reports have emerged of Taliban insurgents issuing edicts against looting and the destruction of property, and visiting residents and business owners in an attempt to convince them to continue with their daily lives.

But the evident reality of retribution and violence has left many of those who could not escape hunkering down in their homes.

Concerns Over Executions, Abductions

The UN special representative in Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said on September 30 that he was concerned about reports “of extrajudicial executions, including of health-care workers, abductions, denial of medical care, and restrictions on movement out of the city.”

There have also been reports of militants forcing boys to fight with them.

An eyewitness in Kunduz said Taliban members have held public meetings with locals, urging them to “join the jihad,” or holy war. Men of all ages were encouraged, but not forced, to join the Taliban, the eyewitness said.

Amnesty International said the insurgents have exposed civilians to grave danger by hiding in residential neighborhoods.

In a televised speech on September 29, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban was using civilians as human shields, hampering the government’s counteroffensive to retake the city.

The spokesman for Afghanistan’s Public Health Ministry, Wahidullah Mayar, said on his official Twitter account on September 30 that 30 people have been killed in fighting since the Taliban takeover, and more than 200 injured. “Around 90 percent of them are civilians,” he tweeted.

The UN said the fighting has forced up to 6,000 civilians to flee the city. The Taliban has laid land mines and booby traps on major roads leading out of Kunduz, leaving many of the city’s 300,000 residents trapped.

The militants also set up checkpoints to ensure that no one leaves. Officials who made it to the airport on the outskirts of the city before roads were sealed were still seeking refuge there.

The roadblocks have prevented the delivery of food, medicines, and other supplies into the city.

No Food, Water, Electricity

Those who remain trapped in Kunduz city have reported woeful shortages of water and electricity, as many people remained indoors amid frequent gunfire.

“We are scared of leaving our homes, scared of being beaten by the Taliban,” said Sadiqa Sherza, head of Roshani Radio, a women-run station that militants burned down on September 28, the same day the Taliban captured the city.

Residents have complained that prices for basic food items have soared. Meanwhile, the price of fuel has risen threefold with Kunduz cut off from neighboring provinces.

“There is no longer any governance and the situation is only getting worse with the Taliban in control,” the eyewitness told RFE/RL.

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to


Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Afghan forces face tough task in retaking Kunduz from the Taliban ”

It is Israel that abrogated Oslo Peace Accords, as Netanyahu Boasted

Wed, 30 Sep 2015 - 11:24pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Mahmoud Abbas, president of Palestine, renounced the Oslo Peace accords Wednesday, on the grounds that Israel itself has long since reneged on every key provision in that agreement. Abbas said,

“Thus, we declare that as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, which render us an authority without real powers, and as long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities and to release of the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners in accordance with our agreements, they leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them. We, therefore, declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power, because the status quo cannot continue and the decisions of the Palestinian Central Council last March are specific and binding.”

Reuters: “Palestinians “cannot continue to be bound” by Oslo Accords: Abbas”

As one might expect, the American press reported in its headlines that Abbas was tearing up the accords (NYT), that he had hurt his reputation (Chicago Tribune), that it didn’t matter what he did (The Atlantic), that his complaints about the ethnic cleansing of and Apartheid imposed on Palestinians were unreasonable (The Atlantic), etc., etc. Most of these headlines and articles are frankly dishonest, and a form of pro-Israel propaganda.

In return for recognizing Israel and making peace, the Palestine Liberation Organization was promised by Israel in the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 that Israel would withdraw from the occupied West Bank in three phases, ending by 1999, that it would cease sending in Israeli colonists to steal Palestinian land, that it would release Palestinian political prisoners, that it would allow a corridor for Gaza-West Bank connections, and so forth.

The agreement implied that the newly created Palestine Authority (which Palestinians now prefer to call simply Palestine) would police Palestinians for Israel. That expectation is the only thing in the agreements to which Israel is still committed, and Abbas is threatening to stop serving Israel in this way.

The PLO web site lays out the main ways in which Israel has reneged on its treaty commitments:

“1. Israel Has Failed to End its Occupation

2. Israel Continues to Build and Expand Its Illegal Colonies

(“It doubled the number of settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There are now approximately 400,000 . . . Confiscated more than 60,000 acres of Palestinian land for colony construction and related by-pass roads, uprooted 220,000 trees and demolished 690 homes in the West Bank alone . . .”)

3. Israel Fails to Withdraw from Palestinian Territories (. . . The Palestinian Authority has only full jurisdiction over 17.2 percent of the West Bank.”)

4. Israel Fails to Release Political Prisoners

5. Israel Fails to Open the Northern Safe Passage Route between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and Closes the Southern Safe Passage Route

6. Israel Fails to Co-operate on Security Matters

7. Israel Uses Lethal Force

8. Israel Denies Palestinians Freedom of Movement

9. Israel Fails to Prosecute Israeli Settlers for Crimes Committed Against Palestinians”

Whose fault is all this. Unambiguously, it is that of the Israeli government. Entirely. It met none of its obligations.

Current Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, an extremist and supremacist, virulently opposed the accords at the time and has done everything he could to destroy them, because he wants to annex the West Bank to Israel and expel its millions of Palestinians or keep them in a chattel-like state of statelessness.

Netanyahu was caught on video boasting about how he had derailed the accords, already in 2001, and his tenure as prime minister has allowed him to finish the job.

“Netanyahu: I Deceived the US to Destroy Oslo Accords. English Subtitles”

When you destroy a peace treaty and derail a peace process, guess what you get instead?

Netanyahu made it clear he thinks Americans are suckers he can easily manipulate. He has on more than one occasion attempted to entangle us in wars for his benefit. When civil war breaks out in the West Bank, he expects us to bear the costs of it. Because we’re suckers.

The Colonial roots of Hating on Muslims, & of Muslim Nationalism

Wed, 30 Sep 2015 - 11:10pm

Sami Zubaida | (Open Democracy) | – –

The presence of growing Muslim populations in Europe at the same time as the rise of political Islam and the inception of Israel, was largely a legacy of twentieth century colonial history.

‘Islamophobia’ – fear, hostility or negative sentiments with regard to Islam and Muslims – comes in different forms and contexts. In this article, I identify two distinct paradigms: the racist and the secular-liberal, and implicit combinations of the two. The targets of ‘Islamophobia’ – Muslims – offer a range of public discourses and sentiments which interact with these paradigms. I shall attempt to sketch an ‘ideal type’ of what I call ‘Umma nationalism’, a discourse which enters into various sentiments and utterances of diverse actors in various situations, and in relation to pertinent contests. I will start with the historical background, which plays a part in shaping some Muslim attitudes and discourses about Islam and the ‘West’.

Muslims and Europe

The historical presence of Muslims in Europe was, for the most part, as rulers: first in Iberia and Sicily and later during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans and much of south-eastern Europe. The states in question were conceived in terms of religious confrontation: Islam versus Christianity. There were, in fact, many Christian and Jewish subjects of the Muslim states, who were formally protected as subordinate subjects on payment of additional taxes. In reality, their conditions and treatment varied over time and place, among different groups and classes, with instances of persecution as well as periods of calm. However, they were mostly better off than Jews and Muslims living in Christian Europe.

This history plays an important part in Muslim pride in past glories. In particular, a romanticised picture of al-Andalus, Muslim Spain, is held up as the apex of Muslim civilisation in Europe, far superior to its Christian neighbours.

At a later juncture, European colonial empires ruled over Muslim populations in Asia and Africa, notably India and the Maghreb, then the Mandates following World War One, in Iraq and the Arab Levant. Anti-colonial struggles were variously viewed in combinations of national and religious terms, as Arabs and Muslims versus imperial powers (which were conceived by some as Christian). The presence of many Christians and Jews in anti-colonial movements in some countries complicated the picture. The inception of Israel was the culmination of what is perceived as colonial rule, this time Jewish, which coincided later in the twentieth century with the rise of political Islam. The presence of growing Muslim populations in Europe at the same time was largely a legacy of this period of colonial history.

The nationalist and anti-colonial movements in the Middle East and North Africa in the middle decades of the twentieth century were, for the most part, articulated to leftist and Third Worldist ideologies, such as that of Nasirism and the Ba’th, and of Arab socialism. Religion played, for the most part, a subordinate role in the definition of identities and conflicts, though it may have been a more potent factor at a popular level. Islamic identity may have been more central to the politics of Pakistan, given the raison d’etre of its separation from India and continuing hostile attitudes to their more powerful neighbour. The collapse of Nasirism after the 1967 war with Israel and the evolution of the Ba’th in power into family dynasties in Iraq and Syria, as well as the weakening of the left, opened the field to ethnic and religious politics in the region.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 gave a powerful impetus to this sacralisation of politics. The Iran-Iraq war that followed added a sectarian dimension. With political Islam as a major ideological component in power and in opposition, religious definitions of identities of self and adversary became prevalent. The antagonists were not just capitalists/imperialists, but also Christians, Jews and Hindus. Geopolitics was conceived in terms of antagonistic religious communities, or of an atheist West against the true faith. In this perspective, the confrontation was also seen as cultural and civilisational, in continuity with a long history of conflict and rivalry. The occurrence of 9/11 and the following ‘war on terror’ amplified these sentiments and affiliations.

These definitions and sentiments were by no means universal to Muslims. There is, of course, a diversity of perceptions and affiliations among Muslims, including conservative piety, as well as degrees of secularity and liberal/cosmopolitan orientations, alongside a large measure of indifference. It may be useful to outline an ‘ideal type’ of what may be called ‘Umma nationalism’, to which various Muslims may subscribe to a greater or lesser degree, depending on their situation and the issue in question.

Umma nationalism

Umma identification resembles nationalism in that it draws on historical constructions of past glories and ascendancy, current grievances in relation to a historical adversary and programmes for revival and renewed ascendancy.

Common statements, such as the US is ‘killing Muslims’ – whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or Africa – is the product of the supposition of Umma unity in victimhood in opposition to the West. It ignores or sidelines the geopolitical, economic and strategic contexts in favour of the religious identity of victims. It ignores the close symbiosis of the US with many Muslims, states and groups. Crucially, it ignores the fact that most Muslim victims are killed by other Muslims.

On the civilisational front, there is an assertion of cultural and moral superiority over western civilisation, especially in its secular and libertarian forms. The Umma is conceived as a unity, confronting assaults from antagonists – the West, Israel and India. There is also an increasingly prominent sectarian dimension to this imagination of the Umma, which I shall not pursue here.

I repeat that I am not suggesting this notion in its consistent entirety to be generally held by the plurality of Muslims, but as a floating discourse, which feeds into various beliefs and declarations by different actors under various circumstances. It is held in its most consistent and vociferous forms by militant groups, Jihadis and Salafis, drawn upon in intellectual and cultural productions of history and current affairs. Common statements, such as the US is ‘killing Muslims’ – whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or Africa – is the product of the supposition of Umma unity in victimhood in opposition to the West. It ignores or sidelines the geopolitical, economic and strategic contexts in favour of the religious identity of victims. It ignores the close symbiosis of the US with many Muslims, states and groups. Crucially, it ignores the fact that most Muslim victims are killed by other Muslims.

To re-iterate: 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’ added greatly to the power and consistency of this narrative, to both Muslims and their antagonists. It is further amplified by the expansion and power of non-state Jihadi actors, from al-Qaida to ISIS, and their wide appeal in sentiment and affiliation to large numbers of Muslims all over the world, but, crucially, to those living in the west.

Most Muslims in the west and elsewhere may not subscribe to this nationalism in discourse or action, but adopt elements of it occasionally. Some in the west may reject it explicitly in favour of a view of common citizenship for Muslims in their countries of residence. There is, however, a trend for non-religious but communal Muslims to view politics and society in terms of the Muslim community and its struggle for recognition and rights, with some degree of subscription to the victimhood elements of the Umma paradigm. This group may be called ‘Muslimist’, as opposed to ‘Islamist’. This characterisation would apply to some middle class professionals, such as lawyers, journalists or academics, who are secular or cultural Muslims in their own lives, but identify with Muslim communities and are often active on issues affecting Muslim rights.


There are two contrasting paradigms within what is called Islamophobia in the west. The first is straightforward racism, which we see in rightist expressions depicting Muslims as dangerous immigrants. This is in keeping with the racism of previous decades, which was directed against Asian, African and Eastern European communities, which shifted from ‘Pakis’ to Muslims after the 1980s and the increasing assertion of Muslim rather than ethnic identities.

Muslim identification presented an enhanced target for racist attacks, enriched by demands and assertions in some Muslim quarters, regarding, for instance, the superiority and necessity of Shari’a law, the support for Jihadist violence and war, and religious claims for education and cultural production. While the political right directed its attacks against all ‘immigrants’ and immigration, it singled out Muslims as dangerous infiltrators threatening to swamp ‘our’ society and culture and introduce Shari’a law.

Liberal secularists, meanwhile, are far from being racist and are, in fact, historically anti-racist activists. They are generally not against the Muslim presence, but fear and oppose Muslim claims on public spaces and institutions and on cultural production, notably censorship through violence. This started with actions surrounding the publication of The Satanic Verses after 1989 and culminated with the Charlie Hebdo events, with many other episodes in between.

It is important to note that these fears have a historical dimension, not against Islam, but against authoritarian and violent religious controls in Europe and elsewhere. The liberties of the modern west, as liberal secularists see it, were achieved as a result of historical struggles and revolutions, in which the churches and religious authorities were prominent protagonists. Freedom of expression, women’s rights, sexual liberty, secular education, were all recent achievements in the history of modernity. It is important to note that these fears have a historical dimension, not against Islam, but against authoritarian and violent religious controls in Europe and elsewhere. The liberties of the modern west, as liberal secularists see it, were achieved as a result of historical struggles and revolutions, in which the churches and religious authorities were prominent protagonists.

The demands and incursions made from certain Muslim quarters, with a large degree of communal support, are seen as a threat to liberties so recently gained, which were the outcome of conflicts and struggles.

Some religious authorities, such as the Catholic church, continue to fight rearguard campaigns on some of these issues, notably abortion. Meanwhile, evangelical churches in the USA are vociferous in their denunciations. The historical achievements of social and sexual liberalism in much of the west remain in place for the time being. But many fear conservative backlash campaigns and Muslim advocates in these debates are perceived as a particular danger, especially when backed by the threat of violence.

These two paradigms may be consistently held by their key protagonists, racists versus liberals. Different combinations of them, however, not always coherent, appear in public space, the media and popular sentiment. One such combination is the occasional adoption of liberal rhetoric by racist protagonists. Another is the cultural essentialism of the ‘clash of civilizations’ variants, asserting that enlightenment, liberalism and democracy are uniquely western, in contrast to Islam and other ‘civilizations’. It is within this discourse that the Muslim presence in the west is presented as a threat to ‘our values’.

The global picture

The rise of the Islamic State and ‘caliphate’, and the spate of other Jihadist violence in Africa, Libya and Yemen, has sharpened and polarised sentiments and public discourses on all sides. The ISIS narrative is a clear and extreme statement of the Umma paradigm and it has found a favourable response among many Muslims, especially the young.

We should note, however, that current Muslim anti-Jewish manifestations are distinct from the old European antisemitism, the tropes of which they adopt. To the Europeans, Jews were neighbours and associates, persecuted for their alleged insidious maleficence. In the Muslim world, the Jews are not a presence, but an idea, part of a world politics shaped in accordance with universal religious communities – and Israel is the Jewish side.

Thousands of volunteers have joined from many parts of the world, including the well publicised young men and women from the west. The motives are complex, conditioned by feelings of alienation and hostility, of past glories and current victimhood, as well as a desire for excitement. The seeming success of ISIS in establishing an ascendant Muslim force against the West and other enemies has a great appeal in the Umma narrative. Do these active volunteers indicate more widespread, if passive, sentiments among other Muslims?

There are many speculations about the sentiments and motives for the support for ISIS by western Muslim youth. I favour the ‘anomie’ scenario, the contradictions between aspirations and reality. We should first note that it is not an issue of ‘integration’ into British/European society and culture, as trumpeted by politicians. By all accounts, those radical young men and women are culturally integrated, with reasonable scholastic achievement, involved in the typical youth cultures of football, fashion and even music. Yet, what is held up as the liberties, goals and rewards of liberal, capitalist society are out of reach for many, without the props of family, wealth and social capital.

This dilemma is not peculiar to Muslim youth and includes many others. However, the problem is heightened for Muslims by many factors. First, the incongruence between their family and community background and ‘mainstream’ society, and the confused identities and orientations that result. Second, and more important, is the hostility and suspicion emanating from various social, political and security quarters, which reinforce their sense of separate identity as Muslims and alienation from mainstream society. Islamist politics and identification presents a realm of moral certainty and ascendancy, as against the ambiguity of ‘normal’ life. It also promises, for jihadist volunteers, excitement, heroism and sex, away from the humdrum life of work, education and family.

On the other side anti-Muslim sentiments, pronouncements and actions have multiplied in the west as a result of events and high profile attacks, such as those in Paris and Brussels. These provided a boost for anti-Islam, rightist and racist groups, but also led to a general sense of revulsion and fear among many. Sensible voices on both sides try to provide a different perspective and exonerate Islam and Muslims in general from association with the violence. No doubt, they have had some success, but how much?

The ongoing conflict of Israel/Palestine is of particular pertinence to the issues raised here. In interpretations which assign identity to religious community and consider political allegiance accordingly, Israel is identified with Judaism. This identification, implicit or explicit, is pushed by both sides – Zionist and Islamic nationalist. Media and public discourses in the Islamic world have readily adopted the old European antisemitic tropes, notably The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Equally, essentialist and racist characterisations of Arabs and Muslims feature in some Zionist pronouncements, leading to mutual demonisation and denigration. Inevitably, these ideas and sentiments are present among Muslim populations in the west and feed into anti-Jewish manifestations, which are violent at the extremes. This, in turn, feeds into the anti-Muslim platforms of both the Zionists and the European extreme right. It is interesting to note that some old antisemites and their ideological descendants, especially in eastern Europe, are now supporting Israel because it is bashing Muslims.

We should note, however, that current Muslim anti-Jewish manifestations are distinct from the old European antisemitism, the tropes of which they adopt. To the Europeans, Jews were neighbours and associates, persecuted for their alleged insidious maleficence. In the Muslim world, the Jews are not a presence, but an idea, part of a world politics shaped in accordance with universal religious communities – and Israel is the Jewish side. Of course, sane and wise voices on both sides attempt to dispel these myths, but how successfully?

Via Open Democracy


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CAIRtv: “Video: Sister of Muslim Murdered in Chapel Hill Tells Doctors About Islamophobia”

Most Russians Oppose Sending Troops To Syria: Poll

Wed, 30 Sep 2015 - 12:30am

By Tom Balmforth | ( RFE/RL

MOSCOW — More than two-thirds of Russians oppose sending troops to Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s government, while a majority approve of Moscow’s use of diplomatic and political channels to help its embattled ally in the Middle East, according to a respected independent pollster.

At a time when the Kremlin has been ramping up its military presence in Syria, its largest deployment outside the former Soviet Union in decades, the poll by the Levada Center found that only 14 percent of Russians believe Russia should provide “direct military support” for the Syrian government by sending in troops.

The poll results were published on Moscow-based Levada’s website on September 28, the same day that President Vladimir Putin said in New York that sending ground troops into combat in Syria was “out of the question.”

Many Russians remain mindful of the losses suffered by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, where some 15,000 of its troops were killed during a war of occupation in 1979-89, and are wary of sending soldiers abroad. Putin denies Russia has sent troops to fight in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, despite what Kyiv and NATO say is overwhelming evidence.

The Levada poll said that 69 percent either firmly oppose or probably oppose deploying troops to help the Syrian leadership, while 67 percent back Russian “political and diplomatic support” for Assad’s government.

It said that 43 percent support providing Damascus with weapons and military consultation — as Moscow has been doing throughout a more than four-year conflict that has killed some 250,000 people — while 41 percent oppose it.

Different Visions

The raging civil war in Syria and the rise of the militant group Islamic State (IS) were key issues at the UN General Assembly on September 28, with Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama — who met for 90 minutes after their speeches at the General Assembly — laying out starkly different visions of the resolution of the crisis.

Obama called for a political transition to replace Assad, while Putin said Russia believes his government is crucial to the fight against IS militants and it would be an “enormous mistake” to refuse to cooperate with Damascus.

Putin said the Kremlin was open to joining an air campaign against IS.

The Levada poll found that 39 percent of Russians approve of the Kremlin’s policy on Syria, while 11 percent disapprove and one-third — 33 percent — said they had no interest in the issue.

Levada said that of those respondents who are aware of recent developments in Syria, 36 percent said their sympathies were with Assad’s government while 10 percent said they sympathized with the opposition and a plurality — 39 percent — said they favored neither side.


Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Pravda: “Russia won’t deploy troops in Syria – Putin”

The Final Collapse of Bush’s Nation-Building: Kunduz falls to Taliban

Wed, 30 Sep 2015 - 12:20am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Monday, the Taliban swept into the provincial capital of Kunduz, taking it in half a day from a large and well-equipped Afghan National Army force. Tuesday’s riposte had only mixed success, with the ANA saying it had taken back the (no-empty) prison. An attempt to take back the airport failed, and when the Taliban captured an ANA tank, the US Air Force had to intervene to take it out lest it be used to drive an ANA rout.

Those who want the US to go into Syria in a big way should just consider what the Kunduz events mean. Fourteen years after the US went into Afghanistan, it still has not been able to stand up a successful army to which it could hope to turn the country over. How many orphans do the hawks want to adopt?

During the Athens summer Olympics of 2004, the Bush administration ran advertisements boasting that it had liberated 50 million people. It meant 25 million each in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people in the world, according to opinion polls, thought Bush had occupied 50 million people.

The administration described what it was doing as “nation-building.” There was some infrastructural spending. Many schools were apparently painted. Some restoration of electricity grids were undertaken, though both countries remain chronically short of electricity and local engineers and electricians could not keep up the American equipment. There was no big push to train administrators, found factories and hospitals, etc. of the sort that even a 19th state such as Meiji Japan undertook. A lot of contractors made billions and took it back to Fairfax county, Virginia.

One of the areas where a genuine attempt at nation-building was made was the rebuilding of the Iraqi and Afghan armed forces. A lot of training was offered and a lot of men were put on the payroll. A lot of weaponry was provided or sold. Some of the subcontractors doing the training weren’t very good. For two years, one of them did not train Afghan soldiers to use the sights on the M1 rifles. Sergeants were puzzled as to why their accuracy never improved.

In June of 2014, the US-built Iraqi army collapsed before a relatively small Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) assault on Mosul.

On Monday, the US-built Afghan National Army collapsed around the northern city of Kunduz before a Taliban assault.

Given the collapse in the first half of the 1970s of the US-built Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), I’d say the US is 0 for 3 in nation-building via army building.

After the Vietnam war it became apparent that a fair number of ARVN officers (by no means most) were not ultimately very loyal to the American-backed south, and some turned at key moments to the Communists as the true Vietnamese nationalists. This story points to a key problem in having an imperial power do “nation-building.” Nations are about nationalism, not about loyalty to foreign emperors. Under conditions of occupation or even of neo-imperial dominance, it is hard to create a national army. The American public is congenitally unable to see itself as an occupying power when it takes over other countries, and when the occupation is over tends to forget it ever happened. Locals are neither so myopic nor so forgetful.

Just imagine if two hundred years from now the US became weak and was occupied by another country. And those foreigners called for volunteers from Kentucky to join a new US Army to be formed and trained by the foreign country’s officers. Do you think patriotic people from Kentucky would happily join up? Or might they either go into guerrilla war against the foreign occupiers, or join the new “national” army and try to undermine it?

The issue of loyalty arises in Kunduz. It is the capital of the province with the same name. About a third of the population of that province is Pushtun, which is the ethnic base of the Taliban. But given a majority of Tajiks and other ethnicities up there loyal to the Kabul national unity government of President Ashraf Ghani, the government should have been able to hold the capital of this province.

The Taliban rushed into the city, burning down the police station, releasing prisoners from the main jail, and raiding government weapons depots. In other words, the US taxpayer has yet again unwillingly transferred billions of dollars worth of sophisticated weaponry to a group they deem terrorists.

The independent-minded newspaper “Hasht-i Sobh” said that the city of Konduz was well defended, with a sufficient armed force, and that its fall suggested treason on the part of some officials. That is, it is alleging that some of those people running Konduz were either secretly sympathetic to the Taliban or perhaps so afraid the fundamentalists would win in the end that they capitulated to get good terms from the conquerors.

The Afghan government, defensive about its failure (which I saw coming last summer) is blaming foreign powers and their agents (presumably Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence, which had long backed the Taliban).

Ruz-nameh-i Afghanistan (Afghanistan Daily), however, rejected this excuse, saying that a foreign intelligence agency could not have pulled off the takeover of a whole city like that, without Afghan agents on the inside.

So, no nation-building then. The US response to the return of the Taliban will likely be to insist on keeping 10,000 men in Afghanistan, virtually forever. But that move sets up the paradox that it makes Ashraf Ghani look like an American puppet, and encourages even more young Afghan men to join the Taliban.


Related video:

Wall Street Journal: “Taliban Seize Control of Afghan Stronghold, Kunduz”

Carly Fiorina Says Waterboarding Keeps America Safe

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 - 11:40pm

Elliot Hill and Mark Sovel | (TheLipTv) | – –

“Carly Fiorina has defended the use of CIA waterboarding by the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11, in an interview with Yahoo News. The Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO called the controversial interrogation method, which is equivalent to torture, an important strategy that was used only “when there was no other way to get information that was necessary”. We look at Fiorina’s statements on the Lip News with Elliot Hill and Mark Sovel.”

TheLipTv: ” Carly Fiorina Says Waterboarding Keeps America Safe”

UK: Israel has Attacked Gaza 696 Times Since Most Recent Ceasefire

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 - 11:17pm

By IMEMC News. | – –

The Gaza Strip was attacked at least 696 times on different occasions since the August 2014 ceasefire, said Tobias Ellwood, the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, according to the Middle East Monitor.

During a parliamentary session, Labour MP Alex Cunningham asked “how many times the Israeli military has opened fire into Gaza since August 2014; and what steps his Department is taking to prevent future such incidents?”

“We are aware of Israeli forces responding to illegal rocket fire from Gaza with 29 strikes since the 26 August 2014 Gaza ceasefire agreement.

“According to figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israeli forces have opened fire into the Gaza Access Restricted Areas on land and sea on at least 696 occasions since then,” Ellwood stated in response.

He added that British officials in Tel Aviv have raised their concerns over the Israel Defence Force’s use of live fire in Gaza with the Israeli Government.

“We are continuing to urge the parties to prioritise progress towards reaching a durable solution for Gaza,” Ellwood said.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

TeleSur: “Gaza Markets Empty Despite Holiday”

Americans are Powerful & Safe; So why do they feel Like Victims?

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 - 11:14pm

By Tom Engelhardt | ( | – –

Given the cluttered landscape of the last 14 years, can you even faintly remember the moment when the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended in a stunned silence of shock and triumph in Washington, Eastern Europe was freed, Germany unified, and the Soviet Union vanished from the face of the Earth? At that epochal moment, six centuries of imperial rivalries ended. Only one mighty power was left.

There hadn’t been a moment like it in historical memory: a single “hyperpower” with a military force beyond compare looming over a planet without rivals. Under the circumstances, what couldn’t Washington hope for? The eternal domination of the Middle East and all that oil? A planetary Pax Americana for generations to come? Why not? After all, not even the Romans and the British at the height of their empires had experienced a world quite like this one.

Now, leap a quarter of a century to the present and note the rising tide of paranoia in this country and the litany of predictions of doom and disaster. Consider the extremity of fear and gloom in the party of Ronald “It’s Morning Again in America” Reagan in what are called “debates” among its presidential candidates, and it’s hard not to imagine that we aren’t at the precipice of the decline and fall of just about everything. The American Century? So much sawdust on the floor of history.

If, however, you look at the country that its top politicians can now hardly mention without defensively wielding the words “exceptional” or “indispensable,” the truly exceptional thing is this: as a great power, the United States still stands alone on planet Earth and Americans can exhibit all the paranoia they want in remarkable safety and security.

Here, then, are three exceptional facts of our moment.

Exceptional Fact #1: Failure Is Success, or the U.S. Remains the Sole Superpower

Why Obama and Putin are Both Wrong on Syria

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 - 2:33am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama seemed awfully defensive in his speech at the United Nations on Monday. The reason is not far to seek. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has surprised Washington by volunteering to get militarily involved in Syria and by arguing that only by enlisting the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad can Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) be defeated.

Obama is defensive because a) his own plans for confronting Daesh have largely failed, and b) because Putin’s plans for doing so are concrete and involve trying to prop up dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Putin is arguing for a unified push against Daesh by a wide range of countries, and for allying in this effort with the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. He says only such a unified response has a hope of prevailing. He points to Libya as an example of the chaos that occurs in the wake of Washington’s insistence on going around overthrowing governments.

So ironically the Russian Federation and its ex-Communist president is taking a conservative position here, of trying to prop up the status quo, which the US views itself as a radical democratizer a ala Thomas Paine.

Obama, I think, tried to get the Libya comparison out of the way by apologizing for the way NATO abandoned that country after the successful intervention of 2011. He said,

In such efforts the United States will always do our part. We will do so, mindful of the lessons of the past. Not just the lessons of Iraq but also the example of Libya, where he joined an international coalition under a U.N. mandate to prevent a slaughter. Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind. We are grateful to the United Nations for its efforts to forge a unity government. We will help any legitimate Libyan government as it works to bring the country together. But we also have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future as an international community to build capacity for states that are in distress before they collapse.

Obama is trying to say that the original sin was not intervention or the overthrow of a dictator but the absolute neglect of Libya in the aftermath.

By analogy, he is saying that a joint effort to remove Bashar al-Assad could work out fine if all the participating countries join together in rebuilding the Syrian army and state in the aftermath.

Obama is a smart man but this plan is completely unworkable. Daesh in Syria would likely take advantage of the fall of the Baath to Western forces, who, staying in the skies above Syria, could no more take them on efficiently then than they can do now.

Obama offered to work with Russia against Daesh, which has allied with the Baath regime of Al-Assad, but said, that “there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.” This statement is true in both international law and in everyday practice. Al-Assad is too tainted by mass murder to continue as president. And, the third or so of his population who have seceded from his rule are heavily armed and don’t want him coming back.

Obama indicted al-Assad:

Let’s remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that in turn created the environment for the current strife. And so Assad and his allies can’t simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing.

Confirming what many of us have long suspected, that Obama is a fan of the Realists in political Science, he added, “Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and stomp out ISIL. But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad into a new leader and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to the chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.”

Obama blamed al-Assad for the rise of Daesh, omitting mention of American responsibility via the destruction of Iraq.

How hopeless the situation is in Syria is clear from the speech of Vladimir Putin

Putin complained that the problems in Syria come from US and its allies back so-called moderate rebels, who the moment they can run off to join Daesh: “And now, the ranks of radicals are being joined by the members of the so-called moderate Syrian opposition supported by the Western countries. First, they are armed and trained and then they defect to the so-called Islamic State.”

Putin then went in for some conspiracy thinking, blaming the US and the West for creating Daesh (they did not) to overthrow secular regimes (which they don’t want to do). “Besides, the Islamic State itself did not just come from nowhere. It was also initially forged as a tool against undesirable secular regimes.”

Putin’s own fears about the possible spread of Daesh to Russian provinces such as Chechniya is palpable: “Having established a foothold in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has begun actively expanding to other regions. It is seeking dominance in the Islamic world. And not only there, and its plans go further than that. The situation is more than dangerous.”

Putin is alarmed in a way that Obama really never has been by Daesh. For the US security establishment, Daesh is bad but not near or all that big or all that urgent. The US approach to Daesh has seldom gone beyond aerial containment. Putin begs to differ.

The Russian president denounced the hypocrisy of denouncing terrorism but de facto supporting Salafi fighters in Syria.

Putin then got to his point:
“We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face. We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurds (ph) militias are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.”

But actually during the past two years long periods of time have passed in which the al-Assad regime seldom militarily engaged Daesh, leaving it to prey opportunistically on the other rebel groups. You couldn’t call that valiant.

So Obama wants al-Assad to stand down as a prerequisite for effective US action against Daesh in Syria (a few air sorties and even fewer air strikes are ineffectual). Putin thinks al-Assad is key to defeating Daesh and that everyone should ally with Damascus.

Putin is blind to the ways that al-Assad and his military brutality is prolonging the civil war. Backing his genocidal policies will just perpetuate that war. The Guardian says he showed more flexibility after his speech: “However, Putin showed more flexibility than he had in his general assembly speech, acknowledging that political reform in Damascus could be part of a solution, but indicated that Assad would be a willing participant in that change.”

Some sort of synthesis of the Putin and Obama plans is likely to emerge. Obama’s romance with drones and aerial bombardment blinds him to the poor progress the US has made against Daesh using those tools. His search for “moderate” forces to back seems also in Syria to be a pipe dream. If Putin ties himself too closely to the sinking ship of Bashar, he will go down with it.

As Obama said, though, Syria policy-making is the most complex problem the US has faced in over a decade.


Related video:

Reuters: “Obama and Putin share a toast at the UN.”

Donald Trump wants to cut taxes of self, other Billionaires by $3 Trillion

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 - 1:02am

John Iadarola and Jimmy Dore | (The Young Turks) | – –

“Donald Trump’s tax plan is being pitched, and covered by the media, with terms like “populist” and “tax hikes for the wealthy,” but those are complete lies. John Iadarola (Think Tank) and Jimmy Dore (The Jimmy Dore Show Podcast), hosts of the The Young Turks, break it down…

“Donald Trump unveiled his new plan for overhauling the federal tax code in a speech at Trump Tower in New York this morning. The plan — previewed in a Wall Street Journal article and detailed by the campaign here — is being sold as a populist overture, a cut for the poor and middle class that still hits rich hedge fund managers, in sharp contrast to the more rich-friendly proposals of Trump’s rivals like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. “I don’t want to have certain people on Wall Street getting away with paying no tax,”Trump told 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley on Sunday night.

But in reality, Trump’s proposal promises cuts for the rich even larger than Bush’s. It slashes the corporate tax rate by more than half. It cuts tax rates on capital gains and investment income. It’s an orthodox supply-side conservative tax plan in a middle-class tax cut’s clothing.”

The Young Turks: “Trump’s Plan: Lower Taxes For Himself, Explode Deficit, Slash Social Programs”

US-Backed Bombing Campaign Strikes Yemeni Wedding Party, Killing Dozens

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 - 12:56am

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer | ( | – –

Many women and children among the dead in ‘mistake’ attack

Monday’s accidental attack on a Yemeni wedding party drew references to the United States’ December 2013 drone bombing of another wedding party in Yemen, which resulted in the death of the 15 people. (Photo: AFP)

Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes “mistakenly” struck a wedding party in Yemen early Monday killing at least 38 people, many of which were women and children.

The U.S.-backed coalition was purportedly targeting Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, when it bombed a celebration in al-Wahga, a village near the strategic Strait of Bab al-Mandab. One senior government official declared the two airstrikes a “mistake.”

According to the BBC, “First reports from the village said that 12 women, eight children and seven men had been killed, with dozens more wounded, when the air strike hit two tents during a wedding for a local man linked to the Houthi group.”

And the Associated Press notes that the village in which the strikes took place “lies in the battered Taiz province, where civilians routinely fall victim to daily Saudi airstrikes as well as rebel mortar shells.”

The United Nations estimates that roughly 4,900 people have been killed and more than 25,000 wounded in the six months since the Saudi-led bombing campaign began in March. Further, roughly 21 million of Yemen’s population of 25 million have been impacted by the conflict.

The incident immediately drew references to the United States’ December 2013 drone bombing of another wedding party in Yemen, which resulted in the death of 15 people.. .


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


Related video added by Juan Cole:

France24: “Yemen: 70 civilians killed in Yemen after Saudi airstrike hits wedding party”

Disillusioned Daesh/ ISIL Fighters joined for ‘Adventure, Luxury & Saving Muslims’

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 - 12:46am

By Sarah Marsden | (The Conversation) | – –

They say disillusionment is the gap between expectation and reality. If the conclusions of a report just published by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence are anything to go by, it’s a gap that’s causing an increasing number of [so-called] Islamic State [group] fighters to defect.

Based on the accounts of 58 people who left IS between January 2014 and August 2015, the report draws attention to a range of factors associated with both joining and leaving ISIL.

The report revealed three broad motivations for joining IS in the first place: they opposed the brutality of the Assad regime in Syria and saw a need to protect fellow Muslims; they believed in establishing an Islamic state governed by Sharia law; and they were drawn by the promise of material goods and adventure.

But these motivations are also part of why they leave. The infighting among Sunni groups and the comparative neglect of the battle against Assad is an important cause of defection. There is also concern over the amount of violence directed at Sunni Muslims – including the mistreatment of hostages, civilians and fellow fighters. The corruption of local commanders displaying un-Islamic behaviour is another driver. And some of the defectors were disappointed when the promised utopia of luxury goods and cars failed to materialise. They soon realised that living conditions were much harder than they had imagined.

We should be cautious about the conclusions we draw from accounts of such a small number of defectors. Potentially tens of thousands of people have travelled to Syria to fight. Those willing to speak publicly about their experience are, as the ICSR report acknowledges, unlikely to be entirely representative, are certainly not comprehensive, and may not be wholly truthful.

But these findings do offer valuable insight into an issue we know little about. Since IS emerged, much time has been spent trying to work out why people from all over the world are joining. However, while increasing efforts are being directed at understanding how and why people leave militant groups, our knowledge remains, at best, incomplete.

Regional differences

The first thing to note about this report are that the accounts come from a heterogeneous group of people, drawn from 17 countries. This is particularly relevant as there is evidence that the motivations for fighters from different regions differs dramatically.

Based on an albeit small number of first-hand accounts, a recent report found that, compared with external fighters (both Arabs and Westerners), those from Syria and Iraq report being largely motivated by revenge and the desire for status. By contrast, a search for identity is important for Western fighters. Arab foreign fighters are more often driven by the thrill of conflict.

An interesting feature of the report is the similarity of the drivers reported in these accounts with those who have left other militant groups, including far-right and nationalist groups. That should remind us to look beyond the current conflict when looking for responses to the problem of people travelling to fight with IS.

However, many unanswered questions remain about how group members decide to disengage and how they should be encouraged to do so.

Using what we know

In previous research on working with those involved in terrorism, I have argued that we should approach people holistically. Rather than focusing on trying to “deradicalise” someone by trying to change particular attitudes and ideas, we should try to understand their unique journey into and out of militancy.

This latest report also suggests that ideology plays a complex role in the move away from violence. While all of the defectors had disengaged from combat, only a small number reappraised their commitment to jihadist ideology, which suggests “deradicalisation” is not always necessary for disengagement from violence.

The diversity of motivations behind joining shows that efforts to motivate further defections need to reflect this complexity. Accounts from former combatants are a potentially powerful tool in trying to dissuade others from travelling to fight. Spelling out the reality of the conflict, and the often corrupt nature of those prosecuting it, remains important in undermining the idealised image of glorious jihad that is promoted by IS propaganda.

The same need for a nuanced approach applies to reintegrating defectors when they go home. There should be a pathway out of the conflict for those who wish to take it.

Those who are proved to have been involved in terrorism should face prosecution and conviction, but we should resist the temptation to impose a blanket ban on those wanting to return from Syria, as was recently suggested by the UK government. Doing so is potentially counterproductive, leaving them with few alternatives but to remain in the conflict.

Following the Afghan-Soviet war, the inability of former fighters to return home was in part responsible for creating the cadre of men that pursued al-Qaeda’s global jihad. That is a lesson worth remembering as we continue to debate how best to engage with those involved in the conflict in Syria.

Sarah Marsden, Lecturer , Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AJ+: “ISIS Attacks Shia Mosque In Yemen With Twin Suicide Bombs”

Jerusalem: Abbas warns Int’l leaders of ‘danger’ over Israeli-Palestinian clashes at Aqsa Mosque

Mon, 28 Sep 2015 - 11:59pm

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday warned international leaders at the UN General Assembly of the potential danger of ongoing events at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

Abbas told Palestine TV that he had told world leaders in a series of meetings at the sidelines of the UN session in New York that “the whole world” should be aware of what is happening at the mosque compound.

Monday saw the second straight day of violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at the site, which is the third holiest in Islam.

Abbas told leaders that Israel is seeking to change the nature of the conflict from a political to religious one.

The president said that he asked the leaders to exert pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement signed agreements between Israel and Palestine.

He also said that he was ready to resume peace talks if Israeli authorities agree to cease settlement construction and to release a number of Palestinian prisoners jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accord.

Israel has so far released three groups of pre-Oslo prisoners and was scheduled to free a fourth group but canceled the release after President Abbas applied for membership of 15 UN conventions.

Abbas reportedly met with a number of senior Arab and European officials. He also met with US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend.

He is currently scheduled to deliver a speech before the General Assembly on Wednesday, where he is expected to urge the international community to “commit to its responsibilities” concerning Palestine.

Earlier this month, the president told London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi that he planned to “drop a bombshell” during his speech.

In July, sources told Ma’an that he would use the UN session to discuss his own future in Palestinian politics, amid speculation that he plans to resign as Palestinian president.

Via Ma’an News Agency

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces at al-Aqsa Mosque”

Syria: Is Bashar al-Assad winning the Diplomatic War? Rebels Fret

Mon, 28 Sep 2015 - 2:02am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, widely regarded as a war criminal with tens of thousands of deaths on his hands, is nevertheless on a roll.

Russia and Iran, the backers of al-Assad, are not eager to see him go. Russia is now putting in more troops and port and airport facilities.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted that al-Assad may have to be allowed to remain in power for a while, as Daesh is rolled back. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan have come to the same conclusion.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is under enormous pressure to get a new Syria policy given the failures of the past 4 years, the mounting refugee problem in Europe, the scandal over pressure on analysts to paint a rosy picture of the stalled fight against Daesh, and the reports that US-trained rebels in Syria gave 1/4 of their American weapons to al-Qaeda in return for safe passage.

The Syrian rebels are extremely upset and worried that the world may abandon them.

Now the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi in Iraq has put forward a plan to share its intelligence about Daesh movements with Russia and with the al-Assad government. From 2006-2014 there had been very bad relations between al-Assad and previous Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki blamed al-Assad for any new wave of bombings. After the rise of Daesh, al-Maliki abrupty changed his tune and switched to supporting Syria.

Iraq’s announcement purportedly took US Secretary of State John Kerry by surprise.

It had long been the Obama administration’s position, enunciated in spring, 2011, that President al-Assad must step down because he dealt with civilian protests by directing sniping fire, tank fire and artillery fire on them while they were unarmed. They regime has also tortured thousands of prisoners to death.

But someone told me there is an old Turkish proverb that “mountains and governments weigh heavy on the earth.” After four years, the rebels have not won and have no real strategic victory to their name. And significant portions of the rebels have either joined al-Qaeda (the Support Front or Jabhat al-Nusra) or Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). These new allegiances make it impossible for the US to support those rebels. Indeed, US fighter jets have struck at both Daesh and Support Front positions.

Some say that al-Assad connived at this situation, deliberately driving Sunni rebels into the arms of extremists like al-Qaeda and leaving Daesh alone so it could opportunistically prey on the less extreme elements of the Free Syrian Army.

If so, the strategy appears to have produced some success. Al-Assad is a war criminal, and one thing we may conclude from all this is that the world is not a nice place.


Related video:

VOA News: “US Seeks Way Forward with Russia in Syria”

Do the Republicans need the Muslim Vote?

Mon, 28 Sep 2015 - 12:21am

by Julie Poucher Harbin, EDITOR | ( ISLAMiCommentary) | – –

Over the past week-and-a-half Islamophobia seemed to dominate the headlines; first when a 14-year-old Texas student who was arrested for bringing “a hoax bomb” to school that was really a home-made clock, and capped off by GOP presidential contender Dr. Ben Carson saying a Muslim shouldn’t be elected president.

“Now let’s see what happens with all these comments, but there is definitely an openness (to the Republican party) that I didn’t feel for sure in 2008 or even in 2012. I’ve got a lot of people coming up to me who (say) ‘hey if the right person came along I’d vote Republican’.” — longtime conservative activist Suhail Khan

Corey Saylor, Director of the Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in an interview with ISLAMiCommentary that the level of bigotry and ethnic nationalism we’re seeing in America today really seemed to take off in 2009 following the election of President Obama. The economy was bad, plans for reforming the healthcare system was under debate, and there were a few high-profile negative incidents including the 2009 Christmas Day bomber (underwear bomber) and the Times Square bombing attempt in May 2010. The confluence of these things, he said, “upped the anger level.”

“The Southern Poverty Law Center started tracking the growth in anti-government and white supremacist militias,” he said. “We saw the same thing with Islamophobic groups, and it’s been going on since then.”

Dalia Mogahed

He couldn’t say if the level of anti-Muslim sentiment had gotten worse, but did note that CAIR had tracked “a much more violent sounding backlash” since the murder of the two American journalists by ISIS in Syria and the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in France.

But he also referred to a “very good argument” made by Dalia Mogahed (now Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding ) following the last presidential election that perhaps levels of anti-Muslim sentiment are “almost entirely independent of the events of international conflict, or even terrorists acts on U.S. soil and much more tightly linked to election cycles and building domestic consent” – ie following “trends in domestic US politics.”

CAIR, which neither opposes nor supports any candidate for public office, has made a special Islamophobia in the 2016 Presidential Election page “to provide readers with insights into various potential or current presidential candidate’s views on Islam and connections with the U.S. Islamophobia network;” both positive and negative.

Suhail Khan

Suhail Khan — a tech industry executive and Senior Fellow for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Institute for Global Engagement — is a longtime conservative activist. A former senior political appointee with the George W. Bush administration, he also serves an advisor to the Republican National Committee and supports the Senator Rand Paul campaign.

This past Spring Khan addressed a 2016 elections-themed dinner held by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; telling a somewhat skeptical crowd, “Just as you don’t believe in the stereotypes of Muslims in the media, don’t believe the stereotypes of conservatives that you read in the media. You might hear the bigoted statements of a few but that doesn’t mean they represent the majority of conservatives, they don’t.”

He continued: “Having been in the party for nearly 30 years I can tell you that the party is welcoming of people and I’ve been welcomed. I’ve been voted for, beating other conservatives, including by Tea Party activists.”

Does he still feel this way?

ISLAMiCommentary spoke with Khan by telephone this Monday a few days after Donald Trump failed to adequately correct (ala John McCain in 2008) an audience member at a campaign stop in New Hampshire who called Obama a Muslim who was “not even an American” and who claimed that there were training camps in the US with Muslims that “want to kill us.”

Donald Trump

Khan said that by not directly addressing the comments of the offending audience member, Trump had taken “the coward’s way out” and that it was a “cop-out” for him to say he’s not obligated to correct every statement.

“If he wants to stand to be president of the freest and greatest country in the world he needs to stand as a candidate who’s willing to stand for the rights of all americans regardless of their religious affiliation,” he said.

(In subsequent interviews Trump “tried to draw a distinction between all American Muslims and extremist Muslims in the U.S. and elsewhere” calling them “great people, amazing people.”)

The day before my talk with Khan, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson had told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press that Islam is not consistent with the U.S. Constitution and that he would not vote for a Muslim for President.

Khan said that Carson’s comments “really reflect, first, a lack of understanding of our US Constitution which clearly states that there are to be no religious tests when it comes to holding high elected office” and “really demonstrates the lack of understanding of what it means to be an American.”

Dr. Ben Carson

While Khan admitted it’s a challenging time to be Muslim and Republican, he emphasized the “deep bench” and “wealth of candidates” the GOP is “blessed with.” He said he was “grateful” that several GOP candidates had condemned Carson’s remarks and added that many of the Republican candidates have track records of reaching out to minorities, including Muslim Americans.

“Comments like Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s are definitely going to hurt the GOP overall,” he said. “I don’t think they’re fatal. They will put another obstacle in the way of that outreach. But if it’s a Senator Marco Rubio or Senator Rand Paul or a Governor (John) Kasich or Governor Bush who have track records of reaching out, I think that can be overcome.”

Following Carson’s comments, Mohamed Elibiary, a Republican Muslim who has served as a national security advisor at the state and federal levels, reacted on Twitter: “Hope @RealBenCarson enjoys his fifteen minutes of fame. There’s a limited supply of pro-bigotry voters to get. GOP brand beyond tarnished now.”

Khan was optimistic, however that GOP outreach under the leadership of Priebus is “doing a great job to really get the conservative message out to all Americans” and that that process will continue, though he said the inclusive nature of the message would of course depend on who gets the GOP nomination.

Khan gave a historic example of how George W. Bush secured 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and 44% in 2004, and how Bush also got the plurality of the Muslim American vote in 2000 due to his outreach to these groups.

“He went out and talked to those voters and treated those voters as Americans and said, ‘hey look I value your opinion, I value your vote’” said Khan. “Any candidate who does that will have the chance to broaden the base.”

(These feelings of goodwill didn’t last. Muslim American support for Bush dropped substantially in 2004 largely due to the USA PATRIOT Act and objections to his war in Iraq. Then in 2008, Muslim Americans of all political stripes voted overwhelmingly for Obama, in part due to disappointment with U.S. foreign policy and domestic surveillance policy. According to a 2008 CAIR survey, 89% of Muslim Americans voted for Obama, and 2% for Republican candidate John McCain. An exit poll by CAIR of 650 Muslim American voters immediately following the 2012 election, found that 85.7% had picked Obama, with 4.4% voting for Romney and just over two percent each for the Libertarian and Green party candidates.)

Does the GOP need the Muslim American vote in 2016?

Pollster John Zogby speaking at a public lecture in November 2012 at Duke

Pollster John Zogby, in a lecture at Duke following the 2012 election, told an Islamic studies and public policy audience that neither party should discount the Muslim American influence vote – pointing out that while Muslim Americans were a small portion of the population, they are nevertheless “strategically located” in swing states where the polls were close.

At the time CAIR director Nihad Awad said that “Muslim voters in swing states such as Florida, Virginia and Ohio seemed to have played a critical role in tipping the balance in the president’s re-election victory.”

The current crop of GOP contenders is currently focusing on the critical primaries states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina – states with smaller Muslim populations – Khan pointed out. Outreach to Muslim Americans will be stepped up later in states where there are larger Muslim populations such as Michigan, Ohio, New York, California, Florida, and Virginia.

“I’m especially confident that once the GOP nomination is secured… that there will be very specific outreach to Arab Americans and Muslim Americans across the country,” he said.

Khan said he’s been a proud Reagan Republican since the ‘80s, believing that Reagan was an inclusive president who “saw a very inclusive America.”

“That’s the Republican party that I embrace and I’m confident will endure,” he said. “There are candidates from time to time — Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Ben Carson — who obviously don’t reflect that Reagan vision and for that reason I think they won’t ultimately get the nomination.”

And he said that more and more Muslim Americans have come up to him in the last few years — including at this year’s Islamic Society of North American conference — who said they’re ready to vote Republican again. He feels like Muslim Americans are once again open to the GOP.

“Now let’s see what happens with all these comments,” he said, “but there is definitely an openness (to the Republican party) that I didn’t feel for sure in 2008 or even in 2012. I’ve got a lot of people coming up to me who (say) ‘hey if the right person came along I’d vote Republican’.”

Some, he said, have indicated they’d vote for Rand Paul or Jeb Bush if one of them was the nominee.

Importantly, Khan warned not to mistake Muslim Americans as one-issue voters. He’s had conversations with Muslim Republicans in Florida, Texas and Michigan on a range of issues including their dissatisfaction with Obamacare and its impact on small business, foreign policy, the economy, social issues, and guns.

As the Muslim American community, in all its diversity, continues to change, he has met young Muslims whose parents are Democrats but they became Republican and vise versa.

Jen’nan Read

That there are Republican Muslims doesn’t surprise Duke University sociologist Jen’nan read at all.

“Groups don’t just vote based on group identity, they are issue based as well and so the fact that Muslims are maybe willing to vote for a Republican president shouldn’t be that surprising though people think it is,” said Duke University sociologist Jen’nan Read, in an interview with ISLAMiCommentary. “I just don’t think it is, if you think about the fact that they have values that align with the Republican party.”

In the past she’s talked about conservative Muslims’ values aligning with Evangelical Christians. Read, who looked closely at the Muslim vote in the 2012 election, also said that post-9/11, American Muslims have become “more politically mobilized and active” in the American political process.

And she explained that while their numbers as a percentage of the American population overall may be low — a nationwide average of 1% and in some states 2% or 3% — and they are not a huge political base, “their demographics tend to make them more likely to register and vote.”

Highly-educated professionals are more likely to vote in elections she said, and not meaning to “overgeneralize,” American Muslims tend to skew in that direction.

“Pre 9/11 even though they had that profile that they weren’t as (politically) active, and I’ve written about the reason why that is — they didn’t feel the need to be,” said Read. “Post 9/11 slowly we’ve seen this trend of greater activism. They have to be to get their issues heard.”

This activism may be having an effect.

Amneh Jafari who started #IStandWithAhmed

There was an enormous outpouring of support, including from science and tech luminaries and the U.S. President himself, for Ahmed Mohamed — the Texas student who was arrested for bringing the so-called “hoax bomb” to school. The charges were ultimately dropped. Palestinian American Amneh Jafari, a recent college grad in Texas who started the viral hashtag to support #IStandWithAhmed told ISLAMiCommentary that she was hopeful that the incident with young Ahmed (who called to thank her) shed light on the problem of Muslims being profiled and people being called names because of their religion. “I’m very hopeful that positive change will occur soon and in the near future!” she wrote in an email.

CAIR’s Saylor said it’s also “promising” and “positive” that, increasingly, there are instances where “public officials have been held politically accountable for their anti-Muslim remarks.”

“You go back to the mid part of the last decade. And former member of Congress Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) suggested in an interview that nuking Mecca was a good response to terrorists. And the chairman of the RNC at the time when pressed about it said ‘look we’re a big tent party and have a lot of different opinions in our party’ – so he did not come down on Tancredo for making that remark,” said Saylor. “More recently Dave Agema (a Republican state representative) from Michigan made nasty anti-Muslim and anti-Gay comments on his Facebook post and the Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus pressed for calls for him to step down.”

Saylor also mentioned Bob FitzSimmonds, treasurer of the Virginia Republican Party, who made anti-Muslim remarks in 2014 and ended up resigning.

And Saylor said he was also encouraged by a 2014 survey by ISPU that found that only 16.5 % of Republican state legislators had sponsored or co-sponsored an anti- sharia/anti-”foreign law” bill — bills that have traditionally been used as vehicles for anti-Muslim sentiment.

At the end of the day, while Saylor’s hopeful that that minority within the Republican party “can be overcome by the majority at some point,” he concluded that “this election cycle is going to be another nasty one for Muslims.”

Via ISLAMICommentary


Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC from last week: “Muslim Comments Haunt Ben Carson, Donald Trump”

To Stem the Flow of Refugees, Stop the Syrian Regime’s Barrel Bombs

Sun, 27 Sep 2015 - 11:59pm

By Kenneth Roth, Executive Director | ( Human Rights Watch) – –

Syrian asylum-seekers are the largest component of the latest refugee surge to Europe. Germany has been extraordinarily generous in providing a refuge. But with four million refugees having fled Syria’s daily atrocities and more waiting in the wings, we must ask how to improve the conditions forcing their flight.

A coalition of Western and regional militaries is arrayed against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, and the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. But there has been little concerted effort to stop the atrocities of President Bashar-al Assad’s government.

When the Geneva Conventions are followed, the main casualties in war are combatants—people who have joined the fighting. Much of what makes the Syrian war so ugly is that the Assad government is also attacking civilians who live in areas seized by the armed opposition. The aim of this war-crime strategy is to depopulate these regions and send a lesson to other Syrians that they will be attacked if the opposition takes their neighborhood.

Assad’s most devastating weapon in this anti-civilian campaign has been the “barrel bomb”—a canister filled with explosives and metal fragments. Barrel bombs are dropped unguided from helicopters just above antiaircraft range, hitting the ground with huge explosions.

In most wars, civilians can find a modicum of safety by moving away from the front lines. But Assad’s indiscriminate use of barrel bombs deep in opposition-held territory means that many have no place to hide. The international community could probably take no more effective step to curtail the refugee flow than to stop Assad’s barrel bombs.

The Syrian military has dropped sometimes dozens a day on opposition-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, Idlib, Dara’a and elsewhere. They have pulverized neighborhoods, annihilated markets, schools, hospitals and countless residences, and left broad swathes of death and destruction. Syrians have described to me the sheer terror of waiting for a barrel bomb to tumble to earth, not knowing until near the very end where its deadly point of impact will be.

Other weapons used indiscriminately kill also civilians, with various forces responsible, but Assad’s barrel bombs play a particularly big part in forcing millions of Syrians from their country. In most wars, civilians can find a modicum of safety by moving away from the front lines. But Assad’s indiscriminate use of barrel bombs deep in opposition-held territory means that many have no place to hide. The international community could probably take no more effective step to curtail the refugee flow than to stop Assad’s barrel bombs.

Yet little effort has been made. The two governments with the greatest potential to influence Assad—his principal backers, Russia and Iran—refuse to get him to stop and supply him with weapons. Western governments have been reluctant to exert strong public pressure, let alone sanctions, because of other priorities—Ukraine, in the case of Russia, and the nuclear deal, in the case of Iran. Even now, as Russia deploys its own military forces in Syria, Washington is pressing Moscow to coordinate with America’s anti-ISIS operation but isn’t mentioning the barrel bombs. As for the European Union, it talks about tackling the “root causes” of migration to Europe but has done little to address the atrocities that lead Syrians to flee.

In February 2014, the UN Security Council demanded an end to the “indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas…such as the use of barrel bombs,” but it has done nothing more to stop it. Western governments led by France are proposing a new Security Council resolution to have the UN monitor indiscriminate attacks, particularly barrel bombs, and possibly impose sanctions if the attacks continue. But Russia, doubling down on its support for a murderous regime, is threatening to veto the resolution, even though it condemns indiscriminate attacks by all sides.

The West should make a veto as painful as possible by introducing the resolution when President Vladimir Putin is in New York later this month to address the UN General Assembly. Despite his bluster, Putin would not want to be seen as indifferent to indiscriminate killing of Syrian civilians.

If Russia does block further Security Council action, Western nations, including Germany, should inflict a price, including by holding off any new arms dealings with Moscow. Western nations should also continue to support credible efforts to collect evidence of atrocities by Syria and complicity by its supporters. If Russia persists in blocking International Criminal Court jurisdiction for war-crimes charges, other avenues for justice should be pursued.

Indeed, far from facilitating the fight against extremist groups, Assad’s disregard for civilian life is one of their best recruitment tools.

One reason the West hasn’t intensified the pressure to stop barrel-bomb attacks is fear that it might weaken the Syrian government, facilitating an Islamic State takeover. But barrel bombs are so imprecise that the Syrian military rarely drops them near the front lines for fear of hitting its own troops. They are used mainly to pummel civilian neighborhoods.

Indeed, far from facilitating the fight against extremist groups, Assad’s disregard for civilian life is one of their best recruitment tools. The Islamic State and the Nusra Front recruit Syrians by presenting themselves as forces that counter the Assad government’s atrocities.

Moreover, we should not confuse the Assad government with the Syrian state. As we have seen in Iraq and Libya, a functioning state is necessary to prevent the chaos in which extremists thrive, let alone to protect basic rights. But a change of leadership—whether through negotiation or criminal prosecution—need not mean destroying the Syrian state.

Some say that, rather than targeting a particularly monstrous weapons system, the best way to end the barrel bombs is to make peace. That is a laudable goal, but few believe a negotiated solution is anywhere near. In the meantime, virtually all the Syrians I have spoken with agree that stopping Assad’s barrel bombs is now the most urgent task to reduce their suffering—and the flow of refugees.

Via Human Rights Watch


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Vice News: “Machine Guns and Barrel Bombs The Battle for Syria’s South Part 1”

How Henry Kissinger created a world of bad guys Armed to the Teeth

Sun, 27 Sep 2015 - 11:28pm

By Greg Grandin | ( | – –

The only person Henry Kissinger flattered more than President Richard Nixon was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. In the early 1970s, the Shah, sitting atop an enormous reserve of increasingly expensive oil and a key figure in Nixon and Kissinger’s move into the Middle East, wanted to be dealt with as a serious person. He expected his country to be treated with the same respect Washington showed other key Cold War allies like West Germany and Great Britain. As Nixon’s national security adviser and, after 1973, secretary of state, Kissinger’s job was to pump up the Shah, to make him feel like he truly was the “king of kings.”

Reading the diplomatic record, it’s hard not to imagine his weariness as he prepared for his sessions with the Shah, considering just what gestures and words would be needed to make it clear that his majesty truly mattered to Washington, that he was valued beyond compare. “Let’s see,” an aide who was helping Kissinger get ready for one such meeting said, “the Shah will want to talk about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, the Kurds, and Brezhnev.”

During another prep, Kissinger was told that “the Shah wants to ride in an F-14.” Silence ensued. Then Kissinger began to think aloud about how to flatter the monarch into abandoning the idea. “We can say,” he began, “that if he has his heart set on it, okay, but the President would feel easier if he didn’t have that one worry in 10,000 [that the plane might crash]. The Shah will be flattered.” Once, Nixon asked Kissinger to book the entertainer Danny Kaye for a private performance for the Shah and his wife.

The 92-year-old Kissinger has a long history of involvement in Iran and his recent opposition to Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, while relatively subdued by present Washington standards, matters.  In it lies a certain irony, given his own largely unexamined record in the region.  Kissinger’s criticism has focused mostly on warning that the deal might provoke a regional nuclear arms race as Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia line up against Shia Iran. “We will live in a proliferated world,” he said in testimony before the Senate. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with another former secretary of state, George Shultz, Kissinger worried that, as the region “trends toward sectarian upheaval” and “state collapse,” the “disequilibrium of power” might likely tilt toward Tehran.

Of all people, Kissinger knows well how easily the best laid plans can go astray and careen toward disaster. The former diplomat is by no means solely responsible for the mess that is today’s Middle East. There is, of course, George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (which Kissinger supported). But he does bear far more responsibility for our proliferated world’s disequilibrium of power than anyone usually recognizes.

Some of his Middle East policies are well known. In early 1974, for instance, his so-called shuttle diplomacy helped deescalate the tensions that had led to the previous year’s Arab-Israeli War. At the same time, however, it locked in Israel’s veto over U.S. foreign policy for decades to come. And in December 1975, wrongly believing that he had worked out a lasting pro-American balance of power between Iran and Iraq, Kissinger withdrew his previous support from the Kurds (whom he had been using as agents of destabilization against Baghdad’s Baathists). Iraq moved quickly to launch an assault on the Kurds that killed thousands and then implemented a program of ethnic cleansing, forcibly relocating Kurdish survivors and moving Arabs into their homes. “Even in the context of covert action ours was a cynical enterprise,” noted a Congressional investigation into his sacrifice of the Kurds.

Less well known is the way in which Kissinger’s policies toward Iran and Saudi Arabia accelerated the radicalization in the region, how step by catastrophic step he laid the groundwork for the region’s spiraling crises of the present moment.

Guardian of the Gulf

Most critical histories of U.S. involvement in Iran rightly began with the joint British-U.S. coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, which installed Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne. But it was Kissinger who, in 1972, greatly deepened the relationship between Washington and Tehran. He was the one who began a policy of unconditional support for the Shah as a way to steady American power in the Persian Gulf while the U.S. extracted itself from Southeast Asia. As James Schlesinger, who served as Nixon’s CIA director and secretary of defense, noted, if “we were going to make the Shah the Guardian of the Gulf, we’ve got to give him what he needs.” Which, Schlesinger added, really meant “giving him what he wants.”

What the Shah wanted most of all were weapons of every variety — and American military trainers, and a navy, and an air force. It was Kissinger who overrode State Department and Pentagon objections and gave the Shah what no other country had: the ability to buy anything he wanted from U.S. weapons makers.

“We are looking for a navy,” the Shah told Kissinger in 1973, “we have a large shopping list.” And so Kissinger let him buy a navy.

By 1976, Kissinger’s last full year in office, Iran had become the largest purchaser of American weaponry and housed the largest contingent of U.S. military advisors anywhere on the planet. By 1977, the historian Ervand Abrahamian notes, “the shah had the largest navy in the Persian Gulf, the largest air force in Western Asia, and the fifth-largest army in the whole world.” That meant, just to begin a list, thousands of modern tanks, hundreds of helicopters, F-4 and F-5 fighter jets, dozens of hovercraft, long-range artillery pieces, and Maverick missiles. The next year, the Shah bought another $12 billion worth of equipment.

After Kissinger left office, the special relationship he had worked so hard to establish blew up with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the flight of the Shah, the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini, and the taking of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (and its occupants as hostages) by student protesters. Washington’s political class is still trying to dig itself out of the rubble. A number of high-ranking Middle East policymakers and experts held Kissinger directly responsible for the disaster, especially career diplomat George Ball, who called Kissinger’s Iran policy an “act of folly.”

Kissinger is deft at deflecting attention from this history. After a speech at Annapolis in 2007, a cadet wanted to know why he had sold weapons to the Shah of Iran when “he knew the nature of his regime?”

“Every American government from the 1950s on cooperated with the Shah of Iran,” Kissinger answered. He continued: “Iran is a crucial piece of strategic real estate, and the fact that it is now in adversarial hands shows why we cooperated with the Shah of Iran. Why did we sell weapons to him? Because he was willing to defend himself and because his defense was in our interest. And again, I simply don’t understand why we have to apologize for defending the American national interest, which was also in the national interest of that region.”

This account carefully omits his role in greatly escalating the support provided to the Shah, including to his infamous SAVAK torturers — the agents of his murderous, U.S.-trained secret police-cum-death-squad — who upheld his regime. Each maimed body or disappeared family member was one more klick on the road to revolution. As George Ball’s biographer, James Bill, writes: considering the “manifest failure” of Kissinger’s Iran policy, “it is worthy of note that in his two massive volumes of political memoirs totalling twenty-eight-hundred pages, Kissinger devoted less than twenty pages to the Iranian revolution and U.S.-Iran relations.”

After the Shah fell, the ayatollahs were the beneficiaries of Kissinger’s arms largess, inheriting billions of dollars of warships, tanks, fighter jets, guns, and other materiel. It was also Kissinger who successfully urged the Carter administration to grant the Shah asylum in the United States, which hastened the deterioration of relations between Tehran and Washington, precipitating the embassy hostage crisis.

Then, in 1980, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran, beginning a war that consumed hundreds of thousands of lives. The administration of Ronald Reagan “tilted” toward Baghdad, providing battlefield intelligence used to launch lethal sarin gas attacks on Iranian troops. At the same time, the White House illegally and infamously trafficked high-tech weaponry to revolutionary Iran as part of what became the Iran-Contra affair.

“It’s a pity they can’t both lose,” Kissinger is reported to have said of Iran and Iraq. Although that quotation is hard to confirm, Raymond Tanter, who served on the National Security Council, reports that, at a foreign-policy briefing for Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in October 1980, Kissinger suggested “the continuation of fighting between Iran and Iraq was in the American interest.”  Having bet (and lost) on the Shah, Kissinger now hoped to make the best of a bad war.  The U.S., he counselled Reagan, “should capitalize on continuing hostilities.”

Saudi Arabia and the Petrodollar Fix

Kissinger’s other “guardian” of the Gulf, Sunni Saudi Arabia, however, didn’t fall and he did everything he could to turn that already close relationship into an ironclad alliance. In 1975, he signaled what was to come by working out an arms deal for the Saudi regime similar to the one he had green-lighted for Tehran, including a $750 million contract for the sale of 60 F-5E/F fighters to the sheiks. By this time, the U.S. already had more than a trillion dollars’ worth of military agreements with Riyadh. Only Iran had more.

Like Tehran, Riyadh paid for this flood of weaponry with the proceeds from rising oil prices. The word “petrodollar,” according to the Los Angeles Times, was coined in late 1973, and introduced into English by New York investment bankers who were courting the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. Soon enough, as that paper wrote, the petrodollar had become part of “the world’s macroeconomic interface” and crucial to Kissinger’s developing Middle Eastern policy.

By June 1974, Treasury Secretary George Shultz was already suggesting that rising oil prices could result in a “highly advantageous mutual bargain” between the U.S. and petroleum-producing countries in the Middle East. Such a “bargain,” as others then began to argue, might solve a number of problems, creating demand for the U.S. dollar, injecting needed money into a flagging defense industry hard hit by the Vietnam wind-down, and using petrodollars to cover mounting trade deficits.

As it happened, petrodollars would prove anything but a quick fix. High energy prices were a drag on the U.S. economy, with inflation and high interest rates remaining a problem for nearly a decade. Nor was petrodollar dependence part of any preconceived Kissingerian “plan.”  As with far more of his moves than he or his admirers now care to admit, he more or less stumbled into it.  This was why, in periodic frustration, he occasionally daydreamed about simply seizing the oil fields of the Arabian peninsula and doing away with all the developing economic troubles.

“Can’t we overthrow one of the sheikhs just to show that we can do it?” he wondered in November 1973, fantasizing about which gas-pump country he could knock off. “How about Abu Dhabi?” he later asked. (Imagine what the world would be like today had Kissinger, in the fall of 1973, moved to overthrow the Saudi regime rather than Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.) “Let’s work out a plan for grabbing some Middle East oil if we want,” Kissinger said.

Such scimitar rattling was, however, pure posturing. Not only did Kissinger broker the various deals that got the U.S. hooked on recycled Saudi petrodollars, he also began to promote the idea of an “oil floor price” below which the cost per barrel wouldn’t fall. Among other things, this scheme was meant to protect the Saudis (and Iran, until 1979) from a sudden drop in demand and provide U.S. petroleum corporations with guaranteed profit margins.

Stephen Walt, a scholar of international relations, writes: “By the end of 1975, more than six thousand Americans were engaged in military-related activities in Saudi Arabia. Saudi arms purchased for the period 1974-1975 totaled over $3.8 billion, and a bewildering array of training missions and construction projects worth over $10 billion were now underway.”

Since the 1970s, one administration after another has found the iron-clad alliance Kissinger deepened between the House of Saud’s medieval “moderates” and Washington indispensable not only to keep the oil flowing but as a balance against Shia radicalism and secular nationalism of every sort. Recently, however, a series of world-historical events has shattered the context in which that alliance seemed to make sense. These include: the catastrophic war on and occupation of Iraq, the Arab Spring, the Syrian uprising and ensuing civil war, the rise of ISIS, Israel’s rightwing lurch, the conflict in Yemen, the falling price of petroleum, and, now, Obama’s Iran deal.

But the arms spigot that Kissinger turned on still remains wide open. According to the New York Times, “Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year — the most ever, and more than either France or Britain — and has become the world’s fourth-largest defense market.” Just as they did after the Vietnam drawdown, U.S. weapons manufacturing are compensating for limits on the defense budget at home by selling arms to Gulf states. The “proxy wars in the Middle East could last for years,” write Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper of the New York Times, “which will make countries in the region even more eager for the F-35 fighter jet, considered to be the jewel of America’s future arsenal of weapons. The plane, the world’s most expensive weapons project, has stealth capabilities and has been marketed heavily to European and Asian allies. It has not yet been peddled to Arab allies because of concerns about preserving Israel’s military edge.”

If fortune is really shining on Lockheed and Boeing, Kissinger’s prediction that Obama’s de-escalation of tensions with Tehran will sooner or later prompt Saudi–Iranian hostilities will pan out. “With the balance of power in the Middle East in flux, several defense analysts said that could change. Russia is a major arms supplier to Iran, and a decision by President Vladimir Putin to sell an advanced air defense system to Iran could increase demand for the F-35, which is likely to have the ability to penetrate Russian-made defenses,” the Times reports.

“This could be the precipitating event: the emerging Sunni-Shia civil war coupled with the sale of advanced Russian air defense systems to Iran,” said one defense analyst. “If anything is going to result in F-35 clearance to the gulf states, this is the combination of events.’”

Into Afghanistan

If all Henry Kissinger contributed to the Middle East were a regional arms race, petrodollar addiction, Iranian radicalization, and the Tehran-Riyadh conflict, it would be bad enough. His legacy, however, is far worse than that: he has to answer for his role in the rise of political Islam.

In July 1973, after a coup in Afghanistan brought to power a moderate, secular, but Soviet-leaning republican government, the Shah, then approaching the height of his influence with Kissinger, pressed his advantage. He asked for even more military assistance. Now, he said, he “must cover the East with fighter aircraft.” Kissinger complied.

Tehran also began to meddle in Afghan politics, offering Kabul billions of dollars for development and security, in exchange for loosening “its ties with the Soviet Union.” This might have seemed a reasonably peaceful way to increase U.S. influence via Iran over Kabul. It was, however, paired with an explosive initiative: via SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), extremist Islamic insurgents were to be slipped into Afghanistan to destabilize Kabul’s republican government.

Kissinger, who knew his British and his Russian imperial history, had long considered Pakistan of strategic importance. “The defense of Afghanistan,” he wrote in 1955, “depends on the strength of Pakistan.” But before he could put Pakistan into play against the Soviets in Afghanistan, he had to perfume away the stink of genocide. In 1971, that country had launched a bloodbath in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), with Nixon and Kissinger standing “stoutly behind Pakistan’s generals, supporting the murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments,” as Gary Bass has detailed. The president and his national security adviser, Bass writes, “vigorously supported the killers and tormentors of a generation of Bangladeshis.”

Because of that genocidal campaign, the State Department, acting against Kissinger’s wishes, had cut off military aid to the country in 1971, though Nixon and Kissinger kept it flowing covertly via Iran. In 1975, Kissinger vigorously pushed for its full, formal restoration, even as he was offering his tacit approval to Maoist China to back Pakistan whose leaders had their own reasons for wanting to destabilize Afghanistan, having to do with border disputes and the ongoing rivalry with India.

Kissinger helped make that possible, in part by the key role he played in building up Pakistan as part of a regional strategy in which Iran and Saudi Arabia were similarly deputized to do his dirty work. When Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had backed the 1971 rampage in East Pakistan, visited Washington in 1975 to make the case for restoration of military aid, Kissinger assured President Gerald Ford that he “was great in ’71.” Ford agreed, and U.S. dollars soon started to flow directly to the Pakistani army and intelligence service.

As national security adviser and then secretary of state, Kissinger was directly involved in planning and executing covert actions in such diverse places as Cambodia, Angola, and Chile. No available information indicates that he ever directly encouraged Pakistan’s ISI or Iran’s SAVAK to destabilize Afghanistan. But we don’t need a smoking gun to appreciate the larger context and consequences of his many regional initiatives in what, in the twenty-first century, would come to be known in Washington as the “greater Middle East.” In their 1995 book, Out of Afghanistan, based on research in Soviet archives, foreign-policy analysts Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison provide a wide-ranging sense of just how so many of the policies Kissinger put in place — the empowerment of Iran, the restoration of military relations with Pakistan, high oil prices, an embrace of Saudi Wahhabism, and weapon sales — came together to spark jihadism:

”It was in the early 1970s, with oil prices rising, that Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran embarked on his ambitious effort to roll back Soviet influence in neighboring countries and create a modern version of the ancient Persian empire… Beginning in 1974, the Shah launched a determined effort to draw Kabul into a Western-tilted, Tehran-centered regional economic and security sphere embracing India, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf states… The United States actively encouraged this roll-back policy as part of its broad partnership with the Shah… SAVAK and the CIA worked hand in hand, sometimes in loose collaboration with underground Afghani Islamic fundamentalist groups that shared their anti-Soviet objectives but had their own agendas as well… As oil profits sky-rocketed, emissaries from these newly affluent Arab fundamentalist groups arrived on the Afghan scene with bulging bankrolls.”

Harrison also wrote that “SAVAK, the CIA, and Pakistani agents” were involved in failed “fundamentalist coup attempts” in Afghanistan in 1973 and 1974, along with an attempted Islamic insurrection in the Panjshir Valley in 1975, laying the groundwork for the jihad of the 1980s (and beyond).

Much has been made of Jimmy Carter’s decision, on the advice of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, to authorize “nonlethal” aid to the Afghan mujahedeen in July 1979, six months before Moscow sent troops to support the Afghan government in its fight against a spreading Islamic insurgency. But lethal aid had already long been flowing to those jihadists via Washington’s ally Pakistan (and Iran until its revolution in 1979). This provision of support to radical Islamists, initiated in Kissinger’s tenure and continuing through the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, had a number of unfortunate consequences known all too well today but seldom linked to the good doctor. It put unsustainable pressure on Afghanistan’s fragile secular government. It laid the early infrastructure for today’s transnational radical Islam. And, of course, it destabilized Afghanistan and so helped provoke the Soviet invasion.

Some still celebrate the decisions of Carter and Reagan for their role in pulling Moscow into its own Vietnam-style quagmire and so hastening the demise of the Soviet Union. “What is most important to the history of the world?” Brzezinski infamously asked. “The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” (The rivalry between the two Harvard immigrant diplomats, Kissinger and Brzezinski, is well known. But Brzezinski by 1979 was absolutely Kissingerian in his advice to Carter. In fact, a number of Kissinger’s allies who continued on in the Carter administration, including Walter Slocombe and David Newsom, influenced the decision to support the jihad.)

Moscow’s occupation of Afghanistan would prove a disaster — and not just for the Soviet Union. When Soviet troops pulled out in 1989, they left behind a shattered country and a shadowy network of insurgent fundamentalists who, for years, had worked hand-in-glove with the CIA in the Agency’s longest covert operation, as well as the Saudis and the Pakistani ISI.  It was a distinctly Kissingerian line-up of forces. 

Few serious scholars now believe that the Soviet Union would have proved any more durable had it not invaded Afghanistan. Nor did the allegiance of Afghanistan — whether it tilted toward Washington, Moscow, or Tehran — make any difference to the outcome of the Cold War, any more than did, say, that of Cuba, Iraq, Angola, or Vietnam.

For all of the celebration of him as a “grand strategist,” as someone who constantly advises presidents to think of the future, to base their actions today on where they want the country to be in five or 10 years’ time, Kissinger was absolutely blind to the fundamental feebleness and inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union. None of it was necessary; none of the lives Kissinger sacrificed in Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, East Timor, and Bangladesh made one bit of difference in the outcome of the Cold War.

Similarly, each of Kissinger’s Middle East initiatives has been disastrous in the long run. Just think about them from the vantage point of 2015: banking on despots, inflating the Shah, providing massive amounts of aid to security forces that tortured and terrorized democrats, pumping up the U.S. defense industry with recycled petrodollars and so spurring a Middle East arms race financed by high gas prices, emboldening Pakistan’s intelligence service, nurturing Islamic fundamentalism, playing Iran and the Kurds off against Iraq, and then Iraq and Iran off against the Kurds, and committing Washington to defending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands.

Combined, they’ve helped bind the modern Middle East into a knot that even Alexander’s sword couldn’t sever.

Bloody Inventions

Over the last decade, an avalanche of documents — transcripts of conversations and phone calls, declassified memos, and embassy cables — have implicated Henry Kissinger in crimes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, southern Africa, Laos, the Middle East, and Latin America. He’s tried to defend himself by arguing for context. “Just to take a sentence out of a telephone conversation when you have 50 other conversations, it’s just not the way to analyze it,” Kissinger said recently, after yet another damning tranche of documents was declassified. “I’ve been telling people to read a month’s worth of conversations, so you know what else went on.”

But a month’s worth of conversations, or eight years for that matter, reads like one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. Perhaps Macbeth, with its description of what we today call blowback: “That we but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor.”

We are still reaping the bloody returns of Kissinger’s inventions.

Greg Grandin, a TomDispatch regular, teaches history at New York University. He is the author of Fordlandia, The Empire of Necessity, which won the Bancroft Prize in American history, and, most recently, Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Greg Grandin



Related video added by Juan Cole:


Israel’s Real Fear: w/out a Demonized Iran, West will see Tel Aviv as Irrelevant

Sun, 27 Sep 2015 - 11:10pm

By Farhang Jahanpour | (Inter Press Service) | – –

OXFORD (IPS) – Relations between Iran and Israel go back almost to the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948. Iran was the second Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel as a sovereign state, following Turkey, and the two countries had very close diplomatic and even military cooperation for many decades.

After the 1953 coup, which restored the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to power, relations improved further, and Israel and the CIA played a significant role in establishing the dreaded SAVAK, Iran’s intelligence organization, and training its personnel. Also, after the Six-Day War in 1967, Iran supplied Israel with a significant portion of its oil needs.

However, after the 1979 revolution, Iran severed all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel. The Islamic government does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a state, but despite hostile revolutionary rhetoric against Israel, relations between the two countries have not always been too acrimonious. Indeed, during the Iran-Iraq war, in order to prevent Saddam Hussein’s victory, Israel joined the mission to Iran under U.S. President Ronald Reagan and even provided Iran with some weapons in what later on came to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

Iranian funding of groups like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which Israel regards as terrorist organizations, and Israeli support for terrorist groups such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, the Jundullah, a militant terrorist organization based in Baluchestan that has carried out a number of deadly attacks against Iran, as well as Israeli covert operations in Iran, including assassinations and explosions, have intensified animosity between the two countries and have led to a number of tit-for-tat attacks on each other’s citizens.

The turning point from cold peace toward hostility occurred in the early 1990s, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Iraq in Desert Storm. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel was regarded as a U.S. bulwark against pro-Soviet Arab governments.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel could no longer continue to play that role. The removal of Saddam Hussein also removed a formidable enemy. Therefore, Israel directed all its attacks against a new enemy, namely Iran.

So, it is not a mere coincidence that Israel’s intense opposition to Iran’s nuclear program coincided with the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the removal of the threat from Iraq. Although Iran’s nuclear program had developed under the late Shah with active Israeli, South African and U.S. participation, after the revolution, when Iran tried to revive her program, Israel became its most vociferous opponent. Under the Iranian reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami there were some moves for a rapprochement with the West, including the recognition of Israel, but the George W. Bush Administration rebuffed those offers.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been continuously warning that Iran is on the verge of manufacturing a nuclear weapon and posing an “existential threat” to Israel. As early as 1992, he predicted that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon within three to five years. In 1993, he claimed that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999.This has been his constant refrain ever since the early 1990s and right up to the present time.

The interesting point is that the current and some former heads of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad have contradicted Netanyahu’s claims. They maintain that there has been no indication that Iran is moving towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons or poses an existential threat to Israel.

It is important to remember that Netanyahu has not only tried to incite war against Iran, he even made the same false claims prior to the Iraq war in 2003.

Therefore, the propaganda against the Iraqi and Iranian alleged nuclear weapons have had less to do with the existence of such weapons and more to do with the perception that those two countries were hostile to Israel and had to be attacked in order to bring about a regime change.

It should be stressed that Netanyahu’s views in no way represent the views of the majority of American Jews who are on the whole liberal and peace loving. Indeed, poll after poll has shown that the support for the nuclear deal with Iran is stronger among American Jews than among the population at large.

Netanyahu’s attempts to kill the deal with Iran have been futile and counterproductive. His intrusion into American domestic politics, and his cynical use of the U.S. Congress to undercut a major foreign policy achievement, have been acts of gross discourtesy to the president and to the American people, and a violation of diplomatic protocol.

The real reason for Israeli opposition to Iran’s nuclear program has been the fear of becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the U.S. administration as far as the Middle East is concerned. Iran’s alleged nuclear bomb also been used as an excuse to divert attention from Israel’s own nuclear arsenal and illegal expansion into occupied Palestinian territories.

Instead of continuing with this campaign of vilification and inciting a military attack on Iran, it would be wiser for Israel to try to reach a settlement with the Palestinians and pave the way for peaceful coexistence with regional countries, including Iran. The emergence of terrorist organizations that pose a serious threat to the entire world should bring Iran and Israel closer to fight that dangerous menace. The two countries should tone down their ugly rhetoric and violent activities against each other, and realize that dialogue and compromise always produce better results than war and bloodshed.

Meanwhile, it is time to focus on Israel’s nuclear weapons and establish a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. He is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford. This is the eighth of a series of 10 articles in which Jahanpour looks at various aspects and implications of the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany, plus the European Union

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

Licensed from Inter Press Service


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