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Saturday, 28 November 2015

ISIS's plan, and the west's trap

ISIS's plan, and the west's trap

The pattern of conflict since 2001 teaches a lesson that western states refuse to learn.
USAF F-15E fighters. Flickr/Stuart Rankin. Some rights reserved. USAF F-15E fighters. Flickr/Stuart Rankin. Some rights reserved.Al-Qaida evolved throughout the 1990s. By the end of the decade it had become a small but potent transnational revolutionary movement rooted in a perverse, unrepresentative version of one of the world’s main monotheistic faiths – Islam, one of the three 'religions of the book' alongside Judaism and Christianity.
Its ambitious aim was to cause the overthrow of the 'near enemy' regimes in the Middle East and southwest Asia, replacing them with 'proper' Islamist regimes; to see Zionism destroyed; and to so damage the 'far enemy' of the United States and its western partners that a new caliphate would grow outwards from the centre of Islam.
At the heart of its doctrine was an eschatological worldview whose timescales were potentially eternal.  Even so, one of its key early tactics was quite specific and immediate – violent actions within the 'near' and 'far' enemies that would provoke massive overreactions and then sow dissension and chaos.  9/11 was the most substantial of these. The attack directly aimed at drawing the United States into occupying Afghanistan; instead, the US response was focused on using Northern Alliance paramilitaries as surrogate troops, and it took several years before the Taliban could return in strength.
Many of the violent assaults of the early 2000s – Madrid, London, Casablanca, Bali, Jakarta, Karachi, Istanbul, Sinai, Amman and many others – were undertaken by groups loosely connected with al-Qaida yet often willing to act under its banner. By 2006, however, what remained of 'al-Qaida central' had limited power, and over the following six years was superseded by ISIS.

The ISIS strategy

ISIS's new version kept the long-term aim of creating a worldwide caliphate. But from 2011, circumstances in Syria (after the start of the Arab awakening) and Iraq (after the American withdrawal) allowed for the rapid creation of an actual proto-caliphate. ISIS was therefore much more focused on territory, and won considerable success in the effort. This eventually resulted in a US-led coalition mounting a strong reaction in the shape of the air-war that started in August 2014: Operation Inherent Resolve.
The intensity of the war has been scarcely reported. It has involved 57,000 sorties and 8,300 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that as of 13 November 2015, hit 16,075 separate targets. The overwhelming majority of the sorties were flown by US air force (USAF) and US navy planes. The Pentagon estimates that 20,000 ISIS supporters have been killed. Furthermore, the withdrawal of Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates from airstrikes in Syria means that this is now essentially a western war (see "Syria, another 'all-American' war?", 12 November 2015).
Such a concentrated war would create the expectation of ISIS being on its knees. Yet the Pentagon also estimates that the number of active ISIS paramilitaries is unchanged from 2014 at 20,000-30,000, while US intelligence agencies say that 30,000 people from 100 countries have joined ISIS (compared to 15,000 people from 80 countries by mid-2014). The air-war, in short, is not defeating ISIS (see "The west vs ISIS: a new stage", 21 November 2015).
Moreover, a significant change in ISIS tactics has occurred. It now combines holding territory with operating overseas in a manner reminiscent of al-Qaida’s approach of a decade ago. In the past year ISIS has sought to make stronger connections with Islamist paramilitaries in several countries – including Libya, southern Russia, Yemen and Afghanistan – and bring them under its own banner. It is also promoting direct attacks elsewhere: among them two attacks in Tunisia (Tunis's Bardo museum and Sousse's beach resort), the destruction of a Russian tourist jet over Sinai, and bombings in Beirut and Paris.
There are almost certain to be more, not least as ISIS is reported to have established an organised wing of the movement with this specific aim (see Eric Schmitt, “Paris Attacks and Other Assaults Seen as Evidence of a Shift by ISIS”, New York Times, 23 November 2015). The plan has three purposes:
* to demonstrate power and capability, including to supplant what remains of the support for al-Qaida
* to incite as much Islamophobia and community conflict as possible, especially in France and Britain
* to provoke an even more intense war from the west, ideally involving western ground-troops.
All this is relevant to the decision by Britain's prime minister David Cameron to seek approval for the Royal Air Force (RAF) to join in the bombing of Syria. It is highly likely that this will be supported by the House of Commons within the next week, unless individual members can rise above the understandable desire that 'something must be done'. But it is significant that behind the rhetoric about destroying and defeating ISIS, the government's intention in terms of the direct assault is actually far more modest.
When parliament's foreign-affairs committee asked Cameron what the overall objective of the military campaign was and whether it was intended to be 'war-winning', he replied: “The objective of our counter-ISIL campaign is to degrade ISIL’s capabilities so that it no longer presents a significant terrorist threat to the UK or an existential threat to Syria, Iraq or other states.” This falls far short of a military victory and no timetable is given even for this limited aim.

Back to the future

The decision to expand the war against ISIS is worth putting in historical perspective. By the end of 2001, three months after 9/11, the US coalition appeared to have destroyed the Taliban and massively damaged al-Qaida. This enabled George W Bush to declare success in his state-of-the-union address in January 2002. Yet al-Qaida went on to facilitate attacks worldwide, and the war against a resurgent Taliban continues to this day.
By May 2003, President Bush could declare “mission accomplished” against Saddam Hussein’s regime after just six weeks, but an immensely costly eight-year war ensued. In 2011, President Obama felt Iraq sufficiently secure to withdraw all US combat-troops, but within two years ISIS was rampant. That same year, France and Britain celebrated the end of the Gaddafi regime in Libya only for the country to disintegrate into a violent, failing state and weapons to proliferate across the Sahel.
What is frankly amazing is that the same mistakes are being made, and that western leaders are falling into the same traps. There is no recognition at all that ISIS is intent on provoking an expanded war, that this is what it is going to get, and that its leadership will be well satisfied with its achievements.

Friday, 20 November 2015

War is not the answer to terrorism

Reprinted from US Labor Against War (USLAW)

Sisters and Brothers,
For the first time since World War II, at the close of a long night of terrorist attacks on November 13th, France found itself under mandatory curfew. Since the announcement that France would treat this as an ‘act of war,’ over 150 counterterrorism raids have taken place. A manhunt is raging, not to mention the bombing of the capital of ISiS in Syria. The events that have transpired in France are a stark reminder of the violent and challenging world we live in. We mourn the loss of life our brothers and sisters from acts of terrorism and condemn the violence that caused that loss of life.

We should be clear about where this problem of rapidly metastasizing terrorism comes from. Our problem has consistently been us – nations with power and influence Our problem has consistently been us – nations with power and influence. Instead of using diplomatic means to solve crises, we have turned to military strategies that have lead us farther and farther down the wrong path. Even our president has admitted that using the military to solve this problem seems futile. So killing and maiming many innocent civilians in pursuit of terrorists will likely make things worse, not better. Sadly, the very people we’ll be bombing in Syria and elsewhere hold the key to the solution. It will take the work of the citizens of this region to make their situations better. Anything else will lead to more displacement.

We should also remember that what happened in Paris on that Friday night happens with regularity in a Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. These countries experience similar tragedies yet don’t receive the goodwill bestowed upon the French. Most days they are ignored. While it doesn’t diminish the horror and sadness that we should all feel at what Parisians have experienced, it certainly makes you wonder where we draw the line when it comes to human suffering. Are Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Afghans or Lebanese somehow less deserving? We should view a loss of life anywhere just as deserving of international solidarity and support. Anything less is hypocrisy.

In times like these, it is easy to get caught up in rhetoric and nationalism, forgetting that war has been an expensive venture that leads to no substantive gains. To quote Phyllis Bennis “Terrorism survives wars; people don’t.” That’s why it is important to tell the truth about terrorism and the War on Terror. The economic wellbeing of the country is threatened by the overhang of debt created by the reckless funding of war and the distorted federal budget priorities that fund U.S. militarized foreign policy, instead of devoting those resources to urgent domestic human needs.

Finally, even in these dark moments we must remember to reject these racist and reactionary attacks on refugees and immigrants. The terror of war has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and countries. The Islamophobic attempt to characterize these victims of violence as potential terrorists is intended to stoke fear and feeds the broader racist xenophobic attack on immigrants and people of color. The vast majority of those who have been victims of terrorism are themselves Muslims. The perpetrators of these attacks are no more representative of Islam than members of the Ku Klux Klan are representative of Christianity. The U.S. has a moral duty to provide aid and sanctuary to refugees fleeing wars that are largely fought with arms that our country has poured into the Middle East.

As we reflect on the terrible continuing effects of the Iraq war, we in U.S. Labor Against the War commit ourselves to continuing and deepening our partnerships within the labor movement and with peace, veterans, and community organizations. We will continue to work with our partners in the Iraqi labor movement and Iraqi civil society. We will not turn away from our longstanding commitments to peace and justice across the globe, and for our veterans and the American people.

We are determined to end our country’s militarized foreign policy, no matter where our government seeks to apply it, and to promote true security for our people through universal education, health care, and modern infrastructure.
In Solidarity,
US Labor Against the War

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Futility by Wilfred Owen

This is the World War One poem Jeremy Corbyn will read at an event today and to which the Daily Mail objects in a long list of Corbyn's misdeeds, errors:

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved—still warm—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

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Remember that WWI was an imperial war

Jeremy Corbyn is targetted again today by the Dail Mail, and other right wing newspapers, for insufficiently recognising the sacrifice of millions who died in numerous British wars over the past century. He did not bow low enough. He suggested that wars are usually futile. That Wilfred Owen's poem Futility is appropriate for reading on Remembrance Sunday. That wars and capitalism are interlinked. That the First World War was a bloodbath that was propelled by naked land grabs and not a defence of freedom against aggression or of democracy against autocracy.

Among other things, the Daily Mail objects to this statement by Corbyn: 

'I have no objection to people wearing poppies in memory of those who died in wars, but in doing so we should have enough humility to realise that war kills and, as the first world war showed, is usually futile.

'There are alternatives but they require a different way of administering the world and standing up to commercial pressures, arms and mineral companies who seek to move in behind Western intervention.

'Perhaps this is where we should be focusing and not on the jingoism and bunting that was hung out in 1914 for the young men who were seen off on train stations in London before breathing their last on the western front.'

In the Sunday Times, a Tory MP accuses Corbyn of politicising Remembrance Sunday.

In those attacks is revealed what the Right considers that British wars have been fought for and Britain stands for in the world. It revelas the Establishment consensus - the politics - behind remembering the dead, remembering those who lost their lives. Behind all the talk of sacrifice is a hard-nosed pro-war politics that remains on the current political agenda. It reveals one stark fact that has hardly changed despite so-called decolonisation - that the British Establishment's imperial world view remains fundamental to their self concepts and concept of the 'national' interest.

Jeremy Corbyn's election to Labour leader threatens that imperial, pro-war consensus that led to the most recent wars of choice that Britain has waged, and is waging - Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and its current military role in Iraq and Syria.

Corbyn does not stand alone - he stands for an influential and widespread viewpoint that is opposed to militarism, imperialism and war.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Blair’s apology fails to deal with core matter: that he and Bush tailored intelligence to wage a war of aggression for regime change in Iraq and committed crimes against peace

Blair’s apology fails to deal with core matter: that he and Bush tailored intelligence to wage a war of aggression for regime change in Iraq and committed crimes against peace
Tony Blair’s recent ‘apology’ for ‘errors’ in making war on Iraq in 2003 has been declared a non-apology by most commentators and media, including those who supported the war drive and peddled with enthusiasm the myth of Iraqi WMD (weapons of mass destruction).  This is because Blair has only re-stated what he’s been saying for over a decade – that the war on Iraq resulted from a failure of the intelligence services to deliver accurate information on WMD. Unfortunately, hardly anyone appears to have made the more significant point – that both President Bush and Tony Blair knew full well Iraq had no WMD arsenal and tailored evidence to support a predetermined strategy of regime change, to knock out the Saddam Hussein regime that threatened broader western interests in the middle east. The threat was mainly political – Saddam refused to kowtow to the US, West or their Arab allies.

Blair’s apology is rightly seen as a political agenda-setting move to deal with a likely damning verdict from the long-awaited (Sir John) Chilcott Report on the Iraq war, which Blair has by all accounts already seen. In the longer term, it is rumoured that Blair harbours a desire to return to the House of Commons. Both moves suggest a level of delusion rare even among the most ambitious leaders in world history.

It is only a few days ago that damning correspondence between then US secretary of state Colin Powell and the White House revealed that Blair had committed Britain to a US war on Iraq at least a year before March 2003. Previously leaked documents, such as the infamous Downing Street memo, had already shown that British intelligence services knew and reported directly to 10 Downing Street and Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a face-to-face meeting, that there was little evidence of Iraq possessing WMD.

The Downing Street Memo (July 2002) states: “C [Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

Bush had decided on military action to remove Saddam, the US administration had also determined a way to justify that action—the ‘conjunction’ of terrorism and WMD.  And the intelligence to back up the terrorism-WMD link was being arranged (“fixed around”) to support the already-determined policy of invasion.  Not only did the National Security Council – headed by Condoleeza Rice - have “no patience” with going to the UN, there was no  or “little discussion” in Washington about what would happen after Baghdad fell.

That meeting also made clear that any war on Iraq for regime change would be illegal under international law. It was also revealed that only a war of self-defence could be classified as lawful, and that would be limited to restoring the previous status quo, not regime change. The only other reasons for war would be humanitarian intervention or a United Nations resolution.
At that meeting, Blair developed the argument linking WMD to regime change – that it was the regime that produced and threatened peace through WMD. But the intelligence was clear – no Iraqi  WMD existed – the UN weapons inspectors, led by Hans Blix, had demonstrated that through painstaking searches. Yet, Blair was informed at that meeting that as the US war plan required the use of British military and air bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia, and because Britain was a signatory of the International Criminal Court, its actions would be illegal insofar as the war was waged for regime change.

According to Colin Powell’s letter to Bush, Blair had agreed to present the “strategic, tactical and public affairs line” both to President Bush and the general public to aid the war drive. Both believed that success in Iraq would lead to even greater success in the Gulf region.
It was due to the weak case made by intelligence services that the Blair government produced what has become known as “the dodgy dossier” – the document that declared Saddam Hussein’s intention to use WMD against the west and the capability of delivering such attacks in a space of just 45 minutes.

Tony Blair is relying on short memories by eliding the real issue – the tailoring of intelligence in Britain and the US – in order to illegally overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime which led to many hundreds of thousands of deaths, a refugee crisis, and the rise of the Islamic State, the Khmer Rouge of our age.

The issue is not about a Blair apology but about crimes against peace and in the prosecution of a war of aggression.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Corbyn's Leadership Bid Threatens New Labour, Thatcherite Consens

The Wire
Corbyn’s Leadership Bid Threatens Cozy New Labour, Thatcherite Consensus

It all started as a caller’s off-hand suggestion during a London radio phone-in show and, apparently, as a bit of a joke. Even Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing MP who has represented the constituency of Islington North in the House of Commons since 1983, viewed his nomination for the Labour leadership contest as a bit of a long shot. The Tories initially greeted a likely Corbyn victory as a gift – but they’re not cheering so loudly now. Corbyn’s campaign meetings and rallies have drawn thousands of people. Like the Scottish National Party’s anti-austerity call north of the border during the referendum, the victory of the Syriza Party in Greece, and the emergence of the self-proclaimed socialist, Bernie Sanders in the US, Corbyn’s movement-like campaign threatens to change the game and place dynamite under the bedrock of the neo-liberal Thatcherite consensus that has prevailed since the 1980s.

The establishment’s terror of a Corbyn victory may be seen in the hysterical media blitz against him – negative attempts to smear him by attacking his wife, digging for dirt on his parliamentary expenses (just £80 last year, as it turned out), digs about his beard, and about the fact that he eats cold baked beans straight from the can. More substantially, he is smeared as ‘anti-American’ for wanting to remove US bases from British soil, ‘anti-Semitic’ for criticising Israel’s relentless war on the Palestinians, ‘pro-Putin’ over Ukraine because he dares criticise NATO’s post-Cold War expansionism, and monstrous for suggesting that Islamic State is the result of the disastrous and illegal war of aggression against Iraq in 2003—which he opposed at the time, unlike his principal New Labour leadership challengers and critics, including the Blairites. Tony Blair should be worried: if elected, Corbyn is planning to apologise to the Iraqi people and has hinted at a war crimes trial for the former premier.

George Orwell would be proud of the double-speak from New Labour’s gurus – Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson et al. Their rhetoric is ‘radical’ – the country needs a radical alternative, that attacks poverty and inequality, and delivers public service and social justice. But they all support the austerity policies – i.e., further savage cuts in welfare spending on the most vulnerable – of the Cameron government. This contradiction is helpfully glossed over by the mainstream media.

As a democratic socialist, Corbyn has stood on the left of the Labour party for decades and has hardly changed despite the takeover of the party by ‘New’ Labour. In reality, the party was transformed into a pale imitation of the Conservatives after the Thatcher revolution. Now, he stands accused of encouraging Greens, leftists, and even mischievous Conservatives to join the Labour Party to get elected. His is the authentic voice of a Labour constituency that many had pronounced dead – anti-war, anti-imperial, pro-Palestinian, for nuclear disarmament, and for an end to the privatisation of major utilities.

Corbyn’s policies – to extract more taxes from big corporations by closing loopholes, to reverse Tory spending cuts, to renationalise the railways and energy utilities, to reinstate Clause 4 of the Party’s constitution (to take into public ownership the ‘commanding heights of the economy’), to renegotiate the relationship of the state to the individual, is considered revolutionary within the Labour party but has massive popular appeal across party divides. Corbyn’s appeal chimes with the dramatic victory of the SNP at the May 2015 general election – where Labour lost dozens of seats. He also draws support from traditional Labour and other supporters of the UK Independence Party, which won 5 million votes in the general election. His campaign is a rebuke to the long-lived politics of TINA – ‘there is no alternative’, the clarion call of Margaret Thatcher as she dismantled the welfare state and declared war on the trade unions and working poor.

Although ahead in the polls, a Corbyn victory is fraught with problems. Several former and current Labour grandees are warning of a civil war within the party should the democratic socialist win on September 12. Holding together the party will be a major problem for Corbyn’s leadership and could lead to a major split. The last time Labour adopted a left-wing manifesto, back in the early 1980s, with the late Tony Benn at its head, several leading figures on the right of the party—such as Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams— formed the rival Social Democratic Party. And that’s the message the Blairites are driving home – that there will be a replay of the electoral disaster of 1983.

Opposing the Conservative government’s austerity policies will also be challenging given the widespread acceptance of savage public expenditure cuts as an “obvious” strategy. The prevailing consensus is deeply entrenched despite the near-collapse of the financial system in 2007-08.
And the record of Labour in power, even before the Thatcher era, was often seen as evidence, by the Left, of the impossibility of radical reform and redistribution of wealth, income and power to the working class within a capitalist order.

Yet, it is also clear that there is a yearning for change, an alternative to untrammelled free market ideology, largely adopted by New Labour since the 1990s, indeed a hallmark of their takeover of the old Labour party of the trade unions. Corbyn’s apparently unlikely bid for the Labour leadership reflects a deep desire for an overdue debate about the kind of economy, polity—and country—Britain needs to be in the twenty-first century.

Whatever the outcome on 12 September, the Labour Party cannot continue in the old, New Labour, way—Corbyn has torpedoed that project. And the Cameron government will face the prospect of a revitalised opposition, with broad public support, and a party with thousands of new members and supporters who are mobilising for action.
Inderjeet Parmar is a professor of political science at City University, London.