Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the US foreign policy somersaults over Syria and Iran

August 26th, 2014

Amidst the day-to-day reports about the military advances of the Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, one remarkable aspect of this war has barely been mentioned. Namely, the complete 180 degree turn of US foreign policy whereby its former enemies – the Assad regime in Syria, the Sh’ite regime in Iran – are now US allies and their main bulwarks in stemming the tide of Sunni fundamentalism in the region.

Only a year ago, in the wake of reports about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the US was on the brink of a bombing campaign against the Assad regime. It was only the last minute intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin that talked the Americans down off the ledge and enabled a deal to be brokered that now seems to have successfully eliminated Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

This week, the Americans are again talking about a bombing campaign in Syria – but this time it would be to prop up the Assad regime, and to inhibit the advance of the Islamic State rebels. In testimony late last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey made it clear that to be effective, the current US bombing missions in Iraq would have to be extended to Syria:

On Thursday, Dempsey said that to deter the group, it will require addressing “the part of the organization that resides in Syria.”

Dempsey said he uses the name ISIS for the group because it reminds him that its long-term vision is “the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and al-Sham includes Lebanon, the current state of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait.”

“If they were to achieve that vision, it would fundamentally alter the face of the Middle East and create a security environment that would certainly threaten us in many ways,” Dempsey said.

In his testimony Dempsey added: “Can they [IS] be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border,” As Foreign Policy magazine noted, Dempsey’s testimony has been part of a noticeable escalation in rhetoric by the Obama administration.

On Tuesday, in response to the [James] Foley {execution] video, Secretary of State John Kerry said “ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed.” President Obama, speaking Wednesday in response to Foley’s death, said, “From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread.”

One of the other interesting things about this switcheroo is that the US perception of the threat posed by the Islamic State fighters has changed dramatically in a very, very short period of time. The US may have a global surveillance system of unimaginable sophistication, but its leaders don’t seem able to comprehend what the intelligence is telling them. In an interview with New Yorker magazine only seven months ago, US President Barack Obama was blithely dismissing the Islamic State and its successes – at the time, IS was already flying its flag over the conquered Iraqi town of Fallujah – as being no big deal at all:

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a Bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.

“Let’s just keep in mind, Fallujah is a profoundly conservative Sunni city in a country that, independent of anything we do, is deeply divided along sectarian lines. And how we think about terrorism has to be defined and specific enough that it doesn’t lead us to think that any horrible actions that take place around the world that are motivated in part by an extremist Islamic ideology are a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.”

Right. Yet now, only seven months down the track, we had the exact opposite analysis of IS last week, from US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel – who painted IS as a bigger threat than al Qaeda:

The group “is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group,” Hagel said in response to a question about whether the Islamic State posed a similar threat to the United States as al Qaeda did before Sept. 11, 2001.

“They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They’re tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything that we’ve seen,” Hagel said, adding that “the sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources now poses a whole new dynamic and a new paradigm of threats to this country.”

The good news for the Americans is that at least there was one guy writing in the New York Times who was reading this situation accurately all along. The bad news is that the guy concerned was Vladimir Putin. In a New York Times op ed published on 9/11 last year, Putin argued against the US throwing its military might behind the Syrian rebellion, lest that result in something worse:

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government……Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.

Even leaving aside Putin’s mealy-mouthed concerns about the sanctity of international law, that’s far closer to what is now the US perception of the situation. Belatedly, the US has awoken to the threat poised by the Islamic State. It may be too late. Within Syria, the Islamic State continues to advance, having – only yesterday – finally won the battle for a large Syrian government air base of Tabqa near the border with Turkey. It is a victory that will give IS control of the entire province of Raqqa, and access to planes, helicopters and a huge cache of munitions.

It may take more than a bombing campaign to turn the tide. After all, the Assad regime has enjoyed air superiority, too. Yet it doesn’t seem to have made any impact on the ability of IS to control, and more recently to administer, the territory that it continues to win.

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    1. 13 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the US foreign policy somersaults over Syria and Iran”

    2. By Andrew on Aug 26, 2014 | Reply

      Very true.
      It goes further though – as Seymour Hersh has written, the US were supplying chemical weapons precursors to the Syrian opposition which were the most likely source of the chemical attack that the US then blamed on Assad..
      Although Occam’s razor says it could be cumulative cluelessness on the part of the US, is it really possible for such a well-funded intelligence and military to be THAT useless..?

    3. By Steve on Aug 26, 2014 | Reply

      Yes, the evil United States has once again failed to intervene and save the good people of Iraq from extremism. I suspect – Gordon – that you would’ve joined a march to the US Embassy should the United States tried to preempt this aggression?

      I remember you celebrating the premature US withdrawal from Iraq & also being one of the most vocal opponents of the 2003 liberation or Iraq from Baathism. Mmmm, perhaps you were right after all. For Iraq NEEDS Baathism and totalitarianism in order to remain stable doesn’t it Gordon? The Iraqi people have no desire for lasting peace and democracy do they? And all the United States ever wanted was oil & money.

      Just another chapter in the never ending story. I’m glad that the United States is beating on the war drums again – hopefully this time their intervention will be more lasting and wont end because of some naive political campaign.

    4. By reason on Aug 26, 2014 | Reply

      What Planet are you on Steve?

      Everything the yanks touch over there turns to shit.

      They bombed Iraq back to the stone age with their ‘shock and awe’.

      Destroyed its infrastructure which provided things like clean water and power.

      They have poisoned the country with depleted uranium and just destabilized the hell out of the whole region.

      Lets also not forget that the yanks backed and bankrolled Saddam for a long long time, especially when he was killing Iranians with gas and warfare.

    5. By Steve on Aug 28, 2014 | Reply

      Perhaps France should intervene. They did a wonderful job cleaning up Mali. It’s a shame they were never thanked for it. The left is very selective in its coverage of global conflicts I find. Israel drops a bomb on Gaza and there’ll be 1,000 people marching down Queen Street to the US consulate (because America supplies Israel).

      Where is the disgust at what ISIS is doing? Where is the march to the Iranian Embassy in Hatitai? Where is the Green Party’s press release?

      Indeed, Keith Locke went so far as defending ISIS and saying NZ citizens waging aggressive war under its banner should not have their passports revoked!

    6. By Andrew on Aug 28, 2014 | Reply

      Steve – the US isn’t uniquely bad in it’s war mongering, it’s just uniquely hypocritical in it’s international postures.
      The Iranians were spot on this week when they observed that if Ferguson were happening in Iran, the US would be pressing for UN resolutions demonising the evil Iranian regime repressing their own people. When the US does it… well, it’s just messy domestic politics.
      That extreme level of hypocrisy has become the daily diet from the US, their faithful poodles, and the MSM in general.

    7. By Andrew on Aug 28, 2014 | Reply

      “Indeed, Keith Locke went so far as defending ISIS and saying NZ citizens waging aggressive war under its banner should not have their passports revoked!”

      wtf?! Keith Locke says something stupid and the the “left” are suddenly complicit and supposed to defend the statement? I look forward to the sight of the “right” defending everything Cam Slater has published..

    8. By Steve on Aug 28, 2014 | Reply

      I don’t glorify the United States, I just want people like you to be willing to condemn countries like Iran when they support militant groups like ISIS and Hamas.

      Keith Locke’s bleating is only an example of the left’s double standards (albeit an extreme one). God save us if he was ever asked to advise Cabinet on matters of foreign affairs.

      I am willing to condemn the U.S. for its handling of the events in Ferguson. I invite you to condemn ISIS and Iran’s support of such that directly enables it to murder and pillage. And I invite you to condemn Keith Locke and his elk for being hypocritical and for failing to hold Iran to its high moral standard.

      I wish the left lived up to its reason for being – the promotion of equality, collective responsibility and open social justice. Sadly, internationalism has no place in leftist politics anymore.

    9. By Andrew on Aug 28, 2014 | Reply

      I totally condemn ISIS, but the idea they’re supported by Iran is garbage. Iran has offered to cooperate with the US AGAINST ISIS as it’s crackpot idealogy threatens to spill over their borders and destabilise Iran.
      ISIS has benefited vastly more from US support in terms of arms and money channeled to anti-Syrian govt forces – forces that subsequently morphed into ISIS – than it has from support from Iran.
      I’ve seen zero evidence of Iran supporting ISIS – quite the opposite, they’ve supported Iraqi, Syrian and US forces that oppose ISIS.
      I do wish you’d get your facts straight or at least offer some evidence for the idea that Iran supports ISIS.

    10. By Cliff on Aug 28, 2014 | Reply

      Once again we have someone trying to Demonise Iran by saying they support ISIS. There is no way they support these scum. If anything they are willing to help their old foe Iraq.
      To me Iran is the only bastion of sanity left in the Middle East.

    11. By Andrew Nichols on Aug 29, 2014 | Reply

      Good Lord Steve. Shiite Iran supporting wahhabist Sunni ISIS – a group dedicated to wiping them out as apostates? Priceless! The Young Nats that I belonged to when I was your age were way better informed. Just what is wrong with the education these days?

    12. By Morrissey Breen on Aug 31, 2014 | Reply

      I’m probably the only person to have bothered reading more than a couple of lines of Steve’s confused and wandery rant, but it was worth it when I got to this admonitory gem: “I invite you to condemn Keith Locke and his elk”.

      If only all ignorant bores could make people laugh like that, the comments sections would be a lot more entertaining.

    13. By remo on Sep 2, 2014 | Reply

      “It was only the last minute intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin that talked the Americans down off the ledge and enabled a deal to be brokered….”.

      Given the Lloyd/Postol MIT report http://www.voltairenet.org/IMG/pdf/possible-implications-of-bad-intelligence.pdf
      of January this year affirming AlNosra ‘most likely’ perpetrator of Ghouta false flag gas attack; the UN Commission of Investigation on Syria Carla Del Ponte’s earlier report May 6. 2013 charging the Syrian rebels used the nerve agent sarin gas earlier-adding that there was no evidence of the Syrian government using chemical weapons – http://www.larouchepub.com/pr_lar/2013/130911_rebs_chem_wpns_syr.html ; the alNosra mercenaries arrested on suspicion of false flag bombings May 30th with 2kg of Sarin in Adana and Mersin, Turkey ; AND the ISTEAM reporting Ghouta as false flag:
      Given all that, PUTIN (and LAVROV)’s reported behaviour becomes a service to the world of sanity, saving the people of Damascus from a NATO R2P slaughter, and ‘us’, back here in La La, from applauding a western alliance (John McCAIN/you done it again) with mercenary jihaddist murderers now slashing their way across the ‘green crescent’ as ISIL. Which may or may not be argued as further provocation for NATO to go in and whack ASSAD collaterally while ‘dealing to’ ISIL. Arguably a creature of western intelligence anyway.

      In the same vein – with John McCAIN’s posturing with Pravy-Sector naziis in mind; we can also thank those relaying the data showing ‘Pro-west’ Ukrainian fighters and ‘Kolomoiski’ Junta forces ‘most likely’ shot down MH17 ;
      those leaking the Nuland/Pyatt “F ck the EU” phone call ;
      those leaking the Paet/Ashton phone call stating Pravy-sector snipers at the Maidan (Operation GLADIO)
      plus Nuland herself boasting the 5 billion US$ spent USAM agitating the Ukraine coup.

    14. By Danny on Sep 5, 2014 | Reply

      Roar, Steve?

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