PBS: Escaping Eritrea … [Read More...] about ካብ ውሽጢ ቤት ማእሰርታት ኤርትራ
Michael Brenner, 08/03/2015, The Huffington Post
The first test of a foreign policy’s coherence is whether its actions and declarations meet the standard of elementary logic. There is abundant evidence that American policies in the Middle East fail that test. Let us look at several examples of manifest contradiction that will provide the basis for specifying what are the requirements for achieving greater coherence.
The primary objective of the United States’ engagements in the region is to blunt the drive of ISIL and eventually to eliminate it. This has been stated repeatedly by President Obama. Success depends on a multi-pronged strategy that includes a political and ideological dimension as well as a military one. There is no question, though, that the present imperative is to marshal military forces capable of repelling ISIL. They must include ground troops – “boots on the ground.” Since Washington has ruled out the deployment of American combat soldiers, local forces in adequate numbers and ability are needed.
Yet, the Obama White House insists on the exclusion of the Shi’ite militias, the Hashid Shaabi in Iraqi terminology, who are the most effective force operating outside of the Kurdish region. No air support is provided to the militias where they are engaged – as around Tikrit; we have pressured the al-Abadi government in Baghdad to keep them on the sidelines of the developing battle to retake Fallujah and Ramadi; and we insist that we will not as much as discuss with commanders of the Hashid an overall strategy or force dispositions.
Iran was a crucial role to play in the anti-ISIL campaign. It has trained and provided advisers to the Hashid through the Quds force of the Revolutionary Guard. It helps arm them. The IRI is the closest ally of the regime in Baghdad led by its co-religionists – the country’s majority shia. These ties cover the whole gamut of inter-state dealings from military, to finance, to commerce, to an integrated power grid. No critical decisions are taken by al-Abadi without consulting his counterparts in Tehran.
Yet, the Obama administration has avowed in the strongest words possible that it sees Iran as a destabilizing factor in Iraq and across the Middle East. It has declared bluntly that the opening created by the nuclear accord will not change the current antagonistic relationship which, in Washington’s stated judgment, derives from the hostile actions of the IRI – re. terrorism, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and developments in Iraq.
The other relatively effective fighting force opposing ISIL is provided by the Kurds. Actually, it is two loosely connected forces. One is the Peshmerga who are the creation of the semi-autonomous government that has ruled Kurdistan in Northern Iraq since 2003. The other is the YPG (of Kobane fame) located in northern Syria who are an emanation of PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, which has been a rival of the ruling People’s Democratic Party in Iraq. The PKK is the militant that espouses a secular, radical ideology. It mounted the long and bloody insurrection against the Ankara government in southeastern Turkey. It has refuges across the border in the mountains of Kurdistan. Serious negotiations between the PKK and Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the past two years were promising but collapsed within the past few weeks as a result of a number of violent incidents. They included the killing of several police and soldiers that Ankara blames on the PKK which denies responsibility and hints at a false flag operation by the Turkish security services. Coincidentally, Turkey has experienced a terrorist attack at Surac ascribed to ISIL elements which left 31 dead and 100 wounded.
This series of events has culminated in an understanding this week between the U.S. and Turkey heralded as a break-through in the fight against ISIL. The vaguely worded communiques record an agreement to establish a buffer zone south of the Turkish-Syrian border to be protected by primarily American aircraft enforcing a ‘no-fly’ zone. In principle, the zone will be administered by “relatively moderate” elements of the Syrian opposition. There’s the rub. The pro-Western forces of the original Free Syrian Army are too weak militarily and politically to exercise control. That truth was driven home this week when the first 60 graduates of the American training program (cost: $500 million) were wiped out in northern Syria when attacked by al-Nusra militias who captured the commander and his deputy. So “relatively moderate” may refer to the self-same (al-Qaeda subsidiary) al-Nusra which Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulfies and some in Washington having been pushing forward as honorary “good guys.” Al-Nusra clearly has been receiving material and political backing from Erdogan. As for the YPG who have been trying to carve out a Kurdish mini-region of their own within the conjectured “buffer zone,” they would be left out in the cold.
In other words, Washington seems prepared to marginalize the Syrian Kurds in exchange for vague promises from Ankara to attack ISIL. To date, Turkish air strikes have been intense against the PKK in Iraq while ISIL remains unscathed.
Turkey and the United States have divergent objectives in Syria. Erdogan is dedicated to unseating Assad in Damascus as part of his grand scheme to expand Turkish/Ottoman influence in the region. Since the eruption of ISIL, he cloaks this in the garb of a champion of the Sunni world in the struggle against a supposed Iran-led shi’ite revival. Countering the salafists is a secondary concern. Indeed, Erdogan and associates view al-Nusra as a (junior) partner in the enterprise. As for ISIL, there are substantial grounds to credit the proposition that ISIL’s development and sustenance could not have been possible without tangible assistance from Ankara. Turkey has functioned as a rear base, refuge and access route to the outside world. Arms, fighters, supplies and money have flowed in via that route. Oil has flowed out.
A few incidents along the border and in Turkey seemingly have strained those relations as punctuated by the Surac attack. Ankara has made much of a round-up of ISIL connected persons inside Turkey but it is difficult to determine who they are and the genuineness of the advertised crackdown. The large majority of the hundreds arrested are Kurds and leftists (356 of the 395 arrested according to the latest tally). It may well be a cover for a campaign to defame and undercut the political opposition in the run-up to the next round of elections. The Kurdish dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) whose surprise gains in the June election that saw Erdogan’s AKD party suffer a decisive defeat and lose its majority.
A more basic – and consequential – contradiction is evident in Obama’s currying of favor with King Salman of Saudi Arabia at time when the KAS actively opposes most American policies in the Middle East. The Saudis see Iran as an imminent threat to their legitimacy and security – in political, military, and religious terms. That has become the pivot of their foreign policy. In this cause, they bitterly opposed the nuclear deal and have tried to undercut it in Congress as junior allies of the pro-Israel lobbyists even while toning down their public rhetoric. Washington’s own implacably hard-line attitude toward the IRI matches that of the Saudis.This is in part out of conviction and, in part, out of political expediency since the White House has reached the erroneous conclusion that fierce anti-Iran posturing is helping them with Congressional passage of the pending resolution on the nuclear accord.
In contrast to that transitory convergence, the KAS has been pursuing policies re. ISIl and al-Nusra that are diametrically opposite to American interests. ISIL thrived on material support from Riyadh and the Gulfies (originally from official sources; now from private sources). Saudi leaders observe the dictum that they cannot afford any fundamentalist enemies on the salafist end of the Islamic theological continuum. Their promotion of wahabbism throughout the umma has been driven by this overriding consideration. That places them alongside all the militant sunni forces fighting Assad.
For them, getting rid of Assad and somehow neutralizing the shi’ite government in Baghdad take priority. So, no soldiers to fight ISIL (and perhaps some private support for them); direct support – material and political – to al-Nusra; stoking the flames of a sunni-shi’ite conflict across the region; and the brutal assault against the Houthis (and civilians) in Yemen. The last mentioned has opened the way to expansion of AQAP’s influence and, indeed, its acceptance by Riyadh as a member of the coalition is has cobbled together to fight the Houthis around Aden.
The United States cannot at one and the same time exercise a constructive influence on the numerous and diverse conflicts of the Middle East while deferring to the parochial agendas of leaders in Riyadh, Ankara and Jerusalem. Leading powers must always act in accordance with their own (hopefully enlightened) conception of what they see as favoring the cause of long-term stability. That conception logically cannot include a sectarian war between branches of Islam; the embrace of autocrats from the obscurantist theocrats in Riyadh to the murderous military dictatorship of al-Sisi in Egypt, to the anti-democratic imperial chimeras of Erdogan, to the hyper-nationalist and repressive rulers in Jerusalem.
In all of these cases, appeasement of strong willed leaders has devolved into something that approximates a dominant/subordinate relationship with the sole-surviving-superpower allowing itself to occupy the low position. This inverted psychology what produces the spectacle of Bibi Netanyahu humiliating Barack Obama even in his own capital and before his own Congress to which the latter responds by making yet further concessions, e.g. the release of Israeli spy Pollard. That same psychology leads the President to perform a string of appeasing acts to satisfy King Salman of Saudi Arabia while feeling too inhibited to raise the pressing issue of Saudi backing for the salafist terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. It also results in an unequal bargain with Erdogan that caters to Turkish aspirations while the United States is offered only the solace of access to its own air base (Incirlik) that will be used to enforce the no-fly zone demanded by Ankara. The rest of the world takes note.
Afghanistan has slipped into the back pages. That loss of status is not justified by reality. For the administration has embarked on its own “operation eternity” by de facto rescinding Obama’s pledge to end American military involvement there. Troops numbering 13 – 15,000 will remain indefinitely. They not only will advise and train but now have been granted authority to engage in combat when force protection dictates their doing so. Air strikes will continue. CIA operatives accompanied by “consultants” continue their endless counter-insurgency campaign against a plethora of enemies.
At this juncture, the Taliban are making gains across the country as the vaunted Afghan National Army and police appear to be doing a slow-motion imitation of their Iraqi counterparts. Militias of all sorts are regaining strength. The insurrection movement is splintering as divisions open on the question of negotiating with the Kabul government, as more radical younger leaders come to the fore, as ISIL ideology exercises its seductive appeal on some of the latter, and as jihadis from across the northern border reenter the fray from Central Asian republics. In other words, Afghanistan is returning to “normal.”
Meanwhile, President Obama erases from the nation’s collective memory (with a huge assist from the MSM) his December ceremony officially pronouncing the Afghan War over. The Pentagon relentlessly plugs away in the hope that it will not have to record another defeat. And the hawks of various plumage cheer what now is the hardy perennial of the Global War On Terror.
American policies in the Greater Middle East obviously are in disarray. Glaring contradictions exist within each policy sphere and among them. Strategy is invisible. Senior administration officials can’t even agree on the priority order of threats to American security. To President Obama and John Kerry, ISIL is (or was) Number One: “the greatest threat to America, greater than al-Qaeda.” For our most senior military chiefs (Generals Martin Dempsey, Joseph Dunford jr, Philip Breedlove, Raymond Odierno), ISIL is only Number 4 – with Russia holding the top spot.
Of course, the very notion of ranking nebulous threats is silly. It exposes how unprepared the Obama administration is for strategic planning commensurate with the singular complexity of these issues
Michael Brenner is Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations; Professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh