Water: source of life and conflict in the Land of Rivers

By Joris Leverink On August 1, 2015

Post image for Water: source of life and conflict in the Land of RiversOil is often seen as the root cause of conflict in the Middle East, but in the coming years water might come to overtake it as a key source of dispute.

Photo by João Silva.

Mesopotamia, the ‘Land of Two Rivers’, cradle of modern civilization and currently home to probably as many conflicts as there are ethnic groups, religious factions and nation states. Rebels fighting states, Sunnis battling Shias, Turks clashing with Kurds, jihadists massacring local villagers, environmental activists against national governments and states competing with one another for the region’s natural resources.

Where oil is widely considered to be one of the main causes for the region’s instability — mainly because it drew imperialist powers to the region that eagerly supported local dictators to ensure continued and unlimited access to the precious liquid — another potential source of conflict is often overlooked. Water, the first and foremost source of life in the barren desert regions of the Middle East, which allowed for the world’s first civilizations to develop on the fertile floodplains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is becoming ever more scarce, and the struggles to safeguard a fair share are growing fiercer by the day.

Water flows. From the mountains to the seas. Oblivious to national borders, local conflicts and the religious, ethnic and ideological backgrounds of the people who populate its banks. Rivers that sprout in one country quench thirst in another, and as such, by definition, they play in important role in the relations between the countries whose borders they so easily cross.

On several occasions over the past decades local development projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have brought the three neighboring states Turkey, Syria and Iraq to the brink of war. When in 1990 Turkey blocked the flow of the Euphrates for nine days to fill the reservoir of the Atatürk dam, Iraq massed troops on its border and threatened to bomb the dam. Nowadays, tensions remain high as yet another Turkish mega-dam is about to be completed — the Ilisu dam on the Tigris river — which will severely reduce the water flow to Iraq and destroy thousands of years of cultural and historical heritage at home.

Water is cause for conflict in many instances, but it also has the potential to bring communities together to build the necessary foundations for lasting peace in the Middle East.

Hasankeyf under threat

Topping the list of concerns of many local and international campaigns against the construction of the Ilisu dam is the fate of the town of Hasankeyf. The town and its surroundings are home to numerous archaeological sites — some of which remain unexplored — that date back more than 12,000 years. The ruins of an 11th century bridge mark the spot where the Silk Road once crossed the river Tigris and the thousands of human-made caves that dot the mountains bare witness to the unique culture of the region. All of this is set to disappear below the surface of the water once the inundation of the dam reservoir begins.

Immediately after the announcement of the project in 1997, a social movement emerged. Civil society groups, local professionals and international NGOs joined forces to oppose the project and raise awareness about the potential destruction of the natural environment, the cultural heritage and the displacement of up to 78,000 people from their homes in and around Hasankeyf.

A successful international campaign temporarily halted the project in 2009, when a number of European financiers withdrew their support after it was exposed that Turkey failed to meet the international standards of dam-building set by the World Bank to protect the environment, affected people, riparian states and cultural heritage. However, after Turkey turned to its national banks to provide the necessary funding, the project is now back on track and is set for completion this year.

Once completed, the Ilisu dam will provide approximately 2 percent of the national electricity requirements — an amount that can easily be provided by other, less destructive means, such as the upgrading of the country’s outdated transmission lines. Also, in combination with the nearby Cizre dam the Ilisu dam will serve to irrigate agricultural land, bringing much needed development to the region and providing employment opportunities for the impoverished population.

At least, that is what the Turkish government would have us believe.

More skeptical minds see a correlation between the large number of mega-developmental projects that have a devastating effect on local culture, society and the environment; the fact that a large number of these project take place in Kurdish dominated areas; and the neo-Ottoman aspirations of the current government that dreams of reinstalling Turkey as the dominant power in the region.

Development as political instrument

The Ilisu dam is part of the giant Southeast Anatolia Regional Development Project (GAP, after its Turkish acronym) which was launched in 1977 and aims to built a total of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants by 2015, covering nine provinces in southeastern Turkey. The GAP project is presented by the government as bringing development to the traditionally impoverished and underdeveloped regions where poor living standards have caused the local Kurds to rise up against the central state for many decades.

For years, the Turkish central government, led by the former prime minister and current president Erdogan, has claimed that there is no such thing as a “Kurdish problem”, denying the fact that the country’s Kurdish population has been discriminated against on the basis of its ethnic background, and arguing that the Kurds’ hardships stem from the underdevelopment of their traditional homelands in southeastern Turkey.

The logical conclusion following this line of thought is that economic development of the predominantly Kurdish regions in the southeast of the country automatically eliminates all grudges the Kurds could possibly hold against the Turkish government.

In its pursuit to pacify the country’s Kurdish population, the GAP project is only partially successful — and not because it has brought the supposedly much-demanded development to the region. Many locals in the affected areas perceive the GAP project in general, and the Ilisu Dam in particular, as a well-thought-out scheme designed to undermine social cohesion, relocate farmers and villagers to regional urban centers, and form a “natural” barricade against the Kurdish militants of the PKK.

Across the region it is common policy for the government to pay the forcefully displaced locals the market value of their houses and plots of lands in compensation. People are then offered alternative housing in nearby settlements, newly constructed for the purpose of relocation. However, rather than being offered these houses as compensation for the loss of their homes and livelihoods, they are sold to the locals for as much as 7 or 8 times the price of their old homes.

Displaced locals are then left with no choice but to either indebt themselves to the government for the next twenty years or more to pay for these new homes — which they never wanted in the first place — or to leave for the urban centers where families end up on the outskirts of town, in municipal housing projects forced to make a precarious living from underpaid day jobs.

The GAP project has so far displaced hundreds of thousands of people who have been silenced, pacified and left powerless, their demands for fair compensation ignored and their voices silenced as they joined the precarious masses in the urban centers, competing for the chance to be exploited because an unfair wage is better than no wage at all when you have hungry mouths to feed.

Regional water wars

It’s not just within Turkey’s national boundaries that the GAP project has caused consternation. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers both originate in Turkey, but whereas Ankara considers them to be a source of national wealth and an instrument for regional development, they are the very sources of life for its southern neighbors Syria and Iraq. International law requires Turkey to consult its co-riparian states before starting the construction of big dams that will affect the flow of water, but on many occasions it has failed to do so.

The first disputes between the three nations date back to the 1960s, with the start of large-scale water development projects in the region. In 1975 Iraq and Syria massed their respective troops on the border after the completion of the Syrian Tabqua dam on the Euphrates, and in 1990 Turkey cut off the flow of the river for nine days to fill the Atatürk dam reservoir, leading to protests and threats from both Syria and Iraq who claimed that they hadn’t been informed of the plans.

The finished GAP project will reduce water flows to Syria by 40 percent, and to Iraq by a shocking 80 percent. This, in combination with the severe droughts that have hit the region over the past few years, the ongoing conflict between the Iraqi state and it allies and the militants of the so-called Islamic State, and the millions of (internally) displaced people in the region, has the potential to unleash an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe that could cause a serious food security problem, destabilizing the region for years to come.

The case of the Ilisu dam represents in a nutshell the importance of water and the many different shapes that political issues can take when it comes to question of ownership, access and control of natural resources and river flows.

The Euphrates and Tigris rivers, as many of their tributaries, are a source of life as well as conflict. They irrigate arid plains and make life possible where otherwise none could have flourished. At the same time, they can be exploited to push certain agendas, break up communities, and use as leverage in political negotiations. Most importantly, however, they have the potential to bring sustainable peace to the region.

With the region in flames, the Syrian civil war continuing unabated, the militants of the Islamic State proceeding to launch attacks on multiple fronts — most recently with the capture of Ramadi, a city on the banks of the Euphrates in Iraq’s central Anbar province — and the Kurdish peace process in Turkey threatening to derail, the need for cooperation between states, and more importantly, between communities, is now more urgent than ever.

From the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq to the Kurds in Turkey, the struggle for equal access to the Earth’s resources is connected across ethnic, religious and national boundaries. As such, it provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the interdependence of the region’s communities, forging bonds that transcend the interests of central governments and international powers.

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, an editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English. This article was originally written for TeleSUR English.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/08/water-conflict-turkey-middle-east/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey

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The bombing provided Obama with the cover he needed to throw the Kurds under the bus, cave in to Turkey’s demands, and look the other way while Turkish bombers and tanks pounded Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. The media has characterized this shocking reversal of US policy as a “game-changer” that will improve US prospects for victory over ISIS. But what the about-face really shows is Washington’s inability to conduct a principled foreign policy as well as Obama’s eagerness to betray a trusted friend and ally if he sees some advantage in doing so.

Turkish President Erdogan has launched a war against the Kurds; that is what’s really happening in Syria at present. The media’s view of events–that Turkey has joined the fight against ISIS–is mostly spin and propaganda. The fact that the Kurds had been gaining ground against ISIS in areas along the Turkish border, worried political leaders in Ankara that an independent Kurdish state could be emerging. Determined to stop that possibility,  they decided to use the bombing in Suruc as an excuse to round up more than 1,000 of Erdogans political enemies (only a small percentage of who are connected to ISIS) while bombing the holy hell out of Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. All the while, the media has been portraying this ruthless assault on a de facto US ally, as a war on ISIS. It is not a war on ISIS. It is the manipulation of a terrorist attack to advance the belligerent geopolitical agenda of Turkish and US elites. Just take a look at these two tweets from CNN Turkey on Saturday and you’ll see what’s going on under the radar:

@CNNTURK_ENG:
#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night Turkish jets made 159 sorties against #PKK camps in N.Iraq&hit 400 targetspic.twitter.com/oGVJmKsGbs

@CNNTURK_ENG:
#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night there was no air strike against #ISIS, targets were hit by tank fire near #Kilis.
(The tweets first appeared at Moon of Alabama)

Repeat: 159 air attacks on Kurdish positions and ZERO on ISIS targets. And the media wants us to believe that Turkey has joined Obama’s war on ISIS?

The Turks know who they’re bombing. They are bombing their 30-year long enemy, the Kurds.  Here’s more on the topic from Telesur:

“A decades-old conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish PKK has been reignited. Turkey vowed Saturday to continue attacks against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), along with strikes against the Islamic State group.

“The operations will continue for as long as threats against Turkey continue,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.

Ankara also confirmed it carried out airstrikes against PKK sites in Iraq. While Davutoglu said any organizations that “threaten” Turkey would be targeted in a crackdown on militants, on Friday President Tayyip Erdogan said the PKK would be the main focus of attacks.”  (“Turkey Says More Anti-PKK Strikes to Come“, Telesur)

Repeat: “Erdogan said the PKK would be the main focus of attacks.”

For Washington, it’s all a question of priorities. While the Kurds have been good friends and steadfast allies,  they don’t have a spanking-new air base for launching attacks on Syria. Turkey, on the other hand, has a great base (Incirlik ) that’s much closer to the frontlines and just perfect for launching multiple sorties, drone attacks or routine surveillance fly-overs.  The only glitch, of course, is that Washington will have to bite its tongue while a former ally is beaten to a pulp. That’s a price that Obama is more than willing to pay provided he can use the airfield to prosecute his war.

It’s worth noting, that Turkey’s relationship with jihadi groups in Syria is a matter of great concern, mainly because Turkey appears to be the terrorists biggest benefactor.  Check this out from Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News:

“Naturally, one has to ask who fathered, breastfed and nourished these Islamist terrorists in hopes and aspirations of creating a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood Khalifat state? Even when Kobane and many Turkish cities were on fire, did not the Turkish prime minister talk in his interview with CNN about his readiness to order land troops into the Syrian quagmire if Washington agreed to also target al-Assad?
This is a dirty game….” (Editorial, “Kobane and Turkey are Burning“, Hurriyet Daily News)

And here’s more from author Nafeez Ahmed:

“With their command and control centre based in Istanbul, Turkey, military supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular were transported by Turkish intelligence to the border for rebel acquisition. CIA operatives along with Israeli and Jordanian commandos were also training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, other reports show that British and French military were also involved in these secret training programmes. It appears that the same FSA rebels receiving this elite training went straight into ISIS – last month one ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, said, “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.”  (“How the West Created the Islamic State“, Nafeez Ahmed, CounterPunch)

Then there’s this from USA Today:

“Militants have funneled weapons and fighters through Turkey into Syria. The Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, have networks in Turkey….

Turkish security and intelligence services may have ties to Islamic State militants. The group released 46 Turkish diplomats it had abducted the day before the United States launched airstrikes against it. Turkey, a NATO member, may have known the airstrikes were about to begin and pressured its contacts in the Islamic State to release its diplomats.

“This implies Turkey has more influence or stronger ties to ISIS than people would think,” Tanir said.” (“5 reasons Turkey isn’t attacking Islamic State in Syria”, USA Today)

The media would like people to believe that the bombing in Suruc changed everything; that Erdogan and his fellows suddenly saw the light and decided that, well, maybe we shouldn’t be supporting these ISIS thugs after all. But that’s just baloney. The only one who’s changed his mind about anything is Obama who seems to have realized that his takfiri proxy-warriors aren’t ruthless enough to remove Assad, so he’s decided to team up with Sultan Erdogan instead.  That means Erdogan gets a green light to butcher as many Kurds as he wants in exchange for boots on the ground to topple Assad. That’s the deal, although, at present, the politicians are denying it. Now check out this blurb from Foreign Policy “Situation Report”:

“The nominee to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, didn’t really get off to a great start in his relationship with Senate Armed Services Committee chief Sen. John McCain. The general drew the ire of the Arizona lawmaker by telling the panel on Thursday that the Islamic State is essentially fighting to a draw in Iraq and Syria. McCain took the opportunity and ran with it, telling the Iraq vet that “I’m very disappointed in a number of your answers,” on the Islamic State, promising to send along more questions to push the general on his views. It was an unexpected ending to what had been a hum-drum confirmation hearing, and if McCain wants to press the issue, it could hold up a vote on Neller’s confirmation until after the August congressional recess.” (Situation Report“, ForeignPolicy.com)

The point is, the Big Brass is telling US policymakers that ISIS  is notgoing to win the war, which means that Assad is going to stay in power.  That’s why Obama has moved on to Plan B and thrown his lot with Erdogan, because the Pentagon bigshots finally realize they’re going to need boots on the ground if they want regime change in Syria. But “whose boots”, that’s the question?

Not U.S. boots, that’s for sure. Americans have had it up to here with war and are not likely to support another bloody fiasco in the Middle East. That’s where Erdogan comes into the picture. Washington wants Turkey to do the heavy lifting while the US provides logistical support and air cover. That’s the basic gameplan. Naturally, the media can’t explain what’s really going on or it would blow Obama’s cover. But who doesn’t know that this whole campaign is aimed at removing Assad? You’d have to be living in a cave for the last three years not to know that.

The bottom line is that Erdogan has three demands. He wants a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to protect Turkey from ISIS and Kurdish attacks.  He wants a no-fly zone over all or parts of Syria. And he wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power.  That’s what he wants and that’s what Obama has agreed to (as part of the Incirlik deal ) although the media is refuting the claim.   To help explain what’s going on, take a look at this article in  Reuters that was written back in October, 2014. Here’s an excerpt:

“Turkey will fight against Islamic State and other “terrorist” groups in the region but will stick to its aim of seeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday…

“We will (also) continue to prioritise our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary government system which embraces all (of its) citizens.”…

But it (Turkey) fears that U.S.-led air strikes, if not accompanied by a broader political strategy, could strengthen Assad and bolster Kurdish militants allied to Kurds in Turkey who have fought for three decades for greater autonomy.

“Tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger,” Erdogan said…..

We are open and ready for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism. However, it should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it.” (“Turkey will fight Islamic State, wants Assad gone: President Erdogan“, Reuters)

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?  Either the US helps Turkey get rid of Assad or there’s no deal. The Turkish president’s right-hand man, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, said the same thing  in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in February, 2015. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Turkey would be willing to put its troops on the ground in Syria “if others do their part,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Monday.

“We are ready to do everything if there is a clear strategy that after ISIS, we can be sure that our border will be protected. We don’t want the regime anymore on our border pushing people against — towards Turkey. We don’t want other terrorist organizations to be active there.”…

He said that American airstrikes in Syria were necessary but not enough for a victory.
“If ISIS goes, another radical organization may come in,” he said. “So our approach should be comprehensive, inclusive, strategic and combined …  to eliminate all brutal crimes against humanity committed by the regime.”

“We want to have a no-fly zone. We want to have a safe haven on our border. Otherwise, all these burdens will continue to go on the shoulder of Turkey and other neighboring countries.”…

Turkey is trying to dispel the idea that the United States can become involved in Syria by going after ISIS but not al-Assad.” (“Turkey willing to put troops in Syria ‘if others do their part,’ Prime Minister says“, CNN)

Repeat: “Turkey would be willing to put its troops on the ground in Syria”, but Assad’s got to go. That’s the trade-off. Davutoglu has since backed off on this demand, but the basic deal hasn’t changed.  Leaders in the US and Turkey have just decided to be more discreet about what they tell the press. But the plan is moving forward.  For example, officials from the Obama administration have denied that they will provide a no-fly zone over Syria.  According to the New York Times, however, the US has agreed to create an “Islamic State-free zone” or “safe zone… controlled by relatively moderate Syrian insurgents.”   (“Turkey and U.S. Plan to Create Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Free of ISIS“, New York Times)

So the question is: Will the US provide air cover over this “Islamic State-free zone”?

Yes, it will.

Will Assad send his warplanes into this zone?

No, he won’t. He’d be crazy to do so.

Okay. Then what the US has created is a no-fly zone, right?  And this actually applies to all of Syria as well, now that US warplanes and drones are less than 500 miles from Damascus. The Incirlik deal means that the US will control the skies over Syria. Period. Here’s more from the Times trying to occlude the obvious details:

“American officials say that this plan is not directed against Mr. Assad. They also say that while a de facto safe zone could indeed be a byproduct of the plan, a formal no-fly zone is not part of the deal. They said it was not included in the surprise agreement reached last week to let American warplanes take off from Turkish air bases to attack Islamic State fighters in Syria, even though Turkey had long said it would give that permission only in exchange for a no-fly zone…..” (“Turkey and U.S. Plan to Create Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Free of ISIS”, New York Times)

What does this gibberish mean in English?  It means that, yes, the US has created a no-fly zone over Syria, but, no,  the administration’s public relations doesn’t want to talk about it because then they’d have to admit that Obama caved in to Turkish demands. Got that?

And just to show that the NYT hasn’t lost its sense of humor, here’s more in the same vein:

“American officials in recent months have argued to Turkish counterparts that a formal no-fly zone is not necessary, noting that during hundreds of American-led strike missions against Islamic State in Syria, forces loyal to Mr. Assad have steered clear of areas under concerted allied attack….” (NYT)

In other words, “American officials” are telling Erdogan that  ‘We don’t need to call this a no-fly zone, because once the F-16s start circling the skies over Damascus, Assad will get the message pretty quick.’

Can you believe that they would publish such circular palavering in the nation’s top newspaper?

And the same is true with the massive expropriation of Syrian sovereign territory, which the US and Turkey breezily refer to as  an “Islamic State-free zone”.  This just proves that Obama caved in to another one of Erdogan’s three demands, the demand for a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border. Not surprisingly, this blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty hasn’t even raised an eyebrow at the United Nations where delegates have gotten so used to Washington’s erratic behavior that they don’t even pay attention anymore.

By the way, this issue of setting up buffer zones, shouldn’t be taken lightly. As State Department spokesman Mark Toner opined just weeks ago, “We’d essentially be opening the door to the dissolution of the Syrian nation-state.”

Indeed, isn’t that the point? Aside from the fact, that these “protected areas” will be used as launching grounds for attacks on the central government, they’ll also become autonomous regions consistent with the US strategy to redraw the map of the Middle East by breaking Iraq and Syria into smaller, tribal-governed cantons incapable of challenging regional hegemon, Israel, or global superpower, the US.  Author Thomas Gaist provides a little background on this phenom in a post at the World Socialist Web Site:

“In a brief published Tuesday, “Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America’s most hopeless war,” the Brookings Institution detailed the application of this neocolonial strategy in Syria….The Brookings report argued that a “comprehensive, national-level solution” is no longer possible, and called for the carving out of “autonomous zones.”

“The only realistic path forward may be a plan that in effect deconstructs Syria,” the report argued. The US and its allies should seek “to create pockets with more viable security and governance within Syria.”

This “confederal Syria” would be composed of “highly autonomous zones,” the report said, and would be supported militarily by the deployment of US-NATO forces into the newly carved-out occupation areas, including deployment of “multilateral support teams, grounded in special forces detachments and air-defense capabilities.”

“Past collaboration with extremist elements of the insurgency would not itself be viewed as a scarlet letter,” the Brookings report argued, making clear the extremist militant groups which have served as US proxy forces against the Assad government will not be excluded from the new partition of Syria.” (“Turkey, Jordan discuss moves to seize territory in Syria“, Thomas Gaist, World Socialist Web Site)

Isn’t this precisely the strategy that is unfolding in Syria and Iraq today?

Of course, it is. Everything you’ve been reading about “Islamic State-free zones”, “safety zones”, or “no-fly zones”  is lies. I won’t even dignify it by calling it propaganda. It’s not. It’s 100 percent, unalloyed bullshit. Just like the idea that this new buffer zone (carved out of Syrian territory) is going to be administered by “relatively moderate Syrian insurgents”. (which is the NYT’s new innocuous-sounding sobriquet for al-Qaida terrorists.)  That’s another lie that’s intended to divert attention from the real plan, which is the Turkish occupation of Syrian territory consistent with Erdogan’s and Davutoglu’s commitment to put boots on the ground if the US agrees to their demands. Which Obama has, although the media denies it.

The US is not going to entrust this captured territory to “relatively moderate Syrian insurgents”, because as Gen. Robert Neller already admitted to McCain, the jihadis aren’t winning.  In other words, the jihadi plan is a flop. That’s what this whole Turkey-US alliance-thing is all about. It is a major shift in the fundamental policy. There’s going to be a ground invasion, and the Turks are going to supply the troops. It’s only a matter of time. Here’s how analyst Gaist sums it up:

“Having failed to remove Assad using proxy militia forces alone, Washington is now contemplating the direct invasion of Syria by outside military forces for the purpose of carving out a large area of the country to be subsequently occupied by US and NATO troops. Plans for a new imperialist division of Syria and the broader Middle East have been brewing within the US ruling elite for decades.”  (“Turkey, Jordan discuss moves to seize territory in Syria“, Thomas Gaist, World Socialist Web Site)

Naturally, Obama’s not going to tell the media what he’s up to. But that’s the plan.

 

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/29/the-politics-of-betrayal-obama-backstabs-kurds-to-appease-turkey/

With US backing, Turkey prepares to seize buffer zones inside Syria

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By Peter Schwarz
28 July 2015

After agreeing last week to join the US-led war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Turkey is preparing to seize buffer zones within Syria, backed by US warplanes and Syrian opposition militias. This escalation follows weeks of talks with a high-ranking US delegation, and a phone call between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Barack Obama.

“What we are talking about with Turkey is cooperating to support partners on the ground in northern Syria who are countering ISIL,” an unnamed senior US official told the Wall Street Journal, referring to one of the ISIS’s alternate acronyms. “The goal is to establish an ISIL-free zone and ensure greater security and stability along Turkey’s border with Syria.”

The US Air Force is now using Turkish airbases at Incirlik and Diyarbakir to attack IS targets in Syria and Iraq. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) wrote, “The authorisation given to the Americans to use the Incirlik airbase for attacks on IS has been linked to the (alleged) Turkish plan to establish a no-fly-zone 90 kilometres long and up to 50 kilometres deep [55 miles by 30 miles] in northern Syria.”

US and Turkish officials told the Journal that planning for the intervention is ongoing. US and Turkish warplanes would provide air support for opposition militias. Planners are apparently concerned that US-backed Syrian opposition militias will fail to hold the zone, however, which could lead to direct Turkish intervention to seize the buffer zone in Syria.

Preparation for a US-Turkish intervention in Syria marks a major escalation in the imperialist-led re-division of the Middle East. While the intervention’s ostensible target is ISIS, it is also aimed at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Kurdish forces in northern Syria and Iraq, bordering Turkey.

Plans for Ankara to seize Syrian territory with US support are a blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty. The US and Turkish governments, who have previously declared they wanted regime change in Syria, “are both expecting this new phase of the campaign to put pressure on Mr. Assad,” the Journalreported.

Details of the US-Turkish plans emerged after Assad admitted in a nationwide televised address this weekend that the Syrian army now faces severe manpower shortages. There is increasing speculation that Iran, Assad’s main Middle Eastern backer, may also cut support to Assad after signing its recent nuclear agreement with Washington.

The agreement between Washington and Ankara is based on a sordid deal. In exchange for Ankara’s participation in the war against ISIS, the US gave the go-ahead for attacks on Kurdish organisations, which, until now, were in the forefront of the fighting against ISIS and were in part supported militarily by the US.

The main target of the Turkish attacks over the weekend was not ISIS, but the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian branch, the PYD/YPG. While the Turkish air force claimed to have fired on ISIS targets without violating Syrian air space, they penetrated deep into northern Iraq to bomb PKK positions. According to reports from the Kurdish YPG militia, confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Turkish tanks attacked their positions in the northern Syrian village of Sor Maghar. Ankara denied targeting the PYD/YPG, however.

Ankara thereby brought an end to its six-year peace process with the PKK, amid growing concerns that the rise of Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria threatened its basic strategic interests. The FAZ cited a recent study by the Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in Ankara: “Without a military intervention by Turkey (in Syria), it is highly likely that the Kurds will conquer the territory between the (Kurdish-controlled) cities of Afrin and Kobani in Syria.”

“A completely Kurdish-controlled belt from Iraq in the east to Syria in the west,” the FAZ wrote, “would however ‘cut the geographic connection between Turkey and the Arab world’.” Since the danger of “an independent Kurdish state emerging from the breakdown of the Iraqi state” would rise, Ankara wanted to “at least block the emergence of a further contiguous area of Kurdish rule in Syria.”

Ankara is combining attacks in Syria and northern Iraq with repression against domestic opposition within Turkey. Hundreds were detained over the weekend, including PKK supporters, ISIS supporters and political activists.

On Sunday evening, the government banned a peace march in Istanbul by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to commemorate the victims of the Suruç attack. In Suruç, a suicide bomber killed 32 and injured around 100 people who had planned to travel to the Syrian-Kurdish city of Kobani to help with reconstruction. The government seized on the attack to justify war with ISIS.

With the attacks in Syria and domestic repression, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Tayyip Erdogan are responding to a growing political crisis. The AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, lost its absolute majority in parliament in June, when the Kurdish HDP surpassed the 10 percent hurdle for parliamentary representation. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has until August 23 to find a coalition partner, which he has not been able to do thus far. Thereafter, Erdogan can dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.

Many observers believe that by intervening in Syria and attacking the PKK, which is retaliating with attacks in Turkey, Erdogan intends to provoke hysteria over war and terrorism to enable the AKP to secure a parliamentary majority in new elections.

Turkey’s strong economic growth rates, which guaranteed the AKP’s parliamentary majorities, have been hit hard. This year’s growth target of 4 percent will not be met, and next year’s projection is just 3 percent. Regional wars, sanctions against Russia, and falling global prices have slashed Turkey’s export and tourist revenues. In addition, Ankara claims, the influx of 2 million refugees from Syria and Iraq has cost $6 billion so far.

Erdogan and the AKP confront a foreign policy blind alley, however. Their perspective of becoming the leading regional power in the Arab world, in the tradition of the Ottoman Empire, suffered its first major setback two years ago when the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohammed Mursi, with whose Muslim Brotherhood the AKP was allied.

In Syria, Ankara pushed for the overthrow of the Assad regime. Like Washington, it initially supported the opposition, including ISIS, which was allowed to operate virtually unhindered in Turkey. When ISIS moved into Iraq and endangered the Baghdad regime, Washington carried out a U-turn and began bombing ISIS. While holding firm to its goal of overthrowing Assad, it began supporting ISIS’s opponents. Ankara did not join in this policy shift, because it feared the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq and Syria.

Ankara is now embarking on an incendiary attempt to resolve the differences with Washington, provoked by the deepening crisis in the Middle East, through military escalation.

Significantly, this strategy is escalating tensions within NATO. Washington is supporting attacks on the PKK, and the White House issued a statement declaring that Turkey can defend itself against terrorist attacks by Kurds.

This raised sharp differences within Europe, however. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen called on Turkey not to endanger the peace process with the Kurds. Berlin is arming the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militia, and indirectly the Syrian Kurds in the process, and is training their fighters.

A Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) editorial described the differences between America and Europe as “quite major.”

“Washington is apparently ready to pay the price of an escalation of the Kurdish conflict by Turkey to secure more firepower against IS,” wrote Nikolas Busse. “By contrast, the Europeans are more focused on the peace process between Ankara and the Kurds, even though it hasn’t progressed very far recently. … It would be better if this transatlantic disunity was not pushed to the limit.”

A NATO conference is to take place today at Turkey’s initiative to discuss these differences.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/28/turk-j28.html

Israeli’s False Claims of “Self-Defense” in Gaza War

Wrong on the Facts, Wrong on the Law: 

Although the facts, the law, and admissions by Israeli government officials all pointed otherwise, during the July-August 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, the Israeli government was successful in promoting its self-defense claim with western news media and in persuading certain U.S. politicians that Israel was implementing its right to defend itself.

Claims of “self-defense” against Hamas rocket fire were invoked byIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and the United States Senate, and not only as justification for the Israeli assault. “Self-defense” against the rockets also served to deflect allegations that Israeli forces committed war crimes by targeting civilians and civilian property in Gaza.

Public relations campaigns based on self-defense have been critical to Israeli officials avoiding accountability after each of the six major assaults on Gaza since Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005. Notwithstanding the reports of war crimes committed by Israeli forces, the remarkable success of those self-defense based public relations campaigns continued to provide Israeli officials with impunity: the freedom to strike militarily again.

That impunity may come to an end if the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decides to open an investigation into the situation in Palestine and prosecutions follow. However, immediately after the Prosecutor announced that she was launching a “preliminary examination” on January 16, 2015, Netanyahu launched a multi-pronged “public diplomacy campaign to discredit the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recent decision to start an inquiry into what the Palestinians call Israeli ‘war crimes’ in the disputed territories.” The public diplomacy campaign is based entirely on Israel’s claim that it acted in self-defense. The Israeli campaign also included a threat to disregard the decision of the court, a threat to the funding of the court, and the announcement that Israel was freezing transfer of more than $100 million a month in taxes Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for the State of Palestine joining the ICC and requesting the ICC inquiry.

A new 63 page report, “Neither facts nor law support Israel’s self-defense claim regarding its 2014 assault on Gaza,” submitted to the ICC Prosecutor on behalf of the Palestine Subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild (“the ICC submission”), uses both authoritative contemporaneous Israeli and Palestinian reports and newly released reports and documents to demonstrate that Israeli claims of “self-defense” for its 2014 attack on Gaza are unsupported in both fact and law. The ICC submission notes that the unusual strategy implemented by Israeli officials to publically discredit the court inquiry demonstrated a distinct departure from the traditional method of respectfully presenting evidence and persuasive arguments to the court.

The facts don’t fit Israel’s self-defense claim

Among the material considered in the ICC submission is the 277 page Israeli government report, “The 2014 Gaza Conflict: Factual and Legal Aspects” that was released by the Israeli government on June 14, 2015. Although the Israeli government report builds its case around self-defense, to its credit, the Israeli government report openly acknowledges that Israeli military forces (a) had been striking Gaza during 2013 and early 2014, (b) had launched a massive attack on the West Bank in mid-June 2014, and (c) had launched an aerial strike on a tunnel in Gaza on July 5, 2014. However, the Israeli government report omits mention that all these dates were before the night of July 7, 2014, the date a contemporaneous report from an authoritative Israeli source said “For the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense[November 21, 2012], Hamas participated in and claimed responsibility for rocket fire” (emphasis in the original). The contemporaneous report was issued by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), a private Israeli think tank that the Washington Post says “has close ties with the country’s military leadership.”

While the Israeli government report acknowledged the aerial strike on the tunnel in Gaza, it omitted mention of the extent of Israeli attacks on Gaza during the night before Hamas participated and claimed responsibility for its first rocket fire since 2012: The contemporaneous ITIC July 2 – July 8, 2014 weekly report states that on July 7 “approximately 50 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip were struck,” by Israeli forces, including strikes that killed six Hamas members in the tunnel.

The Israeli government report states:

On July 7, 2014, after more than 60 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip on a single day, the Government of Israel was left with no choice but to initiate a concerted aerial operation against Hamas and other terrorist organisations in order adequately to defend Israel’s civilian population.

Thus, the Israeli government report claims that the government was acting to defend Israel’s civilian population notwithstanding the fact that it had just admitted to an Israeli government attack that precededthe Hamas rocket fire on July 7. The attack on the tunnel that the ITIC reported killed the six Hamas members.

In a minute by minute timeline of events that day, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz reported the Israeli attacks that began during the night of July 6 and continued in the early morning hours of July 7 that showed that the Israeli attack on the tunnel preceded the Hamas rockets:

at 2:24 a.m. on July 7:

Hamas reports an additional four militants died in a second Israeli air strike in Gaza, bringing Sunday night’s death total to six. This is the biggest single Israeli hit against Hamas since 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense.

at 9:37 p.m. on July 7 Ha’aretz reported:

Hamas claims responsibility for the rockets fired at Ashdod, Ofakim, Ashkelon and Netivot. Some 20 rockets exploded in open areas in the last hour.

Thus, an authoritative contemporaneous Israeli report acknowledged the fact that Hamas started firing its rockets some 20 hours afterIsraeli forces launched the attack on Gaza and killed the six Hamas members.

The Israeli government report couches the more than 60 rockets launched at Israel on the night of July 7 as giving the government of Israel no choice but to escalate aerial operations. But the report fails to mention that Israel actually had a choice as to whether or not to launch its prior lethal attack on the night of July 6 and the early morning hours of July 7. By omitting mention of the timing and the lethal effects of its attack on the tunnel, the Israeli government report avoids recognizing that its killing of the six Hamas members provoked the Hamas rocket fire.

While the Israeli government report mentions strikes on Gaza during 2013 and 2014, it omits mention of the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli attacks during 2013 and the increased rate of such killing during the first three months of 2014.

According to a report issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, “PCHR Annual Report 2013:”

The number of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces was 46 victims in circumstances where no threats were posed to the lives of Israeli soldiers. Five of these victims died of wounds they had sustained in previous years. Of the total number of victims, there were 41 civilians, 33 of whom were in the West Bank and eight in the Gaza Strip, including six children, two women; and five non-civilians, including one in the West Bank and the other four in the Gaza Strip. In 2013, 496 Palestinians sustained various wounds, 430 of them in the West Bank and 66 in the Gaza Strip, including 142 children and 10 women.

An escalation of Israeli violence against Palestinians in early 2014 compared to the rate for the entire year 2013 is evident from PCHR’s “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 1st Quarter of 2014.”Among the violations presented in the report, 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the first three months of 2014, including 11 civilians of whom two were children; 259 were wounded, of whom 255 were civilians, including 53 children. “The majority of these Palestinians, 198, were wounded during peaceful protests and clashes with Israeli forces.”

Nor does the Israeli government report mention any of the lethal Israeli government attacks on the West Bank and Gaza in the days and weeks before three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed on the West Bank on June 12, 2014:

Israeli forces shot 9 teenagers demonstrating on the West Bank on May 15, killing two.

Israeli forces wounded nine Palestinian civilians, including a child during the week of June 5 to June 11.

Israeli forces launched an extrajudicial execution on June 11 in Gaza that killed one and wounded three.

Nor does the Israeli government report describe the extent of casualties inflicted by the June 13 to June 30 military offensive on the West Bank, Operation Brothers Keeper, in which Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 51, according to the contemporaneous weekly reports issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

In addition, the Israeli government’s 277 page report omits mention of admissions by Prime Minister Netanyahu of other military and political purposes for its assault on the West Bank, described in a contemporaneous report in the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, on June 15, 2014: to capture Hamas members (some of whom the Israeli government had previously released in a prisoner exchange and some of whom were Parliamentarians in the new Palestinian unity government), create “severe repercussions,” and punish the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for forming a unity government. Importantly, although he accused “Hamas people” of carrying out the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, Netanyahu made no mention of stopping rocket fire. The non-mention of rocket fire by Netanyahu is consistent with the ITIC report of no rocket fire at that time.

Similarly, after describing the Israeli operations that caused Hamas to pay a “heavy price” on the West Bank, as shown in a video of his speech at the US Ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv on July 4, Netanyahu acknowledged that “in Gaza we hit dozens of Hamas activists and destroyed outposts and facilities that served Hamas terrorists.” Thus Netanyahu himself acknowledged major Israeli military operations in Gaza preceding the launching of Hamas rockets on July 7.

Media collaboration

Facilitating the Israeli and U.S. government campaign to pin responsibility on Hamas and support an Israeli self-defense claim, certain western news media, including the New York Times, published an incorrect timeline. The timeline published by the New York Times dated the start of the war to July 8, the first full day of Hamas rocket barrages, and more than a day after Israeli forces had escalated their aerial attack on Gaza killing the six Hamas members. The Timestimeline simply omits mention of the lethal Israeli attacks on the night of July 6 and early morning hours on July 7 that Ha’aretz said preceded the Hamas barrage of rockets on the night of July 7. TheNew York Times timeline also omits mention of the 24 days of “Operation Bring Back Our Brothers,” that began on June 13, the June 11 extra-judicial execution of a Hamas member in Gaza, the June 13 attack on the “terrorist facility and a weapons storehouse in the southern Gaza Strip,” and the killing of the two Palestinian teenagers and wounding of seven other Palestinians who were demonstrating on May 15. The New York Times timeline also omits mention of the lethal Israeli attacks in 2013 and the escalation of those attacks in early 2014 that the Israeli government report admitted under the euphemism “targeted efforts to prevent future attacks.” 

The law doesn’t fit Israel’s self-defense claim

Not just facts and admissions stand in the way of Israel’s self-defense claim. In a 2004 decision rejecting Israel’s self-defense claim for the wall, a relatively passive structure crossing occupied Palestinian territory, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held that, under the UN Charter, self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter is inapplicable to measures taken by an occupying power within occupied territory. While the ICJ recognized Israel’s right and its duty to protect its citizens, it said “The measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.” While the Israeli government report includes mention of a law review article that relies on an ICJ holding favorable to an Israeli position on another issue, the Israeli government report omits mention of the directly on point ICJ case regarding applicability of self-defense to Israel as occupying power in Gaza.

But even if Israel could overcome the facts showing that Israeli forces initiated the combat, and even if Israel was not the occupying power in Gaza and did not have to address the law regarding self-defense for an occupying power presented in the ICJ decision, Israel’s claim to self-defense would still be invalidated if its assault extended beyond what was necessary and proportionate to deal with an armed attack it was purportedly facing, as more fully described in the ICC submission.

Necessity was contradicted by the data provided by the ITIC showing that Israel had been wildly successful at stopping and/or preventing rocket fire by agreeing to and at least partially observing a ceasefire, while Israel consistently dialed up rocket fire with each of its major assaults on Gaza since 2006. By contrast, as shown in the ICC submission, hundreds of times more rockets were falling on Israel during each day of each of the major assaults on Gaza than were falling in the periods before Israeli forces attacked or after the assault ended with a new ceasefire.

Necessity was also contradicted by an article in the May 2013Jerusalem Post, “IDF source: Hamas working to stop Gaza rockets,” quoting the IDF General who commands the army’s Gaza Division who said that Hamas had been policing other groups in Gaza “to thwart rocket attacks from the strip.” The Hamas observance of the ceasefire and its policing of other groups to prevent rocket fire demonstrated an effective alternative to an Israeli assault. The Israeli attacks on the West Bank and Gaza during the period between June 13 and the early morning hours of July 7, 2014 put that ceasefire and that Hamas policing of other groups at risk. Israel could have more effectively protected its citizens from rocket fire by continuing to at least partially observe the successful cease-fire in place before Israel escalated its assaults on the West Bank and Gaza. So the necessity for the escalation on June 13 and the further escalation on July 7 to protect Israeli citizens from rocket fire has not been shown.

The necessity and proportionality requirements for a self-defense claim were also contradicted by evidence that actions by Israeli forces during the assault on Gaza went outside the laws of war by directly targeting Palestinian civilians and Palestinian civilian property. The proportionality requirement was further contradicted by evidence of widespread Israeli attacks that harmed civilians or civilian property disproportionate to the military advantage Israeli forces received from the attacks. The evidence for such war crimes cited in the ICC submission comes from reports of investigations conducted by the UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry (June 22, 2015); the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Lawyers for Palestinian for Human Rights (LPHR), and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) (June 26, 2015); the UN Human Rights Council (December 26, 2014); Defense for Children International Palestine (April 2015); Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) (January 20, 2015); Al-Haq(August 19, 2014); the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (September 4, 2014); Breaking the Silence (May 3, 2015); The Guardian (May 4, 2015); The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) (March 27, 2015), and contemporaneous and periodic reports issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Along with support from top U.S. officials, the enormously successful public relations campaigns based on claimed self-defense that Israeli officials mounted during and after each of the Israeli assaults on Gaza allowed Israel to avoid accountability, maintain impunity, and launch subsequent attacks. In view of that successful record, the effectiveness of Israel’s “public diplomacy campaign to discredit the ICC inquiry” based on the same self-defense claims should not be underestimated. Widespread recognition that Israel’s self-defense claim is deeply flawed is needed to counter the intense pressure Israeli officials and their allies are exerting on the ICC so the court may resist that pressure and base its decisions strictly on the facts and law.

James Marc Leas is a patent attorney and a past co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee. He collected evidence in Gaza immediately after Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 as part of a 20 member delegation from the U.S. and Europe and authored or co-authored four articles for Counterpunch describing findings, including Why the Self-Defense Doctrine Doesn’t Legitimize Israel’s Assault on Gaza. He also participated in the February 2009 National Lawyers Guild delegation to Gaza immediately after Operation Cast Lead and contributed to its report, “Onslaught: Israel’s Attack on Gaza and the Rule of Law.”

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/23/wrong-on-the-facts-wrong-on-the-law-israelis-false-claims-of-self-defense-in-gaza-war/

How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington 

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The Eurasian Big Bang 

By Pepe Escobar

Let’s start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations — the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS’ New Development Bank) — whose acronyms you’re unlikely to recognize either.  Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.

Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi have been actively establishing interlocking security guarantees. They have been simultaneously calling the Atlanticist bluff when it comes to the endless drumbeat of attention given to the flimsy meme of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”  And a few days before the Vienna nuclear negotiations finally culminated in an agreement, all of this came together at a twin BRICS/SCO summit in Ufa, Russia — a place you’ve undoubtedly never heard of and a meeting that got next to no attention in the U.S.  And yet sooner or later, these developments will ensure that the War Party in Washington and assorted neocons (as well as neoliberalcons) already breathing hard over the Iran deal will sweat bullets as their narratives about how the world works crumble.

The Eurasian Silk Road

With the Vienna deal, whose interminable build-up I had the dubious pleasure of following closely, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his diplomatic team have pulled the near-impossible out of an extremely crumpled magician’s hat: an agreement that might actually end sanctions against their country from an asymmetric, largely manufactured conflict.

Think of that meeting in Ufa, the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan, as a preamble to the long-delayed agreement in Vienna. It caught the new dynamics of the Eurasian continent and signaled the future geopolitical Big Bangness of it all. At Ufa, from July 8th to 10th, the 7th BRICS summit and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit overlapped just as a possible Vienna deal was devouring one deadline after another.

Consider it a diplomatic masterstroke of Vladmir Putin’s Russia to have merged those two summits with an informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Call it a soft power declaration of war against Washington’s imperial logic, one that would highlight the breadth and depth of an evolving Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Putting all those heads of state attending each of the meetings under one roof, Moscow offered a vision of an emerging, coordinated geopolitical structure anchored in Eurasian integration. Thus, the importance of Iran: no matter what happens post-Vienna, Iran will be a vital hub/node/crossroads in Eurasia for this new structure.

If you read the declaration that came out of the BRICS summit, one detail should strike you: the austerity-ridden European Union (EU) is barely mentioned. And that’s not an oversight. From the point of view of the leaders of key BRICS nations, they are offering a new approach to Eurasia, the very opposite of the language of sanctions.

Here are just a few examples of the dizzying activity that took place at Ufa, all of it ignored by the American mainstream media. In their meetings, President Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked in a practical way to advance what is essentially a Chinese vision of a future Eurasia knit together by a series of interlocking “new Silk Roads.” Modi approved more Chinese investment in his country, while Xi and Modi together pledged to work to solve the joint border issues that have dogged their countries and, in at least one case, led to war.

The NDB, the BRICS’ response to the World Bank, was officially launched with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other developing nations across the Global South — all in their own currencies, which means bypassing the U.S. dollar.  Given its membership, the NDB’s money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed, in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB’s attempt to break a Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility of someday aidingin the reconstruction of Syria.

You won’t be surprised to learn that both the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the NDB are headquartered in China and will work to complement each other’s efforts. At the same time, Russia’s foreign investment arm, the Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), signed a memorandum of understanding with funds from other BRICS countries and so launched an informal investment consortium in which China’s Silk Road Fund and India’s Infrastructure Development Finance Company will be key partners.

Full Spectrum Transportation Dominance

On the ground level, this should be thought of as part of the New Great Game in Eurasia. Its flip side is the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Pacific and the Atlantic version of the same, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which Washington is trying to advance to maintain U.S. global economic dominance. The question these conflicting plans raise is how to integrate trade and commerce across that vast region. From the Chinese and Russian perspectives, Eurasia is to be integrated via a complex network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines, ports, airports, pipelines, and fiber optic cables. By land, sea, and air, the resulting New Silk Roads are meant to create an economic version of the Pentagon’s doctrine of “Full Spectrum Dominance” — a vision that already has Chinese corporate executives crisscrossing Eurasia sealing infrastructure deals.

For Beijing — back to a 7% growth rate in the second quarter of 2015 despite a recent near-panic on the country’s stock markets — it makes perfect economic sense: as labor costs rise, production will be relocated from the country’s Eastern seaboard to its cheaper Western reaches, while the natural outlets for the production of just about everything will be those parallel and interlocking “belts” of the new Silk Roads.

Meanwhile, Russia is pushing to modernize and diversify its energy-exploitation-dependent economy. Among other things, its leaders hope that the mix of those developing Silk Roads and the tying together of the Eurasian Economic Union — Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — will translate into myriad transportation and construction projects for which the country’s industrial and engineering know-how will prove crucial.

As the EEU has begun establishing free trade zones with India, Iran, Vietnam, Egypt, and Latin America’s Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), the initial stages of this integration process already reach beyond Eurasia. Meanwhile, the SCO, which began as little more than a security forum, is expanding and moving into the field of economic cooperation.  Its countries, especially four Central Asian “stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) will rely ever more on the Chinese-driven Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the NDB. At Ufa, India and Pakistan finalized an upgrading process in which they have moved from observers to members of the SCO. This makes it an alternative G8.

In the meantime, when it comes to embattled Afghanistan, the BRICS nations and the SCO have now called upon “the armed opposition to disarm, accept the Constitution of Afghanistan, and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations.” Translation: within the framework of Afghan national unity, the organization would accept the Taliban as part of a future government. Their hopes, with the integration of the region in mind, would be for a future stable Afghanistan able to absorb more Chinese, Russian, Indian, and Iranian investment, and the construction — finally! — of a long-planned, $10 billion, 1,420-kilometer-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline that would benefit those energy-hungry new SCO members, Pakistan and India. (They would each receive 42% of the gas, the remaining 16% going to Afghanistan.)

Central Asia is, at the moment, geographic ground zero for the convergence of the economic urges of China, Russia, and India. It was no happenstance that, on his way to Ufa, Prime Minister Modi stopped off in Central Asia.  Like the Chinese leadership in Beijing, Moscow looks forward (as a recent document puts it) to the “interpenetration and integration of the EEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt” into a “Greater Eurasia” and a “steady, developing, safe common neighborhood” for both Russia and China.

And don’t forget Iran. In early 2016, once economic sanctions are fully lifted, it is expected to join the SCO, turning it into a G9. As its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, made clear recently to Russia’s Channel 1 television, Tehran considers the two countries strategic partners. “Russia,” he said, “has been the most important participant in Iran’s nuclear program and it will continue under the current agreement to be Iran’s major nuclear partner.” The same will, he added, be true when it comes to “oil and gas cooperation,” given the shared interest of those two energy-rich nations in “maintaining stability in global market prices.”

Got Corridor, Will Travel

Across Eurasia, BRICS nations are moving on integration projects. A developing Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor is a typical example. It is now being reconfigured as a multilane highway between India and China. Meanwhile, Iran and Russia are developing a transportation corridor from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the Caspian Sea and the Volga River. Azerbaijan will be connected to the Caspian part of this corridor, while India is planning to use Iran’s southern ports to improve its access to Russia and Central Asia. Now, add in a maritime corridor that will stretch from the Indian city of Mumbai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and then on to the southern Russian city of Astrakhan. And this just scratches the surface of the planning underway.

Years ago, Vladimir Putin suggested that there could be a “Greater Europe” stretching from Lisbon, Portugal, on the Atlantic to the Russian city of Vladivostok on the Pacific. The EU, under Washington’s thumb, ignored him. Then the Chinese started dreaming about and planning new Silk Roads that would, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, extend from Shanghai to Venice (and then on to Berlin).

Thanks to a set of cross-pollinating political institutions, investment funds, development banks, financial systems, and infrastructure projects that, to date, remain largely under Washington’s radar, a free-trade Eurasian heartland is being born. It will someday link China and Russia to Europe, Southwest Asia, and even Africa. It promises to be an astounding development. Keep your eyes, if you can, on the accumulating facts on the ground, even if they are rarely covered in the American media. They represent the New Great — emphasis on that word — Game in Eurasia.

Location, Location, Location

Tehran is now deeply invested in strengthening its connections to this new Eurasia and the man to watch on this score is Ali Akbar Velayati. He is the head of Iran’s Center for Strategic Research and senior foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Velayati stresses that security in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Caucasus hinges on the further enhancement of a Beijing-Moscow-Tehran triple entente.

As he knows, geo-strategically Iran is all about location, location, location. That country offers the best access to open seas in the region apart from Russia and is the only obvious east-west/north-south crossroads for trade from the Central Asian “stans.” Little wonder then that Iran will soon be an SCO member, even as its “partnership” with Russia is certain to evolve. Its energy resources are already crucial to and considered a matter of national security for China and, in the thinking of that country’s leadership, Iran also fulfills a key role as a hub in those Silk Roads they are planning.

That growing web of literal roads, rail lines, and energy pipelines, asTomDispatch has previously reported, represents Beijing’s response to the Obama administration’s announced “pivot to Asia” and the U.S. Navy’s urge to meddle in the South China Sea. Beijing is choosing to project power via a vast set of infrastructure projects, especially high-speed rail lines that will reach from its eastern seaboard deep into Eurasia. In this fashion, the Chinese-built railway from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province to Almaty in Kazakhstan will undoubtedly someday be extended to Iran and traverse that country on its way to the Persian Gulf.

A New World for Pentagon Planners

At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last month, Vladimir Putin told PBS’s Charlie Rose that Moscow and Beijing had always wanted a genuine partnership with the United States, but were spurned by Washington. Hats off, then, to the “leadership” of the Obama administration. Somehow, it has managed to bring together two former geopolitical rivals, while solidifying their pan-Eurasian grand strategy.

Even the recent deal with Iran in Vienna is unlikely — especially given the war hawks in Congress — to truly end Washington’s 36-year-long Great Wall of Mistrust with Iran. Instead, the odds are that Iran, freed from sanctions, will indeed be absorbed into the Sino-Russian project to integrate Eurasia, which leads us to the spectacle of Washington’s warriors, unable to act effectively, yet screaming like banshees.

NATO’s supreme commander Dr. Strangelove, sorry, American General Philip Breedlove, insists that the West must create a rapid-reaction force — online — to counteract Russia’s “false narratives.” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claims to be seriously considering unilaterally redeploying nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. The nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Commandant Joseph Dunford, recently directly labeled Russia America’s true “existential threat”; Air Force General Paul Selva, nominated to be the new vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seconded that assessment, using the same phrase and putting Russia, China and Iran, in that order, as more threatening than the Islamic State (ISIS). In the meantime, Republican presidential candidates and a bevy of congressional war hawks simply shout and fume when it comes to both the Iranian deal and the Russians.

In response to the Ukrainian situation and the “threat” of a resurgent Russia (behind which stands a resurgent China), a Washington-centric militarization of Europe is proceeding apace. NATO is now reportedly obsessed with what’s being called “strategy rethink” — as in drawing up detailed futuristic war scenarios on European soil. As economist Michael Hudson has pointed out, even financial politics are becoming militarized and linked to NATO’s new Cold War 2.0.

In its latest National Military Strategy, the Pentagon suggests that the risk of an American war with another nation (as opposed to terror outfits), while low, is “growing” and identifies four nations as “threats”: North Korea, a case apart, and predictably the three nations that form the new Eurasian core: Russia, China, and Iran. They are depicted in the document as “revisionist states,” openly defying what the Pentagon identifies as “international security and stability”; that is, the distinctly un-level playing field created by globalized, exclusionary, turbo-charged casino capitalism and Washington’s brand of militarism.

The Pentagon, of course, does not do diplomacy. Seemingly unaware of the Vienna negotiations, it continued to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons. And that “military option” against Iran is never off the table.

So consider it the Mother of All Blockbusters to watch how the Pentagon and the war hawks in Congress will react to the post-Vienna and — though it was barely noticed in Washington — the post-Ufa environment, especially under a new White House tenant in 2017.

It will be a spectacle.  Count on it.  Will the next version of Washington try to make it up to “lost” Russia or send in the troops? Will it contain China or the “caliphate” of ISIS? Will it work with Iran to fight ISIS or spurn it? Will it truly pivot to Asia for good and ditch the Middle East or vice-versa? Or might it try to contain Russia, China, and Iran simultaneously or find some way to play them against each other?

In the end, whatever Washington may do, it will certainly reflect a fear of the increasing strategic depth Russia and China are developing economically, a reality now becoming visible across Eurasia. At Ufa, Putin told Xi on the record: “Combining efforts, no doubt we [Russia and China] will overcome all the problems before us.”

Read “efforts” as new Silk Roads, that Eurasian Economic Union, the growing BRICS block, the expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization, those China-based banks, and all the rest of what adds up to the beginning of a new integration of significant parts of the Eurasian land mass. As for Washington, fly like an eagle? Try instead: scream like a banshee.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for RTand Sputnik, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

Copyright 2015 Pepe Escobar

 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176026/tomgram%3A_pepe_escobar%2C_the_pivot_to_eurasia/

Obama promotes militarism and murder

obamaswar

By Patrick Martin
23 July 2015

In a speech Tuesday before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh, President Obama gave an extraordinary picture of his role as “commander-in-chief” of American imperialism. He listed a series of men killed or kidnapped by US Special Operations forces, punctuating the list with the assertion of their current status as either dead or imprisoned in the US.

As distributed by the White House, the text reads: “Osama bin Laden is gone. Anwar Awlaki, a leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen—gone. Many of Al Qaeda’s deputies and their replacements—gone. Ahmed Abdi Godane—the leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia—gone. Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of bombing our embassies in Africa—captured. Ahmed Abu Khattalah, accused in the attack in Benghazi—captured. The list goes on.”

Obama made no mention of the fact that Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen, convicted of no crime, judged in no court, but sentenced to death on the sole authority of the president of the United States. Nor did he refer to the subsequent US government murder of Awlaki’s son, an innocent teenager, in another drone missile strike, or the thousands of other civilian victims of US drone warfare across Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

This recitation of a death list came as the peroration of a speech in which Obama identified himself with the US military and demanded an end to congressional sequestration of funds so that the armed forces can receive tens of billions of dollars in new weaponry.

He threatened the world with the power of the US military machine, declaring, “Now, every ally and every adversary needs to know around the world the United States has and will continue to have the strongest, most capable fighting force the world has ever known. No one can match our Army—the greatest land force on Earth. Nobody can match our Navy—the largest and most advanced battle fleet in the world. Or our Coast Guard—safeguarding our shores and ports. Nobody can match our Air Force—its reach and precision are unequalled. Nobody can match our Marine Corps—the world’s only global expeditionary force. Nobody can match our Special Operations Forces—our remarkable, quiet professionals.”

There is little doubt that these aggressive claims of global superiority are now being perused in foreign capitals—not only Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran, but also Berlin, Paris, Delhi, Tokyo and elsewhere. The choice of words provokes inevitable questions.

The Navy is a “battle fleet”—against whom? The Air Force has “unequalled” reach—so any country can be targeted. The Marine Corps is “the world’s only global expeditionary force”—only the United States claims either the right or the power to intervene anywhere in the world it chooses.

Also significant was Obama’s elevation of the Special Operations Forces to the level of the traditional military foursome of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. This is a president who is most truly at home, and in his element, in the weekly meetings with top military-intelligence staffers (once dubbed “terror Tuesdays”) where he approves kill lists drawn up by the CIA and Special Forces, for implementation through drone missile strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, or through commando raids on virtually any site.

The corporate-controlled media in the United States gave comparatively little attention to Obama’s speech. Only the Washington Post discussed his list of assassination victims and quoted the chilling passage word for word. The newspaper suggested that this was an effort by Obama to “demonstrate his toughness” going into the congressional debate over the nuclear pact with Iran negotiated by the US and five other powers.

There is no doubt an element of truth in this. In promoting the nuclear deal, Obama pointedly noted that US sanctions against Iran over alleged support for terrorism and human rights abuses would remain in place, and that the US reserved the right to employ the “military option” against Tehran.

Obama’s boasting of the power of the US military was music to the ears of his audience, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a frequent location for bellicose addresses by top US politicians. It was at a VFW convention in August 2002 that Vice President Dick Cheney publicly launched the Bush administration’s campaign for war against Iraq.

Cheney’s remarks 13 years ago deserve to be remembered in the context of Obama’s equally bloodcurdling boasts today. The then-vice president put forward for the first time the main lies that would be used to justify the war in Iraq.

He declared: “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon… Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction… Regime-change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for the region… the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy…”

Obama’s militaristic rhetoric is cut from the same cloth. Like Cheney, he speaks for an American ruling elite that is drunk on homicidal violence, seeing military force as its trump card in a global struggle to control markets, resources and strategic territory against its foreign rivals.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/23/obam-j23.html