Friday, February 14, 2014

Global chess - Saudi Arabia: Preparing for Aggression ? US blind to barbs in Japan defense plan .......... The new US-Russia Cold War ....... Baghdad plays familiar al-Qaeda card

Will the Saudis unleash a conventional and terror war together?

Saudi tanks

 Saudi Arabia: Preparing for Aggression ?

…by  Konstantin Orlov ,     with  New Eastern Outlook,  Moscow

St. Petersburg with its seven golden domes
St. Petersburg with its seven golden domes
Editors Note:  We are featuring an NEO writer tonight. Mr. Orlov has picked an excellent and timely topic with the Saudi military offensive and done a great job with it. It's my job to find them to share with you.
The Saudis have been huge spenders on military equipment for decades, but have never really used much of it in a real shooting war. But they were every defense contractor's favorite sugar daddy.
Why so much weapons spending has many answers. They were a forward base for the American military and the expenditures were all part of having American protection for the Royal family dynasty.
Then there was the big fear over Iran, even though it has not invaded anyone in modern history and has no offensive military power in terms of taking or holding territory. Nor have they exhibited any interest in doing so. 
But now we are seeing their huge build up in weapons purchases, while at the same time becoming the major terrorism sponsor in the region, which is using none of the expensive weapons platforms. Is there a two front war in the works?
While the US shows an interest in eliminating the long-standing hostilities with Iran, it has helped destroy Syria and created a terror scourge in the region far beyond anything we faced in our War on Terror, which has now officially become a War of Terror.
Sensible Americans don't get it. Konstantin's giving us a peek behind the curtain at what is really going on and will help clear up some of the mystery. I suspect we will be seeing more good material from him in the future through the editors of the New Eastern Outlook... Jim W. Dean ]

First published February 11, 2014  -

And they don't make war like in the old days
And they don’t make war like in the old days
Recent information from the Saudi Arabia gives sufficient evidence that the Saudis are preparing for a war. Will this be an internal disturbance with the possible involvement of the army?
Will the Saudi-Iranian hostility transgress into open combat, or will Saudi tanks cross the Syrian borders as the Arabic media predict – even the top officials in Riyadh do not know it yet.
Nevertheless, the beginning of this year was heralded by purchases of vast amount of arms, which tripled the country’s military budget.
In addition to American weaponry worth dozens of billion dollars purchased recently (in 2010, the Saudi Ministry of Defense ordered U.S. weapons for a total amount of 60 billion dollars), Riyadh has made the following purchases not so long ago.
It purchased new DF-21 East Wind, mid-range liquid fuel missiles, which are easy to use and have good accuracy, Claudio Gallo writes in his article published on the website of the newspaper La Stampa. The Chinese missiles in the Saudi hands are not the weapon to reverse the situation, but they rather bring more tension into the psychological war, i.e., the type of confrontation that can result in most unpredictable consequences.
Chinese - DF-21 missiles
Chinese – DF-21 missiles
It should be added that in 2007, the Saudis purchased ballistic missiles – again from China and with assistance of American intelligence agencies, which ensured that the missiles could not be equipped with nuclear warheads.
At the same time, the Saudi Ministry of Defense intends to purchase one hundred patrol boats from Germany for a total amount of 1.4 billion euros, as was reported in Der Spiegel magazine with reference to a confidential letter written by Steffen Kampeter, Germany’s Secretary of State for Finance.
In November 2013, it was learned that Saudi Arabia intended to purchase from Germany five Type 209 submarines, with the opportunity to increase the order to 25 vessels. The cost of purchasing this fleet is estimated at 12 billion euros.
Besides this, the story of possible sale of German Leopard 2 tanks is close to realization. The agreement for delivery of the first batch (about 270 vehicles at an estimated cost of 3 billion euros) has already been agreed on, and is now awaiting official approval from the Federal Republic of Germany’s Security Council.
According to the Bild newspaper, Riyadh is willing to purchase up to 800 Leopard 2S armored vehicles. This is the version specially designed to suit Saudi requirements, and which has successfully passed testing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia began negotiations for the supply of new Al-Khalid main battle tanks and JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to Riyadh. The contract for supply of military hardware may be signed within the framework of a more large-scale agreement on military and scientific cooperation between Islamabad and Riyadh. The exact number of armored vehicles and planes planned for purchase remains unknown.
Hi-tech weapons systems come with expensive maintence programs
Hi-tech weapons systems come with expensive maintence programs
Meanwhile, it should be noted that all military equipment in Saudi Arabia is maintained by numerous foreign specialists. Of course, these are chiefly Americans who have several military bases here.
The missile systems are supervised by Chinese engineers; there are many military personnel from Pakistan in the country, and their numbers will increase as new deliveries come in.
German specialists intend to work on the maintenance for their most complicated tanks and even more complicated vehicles, like the submarines.
And we must not forget that the Saudis are mostly Bedouins, people of the desert, and they fear the sea from their birth. It is interesting as to who will form the crews of these new submarines?
The world press writes in a straightforward way that the Saudis have decided to add a mailed fist to their uncounted wealth.
Then there is the question: Why would the Saudis need such military power, when no one is going to attack them, and the Americans have opened their antimissile umbrella over Saudi Arabia long ago?
In addition, the Saudis have almost no combat experience. In fact, back in 2010, Saudi Arabian troops did participate in a military operation in Yemen against rebels, given a simple and comprehensive name of “Scorched Earth”, and in March 2011, Riyadh sent a limited military contingent to Bahrain. This is all we know about Saudi military victories.
However, these detachments may come in handy for creating a large-scale provocation. We must not forget how Prince Bandar ibn Sultan offered his help to the President of Russia V. Putin in ensuring safety for the Sochi Olympiad, referring to the Saudis having full control over terrorist groups.
Bandar and Putin
Bandar and Putin
Back then, Putin made them understand that Russia is quite capable of ensuring security at the Olympiad.
However, now the Saudi prince may try to play this card again, and organize a provocation during the Olympic Games. By the way, the Arabs have a saying that a Saudi never forgives an offence, just like a camel.
For example, the article by Ahmed Sherkawi entitled “Saudi Arabia is preparing an attack against Syria and the Hezbollah” has recently become one of the most popular articles in the Arabic Internet.
The author writes that the Saudis took an irrevocable decision to change the balance of power in the region, discard their old strategy and begin a military campaign (indirect, as it is performed through their puppets) against Syria and the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
First of all, implementation of this project will involve regular mercenary armies. In this connection, security experts informed that Saudi and Israeli commanders had been holding a continuous meeting for 10 days already.
They are working on developing an agreement for cooperation in the field of security, and the Saudis have already promised to grant the Israeli Air Force the right of passage over their territory if they decide to ‘solve’ the Iranian problem.
Other media reports suggest development of plans to attack the capital of Syria, Damascus, during the Sochi Olympiad, as well as different important military facilities in Syria; preparations for aggression in Lebanon, intending to strike the Hezbollah, are underway. In Lebanon itself, the fifth column is getting ready for action under the guise of the “March 14 Movement”. Activities of these powers are coordinated by Ashraf Rifi.
Moreover, Dr. Navaf Ubayad, advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, informed the Western press about details of a plan to form two new Saudi armies. The first army will be formed from the kingdom’s citizens, while the second will include foreigners, primarily from Morocco, Yemen and Jordan. The two armies will be used in various regional conflicts, and first of all in the aggressive campaign against Syria.
On this subject, Syria’s Minister of Information Omran az-Zoubi has put things quite succinctly:
“The same powers are behind the acts of terror in Syria, Iraq, and Russia. If some party has billions of dollars to spend, this does not mean that it can go unpunished for staging terrorist attacks here and there.”
In this case, he meant the current rulers of Saudi Arabia.

US blind to barbs in Japan defense plan
By Peter Lee

The United States government, be it the White House, security strategists, the civilian leadership or the military brass, apparently has no qualms about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decision to affirm Japan's right to practice "collective self defense", or CSD.

In the face of public disapproval, resistance by an impotent political opposition, and gentle push-back from the minority partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Abe looks to implement CSD by asserting the government's right to repurpose the provisions of the pacifist constitution without formal revision or reinterpretation, but through a simple statement by the cabinet.

US supporters have been cheering him on in this awkwardprocess, like anxious soccer parents on the sidelines trying to will a clumsy toddler into nudging the ball into an empty net. 

Whether this is a good idea, especially as it will permit Japan to restructure its security relationship with its future Asian allies without US mediation, history will, as they say, judge. But it looks like the United States is all in, on the basis that collective self-defense will enable Japanese military forces to assist the US.

I assume Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy (term as ambassador and, indeed, total public career to date: three months) lacks the political or foreign policy throw-weight to freelance on key US-Japan issues, so this statement of support for collective self defense is probably an authoritative indicator of Obama administration preferences:

"Japan will be a more effective alliance partner if its Self-Defense Forces are able to help defend American soldiers or sailors if they are attacked," US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy told the Asahi newspaper in an interview published Jan 23. [1]
Prime Minister Abe dutifully sang from the same hymnal before the Diet (parliament) on February 6:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed Thursday that the country's continued self-imposed ban on exercising its right to collective self-defense will adversely affect the Japan-US alliance.

Referring to a case in which Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels fail to counterattack when US warships conducting joint activities come under attack, Abe said at a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee, "The damage from the failure to the Japan-US alliance is immeasurable." [2]
I am presuming that in the original Japanese the case Abe described was a hypothetical: susbstitute "if" for "when" and "would be" for "is".

Questions of grammar and tense aside, this scenario doesn't fit the current pacifist constitution. The 1997 US-Japan Defense Guidelines explicitly and repeatedly mandate bilateral wartime operations, as can be seen from this useful table of responsibilities (Table 1). [3]

The Self-Defense Force is, as the name implies, supposed to defend Japan, including US installations in Japan, but not the US Seventh Fleet. The Seventh Fleet is designed to look after itself and is quite up to the task. The current structure of the US-Japan defense relationship is specifically and intensively structured to preclude the need for "collective self defense". The contingency that a US naval vessel will find itself getting mugged like a granny coming back from the store by a Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ship and will desperately need the help of the SDF is, to put it charitably, remote under current circumstances.

According to Michael Cucek's Twitter feed, the head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Banri Kaeida, put this very question to Prime Minister Abe during Diet question time.

For a long time, the United States has been keen to enable certain joint US/Japanese operations under the current pacifist constitution, with the Japanese side moving beyond its traditional "only defend Japan" restrictions to provide benign, non-aggressive services such as minesweeping, reconnaissance, and ballistic missile defense, especially for new regional security missions only tangentially related to the defense of Japan. Scenarios for increased Japanese participation in joint activities, while still within the bounds of the current constitution, have been painstakingly parsed by American [4] and Japanese [5] strategists.

CSD would add another facet to this kind of operation. A joint flotilla could be sailing around outside Japanese waters, protecting sea lanes and whatnot, with the Japanese vessels sweeping mines, launching helicopters and surveillance planes, etc, in full pacifist constitution mode. Then, if things get ugly - for instance if a US vessel and equipment of an unnamed Asian power get into a scrape - then it's showtime! And the Japanese ships are free to blast away to protect the US ship, protect themselves, launch pre-emptive strikes - the list of kinetic operations possible under the label of collective self-defense is probably quite extensive.

With this sort of scenario in mind, perhaps US planners might believe that "collective self defense" kills two birds with one stone. First, it allows Japanese forces to be more easily and effectively integrated into new US regional missions beyond genuinely defensive ones; second, it keeps Japanese forces in a "defensive" posture, so the United States and countries around the region don't have to worry about the Japanese military going off on independent military adventures.

In other words, "collective self defense" gives the US the best of both worlds: Japan pulls its military weight in the alliance, but Japan's military ambitions remain under the thumb of the pacifist constitution.

And, of course, there is AirSeaBattle, the fantasy-war-with-the-PRC scenario. It is tempting to speculate that the outlandishness of AirSeaBattle - which assumes a sneak attack by the PRC, a massive war of attrition between the US and the PRC that never goes nuclear because, well, then we couldn't have AirSeaBattle and the Navy and Air Force deserve to have nice things - was an intentional feature designed to demonstrate that integration of US and Japanese military operations through collective self defense was the only feasible pathway to continued US military hegemony in the Western Pacific.

However, "the best laid plans of mice, men and Powerpoint Rangers gang aft agley" to paraphrase Robert Burns, and the Abe administration is already looking for ways to perform an active of strategic jiu jitsu and turn "collective self defense" into a potential instrument for independent Japanese action.

The Abe administration's architects of CSD have made it quite clear that they intend to apply collective self defense beyond the one nation with whom Japan currently has a formal alliance relationship, the US.

The deeper game in "collective self defense" was frankly discussed by its architect, courtesy Bloomberg:
Yousuke Isozaki, a special adviser to Abe on security policy, is spearheading the effort on collective self-defense and says the change will deepen security ties with the US and allow Japan [7] to reach out to other allies.

"We want to be able to discuss security with friendly countries other than the US," he said in a January 17 interview. "If we are bound hand and foot, we cannot talk. We cannot even say we will protect one another if something happens." [6]
In other words, "collective self defense" could be exercised in the aid of future allies, such as India, the Republic of the Philippines, and Vietnam, all of whom are already eager partners in heightened security cooperation with Japan targeting the People's Republic of China.

Theoretically, therefore, the Philippines for instance could get into a scrape with the PRC over the Scarborough Shoal with the understanding that it could call on Japan for assistance.

Furthermore, Japanese and US military strategists have already created a doctrinal template that can easily be transferred into a non-Japanese Asian security environment.

Aficionados of the causes of World War III might want to bone up on the concept of "gray zone crises" - conditions that are neither peacetime nor wartime. This is apparently the formulation that Japanese military strategists and their opposite numbers at the Pentagon have been working off since the first Senkaku crisis in 2010 to characterize the friction with the PRC over various ocean matters.

Sugio Takahashi of the National Institute for Defense Studies has characterized China's maritime activities, including but not limited to the Senkakus as a gray zone crisis. [8] He takes as his premise the assertion that the PRC is not pursuing interests to be negotiated diplomatically with other stakeholders, but is exploiting perceived power vacuums.

The framing, of course, is important here. If the PRC is pursuing specific interests that it perceives to be important and legitimate, that's a matter for engagement and negotiation. If, on the other hand, the PRC's priority is to push competitors out of the west Pacific, the proper riposte is defiance, a refusal to discuss or compromise, deterrence, and - if deterrence is challenged - the convincing ability to retaliate.

In past months, quite noticeably, the calls to confront China and eschew appeasement have become more strident. I leave it to observers to ponder whether this state of affairs reflects a fuller understanding of the PRC's actual nefarious ambitions, or whether militant declarations are meant to obfuscate relatively routine PRC moves to define and regulate its maritime affairs, and foreclose engagement options in favor of a conflict narrative that is much more favorable to the joint Japanese and US security strategy.

The prescription for the problem, according to Takahashi, is "dynamic deterrence", lots of flying and sailing around the sensitive area, intelligence gathering, and posturing by Japan to disabuse the PRC of the misconception that a power vacuum exists in Japan's sovereign territory - which is pretty much the scenario we see around the Senkakus. The key, however, is that "dynamic deterrence" is backed up by "static deterrence" - the fact that US forces are on tap if Japanese forces do get involved in a military confrontation. 

Takahashi described how the "gray zone crisis" is supposed to play out:
Japan will take care of the current situation by herself as long as it continues to be in [the] gray-zone. However, if it escalates to a military conflict, the situation will drastically change and fall under "Article Five" in the Security Treaty, where the two militaries will cooperate operationally. In this case, he primary player will be the SDF, and assistance from the US to Japan is to be expected.
And, in case you are wondering, Takahashi apparently doesn't think that the gray zone formula is only relevant for areas whereJapan claims sovereignty. Takahashi concludes:

[G]ray-zone crisis is also applicable to the South China Sea ... The development of a permanent body as well as procedures for operational cooperation and coordination will give additional flexibility to deal with challenges in the gray-zone.
If the "dynamic deterrence" in "gray zone crisis" formula is applied to future security agreements between Japan and the Philippines, Vietnam, and/or India as Japanese strategists already wish to apply them to the US relationship, then the priority in the South China Sea will evolve from "managing friction" to "preserving credible deterrence", a rather risky state of affairs.

As to whether the Philippines would be more likely to pursue a confrontational policy with the PRC as a result of the prospect of Japanese back-up, I would have to say Yes. In fact, I consider the Philippines' adoption of the inflammatory Hitler/Sudetenland rhetoric against the PRC part and parcel of a strategy to foreclose the possibility that the Philippines will be called upon to negotiate an arrangement with its overbearing neighbor (nobody negotiates with Hitler, after all) and justify a security arrangement with Japan that puts a couple of sizable bricks in the China-containment wall.

In fact, as the name implies, the whole concept of "collective self defense" can be seen as a strategy to further institutionalize alliances to negate the PRC's preferred posture of resolving its various regional issues bilaterally, quietly, and to the PRC's advantage. One might add that this strategy carries with it the greater potential that disputes with the PRC - now carefully conducted through maritime patrol vessels as peacetime sovereignty issues - will become militarized under the "deterrence" doctrine.

"Collective self defense" would allow the "dynamic/static deterrence" template to be applied to Asia, with Japan assuming the role of "static deterrent" backstop in place of the United States. It's a lower-risk strategy that placates the United States, avoids the political and diplomatic minefield of constitutional revision, and dodges the high profile hassle and risk of acting as the front-line military power, but is at the same time an important practical step in Japan's recovery of full military sovereignty.

This potential goes a long way to explaining why Prime Minister Abe might be willing to pay the political cost of pushing through "collective self defense" even though Japanese voters are cool on the idea and it seems to have only marginal significance within the context of the US-Japan alliance.

One might argue whether applying the "dynamic deterrence" formula to non-US alliances is good, bad, or indifferent - ever since former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was running the show, the basic assumption has been that an atmosphere of tension produces a virtuous cycle of action and Chinese reaction which pushes more Asian countries into the US camp, and therefore should not be discouraged - but it should in any evaluation be a focus of US concern.

After all, the alliance arrangement in the Pacific to date is hub-and-spoke, with the US as the hub and Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines as the spokes. With the creeping restoration of full Japanese military sovereignty and a sour regional attitude (quietly encouraged, I think, by Japan) that Japan and the Asian democracies can no longer rely completely on Uncle Sam's long-term mettle and have to look to themselves, the spokes are thinking of dealing more directly with each other, I would have thought that the United States might have some mental reservations endorsing the whole collective self-defense posture.

One assumes that strategic thinkers in the US military/think tank complex have some kind of a handle on this.

However, I don't see any public acknowledgement that, by supporting collective self defense they are potentially disintermediating the United States in the restructuring of the Asian security regime and putting a powerful lever in the hands of the Japanese government. I also reached out to two eminences in Asian security for comment, and they both stated that the potential for Japanese security freelancing in the context of "collective self defense" did not concern them.

So it's just me. Obviously CSD is now a done deal.

All that remains is the public relations bullshit, in other words the hyping of the China threat to justify some rather brisk, borderline constitutionally shady executive measures to assert the Japanese prerogative to "collective self defense".

Prime Minister Abe has assiduously cultivated the China threat narrative and, if a recent report from Mainichi Shinbun concerning the infamous air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, is accurate, has been cynically provoking it with the acquiescence of the US over the last few years.

English-language readers can get the story, thanks to the Shingetsu News Agency :
The Mainichi Shinbun obtained secret documents of the Defense Ministry (fortunately for them, and the public, the new secrets law is not yet in force to suppress such inconvenient information), which reveal that senior PLA officers had told their Japanese counterparts in May 2010 that they had established the ADIZ in the East China Sea, and that they were moving toward making it public in the future. Moreover, they invited dialogue with the Japan Self-Defense Forces on how the two countries' overlapping ADIZs might be managed in order to reduce the possibility of mishaps.

Moreover, the Japanese government was, according to the Mainichi Shinbun, well aware "in early 2013" that "final preparations" for the announcement of the Chinese ADIZ were underway.

We can safely surmise that if the Japanese government knew the declaration was forthcoming, that the US government, with its vast intelligence agencies, was also aware of it.

So the announcement of the Chinese ADIZ may have been a "surprise" to the general public, but it was certainly not a surprise to either the Japanese nor the US governments, which had in fact been tipped off by the PLA itself several years earlier.

What emerges, therefore, is not the sudden, aggressive, unilateral action by the Chinese government that has been so vividly portrayed by the world's media for the last couple months, but rather a careful, longterm process that culminated in the November 2013 public declaration.

It is also worth noting that in June 2010 - one month after the Japanese were informed by China of their intention to establish a large, overlapping ADIZ in the East China Sea - the Japanese government announced (unilaterally) an expansion of its own ADIZ in the East China Sea by 22 kilometers in order to include Yonaguni Island. [9]
So the real story of the ADIZ (which in my opinion also resembles the real story of the Captain Zhan uproar of 2010 and the Senkaku purchase of 2013 in its lineaments of Machiavellian plotting and, I might add, prestige media gormlessness in the face of the determined and less-than-100%-honest Japanese government PR operation) is that the Abe administration had been notified of the PRC's plans, sandbagged the PRC by waiting for the announcement in order to vociferously attack it, and used it to hype an exaggerated China threat and grease the skids for collective self defense, all with the apparent collusion of the US.

Or, as the Bloomberg article put it:
"What is lucky for the Abe administration is that China set up the ADIZ," said the LDP's Hirasawa, who tutored Abe as a child. "That proves that what the Abe administration has been saying is correct. China is taking a stronger and stronger stance."
What luck, indeed.

1.Abe Eyes Window for Biggest Military-Rule Change Since WWII, Bloomberg, Feb 6, 2014.
2.Japan's Ban on Collective Defense to Affect Alliance with US, Jiji press,[taken down as of Feb 12].
3.Upgrading the Japan-US Defense Guidelines: Toward a New Phase of Operational Coordination, Project 2049 Institute, December 2013.
4.How to Upgrade US-Japan Defense Cooperation, Carnegie Asia Program, Jan 16, 2014.
5.Counter A2/AD in Japan-US Defense Cooperation: Toward 'Allied Air-Sea Battle' , Project 2049 Institute, March 2012.
6. Abe Eyes Window for Biggest Military-Rule Change Since WWII, Bloomberg, Feb 6, 2014.
7. See here
8. Upgrading the Japan-US Defense Guidelines: Toward a New Phase of Operational Coordination, Project 2049 Institute, December 2013.
9. The 'China Threat' Narrative Stumbles, Shingetsu News Agency, Feb 12, 2014

The new US-Russia Cold War
By Pepe Escobar

Meet the new (cold) war, same as the old (cold) war. Same same, but different. One day, it's the myriad implications of Washington's "pivoting" to Asia - as in the containment of China. The next day, it's the perennial attempt to box Russia in. Never a dull moment in the New Great Game in Eurasia.

On Russia, the denigration of all things Sochi - attributable to the inherent stupidity of Western corporate media "standards" - wasjust a subplot of the main show, which always gets personal; the relentless demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin. [1] 

Yet Nulandgate - as in US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria "neo-con" Nuland uttering her famous "F**k the EU" - was way more serious. Not because of the "profanity" (praise the Lord!), but for providing what US Think Tankland hailed as "an indicator of American strategic thinking".

Here's the game in a nutshell. Germany remote controls one of the leaders of the Ukrainian protests, heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko. [2]

"F**k the EU" is essentially directed towards Berlin and Klitschko, its key protege. Washington sees this going nowhere, as Germany, after all, has been slowly building a complex energy-investment partnership with Russia.

The Obama administration wants results - fast. Nuland herself stressed (check it out, starting at 7:26) that Washington, over the past two decades, has "invested" over US$5 billion for the "democratization" of Ukraine. So yes: this is "our" game and the EU is at best a nuisance while Russia remains the major spoiler. Welcome to Washington's Ukrainian "strategy".

The Ukrainian chessboard
US Think Tankland now also peddles the notion that the Obama administration is expertly adept at a balance of power strategy. To include Libya as part of this "strategy" is a sick joke; Libya post-Gaddafi is a failed state, courtesy of humanitarian bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Meanwhile, in Syria, the US "strategy" boils down to let Arabs kill Arabs in droves.

Iran is way more complex. Arguably, the Obama administration calculates that through talks between Iran and the P5+1 - the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany - it will be able to outmaneuver the Russians, who are close to Tehran. This assuming the Obama administration really wants a nuclear deal with Iran that would later release the floodgates of Western business.

On Syria, it's the Russian positions that have kept the upper hand; not to mention that Putin saved Obama from yet another Middle East war. As Syria was a Russian win, no wonder Washington dreams of a win in Ukraine.

We can interpret what's goin' on now as a remix of the 2004 Orange Revolution. But The Big Picture goes way back - from NATO's expansion in the 1990s to American NGOs trying to destabilize Russia, NATO's flirt with Georgia, and those missile defense schemes so close to Russian borders.

In already trademark Obama administration style, the State Department's support for anti-Russia, pro-EU protests in Ukraine qualifies as "leading from behind" (remember Libya?)

It comes complete with "humanitarian" appeal, calls for "reconciliation" and good against evil dichotomy masking a drive towards regime change. Abandon all hope to find voices of sanity on US corporate media such as NYU and Princeton's Stephen Cohen, who cut to the chase in this piece, stressing that the essential revelation of Nulandgate "was that high-level US officials were plotting to 'midwife' a new, anti-Russian Ukrainian government by ousting or neutralizing its democratically elected president - that is, a coup".

Here the "strategy" clearly reveals itself as a US puppet now - coup or no coup - instead of an EU puppet later. No one in the Beltway gives a damn that Viktor Yanukovich was legally elected president of Ukraine, and that he had full authority to reject a dodgy deal with the EU.

And no one in the Beltway cares that the protests are now being led by Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) - a nasty collection of fascists, football hooligans, ultra-nationalists and all sorts of unsavory neo-Nazi elements; the Ukrainian equivalents of Bandar Bush's jihadis in Syria.

Yet the US "strategy" rules that street protests should lead to regime change. It applies to the Ukraine, but it does not apply to Thailand.

Washington wants regime change in the Ukraine for one reason only; in the wider New Great Game in Eurasia context, that would be the rough equivalent of Texas defecting from the US and becoming a Russian ally.

Still, this gambit is bound to fail. Moscow has myriad ways to deploy economic leverage in Ukraine; it has access to much better intel than the Americans; and the protesters/gangs/neo-Nazis are just a noisy minority.

Washington, tough, won't give up, as it sees both the political crisis in Ukraine as the emerging financial crisis in Kazakhstan as "opportunities" (Obama lingo) to threaten Moscow's economic/strategic interests. It's as if the Beltway was praying for a widespread financial crisis in the Russia-led Customs Union (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus).

Pray in fact is all they've got, while the EU, for all the grandiose, rhetorical wishful thinking, remains a divided mess. After Sochi, Vlad the Hammer will be back in business with a vengeance. Nuland and co, watch your back.

1. Journalistic malpractice & the dangers of Russia-bashing, RT, February 9, 2014.
2. EU Grooming Klitschko to Lead Ukraine, Der Spiegel Online, December 10, 2013.

Baghdad plays familiar al-Qaeda card
By Nicola Nasser

International, regional and internal players vying for wealth, power and influence in the world are all beneficiaries of the "al-Qaeda threat" in Iraq. In spite of the deadly competition among these players, they all support the presence of the US-installed sectarian government in Baghdad - and its sectarian al-Qaeda antithesis - because this justifies proxy wars in the country.

The Iraqi people are a passive player in all this, paying in blood for Machiavellian, dirty politics. The war which the US unleashed by its invasion of Iraq in 2003 continues, as does the bleeding of the population. 

According to the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq, 34,452 Iraqis have been killed since 2008 and more than 10,000 were killed in2013. Last year, suicide bombings more than tripled, according to the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk's recent testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Agence France-Presse reported on Monday that more than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in January. The UN refugee agency UNHCR, citing Iraqi government figures, says that more than 140,000 Iraqis have already been displaced in the western province of Anbar by fighting there.

Both the United States and Russia have signed multi-billion dollar arms sales that purportedly aim to empower the sectarian government in Baghdad to defeat the sectarian "al-Qaeda threat". They aim is to rebuild Iraq's influence against Iran, which is particularly for the US given its losses in blood and treasure since the invasion.

However, by pouring billions of petrodollars into the region as part of their anti-Iran agenda, Turkey and Gulf Cooperation Council countries led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia are empowering al-Qaeda and its allies.

This effort to contain Iran's expanding regional sphere of influence only ends up fueling the sectarian strife in Iraq. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations while the Gulf Cooperation Council nations are Arab non-member "partners" of the organization, yet both seem to stand on the opposite side of their strategic ally in the current Iraqi conflict.

The three major partners in Iraq's domestic "political process" are no less Machiavellian in their exploiting of the al-Qaeda card. The self-autonomous northern Iraqi Kurdistan region, waiting for the right time to launch a secession, could not be happier with the central government's preoccupation with the "al-Qaeda threat".

Pro-Iran Shi'ite parties and militias use the threat to strengthen their sectarian bonds and to justify their loyalty to Iran. Their Sunni sectarian rivals are using the threat to promote themselves as an "alternative" to al-Qaeda in representing the Sunnis, and to justify financial, political and paramilitary support from the US, the GCC and Turkey.

Exploiting his partners' infighting, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has outmaneuvered the constitution to launch a bid for a third term. To reinforce his one-man show of governance, he was in Washington last November and then in Tehran the next month seeking military "help" against the "al-Qaeda threat" - he got it.

US war by proxy
US Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged to support Maliki's military offensive against al-Qaeda and its offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The US has agreed to supply Baghdad with 24 Apache helicopters, 175 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and reconnaissance drones as part of US$4.7 billion military deal which also includes another 18 F-16 fighters.

James Jeffrey reported in Foreign Policy last Monday that President Barack Obama's administration is "increasing intelligence and operational cooperation with the Iraqi government". Meanwhile, Le Figaro reported earlier this week that "hundreds" of US security personnel will return to Iraq to train the army to use these weapons." Kerry has ruled out sending placing "American boots" on the Iraqi ground, but obviously he meant "Pentagon boots", not Pentagon-contracted forces.

The Wall Street Journal online on February 3 reported that the "US military support there [in Iraq] relies increasingly on the presence of contractors". It described this strategy as "the strategic deployment of defense contractors".

Citing State Department and Pentagon figures, the Wall St Journal reported, "As of January 2013, the US had more than 12,500 contractors in Iraq", including some 5,000 contractors supporting the American diplomatic mission in Iraq, the largest such contingent in the world.

It is obvious that the US administration is continuing its war on Iraq through the ruling proxies it left behind when the American combat mission ended in December 2011.

Support for Maliki from Iran, Syria and Russia might suggest that his government is anti-American, but this cannot mask the fact that the administration was essentially installed by the US foreign military invasion and is still bound by a "strategic agreement" with the US.

Broken political system
Despite its size, the new US surge in "operational cooperation with the Iraqi government" will likely not succeed in fixing Iraq's shattered political system, Christopher A Preble wrote in an article published by the Cato Institute on January 23.

A plea to send retired US general David Petraeus and former Iraq ambassador Ryan Crocker back to Iraq made by US Senator John McCain on CNN's State of the Union on January 12 seems desperate, wishful thinking.

Iraq's political woes are the product of a US-engineered democratic transition that relied on a sectarian and ethnic fragmentation of the country. Writing in Foreign Policy, Jeffrey said that the "United States tried to transform Iraq into a model Western-style democracy," but "the US experience in the Middle East came to resemble its long war in Vietnam".

The US proxy government in Baghdad, which has developed into an authoritarian regime, remains the main source of the US's strategic failure there.

Iraq is now "on the edge of the abyss", director of Middle East Studies at the Royal United Services Institute professor Gareth Stansfield wrote on February 3. This situation is "being laid at the door of Prime Minister Nuri Maliki", he adds.

In the Center for Strategic and International Studies report "Iraq in Crisis", published on January 24, Anthony H Cordesman and Sam Khazai wrote that the cause of Iraq's current violence is its failed politics and system of governance. The authors add that the Iraqi "election in 2010 divided the nation rather than create any form of stable democracy".

Given the current status quo, Iraq's next round of elections, scheduled for next April 30, aren't expected to achieve much more. Writing in Al-Ahram Weekly last August 14, Salah Nasrawi said that more than 10 years after the US invasion, "the much-trumpeted Iraqi democracy is a mirage".

He was vindicated by none other than the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Osama Al Nujaifi, who was quoted by the Gulf News as saying last January 25 during a visit to US: "What we have now is a facade of a democracy - superficial - on the inside it is total chaos."

A popular uprising, not an al-Qaeda takeover
Anbar Governor Ahmed al-Dulaimi on February 8 issued a one-week ultimatum to the "criminals" who "had kidnapped Fallujah" for more than a month, saying they must leave the city.

Not all Americans believe the US media reports claiming that al-Qaeda is solely behind recent fighting. Ross Caputi, a veteran US Marine who participated in the second US siege of Fallujah in 2004, wrote in an open letter to US

Secretary Kerry last Monday that "the current violence in Fallujah has been misrepresented in the media".

"The Iraqi government has not been attacking al-Qaeda in Fallujah," he said, adding that Maliki's government "is not a regime the US should be sending weapons to." Caputi attached a petition with 11,610 signatures and described what was happening in the western Iraqi city as a "popular uprising".

It seems Iran and US Iraqi proxies have now joined forces against this "popular uprising". Deceptively pronouncing al-Qaeda as their target, pro-Iran sectarian forces and the pro-US "Awakening" tribal militias have revived a 2007 alliance forged by the US.

The Washington Post on February 9 reported that "Shi'ite militias" have begun "to remobilize", including the Badr Organization, Kataib Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army. The newspaper quoted a commander of one such militia, namely Asaib Ahl al-Haq, as admitting to "targeted" extrajudicial "killings".

This unholy alliance is the ideal recipe for fueling religious divides and inviting a sectarian retaliation in the name of fighting al-Qaeda. The potential for violence vindicates Cordesman's and Khazai's conclusion that Iraq is now "a nation in crisis bordering on civil war".

Al-Qaeda is a real terrorist threat, but like the US-installed government in Baghdad, it was a newcomer brought into Iraq because of the invasion. Most likely it will last as long as its sectarian antithesis lives on in Baghdad.

"Maliki has more than once termed various fights and stand-offs as a fight against 'al-Qaeda', but it's not that simple," Michael Holmes wrote in CNN on last January 15. The "Sunni sense of being under the heel of a sectarian government ... has nothing to do with al-Qaeda and won't evaporate once" it is forced out of Iraq, Holmes concluded.

A week earlier, analyst Charles Lister, writing in CNN, concluded that "al-Qaeda" was being used as a political tool" by Maliki. "[The prime minister] has adopted sharply sectarian rhetoric when referring to Sunni elements ... as inherently connected to al-Qaeda, with no substantive evidence to back these claims."

Al-Qaeda 'not the only force'
Al-Qaeda is "not the only force on the ground in Fallujah", where "defected local police personnel and armed tribesmen opposed to the federal government ... represent the superior force," Lister adds.

The Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has reported that the "Iraqi insurgency" is composed of at least 12 major organizations and perhaps as many as 40 distinct groups with an estimated less than 10% non-Iraqi foreign insurgents. It is noteworthy that all those who are playing the "al-Qaeda threat" card are in consensus on blacking out the role of these movements.

Prominent among them is the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN) movement, which announced its establishment after Saddam Hussein's execution on December 30, 2006. It is the backbone of the Higher Command for Jihad and Liberation (HCJL), which was formed in October the following year as a coalition of more than 30 national "resistance" movements. The National, Pan-Arab and Islamic front (NAIF) is the Higher Command's political wing. Saddam's former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, is the leader of JRTN, HCJL and NAIF as well as the banned Ba'ath Party.

"Since 2009, the movement has gained significant strength" because of its "commitment to restrict attacks to "the unbeliever-occupier," according to Michael Knights, writing for the Combating Terrorism Center on July 1, 2011.

"We absolutely forbid killing or fighting any Iraqi in all the agent state apparatus of the army, the police, the awakening, and the administration, except in self-defense situations, and if some agents and spies in these apparatus tried to confront the resistance," Duri stated in 2009.

The majority of these organizations and groups are indigenous national anti-US resistance movements. Even the ISIL, which broke out recently with al-Qaeda, is led and manned mostly by Iraqis. Playing the al-Qaeda card is a smokescreen to downplay their role as the backbone of the national opposition to the US-installed sectarian proxy government. Their Islamic rhetoric is a common language they share with the Iraqi people.

At the end of the US combat mission in Iraq in December 2011, the organizations resorted to popular peaceful protests across Iraq. However, last December Maliki dismantled by force their major camp of protests near Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. Armed men immediately took over Fallujah and Ramadi.

Since then, more than 45 tribal "military councils" were announced in all the governorates of Iraq. They held a national conference in January, which elected the "General Political Council of the Guerrillas of Iraq". Coverage of the news and "guerrilla" activities of these councils by Duri's media outlets is enough indication of the linkage between them and his organizational structure.

There is no doubt a revolution is brewing, but Sunni discontent with Baghdad - not al-Qaeda - is likely its main driving force.