Category Archives: Middle East

Abbott ratchets up the fear factor to boost poll standings

When a prime minister has discovered that only one tactic — ratcheting up the fear factor — helps to boost his poll numbers, and his poll standing is desperately low, what does he do?

Tony Abbott has made a profession of demonising asylum-seekers and Muslims and pretending that the world faces an existential threat from the terrorist Islamic State group.

In recent times Abbott has gone back to similar tactics. First, he engineered a “request” from the US, for Australia to join in air strikes on Syria.

It was trumpeted as the US asking Australia to join. Not as it really happened.

This is a disgraceful thing to do, showing clearly that Abbott does not mind sacrificing young lives – the men and women of the armed forces – in order to prolong his political life.

And then the farce of the Australian Border Force informing all and sundry that it would be taking what amounts to Stasi tactics on the streets of Melbourne to detect visa evaders and violators added another dose of fear too.

Of course, Abbott denies he was involved in this exercise. So too does the immigration minister, Peter Dutton. The whole thing is put down to a badly written press release.

One needs to keep in mind that Abbott is on the record with an extremely reliable politician, Tony Windsor, as saying that he (Abbott) would do anything but sell his arse to become prime minister. This memorable quote was made to Windsor during the time when neither Labor nor the Coalition had the numbers to form government in 2010 and the support of three independents, Windsor among them, was desperately being sought.

If he was willing to do anything to gain the prime ministership, is it any wonder that Abbott is now trying anything and everything to avoid defeat in the next federal election?

America forms coalitions to make money

WHEN the United States talks about coalitions, one should realise that it is all about finance. Not about bringing together countries to fight a war together.

Back in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, George Bush Senior put his foot in it by threatening never to take it lying down. He was forced to go to war, reluctantly. But his secretary of state James Baker made things worthwhile by bringing together a bunch of nations who were prepared to pick up the bills.

The Americans did the lion’s share of the fighting. And the others in the “coalition” paid the bills.

For example, Japan and Germany could definitely not take part in any fighting, given that the constitutions of both countries at the time did not allow them to participate in conflicts. But each gave $US9 billion to the effort. The US ended up with a profit of $US6 billion after collecting $US60 billion and spending $US54 billion.

That alone made the effort to bring the “coalition” together worthwhile.

The US also benefits through the sale of weapons. Practically all the countries which are part of the current “coalition” which has banded together to fight the Islamic State extremists use American weapons.

Presto, all the missiles which get used will have to be replaced. Factor in anything from $US50 million to $US650 million, depending on how sophisticated the missile is. The stocks of companies that are part of the US military industrial complex have soared ever since the conflict erupted and American patriots like Dick Cheney have been watching their bank accounts swell.

Terror raids reprise one of the oldest games in politics

They call them anti-terror raids, though one has to ask seriously whether they are stopping anything at all. An idle conversation where a man who is worked up blurts out, “I would like to shove a bomb up his arse” can always be interpreted by an over-zealous, dumb police officer as a terror threat.

The timing of the raids in Brisbane and Sydney was very neat – it all happened very close to September 11, the day that all people in the West associate with terrorism. It’s a good time to stage such raids and raise the fear factor.

Politicians all over the world know the value of the politics of fear. Scare the bejesus out of the populace and the ratings of a president or prime minister generally tend to rise. And Tony Abbott has been in sore need of just such a rise in ratings ever since his treasurer, Joe Hockey, brought down an ideological budget that taxes the poor and makes the rich richer.

It is no coincidence that nobody is talking about the measures in the budget which have still to be passed – a fancy parental leave scheme that would benefit the rich, the changes to education that would again ensure that only people with money can acquire an university education, the changes to welfare payments that would deprive young people of the dole for the first six months they are eligible for it… it goes on.

It would appear from all the blather that Abbott and his ministers – particularly the attorney-general George “Metadata” Brandis – have been spouting that Australia is about to be subjected to numerous attacks by terrorists.

One account is that there was a plan to behead someone in public. You know, cut off the head of Mr Average Citizen. Another was to blow up Parliament House. And so on.

But the evidence for all these plots is hidden from public view – that’s a convenient smokescreen to make any and all allegations and make a gullible public scared enough to accept it.

Governments have been doing this kind of thing for centuries. Remember the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incidents which served to kick off the US involvement in Vietnam? Remember the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the weapons which still have not been sighted?

The tragedy in all this is that there are no journalists with the balls to question anything. They dumbly swallow all the tales trotted out and even magnify them to make the whole thing seem scarier. Before the whole charade was kicked off, Abbott announced a sum of $630 million for the security forces over four years – including the “spy” agency ASIO which has never caught a single spy – and, of course, they have repaid his munificence in spades.

Some years ago, the American journalist Matt Taibbi, when writing about the late Christopher Hitchens’ criticism of Michael Moore for his film Fahrenheit 9/11, defended Moore by saying that if one American scribe had shouted out “bullshit” when George W. Bush was ratcheting up the fear factor with his talk of WMD and trying to push an invasion of Iraq, then the whole thing might have just died a premature death. Taibbi made the point to emphasise that Moore’s film was doing just that and would have been unnecessary had the media done its role as the fourth estate.

This time, too, there is no-one to call out that one word, to be sceptical and raise questions about this whole terror play. It is a sad day for the media – and yet people wonder why newspapers are losing readers when they serve as another arm of government propaganda.

Welcome to Team Australia.

America’s Kurdish adventure will end in tears

AT THE end of World War I, many ethnic groups were able to get a patch of land for themselves, with the area and population therein largely dependent on the extent to which they had pleased the imperial powers that came out as victors of that war – France and Britain.

The Kurds were one group that missed the bus and ended up scattered over four countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They are a restless lot and the countries in which they lived often had to keep them quiet by one means or another.

The late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gave them a limited measure of autonomy. But there was always the implicit understanding that if the Kurds got too ambitious, then they would be met with blanket slaughter. Dictators like Saddam – and his neighbour, the late Hafez al-Assad of Syria – do not do things by half-measures and for years the Kurds were content to remain within their allocated freedoms.

After the Gulf War of 1991, there was, for a while, protection in the form of western fighter jets that patrolled a no-fly zone; after the war, the Kurds rose up in protest against Saddam in the hope that their long dormant hope for a country would be realised. But they were tricked by the US which, after initially backing them, changed its mind when George Bush Senior realised that a weak Iraq would lead to Iran being the dominant power in the region.

And that the Americans did not like – they have not had much to do with Iran after the events of 1979. So the Kurds had to eat what Australians call a shit sandwich and stay on as part of Iraq.

Now Washington – and its so-called coalition against the extremist Islamic State – is arming the Kurds in order to get them to fight the militants. In doing so, they are setting themselves up for a lot of trouble in the future. The Americans have forgotten what happened after they armed resistance fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. One of the side effects of that policy was a little event that happened on September 11, 2001.

But the Americans have not learnt. If they read their own history books, they will realise that they are incompetents of the highest order when it comes to intervening in foreign countries. Yet they keep doing it over and over again.

In 2003, George Bush Junior invaded Iraq and broke the entire system. The Americans did not merely topple the government, they ripped out the entire bureaucracy and left the country without any functioning systems at all. The results of that have been self-evident over the last 11 years.

After Saddam came to power in a coup in 1969, he realised that he had a mess on his hands, created by the British and French drawing borders at right angles to satisfy the requests of this group or that. And so he ruled with an iron fist and kept the country intact. Anyone who even indicated a mild dislike for him was shot in cold blood.

The Americans released all his controls. And in so doing, they opened the gates for every sectarian group to do what they wanted. Power was given to the Shias and hence the Sunnis took up arms. The Islamic State is just the most extreme manifestation of that resistance – another group that rose up in reaction to American screw-ups.

Internecine warfare between countries or groups in the Middle East is a routine thing. The West should keep out of these squabbles. But the Americans have oil interests in many parts of the region and hence they intervene again and again. No good has ever come of it.

The outcome will be the same this time too.

Emma Alberici strikes again

EMMA ALBERICI: And the question is: can air strikes drive the Islamic State out of the Middle East? – The ABC’s Lateline programme on August 13, 2014

I KID you not. This was a serious question put to David Kilcullen, a so-called counter-insurgency expert, by Emma Alberici, one of the most glorious examples of incompetence at the Australian national broadcaster.

Now Alberici, one would assume, has some idea about the size of the Middle East. One would also assume that she is aware that in no conflict has air power, no matter how awesome, been able to drive an enemy out of a battle zone.

How did she ask such a dumb question?

Despite her stupidity, this is the woman chosen to front one of the ABC’s national programmes twice or thrice a week. She draws a salary of around $190,000 per annum and sits there, tilting her head from side to side, and asking stupid questions. And this is not the first time I have had occasion to point this out.

The discussion revolved around the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – which now calls itself Islamic State – a militant group which has made rapid gains in taking over towns and cities in Iraq, and some parts of Syria. It is also fighting in the south of Lebanon. The US has launched air strikes on the group to protect minority sects which are being terrorised and fleeing their residences.

The choice of Kilcullen to discuss matters relating to militancy is questionable. According to a genuine expert, Kilcullen was one of those, who along with John Nagl and other counter-insurgency “experts”, devised a strategy in Afghanistan that aimed to unite Afghans by trying to Westernise them via popular elections, installing women’s rights, dismantling tribalism, introducing secularism and establishing NGO-backed bars and whorehouses in Kabul. When the West finally leaves that war-torn country later this year, the Taliban will be back within another six months.

But let’s leave that alone; maybe the choice of Kilcullen was made by someone else. However, no matter who chooses the guest to be interviewed, it is the presenter’s choice to do some preparation and not end up looking stupid. Alberici is a master of the art of putting her foot in her mouth.

A week ago
, a young man named Steve Cannane presented Lateline. He had as his guest Martin Chulov, the Middle East correspondent for the Guardian. Chulov is an old hand in the Mideast and very sound on the subject. Cannane did not put a foot wrong; he had prepared well and asked intelligent questions. The whole interview was gripping and highly informative stuff.

And then we have Alberici. Why, oh why, can the ABC not find a better presenter? In the past, the likes of Maxine McKew and Virginia Trioli were excellent presenters on the same programme; Tony Jones does an adequate job on other nights of the week now.

What is the hold that Alberici has on the ABC top brass? She was a miserable failure at hosting a programme called Business Breakfast which gave many people indigestion. For that, she has been made the presenter of what is arguably the ABC’s second-most important news and current affairs programme after 7.30. At the ABC, it would appear, nothing succeeds like failure.

When the US bombed Al Jazeera, were journalists not prevented from doing their jobs?

The moment a Western journalist is treated in the Middle East in a manner that is deemed to be different to that in his own country, the West does tend to get rather heavy on the moralising and judgemental pronouncements.

Peter Greste, a journalist for Al Jazeera, the TV network that has revolutionised coverage of the Arab world, was given a sentence of seven years jail on what seems to be trumped up charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood came to power in elections in Egypt after the so-called Arab Spring had resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak who, at one stage, looked like having a permanent mortgage on leading the country, either on his own or through his descendants.

Unfortunately, the Brotherhood began to do what all governments do – govern for themselves – and discontent grew among people who believed all the propaganda that had been spouted in the run-up to the elections. Finally, the military, sensing the mood and knowing that their intervention would be welcome, took over and installed Abdel Fattah Al Sisi as the ruler. One thing has changed – the chief financier. In the days of Mubarak, it was the US; the Brotherhood had a money tap in Qatar and the military that toppled it owes its sustenance to Saudi Arabia which abhors the sight of an administration run by the Brotherhood. The Al Saud know that the day that fundamentalists take power in the Miuslim world, it will spell the end of their own reign and hence they do whatever they can to keep this brand of Islam in the cupboard as far as possible.

Greste has been caught up in the middle of this political snakepit. Egypt’s current administration wants to send a message to Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, and that is what this is all about.

But in the midst of all the Western raving about the seven-year sentence meted out to Greste, one fact has not been mentioned: when Al Jazeera was doing some pretty robust reporting on the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Americans had no hesitation about bombing the rooms in which the staff of the TV network were staying. One journalist was killed. There was no hubbub at the time about the Americans getting in the way of journalists who were just doing their job. Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair were in on this act.

Of course, this is not the first time, the US has attacked Al Jazeera.

That same US is now crying foul about the sentences meted out to Greste and two of his colleagues and claiming that journalists should be allowed to do their jobs! So who showed Egypt the way?

That the US has no influence in the Middle East has never been demonstrated in a starker manner. The secretary of state, John Kerry, did try to intervene, but was brushed aside. Why should Sisi listen to someone when he has a money spigot that leads to someone else? The Saudis have indicated that they will prop up any government that keeps the Islamists at bay and Sisi is perfectly happy to do just that.

Iraq: the Americans sowed the wind and now the whirlwind has arrived

IRAQ was a curiously complicated country; one uses the past tense because of the turmoil the country is going through and the likelihood that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militia will ensure its break-up.

The tragedy that is unfolding had its genesis in the period after World War I when Britain and France sliced and diced up the Middle East, often at right angles, to satisfy imperial ambitions and reward those who had supported them during the conflict.

In the process, many tribes found themselves forced to join countries which were really not attuned to their beliefs or their culture. The classic example is the people who lived in the Shouf Mountains and the Bekaa Valley, areas which today are part of Lebanon. These people would have been much more at home in Syria but pressure on France by the Maronites for more land mass and population – these are always seen as guarantees against an invasion by a neighbour – resulted in them being made part of Lebanon.

When so many tribes which hate each other are crammed close to each other in a country, only a strongman, a dictator, can prevent civil war breaking out. Saddam Hussein performed this role admirably; and, apart from being brutal to his enemies and eliminating them clinically, he looked after his people pretty well. There was 95 per cent literacy in Iraq, every child was immunised, everybody had potable water, religious minorities were not harassed and the country was prosperous due to its oil wealth.

Once the Americans started lusting after the oil in Iraq, and invaded in 2003 under false pretenses, they destroyed the entire structure of government and all the strictures that Saddam had imposed. Every tribal leader could now say what he wanted and act it out too. All the old hostilities and hatred had a chance of free expression.

It is, thus, not surprising that various factions have taken the chance to express themselves and try to rule over the rest. The Shias have taken power and form the government which is now looking very shaky. Various other groups have indulged in violence to settle old scores.

And now, the grand encore, the ISIL is slowly taking over town by town and is close to Baghdad. ISIL is the rump of the Al Qaida movement in Iraq which was reduced greatly due to attacks by American forces who acted on intelligence provided by Sunni groups opposed to it. The rump moved into Syria and has been rejuvenated by the conflict in that country. Now it has moved back into Iraq.

No matter where the Americans put their fingers and try to meddle, they create nothing but a mess.

US must take responsibility for the mess in Egypt

SOME people say that the US is always blamed for what happens in the Middle East. And they argue that laying blame in such a manner is not really justified.

But in the case of Egypt, the US must take the blame. There are no ifs and buts about it. The 400-odd people who have died would still be alive if the Obama administration had indicated clearly that it did not approve of the people’s choice of leaders being ousted in a coup.

That never happened. From the time the military ousted Mohammed Mursi, Obama and his cohorts began to indulge in semantics. By not condemning the coup, and even refusing to class it as one, the US clearly gave the military its support. Aid was not cut off as would have been necessitated had the Obama administration labelled the toppling of Morsi as a coup.
Continue reading US must take responsibility for the mess in Egypt

Back to the good old Mubarak days in Egypt

SO Egypt’s mild flirtation with democracy a la West is over. And it is unlikely to ever return. It’s happened on a good day too – the US celebrates its independence day and Egypt celebrates military rule. What a coincidence!!!

The problem is that the West wants its own systems imposed on other countries – in order to benefit economically. The idea that one cannot bring in a Westminster system and superimpose it on a different model does not really register with people at the US state department.

Mohammed Mursi is from the Muslim Brotherhood. He may be less extreme in his thinking than others in the same movement. But, obviously, he has never been a candidate of choice for the folk in Washington.
Continue reading Back to the good old Mubarak days in Egypt

Who wants peace in the Middle East?

BOTH Israelis and Palestinians have too much to lose if the Middle East problems that separate them are solved. Neither is interested in a solution for that would lessen the attention that is paid to them.

Israel receives $3b of aid from the US every year. If there were peace in the Mideast, that aid would fall away – after all when a country is at peace with its neighbours, why does it need such large amounts of aid? The Palestinians are in the same boat – if they were not at loggerheads with Israel who would pay them much attention?

Egypt has little interest in backing anything other than US plans. The US gives the country $1.3b in aid every year, second only to Israel. Why would Egypt, despite having Muslim fundamentalists being at the helm, want to put this money in jeopardy?

Down the years, there have been countless rounds of so-called peace talks. But if nothing has come of them, it is primarily because of the factors listed above. Additionally, there is the religion factor – some aspects of the Middle East imbroglio are not negotiable because of their emotional nature.

Jerusalem is a city that is sacred to both Judaism and Islam. Neither side will countenance the other taking command of this city. Even if peace talks make progress, they will stumble when they come to the question of this city.

Perhaps hopes were highest in 1993 when Norwegian brokers managed to put in place the so-called Oslo accord. But 19 years have gone by and there is nothing to show for it.

And there will not be any more to show than has been so far. There are too many vested interests who have a stake in the current game for any change to occur.