Notes From the Margins…

ISIS and Syria: the Game of Thrones

  • September 27, 2014
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I have long since despaired of the ability or willingness of the mainstream media to give a full and honest analysis of Western foreign policy.   With the exception of a few writers, I rely on the MSM to tell me only what has happened, but I don’t expect any in depth analysis of why it is happening.

Take for example, today’s Guardian editorial, which praised yesterday’s ‘thoughtful and reasoned’ parliamentary debate on the UK’s decision to carry out air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq.   In the Guardian’s  opinion

this was the vote of a nation, Britain, that is gradually, sometimes painfully, but increasingly emphatically, adjusting to its post-2003 limitations, while at the same time trying not to lose sight of genuine international and humanitarian responsibilities.

The least that can be said about this is that it leaves out a great deal.     Some of the politicians who voted for war yesterday may really believe that they are trying to live up to Britain’s ‘genuine international and humanitarian responsibilities’, but if so, they, like the Guardian, are ignoring a number of ‘inconvenient facts’, as Orwell used to call them, that blatantly contradict the idea that the war against Islamic State is a war against ‘evil.’

Consider the Wall Street Journal’s report on the secret deal between John Kerry and Saudi Arabia which was agreed on September 11, in which the Saudis agreed to participate in the forthcoming bombing campaign, on condition that the US followed up with its regime change project in Syria.   According to the WSJ:

When Mr. Kerry touched down in Jeddah to meet with King Abdullah on Sept. 11, he didn’t know for sure what else the Saudis were prepared to do. The Saudis had informed their American counterparts before the visit that they would be ready to commit air power, but only if they were convinced the Americans were serious about a sustained effort in Syria. The Saudis, for their part, weren’t sure how far Mr. Obama would be willing to go, according to diplomats.

The WSJ also noted that:

Arab participation in the strikes is of more symbolic than military value. The Americans have taken the lead and have dropped far more bombs than their Arab counterparts. But the show of support from a major Sunni state for a campaign against a Sunni militant group, U.S. officials said, made Mr. Obama comfortable with authorizing a campaign he had previously resisted.

So on  the thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – an atrocity, in which Saudi Arabia, perhaps more than any other single country bears responsibility –   the US has struck a deal with the House of Saud, in order to launch another war in the Middle East.   Other Gulf leaders are also preparing to join up.   Thus the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani explicitly linked IS to Syria, in an interview with CNN on Thursday:

“We have to counter terrorism, yes. But I believe that the main cause of all this is the regime in Syria, and this regime should be punished …If we think that we’re going to get through the terrorist movements and leave those regimes doing what they – this regime especially, doing what he is doing – then terrorist movements will come back again.”

As the  Moon of Alabama blog observes:

Obama’s part of the deal is supposed come only later. It will take a year to train the ‘moderate, vetted’ insurgents in Saudi Arabia and only when those are ready, and Obama a lame duck, may such action start (or not)

The groundwork for this is already being laid, even as the coalition bombs Iraq and Syria.   Last week Reuters reported that US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha ‘ a problem from hell’ Power wrote to UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and invoked the UN Charter as a justification for carrying airstrikes against IS safe havens in Syria.

Power insisted that ‘The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe havens effectively itself.”   Because Iraq was being attacked by ISIS, action against Syria was justified under Article 51, which authorizes the UN to act collectively when one of its member states is attacked:

States must be able to defend themselves … when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks. Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing (Islamic State) threat to Iraq.

So Syria is accused of failing to attack Islamic State,  an organization which is, at least in part, a creation of the US and its allies.   Even when the Syrian army has made gains in rebel territory, the record of the last three years shows that it doesn’t have the resources to launch multiple offensives simultaneously.

Yet here is Power suggesting that Syria is actively refraining from fighting ISIS, and then using that supposed ‘failure’ as a justification for defending Iraq.  Power’s logic is the logic of a neo-imperial superpower that doesn’t have to be coherent in its explanations or justifications., because the US and the Gulf States want a compliant regime in Syria, with a neat gas pipe to transport Qatari gas to Europe via Turkey.

And if they get that they will move on to Iran and anyone else who they regard as competitors or challengers.

They will do whatever it takes to achieve these objectives.   Islamic State, as disgusting and horrendous as it is, is only one piece in a vicious game of statecraft in which humanity and morality are totally absent – a game that has far more in common with the Lannisters and the Tyrels than the humanitarian ‘obligations’ debated yesterday.

So we shouldn’t congratulate our politicians for going along with this, whether they do so knowingly or simply because they believe they are doing the right thing.  Because we need better.

We need an educated public that understands the implications of what is taking place, and can mobilize to prevent them.     And that education is not likely to come from yesterday’s debate – nor, it seems, will we get it from the Guardian.





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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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