Notes From the Margins…

Through a Stratfor darkly

  • March 09, 2012
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In western democracies the public has long become accustomed to looking at foreign policy through a rose-tinted lens, in which the actions of our governments always appear to be motivated by moral principles and humanitarianism.

We see politicians like Blair, Hague, Cameron and Sarkozy appear on television with furrowed brows to express their horror and outrage at atrocities and war crimes committed by Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad or whoever is the dictator of the moment.

We hear Cameron excoriating the ‘criminal regime’ in Syria and declaring that Assad has ‘blood on his hands’ and Sarkozy describing the deaths of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik as ‘deliberate murder’.   We watch them express pity and outrage at civilian deaths and insisting that we cannot stand idly by in the face of genocide and allow dictators to ‘kill their own people’.

We see them rushing to attend Security Council meetings to pass resolutions, always looking for new ways to ‘stop the bloodshed’ or ‘stop the violence’, pledging to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice or the ICC, and furiously condemning the self-interested cynicism of governments whose policies are driven by more ignoble motives.

Watching all this, we know that our leaders are good and virtuous men,  and we take comfort from the fact that we are good and virtuous by association, because we elected them to act in our name, and we want to believe that our countries are doing the right thing.

So wherever there is a massacre, a dictator or a tyrant  ‘killing his people’, wherever there is a madman like Joseph Kony, wherever there is a rogue state or an ungoverned space, we know that our leaders will be watching, ready to send in the bombers or put troops on the ground to put things right.

In the Arab Spring for example, we take it for granted that our governments are supporting the pro-democracy movements that have spread across North Africa and the Middle East, in the interests of justice, human rights and freedom.

So what are we to make of the  emails from the Texas-based ‘global intelligence’ company Stratfor, which have just been released by Wikileaks?  Take the email dated March 19 2011, in which a Stratfor analyst discusses his meetings with ‘ a few US, one UK and one French Air Force Colonels’,  where they discussed the UN resolution authorising NATO’s imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya:

 USAF [United States Air Force]could not be more thrilled with the resolution. They are practically  jumping out of their seats to do this operation — it’s a dream op, as  they call it – flat terrain, close to the coast, easy targets. no prob.  What’s funny is they’re only looking at the ‘op’ as preventing Ghadafi (sic)  from retaking Benghazi. These guys aren’t the decision-makers, obviously,  but the US guys are simply not looking at the ‘what’s next’ question. They  brush it off as, we’ll get the rebel forces into a mean fighting force,  they’ll handle the rest. We took a group of rag tag Afghans who were  repressed into nothing and turned them into fighters, why can’t we do it  with Libyans.

The analyst goes on to report

The Egyptians are on the ground, arming and training the rebels.  From their perspective this whole operation is a UK-French-driven  campaign. The US was in many ways pushed into it. The resolution was  almost completely drafted by the Brits.

And why was this done?

The UK guy says UK is driven by energy interests in this campaign. BP  post-oil spill is suffering in US< other options are to expand in Siberia  (problems with Russia), Vietnam and .. libya. They see a Ghadafi ouster  as the best way to meet their energy interests.

I don’t remember hearing much about these ‘energy interests’ when this resolution was passed, though there was a great deal of talk about protecting civilians in Benghazi.   And what dog did the French have in this hunt?

The French are more complicated. They don’t need the energy. The French had a multi-billion dollar contract signed with  Ghadafi for 40 Rafale jets, that was going to be the saving grace for  the French defense industry. Then the French (so he claims) hear about  AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Maghreb] threats backed by Ghadafi on French targets, and they got pissed.  Sarkozy painted himself in a corner. More than that, though, (and this  is what the british and the french guy agreed on,) was that this was  France really, really wanting to show that it can DO this. To prove its  relevance.

France has also been keen to prove its ‘relevance’ in Syria, where the same governments that used the no-fly zone to topple Gaddafi sought a similarly open-ended resolution at the security council last month.  This resolution condemned ‘ all violence, irrespective of where it comes from,’ and its rejection by Russia and China produced an outpouring of indignation at their absence of principle.

Once again, the Stratfor emails have a different story to tell.   Take the following account of a meeting with source ‘TR325’,  a former National Security Council official in Turkey and adviser to  Turkish president Recep Erdogan, from an email dated 10 December last year,

On Syria – the conversation centered on how far Turkey is actually going  to go. TR325 explained that the Turkish plan is centered on civil war in  Syria. Officially, it’s Turkey providing the main training, arms and  support to FSA. Unofficially, US and TUrkey (sic) are doing this together in deploying SOF for this mission. Notice all the talk in the press now  about civil war breaking out in Syria. This is the narrative Turkey and US  want to build. I pointed out that creating the conditions for civil war -actual neighborhood to neighborhood fighting – is still pretty difficult  considering that the Alawite forces are still holding together, but he seemed to think that this can escalate within 2 months time. He also said  without saying that they’re working on making that happen. He acknowledges  it’ll be messy and it will take a lot of blood and time for a Sunni power to emerge in Syria, but that this is the Turkish obligation.

Yep, a lot of blood and time, but the governments that are pursuing this possibility clearly have the stomach and the patience for it.  Thus another  email from the same analyst dated 7th December last year describes a meeting at the Pentagon with two officers from the USAF strategic studies group, accompanied by one French and one British representative:

After a  couple hours of talking, they said without saying that SOF [Special Operations Forces]  teams  (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground  focused on recce missions and training opposition forces…  I kept pressing on the question of what these SOF teams would be working  toward, and whether this would lead to an eventual air camapign (sic)to give a  Syrian rebel group cover. They pretty quickly distanced themselves from  that idea, saying that the idea ‘hypothetically’ is to commit guerrilla  attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite  forces, elicit collapse from within.

Not very pretty, and certainly not very moral.   In fact these emails paint a picture of unaccountable state agencies that behave like gangsters without any democratic scrutiny or control,  of black ops and special ops, of manipulation, destabilisation, and  the routine use of violence as an instrument of statecraft, all of which is entirely driven by strategic and economic considerations that are almost always invisible to the general public, and where morality, goodness and virtue are conspicuously absent.



  1. Rhisiart Gwilym

    9th Mar 2012 - 12:53 pm

    Hi Matt!

    I note that you speak of the USukisnato-axis plotters against the Syrian Alawites as being like gangsters. I’d say not like, but actual gangsters; the whole power structure within the axis states, in fact. Not that I’d imagine any other states to be any better. But this is where we live, and might just have a bit of influence therefore, occasionally.

    I only mention this because one small way that an uncovenanted freelance journalist, or any common shlub with a blog, can have a bit of influence, cumulatively, is by calling things always by their right names, and explaining from time to time where necessary: Drip, drip, drip…

    So I want to say that if you want to use my acronymic word for ‘our leaders’ in the West, please do. There’s no copyright. I call them — accurately, in the literal sense I believe — the gangsters-in-charge; hence the gics.

    BTW, I regard this class of people as being mostly one-percenters, low-profile-to-invisible to the public. The pocket-politicians, corpohacks and tenured academics, even the most prestigeful and high profile, I’d say are almost never true power-holders, but wielders of strictly lent power on behalf of the real gics; thus gic-servants. A term which you’re also welcome to use as you wish.

    Just for clarity.

    Naturally, once one is seeing clearly, with intellectual self-defence up and running well, one can see plainly that neither gics nor gic-servants have any goodwill towards the vital interests of us, the mere common shlubs, beyond just keeping us quiet, and profitable. Right use of language helps to make these realities clear.

    Cheers Matt!

    • Matt

      9th Mar 2012 - 1:04 pm

      Thanks Rhisiart, but I’ll continue to use my own terms of reference just as you will no doubt continue to use yours. Deal?

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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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