Through a Stratfor darkly
- March 09, 2012
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.