Tag Archive for Israel

Mixed Messages: Arabs Challenge Israeli Hasbara

By Ramzy Baroud

When the Libyan people took on their reviled dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, Israeli officials seemed puzzled by the alarming and unprecedented trend of popular awakenings in the Arab world.

Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has claimed that these awakenings are only proof of the ‘weakening’ of the Arabs – even at a time when international consensus points to the opposite conclusion. Read more

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The dark religious side of Israel

Dateline: Haaretz  |  12/04/2009

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz Correspondent

haredijewisrael_hatzofimbA few days after tens of thousands of Israelis raised their eyes to the heavens at dawn to honor “the return of the sun to the place it stood at creation,” and millions of Israelis joyfully read out praise in the Passover Hagaddah for genocide – jihad by means of horrific plagues and drowning infants – it’s time to admit it: We live in a religious country.

That’s the case during this holiday, when in some places it’s impossible to find leavened products, when the rabbinate seeks to install special computer programs at supermarkets to prevent the sale of leavened foods, when Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger asks Rabbi Yaakov Israel Ifergan to get his follower Nochi Dankner to install the program at his supermarkets, and when the cows of our country are on a leaven-free diet.

We must admit that this society has rather dark religious aspects. Foreigners landing in Israel might ask themselves what country they’re in: Iran, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia? In any case, it’s not the liberal, secular and enlightened society it purports to be. Thieves’ hands do not have to be hacked off or women’s faces covered to be a religious country. Just as an occupying state, which controls 3.5 million people lacking basic civil rights, cannot call itself “the only democracy in the Middle East,” so a country that has no bread for a week because of its religion cannot call itself secular and liberal.

Actually, there has been increased openness in recent years. More entertainment venues and supermarkets are open on Saturday in some of our cities than ever before, like before the Heichal movie theater riots in Petah Tikva. The dead can finally be buried in a civil ceremony in exchange for a fistful of shekels. But that’s not enough to be able to call ourselves a secular society. We must not delude ourselves: From the cradle to the grave, from marriage to divorce, almost everything is still religious.

In no other country are there streets without buses and tracks without trains on the Sabbath. No other airline but El Al sits idle one day a week. Cold platters on the Sabbath in hospitals and hotels are also something not seen elsewhere. Roads on pillars because of ancient burial sites – a kind of pagan ritual to those on the outside looking in – and the separation in certain buses of men and women are also unknown in democratic countries. Religion has never been separate from the state here; hand in hand they oversee our way of life.

Orthodox society and its leadership should not be blamed for this. The Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox have the right to do everything they can to impose their faith on the secular majority. It’s the secular who are to blame. Just as it’s not yeshiva students’ fault that they are not drafted, but rather the fault of the secular majority that allows this, so it is with the other aspects of our lives. We, the secular people, are to blame for all this. We’re the ones who give in. Just as with the tyranny of another minority, the settlers, who terrorize the majority, so it is with the tyranny of the ultra-Orthodox: The tyranny exists because the secular majority has chosen to obey it.

So don’t come complaining to the religious people. The secular are the majority, and the power to change the picture is in their hands. If the majority were to stand up and not surrender to the minority, buses would run every day and bread would be sold on Passover. So it could be we are much more religious than we are willing to admit. We may maintain the image of being secular, but we are religious in our essence.

If only we were willing to admit this and stop pretending to be secular. All the same, a society that pretends to be Western and enlightened cannot delude itself while maintaining such a religious and unenlightened lifestyle. Not much has changed since our school days, when we were taught to kiss a Bible that dropped on the floor. So let’s enjoy the taste of the matzah and let’s not try to pull a beer bottle out from behind the ridiculous nylon on the supermarket shelf, and let’s admit it: We are (almost) a state governed by religious law.

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Divide and Conquer: The Anglo-American Imperial Project

iranboats1

Just about 75% of the terrifying Iranian navy.

Establishing an “Arc of Crisis” 

ORIGINALLY at Global Research, July 10, 2008 

Many would be skeptical that the Anglo-Americans would be behind terrorist acts in Iraq, such as with the British in Basra, when two British SAS soldiers were caught dressed as Arabs, with explosives and massive arsenal of weapons.[1] Why would the British be complicit in orchestrating terror in the very city in which they are to provide security? What would be the purpose behind this? That question leads us to an even more important question to ask, the question of why Iraq was occupied; what is the purpose of the war on Iraq? If the answer is, as we are often told with our daily dose of CNN, SkyNews and the statements of public officials, to spread democracy and freedom and rid the world of tyranny and terror, then it doesn’t make sense that the British or Americans would orchestrate terror.

However, if the answer to the question of why the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq occurred was not to spread democracy and freedom, but to spread fear and chaos, plunge the country into civil war, balkanize Iraq into several countries, and create an “arc of crisis” across the Middle East, enveloping neighboring countries, notably Iran, then terror is a very efficient and effective means to an end.

An Imperial Strategy

In 1982, Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist with links to the Israeli Foreign Ministry wrote an article for a publication of the World Zionist Organization in which he outlined a “strategy for Israel in the 1980s.” In this article, he stated, “The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front. Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.” He continued, “An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and Lebanon.” He continues, “In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul and Shiite areas in the South will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.”[2]

The Iran-Iraq War, which lasted until 1988, did not result in Oded Yinon’s desired break-up of Iraq into ethnically based provinces. Nor did the subsequent Gulf War of 1991 in which the US destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, as well as the following decade-plus of devastating sanctions and aerial bombardments by the Clinton administration. What did occur during these decades, however, were the deaths of millions of Iraqis and Iranians.

A Clean Break for a New American Century

In 1996, an Israeli think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, issued a report under the think tank’s Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, entitled, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” In this paper, which laid out recommendations for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they state that Israel can, “Work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats,” as well as, “Change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas,” and to, “Forge a new basis for relations with the United States—stressing self-reliance, maturity, strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern, and furthering values inherent to the West.”

The report recommended Israel to seize “the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon,” and to use “Lebanese opposition elements to destabilize Syrian control of Lebanon.” It also states, “Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”[3]

The authors of the report include Douglas Feith, an ardent neoconservative who went on to become George W. Bush’s Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from 2001 to 2005; David Wurmser, who was appointed by Douglas Feith after 9/11 to be part of a secret Pentagon intelligence unit and served as a Mideast Adviser to Dick Cheney from 2003 to 2007; and Meyrav Wurmser, David’s wife, who is now an official with the American think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Richard Perle headed the study, and worked on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee from 1987 to 2004, and was Chairman of the Board from 2001 to 2004, where he played a key role in the lead-up to the Iraq war. He was also a member of several US think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century.

The Project for the New American Century, or PNAC, is an American neoconservative think tank, whose membership and affiliations included many people who were associated with the present Bush administration, such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Richard Armitage, Jeb Bush, Elliott Abrams, Eliot A. Cohen, Paula Dobriansky, Francis Fukuyama, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Peter Rodman, Dov Zakheim and Robert B. Zoellick.

PNAC produced a report in September of 2000, entitled, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” in which they outlined a blueprint for a Pax Americana, or American Empire. The report puts much focus on Iraq and Iran, stating, “Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to US interests in the Gulf as Iraq has.”[4] Stating that, “the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security,” the report suggests that, “the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification,” however, “the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime change of Saddam Hussein.”[5]

Engineer a Civil War for the “Three State Solution”

Shortly after the initial 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Member of the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, the most influential and powerful think tank in the United States. The op-ed, titled, “The Three State Solution,” published in November of 2003, stated that the “only viable strategy” for Iraq, “may be to correct the historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south.” Citing the example of the break up of Yugoslavia, Gelb stated that the Americans and Europeans “gave the Bosnian Muslims and Croats the means to fight back, and the Serbs accepted separation.” Explaining the strategy, Gelb states that, “The first step would be to make the north and south into self-governing regions, with boundaries drawn as closely as possible along ethnic lines,” and to “require democratic elections within each region.” Further, “at the same time, draw down American troops in the Sunni Triangle and ask the United Nations to oversee the transition to self-government there.” Gelb then states that this policy “would be both difficult and dangerous. Washington would have to be very hard-headed, and hard-hearted, to engineer this breakup.”[6]

Following the example of Yugoslavia, as Gelb cited, would require an engineered civil war between the various ethnic groups. The US supported and funded Muslim forces in Bosnia in the early 1990s, under the leadership of the CIA-trained Afghan Mujahideen, infamous for their CIA-directed war against the Soviet Union from 1979-1989. In Bosnia, the Mujahideen were “accompanied by US Special Forces,” and Bill Clinton personally approved of collaboration with “several Islamic fundamentalist organisations including Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.” In Kosovo, years later, “Mujahideen mercenaries from the Middle East and Central Asia were recruited to fight in the ranks of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1998-99, largely supporting NATO’s war effort.” The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the British Secret Intelligence Services (MI6), British SAS soldiers and American and British private security companies had the job of arming and training the KLA. Further, “The U.S. State Department listed the KLA as a terrorist organization, indicating that it was financing its operations with money from the international heroin trade and loans from Islamic countries and individuals, among them allegedly Usama bin Laden,” and as well as that, “the brother of a leader in an Egyptian Jihad organization and also a military commander of Usama bin Laden, was leading an elite KLA unit during the Kosovo conflict.”[7]

Could this be the same strategy being deployed in Iraq in order to break up the country for similar geopolitical reasons?

The Asia Times Online reported in 2005, that the plan of “balkanizing” Iraq into several smaller states, “is an exact replica of an extreme right-wing Israeli plan to balkanize Iraq – an essential part of the balkanization of the whole Middle East. Curiously, Henry Kissinger was selling the same idea even before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.” It continued, “this is classic divide and rule: the objective is the perpetuation of Arab disunity. Call it Iraqification; what it actually means is sectarian fever translated into civil war.”[8]

In 2006, an “independent commission set up by Congress with the approval of President George W Bush,” termed the “Baker Commission” after former Secretary of State, James Baker, “has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls ‘cutting and running’ or ‘staying the course’.”[9]

It was also reported in 2006 that, “Iraq’s federal future is already enshrined within its constitution, allowing regions to form, if not actually prescribing how this should happen,” and that, “the Iraqi parliament (dominated by Shi’a and Kurds) passed a bill earlier this month [October, 2006] allowing federal regions to form (by majority vote in the provinces seeking merger).” Further, “The law, which unsurprisingly failed to win Sunni support, will be reviewed over the next 18 months in a bid to bring its opponents round.” The article, however, stated that instead of a three state solution, “a system based upon five regions would seem to have more chance of succeeding. A five-region model could see two regions in the south, one based around Basra and one around the holy cities. Kurdistan and the Sunni region would remain, but Baghdad and its environs would form a fifth, metropolitan, region.”[10] The author of the article was Gareth Stansfield, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House think tank in London, which preceded, works with and is the British equivalent of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Ethnic Cleansing Works”

In 2006, the Armed Forces Journal published an article by retired Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters, titled, “Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look.” In the article, Peters explains that the best plan for the Middle East would be to “readjust” the borders of the countries. “Accepting that international statecraft has never developed effective tools — short of war — for readjusting faulty borders, a mental effort to grasp the Middle East’s “organic” frontiers nonetheless helps us understand the extent of the difficulties we face and will continue to face. We are dealing with colossal, man-made deformities that will not stop generating hatred and violence until they are corrected.” He states that after the 2003 invasion, “Iraq should have been divided into three smaller states immediately.” However, Iraq is not the only country to fall victim to “Balkanization” in Peters’ eyes, as, “Saudi Arabia would suffer as great a dismantling as Pakistan,” and “Iran, a state with madcap boundaries, would lose a great deal of territory to Unified Azerbaijan, Free Kurdistan, the Arab Shia State and Free Baluchistan, but would gain the provinces around Herat in today’s Afghanistan.” Further, “What Afghanistan would lose to Persia in the west, it would gain in the east, as Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren.” Peters states that “correcting borders” may be impossible, “For now. But given time — and the inevitable attendant bloodshed — new and natural borders will emerge. Babylon has fallen more than once.” He further makes the astonishing statement that, “Oh, and one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: Ethnic cleansing works.”[11]

The map of the re-drawn Middle East, initially published alongside Peters’ article, but no longer present, “has been used in a training program at NATO’s Defense College for senior military officers. This map, as well as other similar maps, has most probably been used at the National War Academy as well as in military planning circles.”[12] Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed wrote of Peters’ proposal, that “the sweeping reconfiguration of borders he proposes would necessarily involve massive ethnic cleansing and accompanying bloodshed on perhaps a genocidal scale.”[13]

Federalism or Incremental Balkanization?

A month before Peters’ article was published, Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Joseph Biden, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, in which they stated, “America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way that would wind down our military presence responsibly while preventing chaos and preserving our key security goals.” What is this third option? “The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group—Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab—room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.”

They describe a few aspects of this plan. “The first is to establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues.” Then, “The second element would be to entice the Sunnis into joining the federal system with an offer they couldn’t refuse. To begin with, running their own region should be far preferable to the alternatives: being dominated by Kurds and Shiites in a central government or being the main victims of a civil war.”[14]

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007, Leslie Gelb stated that his plan for “federalizing” Iraq, “would look like this: The central government would be based on the areas where there are genuine common interests among the different Iraqi parties. That is, foreign affairs, border defense, currency and, above all, oil and gas production and revenues.” And, “As for the regions, whether they be three or four or five, whatever it may be, it’s up to—all this is up to the Iraqis to decide, would be responsible for legislation, administration and internal security.”[15]

The Senate subsequently passed a nonbinding resolution supporting a federal system for Iraq, which has still yet to be enacted upon, because it stated that this resolution was something that had to be enacted upon by the Iraqis, so as not to be viewed as “something that the United States was going to force down their throats.” Further, “when Ambassador Ryan Crocker appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he testified in favor of federalism. In his private conversations with senators, he also supported the idea,” yet, while in Baghdad, the Ambassador “blasted the resolution.”[16] Could this be a method of manipulation? If the American Embassy in Baghdad promotes a particular solution for Iraq, it would likely be viewed by Iraqis as a bad choice and in the interest of the Americans. So, if the Ambassador publicly bashes the resolution from Iraq, which he did, it conveys the idea that the current administration is not behind it, which could make Iraqis see it as a viable alternative, and perhaps in their interests. For Iraqi politicians, embracing the American view on major issues is political (and often actual) suicide. The American Embassy in Baghdad publicly denouncing a particular strategy gives Iraqi politicians public legitimacy to pursue it.

This resolution has still not gone through all the processes in Congress, and may, in fact, have been slipped into another bill, such as a Defense Authorization Act. However, the efforts behind this bill are larger than the increasingly irrelevant US Congress.

Also in 2007, another think tank called for the managed “break-up of Iraq into three separate states with their own governments and representatives to the United Nations, but continued economic cooperation in a larger entity modeled on the European Union.”[17] In a startling admission by former US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, stated in 2007 that the “United States has “no strategic interest” in a united Iraq,” and he also suggested “that the United States shouldn’t necessarily keep Iraq from splitting up.”[18]

Conclusion

Clearly, whatever the excuse, or whatever the means of dividing Iraq, it is without a doubt in the Anglo-American strategy for Iraq to balkanize the country. Saying that what is being proposed is not balkanization, but federalism, is a moot point. This is because reverting to a more federal system where provinces have greater autonomy would naturally separate the country along ethno-religious boundaries. The Kurds would be in the north, the Sunnis in the centre, and the Shi’ites in the south, with all the oil. The disproportionate provincial resources will create animosity between provinces, and the long-manipulated ethnic differences will spill from the streets into the political sphere. As tensions grow, as they undoubtedly would, between the provinces, there would be a natural slide to eventual separation. Disagreements over power sharing in the federal government would lead to its eventual collapse, and the strategy of balkanization would have been achieved with the appearance of no outside involvement. 

NOTES

[1] Global Research, Iraqi MP accuses British Forces in Basra of “Terrorism”. Al Jazeera: September 20, 2005: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=20050920&articleId=983

[2] Linda S. Heard, The Prophecy of Oded Yinon. Counter Punch: April 25, 2006: http://www.counterpunch.org/heard04252006.html

[3] Richard Perle, et. al., A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies: June 1996:  http://www.iasps.org/strat1.htm

[4] PNAC, Rebuilding America’s Defenses. Project for the New American Century: September 2000: Page 17

[5] PNAC, Rebuilding America’s Defenses. Project for the New American Century: September 2000: Page 14

[6] Leslie Gelb, The Three State Solution. The New York Times: November 25, 2003:

http://www.cfr.org/publication/6559/threestate_solution.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb%3Fpage%3D3

[7] Michel Chossudovsky, ”Osamagate.” Global Research: October 9, 2001:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO110A.html

[8] Pepe Escobar, Exit strategy: Civil war. Asia Times Online: June 10, 2005:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GF10Ak03.html

[9] Sarah Baxter, America ponders cutting Iraq in three. The Times: October 8, 2006: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article664974.ece

[10] Gareth Stansfield, The only solution left for Iraq: a five-way split. The Telegraph: October 29, 2006: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/10/29/do2904.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2006/10/29/ixopinion.html

[11] Ralph Peters, Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look. Armed Forces Journal: June 2006: http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2006/06/1833899

[12] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Plans for Redrawing the Middle East: The Project for a “New Middle East”. Global Research: November 18, 2006: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=3882

[13] Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, US Army Contemplates Redrawing Middle East Map

to Stave Off Looming Global Meltdown. Dissident Voice: September 1, 2006: http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Sept06/Ahmed01.htm

[14] Leslie Gelb and Joseph Biden, Jr., Unity Through Autonomy in Iraq. The New York Times: May 1, 2006: http://www.cfr.org/publication/10569/unity_through_autonomy_in_iraq.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb%3Fpage%3D2

[15] Leslie Gelb, Leslie Gelb before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The CFR: January 23, 2007:http://www.cfr.org/publication/12489/leslie_gelb_before_the_senate_foreign_relations_committee.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb

[16] Bernard Gwertzman, Gelb: Federalism Is Most Promising Way to End Civil War in Iraq. CFR: October 16, 2007: http://www.cfr.org/publication/14531/gelb.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb

[17] Robin Wright, Nonpartisan Group Calls for Three-State Split in Iraq. The Washington Post: August 17, 2007: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/17/AR2007081700918.html

[18] AP, French report: Former U.N. envoy Bolton says U.S. has ‘no strategic interest’ in united Iraq. International Herald Tribune: January 29, 2007:http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/01/29/europe/EU-GEN-France-US-Iraq.php 

Andrew G. Marshall contributed to breaking the Climate Change consensus in a celebrated 2006 article entitled Global Warming A Convenient Lie, in which he challenged the findings underlying Al Gore’s documentary.  According to Marshall, ‘as soon as people start to state that “the debate is over”, beware, because the fundamental basis of all sciences is that debate is never over’. Andrew Marshall has also written on the militarization of Central Africa, national security issues and the process of integration of North America. He is also a contributor to  GeopoliticalMonitor.com 
He is currently a researcher at the 
Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) in Montreal and is studying political science and history at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia.

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WHO IS REALLY "WINNING" AMERICA'S IMPERIALIST, MIDDLE EAST WARS? / By Gareth Porter

Special to Cyrano’s Showcase

iraqichildAnalysis by Gareth Porter 

WASHINGTON, Mar 5 (IPS) – The arguments for maintaining a major U.S. combat force in Iraq at least through 2011, escalating U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and assuming a confrontational stance toward Iran, appear to assume that the United States remains the dominant military power in the region.

But the pattern of recent history and current developments in the region have not supported that assumption. Not only has the United States been unable to prevail over stubborn nationalist and sectarian forces determined to resist U.S. influence, but it has not been able to use its military supremacy to wage successful coercive diplomacy against Iran.

Furthermore, even the ability of the United States to maintain troops in Iraq and Afghanistan turns out to be dependent on regimes which are by no means aligned with the United States.

Six years ago, after the United States had removed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the U.S. appeared to be militarily dominant in the region. Apart from its nearly 200,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States had surrounded Iran with a network of airbases scattered across the region from the Persian Gulf sheikdoms through Iraq and Afghanistan to the Central Asian republics of Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan, along with aircraft on U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf.

Since 2003, however, events in the region have dealt a series of blows to the assumption that the U.S. military presence in general and ground forces in particular confer real power in the region. The first blow was the U.S. failure to subdue the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. By mid-2005, U.S. commanders in Iraq were admitting publicly that the U.S. military occupation was generating more resistance than it was eliminating.

The next blow was the Sunni-Shi’a civil war in Baghdad in 2006, which U.S. troops were unable to prevent or stop, even after the Bush “surge” of additional troops. The “cleansing” of Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad by Shi’a militias with the tacit support of the government ended only after a large swath of Sunni neighbourhoods in the capital had been taken over. That fact contradicts the later boast by Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, that “coalition forces” had “broken the cycle of sectarian violence in Iraq.”

The decision by Sunni insurgents to cooperate with the U.S. military in 2006 and 2007 was not the result of U.S. military prowess but of their defeat at the hands of Shi’a militias and the realisation that the Sunnis could not oppose three enemies (the U.S., the Shi’a militias and al Qaeda) simultaneously.

It also enabled the Shi’a government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which had close ties to Iran, to consolidate its power and to achieve a crucial degree of independence from the United States.

The George W. Bush administration and the U.S. military command continued to assume that it would be able to keep its Iraqi bases indefinitely. In mid-2007, Defence Secretary Robert Gates invoked the Korean model – a decades-long garrisoning of tens of thousands of U.S. troops – as the plan for Iraq.

But in July 2008, the al-Maliki government began demanding that all U.S. troops leave the country by the end of 2010. After initially refusing to believe that the troop withdrawal demand was serious, the Bush administration was forced eventually to agree to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.

The evolution of Iraqi politics belies the popular narrative that Gen. David Petraeus miraculously rescued the U.S. war from a bad strategy and ultimately prevailed over U.S. “enemies,” including Iran

In its conflict with Iran over its nuclear program, the Bush administration tried to intimidate Tehran by seizing Iranians in Iraq and wielding indirectly the threat of attack against its nuclear facilities. But coercive diplomacy did not work, largely because Iran could credibly threaten to respond to a U.S. or Israeli attack with unconventional attacks against U.S. bases and troops – and possibly even warships – in the Persian Gulf region.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where the United States had appeared to be in control from 2001 to 2005, the Taliban and other insurgent groups have grown rapidly since then and become the de facto government in large parts of the Pashtun region of the country. The U.S. military presence has been unable to slow the rise of the insurgents in those rural areas.

The most recent blow to the image of U.S. military dominance in the region has been the revelation that the United States lacks a reliable access route for supply of its troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. military has long relied on the route through the Khyber Pass in Pakistan to transport about 80 percent of all supplies for Afghanistan.

But in 2008, allies of the Taliban began disrupting the U.S. logistics route through the Khyber Pass so effectively that it could no longer be counted on to supply U.S. forces. That meant that the United States had to find another access route for supplying its troops in Afghanistan.

David Petraeus, the new CENTCOM commander, traveled to Central Asia to secure promises of a new route into Afghanistan from Russian ports overland to Kazakhstan and then through Uzbekistan to northern Afghanistan.

But this alternative scheme would rely on Russian cooperation, giving a rival for power in Central and Southwest Asia a veto power over US military presence in the region. The Kyrgyz president announced during a trip to Moscow in early February that he was ending the agreement on US use of the air base at Manas. That was a signal that Russia would cooperate with the U.S. military only insofar as it was consistent with Russian dominance in Central Asia.

Relying on Uzbekistan for transit of NATO supplies for Afghanistan was another highly tenuous feature of the Petraeus plan. The Karimov regime, notorious for its abuse of human rights, faces an Islamist insurgency that could well disrupt supply routes through the country.

A much shorter and far more secure route into Afghanistan would be from the Iranian port of Chabahar through the Western Afghan city of Herat to the Ring Highway which serves all major Afghan cities. NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan said on Feb. 3 that NATO would “not oppose” bilateral deals with Iran for supplying troops through that country.

Significantly, the Pentagon has made contingency plans for the use of the Iranian route, according to one well-informed former U.S. official. That suggests that the Russian-Central Asian route was regarded as far from certain.

On the other hand, the U.S. military is not likely to regard reliance on its regional rival for power in the Middle East as a solid basis for its military presence in Afghanistan.

Obama administration officials are still talking about Middle East policy as though the U.S. military presence has conferred decisive influence over developments in the region. However, the events of the past six years have shown that to be a costly myth. They have underlined a truth that few in Washington find palatable: geography and local socio-political dynamics have trumped U.S. military power – and are very likely to continue to do so in the future.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam,” was published in 2006.  A resporter for Inter Press Service News Agency, his work appears at Cyrano’s Showcase, Antiwar.com, CounterPunch, Dissident Voice and other fine websites. 

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