Asia Times

It Ain't Just a War in Syria Anymore -- The Conflict Is Spreading Beyond Its Borders

The multi-national conflict in Syria seems to be widening both territorially and militarily. The latest twist came with Turkey’s decision to deploy its armed forces in Iraq in the name of countering Islamic State (IS) there.

Keep reading... Show less

The U.S. Really Thinks It Has the Right to Be a Global Cop, and China Is Driving Us Bonkers

If only Mad Men in real life were like Don Draper – channeling his true inner self, after many a rocky season, to finally click on “I’m OK, you’re OK.”

Keep reading... Show less

U.S. Is Waking Up to a New World Order, Not of Its Making

The real Masters of the Universe in the U.S. are no weathermen, but arguably they’re starting to feel which way the wind is blowing.

History may signal it all started with this week’s trip to Sochi, led by their paperboy, Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and then with President Putin.

Arguably, a visual reminder clicked the bells for the real Masters of the Universe; the PLA marching in Red Square on Victory Day side by side with the Russian military. Even under the Stalin-Mao alliance Chinese troops did not march in Red Square.

As a screamer, that rivals the Russian S-500 missile systems. Adults in the Beltway may have done the math and concluded Moscow and Beijing may be on the verge of signing secret military protocols as in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The new game of musical chairs is surely bound to leave Eurasian-obsessed Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski apoplectic.

And suddenly, instead of relentless demonization and NATO spewing out “Russian aggression!” every ten seconds, we have Kerry saying that respecting Minsk-2 is the only way out in Ukraine, and that he would strongly caution vassal Poroshenko against his bragging on bombing Donetsk airport and environs back into Ukrainian “democracy”.

The ever level-headed Lavrov, for his part, described the meeting with Kerry as “wonderful,” and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the new U.S.-Russia entente as “extremely positive”.

So now the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration, at least apparently, seems to finally understand that this “isolating Russia” business is over – and that Moscow simply won’t back down from two red lines; no Ukraine in NATO, and no chance of popular republics of Donetsk and Lugansk being smashed, by Kiev, NATO or anybody else.

Thus what was really discussed – but not leaked – out of Sochi is how the Obama administration can get some sort of face-saving exit out of the Russian western borderland geopolitical mess it invited on itself in the first place.

About Those Missiles…

Ukraine is a failed state now fully converted into an IMF colony. The EU will never accept it as a member, or pay its astronomic bills. The real action, for both Washington and Moscow, is Iran. Not accidentally, the extremely dodgy Wendy Sherman — who has been the chief U.S. negotiator in the P5+1 nuclear talks — was part of Kerry’s entourage. A comprehensive deal with Iran cannot be clinched without Moscow’s essential collaboration on everything from the disposal of spent nuclear fuel to the swift end of UN sanctions.

Iran is a key node in the Chinese-led New Silk Road(s) project. So the real Masters of the Universe must have also — finally — seen this is all about Eurasia, which, inevitably, was the real star in the May 9 Victory Day parade. After his pregnant with meaning Moscow stop — where he signed 32 separate deals — Chinese President Xi Jinping went to do deals in Kazakhstan and Belarus.

So welcome to the New (Silk) World Order; from Beijing to Moscow on high-speed rail; from Shanghai to Almaty, Minsk and beyond; from Central Asia to Western Europe.

By now we all know how this high-speed trade/geopolitical journey is unstoppable — spanning the Beijing-led, Moscow-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICs Development Bank. Central Asia, Mongolia and Afghanistan — where NATO has just lost a war — are being inexorably pulled into this trade/geopolitical orbit covering all of central, northern, and eastern Eurasia.

What could be called Greater Asia is already shaping up — not only from Beijing to Moscow but also from business center Shanghai to gateway-to-Europe St. Petersburg. It’s the natural consequence of a complex process I have been examining for a while now — the marriage of the massive Beijing-led Silk Road Economic Belt with the Moscow-led Eurasia Economic Union (EEU). Putin described it as “a new level of partnership.”

The real Masters of the Universe may have also noted the very close discussions between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the deputy chairman of the Central Military Council of China, Gen. Fan Changlong. Russia and China will conduct naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Japan and will give top priority to their common position regarding U.S. global missile defense.

There’s the not-so-negligible matter of the Pentagon “discovering” China has up to 60 silo-based ICBMs – the CSS-4 – capable of targeting almost the whole U.S., except Florida.

And last but not least, there’s the Russian rollout of the ultra-sophisticated S-500 defensive missile system — which will conclusively protect Russia from a U.S. Prompt Global Strike (PGS). Each S-500 missile can intercept ten ICBMs at speeds up to 15,480 miles an hour, altitudes of 115 miles and horizontal range of 2,174 miles. Moscow insists the system will only be operational in 2017. If Russia is able to rollout 10,000 S-500 missiles, they can intercept 100,000 American ICBMs by the time the U.S. has a new White House tenant.

Once again, the real Masters of the Universe seem to have done the math. Can’t reduce Russia to ashes. Can’t win in the New (Silk) World Order. Might as well sit down and talk. But hold your (geopolitical) horses; they might still change their mind.

The Growing China-Russia-Iran Strategic Alliance Has Got the Pentagon Trembling

Whatever happens with the nuclear negotiations this summer, and as much as Tehran wants cooperation and not confrontation, Iran is bound to remain — alongside Russia — a key US geostrategic target.

Keep reading... Show less

How the Russia-China Strategic Partnership Marks a New Global Power Shift

Move over, Cold War 2.0. The real story, now and for the foreseeable future, in its myriad declinations, and of course, ruling out too many bumps in the road, is a new, integrated Eurasia forging ahead.

Keep reading... Show less

The West Is Snapping Up Ukraine's Agribusinesses at an Alarming Rate

OAKLAND, United States - At the same time as the United States, Canada and the European Union announced a set of new sanctions against Russia in mid-December last year, Ukraine received US$350 million in US military aid, coming on top of a $1 billion aid package approved by the US Congress in March 2014. 

Western governments' further involvement in the Ukraine conflict signals their confidence in the cabinet appointed by the new government earlier in December 2014. This new government is unique given that three of its most important ministries were granted to foreign-born individuals who received Ukrainian citizenship just hours before their appointment. 

The Ministry of Finance went to Natalie Jaresko, a US-born and educated businesswoman who has been working in Ukraine since the mid-1990s, overseeing a private equity fund established by the US government to invest in the country. Jaresko is also the CEO of Horizon Capital, an investment firm that administers various Western investments in the country. 

As unusual as it may seem, this appointment is consistent with what looks more like a takeover of the Ukrainian economy by Western interests. In two reports - "The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture" and "Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict" - the Oakland Institute has documented this takeover, particularly in the agricultural sector. 

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually to president Viktor Yanukovych's removal from office in February 2014 was his rejection of a European Union Association agreement aimed at expanding trade and integrating Ukraine with the EU - an agreement that was tied to a US$17 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

After the president's departure and the installation of a pro-Western government, the IMF initiated a reform program that was a condition of its loan with the goal of increasing private investment in the country. 

The package of measures includes reforming the public provision of water and energy, and, more important, attempts to address what the World Bank identified as the “structural roots” of the current economic crisis in Ukraine, notably the high cost of doing business in the country. 

The Ukrainian agricultural sector has been a prime target for foreign private investment and is logically seen by the IMF and World Bank as a priority sector for reform. Both institutions praise the new government's readiness to follow their advice. 

For example, the foreign-driven agricultural reform roadmap provided to Ukraine includes facilitating the acquisition of agricultural land, cutting food and plant regulations and controls, and reducing corporate taxes and custom duties. 

The stakes around Ukraine's vast agricultural sector - the world's third-largest exporter of corn and fifth-largest exporter of wheat - could not be higher. Ukraine is known for its ample fields of rich black soil, and the country boasts more than 32 million hectares of fertile, arable land - the equivalent of one-third of the entire arable land in the European Union. 

The maneuvering for control over the country's agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War. 

The presence of foreign corporations in Ukrainian agriculture is growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years. While Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont have been in Ukraine for quite some time, their investments in the country have grown significantly over the past few years. 

Cargill is involved in the sale of pesticides, seeds and fertilizers and has recently expanded its agricultural investments to include grain storage, animal nutrition and a stake in UkrLandFarming, the largest agribusiness in the country. 

Similarly, Monsanto has been in Ukraine for years but has doubled the size of its team over the last three years. In March 2014, just weeks after Yanukovych was deposed, the company invested $140 million in building a new seed plant in Ukraine. 

DuPont has also expanded its investments and announced in June 2013 that it too would be investing in a new seed plant in the country. 

Western corporations have not just taken control of certain profitable agribusinesses and agricultural activities, they have now initiated a vertical integration of the agricultural sector and extended their grip on infrastructure and shipping. 

For instance, Cargill now owns at least four grain elevators and two sunflower seed processing plants used for the production of sunflower oil. In December 2013, the company bought a “25% +1 share” in a grain terminal at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk with a capacity of 3.5 million tonnes of grain per year. 

All aspects of Ukraine's agricultural supply chain - from the production of seeds and other agricultural inputs to the actual shipment of commodities out of the country - are thus increasingly controlled by Western firms. 

European institutions and the US government have actively promoted this expansion. It started with the push for a change of government at a time when president Yanukovych was seen as pro-Russian interests. This was further pushed, starting in February 2014, through the promotion of a “pro-business” reform agenda, as described by the US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker when she met with Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk in October 2014. 

The European Union and the United States are working hand in hand in the takeover of Ukrainian agriculture. Although Ukraine does not allow the production of genetically modified (GM) crops, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, which ignited the conflict that ousted Yanukovych, includes a clause (Article 404) that commits both parties to cooperate to “extend the use of biotechnologies” within the country. 

This clause is surprising given that most European consumers reject GM crops. However, it creates an opening to bring GM products into Europe, an opportunity sought after by large agro-seed companies such as Monsanto. 

Opening up Ukraine to the cultivation of GM crops would go against the will of European citizens, and it is unclear how the change would benefit Ukrainians. 

It is similarly unclear how Ukrainians will benefit from this wave of foreign investment in their agriculture, and what impact these investments will have on the seven million local farmers. 

Once they eventually look away from the conflict in the Eastern "pro-Russian" part of the country, Ukrainians may wonder what remains of their country's ability to control its food supply and manage the economy to their own benefit. 

As for US and European citizens, will they eventually awaken from the headlines and grand rhetoric about Russian aggression and human rights abuses and question their governments' involvement in the Ukraine conflict?

China Starting to Realize America Isn't Necessarily in Decline

BEIJING - China's political mindset about international politics is at a turning point and it could mark the beginning of a new role of China in global affairs. On December 27, the Chinese press reported on a speech by Vice Premier Wang Yang with the title "The United States is the guide of the world; China is willing to join this system." In the text, Wang Yang reportedly said, "China and United States are global economic partners, but America is the guide of the world. America already has the leading system and its rules; China is willing to join the system and respect those rules and hopes to play a constructive role." [1]

These statements mark a stark contrast from the times when China was extremely suspicious of America's hegemonic role in the world. Implicitly, China now appears to admit that America has the leading role in the world and to be willing to work with it.

The article doesn't give any explanation for the dramatic change of heart by the Chinese leadership and in fact it is not clear what brought about this dramatic transformation in Chinese perception of foreign affairs. However, it is clear that this is the next step after the successful meeting at the APEC summit in Beijing. In many ways the meeting between presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping turned a new leaf on bilateral relations after many years of strong distrusts. At the APEC meeting, the two sides agreed on a number of issues that had been pretty irksome in previous years. [2]

This goes beyond the idea floated some years ago of the G2 (a US-China special relationship). This idea was based on some faulty thinking of US-Chinese ties as isolated from the rest of the world. This time the conception is more comprehensive and in many ways reassuring both for the US and for the many countries that feared being left out of the new strong bond between Washington and Beijing.

As for the reasons why the change occurred, we can only infer. Possibly there are a number of historical and political reasons that brought about the Chinese change of heart. Very roughly, there could be a historical analysis-the way the Chinese love to think about problems - that helped with this new mindset. Historically in fact, America has inherited a leading role in the world from the British Empire, who took it on from French and before them the Dutch in the late 17th century, who took it on from the Spanish, who first started the globalization process with the discovery of America in the late 15th century.

That is, America inherited a world which has been shaped by values and sets of rules conceived by Western countries for over 500 years. These values and rules are largely alien to China's historical tradition, yet they are widely accepted not only by Western countries, but also by the world at large. China seems to have somehow realized the extreme difficulty of simply barging into a world that was shaped by centuries of alien traditions. Moreover, partly these western traditions have already entered Chinese political discourse for about a century, since the fall of the Qing Empire, and the foundation of the People's Republic organized according to western Marxist values.

With a mindset shaped by economic calculations, the Chinese may have realized that challenging this present system, toppling it, and replacing it with something more "Chinese" would have been an extremely risky and costly proposition. In the process, China may well be defeated or suffer great losses. It would be much more effective and economical to just join the system and play a constructive role while slowly and steadily introducing Chinese tenets into the system.

There were possibly also political concerns that helped shape the new thinking. The US managed to completely beat the USSR in the Cold War, and this was done even though scientifically and politically the USSR was much stronger than China is now. The USSR was at the center of a vast web of allied states, and it had an appealing ideology that made inroads among many intellectuals and working people of the Western world and "converted" them to "soviet beliefs". China has no allies, no system of values and ideology making inroads in the West, and it is pretty isolated. So politically if it were to engage in a head-on confrontation with the Western world, the outcome could be even worse than with the USSR.

As further proof of this, one could look to the extreme difficulties of Russia now as it tries to confront America. Despite the fact that Washington is coming out of 14 years of setbacks and poor political management in the Middle East and Central Asia, it still managed to put quite easily Moscow on the defensive over Ukraine.

The final element is the massive rebound of the American economy in 2014, which officially records growth of about 5% at the end of the year. The Chinese are still wondering what made America grow so much in one year, but it is clear that the development of new technologies and the ability to innovate and blaze new tracks in economic growth is playing a huge role. The new technologies for extracting oil and gas through fracking and to store and save energy have impressed a whole new dynamic to the economic system and geopolitics. The Middle East so crucial until a couple of years ago for the global economy thanks to its oil reserves has been largely sidelined and a present plunge in oil prices seems to beckon a new season of cheap energy which could spur new developments in many areas.

This element plus possible new investments in rebuilding America's poor infrastructure could boost growth in the future. These are all signs that America's decline might not be inevitable, as many pundits worldwide predicted also recently. This has lead China to underscore its necessity to tread very carefully and not underestimate Washington's capabilities.

On the political side, this change of heart underscores internally Xi's new clout in politics. He managed to shelve critics with different views on foreign policy. These differing views and the difficulty in finding a unified voice have been plaguing Chinese foreign policy for about two decades. In fact, the new position of Wang Yang can be seen as a result of internal party cleansing. According to a release by Xinhua News Agency on December 29 the Politburo of the Communist Party announced that, "within the party there will be absolutely no tolerance for factionalism and gangs; no way to use the party to pursue individual benefits or to form gangs and cliques." [3]

Furthermore, this new stance of Xi, admitting the US influence and role in the world, in a way could be a late response to Obama's policies toward China in the year 2009. Then, immediately after the election, Obama seemed to offer China a sweeping opportunity for cooperation. The offer was received in a lukewarm fashion in Beijing, then plagued by deep rifts on crucial political choices. Now of course times and conditions are different, but Xi in more than one way seems to try to set the clock back. It is still too early to see how this will play out. The US now may be less ready to welcome a Chinese opening, and the world en large is far more confused than just six years ago. Moreover, nobody is clear, possibly not even the Chinese, what will be the meaning of the "constructive contributions" to the existing world order as mentioned by Wang Yang.

Notes:
1. Click here (in Chinese).
2. Xi proves strong, now comes 'soft' power, Asia Times Online, November 19, 2014.
3. Click here (in Chinese).

Why Gaza Is the Real-World Set for 'The Hunger Games'

I could have never imagined myself drawing parallels between my refugee camp, Nuseirat, in the Gaza Strip, its heroic people, and a Hollywood movie; the struggle of my people is too sacred for that. But I couldn't help it as I watched the latest from The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay.

A feeling of anger initially overwhelmed me when I saw the districts destroyed by the heartless rulers of the Capitol. As I watched the movie, not only resistance of Palestine, but particularly that of Gaza, was on my mind.

The Capitol - with unmatched military technology and access to an enormous media apparatus - was unstoppable in its brutality. Its rulers, who claimed to have superiority over all the inhabitants of the dystopia of Panem, had no moral boundaries whatsoever.

The Hunger Games, the story's version of a reality television show, was created as an annual event to celebrate the victory of the Capitol over a previous revolt by the districts. It also served as a reminder of what the Capitol was capable of, if anyone dared to rise up again in the future.

The show's participants - all children who were chosen or volunteered in a process called the "reaping" - came from every district. The contestants had to kill one another for the amusement of the Capitol, which drew its strength from the division and oppression of others. But the districts rebelled.

They resisted because there can be no other response to systematic oppression but resistance. District 13 was annihilated early on so that the rest of the districts dare not entertain any ideas aside from the Capitol's insistence that resistance is futile. Panem's ruthless president was adamant at referring to those who defied the Capitol as "radicals," and not "rebels." At times, the Capitol tried to turn the districts against one another, inciting civil war.

The Gaza connection became too stark to miss when Katniss, one of the early "tributes" and the symbolic Mockingjay of the resistance uttered these words soon after the Capitol bombers destroyed a hospital full of unarmed men, women and children, killing everyone: "I want to tell the people that if you think for one second the Capitol will treat us fairly if there's a ceasefire, you're deluding yourself. Because you know who they are and what they do."

The events in this drama were eerily similar to the bombing and complete destruction of al-Wafa hospital in Gaza in late July of this year - the only rehabilitation center in the strip for thousands of victims of previous Israeli atrocities.

Her message to the Capitol: "You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that? Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!"

It is as if the author of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, knew so much about Gaza. As if she had fashioned her stories to tell of a real fight between a brutal Capitol, called Israel, and rebellious districts called Palestine. It is as if Gaza was the inspiration behind District 13 because despite attempts at repeated annihilation for the past 65 years - and in particular the last two genocidal wars in 2008-9 and 2014 - the resistance is still alive.

Does Collins know that Katniss, who didn't choose such a fate but had to step up in defense of her people, is represented in thousands of men, women, and yes, children of Gaza?

Does she know that her stories were already written and enacted by real people, who may never have heard of her franchise and may never live to watch her movies? Does she know that criminal leaders such as President Snow are not something of fantasy, but they actually exist, here today in the persons of Benjamin Netanyahu and countless other Israeli leaders who call for the absolute annihilation of Gazans at a whim?

As for Gaza's Hunger Games, the similarities are uncanny.

Just before Israel imposed severe economic sanctions on Gaza, to punish Palestinians for the result of their democratic elections, top Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass made a spine-chilling promise in 2006: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger." This was not a passing statement.

After much legal wrangling, an Israeli human rights group, Gisha, managed to obtain documents which showed that since then Israel has enacted a "deliberate policy of near-starvation" in Gaza and that "security" had nothing to do with the Gaza blockade.

In Israel's Operation Cast Lead, over 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 5,500 wounded. But in Israel's latest war the price tag for resistance was increased to 2,137. More are still dying from their wounds.

Gaza stands in ruins. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed, villages erased and whole families annihilated. Hundreds of schools, hospitals and mosques have been blown up in an unprecedented orgy of death and destruction.

Yet the resistance has not been defeated in Gaza. Because resistance is not men and women with guns. Resistance is an idea, pure in its intentions, romantic, at times, maybe, but certainly the work of an entire collective, who has chosen to die fighting, if they must, but never live carrying the shackles of a slave.

Not even the chilling words of Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) were enough to intimidate Gaza. In his Facebook plan to destroy the resistance on August 1, 2014, Feiglin called for the, "conquest of the entire Gaza Strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters". He then went on to call for all its remaining inhabitants to be pushed into concentration camps near the Sinai desert.

"In these areas, tent encampments will be established, until relevant emigration destinations are determined," Feiglin wrote.

Feiglin, and his prime minister, Netanyahu - among many others in Israel's political and military establishment - are real life leaders of the Capitol, which is allowed to operate with complete impunity against the oppressed districts of Palestine.

And like the Mockingjay, which was resurrected against great odds, Gaza will remain the rebellious district. The blood of its "near-starved" children will someday unite all districts against the Capitol. Then, all the voices that doubted the wisdom of the resistance will be diminished by the loud, but harmonious chanting of a united people.

Till then, the Mockingjay of Palestine, and the thousands of living martyrs will continue to circulate the skies singing the same song as the people of the districts do:

"Are you, Are you
Coming to the tree
Where I told you to run, so we'd both be free
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree."


If only the other districts would rise.

Russia and China Are Teaming Up as the World's New Power Elite

If there were any remaining doubts about the unlimited stupidity Western corporate media is capable of dishing out, the highlight of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing has been defined as Russian President Vladimir Putin supposedly “hitting” on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wife – and the subsequent Chinese censoring of the moment when Putin draped a shawl over her shoulders in the cold air where the leaders were assembled. What next? Putin and Xi denounced as a gay couple?Let’s dump the clowns and get down to the serious business. Right at the start, President Xi urged APEC to “add firewood to the fire of the Asia-Pacific and world economy”. Two days later, China got what it wanted on all fronts.

Keep reading... Show less

The Price of Oil and the Future of Syria

The world, it would be fair to say, is in disarray. Most economies are sluggish, political paralysis and decay are everywhere, and appallingly brutal militant groups are on the march. Nonetheless, despite fighting near vital oil fields in the Gulf region, the price of oil - inordinately shaped by skittish traders - has been falling. Key benchmarks have plunged 18% since early September.

The fall has been made possible by slumping demand from the United States as new drilling techniques have boosted domestic production from 5 million barrels per day to 8.4 million in only the past six years. Neither the Saudis nor their allied producers in the region are countering the fall by cutting production - a standard response since the cartel began to exert influence in the early seventies.

Oil is down, but what's up?
Saudi Arabia is boosting oil supplies to advance long-term geopolitical interests at the expense of short-term economic ones. Riyadh wants to increase its power in the Middle East by forcing a settlement to the Syrian war over the objections of Iran and Russia, both of which support the Assad government, both of which rely on oil revenue.

Two years ago, the Assad government was about to fall. Beset by various rebel forces, the government had to abandon large swathes of the country. The government's fortunes improved, however, as arms and money came in from Russia and Iran - the latter sending in advisers that trained militias, which along with Hezbollah fighters were critical in solidifying control along the Mediterranean region.

No one is winning now, except for Islamist militant groups such as the al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State. Their numbers have grown as Arab youth see serving with them as heroic, redemptive, and divinely ordained. Countries in and out of the region worry of Islamist fighters returning home and the war inspiring lone-wolf imitators.

The need for an international settlement is clear. The combatants are unlikely to arrive at settlement on their own, hence a settlement imposed by various backers is the only option to continued war. Saudi Arabia and Iran - chief backers of the rebels and government, respectively - met last spring to begin discussions, but the meetings went nowhere. Saudi Arabia is now working with fellow Sunni oil-producers.

Oil as a weapon
The Saudis are well practiced in using their oil in world politics. They embargoed oil in 1973 to protest US support for Israel. In the mid-eighties, amid the Afghan War, they boosted production to drive down prices and slash Soviet export revenue upon which the state heavily relied. Today, the Saudis and their fellow Sunni oil-producers are seeking to slash the export revenues of Russia and Iran - Syria's principal supporters. In that both countries are already hurt by sanctions, falling oil prices are all the more problematic.

The Saudis realize that Tehran and Moscow will not abandon Assad altogether; Syria is too important to them and their credibility with other allies would suffer. Riyadh is damaging the Iranian and Russian economies to get them to accept an unpalatable settlement.

Three scenarios
The oil weapon may lead to negotiations but the nature of a settlement is unclear, though Riyadh has one in mind. Americans will want to bring disparate factions into a bargaining process then hold elections. After so much killing and destruction, however, a fair election is improbable at best. A spirit of reconciliation is years away. A Sunni majority would undoubtedly win and the Shi'ite-Alawite minority would fear the new government - as well they might.

An alternative is a federation: the Shi'ite-Alawite population along the Mediterranean coast, the Sunni Arabs in the center and east, the Kurds in the east. The prospects for a Syrian federation, amid so much mistrust and bloodshed and without a shared identity and national economy, are unpromising. The Kurds will look more to their Iraqi kin than to Syrian oppressors. Warring Sunni groups are unlikely to work together.

Another alternative is a miscellany of statelets, much as Central Europe was for many centuries. (As a Prussian king once quipped, you could walk across one and much of the country would stick to the bottom of your boots.) The Sunni region is presently ruled by dozens of militia commanders, Islamist visionaries, and tribal elders. Most are backed by foreign powers, from Washington and London to Riyadh and Doha.

The Saudi scenario - and opposition to it
The Saudis want to create, through diplomacy and disbursements, a unified polity out of Sunni Syria which will be beholden to them. Sunni Syria could one day align with the Sunnis of western Iraq who wish to be rid of the Shi'ite government - a goal Riyadh has been aiding for years.

This would greatly expand Saudi influence in the emerging Middle East. Riyadh has already ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and supported the new military government. A similarly beholden Sunni region straddling eastern Syria and western Iraq would greatly enhance Saudi political and military clout.

Opposition to the Saudi plan will be strong. Syrian president Assad will not willingly preside over the dissolution of his country. However, he is not in a fiscal or military position to rebuff pressure from Tehran and Moscow should their hands be forced by failing export revenues and restive populations.

Iran has more to lose than does Russia. A Sunni region will sever lines of communication with Shi'ite parts of Lebanon and Syria, and constitute a step toward marginalizing Iran and weakening Shi'ite aspirations throughout the Gulf.

Israel prefers to keep Syria weak, fragmented, and unable to pose a threat. It has tried to convince the Druze population of southern Syria to break with Damascus and became a buffer state under Israeli aegis. Thus far, the Druze have not shown great interest. Qatar and its Muslim Brotherhood allies will also oppose rising Saudi influence in the region.

The oil weapon has risks for Saudi Arabia and fellow Sunni states. They themselves depends on oil revenue to run their governments and keep their populations reasonably content. Further, so obvious an attempt to weaken Shi'ite power will exacerbate already strained sectarian tensions in the Sunni princedoms.

Bolivia Is An Example of How Socialism Can 'Work'

Bolivian President Evo Morales last weekend won re-election by a smashing margin. His eight-year rule has weakened Bolivian property rights, indulged in frequent nationalizations and demonized capitalism. Yet it has also produced Bolivia's best growth rates in several decades, far better than the orthodox and admirable policies pursued in 1985-2003. 

Thus Morales' policy of making Bolivian clocks run backwards seems reflected by the apparent successful defiance of theory in his economics. In reality, however, there is a fairly simple explanation, and it is an important lesson for other poor countries. 

Morales, the first "indigenous" president of Bolivia, is a Latin American socialist. He enjoys denouncing capitalism, but not quite a standard one. His eccentricity was demonstrated a few months ago when he caused the clocks on the Bolivian Congress to run backwards, explaining that "clockwise" was a "Northern-Hemispherist" construct, derived from clocks following sundials in a hemisphere where sundial shadows advanced clockwise, and was hence not relevant to the Southern Hemisphere, where sundial shadows run counter-clockwise. 

Keep reading... Show less

Iran and Israel Are in an Arm-Wrestling Match Over Kurdistan

The West and key Gulf states are trying to find a political arrangement to bring ground troops to bear on the Islamic State. Clearly, Kurdish troops are one of the most promising options. Though landlocked, Kurdistan's oil resources, militias, and increasing autonomy from Baghdad will make it an important actor in regional politics, especially to Iran and Israel. 

For many years, Iran and Israel were allies, each sharing concerns over hostile Sunni Arab states. That partnership gave way to bitter rivalry as Iran became influential in Lebanon and as Israel sought closer ties with Arab states. Israel is trying to halt Iran's nuclear program and encourage regional and ethnic unrest inside Iran. For its part, Iran is backing three foes of Israel - Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. 

Israel and Iran may have more in common regarding Kurdistan than their leaders realize. History shows common interests in the past; geopolitics show common interests today. The mullahs and the Likud may all be too guided by recent enmity and doctrinaire foreign policy to realize it, though.

Keep reading... Show less

Is ISIL the Last Straw in Obama's Deteriorating Foreign Policy Record?

But whether people see what's happening in Ukraine, and Russia's aggression towards its neighbors in the manner in which it's financing and arming separatists; to what's happened in Syria - the devastation that [President Bashar al-]Assad has wrought on his own people; to the failure in Iraq for Sunni and Shia and Kurd to compromise - although we're trying to see if we can put together a government that actually can function; to ongoing terrorist threats; to what's happening in Israel and Gaza - part of peoples' concern is just the sense that around the world the old order isn't holding and we're not quite yet to where we need to be in terms of a new order that's based on a set of different principles, that's based on a sense of common humanity, that's based on economies that work for all people. - President Barack Obama 

Looks like US President Barack Obama made a royal mess of what his mentor Dr Zbigniew "Grand Chessboard" Brzezinski taught him. 

Dr Zbig always quotes Sir Halford John Mackinder's three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy; to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals; to keep tributaries pliant and protected; and to keep the barbarians from coming together. 

After dabbling briefly with "leading from behind" - a non-starter - Obama finally went Mackinderesque with his stellar "Don't Do Stupid Stuff" foreign policy doctrine. 

Nevertheless, an always alert former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said "Don't do Stupid Stuff" isn't a "foreign policy organizing principle". Yet "Stupid Stuff" is all that the Obama foreign policy team knows how to do. 

Starting with Obama treating Russia under President Vladimir Putin the way Hillary's husband treated Russia under vodka container Boris Yeltsin. Then came the decision - without any public debate - to start bombing Iraq all over again. And soon Syria. Bombs Away in Syraq! 

So "protect" Yazidis, yes. Protect Gazans, no. "Protect" Kiev's bunch of neo-Nazis, fascists and shady oligarchs, yes. Protect Russophones in Eastern Ukraine, no. 

It all started with protecting Irbil - already protected by Sumerian goddess Ishtar for millennia. Then protecting Irbil and Baghdad. Then protecting all "strategic" sites in Iraq. 

Retired General Carter Ham of AFRICOM/"We came, we saw, he died" fame, was adamant that it will be "very difficult" to pull off so much protecting with only a few fighter jets. So drones will be needed. And troops on the ground. 

From protecting ExxonMobil and Chevron to double bombing in Syraq. No wonder the Return of the Living (Neo-Con) Dead are so excited. It's the Greater Middle East all over again. And guess who will be part of the coalition of the willing to fight the Caliph? Britain, Australia, Turkey, Jordan and Gulf Cooperation Council stalwarts Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

Almost the same bunch (five among seven) that enabled the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the first place, from "Assad must go" to "good" and "bad" jihadis, and finally to ISIS (now the Islamic State) configured as the sprawling abode - complete with flush private army - of Caliph Ibrahim. 

And no, there's no strategy. Hee haw! 

Bye bye petrodollar 
Now let's see the dividends of "Don't Do Stupid Stuff" as applied to Ukraine. 

Back to the Mackinderesque Dr Zbig. Some vassals - the usual NATO/GCC suspects, but not all of them - may still believe they profit from "security dependence", while others remain nervously pliant and, in theory, feel "protected" by the Empire of Chaos. 

But then the Empire of Chaos "encouraged" a de facto coup. And gave the green light for the new Kiev mob to do in Eastern Ukraine roughly what Israel does in Gaza. The idea in Ukraine was to bog down Russia in its western borderlands and cut off the economic/trade link between Russia and Germany. Cut Eurasia in half. 

But then Obama launched a Cold War 2.0 that could easily turn hot. He destroyed the relationship with chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany and amplified the strategic embrace between the Bear and the Dragon, with the result that Beijing started paying less attention to the "pivoting to Asia" because now it enjoys even more backing from Moscow. Meanwhile, Moscow further stalls Washington's advances in Central Asia. 

Sanctions on Russia not only reinforce its internal market but also boost its foreign trade - way beyond European shores. Yet still it was not enough to totally sell out to Wall Street and totally wreck US foreign policy. With aides/advisors like National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who needs enemies? 

Obama's sanctions hysteria is leading the way to the progressive end of the US dollar as reserve currency, and the end of the petrodollar. 

Witness this - the most important news of these last few months after the Russia-China "gas deal of the century". 

Obama is accelerating the now uncontrolled collapse of the Empire of Chaos. The new axis of the future - Beijing, Moscow, Berlin - is slowly but surely coming together. There's nothing "barbarian" about them. And the bulk of the Global South supports them. 

"The old order isn't holding" - indeed. "The Caliph is evil. So I'm applying more sanctions on Russia." How's that for Empire management? Good boy. Now pivot. With yourself. And with no strategy.

As Crazy As It Sounds, U.S. and NATO Appear Hungry For War in Ukraine

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is desperate; it is itching for a war in battlefield Ukraine at any cost. 

Let's start with Pentagon supremo, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has waxed lyrical over the Russian Bear's "threat": "When you see the build-up of Russian troops and the sophistication of those troops, the training of those troops, the heavy military equipment that's being put along that border, of course it's a reality, it's a threat, it's a possibility - absolutely." 

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu could not elaborate if it was "threat" or "reality", absolutely or not, but she saw it all: "We're not going to guess what's on Russia's mind, but we can see what Russia is doing on the ground - and that is of great concern. Russia has amassed around 20,000 combat-ready troops on Ukraine's eastern border." 

Keep reading... Show less

Israel Gets Away With Killing Civilians, While Russia Gets Framed for Killing Civilians

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining it ... 

A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic
 -George Orwell1984 

So Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Hollande and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi - let's call them the Fab Five - get on a video conference call to muster their courage and "increase pressure" asking for a cease-fire in Gaza. Later in the day, Israel's Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu delivers his answer, in plain language: he remains dead set on achieving his version of a Final Solution to Gaza.  With or without "pressure". 

Keep reading... Show less

A New Kind of Violent Extremist Hell Is Being Created in the Middle of Iraq

So now a huge Hardcore Sunnistan stretches all the way from the suburbs of Aleppo to Tikrit and from Mosul to the Jordanian/Iraqi border - the same one that dissolved in 2003 when Shock and Awe turned into Mission (Un)Accomplished.

In an eerie echo of Dick Cheney's army's footprints reverberating in the sands of Anbar province, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and their coalition of the willing (jihadis, Islamists, Ba'athists and tribal sheikhs) now pose as the "liberators" of Iraqi Sunnis from the clutches of an "evil" Shi'ite majority government in Baghdad.

In addition, ISIS also controls the PR wars. Here, a jihadi details how any sort of possible Washington "kinetic" involvement will be interpreted as an unholy alliance between the Empire and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki against the underdogs.

From a Sunni perspective, it's down with Iraq's Counter-terrorism law; down with de-Ba'athification (with the ascent of neo-Ba'athist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia - JRTN, led by former Saddam honcho Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri); down with the Interior Ministry in Baghdad going after Sunni politicians; down with protests being crushed.

At the same time, it's the return of the US-sponsored Sahwa (Sons of Iraq) - who fiercely fought al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007, the mother of ISIS - and the return of assorted Shi'ite militias (Muqtada al-Sadr not only repelled the new wave of US "military advisers" - that's how it started in Vietnam - but also warned that his own badass Men in Black will "shake the ground" fighting ISIS.) The mid-2000s are the new normal; it's gonna be militia hell all over again.

Mesopotamia, we got a problem. Neo-Ba'athists want nothing but a secular Iraq run by Sunnis, Saddam-style (rather former neocon darling Ahmad Chalabi.) ISIS wants a Caliphate extending all across the Levant under Sharia law. Something's got to give.

What will give will be the Iraqi nation itself - the balkanized, protracted (intended) consequence of the 2003 invasion and occupation, finally transmogrified into Jihad Central.

It's payback time
The Obama administration's "strategy" (remember "Don't Do Stupid Shit", the Ukraine strategy?) is to impose regime change on al-Maliki; after all, he had the bad taste of refusing to let US troops keep occupying Iraq past the 2012 deadline, and on top of it his government is close to Tehran.

Thus the answer to the now legendary question of how the US intel satellite maze failed to capture that long column of ISIS Men in Black in their gleaming white Toyota Land Cruisers crossing the Syrian-Iraq desert wasteland. Call it the Mother of All Intel Failures (remember Saddam's talk of Mother of All Battles?)

Here we have trademark Empire of Chaos "revenge" against Baghdad, Tehran and - why not - Moscow (after all Russian president Vladimir Putin offered full support to al-Maliki to fight the jihadis.) Iraq duly merges with Ukraine. And as for payback redux, it's - almost - all spelled out here.

As for the Beltway-peddled myth - once again - of "good terrorists" and "bad terrorists", this week Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria pledged its allegiance to ISIS. This means that ISIS now virtually controls both sides of the border, at Albu Kamal in Syria and Al-Qaim in Iraq. As a bonus, ISIS and allied Sunni tribal sheikhs also surrounded the US-controlled Camp Anaconda in Iraq and are ready for a long-term mortar game. Will Beltway "analysts" ever learn?

That little fiction known as Jordan - run by King Playstation, aka Abdullah - will be ripe for the taking as soon as hardcore Salafis from Zarqa (Zarqawi's hometown) totally align with ISIS. Add that piece of real estate to the embryo Levantine Caliphate and we'll be talking major business - oil refineries possibly included.

"Don't Do Stupid Shit", applied to Syria and Iraq, means that the Obama administration has gone (almost) no holds barred in its "Assad must go" policy, by the way a Ba'ath government; what's implied is that Washington is an ally of ISIS in Syria, while a (determined?) foe of ISIS in Iraq. Assad's "sin" is that he's an ally of both Tehran (like al-Maliki) and, most of all (from an American perspective), Hezbollah. And now comes the Obama administration's latest "Stupid Shit" - in the form of weaponizing "appropriately vetted" rebels in Syria.

Lording over this suspension of disbelief scenario, the whole Beltway, White House included, sells the illusion it is thoughtfully deliberating whether the real dangerous Men in Black here are in fact from ISIS - and what to do about them.

As some sort of Washington-Tehran cooperation against ISIS becomes self-evident, that poses a major problem for the perennial Bomb Iran crowd in the Beltway, as well as for hardliners in Tehran; after all ISIS has erected a massive geostrategic barrier between Iran and Syria, threatening Tehran's connection with Hezbollah.

Likudniks will go no holds barred to prevent any cooperation. But that will be a detail anyway. Baghdad may get all the help it needs from Iranian special forces and militias such as Muqtada's. ISIS does not have the manpower or the expertise to lay siege to Baghdad; people in Sadr City alone would rip them to shreds. Not to mention attack Najaf and Karbala, the Shi'ite holy cities, which are already protected by heavily armed popular brigades.

Will NATO meet Jihadistan?
Kirkuk is now under virtual Kurd control. Its "devolution" to Baghdad will be immensely problematic - and that's a major euphemism. Kirkuk produces around 670,000 barrels of oil a day. Up to 300,000 are exported via the pipeline to Ceyhan, in Turkey. Yet only 120,000 barrels a day have been online these past few weeks.

Iraq's total production is 3.3 million barrels a day - the bulk concentrated in the south, around Basra. There's no realistic evidence ISIS would ever be able to capture Basra.

So the problem remains some refineries in the north such as Baiji. Elite Iraqi counter-terrorism forces can deal with it. If ISIS by any chance would be able to hang on to some oil and gas - a major if - that's certified joy for, most of all, market speculators. And soon there might be thousands of US special forces "securing" Iraqi oil fields and the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Assad's Syrian Army can - and it's already - contributing to fight ISIS. In the end, ISIS can realistically be repelled by the Syrian Army, elite Iranian special forces, Shi'ite brigades and yes - an imminent cameo by those second-hand fighter jets from Russia and Belarus.

ISIS won't take over Baghdad. But like a freak mutant, in a Hardcore Sunnistan goes Hollywood fashion, it might go even more bonkers and try to take over Amman, Doha and even Riyadh.

The Empire of Chaos will keep betting on - what else - chaos. And it's going swimmingly its way - from the real possibility of a final push towards a Great Kurdistan (in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and even Iran) to sectarian militia hell all across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen. Not to mention all possible ramifications in Northern Africa, Central Asia and the North Caucasus.

What will Hillary Clinton, the Hillarator, do? In this case, one's gotta wait for early 2017. She could always pull another "We came, we saw, he died" and triumphantly stage a second coming in the Levant as a droned Athena singing Light My Fire.

In the end, NATO won't meet Jihadistan. No "responsibility to protect" (R2P) Arabs from killing Arabs. NATO will be - gleefully - "watching" in the sidelines. Because from Northern Africa and across the Middle East to the Caucasus and all the way to Western China, the name of the (burning) game is to keep Dr Zbig Brzezinski's "Eurasian Balkans" ever simmering in a funeral pyre.

Why the Iraqi Badass Jihadis in Black Are a Dream Come True for the CIA

Let's cut to the chase. As in chasing that Zara outdoor summer collection, complete with state of the art assault rifles, brand new white Nike sneakers and brand new, unlimited mileage white Toyotas crossing the Syrian-Iraqi desert; the Badass Jihadis in Black. 

Once upon a (very recent) time, the US government used to help only "good terrorists" (in Syria), instead of "bad terrorists". That was an echo of a (less recent) time when it was supporting only "good Taliban" and not "bad Taliban". 

So what happens when Brookings Institution so-called "experts" start blabbering that the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) is really the baddest jihadi outfit on the planet (after all they were cast out of al-Qaeda)? Are they so badass that by warped newspeak logic they're now the new normal? 

Since late last year, according to US government newspeak, the "good terrorists" in Syria are the al-Qaeda spinoff gang of Jabhat al-Nusra and (disgraced) Prince Bandar bin Sultan, aka Bandar Bush, the Islamic Front (essentially a Jabhat al-Nusra multiple outlet). And yet both Jabhat and ISIS had pledged allegiance to Ayman "the doctor" al-Zawahiri, the perennial gift that keeps on giving al-Qaeda capo. 

That still leaves the question of what Men in Black ISIS, the catwalk-conscious beheading stormtroopers for a basket of hardcore tribal Sunnis and Ba'ath party "remnants" (remember Rummy in 2003?) are really up to. 

We interrupt this desert catwalk to announce they will NOT invade Baghdad. On the other hand, they are busy accelerating the balkanization - and eventual partition - of both Syria and Iraq. They are NOT a CIA brainchild (how come Langley never thought about it?); they are in fact the bastard children of (disgraced) Bandar Bush's credit card largesse. 

The fact that ISIS is NOT directly in Langley's payroll does not imply their strategic agenda essentially differs from that of the Empire of Chaos. The Obama administration may be sending a few marines to protect the swimming pools of the largest, Vatican-sized embassy on Planet Earth, plus a few "military advisers" to "retrain" the dissolving Iraqi Army. But that's a drop of Coke Zero in the Western Iraqi desert. There's no evidence Obama is about to authorize "kinetic support" against ISIS, even though Baghdad has already green-lighted it. 

Even if Obama went ballistic ("targeted military action"), and/or manufactured a new kill list to be itemized by his drones, that would amount to no more than a little diversion. What matters is that the confluent ISIS/Beltway agenda remains the same; get rid of Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki (not by accident the new meme in US corporate media); curb Iran's political/economic influence over Iraq; fundamentally erase Sykes-Picot; and promote the "birth pangs" (remember Condi?) of vast wastelands bypassing centralized power and run by hardcore tribal Sunnis. 

For the Empire of Chaos, ISIS is the agent provocateur that fell from (Allah's?) Heaven; the perfect ski mask-clad tool to keep the Global War on Terror (GWOT) in Enduring Freedom Forever mode. 

The icing in the (melted) cake is that the House of Saud has officially denied support of ISIS. So this means it's true, even over Bandar Bush's carcass. Cue to the official House of Saud and House of Thani narrative about ISIS: they are not in charge of what's happening in Iraq. It's all organized by the Ba'athist "remnants". 

Bring on more regime change 
Now for the all-encompassing Iranian angle, because the whole drama, as usual, is mostly about "containment" of Iran. We just need to endure this to confirm it; the same old regurgitation about "evidence" that "Iran and its Syrian allies" have "cooperated" with ISIS and that Bashar al-Assad in Syria has a "business partnership" with ISIS. And don't forget the scaremongering; what's ahead is a "nuclear Iran" against a "Sunni Arab world" in which the great bogeymen remains al-Qaeda. 

Neo-con propaganda denouncing the US government for being in bed with Tehran against ISIS is, once again, disinformation. 

Commander of Iran's Basij, General Mohammad Reza Naqudi, was very close to the mark when he said, "Takfiri and Salafi groups in different regional states, especially in Syria and Iraq, are supported by the US", and that "the US is manipulating the Takfiri terrorists to tarnish the image of Islam and Muslims." The same applies to Speaker of the Majlis Ali Larijani; "It is obvious that the Americans and the countries around it have made such moves ... Terrorism has grown into an instrument for the big powers to advance their goals." 

What this all implies is that Tehran has identified the ISIS catwalk parade for what it is; a trap. Moreover, they are also convinced Washington won't break with its vassals at the House of Saud. Translation: Washington remains committed to old school GWOT. What Tehran is already, practically, supporting - also with "advisers" on the ground - is a myriad of Shi'ite militias who are being deployed to secure Baghdad and especially the Shi'ite holy cities, Najaf and Karbala. 

US Return of the Living Neo-Con Dead, meanwhile, insist on regurgitating their favorite theme; Maliki Maliki Maliki. Nothing of what's goin' on in Iraq has anything to do with Shock and Awe, the invasion, occupation and destruction of most of the country, Abu Ghraib, or the vicious, totally Washington-instigated sectarian war (Divide and Rule, all over again). It's all Maliki's fault. So he must be booted out. When everything fails - to the tune of trillions of dollars - the neo-con playbook always resets to default; regime change. 

Slouching towards Hardcore Sunnistan
It's all extremely fishy about ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Abu Dua, born in Samarra in 1971, a Saddam "remnant" but - crucially - a former prisoner of the US government in Camp Bocca from 2005 to 2009, as well as a former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It's no secret in the Levant that ISIS Men in Black were trained in 2012 by US instructors at a secret base in Safawi, in the northern desert of that fiction disguised as a country, Jordan, so they would later fight as Western-approved "rebels" in Syria. 

It was al-Baghdadi who sent a batch of Men in Black to set up Jabhat al-Nusra ("good terrorists", remember?) in Syria. He may have split from Jabhat in late 2013, but still remains in charge of a vast desert wasteland from northern Syria to Western Iraq. He's the new Osama bin Laden (the gift that keeps on giving, again), the all but certain Emir of an Islamically correct desert Caliphate in the heart of the Levant. 

Forget about Osama in the Hindu Kush; this is so much sexier. 

A hardcore Sunnistan between Iraq's Kurdish north and the Shi'te south, swimming in oil, extending all the way to Aleppo, Rakka and Deir ez-Zor in Syria, between the two rivers - the Tiger and the Euphrates - with Mosul as capital, back to its ancestral role of pivot between the twin rivers and the Mediterranean. Sykes-Picot, eat your heart out. 

Obviously, al-Baghdadi could not have pulled that awesome feat off all by himself. Enter his top Saddam "remnant" sidekick, Ba'ath party theorist extraordinaire Izzaat Ibrahim al-Douri, who happens to be from strategic Mosul. And most of all, enter the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries - an awesomely "secret" organization which has had the guile to dribble, like an infernal composite of Lionel Messi and Luiz Suarez, the whole Western intel apparatus, Orwellian-Panopticon NSA included. 

Well, not really, because this ISIS-Ba'athist coalition of the willing was brokered by none other than Bandar Bush - while he was still in action, with crucial, lateral input from Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan. No way to trace it all back to the Beltway. 

What the General Military Council managed to assemble was no less than all the "remnants" of the good old early 2000s Iraqi resistance, top tribal sheiks, merge it with ISIS, and create what might be dubbed a "Resistance Army" - those Badass Jihadis in Black in their white Toyotas, now the stuff of legend, performing the miracle of being untrackable by the NSA's satellite maze. They're so hip they even have their own Facebook page, with over 33,000 "likes". 

Balkanize or bust
Meanwhile, the agenda of the Empire of Chaos proceed unabated. Balkanization is already a fact. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, crucially a Kurd, pledged Kurdish Peshmerga "cooperation" with the Iraq army to keep oil-rich Kirkuk away from ISIS. Like clockwork, the Peshmergas for all practical purposes annexed Kirkuk. Grand Kurdistan beckons. 

Grand Ayatollah Sistani, also for all practical purposes, launched a Shi'ite jihad against ISIS. For his part, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Sayyid Ammar al-Hakim, all but resurrected their formidable paramilitary, the Badr Corps - very close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. These are real badasses, against which ISIS does not stand a chance. And Muqtada al-Sadr is launching "Peace Brigades" to protect the Shi'te holy cities and also Christian churches. Civil war rules. 

Meanwhile, in the Land of Oz, the Pentagon will certainly be able to extract extra funds for its perennial crusade to save Western civilization from Islamist terror. After all, there's a (ski masked) neo-Osama bin Laden in da hood. 

Although the majority of Iraqis reject balkanization, Sunnis will keep accusing Shi'ites of being Iranian pawns, and Shi'ites will keep accusing Sunnis of being the House of Saud's fifth column. ISIS will keep getting loads of cash from wealthy Saudi "donors". The US government will keep weaponizing Sunnis in Syria against Shi'ites and (perhaps) conducting soft "targeted military strikes" for Shi'ites against Sunnis in Iraq. Welcome to Divide and Rule run amok.

Putin Displays Ukraine Chess Mastery

Russia's celebrations of the 69th anniversary of the defeat of fascism in World War II come just days after Ukrainian neo-fascists enacted an appalling Odessa massacre. For those who know their history, the graphic symbolism speaks for itself. 

And then a geopolitical chess gambit added outright puzzlement to the trademark hypocrisy displayed by the self-proclaimed representatives of "Western civilization". 

The gambit comes from - who else - Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is now actively mixing chess moves with Sun Tzu's Art of War and Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. No wonder all those

American PR shills, helpless State Department spokespersons and NATOstan generals are clueless. 

Unlike the Obama administration's juvenile delinquent school of diplomacy - which wants to "isolate" Putin and Russia - a truce and possible deal in the ongoing Ukrainian tragedy has been negotiated between adults on speaking terms, Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then discussed and finally announced in a press conference by the president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Didier Burghalter. 

The deal will hold as long as the regime changers in Kiev - which should be described as the NATO neo-liberal, neo-fascist junta - abandon their ongoing "anti-terrorist operation" and are ready to negotiate with the federalists in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. [1]

Putin's gambit has been to sacrifice not one but two pieces; he'd rather have the referendums this Sunday in Eastern Ukraine be postponed. At the same time, changing the Kremlin's position, he said the presidential elections on May 25 might be a step in the right direction. 

Moscow knows the referendums will be erroneously interpreted by the misinformed NATOstan combo as an argument for Eastern Ukraine to join Russia, as in Crimea. They could be used as pretext for more sanctions. And most of all Moscow is keen to prevent any possible false flags. [2] 

Yet Moscow has not abandoned its firm position from the start; before a presidential election there should be constitutional changes towards federalization and more power for largely autonomous provinces. It's not happening anytime soon - if at all. 

With the Kiev NATO junta making an absolute mess of "governing"; the International Monetary Fund already running thedisaster capitalism show, Russia cutting off trade and energy subsidies, and the federalist movement growing by the minute after the Odessa massacre, Ukraine is so absolutely toxic that Moscow has all the time in the world on its side. Putin's strategy is indeed Tao Te Ching meets Art of War: watch the river flow while giving enough rope for your enemy to hang himself. 

You're with us or against us
Putin asking the people in the Donbass region to postpone the referendum - which will take place anyway [3] - unleashed a fierce debate, in eastern Ukraine and across Russia, over a possible Russian betrayal of Russian speakers in Ukraine. 

After all, the NATO neo-liberal, neo-fascist junta has unleashed an "anti-terrorist operation" against average Ukrainians where even the terminology comes straight from the "you're with us or against us" Cheney regime. 

And once again the Disinformer-in-Chief is - who else - US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is "very concerned about efforts of pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, in Lugansk to organize, frankly, a contrived, bogus independence referendum on May 11". It's "the Crimea playbook all over again and no civilized nation is going to recognize the results of such a bogus effort". 

It's hopeless to expect Kerry to know what he's talking about, but still: the people in Donbass are not separatists. These are average Ukrainians - factory workers, miners, store clerks, farmers - who are pro-democracy, anti-NATO junta and - oh, the capital crime - Russian speakers. 

And by the way, you don't need to be Thomas Piketty to identify this as classic class struggle; workers and peasants against oligarchs - the oligarchs currently aligned with the NATO junta, some deployed as regional governors, and all planning to remain in charge after the May 25 elections. 

The people in Donbass want federalism, and strong autonomy in their provinces. They don't want to split from Ukraine. Against the US-prescribed, Kiev-enforced "anti-terrorism" onslaught, they have their popular defense committees, local associations and yes, militias, to defend themselves. And most of all "bogus" referendums to make it absolutely clear they won't submit to a centralized, oligarch-infested junta. 

So the referendums will go ahead - and will be duly ignored by the NATOstan combo. The May 25 presidential election will go ahead - right in the middle of an "anti-terrorist operation" against almost half of the population - and will be recognized as "legitimate" by the NATOstan combo. 

Way beyond this cosmically shameful behavior of the "civilized" West, what next? 

Nothing will make the ironclad hatred the NATO neo-liberal neo-fascist junta with its Western Ukraine neo-nazi Banderastan supporters feel against the eastern Donbass go away. But then, in a few months, all Ukrainians will feel in their skins what the IMF has in store for them, irrespective of location. And wait if the new president - be it chocolate billionaire Petro Porashenko or holy corrupt "Saint Yulia" Timoschenko - doesn't pay Gazprom's US$2.7 billion energy bill. 

Once again, Putin does not need to "invade" anything. He knows this is not the way to "rescue" eastern and southern Ukraine. He knows the people in the Donbass will make life miserable for the NATO junta and its May 25 offspring. He knows when Kiev needs real cash - not the current IMF self-serving Mob-style loans - nobody in his right mind in the political midget EU will be forthcoming. Nobody will want to rescue a failed state. And Kiev will have to beg, once again, for Moscow's help, the lender of first and last resort. 

Lao Tzu Putin is far from going to checkmate. He may - and will - wait. The exceptionalist empire will keep doing what it does best - foment chaos - even as sensible Europeans, Merkel included, try somewhat for appeasement. Well, at least Washington's prayers have been answered. It took a while, but they finally found the new bogeyman: Osama Bin Putin. 

Notes:
1. Putin-Burkhalter talks: an elusive chance for Ukraine, Oriental Review, May 8, 2014.
2. Ukrainian forces prepare provocation against Russia in Donetsk, Voice of America, May 6, 2014.
3. 2 southeast Ukrainian regions to hold referendum May 11 as planned, RT, May 8, 2014. 

Checkmate Ahead: Russia Is Beating the U.S. In the Chess Game Over Ukraine

It's hardly a match between equals - as one is playing Monopoly while the other plays chess. It's as if Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been postponing his checkmate, while US Secretary of State John Kerry increasingly realizes he's facing the inevitable. 

Lavrov has explained over and over again, a loose federation is the only possible solution for Ukraine, as part of a "deep constitutional reform". That would imply ethnic - and even sentimentally - Russian eastern and southern Ukraine would be largely autonomous. Kerry gave signs of agreeing around two weeks ago that Ukrainian regions need more decision power; but then the White House recharged its moral blitzkrieg - coinciding with President Barack Obama's trip to The Hague and Brussels. Still, even after an inconclusive four-hour Kerry-Lavrov chess match in Paris, there will be a checkmate. 

Keep reading... Show less

Why It's Going to Be Impossible to Isolate Russia

German Chancellor Angela Merkel could teach U.S. President Barack Obama one or two things about how to establish a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As if Obama would listen. He'd rather boost his constitutional law professor self, and pompously lecture an elite Eurocrat audience in the glittering Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, like he did this Wednesday, on how Putin is the greatest threat to the U.S.-administered global order since World War II. Well, it didn't go that well; most Eurocrats were busy taking selfies or twittering.

Putin, meanwhile, met with the CEO of German engineering and electrical conglomerate Siemens, Joe Kaeser, at his official residence outside Moscow. Siemens invested more than U.S. $1.1 billion in Russia over the past two years, and that, Kaeser said, is bound to continue. Angela was certainly taking notes.

Obama couldn't behave otherwise. The constitutional law expert knows nothing about Russia, in his (meager) political career never had to understand how Russia works, and may even fear Russia — surrounded as he is by a coterie of spectacularly mediocre aids. His Brussels rhetorical tour de force yielded absolutely nothing — apart from the threat that if Putin persisted in his "aggression" against eastern Ukraine or even NATO members-countries the president of the United States would unroll a much stiffer sanction package.

What else is new, considering this by supreme CIA asset and former Pentagon head in the first Obama administration, Bob Gates, is what passes for political analysis in the U.S.

The $1 trillion game-changer

Keep reading... Show less

Why the Impact of U.S. Sanctions on Russia Is Going to Be Exactly Zero

"We are paying very close attention to the situation in Ukraine. We hope all parties can calmly maintain restraint to prevent the situation from further escalating and worsening. Political resolution and dialogue is the only way out."

This, via Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong, is Beijing's quite measured, official interpretation of what's happening in Ukraine, tailored for global consumption.

But here, in a People's Daily editorial, is what the leadership is really thinking. And the focus is clearly on the dangers of regime change, the "West's inability to understand the lessons of history", and "the final battlefield of the Cold War."

Yet again the West misinterpreted China's abstention from the U.N. Security Council vote on a U.S.-backed resolution condemning the Crimea referendum. The spin was that Russia — which vetoed the resolution — was "isolated." It's not. And the way Beijing plays geopolitics shows it's not.

Oh, Samantha …

Keep reading... Show less

Obama and the West's Ukraine Gambit Has Fizzled, and Now Putin's in the Driver's Seat

Let's cut to the chase — short and sweet. 

(1) The Obama administration's "strategic" gambit to extricate Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence — and ultimately annex it to NATO is in utter shambles. 

(2) The referendum in Crimea — 85 percent of turnout, roughly 93 percent voting for re-joining Russia, according to exit polls — is a done deal, as much as the oh-so-democratic European Union (E.U.) keeps threatening to punish people in Crimea for exercising their basic democratic rights. (By the way, when the U.S. got Kosovo to secede from Serbia, Serbians were offered no referendum). 

Keep reading... Show less

Ukraine Now Headed by Fascists and Neo-Nazis

In Ukraine, the West supported an unconstitutional putsch against an elected government perpetrated, among others, by fascist/neo-nazi storm troopers (Svoboda, Right Sector) instrumentalized by U.S. intelligence. After a Russian counterpunch, U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed that any referendum in Crimea would "violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law." 

This is just the latest instance in the serial rape of "international law". The rap sheet is humongous, including; NATO bombing Serbia for 78 days in 1999 to allow Kosovo to secede; the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent trillion-dollar occupation and civil war creation in Iraq; NATO/AFRICOM bombing Libya in 2011 invoking R2P ("responsibility to protect") as a cover to provoking regime change; U.S. investment in the secession of oil-wealthy South Sudan, so China has to deal with an extra geopolitical headache; and U.S. investment in perennial civil war in Syria. 

Yet Moscow still (foolishly?) believes international law should be respected — presenting to the UN Security Council classified information on all Western intel/psy-ops moves leading to the coup in Kiev, including "training" provided by Poland and Lithuania, not to mention Turkish intelligence involvement in setting up a second coup in Crimea. Russian diplomats called for an unbiased international investigation. That will never happen; Washington's narrative would be completely debunked. Thus a U.S. veto at the UN. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also called for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to objectively investigate those snipers shooting everyone on sight in Kiev, as revealed by Estonia's foreign minister to E.U. foreign policy supremo Catherine "I love Yats" Ashton. According to Russia's ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin, "a completely different picture would be drawn compared to what is being depicted by American media and, unfortunately, by some American and European politicians." Needless to say, there will be no investigation. 

Hi, I'm your good neo-nazi

Keep reading... Show less

The Clumsy Greed of the U.S. and the West on Full Display in Ukraine Disaster

Here's the U.S.'s exceptionalist promotion of "democracy" in action; Washington has recognized a coup d'etat in Ukraine that regime-changed a — for all its glaring faults — democratically elected government. 

And here is Russian President Vladimir Putin, already last year, talking about how Russia and China decided to trade in roubles and yuan, and stressing how Russia needs to quit the "excessive monopoly" of the U.S. dollar. He had to be aware the Empire would strike back. 

Now there's more; Russian presidential adviser Sergey Glazyev told RIA Novosti, "Russia will abandon the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency if the United States initiates sanctions against the Russian Federation." 

So the Empire struck back by giving "a little help" to regime change in the Ukraine. And Moscow counter-punched by taking control of Crimea in less than a day without firing a shot — with or without crack Spetsnaz brigades (U.K.-based think tanks say they are; Putin says they are not). 

Putin's assessment of what happened in Ukraine is factually correct; "an anti-constitutional takeover and armed seizure of power". It's open to endless, mostly nasty debate whether the Kremlin overreacted or not. Considering the record of outright demonization of both Russia and Putin going on for years — and now reaching fever pitch — the Kremlin's swift reaction was quite measured. 

Putin applied Sun Tzu to the letter, and now plays the U.S. against the E.U. He has made it clear Moscow does not need to "invade" Ukraine. The 1997 Ukraine-Russia partition treaty specifically allows Russian troops in Crimea. And Russia after all is an active proponent of state sovereignty; it's under this principle that Moscow refuses a Western "intervention" in Syria. 

What he left the door open for is — oh cosmic irony of ironies — an American invention/intervention (and that, predictably, was undetectable by Western corporate media); the UN's R2P — "responsibility to protect" — in case the Western-aligned fascists and neo-nazis in Ukraine threaten Russians or Russian-speaking civilians with armed conflict. Samantha Power should be proud of herself. 

Don't mess with Russian intelligence

Keep reading... Show less

Iran's Real 'Nuclear' Revolution: The 1979 Uprising That Shook The World

The nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are back this Tuesday in Vienna. The stakes couldn't be higher. It will be a long and winding road. Hidden agendas on both sides badly want the talks to fail - and will spare no effort towards that goal. 

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei could be interpreted as a stony realist, when he said that the talks will go nowhere. It's as if the Supreme Leader had read Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, a crucial book by Martha Gellhorn Prize winner Gareth Porter which is being launched today in New York. In the book, Porter thoroughly debunks the whole narrative of the Iran nuclear dossier as sold to the world by the George W Bush administration, assorted neo-cons and the Israeli Likud. 

Keep reading... Show less

Inside The New Cold War: Washington Sets Its Sights On Ukraine

Meet the new (cold) war, same as the old (cold) war. Same same, but different. One day, it's the myriad implications of Washington's "pivoting" to Asia - as in the containment of China. The next day, it's the perennial attempt to box Russia in. Never a dull moment in the New Great Game in Eurasia. 

On Russia, the denigration of all things Sochi - attributable to the inherent stupidity of Western corporate media "standards" - was just a subplot of the main show, which always gets personal; the relentless demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin. [1] 

Keep reading... Show less

6 Steps to Sealing the Nuclear Deal With Iran

The stakes could not be higher, or the issues tougher, as the world's six major powers and Iran launch talks on February 18 on a final resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis. 

The goal "is to reach a mutually agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful," says the temporary Joint Plan of Action, which calls for six months of negotiations. If talks fail, the prospects of military action and potentially another Middle East conflict soar. 

Six issues are pivotal to an accord. The terms on each must be accepted by all parties - Iran on one side and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States on the other - or there is no deal. The Joint Plan notes, "This comprehensive solution would constitute an integrated whole where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." 

Keep reading... Show less

This Is the Week Where the World's Billionaires Gather in Davos and Pretend They're Saviors of the World

Masters of the Universe, vaguely real or totally fake, who want to play savior all flocked to Switzerland this week. In Montreux, one may "save" Syria at the very un-jazzy Geneva II charade, which I have dealt with here. In the interminable business meeting known as Davos, one has the possibility to save no less than the whole world. 

In Davos, as an extra bonus, one may even play savior of Syria. A 75-minute simulation session is on offer, where global suits may experience how it feels to be a Syrian refugee. The menu includes detention, being chased by a replica gun-toting militia, and being shouted at by aid workers. Luckily for the attendees, it does not include a meeting with Bandar Bush-sponsored beheading jihadis. The insufferable Bono is rumored to be participating. 

Keep reading... Show less

What Is It That Causes a Great Power Like the U.S. to Rot from Within?

FLORENCE — 2014 has barely dawned, and I'm standing in a cold, rainy evening at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, staring at the round plaque on the floor — ignored by the throngs of Chinese tourists — celebrating the hanging and burning of the monk Savonarola in May 23, 1498, accused of conspiring against the Florentine Republic.

Keep reading... Show less

Empire Nation: America Is Hooked On Hegemony

Lord Acton, the 19th century British historian and politician, famously stated that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It would appear, however, that the United States has access to a secret Actonian codicil that states, " ... but US hegemonic power? That's frickin' awesome!" - because the government in Washington seems to be willfully blind to the costs, perils and abuses inherent in the acquisition and assertion of global hegemony. 

Hegemony - the unmatched ability to direct events, as opposed to power sufficient to protect and deter - is unambiguously baked into US policy. 

As President Barack Obama put it in a document titled "Sustaining US Global Leadership" (understandably asserting thatUS leadership is "demanded" by the world, rather than pursued as a matter of US interests):

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES