Pepe Escobar

The Amazing Inside Story of How Erdogan and His Allies Blocked a Sophisticated Coup Attempt

When Turkish President/aspiring Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport early Saturday morning, he declared the attempted coup against his government a failure, and a “gift from God.”

Keep reading... Show less

Why $yria Is Crucial for the Energy Future of the Mideast

Syria is an energy war. With the heart of the matter featuring a vicious geopolitical competition between two proposed gas pipelines, it is the ultimate Pipelinestan  war, the term I coined long ago for the 21st century imperial energy battlefields.

Keep reading... Show less

How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington's Designs to Control the Planet

Let’s start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations -- the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS' New Development Bank) -- whose acronyms you’re unlikely to recognize either.  Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.

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

Is China Going to Be the World's Superpower Within a Few Short Decades?

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

Keep reading... Show less

How China Is Transforming the World

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here.

Keep reading... Show less

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

A New Future? How China and Russia (and Maybe Germany) Will Try Squeeze Washington Out of Eurasia

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

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.

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.

A Powerful Long-term Alliance Between China and Russia Is Unnerving Washington

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here.

Keep reading... Show less

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

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

Why Iran Is the Country to Watch in 2014

The big story of 2014 will be Iran. Of course, the big story of the early 21st century will never stop being US-China, but it's in 2014 that we will know whether a comprehensive accord transcending the Iranian nuclear program is attainable; and in this case the myriad ramifications will affect all that's in play in the New Great Game in Eurasia, including US-China. 

As it stands, we have an interim deal of the P5+1 (the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany) with Iran, and no deal between the US and Afghanistan. So, once again, we have Afghanistan configured as a battleground between Iran and the House of Saud, part of a geopolitical game played out in overdrive since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 along the northern rim of the Middle East all the way to Khorasan and South Asia. 

Keep reading... Show less

The Guy Running One of the World's Largest Mercenary Armies Thinks He's a Sexy Badass Patriot

It's the late 1990s' Clinton boom-boom years. You are a young millionaire US patriot with a Navy SEAL background. What are you gonna do? You invest in a badass private army start-up and you go fight "terra, terra, terra" across Dar al Islam. A single owner; no pesky stockholders; no board of directors; no government bureaucracy. You can be "nimble and aggressive". You become—literally—the Prince of War. What's not to like?

This is Erik Prince's My Way, told with some measure of "contract humor" and the obligatory pious references to a "life's mission" to "serve God, family and the United States"; this is the inside story of how Blackwater turned into "something resembling its own branch of the military" and "the ultimate tool in the war on terror". In the manner of Audi extolling the merits of Vorsprung Durch Technik, Prince hails it as a "proud tale of performance excellence and driven entrepreneurialism".

No question; God may be great, but he would certainly eschew a perpetual photo-op at the roof of the Sistine Chapel to be able to toy with such an awesome PMC (private military contractor). Prince, by the way, is ballsy enough to—correctly—depict Cristobal Colon, aka Columbus, in 1492 as a pioneering PMC.

Inevitably, this also had to be the story of how Blackwater "was slagged as the face of military evil", "gun-toting bullets for hire". So forget about Jeremy Scahill's 2007 book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army indicting Prince's creation; whatever end of the ideological spectrum—from an heir of Plato to an heir of Aristoteles and every political theorist in-between—the real fun for the reader starts when Prince meticulously destroys US "politicians" who "feign indignation and pretend my men hadn't done exactly what they had paid us handsomely to do".

And handsomely that was. To star as a brand new branch of the military/security complex earned Blackwater a cool US$2 billion, providing weaponized thrills to the Pentagon, the State Department and—in the shadows—the CIA. Not bad for an initial investment of $6 million—Prince family money—on what was initially concocted "as a cross between a shooting range and a country club for special forces personnel" in back-of-beyond Moyock in North Carolina, on the eastern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp.

PMCs such as those employed by Blackwater—numbering a staggering 200,000—would end up representing 54 percent of the Pentagon's "workforce" in Afghanistan and Iraq, not including the 3,000 working for the State Department.

Now for the bad news in what's billed as an inside story. Forget about finding anything about Blackwater in bed with the CIA. The agency redacted everything to unreadable status. What's left is a lame postscript by a neo-con.

So nothing, for instance, about Blackwater Jason Bournes, uber-fixers past and present, and their adventures as part of an elite unit disguised under the bland acronym GRS (Global Response Staff). A clear case of (unwritten) shadow war. Just your average "surrogate army".

In Afghanistan, immediately after 9/11, Blackwater's great coup was to befriend notorious Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. The contact was Charlie Santos, a US rep for Saudi-based Delta Oil.

In the late 1990s, Santos was playing—what else—Pipelineistan, as in trying to convince the Taliban to accept the terms attached to the TAPI gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and (maybe) India. We all know how that ended. But because the Taliban later put out a fatwa of sorts on Santos, he conquered Dostum's trust.

As the CIA typically had no decent ground intel and could not trust the Pakistani ISI (Inter Services Intelligence, Blackwater stepped in, "delivering" to the CIA not only Dostum but the flamboyant King of Herat, warlord Ishmail Khan.

Prince had me howling with laughter when he stresses that Blackwater maintained "the highest ethics while dealing with these contacts"; I pictured a Bunuel-esque Discreet Charm of the Afghan Bourgeoisie shot by Scorsese. Or Tarantino. Still one favor led to another, and by 2002 an incorporated offshoot, Blackwater Security Consulting, was tasked to provide security for the CIA headquarters in Kabul.

Then came "Operation Iraq Freedom". Blackwater's contribution to the birth pangs of a "free Iraq" was to protect the repellent Paul Bremer, he of the ridiculous navy blazer-and-combat boots outfit, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

Prince does not explain the trickery for Blackwater to bag a $21.3 million, no-bid contract to become Bremer's detail; just a "someone in the Army's contracting department recommended Blackwater".

I vividly remember Bremer's caravan in action in the streets of Baghdad in the fall of 2003; to say that average Iraqis were terrified is a huge understatement. Yet Prince alerts: these were no war profiteers; just your average, innocent "private company providing armed guards to a war zone".

It would take a Fort Meade roomful of computers to check/correct/edit Prince's own version of, for instance, the "rebuilding" of Fallujah in April 2004—dubbed Operation Vigilant Resolve—after the murder of four Blackwater contractors; or the 2004 Blackwater versus the Mahdi Army four-hour battle in Najaf ("no credit for or mention of Blackwater").

Still, the real meat is in the saga of Blackwater creating a "high-visibility deterrent" protecting the State Department; as in "If our motorcades didn't run, the State Department didn't run".

Prince is at pains to insist, "we drove aggressively, sometimes offensively". Once again, sorry; with "an armored motorcade that trailed only the US Army and Marines", the average Baghdadi could not but see a bunch of lethal maniacs. Iraqis—Sunni and Shi'ite alike—invariably described Blackwater's shootings to me as "acts of terrorism".

Who were these noble patriots/mercenaries? Prince answers: "Mainly former noncommissioned military officers and former members of the special operations services and elite light infantry ... Roughly two-thirds were former US Army; about one-quarter were Marines, and the rest former Navy SEALs, police SWAT team officers, and former federal agents from the FBI, Secret Service and other agencies."

All of them of course "proudly patriotic", and cashing in as much as $650 for each 12-hour a day shift in the "hot zone".

Talk about a super-deal for the Bush administration; Prince quotes reports certifying Blackwater as "a more cost-effective security option in Baghdad" than the Pentagon.

Blackwater reached the apex by 2007: nearly 2,500 contractors deployed in almost a dozen countries, with a database of 50,000 former special forces, soldiers and retired law enforcement types. Then came The Fall.

Prince is most effective—and unforgiving—while depicting the sunset George W Bush years: "By late 2007 the company I'd built from scratch was being ground down by the plate tectonics of political battles in Washington." The State Department was "legitimately terrified of the operational secrets I could divulge—specifically, the fact that everything Blackwater's men did in Iraq was by State's direct command."

And politicians—what else is new—didn't have a clue: "We were, after all, part of what then CENTCOM head Admiral William Fallon once gruffly referred to as the government's 'surrogate army'."

By 2009, "Blackwater was publicly dragged through the mud." And this while the State Department was also dirty as hell.

Yet by late 2009, after four years of Blackwater's "myriad duties", the "surrogate army" had earned over $1 billion from Foggy Bottom. Mud never tasted so good. PR nightmare or not, the company was finally renamed "Xe Services", which, according to Prince, "means ... nothing. Which was exactly the point."

The early Obama years were bitter. Prince blames Hillary Clinton's State Department for "theatrically exploding its relationship with Blackwater" in 2009—and on top of it handing the ultra-lucrative gig to another contractor, Triple Canopy.

It was time to bow out; Prince sold Blackwater in 2010; it's now a softy outfit known as Academi—still protecting diplomats and providing "training". PMC competitors DynCorp and Triple Canopy, though, are still thriving, not to mention the Brits with Aegis and Blue Mountain.

Make no mistake—with or without Blackwater, "surrogate armies" are the future. The United Nations will eventually use them; peacekeeping forces—I've seen a few—are usually staffed by frankly incompetent soldiers from very low-income countries. Prince does not seem to want to corner this market, even though, in the mid-2000s, Blackwater pitched exactly the same thing to the State Department: a "relief with teeth" humanitarian team, as in a privately trained 1,700-strong "peacekeeping package", complete with its own air force, helicopters, cargo ships, aerial surveillance, medical supply chain and combat group.

Prince now lives in Abu Dhabi and sees Africa as the new Holy Grail (AFRICOM would concur), investing in logistics/security services to the booming oil and gas industry. He has delocalized and diversified—just like the Pentagon; one may bet that at least half of the Pentagon's humongous budget will remain outsourced for the foreseeable future.

And the revolving door is not going away—with so many aspiring Princes of War leaving the sprawling Pentagon-centric system to launch their own start-ups and sell stuff to their former buddies on the inside, not to mention ensuring that the militarized assembly line keeps churning "unsung heroes". So many wars on myriad global terrors to prosecute, so precious few surrogate armies.

Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror, by Erik Prince. Portfolio Hardcover (November 18, 2013). ISBN-13: 978-1591847212. Price US$15.33 (Kindle $13.99); 416 pages.

The Hysteria Brigade: Israel and Saudi Arabia Are Up In Arms Over the Iran Deal

The 34-year Wall of Mistrust between the US and Iran started tumbling down on Sunday at 3 am local time in Geneva. Or has it? 

It is, after all, only a mutually acknowledged "first step" - a deal to start negotiating a real deal (see the full text here ) And the terms, for Iran, are harsh. 

Iran will be allowed to trade again in gold, petrochemicals, car and plane parts, and will have some US$4.2 billion in oil sales unfrozen. Yet a fortune remains in permafrost - including $10 billion in European banks. And there is still $50 billion with Iran's Asian energy clients - China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey - that still cannot be repatriated. 

Over the next six months Iran must; stop enriching uranium above 5%; dilute its stock of 20%-enriched uranium; install no more centrifuges; refrain from fueling the heavy-water reactor in Arak; and accept a lot more International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections (which have unearthed no evidence whatsoever uranium has been diverted to weaponization). 

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES