History is being made, or remade, as we speak.
Upon the death of King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia, I wrote about the “winds of change” in the Middle-East, and how that would impact the desultory régime in Egypt. The significance of the change of leadership there wasn’t the fact of the accession of King Salman to the throne, but the coming of age of a new generation as his sons take over all the most importance political positions, cementing this power with the eldest, Mohamed bin Salman, becoming deputy crown prince. These relatively young men take over a seething Kingdom with 3 million Twitter users tweeting 2 million tweets a day. Mujtahid, for instance, is a pseudonym for an insider twitter account which regularly posts royal family secrets and receives mountains of critical messages back. Abdulla’s police state had repressed just about every aspect of the country, in effect to no avail. Strangely it found it too controversial to close down the Twittersphere.
The paranoia of princes
Abdulla’s poisonous legacy won’t be easy to fix. The blind sponsoring of terror against the Syrian and Iranian régimes helped to raze Syria to the ground, one of the most beautiful and historic countries in the world, terrifying its inhabitants. A cultural pearl was nuked, and a gentle kind people were made to starve, freeze, endure rampant sickness, and suffer the kind of mental illnesses that turned their sons into willing recruits in the aimless fighting. If shelling didn’t do for a 1,200 year old mosque, then the crazed followers of ISIS would take mallets to it. It never dawned on Abdulla that this would morph into a direct threat to the Kingdom, and that he would need to build protective electronic fences all along the border with Iraq. As soon as the Syrian Arab Spring broke out in Dir‘aa in March 2011, in which violence originally never escalated beyond fist fights, Abdulla’s régime sent in its armed goons, giving Assad all the excuse he needed to meet a “foreign threat”.
And Assad knew immediately who was sending the guns. Abdulla had never forgiven Assad for calling his manhood in question (the Arab term is “half-man”) in public at Arab League meetings, for his lack of support of the Palestinians. When, in October 2009, Abdulla visited Assad to coax him out of the Iranian axis, he was shocked to find photos of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Nasrallah on his desk. Normal diplomatic protocol would have it that you would change the stereotypical family photo on your desk, for that of your state visitor. But Assad was nothing if not consistent in refusing to do so: the family photo was replaced for photos of Abdulla’s most unfavourite people. If 220,000 Syrians have died, 3 million have fled, and 7 million are internally displaced, this is not due only to the Neanderthal character of Assad’s régime, but also to the blind pride of an old man, who, as guardian of the Two Holy Mosques had a sacred duty to protect the country, which, besides anything else, was the summer residence of most of the wealthy families of the Quraish tribe in Mecca, even before the prophet Mohamed, one of their scions, was born (although Abdulla himself didn’t come from that tribe).
The corruption at the core of Abdulla’s régime, run by Khaled Tuwaijri, and the King’s limp tolerance of the manipulation of the Saudi body politic by the UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed, richer than Croesus though he may be, through Tuwaijri, was nothing short of stupefying. What is yet more extraordinary than Mohamed bin Zayed’s wealth, is the extent of his paranoia. A document released to the Arab Secrets site (scroll down for the English document) by an officer in the UAE army, which related to a meeting in January 24, 2007 with US Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, tells it all. Despite UAE arms spending breaking records every year, Mohamed bin Zayed says that he doesn’t trust his own armed forces, because they would respond to any call by “a holy man from Mecca”. It turns out that he buys his own personal protection from Academi, previously Xe services, previously Blackwater, previously… or is that G4S? His consequent need to find a conduit like Tuwaijri to encourage the Saudis to crack down on their own countrymen to prevent another seizure of the Grand Holy Mosque was clear. He had the money to buy any level of loyalty imaginable. From the document, it appears he is spooked by Burns broaching the subject of democracy. Not only is he dismissive of the idea, but his trepidation over the future political development of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan is plain.
The same UAE officer tells Arabs Secrets that he was astonished at how Mohamed bin Zayed funded and specifically promoted internecine conflicts between Fatah and Hamas, through his Palestinian stooge and Israeli collaborator Mohamed Dahlan. All the events that exploded attempts to create a unity government in Palestine were funded and planned from Abu Dhabi in close coordination with Mossad. There was also the alliance with the bitter Ali Abdullah Saleh, deposed by the Yemeni Arab Spring of 2012, who helped Mohamed bin Zayed plan a military take-over of Yemen by the Houthis, a Shi’a tribe from the Northern border region, in order to get rid of the al-Islah (Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood) coalition. According to the content of the Burns document, where Iran was mentioned as a threat, such a strategy shouldn’t make sense, since it gives Iran a foothold in the geopolitically strategic zone on Bab el-Mandab. Clearly, everybody is a threat for this paranoid prince, and Iran was the lesser of evils: anyway, it would be Saudi’s problem. King Salman, on his accession, immediately moved to reverse policy in Yemen.
This brings us to Egypt and Mohamed bin Zayed’s role in undermining the Morsi government and promoting Sisi’s coup. The prince’s agents participated (according to the most recent Mekamellen TV leaks), alongside Naguib Sawiris, another Mossad buddy, in the funding of the Tamarrod (Rebellion) movement, which organized the 30th June media pantomime in Tahrir Square, designed to give credence to the Egyptian military’s power grab. The Egyptian coup split opinion sharply in the Saudi Royal family. In fact, within days of the coup and led by Saud al-Shirim, Imam of the Grand Holy Mosque, preachers across Saudi Arabia launched a wave of condemnatory sermons, damning Sisi to hell. Al-Shirim, who was summarily fired by Abdulla, has since been reinstated by King Salman. The reinstatement took place on the day after Tuwaijri’s demise. Since then, the Union of Muslim Scholars, headed by Muslim Brother, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has met in Mecca. A number of carefully worded statements have been made by the new Saudi régime to say that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be considered as a terrorist organisation, while sources close to the Union of Muslim Scholars admitted that the Brotherhood represented its “backbone”.
Judging by the flawed characters of these absolute monarchs and princes who have shaped the Arab winter, democracy cannot come soon enough.
A new departure for Europe
History was made in the events of 11 February 2015 in Minsk, which will have a significant indirect impact on the Middle East. Before coming to the relevance of this to the Middle East, it is necessary to set out the characteristics of this event and explain how it relates to the overall international situation.
Angela Merkel and François Hollande invited Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko to the Minsk II summit on the Ukraine situation. Neither the US, nor EU apparatchiks, nor Donbass leaders were involved. A peace deal was signed which has all the appearances of being extremely fragile. Appearances are sometimes misleading, and in this case, the omission of the US from Minsk II, is held by most, to be evidence of this. Isn’t it the US, after all, which is supposed to be the one running and funding a violent fascist anti-Russia régime in Kiev, and pushing for war? This has led some commentary to dismiss the event and others to go as far as predicting nuclear war. There are two points to make in this regard:
(i) The post-nuclear world: The very fact that we live in times of cyber and covert wars, colour revolutions (like the 30th June in Tahrir Square), with the National Endowment for Democracy behind country destabilisations, means that mankind, that is the nuclear powers, have basically decided that they don’t really want a nuclear war. This also means that the nature of this new post-nuclear environment is an uncertain one. Unlike events on the traditional battlefield, developments are hard to fathom. As in the case of the Egyptian coup, only post-hoc analysis reveals which US government departments were for, and which against, the coup, as well as who the instigators might have been. Analysts often clutch at straws to do their job.
For instance, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advisory role to Obama, has made his “Grand Chessboard” a target for analysis, especially in the Russian media’s coverage of Ukraine. Military metaphor pervades the book, and the context in which it is used is unfortunate (“Eurasia is … the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played”. p.31). We know, however, that military metaphor is commonplace in everyday language, just as when I myself “attack” my critics. Brzezinski lives, like us, in a post-nuclear world, and is not discussing military warfare as such in his book, but “maneuver, diplomacy, coalition building, co-optation, and the very deliberate deployment of one’s political assets” (p.32). In “The Choice”, which isn’t so often discussed, he condemns the Iraq War in no uncertain terms, and his disapproval of the likes of the Afghan War, leads to his airing of grave concerns about, what he calls, demagogically proclaimed misdiagnoses and geo-strategic quicksands which are “profoundly dangerous to American security, challenge American global leadership, and contribute to greater international chaos”.
(ii) The poisonous client effect: And that is precisely the point – we constantly have misdiagnoses and we are in chaos. The footprints of some or other US agency are all over the Kiev coup in virtue of neo-con Victoria Nuland’s various statements on the matter, while Nuland appears to be on the board of US companies that might have interests in Ukraine. That doesn’t mean, however, that the US government has declared war on Russia, even if the Western media has. After all talk is cheap, and when it comes to John Kerry’s meanderings, diplomacy is all about trying to gain brownie points and constant (mostly disconnected) posturing. More importantly, Kerry is constantly digging himself out of holes dug for him by the Empire’s clients. When “chickenshit”™ régimes like Israel or the current government in Kiev, know they have the backing of the US in the “great game”, they use it to their advantage and often to the US’s disadvantage. Japan, which is a serious country, does the same when it comes to China. Thus the US isn’t really in control, and it is often a hindrance to regional solutions.
Merkel’s non invitation of the US at Minsk II, and her invitation of Poroshenko alone, is due to the fact that, if he can get agreement from his people over the heads of the fascist Red Sector, he is the de facto representative of Ukraine. What was equally significant was the non invitation of EU apparatchiks for the same reasons that the US wasn’t invited. Minsk II was purely a Franco-German deal. EU had, on Merkel’s and Hollande’s views, messed up on Ukraine. The EU has, on Eastern European questions, been regularly led by the nose by Poland, which in virtue of its large US diaspora, makes it another client of the Empire, in fact a serious one – not quite Japan, but close to South Korea. What is more, in view of the size of the US Ukrainian diaspora, Ukraine could become a natural ally of Poland in the geopolitical scheme of things, if only it could be prized away from the Russian sphere of influence (and the Russian speakers somehow excommunicated). The Baltics are already on the Polish slate, but they are small and Ukraine would be a serious catch. So here we have another effect of the “poisonous client” syndrome.
The Donbass leaders did not attend Minsk II, because Putin never intended them to be there. It was his deal for an autonomous but not sovereign Donbass, which he would deliver in exchange for Ukraine not joining NATO. After the attack by Donetsk leader Alexander Borodai on the key industrial city of Mariupol (May-June 2014), Putin withdrew his support, Borodai was recalled to Moscow and returned to Donetsk in August 2014 to resign. Putin’s neither in nor out strategy perpetuated a stalemate which drained the Ukraine and threatened instability in Europe, while reinforcing the point that Russia would nevertheless stand by the country’s (Crimea-less) sovereignty. Ukraine otherwise could potentially break up into four or more clapped-out statelets. This is what eventually convinced Merkel and Hollande to break the stalemate and seek unilaterally to make a deal, without the hindrance of the US and the EU, for a number of very pressing reasons.
A deep contradiction within the US body politic is the status of its military. Despite everything I’ve said so far about us living in a post-nuclear world, such an assessment is something that is in my mind, as it may indeed be in Brzezinski’s mind, or in the mind of many politicians. However, the actual US military is still sprawled across the planet like a beached whale, equipped with frighteningly large nuclear arsenals. It still has to come to terms with the fact that it is in Brzezinski’s words only a “political asset”. How long can we last in this twilight world safely? If the very bloody war in the Ukraine is being fought by the likes of “Academi, previously Xe services, previously Blackwater, previously…” (on both sides), what is the point of the military as it stands? It seems hanging on to Afghanistan for dear life, just like it is clung on to its beach-front properties in Okinawa by having Hillary Clinton manoeuvre Yukio Hatoyama out of power.
The fact is that the Empire has now crashed on the shores of Syria and the Ukraine, just as it did on the shores of Georgia in 2008. These are second and third wake up calls for the recognition that there is a real world out there. The contradictions within the US body politic doesn’t just make it irrelevant, it makes it positively dangerous. In the Middle-East, instead of choosing its friends wisely and actually taking control of its own affairs, the US acts like a drunken joyrider driving across the lawns of suburban neighbourhoods in stolen cars with its smelly scruffy pals. As a result, the people of the Middle East suffer terribly. Half a billion people there live in uncertain conditions. Half of those have PTSD and will swim to Europe if necessary to get out of their hell, and there they will become tomorrow’s terrorists, not because they have hatred of the West, but because (like Mohamed Amzawi – aka Jihadi John) they are “nice guys” who have simply gone nuts. This brings me back to the Merkel/Hollande mission at Minsk II.
If Merkel and Hollande have taken the leads out of the EU’s hands on Ukraine to cut a deal with Russia, it is not only because of EU mismanagement. That was merely the tactical side of the matter. The urgent strategic point (beyond the ken of EU apparatchiks) is that, in the face of a continuing tsunami of immigrants from the Middle-East, their publics are discontented, and Islamophobia is dangerously on the rise. 10% of Europeans are now Muslims, and in many European cities that number can reach 24%. Meanwhile the Arab-Israeli War grinds on in the streets of Paris – Charlie Hebdo was merely a momentary raising of the temperature. A socially troubled Europe needs Russia as an essential partner in stabilising a Middle East – a region with which Russia is physically deeply interconnected. An economically depressed Europe also needs the Middle East no longer only as an oil supplier, but as a near abroad which is economically and culturally vibrant. Don’t believe the official EU statistics on their economy: they are fixed just as they are in the US. Italy (supposedly the 8th largest economy in the world), for instance, hasn’t grown at all since it joined the Euro in 2002, and is, like desperate Greece, on the front line of waves of despairing migrants.
Exporting democracy – or just exporting power?
The problem ultimately though isn’t with the US military, or the politicians as such, it’s with the liberal intelligentsia, who through the think tank universe, dominates the foreign policy establishment, and provides the unthinking media with its lens on the world. The fact is, in complete contradiction with its self-assessment as a vanguard of the Enlightenment, that critical thought there died a long time ago. If – just to clarify what I should like to address in this section – new institutionalist economist and Nobel Prize winner Douglass North is right that in social science “the foundation of human interaction is a construct of the human mind” (North: Understanding the Process of Economic Change. p. 83), then we are in serious trouble: Brzezinski’s notion that we may be floundering in quicksands immediately comes to mind.
For quarter of century, since the coming of Bill Clinton in 1993, through the administrations of George W. Bush and Barak Obama, we have endured American political thought soaked in Wilsonian idealism and exceptionalism, but one which is subject to a seemingly involuntary blind spot in respect of Israel which turns the whole thing into utter gibberish. Obama sounds like a mental patient when he says: “In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests — from peace treaties with Israel, to shared efforts against violent extremism. So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded”. There is nothing to criticise here, because none of it makes sense.
However Woodrow Wilson himself didn’t make much sense. Even before AIPAC, Wilson’s acquiescence to the Balfour Declaration, a document overtly about the dispossession of people (rather than outright) colonisation, should clearly have been against his internationalist liberal principles. That he agreed to the Declaration is particularly odd given that Wilson was an academic, and that academics normally try to be systematic. However, Wilson was in thrall to his Zionist advisers (Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter). This became clear in his over-enthusiastic role in the Sykes-Picot carve up of Syria/Palestine, which became an embarrassment to the French. His insistence on keeping the strategic Litany River on the British side was “costing them” dearly (David Lloyd George. The Truth about the Peace Treaties. 2. pp. 1178-9).
Let us see if digging deeper here gets us to a new understanding. Wilson was pivotal with his “middle solution” in the “corporate reconstruction” of America. His notion of American exceptionalism was ostensibly down to the advent of the “great (corporate) combinations” at the turn of the twentieth century, which he protected from “trust-busting”, because he thought they had been legitimated by evolutionary fitness (Sklar: The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism 1890-1916. pp.413-4). He wasn’t for the “little man”, because he thought the days of individual competition were over, although the “little man” would be catered for in the new “cooperative” environment. It is on the basis of this social revolution that British and other imperialisms were bad and American Imperialism was good (Steigerwald: Wilsonian Idealism in America. p.31). It was a period in which, Wilson wrote, “we have changed our economic conditions from top to bottom and with that our organisation of life” (Sklar: p.390).
More to the point, in this new period, the American founders were no longer relevant because, he continued, this “was a new and strange age… with new affairs alike in economics and politics of which Jefferson knew nothing” (Sklar: p.403). Consequently the 1787 constitution was no longer fit for purpose, and Wilson advocated a parliamentary system with greater power for the executive (corporate style) (Pestritto (ed.): Woodrow Wilson: The Essential Political Writings. pp 159). So when talk happens about Wilson’s “making the world safer for democracy”, there is a subliminal sleight of hand: talk is about claiming superiority for a country with, historically, a (redundant) democratic system, but which is legitimised in terms of authoritarian executive power. American Imperialism is good in Sidney Sherwood’s words (an academic colleague of Wilson) because it offers the world an “historic superiority in the capacity for organization” (1899). The whole Wilsonian “middle solution” which essentially gave us modern America was one, supposedly, where “society trumped the state”. However, society was understood to be the collectivity of corporations. The diluvial corporate developments of the time were entirely motivated by the desire for monopolisation (Lamoreaux, The Great Merger Movement in American Business 1895-1904. p. 6). If the point of organisation was efficiency, this was not an objective concept; it was internally focused within the corporation.
So Wilsonian idealism is nothing but the desire to exercise power, and if that is the goal, the desire to displace the Palestinians from their homeland makes sense. Obama’s overt decision to subjugate “countries like Egypt” under the yoke of bloody military juntas is consistent with this understanding of Wilsonianism, as is the lame postscript that he “will persistently press for reforms”, which is merely lip service being paid to a historical form of government that America used to have, but one which is – à la Wilson – no longer relevant in the modern world. Obama’s presidency has followed the Bush administration, which in turn unconsciously followed Wilson’s political musings, by manipulating the judiciary and circumventing the legislative at every possible turn to present the American public with – to use an Israeli expression – “new facts on the ground”. The War on Terror is central to the process of the executive power grab.
At the centre of our floundering in ideational quicksands Brzezinski sees that “We are focusing specifically on one word, which is being elevated into a specter, defined as an entity, presented as somehow unified but unrelated to any specific event or place—and that word is terrorism.” He goes on to try and clear the fog “I don’t deny that terrorism is a reality… But it is a symptom of something larger and more complicated, related to the global turmoil… [and] [t]hat turmoil is the product of the political awakening, the fact that today vast masses of the world are not politically neutered, as they have been throughout history.” When Brzezinski stopped talking about chessboards, I think Obama probably stopped listening.
The Middle East is the answer
I also think we’ve stopped listening to Obama. Just as the US was left out of Minsk II, it will be left out of the resolution of the situation in the Middle East. In Minsk II the effect of the limits of Empire took hold. In the Middle-East is it the “Israeli effect” that is taking hold: the “poisonous client” effect if you like. John Kerry’s senseless efforts at a peace process have turned the US into more than a laughing stock. Foreign policy is part of a collective consciousness, and as noted in the above analysis of US president-speak, the collective consciousness seems comatose. The inability of the US intelligentsia to redirect social discourse, to apply critical thought to reconstructing American official discourse in particular, has turned the country into a sad autistic hulk, which will increasingly sit at the fringes of developments, being dragged hither and thither by events.
The address to Congress by Israel’s pungent prime minister against the wishes of the White House and the fake rapturous applause by the majority of the house is mere further evidence of this decline. But this in turn is evidence of Israel’s decline. Israel’s aggressiveness and its inability to become part of the region it exists in, makes it increasingly desperate. The vast subventions of arms it needs from the US are to secure precarious drilling platforms, on the edges offshore oil fields it illegally tries to exploit, from Hizbulla and Hamas rockets. Meanwhile the energy situation in the country gets worse, life becomes increasingly expensive, and it has to people its country by appealing to crazed religious extremists from France, since Russian Jews no longer want to go there.
While Netanyahu foams at the mouth about the Iranian threat, he fails to see that a change is taking place in the countries of the Sunna immediately around him. No-one is frightened of Israel’s military any more. ISIS has pricked Saudi’s royal tribe out of a deep sleep, and they awake to a buzzing Twittersphere. Most importantly, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s transformation of Turkey into an Islamic democracy, which is stable and growing at a fast pace, has set a new example within the collective Islamic consciousness. The problem of the insane régime in Egypt will be resolved, and the Sunni region will become productive once again. Merkel and Hollande seem to have it as their priority to help. I don’t think we can expect much though from US/EU apparatchiks. Meanwhile, Israel is panicking and wants a new war because the development of democracies in the region will show it up for the racist, fascist state that it is.
Omar Kassem can be reached through his website Different Traditions.