donderdag 2 oktober 2014

Michel Krielaars van de NRC 3


Fraai decor, ook binnen. Henk Pröpper (directeur De Bezige Bij), Michel Krielaars (chef bijlage Boeken NRC Handelsblad)


Michel Krielaars noteerde over Rusland:

Een land waar zekerheid nooit heeft bestaan… een land van onmetelijke tegenstellingen, waar rechtvaardigheid schaars is.

En de Rus die Krielaars citeert heeft volledig gelijk, wat dat betreft lijkt Rusland met zijn kapitalistische systeem als twee druppels water op de neoliberale VS. Maar dit laatste nu is iets dat Krielaars niet kan beseffen, en wel omdat hij geen intellectuele integriteit bezit. Voor hem geldt dat het 'Westen met zijn ethische normen en waarden wezenlijk aan de ontwikkeling [kan] bijdragen,' waarbij Rusland net zo'n bewonderenswaardige beschaving wordt als bijvoorbeeld de VS dat al decennialang overal ter wereld met maximaal geweld zijn economische en geopolitieke belangen uitbreidt. Intussen gaat de nonsens die Krielaars verspreidt er bij de polder-mainstream net zo moeiteloos in als Gods woord in een ouderling. Zo zag ik gisteren dat zijn pamflet Het Kleine Koude Front prominent bij de kassa op de toonbank liggen van Atheneum Boekhandel op het Spui in Amsterdam, een trefpunt van de polder-intelligentsia of datgene wat er voor doorgaat. Toen ik opmerkte dat de schrijver ervan in strijd met de waarheid beweert dat 'separatisten in Oost-Oekraïne vlucht MH17 neerhaalden,' antwoordde een verkoopster dat dit geen onwaarheid was, maar, let op, 'een nog geen geverifieerde aanname.'  Nadat ik had uitgelegd waarom het een onwaarheid was zodra een journalist met grote stelligheid iets beweert dat onjuist is, zei ze: 'Ach ja, wat verwacht je van een generatie die met Foucault is opgegroeid. Wij kennen geen waarheid meer.' Afgezien van het feit dat Foucault de waarheid geenszins heeft ontkend, maar overleefde dogma's heeft doorgeprikt zoals het geclaimde humanisme van de staat, heeft zij wel degelijk gelijk; voor haar en de haren geldt geen waarheid meer, omdat alles waar is geworden, zelfs de grootste mogelijke leugenachtige waanzin. Iedereen heeft gelijk, en dus kan een boekje dat de lezer op een verkeerd been zet prominent worden geëtaleerd door de misselijk makende middenstand. 

'They are full of shit,' zo typeerde een Amerikaanse vriend van me de houding van de generatie die nu rond de dertig is. Een andere verkoopster zei desgevraagd achtereenvolgens dat het onderzoek naar de ware toedracht met de MH17 nog niet was afgerond om een minuut later met evenveel stelligheid te beweren dat het onderzoek wel was afgerond. En met deze polder-warhoofden moet Nederland de grote crises van de toekomst zien te overleven, de klimaatverandering, de bevolkingsexplosie, de toenemende kloof wereldwijd tussen arm en rijk, de uitputting van essentiële grondstoffen. En dat allemaal onder geestelijke aanvoering van ideologische kwasten als Michel Krielaars van de NRC. 



woensdag 1 oktober 2014

U.S. Military Industrial Complex

$22 Billion to Fight ISIL in same Year Congress cut $8.7 bn in Food Stamps

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By Juan Cole
It was all the way back in February, so the memory of this headline has faded:
” Congress passes $8.7 billion food stamp cut
By Ned Resnikoff
It’s official: 850,000 households across the country are set to lose an average of $90 per month in food stamp benefits.
The Senate on Tuesday voted 68-32 to send the 2014 Farm Bill – which includes an $8.7 billion cut to food stamps – to President Obama’s desk. Nine Democrats opposed the bill, and 46 members of the Democratic caucus voted for it, joining 22 Republicans.” 
The GOP Congress’s assault on the American working class has been waged with the pretext that the Federal government has no money (what with being in debt and all). This despite the money being owed to the American people on the whole, and despite the long tradition of deficits in government budgets, which have seldom in history been balanced. But note that when there was a Republican president in the zeroes, the same voices did not demand austerity, but ran up the deficit with obvious glee.
In contrast, Congress has no problem with the war on ISIL in Iraq and Syria, which could cost from $18 bn to $22 bn a year. Admittedly, in military terms this expense is relatively small. The point is that the same people who have trouble justifying a safety net for the working poor and find it urgent to cut billions from the programs that keep us a civilized society rather than a predatory jungle– the same people have no difficulty authorizing billions for vague bombing campaigns that are unlikely to be successful on any genuine metric.
The failure of an air campaign in Syria where there is no effective fighting force on the ground allied with the US, which could take advantage of the bombings, is becoming evident at Kobane. Despite US and other aerial bombings, ISIL fighters have moved to only a couple of miles from the besieged Kurdish city
In contrast, in Iraq the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken a few villages and a border crossing with Syria back from ISIL in the past couple of days, and may have benefited in this push from close air support from the US and other governments. Even there, while intervention to stop the Kurdish capital of Erbil from falling to ISIL might be justifiable, helping the Kurdish Peshmerga capture Sunni Arab towns is a more delicate proposition.
In any case, all of a sudden I guess cost is no object for the Tea Party and its fellow travelers.
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Michel Krielaars van de NRC 2


Ziehier, de poseur Michel Krielaars van de NRC. Zijn pamflet Het Kleine Koude Front over het vlees geworden kwaad 'Poetin,' eindigt hij met de voorspelling:

Moderne, westers georiënteerde Russen, die sinds de negentiende-eeuwse geschiedenis bestaan, maken 15 procent van de bevolking uit. Met zijn twintig miljoen vormen ze de potentiële basis voor een Moskouse Maidan. Het is alleen de vraag of ze de moed kunnen opbrengen om ooit tegen hun heersers op te staan, nu die zich steeds meer van Europa afwenden en het Westen als vijand van hun eigen 'betere, gezonde en heilige samenleving' bestempelen. Voorlopig zal het daarom zeker niet gebeuren, maar eens komt de dag. Het Westen kan met zijn ethische normen en waarden wezenlijk aan die ontwikkeling bijdragen. Het moet zich dan wel verenigd en standvastig tegenover Rusland opstellen en met de Russische samenleving in gesprek blijven. 

Let wel, '15 procent van de bevolking,' dus geen 14 procent en ook geen 16 procent, maar exact '15 procent,' een mooi rond getal, even rond als de precies maar dan ook precies '20 miljoen,' die 'de potentiële basis' vormen voor een 'betere, gezonde' neoliberale maatschappij die, zoals bekend, van het Westen een paradijs heft gemaakt. Voor Rusland geldt dat het nog niet zover is,  'Maar' zo orakelt Krielaars 'eens komt de dag' dat alles en iedereen zich tot het ware consumentistische geloof zal bekeren, op voorwaarde natuurlijk dat het Westen zich 'verenigd en standvastig' -- dus onder aanvoering van de NAVO -- tegenover Rusland blijft 'opstellen.' Dit simplistisch mens- en wereldbeeld is kenmerkend voor het intellectuele niveau van wat Hofland 'de politiek-literaire elite' van de polder noemt. En waarom ook niet, in een kleinburgerlijke natie is ook de zelfbenoemde intelligentsia kleinburgerlijk, zoals de enige Nederlandse historicus van wereldniveau, Johan Huizinga, zo helder heeft beschreven. In zijn essay De Nederlandse volksaard wees hij erop dat de bevolking in Nederland ‘tot grondtrek’ heeft ‘dat het onheroïsch is.’  Hier kent men de grootsheid van het verzet niet, zoals opnieuw tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog bleek en vandaag de dag weer blijkt. Huizinga:

Hoe kan het anders? Een staat, opgebouwd uit welvarende burgerijen van matig grote steden en uit tamelijk tevreden boerengemeenten, is geen kweekbodem voor hetgeen men het heroïsche noemt.

Men collaboreert liever met de macht en dit verklaart ook het feit dat uit het zogenaamd ‘tolerante’ Nederland procentueel tweemaal zoveel joodse burgers werd gedeporteerd als uit België en driemaal zoveel als uit Frankrijk. Huizinga:

De eenheid van het Nederlandse volk is bovenal gelegen in zijn burgerlijk karakter… Uit een burgerlijke sfeer sproten onze weinig militaire geest, de overwegende handelsgeest… Hypocrisie en farizeïsme belagen hier individu en gemeenschap! […] het valt niet te ontkennen, dat de Nederlander, alweer in zekere burgerlijke gemoedelijkheid, een lichte graad van knoeierij of bevoorrechting van vriendjes zonder protest verdraagt.

Al in een zeer vroegtijdig stadium beschreef Huizinga in zijn essaybundel Verspreide opstellen over de geschiedenis van Nederland de consumptiecultuur en typetjes als Michel Krielaars:


De gemiddelde man met weinig tijd krijgt zijn noties aanhoudend en op velerlei wijzen aangepraat, en praat ze na. Indien men kon vergelijken, wat in het geestelijk leven van de enkele, in een minder ontwikkelde beschavingsperiode dan de onze, de rol is geweest van eigen nadenken, eigen keuze, eigen uitdrukking, dan is het zeer de vraag, of onze tijd met zijn veelzijdige en steeds overvloede belangstelling de prijs zou behalen. Het is niet, zoals de stormlopers tegen het intellect menen, de kennis, die schaadt, maar de intellectuele digestie, die hopeloos in de war is, alweer niet uitsluitend door de schuld van hen, die het geestelijk voedsel hebben op te dissen, maar ook door de omstandigheden die teweegbrengen, dat het te haastig en te heet verzwolgen wordt. De werkelijke belangstelling van het grote publiek is niet meer bij de werken des geestes, althans in veel mindere mate dan bij voorbeeld in de achttiende eeuw, toen het publiek veel kleiner, maar zijn gerichtheid veel intellectueler was. De ernst der massa's wordt tegenwoordig in toenemende mate besteed aan dingen, die een onvooringenomen cultuurwetenschap slechts als lagere spelvormen (er zijn ook zeer hoge) zou kunnen kwalificeren. Er heerst in de huidige wereld een georganiseerd puerilisme van mateloze omvang... Het kan soms schijnen, alsof de hedendaagse mensheid geen hogere gemeenschappelijke cultuurfunctie meer kent, dan met blijde of toornige blik in de pas te lopen.

Vandaar de kinderlijke voorstelling van zaken van Krielaars, waarbij goed en kwaad  haarscherp van elkaar gescheiden zijn. Nog afgezien van zijn gebrekkige stijl van schrijven, vallen twee zaken op: allereerst dat hij kennelijk niet de continuïteit van de Russische geschiedenis kent, zoals die bijvoorbeeld beschreven is door de in Moskou geboren historicus Tibor Szamuely. Zijn standaardwerk The Russian Tradition (1974) wordt ingeleid door de grote Brits-Amerikaanse historicus Robert Conquest, die er meteen op wijst dat de Russische geschiedenis 

at least since the time of the Mongols, had been of a type totally unlike that of any other country. And century-long habits are not to be changed by fiat. It is Dr Szamuely's theme, which he develops so effectively, that the circumstances of the past seven centuries in Russia had produced an order in which society as a whole had become totally dependent upon the state, and moved according to the subjective decisions taken by the state leadership. Moreover, the most complete lack of any autonomous social and civic phenomena led to the absence of ideas of political adjustment and give-and-take among the state's opponents as well: so that these central peculiarities of Russian history produced the practice and principle of absolutism, of rule by decree, not only in the established order, but equally in the revolutionary tradition which opposed it. 

Western revolutionaries recognized this. As Rosa Luxemburg put it in a curious passage, long before the Revolution:

'In Lenin's over-anxious desire to establish the guardianship of an omniscient and omnipotent Central Committee… we recognize the symptoms of the same subjectivism that has already played more than one trick on socialist thinking in Russia…

Knocked to the ground, almost reduced to dust, by Russian absolutism, the ''ego'' takes revenge by turning to revolutionary activity. In the shape of a committee of conspirators, in the name of the non-existent Will of the People, it seats itself on a kind of throne and proclaims it is all-powerful. But the ''object'' proves to be stronger. The knout is triumphant, for tsarist might seems  to be the ''legitimate'' expression of history.

In time we see appear on the scene an even more 'legitimate' child of history — the Russian labor movement. For the first time, bases for the formation of a real ''people's will'' are laid in Russian soil.

But here is the ''ego'' of the Russian revolutionary again! Pirouetting on its head, it once more proclaims itself to be the all-powerful director of history — this time with the title of His Excellency the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party of Russia.' 

Maar omdat de westerse mainstream-journalisten in wezen een totalitair wereldbeeld hebben dat geen afwijking van de kapitalistische norm kan accepteren, moet er voor hen uiteindelijk sprake zijn van 'het einde van de geschiedenis,' waarbij overal ter wereld het neoliberalisme al dan niet met geweld de eindoverwinning zal binnenslepen, ongeacht de eigen cultuur van een volk of de eigen geschiedenis die het doorlopen heeft. Er is maar één waarheid mogelijk, en dat is het kapitalisme zoals die door de VS wordt belichaamd, waarbij 1 procent van de bevolking 40 procent van alle rijkdommen bezit. Deze heilsleer noemen ze 'democratie,' en die democratie garandeert de mensenrechten. Ruim vijf eeuwen gewelddadig westers kolonialisme heeft die onvermijdelijke ontwikkeling kennelijk genoegzaam aangetoond. De geschiedenis gaat maar één kant op en die is immer: vooruit!

Een andere zaak die opvalt is Krielaars' bewering dat 'Het Westen' over 'ethische normen en waarden' beschikt. Welke? Dat maakt hij niet duidelijk, maar dit kunnen natuurlijk nooit Auschwitz en Hiroshima zijn, en ook niet Vietnam en Abu Ghraib, noch de normen en waarden van bijvoorbeeld mevrouw Madeleine Albright die publiekelijk verklaarde dat de dood van tenminste een half miljoen Irakese kinderen onder de vijf jaar 'de prijs waard' is geweest om de Amerikaanse politieke doeleinden te verwezenlijken. Het kunnen evenmin de normen en waarden zijn die Europa verzweeg nadat bondgenoot Israel recentelijk 501 Palestijnse kinderen bewust had vermoord. Het kunnen natuurlijk onmogelijk de normen en waarden zijn die nu op dit moment in zowel Afghanistan, Irak, Libië, Syrië en Oekraïne op grote schaal geschonden worden nadat Washington en Brussel zich met geweld met die landen direct of indirect begon te bemoeien. Ik vrees dat Michel Krielaars één van die vele gehersenspoelde intellectuele lichtgewichten is die in Nederland worden aangezien voor geleerde heertjes. Let op zijn hoed! Wat innerlijk ontbreekt wordt uiterlijk benadrukt. Nederland is een land vol poseurs, en Krielaars is er één van.


ISIS 44

Why stop at Isis when we could bomb the whole Muslim world?

Humanitarian arguments, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East
A military plane
'Now we have a new target, and a new reason to dispense mercy from the sky, with similar prospects of success.' Photograph: ASAP/ECPAD/Corbis
Let’s bomb the Muslim world – all of it – to save the lives of its people. Surely this is the only consistent moral course? Why stop at Islamic State (Isis), when the Syrian government has murdered and tortured so many? This, after all, was last year’s moral imperative. What’s changed?
How about blasting the Shia militias in Iraq? One of them selected 40 people from the streets of Baghdad in June and murdered them for being Sunnis. Another massacred 68 people at a mosque in August. They now talk openly of “cleansing” and “erasure” once Isis has been defeated. As a senior Shia politician warns, “we are in the process of creating Shia al-Qaida radical groups equal in their radicalisation to the Sunni Qaida”.
What humanitarian principle instructs you to stop there? In Gaza this year, 2,100 Palestinians were massacred: including people taking shelter in schools and hospitals. Surely these atrocities demand an air war against Israel? And what’s the moral basis for refusing to liquidate Iran? Mohsen Amir-Aslani was hanged there last week for making “innovations in the religion” (suggesting that the story of Jonah in the Qur’an was symbolic rather than literal). Surely that should inspire humanitarian action from above? Pakistan is crying out for friendly bombs: an elderly British man, Mohammed Asghar, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, is, like other blasphemers, awaiting execution there after claiming to be a holy prophet. One of his prison guards has already shot him in the back.
Is there not an urgent duty to blow up Saudi Arabia? It has beheaded 59 people so far this year, for offences that include adultery, sorcery and witchcraft. It has long presented a far greater threat to the west than Isis now poses. In 2009 Hillary Clinton warned in a secret memo that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban … and other terrorist groups”. In July, the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, revealed that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, until recently the head of Saudi intelligence, told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.” Saudi support for extreme Sunni militias in Syria during Bandar’s tenure is widely blamed for the rapid rise of Isis. Why take out the subsidiary and spare the headquarters?
The humanitarian arguments aired in parliament last week, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East and west Asia. By this means you could end all human suffering, liberating the people of these regions from the vale of tears in which they live.
Perhaps this is the plan: Barack Obama has now bombed seven largely Muslim countries, in each case citing a moral imperative. The result, as you can see in Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan,Yemen, Somalia and Syria, has been the eradication of jihadi groups, of conflict, chaos, murder, oppression and torture. Evil has been driven from the face of the Earth by the destroying angels of the west.
Now we have a new target, and a new reason to dispense mercy from the sky, with similar prospects of success. Yes, the agenda and practices of Isis are disgusting. It murders and tortures, terrorises and threatens. As Obama says, it is a “network of death”. But it’s one of many networks of death. Worse still, a western crusade appears to be exactly what Isis wants.
Already Obama’s bombings have brought Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, a rival militia affiliated to al-Qaida, together. More than 6,000 fighters have joined Isis since the bombardment began. They dangled the heads of their victims in front of the cameras as bait for war planes. And our governments were stupid enough to take it.
And if the bombing succeeds? If – and it’s a big if – it manages to tilt the balance against Isis, what then? Then we’ll start hearing once more about Shia death squads and the moral imperative to destroy them too – and any civilians who happen to get in the way. The targets change; the policy doesn’t. Never mind the question, the answer is bombs. In the name of peace and the preservation of life, our governments wage perpetual war.
While the bombs fall, our states befriend and defend other networks of death. The US government still refuses – despite Obama’s promise – to release the 28 redacted pages from the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, which document Saudi Arabian complicity in the US attack. In the UK, in 2004 the Serious Fraud Office began investigating allegations of massive bribes paid by the British weapons company BAE to Saudi ministers and middlemen. Just as crucial evidence was about to be released, Tony Blair intervened to stop the investigation. The biggest alleged beneficiary was Prince Bandar. The SFO was investigating a claim that, with the approval of the British government, he received £1bn in secret payments from BAE.
And still it is said to go on. Last week’s Private Eye, drawing on a dossier of recordings and emails, alleges that a British company has paid £300m in bribes to facilitate weapons sales to the Saudi national guard. When a whistleblower in the company reported these payments to the British Ministry of Defence, instead of taking action it alerted his bosses. He had to flee the country to avoid being thrown into a Saudi jail.
There are no good solutions that military intervention by the UK or the US can engineer. There are political solutions in which our governments could play a minor role: supporting the development of effective states that don’t rely on murder and militias, building civic institutions that don’t depend on terror, helping to create safe passage and aid for people at risk. Oh, and ceasing to protect, sponsor and arm selected networks of death. Whenever our armed forces have bombed or invaded Muslim nations, they have made life worse for those who live there. The regions in which our governments have intervened most are those that suffer most from terrorism and war. That is neither coincidental nor surprising.
Yet our politicians affect to learn nothing. Insisting that more killing will magically resolve deep-rooted conflicts, they scatter bombs like fairy dust.
A fully referenced version of this article can be found at monbiot.com

Michel Krielaars van de NRC


Mag ik u even voorstellen: Michel Krielaars, voormalig Rusland-correspondent 'huidige chef Boeken' van NRC/Handelsblad. Krielaars heeft in het kader van de 'maand van de geschiedenis' een 63 pagina's tellend pamflet geschreven dat, gefinancierd door de Stichting Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek onder de titel Het Kleine Koude Front. Hoe Het Westen Rusland Uit Het Oog Verloor, voor de prijs van een zak patat zonder mayonaise in de erkende boekhandel te koop ligt. Op de achterflap van het boekje vol ouderwetse Koude Oorlogsretoriek staat, ik citeer:

Pas toen separatisten in Oost-Oekraïne vlucht MH17 neerhaalden, werd het Westen op brute wijze wakker geschud en leek het in te zien hoe Rusland zich had ontwikkeld en wie Poetin werkelijk is. 

Wat zo knap is van collega Krielaars is dat hij als enige journalist in de wereld nu al zeker weet dat de MH17 door 'separatisten' is neergehaald. Aangezien het onderzoek nog loopt zijn er twee mogelijkheden, Krielaars is helderziend of hij liegt. Ik gok het laatste, hoewel het eerste nooit helemaal uit te sluiten is. Hoe dan ook: aangezien hij liegt adviseer ik u toch maar een zak patat te kopen in plaats van deze propaganda, die doorgaans gratis op de internet-pagina van NRC wordt verspreid.

ISIS 43


Paul heeft een nieuwe reactie op uw bericht "ISIS 42" achtergelaten: 

Hoi Stan,

Dit is vgs mij een bijzonder goede analyse van ISIS, de VS en het Midden Oosten: http://www.lobelog.com/squaring-the-circle-of-isis/ 

Obama_ISIS
Published on September 27th, 2014 | by Guest
7

Squaring the Circle of ISIS

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by Bernard Chazelle
In matters of battle, there are certain things we’ve come to expect. The pairwise nature of combat, for example. From the playing fields of Eton to the morne plaine of Waterloo, sports and war alike feature two rival sides with an attitude. They come in pairs. One day, Federer shows Nadal how it’s done; the next day, Bush takes on Saddam. Threesomes are uncommon. George Foreman didn’t climb into the ring to tussle with Ali and Frazier. Though no friend of Hitler or Stalin, FDR knew better than to declare war on both of them. Nor did he try to resurrect the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact so more panzer divisions could be in Normandy to greet the GIs. As far as we know, Eisenhower didn’t drop free weaponry for the Nazis to use before the Battle of the Bulge. And Nazi is what they were: not Nazoo, Noozi, or NZ depending on whom you asked. The enemy had a name we all agreed upon. Certain things about combat we’ve come to expect.
Well, expect no more. In the Middle East, the old battle script is quaint. ISIS is our new enemy. Or perhaps it is ISIL, or IS, or Daesh, or the Caliphate, or something. The point is, we have an enemy that “we need to fight there so we won’t have to fight it here.” It seems a pity because we share so much. They hate Bashar al-Assad and so do we. They can’t stand the Persian ayatollahs and neither can we. They have it in for al-Qaeda in Syria and who doesn’t? They draw their spiritual inspiration from our oldest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, a corrupt theocracy known for its black gooey stuff and religious fanaticism. In the same month ISIS beheaded James Foley, our Saudi associates carried out 19 public beheadings, including a man accused of witchcraft. Our kind of friends.
The US-Saudi axis is key to understanding the rise of ISIS. Despite its public reticence, Riyadh supported the war in Iraq in 2003. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was still fresh in Saudi memory, so letting Bush finish his dad’s job was fine by the House of Saud. They had another reason to be appreciative. A recent Wikileaks document reveals how cuddly King Abdullah feels about Iran: “[The US should] cut off the head of the snake.” The invasion, it was hoped, would lock Iraq into the Saudi orbit and build a firewall to keep the heretic Shias at bay. Alas, the neocon dream turned into a Saudi nightmare, as Bush’s fiasco pushed Iraq right into the arms of Iran and raised the specter of a Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis. The Saudis freaked out and launched Operation “Down with the Shias.”
A catastrophic de-Ba’athification policy had created the ideal terrain for a sectarian war in Iraq. The once-dominant Sunnis had trouble adjusting to their new status as an oppressed minority. Formerly mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad were ethnically cleansed and Shia leaders redoubled their efforts to give the Sunnis something to be mad about. Riyadh couldn’t take the fight to Tehran, so a Sunni-Shia war was the next best thing. Perhaps only the geniuses in Washington believed this could end well, but the Gulf states foresaw a Shia crescent descending upon the region and decided it was time to panic. The sectarian war was on.
Israel had two reasons to go along with the anti-Shia pushback. One was that a nuclear Iran would threaten its regional hegemony. After Iran’s victory in the US-Iraq war, the urge for Israel to defang the ayatollahs had become irresistible. The other factor at play was Iran’s Lebanese client, Hezbollah, which fought the IDF to a stalemate in 2006 and caused Israel to question its deterrent capacity. (The case of Hamas is more complicated because its two patrons, Iran and Qatar, are at loggerheads over Syria). Israel’s will is America’s command, so to see Washington sing from the same hymnal was no surprise. But the US also had its own reasons to join in the anti-Iran chorus.
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Just as Israel fingers Iran as its sole threat to regional dominance, the US knows that only China and Russia can imperil its position as world hegemon. China is a lost cause. The containment fantasies behind the much-touted “Pivot to Asia” died at birth and will not be revived. Last month, with little fanfare, China dethroned the US as the world’s largest economy, one of several reasons the Middle Kingdom is out of America’s hegemonic range. Russia is a different story. It is a midsize economic power. Yet it remains the biggest country in the world, its second nuclear power, and a necessary component of any “world order.” Ukraine and Syria are the current battlegrounds for the containment of Russia. King Abdullah can decapitate witches all he wants, he’s our best-friend-forever. But Vladimir Putin cannot just be a recalcitrant leader with legitimate concerns about the encirclement of his country by NATO forces. Hillary needs to assure us that he is the new Hitler, a comparison of exquisite vulgarity given Russian history. (Now, it is true that Putin illegally invaded Crimea with the overwhelming support of the locals—quite unlike our own illegal invasions, which tend to piss off the natives.)
It is common knowledge in foreign policy circles that the US is not in the Middle East for the oil but for its control. Europe relies on Russia for a third of its gas supply and is more than open to American attempts to reduce its dependency on Gazprom. With US blessing, Qatar lobbied hard to get its North Field gas reserve, the largest in the world, pipelined to Turkey and Europe while bypassing Russia. Assad, a Russia client, balked, and negotiated with Iran a passage for the latter’s South Pars gasfield in the Persian Gulf (adjacent to the North Field). An Iran-Iraq-Syria route would be a Gulf state nightmare and an American headache. It would also dash Ankara’s hopes of playing gatekeeper to European energy needs. The US-Saudi axis could put up with Assad’s murderous policies, but a pipeline from Iran, now that was going too far! Saudi Arabia dispatched its Intelligence chief, Prince Bandar, to Moscow to read Putin the riot act: Stop your support of Assad or expect a nasty Chechen surprise at the Sochi Olympics. Fluent in mafioso language, Putin became furious and made it clear to the sandbox princeling that he didn’t take orders from a terrorist-coddling camel herder. Moscow would stick with Assad and stick it to the sheiks.
With no Syria policy to speak of, Washington pivoted to Ukraine, only to show the world what Western impotence really looks like. Taking their cue from Obama, the leaders of Britain and France threatened the new Hitler with sanctions so painful he’d soon be begging on his knees for mercy: no camembert and pudding for him! Of course, Russia was still welcome to park its oligarchs’ money in London, get its assault ships from Paris (now on hold), and buy its usual $100 billion worth of goods from Berlin every year. But no dessert—that’ll teach him! To be fair, Obama’s Russia policy could have been worse: we could be at war with Moscow. By any other measure, it has been an unmitigated disaster. Putin will soon have achieved all of his objectives in Ukraine, a fact that President Poroshenko all but conceded recently by granting autonomy to the pro-Russia Donbass rebels. Victoria “Fuck the EU” Nuland can go back to handing out cookies in Kiev: her darling Yatsenyuk has resigned as prime minister and Washington’s plans are in tatters.
Consider the blowback: Moscow and Beijing signed a draft currency swap agreement to bypass the dollar in bilateral payments; the BRICS countries set up their own $100 billion development bank to counter the dominance of the IMF and the World Bank; Putin and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, agreed to a game-changing $400 billion gas deal after years of stalled negotiations. Nothing like Western sanctimony backed by sanctions to make Russia and China find love. Meanwhile, with its economy mired in quasi-perpetual recession, the West has turned Teddy Roosevelt’s adage on its head: Speak loudly and carry a small stick.
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From 10,000 feet, the geopolitics of the Middle East shows a semblance of coherence: a Washington-Riyadh petrodollar axis aligned against a rising Shia crescent backed by Russia, the whole thing played against the backdrop of a race for global dominance combined with blind US support for Israel. The neat rationality of this narrative is an illusion. A closer look reveals a world of Jabberwocky absurdity. While, in March 2011, Saudi troops rolled into Bahrain to repress the Arab Spring aspirations of its people, the Gulf states cunningly seized the zeitgeist of liberation to hijack the peaceful anti-Assad movement. Naturally, the one point of agreement between Bashar and the sheiks was that peace was not an option. Qatar and Saudi Arabia may not be on speaking terms but they found common ground in funding, training, and arming the Syria rebels.
Not the Free Syrian Army, mind you, that hapless bunch of weekend warriors who look ferocious only in the feverish minds of Hillary Clinton and John McCain, but the only two groups in Syria capable of fighting Assad: ISIS and the local al-Qaeda branch (Jabhat al-Nusra). As Steve Clemons reported in The Atlantic last June, Qatar took the latter under its wing while ISIS, according to one senior Qatari official quoted by Clemons, was a “Saudi project.”  There you had two of our closest allies in the Arab world funding, through private and probably public sources as well, the newest branches of the 9/11 franchise. McCain’s reaction to CNN in Jan. 2014? “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar!” When it became clear last spring that the Faustian bargain had turned sour and ISIS had the Saudis in its crosshairs, Bandar was fired (McCain was not). ISIS is largely self-funded at this point—smuggling oil at discount rates along the Turkish border is its principal source of revenue—so cracking down on private financing from the Gulf is largely moot at this point.
The civil war in Syria gave the West a chance to recover its delusional optimism from the early days of the Iraq war. While Obama has repeatedly called the end of the Assad regime a certainty, even a sober analyst like Juan Cole predicted in January of last year that Iranian influence would wither and Assad would be gone by 2014. What happened is the exact opposite. Iran is in the driver’s seat and Assad has never been stronger. The only forces posing a credible threat to ISIS are Assad’s army, Hezbollah, Iran, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Washington opposes all four of them. Think of FDR preparing for D-Day and refusing help from Britain, Canada, and the French Résistance. Obama is precisely where ISIS wants him to be: fighting the Islamic State while denying himself any chance of success. With ISIS firmly ensconced in urban areas, airstrikes will do little besides boosting recruitment for the group. The Islamic State publicly welcomed the US decision to arm the “moderate” rebels, confident that the weapons will eventually be theirs. In fact, thanks to the cracker jack squads of US-trained Iraqi forces, ISIS is already in possession of a whole arsenal of American weaponry.
Most experts agree that, unlike bin Laden’s organization, ISIS has chosen to focus its ire on the near-enemy and not on the West. Obama is intent on proving them wrong. His policy, such as it is, will help Assad stay in power (so much for regime change) and create a new generation of Western jihadists coming home as fully-trained terrorists. The US president must have in mind a repeat of the 2007 Sunni Awakening which put an end to al-Qaeda in Iraq. This is sure to fail for three reasons: first, the US no longer has 150,000 troops on the ground; second, scared of ISIS as they are, the Iraqi Sunnis are even more afraid of the Shia militias out for revenge; third, ISIS is mostly based in Syria (hence the US airstrikes on Raqqa, in blatant violation of the sort of international law that matters only when Putin breaks it). As for the brilliant idea of training the Iraqi army, words fail. The US has been doing just that for the last 10 years at a cost of $25 billion, and we all know how effective that was. Last June, a mere 800 ISIS fighters defeated 30,000 US-trained soldiers and took over Mosul, making off with millions of dollars worth of American military equipment. No problem, says Washington: more training will do the trick. As has been said, doing the same thing and expecting different results is a definition of insanity.
Speaking of insane, ISIS surely fits the bill. Yet there is a logic to the madness. The undeniable lunacy of the Islamic State is not a collective pathology of which the US can easily wash its hands. Until Bush came along, jihadists controlled a few musty caves in Tora Bora, not large swathes of Iraqi, Syrian, Libyan, and Nigerian territory. The self-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was imprisoned by the US at Iraq’s Camp Bucca, usually not a fate conducive to mental balance. More to the point, Iraq has been in a continuous state of war since 1980. All of the last four American presidents have bombed the country. The Bush family alone started two wars against Iraq. Bill Clinton imposed grotesque sanctions that condemned half a million Iraqi children to a premature death, a price that his State Secretary assured us on “60 Minutes” was worth it. And we call ourselves surprised when the world’s largest PTSD ward extends its tentacles across Iraq and Syria through suicide, mass rape, and crucifixion. We stare into the abyss we’ve created and wonder why it stares back at us.
Obama’s policy is based on a contradiction. We hear that ISIS is such a global danger that the war America ended three years ago needs to be refought; yet how bad can it be if it requires neither ground troops nor the forces that could actually defeat it? Electoral politics is at work and it is no surprise that Obama’s call for war came in the wake of much-publicized beheadings of American journalists. His anti-ISIS partners form a “coalition of the unwilling” that cannot even agree on the enemy: one hears reports of US-funded Syria rebels signing non-aggression pacts with ISIS in order to focus on Assad. Obama’s war is a tragic American farce.
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What should be done? The prevailing confusion over ISIS gives Obama a unique opportunity to break new ground. The first step is to re-engage Iran by concluding the current nuclear talks with the lifting of all sanctions. Times are changing. The Gulf states will eventually fade as a quirk of history but Iran will always be one of the world’s major countries. Nothing would do more for regional peace than to dissolve the noxious US-Saudi axis and bring Iran back in from the cold. The second step is to defuse the new Cold War with Russia. Putin is authoritarian, an oligarch’s friend, and—his real crime in Western eyes—an Asianizer. Oddly enough, the new Hitler is not nearly as autocratic as Yeltsin, the former drunken darling of the West who shelled Russia’s parliament with tanks in 1993 and started the war in Chechnya the following year. If one could do business with Yeltsin so one can with Putin. Obama knows this better than anyone, having had his bacon saved by the man right after the Ghouta chemical attacks last year. The US had its 15 minutes of unipolarity. A failure to engage with Russia and Iran will only hasten its decline.
Except for its new Western recruits crossing the long Turkish border into Syria, everybody hates ISIS. Defusing the Sunni-Shia tension and ending the antiquated proxy conflicts between the US and Russia would reshuffle the deck so dramatically that ISIS would find its local support dwindling. The alternative is to wait for ISIS to burn itself out, which is the current, unspoken American strategy. This will prolong Assad’s murderous rule as well as invigorate the new dictatorship in Egypt, which thrives on regional chaos.
In the Middle East, nothing is what it seems. Saudi Arabia has a defense budget four times as big as Israel’s, yet it couldn’t defeat Andorra if it tried. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calls ISIS “a threat to the civilized world,” conveniently forgetting that the group didn’t exist until we intervened. After 150,000 deaths in Syria, the US suddenly makes a U-turn and aligns its interests with the Butcher of Damascus. Try to make sense of this timeline if you can: in 2009, Assad and Kerry have an intimate dinner with their wives in a Damascus restaurant, a touching moment captured in pictures broadcast all over the web; in 2013, Kerry compares his former dinner companion to Adolf Hitler; in 2014, all is forgiven and the US throws its lot with Assad against ISIS.
It would be a mistake to dismiss this theater of the absurd as the work of leaders who can’t think straight. The one non-negotiable constraint is that self-determination is an option that the US and Europe have categorically ruled out for the region. If the consequences are spelled in the language of terror and civil war, so be it. We’ll put out the fires when we have to. Experts will be wheeled in to explain in somber tones why the situation is so dire it requires the dispatch of our newest, shiniest fire trucks. Very serious essayists (not this one obviously) will address the optimal positioning of the water hoses and the training of the new firemen. Only grumpy contrarians will ask why there are so many damn fires in this town. And the show will go on, with its stream of beheadings and airstrikes. Until, one day, the Chinese inform us that we might as well stop piling the corpses because the world has moved on and no one is paying attention any more.
—Bernard Chazelle is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University. He is currently on leave at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the author of the book, “The Discrepancy Method,” an investigation into the power of randomness in computing, his current research focuses on “natural algorithms” and the algorithmic complexity of living matter. He has written extensively about politics and music.