Newsbud Exclusive: Syria – The Last Word on Chemical Weapons

“Chemical weapons” remain a favourite meme in Western propaganda circles to depict the Syrian government as inhumane. In late October, Reuters reported that “the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is to blame for a chemical attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people last April, according to a report sent to the United Nations Security Council.”[1] Although blindly copied by numerous mass media outlets worldwide, the findings, made by a Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) set up by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), were not independently verifiable as the report was for some reason not made public. When it was leaked to alternative media site Moon of Alabama,[2] however, the mainstream press failed to actually analyse the report, let alone point out its many discrepancies. Rather, it just assumed that it was the final word on the Khan Shaykhun incident and instead focused on the political bickering between the US and Russia.

The report in question comes against the backdrop of an even more incriminate report from the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (IICIS) from September, which tried to blame a total of some two dozen chemical attacks, including the Khan Shaykhun incident and the August 2013 sarin gas attack in the Damascene suburb of Ghouta, on the Syrian army. For 20 of these chemical attacks the IICIS only cited previously published reports from the Human Rights Council and itself. If one actually delves through the documents the commission referred to, it becomes clear that in most of the incidents, UN authorities did either not attribute blame, or relied on eyewitnesses embedded with oppositional jihadi forces to conclude government culpability, often not conclusively but rather with statements such as “with strong suspicion.”[3] Regarding the April assault in Khan Shaykhun and other recent small-scale alleged chlorine gas attacks, the IICIS conducted its own research by interviewing 43 “eyewitnesses, victims, first-responders, medical workers and persons who visited the site after the attack,” in addition to analysing collected satellite imagery, photographs and videos.[4]

This methodology, which resembles that of the recent JIM report, gives all the appearances of a genuinely objective and thorough study. The usage of supposedly objective eyewitnesses and first-responders, the latter often from the infamously al-Qaeda embedded White Helmets, to determine blame, however, has proven problematic throughout the conflict as such testimonies have become a central element in the well-oiled disinformation trail from the rebels to the press.[5] For instance, the very first IICIS report relied on eyewitness testimony to conclude that government forces were probably responsible for the 2012 Houla massacre in which over 100 civilians were massacred. Prof. Tim Anderson, however, has documented at least fifteen witnesses ignored by the commission that contradict this conclusion and instead support the government version of the event that Free Syrian Army-linked rebels were the actual perpetrators.[6] The IICIS has thus already been compromised for its reliance on biased sources and ignorance of testimony and evidence that contradict its conclusions long before these latest accusations at the address of the Syrian government. This lack of objectivity is further reinforced by the fact that the commission never actually visited Syria itself, and that it is co-chaired by Karen Koning AbuZayd, an ostensibly partisan American diplomat.[7]

Although the full truth is hard to establish due to the unreachability of the crime scenes, independent and quasi-conclusive but suppressed evidence that nullifies many of the IICIS’s and JIM’s claims has surfaced over the past few years. This is especially true for the 2013 Ghouta and the 2017 Khan Shaykhun attacks, two key events that engineered worldwide outrage against and disgust of the Syrian army. An understanding of the construction of the lies built around these events is essential to apprehending the inner workings of the propaganda machine, but also exposes the role of the actors involved in manufacturing and carrying out false flag attacks necessary to advance their geopolitical agendas. Additionally, it unveils the bias of UN investigative bodies and the falsehood with which many of their reports are constructed.

Ghouta

On 21 August 2013, the Syrian army won a decisive victory against an organised fighting force of 25.000 Islamist militants, mainly belonging to Jabhat al-Nusrah and the Saudi-backed Islamic Front, in the Damascus area. By the time the battle was over, however, the Islamic Front claimed that rockets from the Syrian army containing chemicals had killed hundreds of civilians in the east Ghouta suburb of Damascus. These accusations were then picked up by the US government as well as the US-based Human Rights Watch, and in no time international media had concluded that Assad had “gassed his own people.”

By mid-2013, the war had turned in favour of the Syrian government. Although parts of Aleppo, east Damascus, and some parts of eastern Syria remained held by militants, most incursions were beaten back by the army. In this context, in the months prior to the Ghouta incident, it were several opposition forces, more so than the government, that were being accused of using chemical weapons. Most notably, the Syrian government complained to the UN that insurgents had used sarin gas in a major battle in the west Aleppean district of Khan al-Assal on 19 March, which left 25 people dead. A day after the attack, Syrian authorities sent a formal request to the UN for a “specialized, impartial and independent mission” to investigate the alleged use of weaponised chemicals, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon accepted the following day.[8] In the following months, while the UN mission was preparing to visit Syria, several member states including Syria, France, the UK and the US reported further allegations of chemical attacks.[9] Meanwhile, IICIS co-chair Carla del Ponte “was a little stupefied by the first indications we got” in May, as “they were about the use of nerve gas [sarin] by the opposition.” Del Ponte, who quit the commission in August 2017 due to frustrations concerning the IICIS’s inability to convict the Syrian government and others of war crimes, stated that “there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas” by rebel groups, because “according to what we have established so far, it is at the moment opponents of the regime who are using sarin gas.”[10] Strangely enough, the IICIS never seriously further investigated these “strong, concrete suspicions,” let alone indicted non-ISIS rebel groups for the usage of chemical weapons.

After combined pressure from Russia and Syria, the former who delivered a report blaming foreign-backed insurgents for the Khan al-Assal incident and the latter who had seized 208 barrels of lethal chemicals from militants in July, the UN inspectors made their final preparations and eventually arrived in Damascus on 18 August.[11] Then, a mere three days after they arrived in the Syrian capital, the public was told to believe that the Syrian government, who had been reiterating the need for a UN fact-finding mission to Syria for months, in an inexplicable move decided to use sarin gas in a battle close to where the chemical weapons inspectors were residing. Already on 30 August, the White House concluded, citing classified intelligence, that “there is a substantial body of information that implicates the Syrian government’s responsibility in the chemical weapons attack.”[12] A study by former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd and Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology and National Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Theodore Postol, released in January 2014, however, showed the rockets to have a much shorter range than was suggested by the White House. Referring to an intelligence map that was published by the White House on the same day that the US government made the above statement, the study concluded that “these munitions could not possibly have been fired at East Ghouta from the ‘Heart’, or from the Eastern Edge, of the Syrian Government controlled area. [This] means that the US Government’s interpretation of the technical intelligence it gathered prior to and after the August 21 attack cannot possibly be correct.” Indeed, the areas under control of the government lay too much to the west of the impact location of the rockets, while “the ring of maximum ranges from where chemical munitions could have been launched” only covers rebel-held territory.[13]

The assertion that only the Syrian government was technically able to launch a chemical weapons attack, called into life by Human Rights Watch, turns out to be false as well. In its analysis of the event, the NGO on 10 September claimed that “the evidence concerning the type of rockets and launchers used in these attacks strongly suggests that these are weapon systems known and documented to be only in the possession of, and used by, Syrian government armed forces.”[14] The New York Times, too, maintained that it was not documented that the armed opposition had access to the technology and chemicals needed to launch the attack, thereby backing the American government’s claim that “only Syrian government forces had the ability to carry out such a strike.”[15] In the same month, however, a video emerged in which militants used improvised truck rocket launchers from which rockets containing chemicals could easily be launched.[16] Moreover, rebels not only had the technology, they also had access to sarin gas and other chemicals, as numerous reports from both before and after the August 2013 attack document discovery of chemicals in opposition-controlled areas, insurgents’ seizure of chemical factories and rebel attempts at producing chemicals.[17]

Not only did publicly available information discredit the Human Rights Watch, New York Times and American government claims, the American intelligence community was well aware of the insurgents’ ability at employing weaponised chemicals, including sarin, in battle. According to Seymour Hersh, a famous investigative journalist with many contacts in US intelligence circles:

“In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports […], citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.”[18]

Furthermore, one high-level intelligence officer cited by Hersh wrote in an email to a colleague that the attack “was not the result of the current regime,” while another senior intelligence official was reminded by the cooked-up intelligence in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident during the Vietnam war.[19]

While the MIT study clearly disproved the possibility of Syrian army culpability, the missiles thus could only have been launched from areas under control of the armed opposition, the latter who had both the technology and means to do so. When the UN special mission on chemical weapons returned to Syria, however, it was not assigned to determine responsibility but rather to examine if chemicals had been used. In its final report published in December 2013, it concluded the usage of chemical weapons on five occasions, including in the Ghouta and Khan al-Assal attacks, but more significantly, it acknowledged that in three of the five occasions chemicals were used against soldiers.[20] Logically, this means that the perpetrators must have been oppositional forces rather than the Syrian army. As the Khan al-Assal incident was among these three occasions where soldiers were targeted, and as, according to the Human Rights Council, the chemical agents used in the Khan al-Assal attack bore the same unique hallmarks as those used in Ghouta,[21] the perpetrators of both attacks were most likely either in connection with each other, or were one and the same.

According to someone with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria, whose comments were published in April 2014 in another damning article of Hersh’s hand, “it was clear that rebels used the gas [in the Khan al-Assal assault]. It did not come out in public, [however,] because no one wanted to know.”[22] Regarding the Ghouta attack, Hersh disclosed from his sources that British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the incident as well as analysis shortly after the attack which “demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal.”[23] After British intelligence passed this information to its American ally, the Obama administration maintained its “Assad did it” line but backtracked on military intervention.

In the second leg of his April 2014 article, Hersh revealed the existence of a back-channel highway for funnelling weapons and ammunition from Libya via Turkey to Syria, drawing from a highly classified annex to the Senate Intelligence Committee report into the September 2012 Benghazi assault on the American consulate in Libya. The establishment of this “rat line,” as Hersh called it, was the result of a deal made between the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in early 2012 in which the CIA, with MI6 support, oversaw the transportation of arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria.[24] Although Hersh did not say whether these arms included sarin or the components necessary to produce the gas, multiple reports have verified that Gaddafi possessed such stockpiles, and that some of Libya’s chemical agents, including sarin, have ended up in Syrian Islamist territory.[25] Towards the end of his piece, Hersh cited a former intelligence officer who asserted that Turkey engineered the Ghouta attack through its rebel proxies, as the rat line remained in existence after Washington supposedly ended the CIA’s role in it following the 2012 Benghazi attack. This hypothesis is further corroborated by a March 2014 leak of a Turkish government national security meeting, which included discussion of a false flag operation to justify an incursion of the Turkish military into Syria, which proves Turkey’s willingness to sacrifice innocent Syrian civilians for geopolitical aims.[26]

Another lead points to possible Saudi involvement. While mass media around the world were decrying the supposed fact that Assad had gassed his own people, reporter Yahya Ababneh was on the ground in Ghouta in the days following the deadly attack and interviewed numerous doctors, residents, rebel fighters and their families. Many of the interviewees - including the father of a rebel fighter who died in the attack, a female insurgent and a well-known rebel leader, all cited in an article posted on Mintpress News – said that they believed that certain rebels received chemical weapons via Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and that these fighters carried out the gas attack.[27] This is very much possible, because the second largest group occupying the Ghouta area at that time that worked in close liaison with Jabhat al-Nusrah, the Islamic Front, was essentially a mercenary brigade created, funded and backed by Saudi Arabia.[28]

As Turkey is a NATO member and Prince Bandar bin Sultan has always enjoyed close ties to the White House and American intelligence circles, one does not have to go on a limb to suspect American supervision, or at least complicity, in this false flag operation. Although this remains unprovable so far, it is pretty convenient that a year after Obama proclaimed that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would constitute a “red line” for direct US intervention, the ideal justification to engineer worldwide outrage against Syria came falling out the skies.[29] Fortunately, the Obama administration did not garner enough support for military strikes, let alone boots on the ground, and eventually conceded to Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia.

Khan Shaykhun

In April 2003, a month into the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, Syria introduced a resolution at the UN Security Council that would declare the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including of nuclear and biological but of chemical weapons as well. In other words, Syria was willing to give up its chemical weapons program, but only if Israel would acknowledge the existence of its nuclear weapons, follow the rest of the Middle East in signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty and relinquish its WMD arsenal.[30] Logically, this means that the primary if not only goal of Syria’s chemical weapons program was to have a “poor man’s deterrent” to Israel’s nuclear capability.

On 14 September 2013, once the American deep state had realised its faulty intelligence was not going to justify direct military intervention like it had ten years earlier in the lead up to the Iraq invasion, the Obama administration and Russia agreed on a deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The last segment of this stockpile was shipped out of the country in June 2014 according to the OPCW, which oversaw the process.[31] Although the objectives of acting on Obama’s “red line” had thus not been met, Syria thereby lost its deterrent to Israel in case of future Zionist aggression in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Lebanon or Syria. One needs only to look at the case of Gaddafi giving up his WMD program and his subsequent removal from power and brutal murder in the NATO-led “humanitarian” war against Libya to understand that this was still a major success for the enemies of the Syrian government.

The “chemical weapons” frenzy did not disappear out of the picture, however. Instead of sarin gas, oppositional, Gulf and Western media soon began accusing the Syrian government of employing chlorine gas on multiple battle fronts for no apparent strategic reason, even though the whole Ghouta happening had made it clear how successful the “Assad gasses his own people” narrative had become in discrediting and demonising the Syrian government all the while the latter was desperately trying to be welcomed back into the international community. Of the dozens of chemical attack allegations between April 2014 and August 2015, the OPCW investigated 29 and concluded that in four cases chlorine was allegedly dropped in the form of barrel bombs by helicopter, which of course immediately hinted at Syrian government culpability. The whole narrative, however, was constructed entirely from interviews with eyewitnesses, victims and a range of medical workers whose possible links to al-Qaeda-linked insurgents and membership of the notorious White Helmets were not discussed.[32]

During the 2016 American presidential elections cycle, Donald Trump many times spoke out against attacking the Syrian government as he saw Assad as a mutual enemy of ISIS and feared that a continuation of the Obama administration’s alliance with the “moderate rebels” would lead to a global war with Russia.[33] A couple of months after Trump had ascended into the White House, then, his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced on 30 March 2017 that “the long term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”[34] Although this might seem self-evident, it in fact signalled a dramatic U-turn from Washington’s long-held “Assad must go” policy.

Following the recapturing of east Aleppo in late 2016, the Syrian army was rapidly advancing towards military victory over the armed insurgency. Simultaneously, it gradually gained the upper hand on the diplomatic level as the Astana peace talks initiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey, which contrary to many previous Western- and Gulf-led peace efforts did recognise a role for Assad in Syria’s future, were quickly gaining international momentum. Then, suddenly, much like in August 2013, the public was led to believe that Assad, finally on the verge of military victory and consolidation of his political future, decided to use that one kind of weapon that had the potential to lead to his political suicide. On 4 April in the southern Idlib town of Khan Shaykhun, opposition-linked media, drawing on footage from the White Helmets and the Idlib Health Directorate, accused the Syrian army of killing at least 50 people during an air strike with “a chemical agent.”[35] In the developing narrative that chemical agent was gradually identified as sarin gas, that same substance which according to the OPCW was no longer in the possession of the Syrian government. At the time, the town was under control of the al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusrah, a terrorist group who, as we have seen, possessed sarin gas and likely used it before.[36]

Reminiscent of Washington’s presupposed conclusion that only Assad could have been the perpetrator in the days following the 2013 Ghouta attack, American Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley during a Security Council meeting on 5 April showed pictures of suffering and dead babies, decried Russia and the “illegitimate” and “barbaric” Syrian “regime” led by “a man with no conscious” and threatened that the US would take action on its own if the UN failed to act upon the tragedy.[37] Without a shred of evidence, then, but after seeing tragic pictures of suffering and dying “beautiful babies,” Trump concluded that “there can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons” and ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on 7 April against al-Shayrat Airfield, the location from where the Syrian aircraft supposedly took off three days earlier to drop sarin on Khan Shaykhun.[38]

Only four days later, the White House released a four-page report that detailed the intelligence upon which it justified the missile strike, which had killed several Syrian soldiers as well as civilians. According to the intelligence assessment, “the United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.”[39] Soon after its release, however, the same MIT professor that exposed Washington’s faulty technical intelligence in the wake of the Ghouta attack in 2013, Theodore Postol, pointed out that “the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack,” because “the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft.” Even more mind-boggling, the evidence put forward in the report actually refutes its own conclusion according to Postol:

“The only source the document cites as evidence that the attack was by the Syrian government is the crater it claims to have identified on a road in the North of Khan Shaykhun. […] The data cited by the White House, [however,] is more consistent with the possibility that the munition was placed on the ground rather than dropped from a plane. This conclusion [that of the White House report] assumes that the crater was not tampered with prior to the photographs. […] Analysis of the debris as shown in the photographs cited by the White House clearly indicates that the munition was almost certainly placed on the ground with an external detonating explosive on top of it that crushed the container so as to disperse the alleged load of sarin. […] No competent analyst would assume that the crater cited as the source of the sarin gas attack was unambiguously an indication that the munition came from an aircraft.”[40]

In subsequent reports released in the weeks following the incident, Postol put forward more evidence that the crater site analysed by the White House report could not have been the location where sarin was allegedly released. Most importantly, the wind on the morning of 4 April at said location blew directly at a residential area where severe sarin exposure should have taken place. Yet, the numerous opposition-embedded television journalists present, who produced a significant amount of footage in the vicinity of the crater, did not even once mention or show human casualties in the proximity of the alleged sarin release site. They only reported on a dead goat found in the opposite wind direction and a few dead birds that cannot be independently linked to the location. Moreover, footage and imagery of first responders near and in the crater showed them to be inadequately dressed to sarin exposure, which according to Postol “either suggests a complete ignorance of the basic measures to protect an individual from sarin poisoning, or that they knew the site was not seriously contaminated.” Still, Postol analysed a collection of 18 horrific videos from an area where mass casualties were piled on the ground haphazardly dead or dying, but this seems to be filmed at a different location. Indeed, the site in question is located at a more remote area a few metres below the surface carved out of rock, clearly not in the vicinity of the crater. It is thus possible that sarin gas or another chemical was released somewhere else in the city resulting in a large amount of casualties, but there is abundant evidence that the crater could not have been the source of the sarin release.[41] The fact that the White Helmet first responders and opposition-linked journalists reported the contrary does not only proof deception on the side of US intelligence, but also exposes the role of sympathisers of the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents on the ground in entirely staging a key part of the mainstream narrative.

Additional oddities blow even more holes in the official story. Al-Masdar News was quick to point out a series of strange tweets regarding the chemical attack on 4 April. A UK-trained doctor that once stood trial on terror offences in Britain[42] was working in a hospital nearby the alleged incident on 4 April and found the time to tweet all the while he maintained that sarin gas victims “are still flooding in.” In an earlier tweet, he claimed that “our hospital [is] getting full from the sarin attack today. [If] anyone wants evidence, I will video call you.” Apparently, for some, coverage of the event was equally if not more important than treating the alleged victims. And indeed, an Orient TV reporter in Idlib declared one day before the attack that “tomorrow we launch a media campaign to cover airstrikes on Rif Hama and the use of chlorine gas against civilians.”[43] It is plausible that he was talking about the staged event at the crater site, where indeed a large amount of television crew members were present.

The most recent report accusing the Syrian government of using sarin at Khan Shaykhun, jointly compiled by the UN and the OPCW, too, noted “certain irregularities.” Buried all the way at the end of the report in the annex section, it observed:

“The admission of times of records range between 0600 and 1600 hours. Analysis of the aforementioned medical records [of 247 registered patients] revealed that in 57 cases, patients were admitted in five hospitals before the incident in Khan Shaykhun (at 0600, 0620 and 0640 hours). In 10 such cases, patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while another 42 patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 30 km away at 0700 hours.”[44] (emphasis added)

As the Mechanism in the same report “determined that sarin was released from the location of a crater [sic] in the northern part of Khan Shaykhun between 0630 and 0700 hours,”[45] this makes absolutely no sense if the official story is to be upheld. Still, the JIM report dryly went on to say that “the Mechanism did not investigate these discrepancies and cannot determine whether they are linked to any possible staging scenario.”[46] Another issue left unexplained in the same annex section, is that witnesses reported that the White Helmets, through what the Mechanism described as an “early warning system” comprised of “spotters,” advised residents to be careful prior to the alleged incident “as the aircraft [underway from al-Sharyat airbase] was likely carrying toxic chemicals.”[47] The report did not elaborate on how they knew that a ruthless chemical attack by the Syrian Air Force was supposedly on the way.

As an observer far removed from the crime scene, one is left wondering what exactly transpired on 4 April in Khan Shaykhun. But one thing is for certain, the simplistic narrative put forward by the opposition and the West is wrong on every fundamental level. In fact, we can even not be certain that sarin was actually used. Even though the OPCW determined that “a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance,”[48] former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has pointed out that the samples upon which the OPCW made this conclusion were supplied by the ostensibly partisan White Helmets, which is in violation of anything that would resemble a reliable chain of custody. This lead him to conclude that “in short, there is no sample.”[49] Moreover, the first reports of the usage of a chemical agent in the aftermath of the incident, including from Turkish media as well as the OPCW itself, made no mention of sarin, but instead defined the chemical used as chlorine.[50]

This is all not to say that a Syrian war plane did not target Khan Shaykun on 4 April. A day after the incident, spokesman of the Russian Defence Ministry Igor Konashenkov confirmed that Syrian aircraft had conducted an airstrike near the town of Khan Shaykhun on a warehouse where ammunition, including chemical weapons, were reportedly stored.[51] Although the Russian explanation that this strike might have sparked the release of one or more chemical agents was at the time dismissed by the West, Seymour Hersh in June confirmed from his intelligence sources that the US was well aware of Syria’s target on the morning of 4 April. As part of the joint deconfliction agreement, Russia had given details of a planned attack of the Syrian Air Force on a jihadist meeting between senior officials of Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusrah on 4 April in Khan Shaykhun to the Americans days before the assault. Using a Russian-supplied guided bomb and employing their best pilot, the Syrian Air Force at 06h55, as was planned and known by the Americans, struck the target, a two-story building in the northern part of the town. The basement of the building, according to a senior advisor with the Department of Defense and the CIA, “was used as storage for rockets, weapons and ammunition” as well as “chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial.” The same senior advisor told Hersh that Washington’s official story is a “fairy tale” and that “this was not a [deliberate] chemical weapons strike.”[52] Additionally, in a conversation between an active American soldier on duty on a key operational base about the events in Khan Shaykhun and a security advisor in the US in the wake of the incident, the former disclosed that “we KNOW that there was no chemical attack. The Syrians struck a weapons cache (a legitimate military target) and there was collateral damage. That’s it. They did not conduct any sort of chemical attack.”[53]

There you have it. American intelligence and military knew that the Syrian Air Force was going to strike a building where a high-level terrorist meeting was being held and where chemicals in the possession of the insurgents were stored. Taking this in mind, the most plausible explanation for the orchestrated “media campaign” at the site of the crater also in the north of Khan Shaykhun is that the Americans passed at least some of this prior knowledge to the foreign-backed militants. Indeed, the fact that the fake crater footage was being filmed almost exactly at the time the Syrians bombed the jihadist meeting can only mean that the al-Qaeda-linked militants were informed as well. The Americans therefore either disclosed everything they knew about the attack to the insurgents, after which the latter decided to orchestrate yet another false flag operation, or elements of the American deep state were directly involved. As four jihadist leaders were killed in the attack according to the senior advisor cited by Hersh, the first possibility seems less likely, because surely if the Islamist officials knew about the time and location of an airstrike that would likely result in their deaths, they would cancel the meeting. Hence, certain elements inside the American government are in all probability guilty of coordinating this false flag operation that indeed only benefitted the militants and interventionist elements in Washington.

Conclusion

To summarise, there is no real credible and independently verifiable evidence that the Syrian army in the course of the conflict ever used weaponised chemicals against its own people, even though the mainstream press, alongside UN investigative bodies, to this day report the contrary. This does not mean that the possibility should be ruled out, of course, but the Syrian government clearly has no motive to use chemical weapons. Their usage is of no strategic interest, nor are they superior to the Syrian army’s conventional arsenal. Moreover, there is no evidence that Assad wants to commit political suicide, even though this seems to be the only scenario in which his government would benefit from using chemical weapons. The foreign-backed Salafi-jihadi’s and the governments that over the last few years have conspired to destabilise Syria, on the other hand, do have a motive. Although opposition-linked activists, media and NGOs as well as said governments are at the forefront of denouncing Assad for “gassing his own people,” the armed opposition and the interventionist governments that support them are the only ones that have benefitted tremendously from the disgrace bestowed on their enemies in Damascus following the Ghouta and Khan Shaykhun incidents. And indeed, while the evidence seems to vindicate the possibility of government culpability in these hyped-up mediatised events, the armed insurgents and their foreign backers not only have the means to carry out these attacks, the evidence suggest that they orchestrated these false flag plots in order to legitimise their shared goal of demonising and overthrowing the Syrian government.

Hence, the emotional and tragic load with which the whole chemical weapons story has been and is being handled in the West must be seen as hardly anything more than a ploy in which innocent Syrians are killed in order to pull at the heartstrings of the public abroad to continue or intensify the proxy war against Syria. If the public buys into this narrative and supports further intervention into Syria’s internal affairs, however, it will not help or save the Syrian people. To the contrary, it will result in further bloodshed, the very kind the propaganda claims to be seeking to put a stop to. The cynicism of this needs to be recognised, and the “humanitarian” facades of Western politicians and media need to be confronted, because you never know when the next accusation, chemical weapons or otherwise, will pop up in the news cycle, whether it pertains to the Syrian conflict or a future war elsewhere.

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud Analyst & Author, is a bachelor’s student in History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time on getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. Mr. Spliet is proficient in English, Dutch and Arabic, and his analyses can be found at www.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com

Notes

[1] Rodrigo Campos, “Syrian government to blame for April sarin attack: U.N. report,” Reuters, 26.10.2017, http://reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-un/syrian-government-to-blame-for-april-sarin-attack-u-n-report-idUSKBN1CV3GP.

[2] “UN on Khan Sheikhoun – victims hospitalized before claimed incident happened,” Moon of Alabama, 29.10.2017, http://moonofalabama.org/2017/10/un-report-on-khan-sheikhoun-23-of-victims-hospitalized-before-the-incident-happened.html.

[3] Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (United Nations, A/HRC/36/55, September 2017), 17, available at http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/G1723418.pdf.

[4] Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, 22.

[5] Bas Spliet, “The proxy war on Syria – part 4: the export of disinformation,” Scrutinised Minds, 20.12.2016, http://scrutinisedminds.com/2016/12/20/the-proxy-war-on-syria-part-4-the-export-of-disinformation/.

[6] Tim Anderson, “The Houla massacre revisited: ‘official truth” in the dirty war on Syria,” Global Research, 24.03.2015, http://globalresearch.ca/houla-revisited-official-truth-in-the-dirty-war-on-syria/5438441.

[7] Tim Anderson, “The AbuZyad-Pinheiro committee: systematic misinformation on Syria,” American Herald Tribune, 10.09.2017, http://ahtribune.com/world/north-africa-south-west-asia/syria-crisis/1887-abuzayd-pinheiro-committee.html.

[8] “UN chief announces independent probe into allegations of chemical attack in Syria,” UN News Centre, 21.03.2013, http://org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44450#.WfWYgVvWzIU.

[9] UN Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, Final report (United Nations, A/68/663 – S/2013/735, December 2013), 5-9, available at http://undocs.org/A/68/663.

[10] “UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’,” BBC, 06.05.2013, http://bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22424188; Damien McElroy, “UN accuses Syrian rebels of chemical weapons use,” Telegraph, 06.05.2013, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10039672/UN-accuses-Syrian-rebels-of-chemical-weapons-use.html; “Syria investigator del Ponte quits, blaming U.N. Security Council,” Reuters, 06.09.2017, http://reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-investigator/syria-investigator-del-ponte-quits-blaming-u-n-security-council-idUSKBN1AM0P4.

[11] Christof Lehmann, “UN inspectors accept Syrian invitation after Russian pressure and seizure of massive chemical depot from opposition,” NSNBC International, 11.07.2013, http://nsnbc.me/2013/07/11/un-inspectors-accept-syrian-invitation-after-russian-pressure-and-seizure-of-massive-chemical-depot-from-opposition/.

[12] The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Government assessment of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on August 21, 2013 (White House, Washington, DC, 2013), http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/08/30/government-assessment-syrian-government-s-use-chemical-weapons-august-21.

[13] Richard Lloyd and Theodore Postol, Possible implications of faulty US technical intelligence in the Damascus nerve agent attack of August 21, 2013 (Washington, DC: MIT – Science, Technology and Global Security Working Group, January 2014), available at http://voltairenet.org/IMG/pdf/possible-implications-of-bad-intelligence.pdf.

[14] “Attacks on Ghouta: analysis of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Human Rights Watch, 10.09.2013, http://hrw.org/report/2013/09/10/attacks-ghouta/analysis-alleged-use-chemical-weapons-syria.

[15] Rick Gladstone and C.J. Chivers, “Forensic details in U.N. report point to Assad’s use of gas,” New York Times, 16.09.2013, http://nytimes.com/2013/09/17/world/europe/syria-united-nations.html.

[16] Tony Cartalucci, “Video: rockets in Damascus CW attack fired from makeshift flatbeds, not military vehicles,” Land Destroyer Report, 26.09.2013, http://landdestroyer.blogspot.be/2013/09/video-rockets-used-in-damacus-cw-attack.html.

[17] “Rebels could resort to chemical weapons, Syria warns,” France 24, 08.12.2012, http://france24.com/en/20121208-syria-warns-rebels-may-resort-chemical-weapons-assad-united-nations-islamists/; “Syrian militants have access to chlorine gas,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, 01.04.2013, http://nti.org/gsn/article/syrian-militants-have-access-chlorine-gas-plant-owner/; “Turkey finds sarin gas in homes of suspected Syrian Islamists - reports,” RT, 30.05.2013, http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-al-nusra-021/; Christof Lehmann, “Syrian army seizes massive chemical stockpile from insurgents. Enough to wipe out entire country,” NSNMC International, 10.07.2013, http://nsnbc.me/2013/07/10/syrian-army-seizes-massive-chemical-stockpile-from-insurgents-enough/; “Syria rebels made own sarin gas, says Russia,” al-Jazeera, 10.07.2013, http://aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/07/20137920448105510.html; Michelle Nichols, “Two ‘abandoned’ cylinders seized in Syria contained sarin – U.N.,” Reuters, 07.07.2014, http://reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-chemicalweapons/two-abandoned-cylinders-seized-in-syria-contained-sarin-u-n-idUSKBN0FC1U420140707.

[18] Seymour Hersh, “Whose sarin?”, London Review of Books 35, no. 24 (December 2013), 9-12, available at http://lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

[19] Hersh, “Whose sarin?”

[20] UN Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, Final report (United Nations, A/68/663 – S/2013/735, December 2013), 21-3, available at http://undocs.org/A/68/663.

[21] Human Rights Council, Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (United Nations, A/HRC/25/65, February 2014), 19, available at http://securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/a_hrc_25_65.pdf.

[22] Seymour Hersh, “The red line and the rat line,” London Review of Books 36, no. 8 (April 2014), 21-4, available at http://lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line.

[23] Hersh, “The red line and the rat line.”

[24] Hersh, “The red line and the rat line.”

[25] Eric Zuesse, “Seymour Hersh says Hillary approved sending Libya’s sarin to Syrian rebels,” Strategic Culture Foundation, 28.04.2016, http://strategic-culture.org/news/2016/04/28/seymour-hersh-hillary-approved-sending-libya-sarin-syrian-rebels.html.

[26] Hersh, “The red line and the rat line;” Nick Tattersall, “Turkey calls Syria security leak ‘villainous,’ blocks YouTube,” Reuters, 27.03.2014, http://reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-turkey/turkey-calls-syria-security-leak-villainous-blocks-youtube-idUSBREA2Q17420140327.

[27] Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh, “Syrians in Ghouta claim Saudi-supplied rebels behind chemical attack,” Mintpress News, 29.09.2013, http://mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/.

[28] Edward Dark, “Syrian FSA fades in shadow of Saudi-backed opposition front,” al-Monitor, 11.12.2013, http://al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/12/syria-fsa-islamic-front-geneva-ii-jarba.html.

[29] James Ball, “Obama issues Syria a ‘red line’ warning on chemical weapons,” Washington Post, 20.08.2012, http://washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-issues-syria-red-line-warning-on-chemical-weapons/2012/08/20/ba5d26ec-eaf7-11e1-b811-09036bcb182b_story.html?utm_term=.c525f45ac5f1.

[30] “Syria proposes Mideast free of WMD,” CNN, 17.04.2003, http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/04/16/sprj.irq.un.syria/.

[31] “Last of Syria’s chemical weapons shipped out,” BBC, 23.06.2014, http://bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27974379.

[32] OPCW, Third report of the OPCW fact-finding mission in Syria (Office of the Director-General, S/1230/2014, 18.12.2014), 10-33, http://photos.state.gov/libraries/netherlands/328666/pdfs/THIRDREPORTOFTHEOPCWFACTFINDINGMISSIONINSYRIA.pdf; Edith M. Lederer, “Experts identify cases of Syria chemical attacks to probe,” Washington Post, 12.02.2016, reposted on Wayback Machine, http://web.archive.org/web/20160214085254/https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/experts-identify-cases-of-syria-chemical-attacks-to-probe/2016/02/12/917f6666-d1e6-11e5-90d3-34c2c42653ac_story.html.

[33] Tom McKay, “Here are 45 times Trump said attacking Syria was a bad idea and might start World War III,” Mic, 07.04.2017, http://mic.com/articles/173471/trump-world-war-iii-attacking-syria-wwiii-ww3#.qLyRr9Kh9.

[34] Tyler Durden, “McCain furious at Rex Tillerson of saying Assad can stay,” Zero Hedge, 31.03.2017, http://zerohedge.com/news/2017-03-31/mccain-furious-rex-tillerson-saying-assad-can-stay.

[35] Syria Civil Defence, A joint statement by the Syria Civil Defence and the Health Directorate in Idlib, available on website of Syria Civil Defence, 04.04.2017, http://syriacivildefense.org/press-release/joint-statement-syria-civil-defence-and-health-directorate-idlib.

[36] In the midst of a series of infighting conflicts between rival militia’s, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham – formerly Jabhat al-Nusrah, Syria’s then official branch of al-Qaeda – had in late February managed to subjugate the ISIS-backed Liwa al-Aqsa and take control of Khan Shaykhun: Izat Charkatli, “Over 2,000 radical rebels defect of ISIS following intra-rebel deal,” al-Masdar News, 23.02.2017, http://almasdarnews.com/article/2000-radical-rebels-defect-isis-following-intra-rebel-deal/.

[37] Alana Abramson, “Read Nikki Haley’s remarks about Syria at the U.N.,” Time, 05.04.2017, http://time.com/4727499/nikki-haley-unsc-transcript-syria/.

[38] Luke Harding, “’It had a big impact on me’ – the story behind Trump’s whirlwind missile response,” Guardian, 07.04.2017, http://theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/07/how-pictures-of-syrias-dead-babies-made-trump-do-unthinkable; Barbara Starr and Jeremy Diamond, “Trump launches military strike against Syria,” CNN, 07.04.2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/06/politics/donald-trump-syria-military/.

[39] “Declassified U.S. report on chemical weapons attack,” New York Times, 11.04.2017, http://nytimes.com/interactive/2017/04/11/world/middleeast/document-Syria-Chemical-Weapons-Report-White-House.html.

[40] Theodore A. Postol, “A quick turnaround assessment of the White House intelligence report issued on April 11, 2017 about the nerve agent attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria,” Scribd, http://scribd.com/document/344995943/Report-by-White-House-Alleging-Proof-of-Syria-as-the-Perpetrator-of-the-Nerve-Agent-Attack-in-Khan-Shaykhun-on-April-4-2017#from_embed.

[41] The first two follow-up reports mainly dealt with the way the Idlib Health Directorate and White Helmets first responders handled the situation, and how they should all be exposed to severe intoxication if indeed sarin would have been released out of the crater around and in which they were operating without adequate safety gear: Robert Barsocchini, “Addenum to Dr. Theodore Postol’s assessment of the White House report on Syria chemical attack,” Washington’s Blog, 13.04.2017, http://washingtonsblog.com/2017/04/addendum-dr-theodore-postols-assessment-white-house-report-syria-chemical-attack.html; Theodore Postol, “Video evidence of false claims made in the White House intelligence report of April 11, 2017,” Washington’s Blog, 14.04.2017, http://washingtonsblog.com/2017/04/video-evidence-false-claims-made-white-house-intelligence-report-april-11-2017.html. It should be mentioned that in his third report, Postol erroneously interprets his own wind direction data, but it still contains important information with regard to analysis of the footage at the mass casualty location: Theodore Postol, “The nerve agent attack that did not occur: analysis of the times and locations of critical events in the alleged nerve agent attack at 7 am on April 4,2017 in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria,” Washington’s Blog, 18.04.2017, http://washingtonsblog.com/2017/04/67102.html. In the last relevant report, Postol corrected this error and pointed out that journalist adjacent to the crater were not reporting on human casualties on the alleged location where sarin should have caused mass casualties if indeed the crater was the source of the sarin release: Theodore Postol, “Important correction to the nerve agent attack that did not occur,” Washington’s Blog, 23.04.2017, http://washingtonsblog.com/2017/04/67182.html.

[42] Anthony Joseph and Robert Verkaik, “UK-trained doctor hailed a hero for treating gas attack victims in Syria stood trial on terror offences ‘and belonged to the group that kidnapped British reporter John Cantlie’,” Daily Mail, 07.04.2017, http://dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4388780/Doctor-Syria-stood-trial-terror-offences.html.

[43] Paul Antonopoulos, “Juming to conclusion; something is not adding up in Idlib chemical weapons attack,” al-Masdar News, 04.04.2017, http://almasdarnews.com/article/jumping-conclusions-something-not-adding-idlib-chemical-weapons-attack/.

[44] UN and OPCW, Seventh report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism (United Nation, S/2017/xxx, October 2017), 36, available for download at http://moonofalabama.org/2017/10/un-report-on-khan-sheikhoun-23-of-victims-hospitalized-before-the-incident-happened.html.

[45] UN and OPCW, Seventh report, 10.

[46] UN and OPCW, Seventh report, 36.

[47] UN and OPCW, Seventh report, 25-6.

[48] Anthony Deutsch, “Chemical weapons watchdog says sarin used in April attack in Syria,” Reuters, 29.06.2017, http://reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-chemicalweapons/chemical-weapons-watchdog-says-sarin-used-in-april-attack-in-syria-idUSKBN19K302.

[49] Scott Ritter, “Trump’s sarin claims built on a lie,” American Conservative, 29.06.2017, http://theamericanconservative.com/articles/ex-weapons-inspector-trumps-sarin-claims-built-on-lie/.

[50] “Chlorine, not sarin, was used in the Khan Sheikhoun incident,” Moon of Alabama, 20.04.2017, http://moonofalabama.org/2017/04/only-chlorine-not-sarin-involved-in-the-khan-sheikhun-incident.html.

[51] “Syria strikes warehouse storing chemical weapons being delivered to Iraq,” Spuntik, 05.04.2017, http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201704051052301312-syria-strikes-chemical-weapons-warehouse/.

[52] Seymour Hersh, “Trump’s red line,” Welt, 25.06.2017, http://welt.de/politik/ausland/article165905578/Trump-s-Red-Line.html.

[53] Quoted in Seymour Hersh, “’We got a fuckin’ problem’,” Welt, 25.06.2017, http://welt.de/politik/ausland/article165905618/We-got-a-fuckin-problem.html.

Newsbud Exclusive- The 2011 Conspiracy Against Syria Unravels!

Last week, a bombshell was dropped by former Qatari politician Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabel al-Thani, who oversaw Qatari intervention in Syria until 2013. Simultaneously occupying the post of prime minister and foreign minister during the so-called “Arab Spring,” Hamad was at the forefront of his country’s role in the proxy war against Syria and thus has first-hand inside knowledge of the covert discussions that were being held between the various countries mutually hostile to the Syrian government at the time. Amidst outing his frustrations regarding the current Gulf crisis, he shared some of that knowledge with the outside world in an interview on Qatari television:

When the events first started in Syria, I went to Saudi Arabia and met with King Abdullah. I did that on the instructions of his highness the prince, my father. He [King Abdullah] said we are behind you. You go ahead with this plan and we will coordinate but you should be in charge. I won’t get into details, but we took full charge and anything that was sent [to Syria] would go to Turkey and was in coordination with the US forces and everything was distributed via the Turks and the US forces. And us and everyone else were involved, the military people. There may have been mistakes and support was given to the wrong faction, but not Daesh - they are exaggerating if they say that.[sic][1] Maybe there was a relationship with Nusra [al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria], it’s possible but I myself don’t know about this. But I can tell you that even if that was the case, when it was decided that Nusra is not acceptable, the support for Nusra stopped and the concentration was on the liberation of Syria. We were fighting over the prey [i.e. Assad and his supporters], and now the prey is gone, and we are still fighting. And now Bashar [al-Assad] is still here. If you say ‘okay, Bashar can stay,’ we don’t mind. We have no feelings of vengeance against him, but you [the US and Saudi Arabia] were with us in the same trench.”[2] (emphasis added)

In June, Hamad had already told American talk show host Charlie Rose practically the same thing, but in a less comprehensive fashion:

“Look, in Syria everybody did mistakes, including your country [the US]. When the war, or the revolution, happened in Syria, all of us worked through two operation rooms, one in Jordan and one in Turkey. The first one was in Jordan. And there was countries, some of the GCC countries, among them the Saudi’s, the Emirati’s, Qatar, the United States and other allies, and they was working from there. And all of us was supporting the same group [the armed opposition]. In Turkey we did the same.”[3]

One could take these startling admissions in two directions. The first one could lead to a conclusion that once the rebellion was in full gear, the above-mentioned countries started to support the armed opposition in the form of funding, arms supply and propaganda. This, however, is increasingly becoming documented knowledge and part of the historical record. Moreover, this conclusion would still accept the notion that there was first a tangible and widespread revolution against Assad’s rule which evolved into a civil war, and that the countries in question only afterwards capitalised on these events to further their own geopolitical agendas. In contrast, a second direction could explore the possibility that the covert discussions of which Hamad revealed some were already taking place from the very onset, “when the events first started in Syria,” or even before that. If substantiated, this hypothesis would challenge the claim that the origins of the Syrian debacle lay at a massive uprising against the Syrian government, the latter which was accused of brutally cracking down on initially peaceful protests. The collusion of the geopolitical regime change agendas of the US and its NATO and Gulf allies, particularly Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel, then, might constitute the real first cause of the tremendous suffering of the Syrian people. This article chooses the more provocative second direction.

Syria, an eternal target

Since Syria became independent from France in 1946, Western countries and intelligence agencies regularly conspired to overthrow the ruling regimes of the day. In 1949, a CIA-backed coup succeeded, although very briefly, in ousting Syria’s democratically elected president, and in 1956 and 1957, American and British intelligence twice failed to overthrow the Syrian government, the latter plot which included assassination attempts of leading figures in the Syrian power structure.[4] A recently declassified CIA document, too, revealed multiple agency plans to engineer the collapse of Hafez al-Assad’s government in 1986, including by way of exacerbating sectarian tensions, which is exactly what the US and its allies had done a couple of years earlier when they backed the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood insurrection in Hama.[5] After bloody clashes between the army and Brotherhood Islamists had left thousands dead there, US military intelligence dryly observed that “the Syrians are pragmatic [and] do not want a Muslim Brotherhood government.”[6]

Following 9/11, Syria immediately ended up on the Pentagon’s drawing board. In a 2007 interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, retired four-star General and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark disclosed that in the aftermath of 11 September, 2001, a fellow general of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told him that the Ministry of Defense had decided “to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and finishing off [with] Iran.”[7] Not long after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration put sanctions on Syria for its alleged ties to terrorism,[8] and soon various American and Israeli officials were issuing threats against the Syrian government that hinted at it being next on Washington’s Middle East chopping block.[9] Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, declared a month after the invasion of Iraq that “there has got to be regime change in Syria” as well, and American-born Israeli journalist Caroline Glick even called for a pre-emptive war against Damascus.[10] At the same time, however, Syria was a primary partner in America’s secretive “extraordinary rendition” program in which terrorism suspects were extradited to foreign countries where they were to be interrogated and often tortured.[11] Furthermore, since 9/11 the Syrian government was providing the US with important intelligence about al-Qaeda, and therefore, the CIA and State Department figured that finishing the job in Iraq first remained the top priority in American foreign policy for the time being.[12]

Laying the groundwork

Still, declassified documents and admissions from government officials reveal that covert operations to destabilise the government of Bashar al-Assad, who ascended to the presidency after his father’s death in 2000, were ongoing during the Iraq war. In a cable released by Wikileaks, William Roebuck, then chargé d’affaires at the American embassy in Damascus, advised his superiors in 2006 to coordinate more closely with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to fan the flames of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Syria.[13] And indeed, in his widely circulated 2007 piece The redirection, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that the US was partaking “clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria” which bolstered Sunni extremist groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda. More concretely, Hersh wrote that the “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad,” just as Roebuck had suggested in the previous year. Furthermore, a former high-ranking CIA officer revealed to Hersh that the Americans and Saudi’s provided political as well as financial support to the Syrian National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition groups centred around former Vice-President Adbul Halim Khaddam and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.[14]

In addition, the Washington Post reported in April 2011 that the State Department had secretly funnelled millions of dollars to Syrian political opposition groups since at least 2005, drawing on analysis from several Wikileaks cables. It also provided funds to Barada TV, a London-based opposition satellite channel which began broadcasting in April 2009 and conveniently ramped up operations in 2011 to cover the unfolding demonstrations.[15] The role of such clandestine operations in laying the groundwork for regime change should not be underestimated. Also in April 2011, a couple of months into the Arab revolts, the New York Times reported that Congress- and State Department-funded NGOs such as Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy, both infamous for their roles in instigating colour revolutions around the world, “played a bigger role in fomenting protests [in the Arab world] than was previously known,” particularly in Yemen and Egypt.[16]

In Syria, however, it went further than actions that could be disguised as “democracy building campaigns,” as the New York Times described the funding and training of activists and political opposition groups around the Arab world. In a bombshell statement, former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas gave a piece of insight into the pre-2011 underground plans to destabilise Syria in 2013. During a debate on French television in June of that year, he exposed plans of foreign-engineered armed rebellion as far back as 2009:

“I am going to tell you something. I was in England two years before the hostilities began in Syria. I was there by chance for other business, not at all for Syria. I met with British officials, some of whom are friends of mine, and they confessed while trying to persuade me that preparations for something were underway in Syria. This was in Britain, not America. Britain was preparing the invasion of rebels into Syria. […] I just need to say that this operation goes way back. It was prepared, conceived and planned.[17] (emphasis added)

When Dumas spoke to a correspondent of Syrian state-sponsored news outlet SANA two weeks later, he added that he was approached by two people, an Englishman and a Frenchman, who asked him to participate in the preparations for a plan to topple the Syrian government. Dumas said that he refused, but that “events proved that they were serious about what they were saying.”[18]

When zooming out, all of this clearly interlocks with the big agendas of Western deep states regarding the Middle East. In 2008, one of the think tanks closely aligned to the Pentagon, RAND corporation, published a paper that discussed several US government policy options in “the long war” against Washington’s various adversaries in the Middle East. Aside from continuing supporting “the conservative Sunni regimes” in the Gulf, the authors proposed a “divide and rule” strategy as well, as such a policy “focuses on exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts.” “This strategy,” RAND added, “relies heavily on covert actions, information operations (IO), unconventional warfare, and support to indigenous security forces.”[19] And indeed, in retrospect this appears to have been the chosen strategy in Washington’s efforts to topple Assad as well as Gaddafi respectively in Syria and Libya, where supporting local insurgents has led to the enormous amount of loss of life, the displacement of millions and the enormous infrastructural destruction of both countries.

Revolution?

When mainstream publications narrate the Syrian war, they by default explain the root cause of it to be anti-government demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the Assad government. In the viral “explanation” videos of the Guardian,[20] Vox[21] and Kurzgesagt,[22] the Syrian government, standardly characterised as an “authoritarian” or “quasi-dictatorial” regime, is depicted as the villain that brutally cracked down on massive peaceful pro-democracy protests across the country, after which those who wanted change eventually had no other alternative than to take up arms themselves. This narrative, however, is deeply flawed on every fundamental level.

First of all, it turns out that there were no signs of revolutionary sentiment in early 2011. One would expect that if Syria was ruled over by a brutal and unpopular dictatorship, the Syrian government would have to face popular uprisings all across the country, just like in Tunisia and Egypt. As reported by Time magazine’s correspondent in Damascus Rania Abouzeid, however, demonstrations in the wake of the Arab uprisings in February either “fizzled” because they failed to garner support, or they were mainly focused on the situation in other Arab countries and attracted less than 200 people.[23] In a follow-up article in the beginning of March called “Sitting pretty in Syria: why few go bashing Bashar,” Abouzeid explained why “even critics concede that Assad is popular and considered close to the country’s huge youth cohort.” Despite the one-party rule and the widespread corruption and lack of political freedom resulting from it, high unemployment and poverty rates and the repressive and vigilant state-security apparatus the Syrian government shared with the pro-American ruling regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, “Assad has a hostile foreign policy toward Israel and stridently supports the Palestinians and the militant groups Hamas and Hizballah,” which are very much “in line with popular Syrian sentiment.” Furthermore, “Assad is viewed as a reformer even by some Syrians who may despise the regime, blaming its shortcomings on his father’s still present ‘old guard’.” Indeed, drawing from interviews with human rights activists, Abouzeid stressed that the majority of Syrians want reform to take place within the party, the government and the security agencies.[24] As suggested by a poll conducted by a leading Turkish think tank, that sentiment had not changed by late 2011, as only 5% of the Syrian respondents said they supported violent protest, while 91% opposed it.[25]

It is no surprise, then, that the events that triggered the war did not take place in the country’s largest cities such as was the case in the Tunisian and Egyptian capital cities of Tunis and Cairo, where mass protests forced Ben Ali and Mubarak to resign. Rather, the first incident happened in the southern regional town of Dara’a, close to the Syrian-Jordanian border. In mid-March, the arrest of a group of 15 kids who had sprayed a graffiti slogan containing the words “the people want the regime to fall” on a wall had sparked protests which resulted into casualties as well as the torching of the Baath Party headquarters and the courthouse of the town. According to Abouzeid, who was in the country contrary to most journalists who wrote about the incident, “Assad responded immediately, sending a high-ranking delegation to deliver his condolences to the families of the dead,” after which the governor was dismissed, and the kids were released.[26] While most Western media publications quoted unnamed “witnesses” and “activists” as saying that security forces brutally cracked down on the demonstrations in Dara’a, Lebanese and Israeli media reported that seven police officers and at least four demonstrators had been killed in the clashes that had erupted.[27] In addition, several reports observed rooftop snipers targeting both civilians and police, which is reminiscent of other highly questionable and obscure events, such as the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in Hama, the 2014 Maiden square demonstrations in Kiev and the 2016 killings during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. In all these events, rooftop snipers who are by now either confirmed or suspected to be agent provocateurs killed both peaceful demonstrators and police officers.[28]

Although it is unclear what exactly transpired in Dara’a, it has all the appearances of an at least partially staged event. When demonstrators as well as security forces die, this means that there must have been an armed insurrection which was either embedded with the protestors, or which drove the peaceful demonstrators off the streets. Taking in mind Roland Dumas’s revelation of European plans of the invasion of rebels into Syria and Dara’a’s close proximity to Jordan, where one of the two multinational operation rooms with the specific goal of regime change would soon be (or perhaps was already) set up, it is at least plausible that several foreign countries conspired to plan the events in Dara’a. And indeed, Reuters reported a couple of days before the eruption of violence that Syrian security forces had seized a large shipment of weapons, explosives and night-vision goggles from a truck at al-Tanaf, the Iraq-Syria border crossing that is the closest one to Dara’a;[29] and Saudi official Anwar al-Eshki later confirmed to BBC television that his country had sent weapons to the al-Omari mosque in Dara’a prior to the moment all hell broke loose in the town.[30]

A second critique of the mainstream narrative thus shatters the myth that the anti-government demonstrations were peaceful during the first phase of the so-called revolution, as already from the very onset the amount of dead security forces seemed to equal those of the demonstrators, at least some of the latter who must have been foreign-backed armed insurgents. This pattern continued throughout the first months of the conflict, as dozens of police officers and soldiers were massacred in March and April.[31] By mid-December 2011, the UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay estimated the death toll of the conflict to total around 5.000 casualties.[32] Contrast that to the government’s count of 478 police officers and 2.091 soldiers and security forces killed among its ranks between 29 March 2011 and 20 March 2012, which was incorporated into a report from the UN’s Human Rights Office.[33] Although absolutely nothing can justify or excuse state aggression against protestors, it is clear that a significant part of the violence should be attributed to armed insurgents. Furthermore, according to Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest in Homs who was killed by Jabhat al-Nusrah in 2014, “very often the violence of the security forces is a reaction to the cruel violence of the armed insurgency.”[34]

Finally, although no one dismisses the fact that significant anti-government demonstrations with attendees totalling tens of thousands were held in the spring and summer of 2011, the mainstream narrative ignored the huge, ostensibly larger, pro-government rallies that were held in response to the violence that was happening across the country. Although both sides clearly inflated the number of attendees at their respective rallies, Camille Otrakji (in an article intentionally non-normative and critical of both sides) estimated that up to one million Syrians attended pro-government demonstrations, which is close to five percent of the population or 50 times the amount of the only pro-Mubarak rally in Egypt.[35] These observations suggest that Assad is popular, which is backed up by several additional sources, some of whom from entities openly hostile to the Syrian government. In 2008, an American poll by the University of Maryland and Zogby International found that Arab respondents considered Assad the world leader that they admired the most aside from Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah.[36] A year later, the Syrian president was chosen as the person of the year by CNN’s Arabic readers, more than doubling the score of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who came in second.[37] At the beginning of 2012, nine months into the conflict, Assad’s popularity among Syrians had not faltered. Analysis of 18 large polls on Facebook conducted in 2011 showed an average of 53% in favour or President Assad, while support for typical demands of the opposition, such as changing the colours of the Syrian flag, an Arab boycott of Syria, Turkish or NATO intervention and a UN vote targeting the Syrian government, were very weak.[38] In January 2012, the Guardian reported that a poll linked to the Qatari government found that, to its surprise, some 55% of Syrians wanted Assad to stay while most Arabs outside Syria felt the president must resign. This indicates the growing bifurcation between Syrian and Arab public opinion, or between those undergoing the horror of war and those consuming news about it, which indicates the effectiveness of Gulf and Western propaganda in turning global public opinion against the Syrian government.[39]

A source enormously biased against Assad, NATO, confirmed that this sentiment did not change over the course of the conflict. An internal study of the Atlantic military alliance conducted in June 2013 estimated that 70% of the Syrian population supported the president while 20% adopted a neutral position, in contrast to a mere 10% support for the rebels.[40] Although Western media and officials were quick to denounce the 2014 presidential elections, the first real democratic and competitive ones in decades following a 2012 referendum that amended the constitution, the results actually pretty accurately reflected NATO’s assessment. Assad defeated his two opponents with 88.7% of the votes, with a massive participation rate of 73.7%. This means that a staggering 64% of the eligible voters chose for Assad to remain in power, which more than doubles the 26% that put Donald Trump into the White House.[41] As to the credibility of the elections, over 100 international observers from both allied (e.g. Russia and Iran) and non-partisan (e.g. Brazil, Venezuela and Uganda) countries monitored the elections and issued a statement declaring that the elections were “free and fair” and were held “in a democratic environment, contrary to Western propaganda.”[42] As Sunnis make up 75% of the Syrian populace and Alawites only 11%, this completely debunks the false representation of Assad’s rule as a sectarian Alawite dictatorship suppressing a Sunni majority.

The standard narrative employed to explain the origins of the Syrian “civil war” thus has the truth totally backwards. Not only did and does the Syrian government headed by President Assad enjoy a considerably large popularity and was there hardly any widespread revolutionary fervour against the Baath Party during the so-called Arab Spring, the insurgency, commonly described in Western and Gulf media as some sort of unified opposition, was violent and brutal from the very day the conflict started on 15 March 2011. This, of course, does not mean that Syrian security forces did not use excessive force to suppress dissent or did not commit human rights violations over the course of the conflict, nor does it mean that there was never meaningful opposition and agitation against the government. While Assad’s governance around 2011 was often praised for its foreign policy, its secularism and protection of women rights and minorities, the stability of the country and social inclusion in the sectors of education and health, Assad failed to better the dire economic situation, effectively fight corruption, lessen fears over the security-intelligence apparatus and abolish the one-party rule of the Baath Party.[43] The Western mass media pointed to these failures in order to construct a simplified narrative of “the Syrian people” on the one hand against “the government” on the other, as if Arabs, in contrast to Westerners, are not capable of having complex political systems in which various pressure groups agree on some things and disagree on other issues.

Conclusion

Otrakji offers a clear explanation of why most Syrians allow the continuation of the authoritarian nature of the Syrian government:

“While the coalition opposed to Assad successfully promoted its role as a champion of individual political freedom, Assad’s supporter’s reaction was: ‘great, but never at the expense of our national freedom and dignity.’ This is a key element that western media fail to understand about the psychology of the Syrian people. Many Syrians are more preoccupied with protecting their country’s national interests rather than their own right to challenge President Assad at the 2014 Presidential elections. You will not convince them to sacrifice their national dignity in favor of promises by a highly energetic coalition of all the Gulf Arabs, Turkey, and western countries that often attempted to control Syria’s decisions, suppress Syria’s aspirations, or simply weaken Syria’s role in the region so that they can enjoy more influence. To many Syrians, including but not limited to Assad’s supporters, ‘the international community’ + the GCC are seen as vultures and sharks. The two Assads, unlike the Qatar financed Syrian opposition, have always been willing to suffer constant pressure, punishment and isolation, to protect Syria’s dignity and independence.”[44]

Indeed, most Syrians perceive the war in a totally different fashion as the propagandised masses in the West and in much of the rest of the Arab world. Many Syrians abhor fellow countrymen who cry for Western intervention, because they see the conflict not as a civil war but as a proxy war waged by the US, Israel, Turkey, the GCC and NATO against their freedom and security. Syrians know their history, as well as the broader history of neo-colonialism in the Middle East and elsewhere, and know that the “humanitarian” concerns of foreign officials are nothing but a disguise for what they perceive as just the latest iteration of Western imperialism. As a result, they turn for help to their own government, the supposed unpopularity and brutality of which paradoxically constituted the backbone of selling the war on Syria in the first place.

The real reason for instigating the proxy war on Syria, as this article has demonstrated, has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with “saving” the Syrian people. When are we going to learn that, time and time again, mainstream media coverage is little more than propaganda to justify foreign intervention, which, time and time again, strengthens – not lessens – the grip of hostile governments over their populations? In a 2016 interview with Swedish media, at a time the mass media was crying crocodile tears over Aleppo, a Syrian doctor who actually lives in Aleppo was asked what the outside world should do to help Syria and its people from the hell of war. His answer? “Leave us alone, forget us.”[45]

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud Contributing Analyst,  is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] According to a leaked mail to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and an admission of Vice-President Joe Biden, both senior officials under the second Obama administration, Qatar was among the countries that provided support to ISIS: Patrick Cockburn, “We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along – US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis,” Independent, 14.10.2016, http://independent.co.uk/voices/hillary-clinton-wikileaks-email-isis-saudi-arabia-qatar-us-allies-funding-barack-obama-knew-all-a7362071.html; Barbara Plett Usher, “Joe Biden apologised over IS remarks, but was he right?”, BBC, 07.10.2014, http://bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29528482.

[2] Quoted from translation provided by Zero Hedge: Tyler Durden, “In shocking, viral interview, Qatar confesses secrets behind Syrian war,” Zero Hedge, 29.10.2017, http://zerohedge.com/news/2017-10-28/shocking-viral-interview-qatar-confesses-secrets-behind-syrian-war.

[3] Ben Norton, “U.S. and Gulf allies supported Islamist extremists in Syria, Qatar’s ex-prime minister admits, bolstering growing evidence,” Alternet, 16.06.2017, http://alternet.org/grayzone-project/us-and-gulf-allies-supported-islamist-extremists-syria-qatars-ex-prime-minister.

[4] Bas Spliet, “The proxy war on Syria – part 1: the Syrian conflict in historical perspective,” Scrutinised Minds, 29.11.2016, http://scrutinisedminds.com/2016/11/29/the-proxy-war-on-syria-part-1-the-syrian-conflict-in-historical-perspective/; Ben Fenton, “Macmillan backed Syria assassination plot,” Guardian, 27.09.2003, http://theguardian.com/politics/2003/sep/27/uk.syria1.

[5] Brad Hoff, “New declassified CIA memo presents blueprint for Syrian regime change collapse,” Libertarian Institute, 14.02.2017, http://libertarianinstitute.org/articles/cia-memo-scenarios-of-syrian-regime-collapse/; Tim Anderson, The dirty war on Syria: Washington, regime change and resistance (Montréal, Global Research Publishers, 2016), 15-6.

[6] US Defense Intelligence Agency, Syria: Muslim Brotherhood pressure intensifies (Washington DC, May 1982), 8, available at http://syria360.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dia-syria-muslimbrotherhoodpressureintensifies-2.pdf.

[7] Amy Goodman, “Gen. Wesley Clark weighs presidential bid: ‘I think about it every day’,” interview with Wesley Clark, Daily Show, Democracy Now, 02.03.2007, available at http://democracynow.org/2007/3/2/gen_wesley_clark_weighs_presidential_bid.

[8] “Bush signs Syria sanction bill,” CNN, 13012.2003, http://edition.cnn.com/2003/US/12/12/bush.syria/.

[9] John J. Maersheimer and Stephen M. Walt, “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy,” London Review of Books 28, no. 6 (2006), 59-60, available at http://mearsheimer.uchicago.edu/pdfs/IsraelLobby.pdf.

[10] Nathan Guttman, “Some senior U.S. figures say Syria has crossed the red line,” Haaretz, 14.04.2003, http://haaretz.com/print-edition/features/some-senior-u-s-figures-say-syria-has-crossed-the-red-line-1.12943; Caroline Glick, “Fighting the next war,” Jerusalem Post, 19.04.2007, cited in Jonathan Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisation: Iran, Iraq and the plan to remake the Middle East (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 138.

[11] Jane Mayer, “Outsourcing torture: the secret history of America’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program,” New Yorker, 14.02.2005, http://newyorker.com/magazine/2005/02/14/outsourcing-torture.

[12] Maersheimer and Walt, “The Israel lobby,” 60.

[13] William Roebuck, “Influencing the SARG in the end of 2006,” 13.12.2006 (Wikileaks, cable 06 Damascus 5399 a), available at http://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06DAMASCUS5399_a.html.

[14] Seymour Hersh, “The redirection: is the administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?”, New Yorker, 05.03.2007, http://newyorker.com/magazine/2007/03/05/the-redirection.

[15] Craig Whitlock, “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by Wikileaks show,” Washington Post, 17.04.2011, http://washingtonpost.com/world/us-secretly-backed-syrian-opposition-groups-cables-released-by-wikileaks-show/2011/04/14/AF1p9hwD_story.html?utm_term=.f2259efaf369.

[16] Ron Nixon, “U.S. groups helped nurture Arab uprisings,” New York Times, 14.04.2011, http://nytimes.com/2011/04/15/world/15aid.html.

[17] Quoted from Youtube, “Roland Dumas: the British prepared for war in Syria 2 years before the eruption of the crisis,” channel of Syrian buzzard, posted on 18.06.2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeyRwFHR8WY.

[18] Christof Lehman, “Former French Foreign Minister Dumas blows the whistle on Western war plans against Syria,” NSNBC International, 03.07.2013, http://nsnbc.me/2013/07/03/former-french-foreign-minister-dumas-blows-the-whistle-on-western-war/.

[19] Christopher Pernin et al., Unfolding the future of the long war: motivations, prospects and implications for the U.S. army (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2008), 16.

[20] Youtube, “The war in Syria explained in five minutes: Guardian animations,” channel of the Guardian, posted on 18.09.2013, http://youtube.com/watch?v=K5H5w3_QTG0.

[21] Youtube, “Syria’s war: who’s fighting and why,” channel of Vox, posted on 07.04.2017, http://youtube.com/watch?v=JFpanWNgfQY.

[22] Youtube, “The European refugee crisis and Syria explained,” channel of Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, posted on 17.09.2015, http://youtube.com/watch?v=RvOnXh3NN9w&t=33s.

[23] Rania Abouzeid, “The Syrian style of repression: thugs and lectures,” Time, 27.02.2011, http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2055713-1,00.html.

[24] Rania Abouzeid, “Sitting pretty in Syria: why few go bashing Bashar,” Time, 06.03.2011, http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2057067,00.html.

[25] Mensur Akgün and Sabiha Senyücel Gündogar, The perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2011, transl. Jonathan Levack (Istanbul: TESEV Publications, February 2012), 15-6, available at http://fes-tuerkei.org/media/pdf/Publikationen%20Archiv/Ortak%20Yay%C4%B1nlar/2011/2011%20Perception%20of%20Turkey%202011.pdf.

[26] Rania Abouzeid, “Syria’s revolt: how graffiti stirred an uprising,” Time, 22.03.2011, http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2060788,00.html.

[27] Michel Chossudovsky, “Six years ago: the US-NATO-Israel sponsored Al Qaeda insurgency in Syria. Who was behind the 2011 ‘protest movement’?”, Global Research, 09.03.2017, http://globalresearch.ca/syria-who-is-behind-the-protest-movement-fabricating-a-pretext-for-a-us-nato-humanitarian-intervention/24591.

[28] Chossudovsky, “Six years ago: the US-NATO-Israel sponsored Al Qaeda insurgency in Syria;” James Corbett, “Dallas ambush follows pattern of provacateured false flags,” Corbett Report, 07.08.2016, http://corbettreport.com/dallas-ambush-follows-pattern-of-provocateured-false-flags/; Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 18.

[29] “Syria says seizes weapons smuggled from Iraq,” Reuters, 11.03.2011, http://reuters.com/article/us-syria-iraq/syria-says-seizes-weapons-smuggled-from-iraq-idUSTRE72A3MI20110311.

[30] Quoted from Youtube, “Syria - Daraa revolution was armed to the teeth from the very beginning,” channel of Truth Syria, posted on 10.04.2012, http://youtube.com/watch?v=VKN-tP4s_uU.

[31] Sharmine Narwani, “Syria: the hidden massacre,” Russia Today Op-Edge, 07.05.2014, http://rt.com/op-edge/157412-syria-hidden-massacre-2011/.

[32] “Syria: 5.000 dead in violence, says UN human rights chief,” Guardian, 12.12.2011, http://theguardian.com/world/2011/dec/12/syria-5000-dead-violence-un.

[33] Independent International Commission of Inquiry, Periodic update (UN: OHCHR, 24.05.2012), 2, available at http://ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/PeriodicUpdate24May2012.pdf.

[34] Frans van der Lugt, “Bij defaitisme is niemand gebaat,” Mediawerkgroep Syrië, 13.01.2012, http://mediawerkgroepsyrie.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/bij-defaitisme-is-niemand-gebaat/.

[35] Camille Otrakji, “The real Bashar al-Assad,” Conflicts Forum, 02.04.2012, http://conflictsforum.org/2012/the-real-bashar-al-assad/.

[36] Shilbey Telhami, 2008 annual Arab public opinion poll (Maryland: University of Maryland and Zogby International, April 2008), slide 95, available at http://brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/0414_middle_east_telhami.pdf.

[37] “CNN’s Arabic readers choose Assad as 2009 person of the year,” CNN Arabic, 21.01.2010, http://archive.arabic.cnn.com/2010/middle_east/1/1/assad.2009/index.html.

[38] Camille Otrakji, “Analyzing the largest Syria Facebook polls,” Syria Page, 24.01.2012, http://creativesyria.com/syriapage/?p=129.

[39] Jonathan Steel, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media,” Guardian, 17.01.2012, http://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/17/syrians-support-assad-western-propaganda.

[40] “Poll: 70% of Syrian support Assad, says NATO,” Before It’s News, 13.06.2013, http://beforeitsnews.com/middle-east/2013/06/poll-70-of-syrians-support-assad-says-nato-2452134.html.

[41] Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 33-5;

[42] Anahita Mukherji, “Foreign delegation in Syria slams West, endorses elections,” Times of India, 05.06.2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Foreign-delegation-in-Syria-slams-West-endorses-elections/articleshow/36069541.cms.

[43] Otrakji, “The real Bashar al-Assad.”

[44] Otrakji, “The real Bashar al-Assad.”

[45] Patrik Paulov, “’Aleppo has been under fire by terrorists for four years’. Interview with Aleppo doctor about life in Syria’s largest city,” Proletarën, 25.05.2016, http://proletaren.se/utrikes-mellanostern/aleppo-has-been-under-fire-terrorists-four-years.

Newsbud Exclusive- GMOs Kill – Not Save – The Hungry of the World

KCrJowZIuB GMOs. Scientists can, and should, keep debating the dangerousness and unpredictability of genetical interference in food production, the effects of GMOs on pesticide usage and its possible relation to cancer and other diseases. On a more fundamental level, however, the most important question is the following: why would we even want genetically modified instead of organic food on our plate? The main answer, proponents claim, is that GMOs are necessary to enhance the amount of global food production as they are one of the if not the only viable solution at increasing yield and thus at fighting global hunger. Much of the GMO discourse rests on this assertion, which means that when it is debunked as a myth, the whole argument for the need of genetically engineering our food almost totally succumbs in the blink of an eye.

Following the Second World War, modern yield-increasing agriculture methods were gradually introduced throughout the world, which, so argued agribusiness giants and the Rockefeller and Ford foundations who supported them, would reduce world hunger. In reality, this so-called “Green Revolution” gave rise to an unseen amount of control over the global food production by a handful of Anglo-American companies, in the process of which wealthy landowners became richer and poor peasant farmers remained poor. The same companies and organisations who were at the forefront of the Green Revolution, using basically the same arguments, then went on to foment the “Gene Revolution.” While they further consolidated their grip on the global food supply from the mid-1980s onwards, they argued that at the same time, GMOs would increase yield, reduce pesticide usage and be the ultimate solution to global hunger and poverty. This argumentation implied that, by opposing or even criticising the GMO project, one de facto supported genocide against the world’s poor.[1]

Over the last couple of years, two decades into the Gene Revolution, however, it has become crystal clear that GMOs have failed on their promise. In July 2009, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US-based non-profit science advocacy organisation with a membership numbering hundreds of thousands of professional scientists and private citizens, published a report on “biotechnology’s broken promises” called Failure to yield. The organisation carefully examined the record of genetically modified (GM) crops in the US, where they have been commercially grown since the mid-1990s and where the best and most extensive data on GMOs is available. Specifically, they reviewed the data of soybeans and corn, the main GM food crops. “Despite proponents’ claims,” the authors concluded, “genetic engineering has actually done very little to increase the yields of food and feed crops. Given such a track record, it appears unlikely that this technology will play a leading role in helping the world feed itself in the foreseeable future.” Although the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data do show rising crop yields nationwide since the 1990s, the study found that most of the gains cannot be attributed to the adoption of GMOs. For instance, USDA data showed a 28% increase in corn production per acre between the periods 1991-1995 and 2004-2008, but the Union of Concerned Scientists discovered that only 3-4% of that growth was attributable to the genetically engineered Bt corn, as opposed to 24-25% that had resulted from other factors, such as traditional breeding.[2]

A 2013 article published in the International Journal of Agricultural sustainability, too, found that “relative to other food secure and exporting countries (e.g. Western Europe), the US agroecosystem is not exceptional in yields.” By comparing agricultural productivity of staple crops such as maize, canola and wheat between North America and Western Europe over the last 50 years, the authors maintain that “the US (and Canadian) yields are falling behind economically and technologically equivalent agroecosystems matched for latitude, season and crop type.”[3] Contrary to the often-made claim that Europe’s reluctance to embrace GMOs is causing it to fall behind the US, the opposite is thus in fact the case.

More recently, more mainstream outlets, too, are starting to point to the failure of GM crops to increase food production. In 2001, the USDA had already admitted that “the application of biotechnology at present is most likely […] not to increase maximum yields. More fundamental scientific breakthroughs are necessary if yields are to increase.”[4] Fifteen years later, however, those “fundamental scientific breakthroughs” remain absent, as is now acknowledged in mainstream publications. In 2016, the US National Academy of Sciences released a report about the “experiences and prospects” of GM crops. Although the Academy does not exclude potential yield increases in the future (without backing that claim up with evidence, it should be mentioned), it agreed with the above-mentioned studies, namely that “the nation-wide data on maize, cotton and soybean in the United States do not show a significant signature of genetic-engineering technology on the rate of yield increase.”[5] That same year, the New York Times, the establishment “paper of record,” conducted its own comparative research between North American and Western European agricultural productivity in a study that used data from the UN, and too concluded that “the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields – food per acre – when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers such as France and Germany.”[6]

Furthermore, by analysing data from the US Geological Survey, the Times study also discovered that overall pesticide usage had increased, not decreased, since the adoption of GMOs in the US. Although the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi had fallen by a third, “the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent. By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage – 65 percent – and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.”[7] Not only has insecticide and fungicide usage thus dropped twice as fast in a technologically comparable but quasi GMO-free environment, the results suggest that usage of herbicides only declines in GMO-poor agroecosystems. Therefore, another argument of GMO apologists, that GM technology would reduce pesticide usage, is thereby called into question as well. And indeed, the Times study mentioned that herbicide use in soybeans, a leading American GM crop, had skyrocketed since the adoption of GMOs in the US, having grown two and a half times in the last two decades, at a time when planted acreage of the crop grew by less than a third. This was not new information for sceptics, though. A 2012 study published in Environmental Sciences Europe discovered that, paradoxically, “herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011.” Recognising that insecticide use had fallen, the author calculated that over this same period of time that GMOs were gradually introduced in America, overall pesticide usage actually rose by 7%.[8]

Finally, in addition to abundant evidence that points to the failure of GMOs to increase yield, the introduction of GM crops has in some case studies even decreased the production of food per acre. In 2004, the Australian Network of Concerned Farmers put out a report about the plantation of GM canola in their country, concluding that “there is no evidence that GMO canola crops yield more, but there is evidence they yield less. Although Monsanto claim a 40% yield increase with Roundup Ready canola, their best on their website for Australian trials are 17% less than our national average.”[9] A 2002 report from the UK-based Soil Association, based on extensive research into the adoption of GM crops in North America, came to roughly the same conclusion: “For farmers considering growing GM crops, the crops have not, overall, delivered on their promises of higher yields, better returns and lower agrochemical use. The only exception was Bt maize yields, though there was no net income benefit. In most cases they have performed worse than non-GM crops, including substantially lower yields for PR soya.”[10] (emphasis added)

Taking all of this in mind, is it then such a surprise that GM projects that promise to fight global hunger in Africa or Asia keep turning out to be massive failures? One of the most-touted of such projects in Asia was “Golden Rice,” a GM crop that was gaining momentum around the turn of the century, which, according to the biotech industry and obedient American officials and mass media, could be a life saver for millions of people suffering from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). This prospect, an ideal promotion for the still young GM industry, first hit the headlines in 2000. Time did not caution its words on the cover of the magazine’s July edition, bluntly stating that “this rice could save a million kids a year.”[11] President Bill Clinton was a staunch pusher of the project as well. “If we could get more of this golden rice, which is a genetically modified strain of rice, especially rich in Vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could save 40.000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying,” he exclaimed at a press conference after a three-day summit of the G8.[12] From the onset, however, there was not a shred of evidence to back these claims up, and indeed, it was eventually discovered that Golden Rice contained too little provitamin A to effectively combat VAD in people who have a generally nutrition-poor diet, in other words, the people in the Global South who are actually dying from it.[13] Even more mind-boggling, tried and tested, simple, affordable and probably healthier alternatives were already available before the Golden Rice project came off the ground, but they remained underfunded. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), remedies in the form of vitamin A supplementation had already averted an estimated 1.25 million deaths in 40 countries by 1998.[14] Moreover, Francesco Branca, a malnutrition expert at the same organisation, proclaimed that in addition to handing out supplements and fortifying existing foods with vitamin A (which by 2009 had already been successfully done by Dutch food giant DSM, for instance),[15] teaching people to grow carrots or certain leafy vegetables are, as things stands right now, “more promising ways to fight the problem.”[16]

The project generating the most global media coverage that sought to promote GM technology as the ultimate solution for poverty in Africa was probably Monsanto-trained scientist Florence Wambugu’s GM sweet potato project in Kenya. Travelling around the world in the early 2000s and receiving up to $6 million in funds from Monsanto, the World Bank and USAID, she appeared on numerous mass media channels and outlets to propagandise a genetically engineered virus-resistant sweet potato that could allegedly double output for farmers in Kenya. “Millions served,” shouted a headline in Forbes magazine in December 2002, continuing with a deceptive subtitle intended to ridicule critics, “while the West debates the ethics of genetically modified food, Florence Wambugu is using it to feed her country.”[17] Wambugu was so convinced that GM technology could save Africa from starvation, that she told the New Scientist in 2000 that “in Africa GM food could almost literally weed out poverty.”[18] The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, too, claimed in a 2003 report on GMOs that “the use of GM virus-resistant sweet potatoes could prevent dramatic and frequent reductions in yield of one of the major food crops of many poor people in Africa.”[19] The actual results, just like with the Golden Rice project, did not receive saturated media coverage, however. In January 2004, it emerged that, following a three-year trial of the GM plant, non-transgenic crops yielded much more tuber compared to the newly introduced GM crop. Furthermore, the report that published these findings, compiled by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO, formerly KARI), also found “all lines tested [to be] susceptible to viral attacks,” of which the yield losses resulting from these viral diseases “can be as high as 80 per cent.”[20] In contrast, again reminiscent of the Golden Rice project, Aaron DeGrassi of the British Institute of Development Studies had already shined light on better alternatives. Aside from scrutinising Wambugu’s GM sweet potato for not addressing the crop’s major problems, he pointed out in a June 2003 92-page report studying GM projects in Sub-Saharan Arica that “conventional sweet potato breeding in Uganda was able in just a few years to develop with a small budget a well-liked virus-resistant variety with yield gains of nearly 100%.”[21] Thus, once again, most of the research money and effort was absorbed by the GM industry, all the while an organic and sustainable solution was already available but lacking sufficient funds.

These two examples suggest that organic rather than GM agricultural projects are the real solution to fight global hunger. They are not isolated instances. The largest ever study examining sustainable agriculture initiatives in developing countries found that when sustainable agricultural practices in a variety of systems and crops were adopted, crop yield skyrocketed by 79% on average. The study, published in 2006 in Environmental Science & Technology comprising analysis of 286 projects covering 37 million hectares spread over 57 countries, additionally found that of the projects with pesticide data, 77% resulted in a decline of pesticide use by 71% while yields grew by 42%. Although the authors cautioned that it remains uncertain whether these approaches can meet future global food needs, “more widespread adoption of these resource conserving technologies […] would contribute to increased agricultural productivity, particularly as evidence indicates that productivity can grow in many farming systems as natural, social, and human capital assets also grow.” The study also disclosed that “poor households benefit substantially [from these sustainable practices],” but to address food poverty problems, “the challenge is to find ways to improve all farmer’s access to productive technologies and practices that are also resource conserving.”[22] This cannot merely be done by industrialised agriculture, the authors argue, because evidence points to significant environmental and health problems as a result of a blind belief in industrial and technological progress over the past decades. Furthermore, “there are growing concerns that such systems may not reduce food poverty,” they go on to say. “Poor farmers need low-cost and readily available technologies and practices to increase local food production and to raise their income,” including integrated pest management, integrated nutrient management, incorporating forestry, fish and livestock into farming systems, and finally, reducing the amount of tillage. “What is important,” the study stated, “is who produces the food, has access to the technology and knowledge to produce it, and has the purchasing power to acquire it.”[23] One does not have to go on a limb to assume that global adoption of GM technology, inevitable linked to the need for a technocratic elite and thus to monopolisation, will develop in the opposite direction, away from rather than towards local and durable solutions.

In 2008, the idea that the exchange of knowledge on organic agricultural practices offers the real solution to rising global food demands was fortified by none other organisation than the UN. To answer the question to what extent organic agriculture could enhance food security in Africa, a collaborative task force was set up in 2004 between the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Their findings were even more stunning than the above-mentioned study, namely a 116% average crop yield increase for all African projects and a 128% increase for the projects in East Africa.[24] Just like the other study, the UN report points out that “organic and near-organic agricultural methods and technologies are ideally suited for many poor, marginalized smallholder farmers in Africa, as they require minimal or no external inputs, use locally and naturally available materials to produce high-quality products, and encourage a whole systemic approach to farming that is more diverse and resistant to stress.” This could eventually cause the African continent to become self-sufficient and throw off the chains of structural enslavement it remains in even after colonial times, because “organic agriculture can increase agricultural productivity and can raise incomes with low-cost, locally available and appropriate technologies, without causing environmental damage.” Furthermore, “by addressing many different causal factors simultaneously,” evidence suggests that organic agriculture “can build up natural resources, strengthen communities and improve human capacity,” and in this way, is “highly promising for food security in Africa.”[25]

The picture I am trying to demonstrate here was most recently confirmed by a peer-reviewed paper from July published in the Geographical Review. The author, professor of geography William G. Mosely, pointed to how the introduction and failure of expensive GM seeds for Bt cotton in India has resulted in a steep rise in farmer suicides in Maharashtra state as one example to make his point, which is the following:

“[GM] technology is sufficiently expensive that it is inaccessible to the poorest of the poor for whom food insecure is [a] great issue. Furthermore, such [GM] solutions are often aimed at maximizing production under ideal conditions, as opposed to minimizing risk in highly variable meteorological environments. […] As such, investing in GMO-seed technology represents a significant financial risk for many small farmers in variable rainfall environments, let alone the volatility of markets where farmers must sell all or part of their harvest if they are to cover their input costs. A more viable approach to helping the poorest of the poor increase production and meet food needs is informed by agroecology.”[26]

There is only one problem with agroecological approaches that increase the amount of food and help farmers manage pest problems, however. In stark contrast to the GMO industry, they are starved of resources. “Unfortunately,” Mosely observed, “funding for work in this area has been woefully limited, probably because agroecological approaches are unlikely to generate the profits derived from the GMO nonsolution to global hunger.”[27] In other words, by plundering scarce research funds from proven initiatives that would enhance the ability of poor people around the world to become self-sufficient and increase their standard of living, the GM industry is killing – not saving – the hungry of the world.

As long as we know how to work with nature, we could produce everything in abundance. To drive home this point, I would like to conclude by pointing you to a short award-winning documentary called Homegrown revolution, which stars a family that has become entirely self-sufficient while living fifteen minutes from downtown Los Angeles.[28] When Jules Dervaes “found out that genetically modified food had entered the food supply,” he and his family decided to start growing as much food as they could on a space in their garden not bigger than one tenth of an acre. After a couple of years, they succeeded in producing 6.000 pounds of organic fruit and vegetables a year, producing biodiesel to drive their cars and holding a city farm including bees, chickens, ducks and goats. All of this has enabled them to become “directly and indirectly self-sufficient” in a dense urban area, as they buy non-growable foods with income from their garden surplus which they sell to individuals and restaurants. The documentary closes with a quote from Dervaes, which, I think, is relevant for everyone on the planet, from struggling farmers in Africa and Asia to urban consumers in the West, as all our currently enslaved by the corporate food industry:

“In our society growing food yourself has become the most radical of acts. It is truly the only effective protest, one that can – and will – overturn the corporate powers that be. By the process of directly working in harmony with nature, we do one thing most essential to change the world: we change ourselves!”

We thus find ourselves at an important crossroads in history. Are we going to let Big Agra and the powers behind these companies use food as a weapon to rule over us, exactly as Henry Kissinger envisioned in his 1974 National Security Memorandum 200,[29] or are we going to, by growing our own crops and buying only organic food from local markets, set ourselves free and break the creeping monopolisation of the most basic necessity of life?

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud Contributing Analyst,  is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] William Engdahl, Seeds of destruction: the hidden agenda of genetic manipulation (Montréal: Global Research, 2007), 123-253.

[2] Union of Concerned Scientists, issue briefing to Failure to yield: evaluating the performance of genetically engineered crops (Cambridge, MA, July 2009), available at http://ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/failure-to-yield.html#.Wedp31u0PIV.

[3] Jack A. Heineman et al., “Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest,” International Journal on Agriculture Sustainability 12, no. 1 (2014), published online on 14.06.2013, available at http://tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14735903.2013.806408.

[4] Quoted in Engdahl, Seeds of destruction, 244.

[5] National Academy of Sciences, Genetically engineered crops: experiences and prospects (Washington, DC, 2016), chapter 4: “Agronomic and environmental effects of genetically engineered crops,” 97-105, available at http://nap.edu/read/23395/chapter/7#104.

[6] Danny Hakim, “Doubts about the promised bounty of genetically modified crops,” New York Times, 29.10.2016, http://nytimes.com/2016/10/30/business/gmo-promise-falls-short.html.

[7] Hakim, “Doubts about the promised bounty of genetically modified crops.”

[8] Charles M. Benbrook, “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years,” Environmental Sciences Europe, published on 28.09.2012, available at http://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/2190-4715-24-24.

[9] Network of Concerned Farmers, Will GM crops yield more in Australia? (November 2004), quoted in Engdahl, Seeds of destruction, 241.

[10] Soil Association, Seeds of doubt: North American farmers’ experiences of GM crops (Bristol, September 2002), 57, available at http://orgprints.org/9041/1/Seeds_of_Doubt.pdf.

[11] Cover of Time magazine 156, no. 5 (July 2000), available at http://content.time.com/time/magazine/0,9263,7601000731,00.html.

[12] Quoted in Richard Lloyd Parry, “Clinton attacks Europe for moving too slowly over ‘safe’ GM food,” Independent, 23.07.2000, http://independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/clinton-attacks-europe-for-moving-too-slowly-over-safe-gm-food-707884.html.

[13] “Golden Rice ‘could save a million kids a year’,” GM Watch, section of “GM Myths,” last updated in May 2012, http://gmwatch.org/en/golden-rice-could-save-a-million-kids-a-year.

[14] World Health Organisation, “Micronutrient deficiencies: vitamin A deficiency,” http://who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/.

[15] Peter Foster, “Fortified rice to save millions of lives each year,” Telegraph, 14.05.2009, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/5318253/Fortified-rice-to-save-millions-of-lives-each-year.html.

[16] Martin Enserink, “Tough lessons from Golden Rice,” Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, http://fbae.org/2009/FBAE/website/news_tough-lessons-from-golden-rice.html.

[17] Lynn J. Cook, “Millions served,” Forbes, 23.12.2002, http://forbes.com/free_forbes/2002/1223/302.html.

[18] “Feeding Africa,” New Scientist, 27.05.2000, reprinted on GENTECH’s archive, http://gene.ch/gentech/2000/May/msg00138.html.

[19] Nuffield Council on Bioethics, The use of genetically modified corps in developing countries (London, 2003), 43, available at http://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp-content/uploads/GM-Crops-Discussion-Paper-2003.pdf.

[20] Gatonye Gathura, “Monsanto’s GE potato fails in Africa,” Organic Consumer Association, 29.01.2004, http://organicconsumers.org/old_articles/monsanto/africapotato020204.php.

[21] Aaron DeGrassi, Genetically modified drops and sustainable povery alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: an assessment of current evidence (Third World Network – Africa, June 2003), executive summary, I-II, available at http://biosafety-info.net/file_dir/1919248844e4526271.pdf.

[22] J.N. Pretty, et al., “Resource-conserving agriculture increases yields in developing countries,” Environmental Science & Technology 40, no. 4 (2006), 1118, available at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es051670d.

[23] Pretty, et al., “Recouce-conserving agriculture increases yields in developing countries,” 1114-5.

[24] UNEP and UNCTAD, Organic agriculture and food security in Africa (New York and Geneva: United Nations, 2008), 16, available at http://unctad.org/en/Docs/ditcted200715_en.pdf.

[25] UNEP and UNCTAD, executive summary to Organic agriculture and food security in Africa, VII-XI.

[26] William G. Moseley, “A risky solution for the wrong problem: why GMOs won’t feed the hungry of the world,” Geographical Review 107, no. 4 (2017), introduction, available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gere.12259/full.

[27] As most of the article is behind the paywall, I refer to this quote via GM Watch, which has a review of the paper up on its site: “Why GMOs won’t feed the hungry of the world but agroecology can,” GM Watch, 20.07.2017, http://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/17740-why-gmos-won-t-feed-the-hungry-of-the-world-but-agroecology-can.

[28] Urban Homestead, Homegrown Revolution (documentary, 2009), available at http://youtube.com/watch?v=7IbODJiEM5A&t=5s.

[29] Joseph Brewda, “Henry Kissinger’s 1974 plan for food control genocide,” Schiller Institute Food for Peace Movement, 08.12.1995, http://schillerinstitute.org/food_for_peace/kiss_nssm_jb_1995.html

Naval False Flags & the Twentieth ‘American Century’

In his most recent book The true flag, veteran American journalist Stephen Kinzer chronicled what he called “the mother of all debates” in the United States, which transpired in the last years of the nineteenth century. Unlike today, America’s most prominent intellectual leaders were gripped by a question that would not only decide the country’s future but determine the outlook of the next century for the entire world: how should the US act in the world? Should America intervene in faraway countries to “defend freedom” and hence establish a global empire, or should it turn inward and allow people abroad to choose their own destinies? There of course had already been several isolated instances of free trade imperialism in Asia, and with the 1823 Monroe doctrine, the US, albeit theoretically, gained its first foothold in Latin America. Only when the Western frontier was officially declared closed in 1890, three decades after the Civil War, however, did it became conceivable to contemplate exerting permanent power over lands beyond North America. This prompted many statesmen to dream about the glory of empire, but it horrified many other intellectuals, who reminded the former that the US itself had been a colony, and that unlike its European counterparts, it should not rule over, but with the consent of, the governed. The imperialist side was lead by a powerful trio; Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, publisher William Randolph Hearst and Theodore Roosevelt. They received strong opposition, however, from anti-interventionists of all stripes, many of whom were involved with the newly-founded Anti-Imperialist League. They included German immigrant and Senator Carl Schurz, industrialist and one of the country’s richest men Andrew Carnegie, social reformer Jane Addams, leading African American activist Booker T. Washington, and from 1899 onwards, Mark Twain.[1] During the twentieth “American Century,” these and many future intellectuals were often able to obstruct the US’s entry in foreign wars of expansion, convincing many Americans that global military intervention was not in the nation’s interests. Combined with a steady stream of propaganda, however, a number of naval mass casualty attacks blamed on the enemy of the day succeeded in temporarily changing public opinion in favour of war. As a result, at the expense of the lives of many more Americans and people from all over the world, the American empire was born.

The USS Maine and the Spanish-American War

The first opportunity for expansion following the consolidation of the the territory of the US as we know it today came in the late 1890s. In 1807, Thomas Jefferson had written that “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that vehicle.”[2] Yet, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, two of the nation’s most-read newspapers, were drumming up support for war with Spain over Cuba, where indigenous revolts threatened Spain’s grip over one of its last but most wealthy colonies. The Journal and the World made up countless stories of Spanish atrocities and misreported several incidents so as to agitate public opinion against Spain.[3] Their reporting was so sensational and deplorable that these two journals were coined as the originators of “yellow journalism,” coverage with eye-catching headlines and little or no legitimate well-researched background, perhaps equivalent to today’s “fake news.” Still, alleged Spanish atrocities were not enough of a reason to declare war, certainly because the yellow press’s influence outside New York was limited. In addition, Spain did everything in its power to avoid starting a war with the US. While the American navy increasingly possessed steel military vessels, the Spanish navy was still largely made up of wooden ships. The Spaniards knew war would mean colonial suicide, as the US was the wealthiest and militaristically most powerful nation of the Americas and geographically much closer to Cuba.[4] Indeed, Spanish Atlantic Commander Admiral Pascual Cervera had warned his government of “our lack of everything that is necessary for a naval war, such as supplies, ammunition, coal, provisions, etc. We have nothing at all.”[5]

Soon, though, the US was embroiled in its first major foreign war of conquest, resulting in it wresting control not only over Cuba but also the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam and even non-Spanish Hawaii by the dawn of the new century. The trigger had been the sinking of the USS Maine, an American naval ship that exploded on 15 February 1898 in the Cuban harbour of Havana, leading to the death of 266 of the 355 crew members. On 24 January, while potential war was looming, the White House had decided to send the Maine to Cuba, ironically to ensure the safety of American citizens and interests. It did not properly notify the Spanish of this bold move, however, nor had it been made clear to Captain Charles Sigsbee that they were not expected when the vessel arrived in Cuba on 25 January.[6] According to Kinzer, those who wished for war with Spain clearly hoped for some sort of confrontation, even though the journey was officially dubbed a “friendly visit.” In an astonishing prediction, Senator Lodge wrote to a friend that “there may be an explosion any day in Cuba which would settle a great many things.”[7] Fortunately, the Spanish welcomed the Maine and permitted her to dock. On a quiet night three weeks later, two days before the ship had been scheduled to leave Havana for New Orleans,[8] however, the Maine was torn apart.

On 21 March, a naval board of inquiry concluded that the blast was caused solely by a mine situated under the bottom of the ship.[9] Although the board maintained that it was unable to determine responsibility, the finding that an external explosion would have destroyed the vessel gave enough leeway to the pro-war press to pin the blame on the Spanish, which they were already doing directly after the incident anyway. During the week following the tragedy, the Journal on average devoted eight and a half pages to the explosion of the Maine and pinning the blame on Spain. As the war cries intensified, a suitable slogan emerged: “Remember the Maine and to hell with Spain!” Meanwhile, Pulitzer’s World expounded the mine theory as well, even though he himself privately admitted that “nobody outside of a lunatic asylum” believed Spain had sanctioned this “act of treachery.”[10] As Hearst and Pulitzer were beating the drums of war in their yellow press, Lodge and Roosevelt pressured Congress and a more reluctant President William McKinley for a declaration of war. John Davis Long, Secretary to the Navy and personal friend of the president, wrote in his diary that “Roosevelt, in his precipitate way, has come very near to causing more of an explosion than happened to the Maine. [...] The very devil seemed to posses him.”[11] On 19 April, Congress passed a joint resolution, including an amendment disclaiming any intention of annexing Cuba, that demanded complete Spanish withdrawal and authorised the president to use as much military force as necessary to help Cuba gain independence. By 25 April, war had been declared.

From the very onset, a few cautious observers doubted the official story. Navy Secretary Long wrote in his diary that the explosion was probably “the result of an accident.”[12] The navy’s chief engineer, George W. Melville, suspected that the blast was caused by a magazine explosion inside the vessel rather than by an external mine; and Philip R. Alger, the navy’s leading weapons and ammunition expert, told the Washington Evening Star a couple of days following the incident that the damage appeared to have come from a magazine explosion. Yet, somehow, the opinions of these government experts and officials went unheard by the board of inquiry, even though it was entirely possible that the coal bunkers overheated and caused the magazines that stored ammunition, gun shells and gunpowder, which were situated next door, to explode. Indeed, a couple of weeks before the sinking of the Maine a different investigatory board had warned the Secretary of the Navy of exactly that - that spontaneous coal fires, which occurred frequently in that era, could detonate nearby magazines on American military ships. Still, a new official inquiry from 1911 reaffirmed the conclusion of an exterior mine.[13]

Decades later, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover asked naval historians to take another look at whether the cause of the explosion was internal or external. Contrary to the 1898 official inquiry, this private investigation attracted a range of scholars and technical experts, who concluded that the explosion was, “without a doubt,” internal. A 1998 National Geographic Society computer model study, on the other hand, determined that both a coal bunker overheating and an external mine could have caused the magazine to explode, but it concluded that the latter was more plausible.[14] Finally, in a 2002 History Channel documentary scientists reconstructed the inward-bending hull of the damaged ship, previously thought to be evidence of an external mine explosion, concluding that the shape of the damaged hull was a result of the inrushing water rather than of an explosion external to the vessel.[15] Whether the primary blast was internal or external, I doubt that it was just an accident. Precisely because of the possibility of spontaneous combustions in coal bunkers aboard US naval ships, the Maine was equipped with a thermostatically controlled fire alarm system. Moreover, Commander Wainwright, executive officer of the Maine, had a reputation for caution and thorough safety procedures.[16] Coupled with the fact that none of the ships that had previously experienced spontaneous coal combustions were lost as a result of fires, it seems extremely unlikely that the Maine was the first vessel to accidentally explode, just at that junction in history when its faith would set the US on its path to empire. The question, then, remains: who benefited? The Spanish? Or the Cuban revolutionaries and/or the pro-war axis in Washington?

The RMS Lusitania and World War I

After the short but successful war against Spain, famously dubbed “a splendid little war” by Ambassador to the UK John Hay, the “American Century” was born. The scars from the Civil War were finally healed, the economy boomed, and from then on, America would leave its footprints in all corners of the world. The consequences for the anti-interventionist movement were disastrous. Charles Eliot Norton, who had given a speech in 1898 that had set the anti-imperialist movement in motion, admitted that “we are defeated for the time [being].”[17] Indeed, in the beginning of the twentieth century the Anti-Imperialist League was only a shadow of its former strength. It even did not object the US’s entry into World War I, and it eventually disbanded in 1920. Roosevelt, who himself had fought in the Spanish-American War, on the other hand, was welcomed as a hero. He was elected Governor of New York in 1898, became McKinley’s vice president in 1900 and assumed the country’s highest command after the president was murdered in 1901. He was then reelected president in 1904, and in 1908, his close friend William Howard Taft succeeded him. Surprisingly though, once in the Oval Office, a saturated Roosevelt toned down his expansionism, focused most of his time on national matters and only intervened in Panama to secure land for the construction of the interoceanic canal. The Philippine-American War, which dragged on until 1902 and was considerably less “splendid” and “little,” had scaled down the imperialist fever a bit. It turned out that the anti-imperialist movement, whose leaders had correctly warned that any attempt to annex the Philippines would set off rebellions, was not dead after all.

The Taft presidency, however, came to be known for its “dollar diplomacy,” the usage of economic power in foreign policy through handing out loans to target countries as a way of expanding American influence. This angered Roosevelt, who decided to declare another candidacy in 1912 after Taft had intervened in Nicaragua and Honduras on behalf of American business interests. After being denied the Republican nomination, he ran as an independent. This split the Republican vote and allowed a supposedly ardent promoter of peace, Woodrow Wilson, to win the presidency. By the time World War I broke out, a powerful anti-interventionist wave again swept across the nation. Many believed that this was not “the war to end all wars” but rather just another European conflict perpetuated by the old colonial powers’ lust for territorial expansion and profit.[18] The loss of American lives seemed the only way to reverse the tide.

And low and behold, that is exactly what happened on 7 May 1915. With the naval war in full swing, a German U-boat torpedoed a British ocean liner called the RMS Lusitania en route from New York to Liverpool, killing nearly 1.200 people including 128 Americans. The event was instrumental in turning public opinion in many countries against Germany and became an iconic symbol for military recruitment. Although it did not directly lead to the US’s entry into the war, it definitely laid the necessary groundwork and played an essential role in the Allied propaganda leading up to the US declaring war in 1917 after the Zimmerman Telegraph revealed Germany’s bid at a possible alliance with Mexico. In Britain, it was decided upon to hold a formal inquiry to determine responsibility, but as James Perloff has shown, Captain William Turner was already picked as the scapegoat prior to the investigation.[19] Over the last hundred years, however, many pieces of evidence have come to light that reveal Allied foreknowledge and a scheme to make certain that the Lusitania would meet its tragic faith, thereby engineering public outrage against the enemy. Patrick Beesley, a British intelligence officer during World War II considered to be one of the leading authorities on the history of British naval intelligence, studied the incident and came to a surprising conclusion:

“Unless and until fresh information comes to light, I am reluctantly driven to the conclusion that there was a conspiracy deliberately to put the Lusitania at risk in the hope that even an abortive attack on her would bring the United States into the war. Such a conspiracy could not have been put into effect without Winston Churchill’s express permission and approval.”[20] (emphasis added)

From the onset of the war, the Allied Powers had set up a naval blockade in an attempt to restrict the maritime supplies to the Central Powers. This was considered a key element in the eventual Allied victory, as both Germany and Britain heavily depended on imports to feed their populations and to supply their war industries. The consequences were disastrous, as hundreds of thousands of Germans died as a result of the blockade. Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914, was right when he claimed that the aim was to “starve the whole population - men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound - into submission.”[21] The Germans reacted with a counter-blockade, but the British navy was superior. That gave way to Germany’s U-boat campaign, in which it during the course of the war sank thousands of enemy ships by submarine warfare. Churchill openly hoped that German U-boats would, accidently or not, target ships carrying American citizens and clearly encouraged President of the Board of Trade Walter Runciman to put innocent people in harm's way when he wrote to him that it was “most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores, in the hopes especially of embroiling the United States with Germany.”[22] The Germans were careful to avoid attacking American ships, however, and so the downing of a British boat with American passengers on board had to do the job. Four revelations expose the plot that Beesley called a “conspiracy.”

First, multiple quotes by Allied officials reveal signs of foreknowledge. On 2 May, American Ambassador to the UK Walter Hines Page wrote to his son that “the blowing up of a liner with American passengers may be the prelude [to the US’s entry into the war]. I almost expect such a thing. [...] If a British liner full of American passengers be blown up, what will Uncle Sam do? That’s what’s going to happen.[23] (emphasis added) Edward Mandell House - Wilson’s chief advisor on European politics and diplomacy during World War I, and more importantly, key behind-the-scenes player in establishing Wilson as president and one of the founding fathers of the Council on Foreign Relations - was in the American embassy in Britain with British Foreign Minister Edward Gray on the morning of the fateful 7 May, and, bizarrely, recorded in a telegraph that he foresaw the event a couple of hours in advance. Quoting from a biography detailing his intimate papers, he had written:

“‘We spoke of the probability of an ocean liner being sunk,’ recorded House, ‘and I told him [Gray] that if this were done, a flame of indignation would sweep across America, which would in itself probably carry us into the war.’ An hour later, House was with King George in Buckingham Palace. ‘We fell to talking, strangely enough,’ the Colonel [House] wrote that night, ‘of the probability of Germany sinking a trans-Atlantic liner… He said, ‘Suppose they should sink the Lusitania with American passengers on board…’ That evening House dined at the American Embassy. A despatch came in, stating that at two in the afternoon a German submarine had torpedoed and sunk the Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland. Many lives had been lost.”[24] (emphasis added)

Second, although Wilson was personally involved in covering it up, it is now mainstream history that the Lusitania was not only carrying passengers and civilian cargo but high explosives and other contraband as well. Decades later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stumbled upon a package that Wilson had ordered concealed in the archives of the Treasury Department, only to be opened by a US president, which contained the original cargo manifest. Contrary to the manifest that was shown to the outside world in 1915, the original bill of lading did list contraband, including millions of small-arms ammunition and above 50 tons of shrapnel shells. The most plausible explanation for the sinking of the vessel in just 18 minutes, many believe, is that the torpedo strike set off a secondary blast of high explosives in the ship’s magazines, comparable to the case of the USS Maine.[25] It remains unknown which material eventually caused that explosion, but an interesting affidavit of the US Justice Department offers additional circumstantial evidence of conspiracy. In the document, a chemist employed by British Naval Attaché to Washington Captain Guy Gaunt claimed that the captain had asked him what the effect of sea water coming into contact with guncotton would be, whereupon he answered that only contact between water and the pyroxylin type of guncotton could cause sudden explosion. Gaunt then went on to buy tons of pyroxylin and had it packaged in burlap and loaded onto the Lusitania. Perhaps this is what really accounts for the numerous containers of butter and cheese listed in the manifest for the unrefrigerated compartments on the ship.[26]

Third, Germany tried to warn passengers that the Lusitania route crossed a war zone, and that it therefore could be targeted by its U-boats. The Germans knew that the vessel had the dual function of traversing passengers while at the same time shipping contraband to the war front. They were thus faced with a dilemma; either they risked turning world opinion against them if they attacked civilian vessels carrying weapons and ammunition, or they let the chances of losing the war increase if they allowed the shipment of war material to the front. Therefore, the German embassy tried to place advertisements in 50 American newspapers that were sold in the vicinity of the departure point of the Lusitania a week before its final journey, warning of the risk for passengers of boarding the vessel. In a remarkable move, the US State Department ordered the warning’s publication suppressed, and the advertisement only appeared in a few journals. Thus, while Germany clearly showed attempts at avoiding killing American civilians, the State Department did the exact opposite and put them in harm’s way.[27] The warning read as follows:

“TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and here allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.”

Lastly, as a final nail in the coffin, the British Admiralty failed to provide the most basic guarantees of a safe passage while knowing full well that the Lusitania and a German U-boat were on a collision course. Not only could it have ordered the Lusitania to reroute around northern Ireland where it knew no U-boats were operating, navy ships did not accompany the Lusitania when it entered the war zone as well, even though that was common practice when there were threats of German submarine attacks. Naval Intelligence Officer Joseph Kenworthy, who met with fellow Admiral officials, including Churchill, two days prior to the attack in the Admiralty’s map room, admitted in his postwar book that “the Lusitania was deliberately sent at considerable reduced speed into an area where a U-boat was known to be waiting with her escorts withdrawn.” (emphasis added) Interestingly, although that does not change the core of the statement, his publisher removed the word “deliberately” due to pressure from the Admiralty.[28]

Pearl Harbour and World War II

After World War I, the battle of semantics indicated that the “larger policy” had won. Anti-interventionists were now called “isolationists,” a pejorative label that implied blindness to the nation’s interests and the world’s problems instead of prudent restraint. The term “imperialism,” on the other hand, was ditched in favour of “globalism” or “internationalism,” which gave the connotation that the victors of history did not promote war and coercive power but rather economic growth, human rights and, above all, democracy. Yet, horrified by World War I, most Americans recognised that involvement in that war was to be a one-time exception, and thus, the US entered a long and profound period of anti-interventionism not seen since before the Spanish-American War. Indeed, the first three presidents of the interbellum were all classic conservatives who sought to keep their country’s nose out of global affairs, and perhaps, President Herbert Hoover is the most clear example of this “isolationist” era. During his presidency, he bluntly told the American people that in “a large part of the world,” the US was seen as “a new imperial power intent upon dominating the destinies and freedoms of other people.” Soon after taking office in 1929, he declared that “it ought not to be the policy of the United States to interfere by force to secure or maintain contracts between our citizens and foreign states.” According to Kinzer, “no previous president had spoken like that. None has since.”[29]

It is in this climate that Franklin Delano Roosevelt ascended into the Oval Office in 1933. As a result, he had to balance the scales between his moderated public speeches and his personal desire to involve the US into World War II when yet another global conflict broke out in 1939. In January 1941, while the war was already in full swing in Europe, Asia and Africa, a Gallup poll revealed that a staggering 88% of American citizens were still opposed the US’s entry into another European war.[30] FDR understood the anti-war sentiment that gripped America, and stated in a 1940 election speech that “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”[31] To make this statement into a lie, a plot more sinister than that of the RMS Lusitania had to be connived, as the latter had not immediately sparked the desired outcome of catapulting the US into World War I. This time, a harbour full of American servicemen was to be sacrificed.

That happened on the morning of Sunday 7 December, 1941 in Hawaii, where a large American naval base was stationed. Commencing on 7.48 am Hawaiian Time, over 350 Imperial Japanese military planes, launched from six aircraft carriers, attacked the base. After 90 minutes, all eight US navy ships were damaged, four of them had sunk, and eventually, 2.403 Americans lost their lives. The attack came as a profound surprise to the pacified American people, who had now been convinced that entering the war was necessary after all. On 8 December, an hour after FDR delivered his “day of infamy” speech to a joint session of Congress, Congress passed a formal declaration of war against Japan, officially bringing the US into World War II. On 11 December, then, Germany and Italy declared war on the US, after which the American government responded in kind. In the mass media and history books, the event is remembered as a surprise attack that happened due to an unimaginable failure of American intelligence, and most of all, incompetence of Hawaiian commanding officers Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter Short. Not only did the Roosevelt administration on multiple levels provoke Japan into making the first overt act of war, however, it knew the attack was coming, held Kimmel and Short in the dark and deliberately allowed it to happen. Naval officer and cryptanalyst Joseph J. Rochefort, who unlike Kimmel and Short was not removed from the information pipeline, remarked after the war that the Pearl Harbour tragedy was a “cheap price” for the unification of America.[32]

In January 1995, following decades of indefatigable archival research, journalist and World War II veteran Robert B. Stinnett discovered a very interesting memorandum in the personal classified archive of Arthur H. McCollum, head of the Far East desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence in the World War II era. Being one of FDR’s most trusted advisors, having grown up in Japan and basing his reports on a worldwide network of American military cryptographers and radio intercept operators, few understood Japan’s diplomatic and military activities better than McCollum in the lead up to the war. McCollum believed that war between Japan and the US was inevitable, but that Japan had to be provoked into making the first “overt act of war.” In the October 1940 memorandum, which circulated in Washington’s intelligence circles, he advised an eight-step plan to succeed in this:

“It is not believed that in the present state of political opinion the United States government is capable of declaring war against Japan without more ado; and it is barely possible that vigorous action on our part might lead the Japanese to modify their attitude. Therefore, the following course of action is suggested:

  1. Make an arrangement with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific, particularly Singapore.
  2. Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies.
  3. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chiang-Kai-Shek.
  4. Send a division of long range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore.
  5. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient.
  6. Keep the main strength of the U.S. fleet now in the Pacific in the vicinity of the Hawaiian islands.
  7. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil.
  8. Completely embargo all U.S. trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British empire.”[33]

To shatter any doubt why the US should adopt these provocative actions, McCollum concluded that “if by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.”[34] Declassified intelligence cables from 1941 reveal that the Roosevelt administration indeed desired that Japan would make the first overt act of war. Following official concerns by Kimmel about the danger of Japanese hostilities, Admiral Harold Stark, chief of naval operations, ordered Kimmel that “if hostilities cannot repeat cannot be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act,” reiterating that “undertake no offensive action until Japan has committed an overt act.”[35] In addition, Secretary of War Henry Stimson recorded in his diary that “in spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people, it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese be the ones to do this, so that there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who were the aggressors.”[36]

In April 1940, Washington had decided to keep major portions of the navy’s military fleet in Hawaiian waters. Admiral James Richardson, Kimmel’s predecessor, resigned in protest because he believed that contrary to the fleet’s normal anchorage dock on the West Coast, Pearl Harbour was vulnerable to attacks from all sides. After this first step, action F, had been implemented, the Roosevelt administration started to enact the other seven steps during the course of the following year.[37] In response, as McCollum had hoped, Japan started preparing for war, especially after July 1941, when FDR had put into effect the last of McCollum’s proposals, action H. By imposing a complete embargo on all American and British trade with the Japanese, Japan, which heavily depended on foreign resources much the same as Germany had in World War I, had almost no other choice than to resort to military action. Rochefort later remarked that “we cut off their money, their fuel and trade. We were just tightening the screws on the Japanese. They could see no way of getting out except going to war.”[38]

Not only was it becoming pretty obvious that Japan increasingly saw war as the last recourse, Stinnett’s tireless research has also revealed that the intelligence community was aware that a Japanese spy was collecting information on the Pearl Harbour docks for a potential surprise attack. In May 1941, American intelligence discovered that a chancellor in the Japanese consulate called Tadashi Morimura was actually a spy reporting on types of warships and aircraft he saw operating from Pearl Harbour and at Army airfields. Naval intelligence, then, wiretapped his telephone and closely observed the diplomatic messages Morimura sent back to Tokyo. These coded messages were consistently and quickly decrypted and translated, as American cryptographers had cracked the “Purple” code used by Japan for diplomatic communication. On 21 August, Morimura sent a report to Japan that detailed the grid coordinates of the Pearl Harbour docks, piers and anchorage areas. By 29 September, he finished a more intricate grid system and sent it home, and although American intelligence intercepted and read these messages, they failed to act, let alone notify Kimmel or Short. This information was subsequently used by the Japanese military to construct a bomb plot for the assault, maps from a downed Japanese plane revealed after the attack. On 2 December, Morimura informed Tokyo that “no changes observed by afternoon of 2 December. So far they do not seem to have been alerted. Shore leave as usual;” and three days later, the spy cabled the Japanese fleet heading towards Pearl Harbour that “there are no barrage balloons up and there is an opportunity left for a surprise attack against these places.” (emphasis added) Several American cryptographic stations intercepted these two messages, but contrary to most diplomatic messages from between 1 and 6 December, they were supposedly only deciphered and translated after 7 December in an inexplicable crash of the impressive American cryptographic system.[39]

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however, as there are a myriad of additional signs of foreknowledge of the assault. As far back as January 1941, almost a full year before the Japanese attack, American Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew reported to Washington that “my Peruvian colleague told a member of my staff that he had heard from many sources including a Japanese source that the Japanese military forces planned in the event of trouble with the United States, to attempt a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor with all their military facilities.”[40] Also in early 1941, Congressman Martin Dies, who headed a committee investigating Japanese espionage activities, uncovered a Japanese military map that exposed “clear proof of the intentions of the Japanese to make an assault on Pearl Harbour.” In 1963, Dies disclosed that when he told Secretary of State Cordell Hull about this information, Hull asked him, after having consulted FDR, to keep quiet about it.[41] Knowing full well its vulnerability, Washington nevertheless kept the fleet at Pearl Harbour and further enacted the McCollum plan over the course of the next months.

Upon his arrival in the US in August, Yugoslavian double agent Dusko Popov warned FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover that he had discerned through information supplied by the Germans that Japan was planning a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour “before the end of the year.”[42] In November, Iowa Senator Guy Gillette received information from Kilsoo Haan, a Korean nationalist figure who engaged in intelligence activities through the Sino-Peoples League for the US, that Japan would make an attack on Pearl Harbour before Christmas. Gillette informed the president, who said the matter would be looked into.[43] During the course of November, Ambassador Grew reiterated on several occasions that the US should not underestimate the increasing possibility of Japan declaring war, stating that “war with the United States may come with dramatic and dangerous suddenness,” and that “we cannot give substantial warning [for a surprise attack].” Astonishingly enough, instead of making preparations to counter such a surprise attack, Washington ordered all US and Allied shipping out of the North Pacific Ocean. When Kimmel sought a way around this “Vacant Sea” policy and organised a search for Japanese carrier forces in the North Pacific Ocean, the White House promptly ordered him to pull back and abort the exercise.[44]

On 26 November, then, the US issued a ten-point memorandum that called for the settling of Japanese-American tensions, which in reality dealt the final blow to the possibility of peace. Rochefort later confessed that “I believe sincerely that the November 26 letter was an actual ultimatum the Japanese could not accept and their only alternative was to go to war.”[45] From that moment on, Japan decided to go ahead with its plan to attack Pearl Harbour, and Washington clearly knew it. In the first days of December, the Dutch army decoded a dispatch from Tokyo to its Bangkok embassy, forecasting an attack on Hawaii, among other targets in Asia. Brigadier General Elliott Thorpe, then military attaché in Dutch-controlled Java, realised its importance and immediately contacted Washington, but his alarms went unheeded by the army’s Chief of Staff General George Marshall. Thorpe tried again three more times, but eventually, he was told “don’t send this anymore, we are not interested.”[46] It is clear from another revelation that the military and intelligence circles were not just uninterested at this point but, to the contrary, knew that Japan was moving eastward towards Hawaii. Captain Johann Ranneft, Dutch naval attaché in Washington, attended a meeting of the Office of Naval Intelligence on 2 December and wrote in his diary that “the location of 2 Japanese carriers leaving Japan with eastern course are pointed to me on the map.” A day before the fateful 7 December, he returned and was again shown the position of the Japanese carriers, which were now situated just a couple of hundred miles northwest of Pearl Harbour. He recorded in his diary that “no one among us mentions the possibility of an attack on Honolulu. I myself do not think about it because I believe that everyone in Honolulu is 100 percent on the alert, just like everyone here at ONI [the Office of Naval Intelligence].”[47] History tells us, however, that despite this overwhelming amount of information pointing to a surprise attack on Hawaii, Kimmel and Short, along with thousands of American servicemen, were deliberately left out in the open.

Finally, Stinnett’s archival research revealed that American cryptologists had not only cracked Japan’s diplomatic “Purple” messages, which is common knowledge, but intercepted Japanese naval pre-Pearl Harbour communication as well. Although many historians claim that the Japanese navy maintained radio silence in the weeks leading up to the attack, Stinnett has found 129 Japanese naval intercepts obtained by US naval monitor stations between 15 November and 6 December that directly contradict that assertion. In separate interviews with Stinnett, Homer Kisner and Duane L. Whitlock, then respectively chief operators at Station H and Station CAST, analysed and confirmed these intercepted naval messages. After the war, Japanese sources disclosed that Japanese navy officers indeed broke the policy of radio silence by communicating several broadcasts that bluntly unmasked the plot. For instance, in early december one radio broadcast unveiled the preparations for “the carrier striking force’s attack on Hawaii” and the “Hawaii attack.” Considering the 129 obtained intercepts, it is quite possible, even likely, that US cryptologists decoded and translated this and/or other damning messages. Despite numerous Freedom of Information requests, however, full access to the naval archives remains closed to the public. As a result, a cloak of secrecy obstructs the full truth about Pearl Harbour.[48]

At any rate, on a final note, all remaining doubts about FDR’s personal knowledge of the plot are shattered by a quote published in the US Naval Institute's Naval History Magazine. After learning of the the Kimmel and Short families’ efforts to posthumously restore the Pearl Harbour commanders, Helen E. Hamman went public with a secret from her father Don C. Smith, who directed the Red Cross’s War Service before World War II and was summoned by the president in the lead up to the attack:

“Shortly before the attack in 1941 President Roosevelt called him [Smith, my father] to the White House for a meeting concerning a Top Secret matter. At this meeting the President advised my father that his intelligence staff had informed him of a pending attack on Pearl Harbor, by the Japanese. He anticipated many casualties and much loss, he instructed my father to send workers and supplies to a holding area at a P.O.E. [port of entry] on the West Coast where they would await further orders to ship out, no destination was to be revealed. He left no doubt in my father’s mind that none of the Naval and Military officials in Hawaii were to be informed and he was not to advise the Red Cross officers who were already stationed in the area. When he protested to the President, President Roosevelt told him that the American people would never agree to enter the war in Europe unless they were attack[ed] within their own borders. [My father] was privy to Top Secret operations and worked directly with all of our outstanding leaders. He followed the orders of his President and spent many later years contemplating this action which he considered ethically and morally wrong.”[49] (emphasis added)

The Cold War: Operation Northwoods and the Gulf of Tonkin incident

World War II was the deadliest military conflict ever in absolute terms of total casualties. Over 60 million people from all over the world perished, including hundreds of thousands of Americans. On the backbone of all this death and destruction, the US outgrew its former place among the Great Powers and established a hegemony over the Western hemisphere. The American economy was in better shape than any other European or Eurasian superpower, and after the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, the US dollar was established as a global reserve currency interchangeable to gold at a fixed price. In addition, the IMF and World Bank were created, two globalist institutions which would further the American-led world order in the coming decades. Similarly, with the coming into existence of the United Nations and NATO, the US gained a dominant position on respectively the diplomatic and military front as well. At the same time, however, communist regimes thrived from the Soviet Union and China to Southeast Asia and Cuba, and hence, the Cold War paradigm was born. Declassified cables reveal that in the 1960s, too, American intelligence agencies again planned a series of false flag assaults, this time to be blamed on the Cuban government of Fidel Castro.

In 1997, a throve of once-secret military records were made public by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board, the federal agency overseeing the release of government records related to the JFK assassination. Among them was a document titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba (TS),” a top secret collection of draft memoranda written by the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962 following the Bay of Pigs failure the year before. The document called for “a series of well coordinated incidents” that would have the “genuine appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces.” Known collectively as Operation Northwoods, these actions would constitute “pretexts” for the “justification for US military intervention in Cuba,” as apparently neither the American nor the Cuban people were going to accept such overt intervention without this covert strategy. The plans detailed in the document included assassinating Cuban émigés, attacking the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, orchestrating terrorism in American cities, blowing up drones disguised as manned aircraft, and, interestingly enough, hijacking planes. More in line with the mass casualty events at sea discussed above, the document also mentioned that “we could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba.” This is especially reminiscent of the case of the USS Maine, an American military boat that was blown up on the other side of the island more than 60 years earlier in order to ignite the Spanish-American War. And indeed, the authors directly referred to “a ‘Remember the Maine’ incident [that] could be arranged in several forms.”[50] Fortunately, the plans concocted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense were eventually rejected by the Kennedy Administration.

Under the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded JFK after the latter was assassinated in 1963, however, a naval false flag was again engineered in order to escalate the Vietnam War. In the 1950s, American tax dollars and military advisors were already heavily involved in the Indochina War between France and the Vietminh independence movement. In the early 1960s, then, US involvement increased rapidly, as the Kennedy administration tripled the amount of troops in both 1961 and 1962. It was only after the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, though, that Congress managed to pass the closest thing there ever was to a declaration of war against North Vietnam. This resolution, passed immediately after American military vessels were said to have come under attack from North Vietnamese torpedo boats on 2 August and again on 4 August, authorised the president to express America’s military might in Southeast Asia, thereby providing a flimsy legal base for the disastrous Vietnam War.[51]

According to the official story presented to the public at the time, the Johnson administration had done nothing to provoke a naval engagement in the Tonkin Gulf. Essentially, the USS Maddox was said to peacefully minding its own business in the area when it came under sudden attack from North Vietnamese forces on 2 August. Navy and military officials declared that they had acted with restraint, refusing to respond, as they only reacted with returning fire after the second attack two nights later. This turned out to be blatantly untrue. Archival research has established that after its approval by Johnson in January 1964, the US started carrying out covert naval commando attacks against North Vietnam under a plan called Operation Plan 34-A. The naval battle between the Maddox and the North Vietnamese torpedo boats occurred in the immediate aftermath of a series of such 34-A maritime raids on coastal targets. Although the American destroyer was in international waters when the battle itself took place, the North Vietnamese forces logically concluded that the Maddox’s appearance was related to the 34-A raids.[52]

Not only had the US thus provoked the North Vietnamese just like it had provoked the Germans and the Japanese in respectively the Lusitania and Pearl Harbour cases, however, it had fired the first shots as well. This conclusion was made by Robert Hanyok, an intelligence analyst and historian with the Department of Defense, who published his findings in an article in the NSA’s own internal classified publication in early 2001, which was made available to the public under pressure of Freedom of Information Requests in 2005.[53] When “the Vietnamese boats inexorably closed the gap between themselves and the destroyer,” Hanyok wrote, “Captain Herrick ordered Ogier’s gun crews to open fire if the boats approached within ten thousand yards. At about 1505G, the Maddox fired three rounds to warn off the communist boats. This initial action was never reported by the Johnson administration, which insisted that the Vietnamese boats fired first.”[54]

Even more startling was Hanyok’s second finding. Confirming what many analysts had already suspected, he concluded that the 4 August attack had never actually taken place at all. Drawing from a comprehensive analysis of intelligence signals and intercepts that he was able to look into, he concluded that the attack simply had not occurred, and that Agency officials had “mishandled” and “skewed” intelligence in order to make the case that the attack did happen.[55] This means that the American destroyers essentially fired at a non-existing adversary on the night of 4 August, after which President Johnson asked for a congressional resolution and ordered retaliatory bombing against North Vietnam in response to what was, in all actuality, a non-event.

Conclusion: a new “American Century?”

Starting shortly after the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the escalation of the war, a huge anti-Vietnam War movement gradually developed and made American intervention less and less popular. After the capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese army in 1975, which indicated the end of the war, the American people became prone to what was soon called the “Vietnam Syndrome.” The massive protests and riots against American involvement, the Watergate scandal as well as the horrific images from the front and stories of cruel atrocities all contributed to a general distrust to any type of foreign intervention. As a result, the last Cold War administrations had no choice but to scale down overt military intervention. It was only after the First Gulf War of 1990-1991, which resulted in a quick and relatively decisive victory, that President George H. W. Bush declared that the Vietnam Syndrome was finally “kicked.”[56] Still, a propagandistic lie was again needed to find support for that war as well. The UN Security Council was only able to authorise the use of “all means necessary” to eject Iraq from Kuwait after Nayirah al-Sabah’s testimony asserted that Iraqi soldiers had taken babies out of incubators and left them to die during the invasion of Kuwait. It later turned out, however, that Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, and that it simply did not happen, just like the second attack in the Tonkin Gulf in 1964 did not happen.[57]

Over the course of the twentieth century, the US gradually assumed a hegemonic position on the global geopolitical chessboard like none European or Eurasian superpower was ever able to. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the advent of the First Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush declared a unipolar “new world order” in which the US would become the uncontested superpower. In 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and former executive director of David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission, authored a book in which he meticulously outlined how the US must defend its global primacy by preventing, at all costs, the emergence of a Eurasian rival, as the present situation of an Atlantic superpower exerting global hegemony was unique to history.[58] Members of the conservative think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Elliot Abrams, all of whom obtained key positions in the George W. Bush administration in 2001, understood this very well. In a policy document called “Rebuilding America’s defenses” published in September 2000 in anticipation of the presidential elections, PNAC outlined an aggressive military plan “for a new century” of American global domination.[59] As I have demonstrated in this article, the twentieth “American Century” might have looked totally different absent a number of naval false flag operations. PNAC recognised that the same counted for the 21st century. “The process of transformation [towards American primacy], even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one,” it postulated,” absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor.”[60] Prophetically, that “new Pearl Harbor” came one year later in the form of the 9/11 attacks. Perhaps it is not that silly after all that one in every two Americans doubt the government’s official account of Osama bin Laden having masterminded the well-coordinated sophisticated assaults from a cave in Afghanistan while on dialysis.[61]

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud Contributing Analyst,  is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] Stephen Kinzer, The true flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the birth of the American empire (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2017).

[2] Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Norvell, 11.06.1807 (Library of Congress: The Thomas Jefferson Papers, series 1: general correspondence), http://loc.gov/resource/mtj1.038_0592_0594/?sp=2&st=text.

[3] James Perloff, “Trial run for interventionism,” The New American, 20.08.2012, 29-31, http://morganhighhistoryacademy.org/Trial%20Run%20For%20Interventionism%20TNA%20August%2020,%202012.pdf.

[4] Edward P. McMorrow, “Who destroyed the USS Maine - an opinion (part 2),” The Spanish-American War, http://spanamwar.com/Mainemo2.htm.

[5] Quoted in Perloff, “Trial run for interventionism,” 33.

[6] Perloff, “Trial run for interventionism,” 32.

[7] Kinzer, The true flag, 29.

[8] Edward P. McMorrow, “Who destroyed the USS Maine - an opinion (part 1),” The Spanish-American War, http://spanamwar.com/Mainemo1.htm.

[9] Louis Fisher, “The destruction of the Maine (1898),” The Law Library of Congress, 04.08.2009, http://loc.gov/law/help/usconlaw/pdf/Maine.1898.pdf.

[10]  Ivan Musicant, Empire by default: the Spanish-American War and the dawn of the American Century (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998), 143-4.

[11] Quoted in Kinzer, The true flag, 35.

[12] Quoted in Kinzer, The true flag, 33.

[13] Fischer, “Destruction of the Maine (1898),” 2-3.

[14] Fischer, “Destruction of the Maine (1898),” 3-5.

[15] Perloff, “Trial run for interventionism,” 35.

[16] McMorrow, “Who destroyed the USS Maine - an opinion (part 1).”

[17] Quoted in Kinzer, The true flag, 226.

[18] Kinzer, The true flag, 231-3.

[19] James Perloff, “False flag at sea,” James Perloff, 21.05.2014, http://jamesperloff.com/2014/05/21/false-flag-at-sea/.

[20] Quoted in Ralph Raico, “Rethinking Churchill,” Mises Institute, 14.11.2008, http://mises.org/library/rethinking-churchill.

[21] Quoted in Ralph Raico, “The blockade and attempted starvation of Germany,” Mises Institute, 07.05.2010, http://mises.org/library/blockade-and-attempted-starvation-germany.

[22] Quoted in Raico, “Rethinking Churchill.”

[23] Quoted in Burton J. Hendrick, The life and letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1923), 436, http://ia600200.us.archive.org/24/items/lifelettersofwal03hend/lifelettersofwal03hend.pdf.

[24] Charles Seymour, The intimate papers of Colonel House (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926), 432, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/g/genpub/ACL9380.0001.001/478?rgn=full+text;view=image.

[25] Donald E. Schmidt, The folly of war: American foreign policy, 1898-2005 (New York: Algora Publishing, 2005), 73, http://books.google.be/books?id=865MBAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=nl&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. You can find the original manifesto here: http://rmslusitania.info/downloads/crossing202_supplementary_cargo_manifest.pdf.

[26] Perloff, “False flag at sea.”

[27] Gabriel Donohoe, “The sinking of the Lusitania, America’s entry into World War I, a bonanza for Wall Street,” Global Research, 08.05.2010, reprinted on 10.08.2014, http://globalresearch.ca/the-sinking-the-lusitania-americas-entry-into-world-war-i-a-bonanza-for-wall-street/5381121.

[28]  Perloff, “False flag at sea.”

[29] Kinzer, The true flag, 233-5.

[30] Robert B. Stinnett, Day of deceit: the truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor (London: Constable, 2000), 33.

[31] Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “Campaign address at Boston, Massachusetts,” (Speech, Boston, 30.10.1940), The American Presidency Project, http://presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15887.

[32] The reminiscences of Captain Joseph J. Rochefort (US Naval Institute Oral History Program, 1970), 163, quoted in Stinnett, Day of deceit, 117.

[33] Memorandum from Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum to ONI director Captain Walter Stratton Anderson, 7.10.1940 (McCollum’s personal classified file, RG 38, Station US papers, box 6, folder 5750-15, Archives II, College Park, Maryland), reproduced in full in Stinnett, Day of deceit, 261-7.

[34] Memorandum from Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum.

[35] Cable from Admiral Harold Stark, 28.11.1941 (Navy Department, RG 38, Station US papers, MMRB, Archives II, College Park, Maryland), reproduced in full in Stinnett, Day of deceit, 284-5.

[36] Quoted in Stinnett, Day of deceit, 178-9.

[37] Stinnett, Day of deceit, 17-8 and 36.

[38] The reminiscences of Captain Joseph J. Rochefort (US Naval Institute Oral History Program, 1970), 65, quoted in Stinnett, Day of deceit, 121.

[39] Stinnett, Day of deceit, 83-119.

[40] Quoted in Stinnett, Day of deceit, 31.

[41] Michael T. Griffith, “The Pearl Harbor attack: an introduction,” Mike Griffith, 2012, http://miketgriffith.com/files/phintro.htm.

[42] Thomas O’Toole, “Did Hoover know of Pearl Harbor?”, Washington Post, 02.12.1982, http://washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1982/12/02/did-hoover-know-of-pearl-harbor/7510d069-2ac9-4512-a543-d2ce1aceca7c/?utm_term=.f3fca71009fa.

[43] Steven L. Danver, Popular controversies in world history: investigating history’s intriguing questions (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 250, available online: http://books.google.be/books?id=slVobUjdzGMC&printsec=frontcover&hl=nl&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

[44] Stinnett, Day of deceit, 142-51.

[45] The reminiscences of Captain Joseph J. Rochefort (US Naval Institute Oral History Program, 1970), 66, quoted in Stinnett, Day of deceit, 218.

[46] “Elliott Thorpe, 91, army attache who warned of Japanese attack,” New York Times, 28.06.1989, http://nytimes.com/1989/06/29/obituaries/elliott-thorpe-91-army-attache-who-warned-of-japanese-attack.html; Interview with Thorpe from BBC documentary Sacrifice at Pearl Harbor, produced by Roy Davies (London: BBC, 1989), from 41m45 until 43m00, available on Youtube: http://youtube.com/watch?v=7p1TOA99S88&t=2549s.

[47] Stinnett, Day of deceit, 42-59.

[48] Stinnett, Day of deceit, 189-224.

[49] Daryl S. Borgquist, “Advance warning? The Red Cross connection,” Naval History Magazine 13, no. 3 (1999), http://usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/1999-06/advance-warning-red-cross-connection.

[50] US Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba (TS),” US Department of Defense, 13.03.1962, available online at the National Security Archive, http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//news/20010430/northwoods.pdf.

[51] Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, “30-year anniversary: Tonkin Gulf lie launched Vietnam War,” FAIR - Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, 27.07.1994, http://fair.org/media-beat-column/30-year-anniversary-tonkin-gulf-lie-launched-vietnam-war/; John Prados, “Essay: 40th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident,” National Security Archive, 04.08.2004, http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB132/essay.htm.

[52] Prados, “Essay: 40th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.”

[53] John Prados, “Tonkin Gulf intelligence ‘skewed’ according to official history and intercepts,” National Security Archive, 01.12.2005, http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB132/press20051201.htm.

[54] Robert Hanyok, “Skunks, bogies, silent hounds, and the flying fish: the Gulf of Tonkin mystery, 2-4 August 1964,” Cryptologic Quarterly 19, no. 4 (2001), 16, http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB132/relea00012.pdf.

[55] Prados, “Tonkin Gulf intelligence ‘skewed’ according to official history and intercepts.”

[56] Alan Rohn, “Vietnam Syndrome,” Vietnam War, 27.06.2014, http://thevietnamwar.info/vietnam-syndrome/.

[57] Tom Regan, “When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators,” Christian Science Monitor, 06.09.2002, http://csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p25s02-cogn.html.

[58] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The grand chessboard: American primacy and its geostrategic imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 1997).

[59] Bette Stockbauer, “‘Rebuilding America’s defenses’ and the Project of the New American Century,” Antiwar, 18.06.2003, http://antiwar.com/orig/stockbauer1.html.

[60] Project for the New American Century, Rebuilding America’s defenses: strategy, forces and resources for a new century (report, Washington, DC, September 2000), 51, http://informationclearinghouse.info/pdf/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf.

[61] Harris MacLeod, “New poll finds most Americans open to alternative 9/11 theories,” YouGov UK, 12.09.2013, http://yougov.co.uk/news/2013/09/12/new-poll-finds-most-americans-open-alternative-911/.

Newsbud Exclusive- “Natural Gas Pipelines & the Proxy War on Syria: Exaggerated_Motive?”

After six years of war and destruction, there is a widespread consensus in the alternative media that the Syrian debacle is a war on Syria rather, or at least more so, than a civil war between Syrians. Without the foreign support coming from NATO, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel from the beginning of the crisis onwards in the form of finances, weapons supply, covert operations, favourable propaganda and the permission of jihadi border-crossing into the ravaged country, the armed opposition could never have conquered and maintained so much Syrian territory. Even though the popularity of the Syrian government constitutes a decisive factor in explaining Syria’s resolve, it might not have survived, and certainly would not have been able to reverse the tide to the extent it has today, without its chief allies Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. As all these outside players have their own reasons for getting involved in the war, the fighting parties on the ground are in many ways pawns on a regional, nay, global geopolitical chessboard.

One theory fits the bill perfectly in explaining the involvement of nearly all foreign players, that of the two contested natural gas pipelines. According to this theory, all regional countries that have in one way or another been crucial in the rise of the armed opposition - Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey - were eager to construct a pipeline from the world’s richest gas repository in Qatar (which the latter shares with Iran) through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey into Europe. While this project was supported by the US, Assad was allegedly the only one standing in the way as he refused to sign the deal in 2009 under Russian pressure and chose to back an alternative pipeline running from Iran’s part of the gas field through Iraq, Syria and possibly Lebanon to the Mediterranean, where it would continue under water to reach the European market. As control over resources and pipeline routes have played a crucial role in many global wars throughout history, especially in the petroleum rich Middle East and Central Asia, this theory sounds appealing to journalists exposing the proxy war on Syria. I myself defined it as one of the primary reasons behind the war back in December 2016,[1] but a myriad of authorities in both the alternative and mainstream media have done the same, from Pepe Escobar in Asia Times,[2] Steve Austin in Oil Price[3] and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in Politico[4] to Nafeez Ahmed in the Guardian[5] and even the Council on Foreign Relations’ Foreign Affairs.[6]

The two alleged contested pipeline routes © oil-price.net

Upon closer inspection, however, there seem to be some problems with this all-explaining pipeline theory. As Gareth Porter pointed out in Truthout, there is no evidence of Assad refusing the Qatar-Turkey pipeline deal in 2009. All articles claiming otherwise lead back to an August 2013 Agence France-Presse (AFP) article about Moscow’s refusal to drop Assad in exchange for an arms deal proposed by Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, which mentions in passing that “In 2009, Assad refused to sign an agreement with Qatar for an overland pipeline running from the Gulf to Europe via Syria to protect the interests of its Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas.”[7] This statement, however, was not backed up by a source or citation and was not accredited to the main source of the article, “a European diplomat who shuttles between Beirut and Damascus,” but was rather presented as a given fact. Furthermore, in an interview with a Russian media outlet in 2016, Assad claimed that he did not get any offers before the crisis from Qatar or any other Gulf nation. Pressed specifically to answer whether it is true that Qatar and its allies wanted to establish a gas tube through Syria, Assad said:

“No, they [most likely talking about certain Gulf countries] didn’t talk about it, but because Syria was supposed to be a hub in that regard, of power in general, a tube coming from the east; Iran, Iraq, Syria, Mediterranean, and other one from the Gulf toward Europe. I don’t think the West will accept Syria - this Syria, Syria that’s not puppet to the West - it’s not allowed to have this privilege or leverage, it’s not allowed. So, we think this is one of the factors that they didn’t talk about it directly. After the war, the offer was directly from the Saudis that [...] if you move away from Iran and announce that you disconnect all kinds of relations with Iran, we’re going to help you.”[8]

Moreover, the assertion that only Syria would have obstructed the Qatar-Turkey pipeline is incorrect as well. Saudi Arabia, whose territory the Qatari gas would have to pass through according to the theory, probably had reservations, too. The current Gulf crisis between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and a number of other Arab countries on the other shows that the Gulf is not homogenous when it comes to foreign policy. As far as the war on Syria is concerned, both countries indeed fund the armed opposition, but Qatar initially tended to back Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups, while Saudi Arabia from the onset focused its support on hardcore Salafi jihadi’s. As a result, there was a certain element of competition between the two countries inside Syria, especially in the beginning when the Brotherhood was playing a more important role than it does today.[9] Regional competition between the Saudi’s and the Qatari’s have always manifested itself firmly in the realm of energy politics as well. As Paul Cochrane explained in Middle East Eye, Riyadh has a long history of obstructing Qatari pipeline expansion. In the mid-2000s, Saudi obstruction caused planners to redraw the routes of the Dolphin pipeline, which transports gas from Qatar to the UAE. Saudi Arabia was also the principle reason why there is no Qatari pipeline to Bahrain or Kuwait today. Moreover, Saudi opposition to Qatari gas pipelines has been so strong that Doha has switched its strategy over the years away from pipelines to liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is a form you get when gas is converted to liquid and its volume is reduced to 1/600th of its gaseous state, as a result of which it can be transported overseas by tanker to faraway places around the world.[10] Finally, the above-mentioned AFP article itself stated that in his effort to bribe Putin, Prince Bandar bin Sultan assured Russia that “‘whatever regime comes after’ Assad, it will be ‘completely’ in the Saudi’s hands,” but in addition, will also “not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian exports.”[11] Saudi Arabia’s primary reasons for being involved in Syria thus lay elsewhere.

Porter and Cochrane have confronted me, and many others, with some harsh criticism, criticism that cannot be circumvented. However, they both conclude that natural gas has no role at all in the Syrian crisis. In my opinion, this is a simplified half-truth as well. In this article, I will nuance my previous claims, but maintain that for some actors, control over the natural gas routes to Europe did most likely play a major role in planning a war against Syria.

Europe, hungry for gas

To comprehend the role of natural gas on the geopolitical chessboard, we have to start in Europe, which currently relies for about 25% of its primary energy consumption on natural gas. Due to the increasingly stringent pushes to reduce greenhouse gas emission on the continent, the EU is trying to achieve its decarbonisation aims by heavily subsidising the renewable energy sector, but even with these subsidies, CERA Global Redesign Oct 2012 still estimates that the share of renewables will constitute only 6% by 2030. Natural gas, in contrast, is affordable and a cleaner complement to renewables than coal and oil. Following the disaster in Fukushima, nuclear energy has become less attractive as well. Therefore, natural gas is the sole non-renewable fuel whose use will most likely increase in the future. Its share in the primary energy mix is estimated to grow from 25% in 2010 to 28% by 2030. In addition, domestic production of natural gas, mainly from Norway, the Netherlands and the UK, will further decline. Consequently, there will be a supply gap of 100 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year by 2030, which causes the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) to conclude that Europe will have to find new volumes of gas, either by increasing LNG imports or by pipelines from the east.[12]

Distribution of European primary energy consumption © CERA Global Redesign Oct 2012 / GTI

Russia, possessing the largest known reserves of natural gas on the planet, exports 70% of its gas to Europe, which makes it the continent’s largest gas supplier as Russian pipelines deliver 30% of European gas and oil imports. This energy dependence on Russia gives the country structural power over Europe, which was made abundantly clear when Russia temporarily cut off gas to Ukraine (through which much of Russia’s gas is transported to Europe) over disputes with the country in 2006, 2009 and 2014. This has prompted the EU and its allies in America to attempt to diversify away from Russian gas.[13] Indeed, while the European member states’ gas procurement focuses on economic efficiency in the short term, the EU has developed strategies (with the support of countries that are not dependent on Russian gas) to ensure energy security and push for alternatives in its medium and long-term policies.[14]

Main gas pipelines from Russia to Europe and the amount of dependency on Russian gas of several European states © CNN

This can be done either by LNG imports, of which Qatar is by far the largest supplier, or by the construction of new pipelines from North Africa and especially the Middle East into Europe. Given Russia’s strategic location, however, LNG would most likely face strong competition with the existing Russian pipelines.[15] According to a 2003 joint UNDP/World Bank study, liquified gas can only compete with pipelines when they stretch over more than 4.800 kms.[16] There was only one such pipeline in existence in 2011, a pipeline running from Xinjiang to Shanghai in China, far away from Europe.[17] Furthermore, due to the nature of competition for LNG in global markets, the availability of LNG cargoes for Europe relies on the outlook of LNG demand in Asia.[18] German spokesperson for the Nord Stream 2 project Steffen Ebert recently stated that “if Europe places its stake on overseas liquefied gas and rejects the Russian pipeline gas, [...] then the volume of LNG on the world market will quickly decline which will in turn make it much more expensive. It will mean that in terms of a price tag we will have to compete with Asia, so that the LNG tankers can go to European ports, not those in Japan.”[19] Indeed, high Asian demand would mean less available or at least more expensive liquid gas for Europe. A more viable solution to lessen the dependency on Russian gas, therefore, is alternative pipelines.

Iran and pipeline geopolitics in the Middle East

Following Russia with 47,8 trillion cubic metres (tcm), the countries with the second and third largest known natural gas reserves are Iran with 34,02 tcm and Qatar with 24,53 tcm according to the CIA’s 2017 World Factbook. Still, the most long-standing EU- and US-backed pipeline project to diversify away from Russian gas, the Nabucco pipeline, was always centred around other supply countries, like Iraq, Egypt and Azerbaijan, who are ranked at the 12th, 16th and 25th place respectively.[20] The Nabucco project, however, has always been mired in disputes and difficulties, because doubts about its ability to transport the promised amount of 31 bcm of gas per year persisted throughout the negotiating years. In addition, it seems that there never was a final decision from where the gas would eventually come, although it became clear over the years that the Shah Deniz fields in Azerbaijan would in all likelihood be the main source.[21] The transit countries nevertheless signed an intergovernmental agreement in 2009 securing the legal framework to build and operate Nabucco and settled on a common tariff methodology.[22] But still, the project never came to fruition and the European leg - called Nabucco-West - was officially cancelled in 2013 after the Shah Deniz consortium chose the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) for its gas exports instead. This is a much smaller pipeline than Nabucco-West and is part of the Southern Gas Corridor, a set of ambitious infrastructure projects that plan to export Azerbaijani gas to Greece, Albania and Italy. The other two components are the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), which is already in use, and the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), the construction of which, like TAP, has started in 2015 and is estimated to be completed around the turn of the decade.[23] Not only will the Southern Gas Corridor only supply 10 bcm of gas per year to Europe when finished, however, it will also not be linked to Eastern European countries, who are most dependent on Russian gas.

The cancelled Nabucco-West pipeline and the Southern Gas Corridor comprising SCP, TANAP and TAP © The Business Year

Thus, one of the main reasons Nabucco failed was uncertainty of sufficient gas supply. To solve this major issue, Brussels and Washington contemplated extending the pipeline across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, the world’s sixth largest owner of natural gas, and even further all the way to Kazakhstan, ranked at the 15th place.[24] This expansion, however, would have increased the logistical costs even further at the same time that the Nabucco shareholders had already realised that their project was going to be much more expensive than they initially estimated. An easier solution, of course, would have been Iran. Indeed, Iranian officials had long argued that Nabucco could only be economically viable with its participation. In 2010, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki even joked that “without Iran’s participation, [Nabucco] would amount to nothing but a pipeline void of gas.”[25] The sanctions against the country, however, succeeded in preventing the easy solution. Foreign expertise and investment was needed to overcome internal challenges, such as high domestic demand, inefficient production and the need to renew the existing pipeline infrastructure to Turkey, but too many international petroleum giants backed away under the pre-nuclear deal sanctions regime spearheaded by Washington and Tel Aviv.[26]

Due to the slimming chances of exporting gas through the Nabucco project, an ambitious Iran sought other options to transport natural gas to Europe, and hence the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline idea was born. Since at least 2008 but accelerating from mid-2010 onwards, the three Middle Eastern nations had been discussing building an “Islamic Pipeline” through their countries and possibly Lebanon, under the Mediterranean and most likely via Greece, into the European market. In February 2011, more than a month before the Arab Spring had reached Syria, the last rounds of preliminary negotiations were held and on 26 July that same year, four months into the Syrian crisis, the deal was officially inked as the Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian oil ministers signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of the pipeline. Not knowing that the Syrian crisis would escalate due to the increasing support of foreign countries to the insurgents, Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Javad Owji estimated that once funding of the $10 billion project was secured, construction “should take three to five years.”[27] Less than two weeks later, seven unnamed international investors had announced their readiness to finance, design and construct the pipeline, which according to Owji would be able to transport 110 million cubic metres (mcm) gas per day - or 40 bcm per year - to Iraq, Syria and Europe when finished.[28] Despite the unrest in Syria and Iraq, Iran reportedly started building on the first phase of the project in November 2012,[29] and by January 2017, the pipeline infrastructure from Iran to Iraq was inaugurated and the construction of a second pipeline between the two countries was announced.[30]

Iranian plans to bypass Turkey and construct a pipeline through the heart of the Arab world into the European market are thus well documented. Because of the continuation of war in Syria, however, which we should keep in mind was artificial and engineered by outside powers rather than a result of a popular uprising, but also due to the rise of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, the chances of the project actually succeeding started diminishing from 2013 onwards. And indeed, whereas news about the project is on hand until the beginning of 2013, Iranian officials discussed it far less in the ensuing years. Not giving up on its dream of becoming one of the largest natural gas exporters in the world, Iran then diversified its options of transporting its gas to Europe, including through the Black Sea or Turkey (in spite of the latter’s role in the proxy war on Syria) and even by calling for the revival of the Nabucco project but this time with Iran’s full participation.[31]

Not coincidentally, this redirection coincided with the start of formal negotiations between the P5+1 countries (i.e. the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) and Iran in 2013 and accelerated with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, as this increased Iranian hopes of ending its economic isolation after US, EU and UN sanctions on its petroleum sector would be lifted. Despite Washington’s continuing scaremongering, a significant amount of European countries hailed the possibility of importing Iranian gas. Switzerland, for instance, had long sought to transport Iranian gas via Turkey, Greece, Albania and Italy into Europe,[32] and a few months before the signing of JCPOA Iran held meetings with Bulgaria as well as German companies while a TAP spokeswoman proclaimed that the project was open to new shareholders, including Iran.[33] In addition, the representatives of 15 French investors and owners of major energy companies, including Total, met the head of the National Iranian Gas Company on the sidelines of the World Gas Conference in Paris in June 2015 to discuss opportunities in Iran.[34]

This resulted in the signing of Iran’s first energy deal since JCPOA’s signing on 5 July 2017, in which Total and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) agreed to develop Phase 11 of Iran’s South Pars field, the above-mentioned largest gas repository in the world that Iran shares with Qatar.[35] Two days later, however, Iranian state-owned Press TV reported that suddenly, the country had abandoned its long-standing priority to export natural gas to Europe. Deputy Minister of Petroleum for Trade and International Affairs Amirhossein Zamaninia claimed that Europe’s gas market was already saturated with excessive supplies and had thus lost its priority in Iran’s gas export plans. Instead, gas output would from now on be focused on its neighbours as well as India as these had already provided enough opportunities since the signing of JCPOA and the subsequent removal of sanctions to expand Iranian gas export.[36] A couple of days later, Zamaninia elaborated that “gas exports [to Europe] under the current situation are not cost-effective for Iran due to the international prices of gas.”[37] Perhaps, this is an accuse to hide the fact that the country currently does not have the capabilities to export as many gas as it has claimed in the past, perhaps it was part of the deal with Total and CNPC, or maybe they have just become sick of trying. But whether this argument is genuine or not, or whether there are ulterior motives or not, it is safe to say that the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline is off the table, at least as far as the foreseeable future is concerned.

Cochrane, however, goes as far concluding that the pipeline was always a “pipe dream.” He quotes Jim Deacons, a Scottish energy consultant who worked in Syria, as stating that “the whole point is that while Syria was actively talking about gas from Iran, Tehran was importing gas from Azerbaijan during the winter months. That really blows the theory of a gas grab out of the window. That Iran would supply gas to Syria was complete nonsense, and I told the Syrian [energy] minister that [at the time].”[38] In my opinion, this statement ignores the role of the years-long sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas sector and the country’s non-access to much-needed Western technology. Besides, Azerbaijan, the main source of both the failed Nabucco project and the Southern Gas Corridor, started to import gas from Iran in 2017.[39] This did not stop the construction of the TAP, however. Rather than focusing on the short term, then, we should look at the potential and take in mind the impact of JCPOA and the first contracts with external petroleum giants after its signing. It of course takes time to develop the huge Iranian gas fields, but in the meantime, the demand for Iranian gas will grow as Iran is gradually crawling out of its isolation. Preventing that potential is the real issue here.

Qatar and pipeline geopolitics in the Middle East

As revealed in the introduction of this article, the prospects for a Qatar-Turkey pipeline are much less clear, but they are documented to a lesser extent nonetheless. That Assad apparently never got an offer regarding a gas pipeline from the Gulf through his country does not exclude the possibility that there might have been covert negotiations between the other transit countries to overthrow Assad and install a more favourable regime in order to establish the pipeline. Still, it is difficult to believe that Saudi Arabia would have agreed to a Qatar-Europe pipeline for the reasons mentioned in the introduction. But before we make conclusions, let’s first examine what we do know.

I previously noticed that Qatar holds the third largest reserves of natural gas on the planet after Russia and Iran. The same 2017 CIA World Factbook that I cited above, however, places Qatar second on the list of natural gas exporters after Russia, while Iran ranks only at the 21st place.[40] Contrary to its Persian neighbour, Qatar has thus succeeded fairly well in exporting its natural resources, partly because it is less isolated from the international community. While the country found its initial riches in the oil industry, it started exporting LNG in 1997 and relatively quickly became the biggest exporter of liquefied gas in the world.[41] In spite of a lack of pipelines to transport its gas, this has made Qatar the richest country in the world by GDP per capita.[42]

Qatar’s rapidly growing LNG exports © Persian Gulf Fund

Unlike Iran, which is more centrally located on the Eurasian land mass, Qatar has more obstacles to overcome to establish pipelines to distant markets. Nevertheless, a 2005 EU study found a gas tube from the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is by far the main gas exporter, to Europe a viable option. Principal Administrator and Director-General of Energy and Transport of the European Commission Ioannis Samouilidis posited that “with natural gas consumption in the European Union expected to double by the year 2020, there are good prospects for gas transportation by pipeline from the GCC to EU,” adding that “we think pipeline has many advantages; it is cheaper, more reliable and creates stronger links between suppliers and buyers.” Therefore, he concluded, options were being discussed within the GCC-EU cooperation framework.[43]

The next thing we know is that in August 2009, around the time the Nabucco shareholders were desperately searching for supply countries with enough reserves, the Turkish and Qatari energy ministries announced that they would establish a working group to discuss a pipeline carrying natural gas from Qatar to Turkey. Contrary to AFP’s claim that Assad refused a Qatari-proposed pipeline deal, Gulf Times did accredit a source, namely Turkish ambassador to Qatar Mithat Rende, to the statement that “the natural gas pipeline between Qatar and Turkey may hook up with Nabucco after traversing Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.”[44] Two months later, Murat Yalcintas, the chairman of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, reiterated Turkey’s wish for Qatari participation in the Nabucco project.[45]

After the establishment of the working group, there came no more news, however. This could mean two things: either the discussions did not materialise into concrete steps, or they continued on a covert level as they began contemplating regime change in Syria. The only extra information I could find was a study by an Ankara-based think tank (with the Turkish Foreign Ministry as its main sponsor) from January 2011, two months before the first Syrian “uprising” was engineered in Daraa, a relatively small city close to the Jordanian border. The 31-page report examined the prospects for a Qatar-Turkey-EU gas pipeline but through a different route, namely through the Persian Gulf and Iraq to Turkey instead of via Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.[46] This again could mean two things: either Qatar and Turkey had dropped the pipeline idea through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria as they realised the many obstacles, or they were diversifying their options like Iran did from 2013 onwards. At any rate, the authors realised that the project could only come to fruition if Iraq would become more stable in the near future, which it of course did not due to the rise of ISIS.

According to Porter, the fact that the Shah Deniz consortium opted for the much shorter TAP pipeline from Turkey to Italy instead of Nabucco-West from Turkey to Eastern Europe in 2011 meant that “there was no longer any possibility of such a Qatar-to-Turkey pipeline.”[47] Cochrane made similar statements as he pointed to the failure of Nabucco but did not even mention the TAP pipeline, let alone the Southern Gas Corridor.[48] It was only in 2013 that the final decision to choose TAP over Nabucco-West was made, however, and these claims obscure the idea that, in principle, the Qatari gas - or Iranian gas for that matter - could be pumped further into Europe through the existing pipeline infrastructure in Italy and beyond. Indeed, from the summer of 2018 onwards, it will be possible to transmit gas from Italy through Switzerland to Germany, Belgium and France as the existing pipelines will by then be made bidirectional.[49]

Belgian company Fluxys plans to make TENP and Transitgas bidirectional © Interfax Global Energy

The more pressing concern is the length of the Qatari pipeline. Naser Tamimi, an independent Qatari energy expert, is quoted in Cochrane’s article as saying that “a pipeline has to be economically justifiable and secure demand from buyers in the long term to recover pipeline costs. [...] LNG is cheaper, even in the most expensive scenario.”[50] Given the fact that the toppling of Assad did not turn out to be an easy task and the regime change efforts turned into a prolonged war, in addition to the continued unrest in Iraq, I think it is safe to say that no such security of demand can be promised to buyer countries and potential shareholders. Like the Islamic Pipeline, a Qatar-Turkey-Europe pipeline is therefore unlikely to materialise in the near future. Qatar clearly always kept placing much bigger emphasis on developing its LNG plants, and indeed, in spite of the current Gulf crisis, it has recently announced a plan to raise its LNG output by 30 percent alongside the chief executives of Total, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil.[51]

Natural gas and the Syrian war: motive for whom?

The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies published a paper in 2012 estimating that the numerous discoveries of gas fields in the Mediterranean throughout the last decade (mainly by Israel and Cyprus) were likely to become a game-changer for local energy systems. In light of these discoveries, Syria tried to attract investors for the exploration of four offshore blocks in 2007. Despite some initial investor interest, the bid ended disappointingly with no licensing awards, however.[52] Coupled with the fact that Syrian onshore gas production did not keep pace with the rapid growth in domestic energy demand, this caused Syria to scrap plans to export gas in 2008 as it turned into a net importer when it began receiving natural gas from Egypt via the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP).[53] Instead, Assad in 2009 announced a new vision, the “Four Seas Strategy,” an ambitious plan to make Syria into the centre of an energy network that would connect the Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf. In the north, Ankara and Damascus planned to extend the AGP - a pipeline that transports gas from Egypt to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon - to Turkey, thereby linking it to the Nabucco project; and in the east, Syria negotiated with Iraq to reopen an old oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Syria’s Mediterranean port of Banias.[54]

The Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) © Middle East Eye

The real game-changer that shattered the fragile equilibrium of the regional geopolitical chessboard and turned Turkey and Qatar - two countries that had relatively good relations with Damascus at the time - against Syria, was the Islamic Pipeline, though. Not only would the consolidation of this project diminish the chances of their rival pipeline to Europe ever succeeding, it also had the potential to directly challenge Qatar’s LNG output to Europe and would bypass Turkey as the main energy bridge between East and West. Indeed, in all other major pipeline projects transporting gas from the Middle East and Central Asia to Europe, Turkey plays a key transit role, but with this one, it would all of a sudden be circumvented. This runs completely opposite to the country’s long-time aspiration of becoming the region’s major gas trading hub.

Throughout all the bids at constructing alternative pipelines, Russia tried to maintain its gas dominance over southeastern Europe, first through the now abandoned South Stream pipeline across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria; and then following the former’s cancellation under EU pressure in December 2014,[55] through the Turkish Stream pipeline which will connect with existing pipeline infrastructure in southeastern Europe after crossing the Black Sea and Turkey. Although Russia suspended negotiations following the Turkish shootdown of a Russian jet in November 2015, the Turkish Stream project was again up and running in October 2016 when Ankara and Moscow inked an intergovernmental agreement confirming their commitment to the execution of the project.[56] Hence, on the surface Russia probably was not happy about the idea of Iranian gas to Europe either, because the Islamic Pipeline would directly rival its own dominance over gas export to the continent. Moscow cannot change the EU’s diversification policy, however. It is a given fact that Europe will try to find other sources for its natural gas, because it would never allow a country it often regards as hostile to install a quasi-monopoly on such an important industry. It is fairly logic, then, that Russia prefers competition with its Iranian ally over gas pipelines from other Central Asian states or Qatar, who are often closer to the US-NATO orbit or with whom bilateral relations are at least more fragile. If Iran and Russia were to become the primary suppliers of natural gas to Europe, on the other hand, they would together as allies have more leverage in the case of political confrontation with the West.

The abandoned South Stream project and the Turkish Stream pipeline © Interfax Global Energy

It is not hard to imagine that this would be disastrous for the globalists in Washington and Brussels, who are clearly preparing for such a confrontation. In my opinion, the Atlanticists were in this geopolitical quagmire in all probability always more concerned with the prevention of the Iranian-proposed pipeline than with the promotion of the economically most beneficial project to diversify away from Russian gas. This is because, as William Engdahl has astonishingly chronicled in his book Myths, lies and oil wars, Anglo-American resource wars throughout history were often aimed at preventing enemy control over natural resources and pipeline routes, more so than opening up oil and gas reserves to the global markets.[57] To fully understand why this is the case in the current conflict between Russia and NATO, a little historical background is needed.

In 1992, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a Pentagon document titled “Defense Planning Guidance,” drafted by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and his assistant Paul Wolfowitz, was leaked to the New York Times. The document, otherwise known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, made the case for a world dominated by America as the sole superpower and argued that US foreign policy should seek to deter any nation or group of nations from challenging American primacy.[58] This policy formulation came on the backdrop of President George H.W. Bush’s 11 September 1990 speech to a joint session of congress in which he called for a “new world order.” In 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and former executive director of David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission, laid out a detailed strategy for the US to defend this global hegemony by preventing, at all costs, the emergence of a Eurasian economic rival, whether in the form of one strong power or in the form of multilateral ties between several Eurasian nations.[59] According to Engdahl, the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, as well as a myriad of other Western-backed “colour revolutions” and “humanitarian” interventions over the last two decades from Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine to Sudan and Libya can be seen as a series of energy wars aimed at securing control over all significant global oil deposits and energy pipeline routes in order to prevent the rise of such a Eurasian economic rival.[60]

In Afghanistan, for instance, American officials and oil companies in the 1990s were weighing options to establish an alternative route for transporting the energy riches of Central Asia to the world market, one that would not have to pass through Russia or Iran. The pipeline that the US eventually wanted to establish would travel south from Turkmenistan across western Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean, but extensive negotiations with the Taliban ended in disarray in 1998, thus obstructing the pipeline’s construction.[61] When Bush was installed in the White House in January 2001, the US started preparing for a military intervention directed against the Taliban, and in July, as later revealed by reports that appeared on the BBC and in the Guardian, the US threatened to resort to military action “before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest.”[62] Then came 9/11, which conveniently served as a suitable pretext for a war that the Bush administration was already planning before the events of 11 September, 2001. Due to the enduring instability, however, the pipeline has sixteen years later still not been built.

Control over the vast Iraqi oil reserves was a long-held objective of US foreign policy as well. Most of the country’s unexploited oil had been contracted out to select foreign companies by the end of the 1990s, including to Russia’s Lukoil, France’s Total and China’s National Petroleum Company, while American and British companies were kept out.[63] Meanwhile, Washington was facing rising international pressure - not in the least from its co-permanent members of the UN Security Council Russia, France and China, but mostly due to humanitarian concerns - to relinquish the UN sanctions on Iraq, which had held Iraqi oil export in check since 1991. The lifting of the sanctions would have been a major strategic blow to the objective of asserting control over Middle Eastern oil and would have been a boon for China’s energy security,[64] and therefore, the right-wing think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) called for a policy of forced regime change against Saddam Hussein in an open letter to President Bill Clinton in 1998.[65] In September 2000, in the run-up to that year’s presidential elections, PNAC reiterated the need for a more permanent American role in the Gulf region in a strategic blueprint for the next president called “Rebuilding America’s defenses,” proclaiming that “while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”[66] When Bush entered the White House in 2001, a number of PNAC’s founding members (including Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) became high-level officials in the new administration. Then, a year after PNAC’s assessment that transformation towards American-led hegemony “is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor,”[67] 9/11 happened and was subsequently used to justify an Iraqi invasion after it had proven successful in legitimising the attack on Afghanistan.

Similarly, like the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were in part aimed at preventing Russian and Chinese access to energy reserves and transit routes, the war in Syria is another episode in this long-term resource warfare to prevent Eurasian rivalry to US-NATO hegemony. By killing the feasibility of the Islamic Pipeline through the creation of organised instability in Syria and Iraq, the prospects of Iranian gas exports to Europe were severely diminished. While Qatar and Turkey were brought on board into the proxy war because they had their own reasons for opposing an Iranian gas tube to Europe, Saudi Arabia and Israel were already staunch enemies of Iran and would thus do anything to prevent the emergence of the so-called Shia Land Bridge from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Viewed from this perspective, the proxy war on Syria is successful, because the sustainable stability which is needed in Syria and Iraq for the construction of gas pipelines is unlikely to return soon. Still, in the wake of JCPOA foreign energy companies, including European ones, are lining up to participate in the development of the Iranian natural gas industry, which will eventually turn it into an energy powerhouse. Meanwhile, with the finishing of Nord Stream, Russian gas exports to Europe are hitting all-time highs, a trend that will likely continue in the future with the Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream projects in the pipeline.[68] In the long term, the combined energy power of Russia and Iran will thus increase, and with it the power to persuade Turkey and several European countries to invest in Iranian gas to Europe through Turkey, or if stability returns to Syria and Iraq, through the Islamic Pipeline. This has the possibility to drive a wedge between the Atlanticist globalists on the one hand, who will always object such a direction, and countries that might perhaps be willing to increase trade with Iran and Russia, such as Germany and France for instance. If the latter option reigns supreme, this could lead to the demise of the Western-led “new world order” and the emergence of a Eurasian world order. The question, of course, is if this is necessarily a better one.

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud Contributing Analyst, is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] Bas Spliet, “The proxy war on Syria - part 5: the culprit and their intentions,” Scrutinised Minds, 27.12.2016, http://scrutinisedminds.com/2016/12/27/the-proxy-war-on-syria-part-5-the-culprits-and-their-intentions/.

[2] Pepe Escobar, “Pipelineistan and the New Silk Road(s),” Asia Times, 31.05.2013, http://atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/CEN-01-310513.html.

[3] Steve Austin, “Oil prices and the Syrian civil war,” Oil Price, 14.10.2014, http://oil-price.net/en/articles/oil-prices-and-syrian-civil-war.php.

[4] Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., “Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria,” Politico, 23.02.2016, http://politico.eu/article/why-the-arabs-dont-want-us-in-syria-mideast-conflict-oil-intervention/.

[5] Nafeez Ahmed, “Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern,” Guardian, 30.08.2013, http://theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines.

[6] Mitchell A. Orenstein and George Romer, “Putin’s gas attack: is Russia just in Syria for pipelines?”, Foreign Affairs, 14.10.2015, http://foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2015-10-14/putins-gas-attack.

[7] Gareth Porter, “The war against the Assad regime is not a ‘pipeline war’,” Truthout, 21.09.2016, http://truth-out.org/news/item/37685-the-war-against-the-assad-regime-is-not-a-pipeline-war.

[8] Daria Aslamova, interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Komsomolskaya Pravda, 12.10.2016, http://kp.ru/daily/26594/3609878/.

[9] Tim Anderson, The dirty war on Syria: Washington, regime change, and resistance (Montréal: Global Research, 2016), 36.

[10] Paul Cochrane, “The ‘pipelineistan’ conspiracy: the war in Syria has never been about gas,” Middle East Eye, 10.05.2017, http://middleeasteye.net/essays/pipelineistan-conspiracy-why-war-syria-was-never-about-gas-144022537.

[11] “Moscow rejects offer to drop Assad for arms deal,” Ynetnews, 09.08.2013, http://ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4415701,00.html.

[12] Denis Bonhomme, et. al., Competition: pipeline gas and LNG in Europe (Gas Technology institute, release date unknown), http://gastechnology.org/Training/Documents/LNG17-proceedings/6-3-Denis_Bonhomme.pdf.

[13] Zuzanna Nowak, Jakub Godzimirski and Jaroslaw Cwiek-Karpowicz, “Russia’s grand gas strategy - the power to dominate Europe?,” Energy Post, 25.03.2015, http://energypost.eu/russias-grand-gas-strategy-power-dominate-europe/; Steve Austin, “Russian gas pipelines and hacking the elections,” Oil Price, 17.01.2017, http://oil-price.net/en/articles/russian-gas-pipeline-hacking-elections.php; these conflicts have also caused Europe to decrease the amount of Russian gas import through Ukraine, which has happened with the construction with new pipelines such as Nord Stream, a volumous pipeline that transports gas straight from Russia to Germany.

[14] K. Fujishima, European strategies on gas supply security (Institute of Energy Economics Japan, October 2009), http://saber.eaber.org/sites/default/files/documents/IEEJ_Fujishima_2009.pdf.

[15] Bonhomme, et. al., Competition: pipeline gas and LNG in Europe, 13-9.

[16] UNDP and World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme, Cross-border oil and gas pipelines: problems and prospects, June 2003, 3-4, http://esmap.org/sites/default/files/esmap-files/03503.Cross_Border%20Oil%20and%20Gas%20Pipelines_Problems%20and%20Prospects.pdf.

[17] William Pentland, “World’s longest natural gas pipelines,” Forbes, 17.06.2011, http://forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2011/06/17/worlds-longest-natural-gas-pipelines/#67352ab578ea.

[18] Tamer Badawi, “Exporting Iranian natural gas to Europe in the post-JCPOA era: determinants and restraints,” al-Sharq Forum, 17.05.2017, http://sharqforum.org/2017/05/17/exporting-iranian-natural-gas-to-europe-in-the-post-jcpoa-era-determinants-and-restraints/.

[19] “Gas war: Germany takes on EU, US for Nord Stream 2 pipeline project,” Sputnik International, 08.07.2017, http://sputniknews.com/world/201707081055358998-russia-nord-stream-gas-pipeline-washington/.

[20] “Proved natural gas reserves,” World by Map, 02.02.2017, http://world.bymap.org/NaturalGasReserves.html.

[21] Ian Traynor, “EU and Turkey settle Nabucco dispute,” Guardian, 12.07.2009, http://theguardian.com/business/2009/jul/12/nabucco-gas-pipeline.

[22] Jürgen Grönner, abstract of presentation on Nabucco pipeline project (5th Pipeline Technology Conference, 2010), http://pipeline-conference.com/abstracts/nabucco-pipeline-project.

[23] Austin, “Russian gas pipelines and hacking the elections.”

[24] Bahman Aghai Diba, “Iran and Nabucco,” Payvand Iran News, 23.11.2009, http://payvand.com/news/09/nov/1240.html.

[25] “Can the $11,4bn Nabucco pipeline work without Iran?”, Global Research, 12.01.2010, http://globalresearch.ca/can-the-11-4bn-nabucco-pipeline-work-without-iran/16937; Diba, “Iran and Nabucco.”

[26] Badawi, “Exporting Iranian natural gas to Europe in the post-JCPOA era: determinants and restraints.”

[27] “Iran, Iraq start new round of gas talks,” Mehr News Agency, 28.07.2010, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/41018/Iran-Iraq-start-new-round-of-gas-talks; “Iran to export gas to Iraq,” Mehr News Agency, 30.07.2010, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/41036/Iran-to-export-gas-to-Iraq; “Iran, Syria discuss energy ties,” Mehr News Agency, 21.09.2010, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/41458/Iran-Syria-discuss-energy-ties; “Islamic Pipeline states to meet in Tehran,” Mehr News Agency, 08.02.2011, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/44529/Islamic-Pipeline-states-to-meet-in-Tehran; “‘Islamic pipeline’ seeks Euro gas markets,” United Press International, 25.07.2011, http://upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Industry/2011/07/25/Islamic-pipeline-seeks-Euro-gas-markets/UPI-13971311588240/; “Iran, Iraq, Syria sign major gas pipeline deal,” Mehr News Agency, 26.07.2011, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/47151/Iran-Iraq-Syria-sign-major-gas-pipeline-deal.

[28] “Tahran: about 7 intl. Investors eyeing Iran-Iraq-Syria-Europe pipeline,” Syria Oil, 07.08.2011, http://syria-oil.com/english/?p=1513.

[29] “Iran starts building gas pipeline to Syria,” Mehr News Agency, 20.11.2012, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/52881/Iran-starts-building-gas-pipeline-to-Syria.

[30] “Tehran, Baghdad to inaugurate joint gas pipeline,” Mehr News Agency, 22.01.2017, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/122911/Tehran-Baghdad-to-inaugurate-joint-gas-pipeline; “Iran to construct new gas export pipeline to Iraq,” Mehr News Agency, 25.01.2017, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/123008/Iran-to-construct-new-gas-export-pipeline-to-Iraq.

[31] “EU willing to import Iran gas,” Mehr News Agency, 09.08.2014, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/103570/EU-willing-to-import-Iran-gas; “Iran gas has EU giants agog,” Mehr News Agency, 06.06.2015, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/107717/Iran-s-gas-has-EU-giants-agog; “Turkey ready to transfer Iran’s gas to Europe,” Mehr News Agency, 05.11.2015, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/111683/Turkey-ready-to-transfer-Iran-s-gas-to-Europe; “Iran ready to meet Europe’s gas need,” Mehr News Agency, 19.01.2016, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/113708/Iran-ready-to-meet-Europe-s-gas-need; Post-sanction Iran calls for reconsidering Nabucco pipeline,” Mehr News Agency, 02.03.2016, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/114928/Post-sanction-Iran-calls-for-reconsidering-Nabucco-pipeline; “Tehran revisits plans for 3,300km Persian pipeline from Gulf to Europe,” Eurasian Business Briefing, 09.07.2016, http://www.eurasianbusinessbriefing.com/tehran-revisits-plans-persian-pipeline/; “Iran likely to join Nabucco pipeline,” Mehr News Agency, 11.07.2016, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/118003/Iran-likely-to-join-Nabucco-pipeline; “Iran studying Europe gas export plans,” Press TV, 11.09.2016, http://presstv.ir/Detail/2016/09/11/484240/Iran-studying-options-to-export-gas-to-Europe.

[32] “Swiss-Iranian pipeline deal buried,” Swiss Info, 22.02.2016, http://swissinfo.ch/eng/foreign-trade_swiss-iranian-pipeline-deal-buried/41976742.

[33] “Iran invites German companies to South Pars,” Mehr News Agency, 27.04.2015, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/106872/Iran-invites-German-companies-to-South-Pars; “TAP pipeline open to other shareholders, including Iran,” Euractiv, 09.04.2015, http://euractiv.com/section/energy/news/tap-pipeline-open-to-other-shareholders-including-iran/.

[34] “Iran’s gas has EU giants agog,” Mehr News Agency, 06.06.2015, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/107717/Iran-s-gas-has-EU-giants-agog.

[35] Arash Karami, “Iran signs first energy contract since nuclear deal,” al-Monitor, 05.07.2017, http://al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/07/iran-total-france-south-pars-gas-deal-criticism.html.

[36] “Iran says Europe not on agenda of gas exports,” Press TV, 07.07.2017, http://presstv.ir/Detail/2017/07/07/527692/Iran-says-Europe-not-on-agenda-of-gas-exports.

[37] “Intl. firms negotiate $200 billion of oil deals in Iran,” Press TV, 12.07.2017, http://presstv.ir/Detail/2017/07/12/528225/Iran-oil-gas-foreign-investment-South-Pars.

[38] Cochrane, “The ‘pipelineistan’ conspiracy.”

[39] Nailia Bagirova and Margarita Antidze, “Azerbaijan, future gas supplier to Europe, faces shortfall at home,” Reuters, 24.02.2017, http://reuters.com/article/us-azerbaijan-gas-shortage-idUSKBN1630SE.

[40] “Natural gas exports,” World by Map, 17.01.2017, http://world.bymap.org/NaturalGasExports.html.

[41] “Qatar - the biggest exporter of liquid gas in the world,” Persian Gulf Fund, http://persiangulffund.com/qatar-the-biggest-exporter-of-liquid-gas-in-the-world/.

[42] “The richest countries in the world,” World Atlas, 18.05.2017, http://worldatlas.com/articles/the-richest-countries-in-the-world.html.

[43] “Study finds GCC-EU gas pipeline a viable option,” Alexander’s Gas & Oil Connections, 08.02.2005, http://gasandoil.com/news/middle_east/edd023536d477f9c108b3a30161e9580.

[44] Andy Sambridge, “Qatar discusses LNG pipeline project with Turkey,” Arabian Oil and Gas, 18.08.2009, http://arabianoilandgas.com/article-6031-qatar-discusses-lng-pipeline-project-with-turkey/.

[45] “Turkey supports Qatar’s participation in Nabucco,” Trend News Agency, 05.10.2009, http://en.trend.az/business/energy/1552936.html.

[46] Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, report no. 23: Is the Qatar-Iraq-Turkey-Europe natural gas pipeline project feasible? (Ankara, January 2011), http://web.archive.org/web/20160113084906/http://www.orsam.org.tr/en/enUploads/Article/Files/2011110_orsam.katar.eng.pdf.

[47] Porter, “The war against the Assad regime is not a ‘pipeline war’.”

[48] Cochrane, “The ‘Pipelineistan’ conspiracy.”

[49] Annemarie Botzki, “Oil price drop could spur Italian reverse flows,” Interfax Global Energy, 24.02.2015, http://interfaxenergy.com/gasdaily/article/15351/oil-price-drop-could-spur-italian-reverse-flows.

[50] Cochrane, “The ‘Pipelineistan’ conspiracy.”

[51] Ron Bousso and Dmitry Zhdannikov, “Exclusive: energy giants court Qatar for gas expansion role despite crisis,” Reuters, 06.07.2017, http://reuters.com/article/us-gulf-qatar-lng-exclusive-idUSKBN19Q2HA.

[52] Hakim Darbouche, Laura el-Katiri and Bassam Fattouh, East Mediterranean gas: what kind of game changer? (Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, December 2012), 3.

[53] Darbouche, el-Katiri and Fattouh, East Mediterranean gas, 10.

[54] Darya Korsunskaya, “Putin drops South Stream gas pipeline to EU, courts Turkey,” Reuters, 01.12.2014, http://reuters.com/article/us-russia-gas-gazprom-pipeline-idUSKCN0JF30A20141201.

[55] “Turkey, Russia strike strategic Turkish Stream gas pipeline deal,” Hurriyet Daily News, 10.10.2016, http://hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-russia-strike-strategic-turkish-stream-gas-pipeline-deal.aspx?pageID=238&nID=104822&NewsCatID=348.

[56] “Turkey, Russia strike strategic Turkish Stream gas pipeline deal,” Hurriyet Daily News, 10.10.2016, http://hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-russia-strike-strategic-turkish-stream-gas-pipeline-deal.aspx?pageID=238&nID=104822&NewsCatID=348.

[57] William Engdahl, Myths, lies and oil wars (Wiesbaden: edition.engdahl, 2012).

[58] Patrick E. Tyler, “U.S. strategy plan calls for insuring no rivals develop,” New York Times, 08.03.1992, http://nytimes.com/1992/03/08/world/us-strategy-plan-calls-for-insuring-no-rivals-develop.html?pagewanted=all.

[59] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The grand chessboard: American primacy and its geostrategic imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 1997).

[60] Engdahl, Myths, lies and oil wars, 135-223.

[61] Patrick Martin, “US planned war in Afghanistan long before September 11,” World Socialist Web Site, 20.11.2001, http://wsws.org/en/articles/2001/11/afgh-n20.html.

[62] George Arney, “US ‘planned attack on Taleban’,” BBC, 18.09.2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1550366.stm; Jonathan Steele, Ewen MacAskill, Richard Norton-Taylor and Ed Harriman, “Threat of US strikes passed to Taliban weeks before NY attack,” Guardian, 22.09.2001, http://theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/22/afghanistan.september113.

[63] Carrie Satterlee, “Facts on who benefits from keeping Saddam Hussein in power,” Heritage Foundation, 28.02.2003, http://heritage.org/middle-east/report/facts-who-benefits-keeping-saddam-hussein-power.

[64] Engdahl, Myths, lies and oil wars, 183-5.

[65]PNAC, “Open letter to President Bill Clinton,” 19.02.1998, reprinted on Z Facts, http://zfacts.com/metaPage/lib/98-Rumsfeld-Iraq.pdf; George Packer, “PNAC and Iraq,” New Yorker, 29.03.2009, http://newyorker.com/news/george-packer/pnac-and-iraq.

[66] PNAC, Rebuilding America’s defenses: strategy, forces and resources for a new century (Washington, DC, September 2000), 14.

[67] PNAC, Rebuilding America’s defenses, 51.

[68] Priyanka Shrestha, “Gazprom’s gas exports to Europe hit record high in 2016,” Energy Live News, 26.01.2017, http://energylivenews.com/2017/01/26/gazproms-gas-exports-to-europe-hit-record-high-in-2016/; “Russian gas exports to Europe & Turkey surge 12% year-on-year,” Russia Today, 17.07.2017, http://rt.com/business/396530-gazprom-output-export-growth/.

Newsbud Exclusive- The ‘Humanitarian’ Destruction of Libya – Part 3: The War on Africa

This article is part of a three-part series called “The ‘humanitarian’ destruction of Libya” that analyses the 2011 war in Libya and the motives behind it. The first article contrasts the invented war crime allegations against the Libyan government to the very real underreported war crimes by the insurgents; the second exposes a history of deceptive terrorist attacks on European soil wrongly attributed to Gaddafi and the role of NATO in the war; and the third discusses Gaddafi’s plan at creating a pan-African currency as one of the central motives lurking behind the mainstream explanation of the intervention as a just one that sought to “protect civilians” from a ruthless dictator.

Although 40 years in power, Muammar Gaddafi first addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2009. Reminiscent of Fidel Castro’s speech to the body in 1960, he went over the allotted time of 15 minutes and talked for over an hour and a half. He advocated for radical change in the inner workings of the UN and said that the General Assembly should adopt a binding resolution that would put it above the authority of the Security Council. The latter, according to Gaddafi, had failed to prevent 65 wars since its inception and is unjust and undemocratic because the five permanent members have all the actual power. If the General Assembly were to be the most powerful body, however, all nations would be on equal footing, he proclaimed, which would prevent future conflict. He ascribed similar bias to the International Criminal Court and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as they, just like the Security Council, are used to demonise enemies of the global powers while their own crimes and those of their allies go largely unnoticed. He went on to dismiss Washington’s war against Iraq, advocated for a one state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and urged the General Assembly to launch investigations into the murder of Patrice Lumumba, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the massacres of the Israeli army and their allies committed against the Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 and in Gaza in 2008.[1]

The picture of Colonel Gaddafi that emerges seems to be somewhat in conflict with that put forward by the mass media. Rather than just another brutal power-hungry dictator who seems to be interested only in killing his own people, it looks like he had some interesting ideas, to say the least. Perhaps it might be useful to step away from the simplified and rhetoric-laden label of dictator for a moment and take a deeper look into Gaddafi’s ideas and why they posed such a great danger to the global power elite.

In his Green Book, published in 1975, Gaddafi laid out his idea of a stateless society, which he called Jamahiriyya - a country directly governed by its citizens without intervention from representative bodies. According to the Green Book, states that rely on representation are inherently repressive because individuals must surrender their personal sovereignty to the advantage of others. With emphasis on consultation and equality, Gaddafi therefore called into life a different political model for Libya based on “direct democracy.” Through the establishment of Popular Congresses and Popular Committees, representing the legislative and executive branches respectively, Gaddafi’s political system was constructed from the bottom up rather than from the top down. Prof. Dirk Vandewalle scrutinised Gaddafi’s notion of popular rule in his book A history of Modern Libya, however.[2] The fact that political parties outside the system designed by Gaddafi were practically forbidden and Libyan opposition movements were often persecuted (p. 103, 134 and 143-50); the Popular Committees had zero power in several areas, including foreign policy, intelligence, the army, the police, the country’s budget and the petroleum sector (p. 104); as well as the fact that the government abolished or took over numerous private businesses (p. 104-8) and gradually implemented a virtually unsupervised revolutionary court system (p. 120-1) all point to the actual authoritarian nature of the central government. Vandewalle concludes that

“The bifurcation between the Jamahiriyya’s formal and informal mechanisms of control and political power accentuate [...] the limited institutional control Libyan citizens have had over their country’s ruler and his actions. In effect, unless the country’s leadership clearly approves, there is no public control or accountability provided. [...] Within the non-formal institutions of the country’s security organizations, the Revolutionary Leadership makes all decisions and has no accountability to anyone.”[3] (emphasis added)

Although Vandewalle is very critical of Gaddafi’s rule throughout his book, he acknowledged that NATO’s Operation Unified Protector “became a sine qua non for the rebels just to be able to maintain their positions” and that it was clear that “greater and more decisive NATO intervention would be needed to defeat the loyalist side.”[4] This means that rather than a civil war between Libyans, this was a war between Gaddafi on the one hand, who exercised all the actual power on the international domain, and NATO on the other, which was a necessary component in Gaddafi’s toppling. The question is: what was it about?

War on African independence and prosperity

From the moment he rose to power, Gaddafi’s anti-imperialism did not only go hand in glove with an urge for national unity but a need to form a multilateral regional bloc as well. After Nasser died in 1970, Gaddafi became one of the leading voices for unity under the banner or pan-Arabism, as only then could the Arab world form a front against Israel and the West. After a range of failed agreements of political union with Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Morocco and Algeria during the 1970s and 1980s, however, Gaddafi grew increasingly frustrated over the impotence of the Arab world to make the Arab League into a viable organisation. As a result, Gaddafi reoriented to Africa, declaring in March 1999 that “I have no time to lose talking with Arabs, I now talk pan-Africanism and African unity.”[5] A couple of months later, he reverberated the words of his new idol, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, often considered one of the chief ideologues of modern pan-Africanism, calling for “the historic solution for the [African] continent [...]: a United States of Africa.”[6]

Africa is kept in a structural state of underdevelopment. Recent studies have shown that for every $1 of aid that developing countries receive, they lose $24 in net outflows. In other words, rich countries are not developing poor countries; poor countries are developing rich ones.[7] Hence, it would be an understatement to posit that the current situation maintains the status quo. Rather, the global inequality gap has significantly worsened in postcolonial times under the regimes of the IMF, World Bank and UN. Indeed, the distance between the richest and poorest country was already about 35 to 1 in 1950, but further rose to a staggering 80 to 1 in 1999.[8] Gaddafi understood the potential of an Africa free of the neo-colonial grip of Western powers. In 2005, he stated that:

“There is an attempt to promote proposals aimed at extending aid for Africa. But when aid is linked to humiliating conditions, we don’t want humiliation. [...] If aid is conditional and leads to compromises, we don’t need it. [...] They are the ones who need Africa. They need its wealth. 50% of the world’s gold reserves are in Africa, a quarter of the world’s uranium resources are in Africa, and 95% of the world’s diamonds are in Africa. [...] Africa is rich in unexploited natural resources, but we were [and still are] forced to sell these resources cheaply to get hard currency. And this must stop.”[9]

Gaddafi was not the first one to understand this. In the second half of the 20th century, out of the dialectical relationship between the centuries-old philosophical idea of pan-Africanism and the emerging trend of regional economic integration worldwide, there grew the idea that Africa, too, could only thrive through cooperation, unity and integration. The search for unity began with the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, but over the years, the OAU only proved to be moderately successful in its objectives.[10] Nevertheless, around the change of the millennium there was an emerging pattern of independence and collaboration in Africa that might have been able to facilitate increased African self-determination, thereby putting the continent on a path in which it could have gradually thrown off the chains of structural underdevelopment.[11] Although not in totality, these developments were in large part thanks to Libya, and specifically Gaddafi. The elimination of one man, therefore, was sufficient to disrupt the path towards African independence, at least in the short run.

A “United States of Africa” and the roadmap to a pan-African currency

In the first two decades after the 1969 coup, while still being more concerned with Arab rather than African unity, Libya sought to undermine African governments it found objectionable and provide support to countries of its liking. In contrast, the 1990s saw a gradual shift towards rapprochement with neighbouring countries and the rest of Africa, as the country’s foreign policy shifted towards promoting regional cohesion via more constructive participation in multilateral arrangements and mediation in African conflicts. In addition, to further bolster its image on the continent, just like it dedicated large swaths of its oil revenues to pan-Arabism, the Libyan government started to pump tens of billions of dollars in aid and investments in Africa. As a successful vanguard of Gaddafi’s reorientation to Africa, he in 1998 convened a meeting of Sahel and Saharan states in Tripoli, as a result of which a new regional organisation was born, the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CEN-SAD). Most notably, aside from promoting regional development initiatives, the organisation opposed foreign interference in African judicial issues and condemned outside forces seeking pretexts for establishing a lasting establishment on the continent. In 2007, CEN-SAD issued a statement from its Tripoli headquarters categorically rejecting the US’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) and any other foreign military presence in its member states. This was very troubling for the US’s image in Africa, as CEN-SAD membership by then comprised roughly half of Africa’s territory and population.[12] It should be noted, finally, that the 2011 war in Libya was AFRICOM’s first official war, and with its fiercest adversary out of the way, its military exercises and overall influence on the continent since 2012 have skyrocketed.[13] The presence of US commandos in Africa jumped from 3% of all American troops deployed overseas in 2010 to 17 percent in 2016, and by 2017, the US military was carrying out nearly 100 missions at any given time on the continent.[14] In other words, Africa has become an open playing field for the US.

Gaddafi’s gradual conversion to pan-Africanism culminated into his desire for a borderless “United States of Africa;” that is, a single continent ruled by a single government, a united defence force and one foreign and trade policy - which he proclaimed at an extraordinary summit of the OAU in Sirte on 9 September, 1999. The summit produced what is now known as the Sirte Declaration, the document that announced the birth of the African Union (AU) comprising all African nations, which eventually came into existence in 2002, thereby replacing the more inefficient OAU.[15] Gaddafi’s role in these developments are clear from article 7 of the Sirte Declaration, which states:

“In our deliberations, we have been inspired by the important proposals submitted by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Leader of the Great Al Fatah Libyan Revolution and particularly, by his vision for a strong and united Africa, capable of meeting global challenges and shouldering its responsibility to harness the human and natural resources of the continent in order to improve the living conditions of its people.”[16]

So far, the AU of course has fallen far short of becoming a “United States of Africa” as envisioned by Gaddafi. Centralisation in Europe, however, only started to be put in motion after a fierce debate in the 1940s and 1950s between intergouvernmentalists and supranationalists, who respectively abhorred and welcomed the creation of a centralised body with its own sovereign powers, was won by the latter with the help of the CIA and trans-Atlanticist elite organisations such as the Bilderberg Group.[17] After the coming into existence of a single market in 1957, the European Union gradually began to take shape and step by step has become more and more like a “United States of Europe,” culminating in what is often regarded as the centrepiece of European integration: the creation of a European Central Bank and the euro as a common currency. As we have seen above, Africa under the leadership of Gaddafi was moving in a similar direction with the emergence of supranational organisations like the OAU, CEN-SAD and the AU. Furthermore, the continent was gradually moving towards monetary integration as well. The Abuja Treaty of 1991 established the African Economic Community and outlined six stages for achieving a single monetary zone for Africa by 2028. The final stage involved the creation of an African Central Bank, an African Economic and Monetary Union and an African common currency. The 1999 Sirte Declaration, spearheaded by Gaddafi, vowed to speed up this process.[18] In addition, plans were underway to create an African Monetary Fund that would only be open for African nations and would thus be able to directly challenge neo-colonial institutions like the IMF and World Bank.[19] Most importantly, however, since his reorientation to Africa, Gaddafi repeatedly urged for the establishment of a single African currency, lastly in February 2009 when he was elected chairman of the AU.[20]

To fully understand the significance of Gaddafi’s monetary endeavour, some background is needed. Under the Bretton Woods system, negotiated in the final days of the Second World War, the US dollar became the backbone of the world monetary system, convertible to gold at the fixed price of $35 per ounce with all other currencies pegged to it. As the dollar grew weaker in the ensuing decades, many nations including Germany and France started to demand gold for their dollars, however, causing the US’s gold reserves to plunge. President Nixon then abandoned the Bretton Woods system, and after the Western oiligarchs had engineered the 1973 OPEC oil crisis, the petrodollar came into existence as a replacement of the US gold standard. In this new system, Saudi Arabia, then the largest OPEC oil exporter, pledged to price all of its future oil sales in dollars and recycle its increased revenues through Atlanticist banking institutions. Most petroleum-exporting nations followed suit and started to trade their oil for dollars as well, thereby maintaining the dollar as the world reserve currency, but this time backed up by oil instead of gold.[21]

In 2000, Iraq, which holds the world’s second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, made the political decision to dump the petrodollar and consequently started to export almost all of its oil in euro’s.[22] Invasion and regime change quickly followed. In January 2017, Iran also announced that it would stop using the dollar as its currency of choice for its exports, the main commodity of which is oil.[23] As is blatantly obvious, plans of toppling the Iranian government are well underway. Gaddafi not only wanted to ditch the dollar for another currency as well, he wanted to create a new one, using Libya’s own 144 tons of gold, a relatively large amount regarding its fairly small population. Contrary to the dollar, which is for the most part made out of thin air by private banking cartels,[24] the gold dinar would be steady and reliable as it would be made from gold, a precious metal of which Africa has plenty in reserves. Moreover, if in a future situation oil-rich African and Middle Eastern countries would jump on the bandwagon and accept only gold in exchange for their oil as well as other resources, the petrodollar would be replaced by a petro-gold system.[25] The global economy, then, would be built on the backbone of two commodities of which rich Western countries possess less than the Global South. This would enable the latter to throw of the neo-colonial chains of structural enslavement and poverty and would in all likelihood cause the current global power structure to collapse.

It is obvious that the banksters who currently control the global money supply through their shares in central banks could not afford to let this unfold. Three events, all happening in the first two months of the conflict, signal the banksters’ role in the war. First, the Obama administration froze $30 billion dollar in Libyan government assets on 28 February. According to then Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, this $30 billion dollar comprised the total of the assets of the Libyan government, the Libyan Investment Authority and its 100% state-owned Central Bank.[26] Interestingly, part of this money was reportedly earmarked for the Libyan contribution to the creation of the African Investment Bank, the African Monetary Fund and the African Central Bank.[27] Second, by the end of March, the rebels in Benghazi had created their own central bank while it was still all but clear if they would succeed in toppling Gaddafi. This left even mainstream analysts puzzled. “I have never before heard of a central bank being created in just a matter of weeks out of a popular uprising,” noted Robert Wenzel in Economic Policy Journal, “this suggests we have a bit more than a rag tag bunch of rebels running around and that there are some pretty sophisticated influences.”[28] Finally, a leaked email from early April between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her confidential adviser, Sid Blumenthal, confirms the remaining threat of Gaddafi’s plan despite the freezing of Libyan assets. In the email, titled “Re: France’s client & Qaddafi’s gold,” Blumenthal states that

“Qaddafi’s government holds 143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver. During late March, 2011, these stocks were moved to SABHA (south west in the directs of the Libyan border with Niger and Chad); taken from the vaults of the Libyan Central Bank in Tripoli. This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African countries with an alternative to the French.franc (CFA).”[29]

The French aspect was of course only the tip of the iceberg.

According to prof. Maximilian Forte, NATO’s war on Libya sought to “disrupt an emerging pattern of independence and a network of collaboration within Africa that would facilitate increased African self-reliance.”[30] Gaddafi stood at the forefront of these developments since the turn of the millennium, and his plan to create a gold-backed African currency might have been a final catalyst to rendering these developments irreversible. With the fiercest advocate of pan-Africanism out of the way, it remains to be seen if internal divisions will be overcome or not, however. As of June 2015, the African Union renewed talks on the implementation of a pan-continental currency and an African Monetary Fund,[31] but it is still unclear whether foreign “help” is going to be kept out and whether newly formed pan-African institutions will be used to demand fair profits for Africa’s abundant natural resources like Gaddafi envisioned.

Contemplating another direction

I would like to finish with a normative remark, because we threaten to fall into a false dilemma here. Globalism as we know it today was set in motion in the West. Some 500 years ago, Europe rapidly expanded overseas and soon colonised the whole world. It then went on to plunder the Global South for several centuries by exploiting its natural resources as well as its human labour through slavery, thereby appropriating a huge advance in internal development. After decolonisation, however, structures that maintain global inequality remained in place through centralised regimes; politically through the UN and NATO but also through more obscure institutions like the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations, and economically through the dollar as the world reserve currency as well as the IMF and World Bank. These centralised regimes not only suppress the Global South, however, they limit everyone’s freedom, move sovereignty even further away from the individual and in essence, enslave humanity. Isn’t an alternative centralisation of power, i.e. a “United States of Africa” with a single government and monopolised currency, then, not an imitation of the same systems of repression that the Europeans and Americans imposed on Africa? If successful, would it not impose an equally tyrannical system but with a different face? As Frantz Fanon, a Martinique-born Caribbean revolutionary who, like Gaddafi, was concerned with constructive African independence, wrote in 1961 in the conclusion of his most famous work, Les damnés de la terre (The wretched of the earth):

“Comrades, the European game is definitely over. We must find something else. We can do everything today, provided that we won’t imitate Europe, provided that we won’t be obsessed with overtaking Europe. [...] Let us decide not to imitate Europe and let us mobilise our muscles and brains in another direction. [...] Two centuries ago a former European colony decided to overtake Europe. She succeeded so well in this that the United States of America has become a monster, in which the defects, the diseases and the inhumanity of Europe, have reached despicable dimensions. Comrades, don’t we have something else to do than to work on the creation of a third Europe?”[32]

As a citizen of Western Europe, where external imperialism is absent, I recognise that this is of course easier said than done. It is much easier to try and unthink the centralised regimes in the West because its population, in contrast to Africans, has not faced persistent attacks from power-hungry imperial powers over the last couple of centuries. With Western institutions of hegemony over the Global South still in place with the consent of its citizens, alternative centralised regimes that try to challenge Western dominance will remain tempting and might often appear as the only path towards real independence, when in fact they inevitably are not as absolute power will always be corrupted. A process of decentralisation, then, will have to unfold simultaneously in rich and poor countries. As modern technologies have opened up unprecedented capabilities in worldwide communication and have rendered ideas borderless, however, I’m confident that it will.

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud  Analyst,  is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] Al-Gaddafi, Muammar, address at UN General Assembly, New York, 23.09.2009.

[2] Dirk Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[3] Vandewalle, A history of Modern Libya, 150.

[4] Vandewalle, A history of Modern Libya, 205.

[5] Muammar Gaddafi, as cited in Hussein Solomon and Gerrie Swart, “Libya’s foreign policy in flux,” African Affairs 104, no. 416 (2005), 479.

[6] Muammar Gaddafi, as cited in Vandewalle, A history of Modern Libya, 196.

[7] Jason Hickel, “Aid in reverse: how poor countries develop rich countries,” Guardian, 14.01.2017, http://theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/jan/14/aid-in-reverse-how-poor-countries-develop-rich-countries.

[8] “Inequality video fact sheet,” The Rules, consulted on 20.05.2017, http://therules.org/inequality-video-fact-sheet/; UN Development Programme, Human development report (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 38, http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/260/hdr_1999_en_nostats.pdf.

[9] Muammar Gaddafi, speech at African Union Summit, 4-6.07.2005, as cited in Maximilian Forte, Slouching towards Sirte: NATO’s war on Libya and Africa (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012), 150.

[10] Stephen Okhonmina, “The African Union: pan-Africanist aspirations and the challenge of African unity,” Journal of Pan African Studies 3, no. 4 (2009), 88-96.

[11] Forte, Slouching towards Sirte, 137.

[12] Solomon and Swart, “Libya’s foreign policy in flux,” 471-8; Forte, Slouching towards Sirte, 156-66 and 171-2.

[13] Dan Glazebrook, “The imperial agenda of the US’s ‘Africa Command’ marches on,” Guardian, 14.06.2012, http://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/14/africom-imperial-agenda-marches-on.

[14] Nick Turse, “The war you’re never heard of,” Vice News, 18.05.2017, http://news.vice.com/story/the-u-s-is-waging-a-massive-shadow-war-in-africa-exclusive-documents-reveal?utm_content=buffercd547&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.

[15] Solomon and Swart, “Libya’s foreign policy in flux,” 478-82.

[16] African Union, Fourth extraordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government (Sirte, 8-9.09.1999), http://www.au2002.gov.za/docs/key_oau/sirte.pdf.

[17] Bas Spliet, “Soft Power Centralization: the CIA, Bilderberg & the first steps towards European integration,” Newsbud, 30.03.2017, http://newsbud.com/2017/03/30/soft-power-centralization-the-cia-bilderberg-the-first-steps-towards-european-integration/.

[18] Paul Masson and Heather Milkiewicz, Africa’s economic morass - will a common currency help? (Brookings institute: Policy brief #121, July 2003), 2, http://web.archive.org/web/20071009135255/http://www.brookings.edu/comm/policybriefs/pb121.pdf.

[19] Jean-Paul Pougala, “Why the West wants the fall of Gaddafi,” Dissident Voice, 21.04.2011, http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/04/why-is-gaddafi-being-demonized/.

[20] Lydia Polgreen, “Qaddafi, as new African Union head, will seek single state,” New York Times, 02.02.2009, http://nytimes.com/2009/02/03/world/africa/03africa.html.

[21] James Corbett, “How Big Oil engineered the Petrodollar,” International Forecaster, 05.01.2016, http://theinternationalforecaster.com/topic/international_forecaster_weekly/How_Big_Oil_Engineered_the_Petrodollar; William F. Enghdahl, Myths, lies and oil wars (Wiesbaden: edition.engdahl, 2012), 51-70; Pye Ian, “Oil on gold: the demise of the ponzi petrodollar via a sustainable multi-commodity eastern alternative,” Newsbud, 11.05.2017, http://newsbud.com/2017/05/11/newsbud-exclusive-oil-on-gold-the-demise-of-the-ponzi-petrodollar-via-a-sustainable-multi-commodity-eastern-alternative/.

[22] Faisal Islam, “Iraq nets handsome profit by dumping dollar for euro,” Guardian, 16.02.2003, http://theguardian.com/business/2003/feb/16/iraq.theeuro.

[23] Tyler Durden, “Iran just officially ditched the dollar,” Zero Hedge, 02.02.2017, http://zerohedge.com/news/2017-02-02/iran-just-officially-ditched-dollar.

[24] Joe Wiesenthal, “Everybody should read this explanation of where money really comes from,” Business Insider, 27.04.2014, http://businessinsider.com/where-does-money-come-from-2014-4?IR=T.

[25] Anthony Wile, “Gaddafi planned gold dinar, now under attack,” Daily Bell, 05.05.2011, http://thedailybell.com/editorials/anthony-wile-gaddafi-planned-gold-dinar-now-under-attack/; Ellen Brown, “Why Qaddafi had to go: African gold, oil and the challenge to monetary imperialism,” The Ecologist, 14.03.2016, http://theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987399/why_qaddafi_had_to_go_african_gold_oil_and_the_challenge_to_monetary_imperialism.html; William F. Engdahl, “Hillary emails, gold dinars and Arab springs,” New Eastern Outlook, 17.03.2016, http://journal-neo.org/2016/03/17/hillary-emails-gold-dinars-and-arab-springs/.

[26] Jessica Hopper, “U.S. freezes $30 billion in Libyan assets; Gadhafi called ‘delusional’,” ABC News, 28.02.2011, http://abcnews.go.com/International/us-calls-gadhafi-delusional-freezes-30-billion-libyan/story?id=13017992.

[27] Pougala, “Why the West wants the fall of Gaddafi.”

[28] Robert Wenzel, “Libyan rebels form central bank,” Economic Policy Journal, 28.03.2011, http://economicpolicyjournal.com/2011/03/libyan-rebels-form-central-bank.html.

[29] Wikileaks, H: France’s client & Q’s gold. Sid (Hillary Clinton Email Archive, 01.04.2011), http://wikileaks.org/clinton-emails/emailid/6528.

[30] Forte, Slouching towards Sirte, 137.

[31] “African Union renews talks on common currency, African monetary fund,” BRICS Post, 12.06.2015, http://thebricspost.com/african-union-renews-talks-on-common-currency-african-monetary-fund/#.WSK1LevyjIV.

[32] Original quote in French; translated by the author to English. Frantz Fanon, Les damnés de la terre (1961; reprint, Montréal: Université de Montréal, 2002), 300-1, http://fichier-pdf.fr/2011/12/16/damnes-de-la-terre/damnes-de-la-terre.pdf.

Newsbud Exclusive- The ‘Humanitarian’ Destruction of Libya – Part 2: Gaddafi and NATO, a History of Deception

This article is part of a three-part series called “The ‘humanitarian’ destruction of Libya” that analyses the 2011 war in Libya and the motives behind it. The first article contrasts the invented war crime allegations against the Libyan government to the very real underreported war crimes by the insurgents; the second exposes a history of deceptive terrorist attacks on European soil wrongly attributed to Gaddafi and the role of NATO in the war; and the third discusses Gaddafi’s plan at creating a pan-African currency as one of the central motives lurking behind the mainstream explanation of the intervention as a just one that sought to “protect civilians” from a ruthless dictator.

Muammar Gaddafi was born in a Bedouin tent near Sirte around 1942 to a poor family. Living through the last years of Italian colonial rule and Libya’s somewhat reluctant monarchy following its independence at the behest of the Great Powers in 1952, Gaddafi grew up in a time that the country’s political unity was still subversive to regional competition between Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. Being a rural Bedouin himself, he abhorred regionalism and developed an ideology embroiled with nationalism and anti-imperialism. Amid a bloodless coup on 1 September 1969 that overthrew King Idris, the 27-year-old Gaddafi and his fellow Free Officers rose to power.[1] Unlike many Western-backed Middle Eastern rulers that have large amounts of natural resources at their disposal, the Revolutionary Command Council was willing to put the huge oil revenues, which skyrocketed after OPEC’s 1973 boycott, to the country’s internal development. As a result, Libya grew from one of the poorest nations in the world during the 1950s to the country with the highest living standard in Africa.[2] National expenditures on literacy, health care and education expanded rapidly under Gaddafi, while the government raised minimum wages and provided interest-free loans and subsidies for farming and the construction of houses.[3] By 2009, all in stark contrast to many African nations that are stuck in the Western orbit, life expectancy at birth had risen to 72.3 years, youth literacy to 99.9% and infant mortality had dropped to 14 per 1000 births.[4] A most indicative example of the employment of oil income to national development was the Great Man-made River (GMR) project, an impressive irrigation system that solved the problem of water supply through the construction of a huge network of pipelines that transports water from the country’s southern desert ground reserves to the coastal cities, where most Libyans live. According to a BBC 2006 article, “it is impossible not to be impressed with the scale of the project,” and “Libyans like to call it ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.”[5] Indicative of NATO’s war crimes in Libya, the “humanitarian” interventionists deliberately bombed critical GMR water installations, thereby disrupting the nation’s water infrastructure and leaving millions of Libyans without potable water to this day. According to investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, this amounts to a potential genocidal strategy.[6]

More relevant to the story, however, is the fact that Gaddafi was willing to commit his country’s resources to the international cause of pan-Arabism. The new Libyan leader had an unlimited admiration for Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and he spoke about combining their strength to deter the imperial powers: “Tell President Nasser we made this revolution for him. He can take everything of ours and add it to the rest of the Arab world’s resources to be used for the battle [against Israel, and for Arab unity].”[7] Regarding the fact that Egypt and Syria had already foregone a short-lived political union from 1958 to 1961, this potential should not be underestimated. His hero died within a year after the coup, however, and Egypt’s next president, Anwar Sadat, was less concerned with Arab unity. Consequently, Gaddafi became the self-appointed guardian of Nasser’s legacy, nurturing the notion of pan-Arabism as one of the cornerstones of the Libyan revolution.[8] This made him an obvious target of the oligarchs seeking Western hegemony over the Third World, and therefore, he had to be demonised.

Enraging Europe: Yvonne Fletcher and the La Belle discotheque bombing

Despite the nationalisation of some American and British oil interests in 1973, the Libyan government showed no inclination towards an open confrontation with the West in the first years after the coup.[9] Gradually, however, as Gaddafi openly voiced his support for Palestinian resistance against Zionism, the Irish Republican Army’s struggle against British rule and the African National Congress’ battle against apartheid, the US started accusing Libya of supporting terrorism. It was only after Libya was accused of being directly involved in a series of terrorist attacks in Europe in the 1980s, though, that the US successfully managed to isolate the Libyan government from the international community.

While the Carter administration put the Libyan government on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, it was under Reagan that the situation escalated towards confrontation. In August 1981, the US’s Sixth Fleet shot down two Libyan jet fighters over the Gulf of Sirte, a territory regarded by Libya as its territorial waters but which Washington viewed as an international waterway. Although Reagan’s anti-Gaddafi rhetoric intensified, all Libyan crude oil exports to the US were embargoed, and American citizens were prohibited from traveling to Libya; the US remained unsuccessful in aggravating its NATO allies in Europe to jump on the bandwagon. That changed when Yvonne Fletcher, a London policewoman, was killed during a small anti-Gaddafi protest in St James Square on 17 April 1984. Although nobody was ever convicted, the British government and mass media outlets were quick to ascribe the murder to personnel at the Libyan embassy, located on the first floor at 5 St James. Ironically, it was a British two-part documentary aired on Channel 4 in 1996, which cites key witnesses, pathologists, gun specialists, audio experts, ex-intelligence officers and plot insiders, that eventually destroyed the official narrative.[10] The documentary revealed that an anti-Gaddafi terrorist organisation named al-Burkan, which was planning a coup against the Libyan leader, had infiltrated the embassy and that there were indeed 11 shots fired from there, but that the 12th bullet that killed Fletcher came from somewhere else on the square and was fired with a different kind of gun. Because the bullet entree angle was 60 degrees from the horizontal - not 15 degrees, what it should have been if the bullet originated from the embassy - the shot must have come from a far higher building. Drawing on two years of extensive research, the documentary makers unravel “a sinister plot” involving al-Burkan and German gun traffickers but also the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies, all of whom conspired to discredit Gaddafi and pave the way for regime change in Libya. Indeed, a month after the incident, al-Burkan and others tried to overthrow the Gaddafi government, but the coup attempt was beaten back by the Libyan army.

In early 1986, Reagan warned that the US would take additional steps to confront the Libyan government if needed. Not long after that, on 4 April, a bomb explosion at La Belle discotheque in West Berlin frequented by American servicemen killed three people and injured 200. Two weeks later, the US bombed Tripoli and Benghazi claiming that it had irrefutable evidence that Libya was responsible for the discotheque bombing, leaving at least 15 Libyan citizens dead. The main target was the Libyan leader’s headquarters. Gaddafi made it out alive, but his 15-month-old adopted daughter was killed in the attack on his residence, and two of his young sons were injured. The man charged with having masterminded the discotheque bombing was Yasser Chraidi, a driver at the Libyan embassy in East Berlin at the time. 10 years after the bombing, Chraidi - who in the meantime had moved to Lebanon - was extradited to German authorities, but a Berlin judge found the evidence presented by the prosecution so weak that he threatened to release Chraidi within three weeks unless more proof was presented. Exactly on the last day of these three weeks, Musbah Eter, one of the perpetrators that provided the operating instructions for the bomb used in the attack, confessed after having made a deal with the German prosecutors: in exchange for immunity, he incriminated Chraidi. A 1998 documentary aired on German television channel ZDF, however, discovered that although Eter indeed worked for the Libyan embassy in East Berlin in 1986, he paid regular visits to the US embassy and was most likely a CIA agent. Furthermore, ZDF asserted that members of a professional group of terrorists led by a certain Mahmoud Abu Jaber were involved in the attack, too, but had barely been bothered by the prosecution and had lived safely in other countries since the discotheque bombing. ZDF interviewed Abu Jaber’s right-hand man Muhammed Amairi and his lawyer in Norway as part of the preparation for the documentary. Amairi stopped the interview when he was asked what secret service he had been working for, but his lawyer continued the conversation. “Was Amairi a Mossad agent?”, ZDF asked. “He was a Mossad man,” the lawyer answered.[11]

Mission Accomplished: Lockerbie & Sanctions

Despite the alleged involvement of the Libyan government in state sponsored terrorist attacks on European soil, Washington’s European allies remained reluctant to imposing economic sanctions. On 21 December 1988, however, Pan Am flight 103 flying from Frankfurt to New York via London exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie shortly after it took off at London Heathrow. In late 1991, The US and UK formally accused two Libyan security officials of masterminding the attack in which all 259 passengers, most of them American and British, were killed. What followed was a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding the extradition of the suspects. When Libya rejected these demands as a violation of its national sovereignty, the Security Council and the US congress both imposed severe sanctions on Libya. After many countries worldwide started to oppose the sanctions and the Organisation of African Unity in 1998 announced that its members would no longer enforce the UN sanctions unless America and Britain agreed to hold the trial of the Lockerbie suspects in a neutral country, the US, UK and Libya came to the agreement to hold a trial in The Hague in the Netherlands. The verdict acquitted one of the two suspects but found the other, Abdel Basset Ali Muhammad al-Megrahi, guilty.[12]

It turns out that one of the key prosecution witnesses at al-Megrahi’s trial, a Maltese shopkeeper who identified al-Megrahi as buying clothes from him that were found in the suitcase which allegedly carried the bomb, was paid $2 million by the US Department of Justice.[13] The shopkeeper also failed several times to identify al-Megrahi, only “recognising” him after having seen his photo in a magazine and being shown the same photo in court.[14] In addition, a chief Scottish investigator declared in 2005 that the main piece of evidence, the bomb timer, had been planted at the crime scene by a CIA agent.[15] In 2007, the expert who had analysed the bomb timer for the court admitted that he had lied at the trial, had manufactured the timer himself and had given it to a Lockerbie investigator. Moreover, the fragment he identified was never tested for residue of explosives, although it was the only evidence of possible Libyan involvement.[16] Finally, a London Heathrow airport security guard revealed that Pan Am’s luggage area had been broken into 17 hours before the flight, which suggests that the bomb was planted at Heathrow, not by al-Megrahi in Malta from where it would have had to bypass the security systems of two additional airports and in total would have travelled on three different planes before exploding.[17]

There are several theories about who exactly was responsible for the terrible crime. Some put forward circumstantial evidence that the bombing was a retaliatory attack by Iran and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command in reaction to the shooting down of an equally large Iranian plane over the Persian Gulf by a US warship a couple months earlier;[18] others suspect CIA and/or Mossad involvement.[19] But many are certain of one thing: al-Megrahi was innocent, and Libya was not responsible. This includes Hans Köchler, an Austrian professor who was appointed by the UN as international observer at the trial in The Hague, who called the trial “a spectacular miscarriage of justice.”[20]

Reconciliation and Betrayal

From the 1990s onwards, reconciliation gradually gained the upperhand over animosity. Libya suffered badly under the Washington-led isolation and was therefore willing to make concessions. After the Libyan government in 1999 agreed to hand over the two Lockerbie suspects and concurred with paying compensation to the relatives of Yvonne Fletcher and the victims or UTA flight 722 - a French airliner downed in a similar manner as Pan Am flight 103 in 1989 of which Libya was also (in all likelihood falsely)[21] accused - the US acquiesced to the suspension of the UN sanctions. In exchange for Libya paying compensation to the Lockerbie victims as well - but not accepting responsibility - and agreeing to give up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program, the UN sanctions were officially lifted in 2003, and the US promised to suspend its own sanctions, most of which were lifted in 2004. Finally, during a 2006 trip to the country, Congressman Tom Lantos met with Gaddafi and announced that Libya had been removed from the US list of sponsors of terrorism.

Mutual distrust lingered on, however. Although the isolation was over in official terms, bilateral relations remained cumbersome. Clear from a statement he made in 1999, Gaddafi remained hostile to the dominant American worldview:

“America unfortunately treats us as if the world was the way it used to be [before the fall of the Soviet Union]. Some analysts call this a new colonialism. But colonialism is colonialism, and it is always unjust. It is how we were treated by the Italians, Algeria by the French, India by the British. This is imperialism, and we seem to be entering a new imperialist era. The cause of our conflict with America is not that we attacked them. We have never attacked an American target. America started the aggression against us right here in the Gulf of Sirte. When we defended ourselves, they attacked us in these very tents. We were bombed by missiles in our own territorial waters. In 1986 our own children were killed. No one can bring my daughter back to me. Then Lockerbie came along. Now we would like this chain of events to be over. But America does not want to turn the page. We shall, however, show courage and be patient, and America will be the loser.”[22] (emphasis added)

Gaddafi’s reservations about reconciliation - he often appeared to show regret for some of the compromises he made for which Libya received very little in return, especially giving up his WMD program as a deterrent to Western aggression - were likely not unfounded. In a 2007 interview, retired four-star US General Wesley Clark revealed that several Middle Eastern countries, including Libya, were already on the Pentagon’s imperialist drawing board in the immediate wake of 9/11:

“I [General Clark] came back to see him [a general of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said: ‘Are we still going to war with Iraq?’ And he said: ‘Oh it is worse than that.’ He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper. He said: ‘I just got this down from upstairs [meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office] today. This is a memo that describes how we are going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.’”[23]

Flash forward to 2011. With the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 in March, NATO embarked on a seven months-long military adventure under the guise of “protecting civilians,” leaving behind a trail of destruction with Sirte bombed back to the stone ages. After Operation Unified Protector had officially come to an end on 31 October 2011, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen concluded that “we have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties,”[24] and NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu claimed that “no target was approved or attacked if we had any evidence or reason to believe that civilians were at risk.”[25] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, too, rejected claims that NATO had exceeded its mandate, asserting that “Security Council resolution 1973, I believe, was strictly enforced within the limit, within the mandate.”[26] That this is categorically false is substantiated even by the most pro-interventionist institutions that investigated NATO’s military campaign in retrospect. Human Rights Watch,[27] Amnesty International[28] and the New York Times[29] have all amply documented NATO airstrikes in which, if not deliberately at least knowing full well the likelihood of “collateral damage,” numerous civilians were killed. A report published by Middle Eastern human rights groups after a fact-finding mission to Libya even implicated NATO in war crimes, referring to “a NATO attack on 15 September which resulted in the death of 57-59 individuals, of whom approximately 47 were civilians.” The report described how two jeeps carrying combatants were destroyed by NATO air fire in Sirte, after which a large crowd of civilians flocked to the scene in an attempt to rescue survivors and retrieve the dead. Five minutes later, a third missile targeted the exclusively civilian crowd, killing 47 of them.[30] NATO’s operational media update for 15 September noted the destruction of the two armed vehicles but made no mention of the large swathes of civilians it had just slaughtered.[31]

Gaddafi’s Death: “We came, we saw, he died.”

The above-mentioned 15 September attack does not only illustrate the ruthlessness of NATO’s military campaign, it also signals its importance as a necessary accessory to the advances of the rebel fighters, especially in the final battle of the war in Sirte. Whereas the insurgents were allowed to freely move tanks into place to surround and enter the last Gaddafi stronghold, any attempt by government forces to move as much as a jeep was met with NATO air fire. So when a convoy of 75 vehicles leaving the scene of the battle was intercepted and attacked by a US predator drone and French jets on the morning of 20 October, NATO did not elaborate on how the convoy was posing a threat to the local population. Although “an intelligence breakthrough” allowed NATO forces to pinpoint Gaddafi’s location a week prior to the attack according to the Telegraph,[32] the military alliance supposedly did not know the Libyan leader was in one of the convoy trucks fleeing Sirte.

The Telegraph had previously already reported that SAS commandos (British special forces) “dressed in Arab civilian clothing and wearing the same weapons as the rebels [...] were spearheading the hunt for Col Muammar Gaddafi.”[33] As NATO had repeatedly bombed Gaddafi compounds during the war (and as we have seen above, before the war, too), and as the US government internally discussed covert action to assassinate Gaddafi as early as 1969 according to the memoirs of Henry Kissinger,[34] this means that Western involvement in Gaddafi’s brutal murder in the streets of Sirte is at least plausible. Indeed, according to Mahmoud Jibril, then interim prime minister of the rebel-led National Transition Council, “it was a foreign agent who mixed with the revolutionary brigades to kill Gaddafi.”[35] Either way, the Western war hawks probably did not mourn the death of the Libyan leader, judging from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first reaction to the death of Gaddafi. Followed by an arrogant laugh, she concluded: “We came, we saw, he died.”[36]

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud  Analyst,  is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] Maximilian Forte, Slouching towards Sirte: NATO’s war on Libya and Africa (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012), 35-41.

[2] “The standard of living in Libya - compilation of data, studies, articles and videos,” Global Civilians for Peace in Libya, 09.11.2011, http://globalciviliansforpeace.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/the-standard-of-living-in-libya/.

[3] Dirk Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 87-95.

[4] “The standard of living in Libya.”

[5] John Watkins, “Libya’s thirst for ‘fossil water’,” BBC, 18.03.2016, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4814988.stm.

[6] Nafeez Ahmed, “War crime: NATO deliberately destroyed Libya’s water infrastructure,” Truth Out, 30.05.2015, http://truth-out.org/news/item/30999-war-crime-nato-deliberately-destroyed-libya-s-water-infrastructure.

[7] Mohammed Heikal, The road to Ramadan (New York: Quadrangle / New York Times Company, 1975), 70.

[8] Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 79.

[9] Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 128-30.

[10] Murder in St James’s, produced and directed by Richard Belfield (Channel 4: Dispatches, 1996), available in full at http://sott.net/article/236576-Murder-in-St-James-Square-The-Death-of-Yvonne-Fletcher.

[11] “German TV exposed CIA, Mossad links to 1986 Berlin disco bombing,” Word Socialist Web Site, 27.08.1998, http://wsws.org/en/articles/1998/08/bomb-a27.html.

[12] Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 167-9.

[13] Gordon Rayner, “Lockerbie bombing: are these the men who really brought down Pan Am 103?”, Telegraph, 10.03.2014, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/10688179/Lockerbie-bombing-are-these-the-men-who-really-brought-down-Pan-Am-103.html.

[14] Robert McFadden, “Megrahi, convicted in 1988 Lockerbie bombing, dies at 60,” New York Times, 20.05.2012, http://nytimes.com/2012/05/21/world/africa/abdel-basset-ali-al-megrahi-lockerbie-bomber-dies-at-60.html.

[15] “Police chief - Lockerbie evidence was faked,” Scotsman, 28.08.2005, http://scotsman.com/news/police-chief-lockerbie-evidence-was-faked-1-1403341.

[16] McFadden, “Megrahi.”

[17] McFadden, “Megrahi.”

[18] Rayner, “Lockerbie bombing;” Alexander Zaitchik, “The truth about the Lockerbie bombing - and the censored film that dared to reveal it,” Alternet, 15.12.2014, http://alternet.org/world/truth-about-lockerbie-bombing-and-censored-film-dared-reveal-it; John Ashton and Ian Ferguson, “Flight from the truth,” Guardian, 27.06.2001, http://theguardian.com/uk/2001/jun/27/lockerbie.features11.

[19] “What if they are innocent?”, Guardian, 27.04.1999, http://theguardian.com/uk/1999/apr/17/lockerbie; Maidhc Ó’Cathail, “Deception over Lockerbie,” Global Research, 27.12.2009, http://globalresearch.ca/deception-over-lockerbie/15362; Cem Ertür, “Propaganda alert: the Lockerbie bombing. Who was behind it? Libya, Iran … or the CIA?”, Global Research, 12.10.2014, http://globalresearch.ca/deception-over-lockerbie/15362.

[20] “UN Observer: Lockerbie trial a US/UK CIA fake “a spectacular miscarriage of justice,” William Bowles, 14.10.2005, http://williambowles.info/spysrus/lockerbie.html.

[21] Pierre Péan, “Les preuves trafiquées du terrorisme Libyen,” Monde Diplomatique, March 2001, http://monde-diplomatique.fr/2001/03/PEAN/6174. Translated to English: Pierre Péan, “Tainted evidence of Libyan terrorism,” UNA Bombers, http://unabombers.com/TheTaintedEvidence.htm.

[22] Quoted in Forte, Slouching towards Sirte, 79.

[23] Amy Goodman, interview with Wesley Clark, Daily Show, Democracy Now, 02.03.2007, available online: “Gen. Wesley Clark weighs presidential bid: ‘I think about it every day’,” Democracy Now, 02.03.2007, http://democracynow.org/2007/3/2/gen_wesley_clark_weighs_presidential_bid.

[24] Rachel Shabi, “NATO accused of war crimes in Libya,” Independent, 19.1.2012, http://independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/nato-accused-of-war-crimes-in-libya-6291566.html.

[25] Human Rights Watch, Unacknowledged deaths: civilian casualties in NATO’s air campaign in Libya, 13.05.2012, http://hrw.org/report/2012/05/13/unacknowledged-deaths/civilian-casualties-natos-air-campaign-libya.

[26] Shabi, “NATO accused of war crimes in Libya.”

[27] Human Rights Watch, Unacknowledged deaths.

[28] Amnesty International, Libya: the forgotten victims of NATO airstrikes, March 2012, http://amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/mde190032012en.pdf.

[29] C.J. Chivers and Eric Smith, “In strikes on Libya by NATO, an unspoken civilian toll,” New York Times, 17.12.2011, http://nytimes.com/2011/12/18/world/africa/scores-of-unintended-casualties-in-nato-war-in-libya.html?pagewanted=all.

[30] Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Arab Organization for Human Rights and International Legal Assistance Consortium, Report of the Independent Civil Society Fact-Finding Mission to Libya, 44-6, January 2012, http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/2012/FFM_Libya-Report.pdf.

[31] NATO, NATO and Libya: operational media update for 15 September, http://nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/pdf_2011_09/20110916_110916-oup-update.pdf.

[32] Thomas Harding, “Col Gaddafi killed: convoy bombed by drone flown by pilot in Las Vegas,” Telegraph, 20.10.2011, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8839964/Col-Gaddafi-killed-convoy-bombed-by-drone-flown-by-pilot-in-Las-Vegas.html.

[33] Thomas Harding, Gordon Rayner and Damien McElroy, “Libya: SAS leads hunt for Gaddafi,” Telegraph, 24.08.2011, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8721291/Libya-SAS-leads-hunt-for-Gaddafi.html.

[34] Bill van Auken, “The murderer calls for an investigation into the crime,” SWAPO, 24.10.2011, http://swapoparty.org/the_us_and_gaddafi.html.

[35] Peter Allen, “Gaddafi was killed by French secret serviceman on orders of Nicolas Sarkozy, sources claim,” Daily Mail, 30.09.2012, http://dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2210759/Gaddafi-killed-French-secret-serviceman-orders-Nicolas-Sarkozy-sources-claim.html.

[36] “Hillary Clinton on Gaddafi: We came, we saw, he died,” Youtube channel of FederalJacktube6, 20.10.2011, consulted on 14.02.2017, http://youtube.com/watch?v=Fgcd1ghag5Y.

Newsbud Exclusive – The ‘Humanitarian’ Destruction of Libya – Part 1: Real & Invented War Crimes

This article is part of a three-part series called “The ‘humanitarian’ destruction of Libya” that analyses the 2011 war in Libya and the motives behind it. The first article contrasts the invented war crime allegations against the Libyan government to the very real underreported war crimes by the insurgents; the second exposes a history of deceptive terrorist attacks on European soil wrongly attributed to Gaddafi and the role of NATO in the war; and the third discusses Gaddafi’s plan at creating a pan-African currency as one of the central motives lurking behind the mainstream explanation of the intervention as a just one that sought to “protect civilians” from a ruthless dictator.

On 21 February 2011, a week into the Libyan uprising, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR), two main sources for the claim that Gaddafi was killing his own people, called for the immediate suspension of Libya from the UN Human Rights Council and urged the UN Security Council to “review the situation and consider its referral to the ICC [International Criminal Court].”  According to the two NGOs, “the crackdown has killed at least 300 to 400 people since February 15” and “the Libyan regime is apparently using mercenaries from Chad, Niger [and] Zimbabwe.”[1] Later that day, UN Watch, a pro-Israel NGO, initiated a letter signed by 70 other NGOs in collaboration with the LLHR and the National Endowment for Democracy, infamous for its involvement in manipulating elections and instigating “colour revolutions” around the world, in which it too echoed the need to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council, in addition to urging the Security Council to invoke the “responsibility to protect” principle to protect the Libyan people.[2] On 25 February, the Human Rights Council followed the recommendation, thereby preventing the Libyan government from countering the undocumented allegations, let alone demanding that proof be submitted. Three weeks later, the Security Council adopted resolutions 1970 and 1973, authorising a no-fly zone on Libyan military aviation. Although article 2 of resolution 1973 stressed the need to use diplomacy to find a peaceful solution,[3] the bombing began two days later.

The public was told that NATO went into Libya because the American, British and French officials felt the dire need to protect civilians from a brutal dictator. They sought legitimisation for their modern version of the “just war” theory in the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. Philosophers and political thinkers had been debating if and when war is morally justifiable for centuries, but it was only in recent times that the idea gained a modern legal dimension above that of the sovereign nation-state. A commission set up under the auspices of the Canadian government in 2001 postulated that if a state is unable to halt or avert serious harm to its population, the international community has a “responsibility to protect.” Just like the “just war” theoreticians, the commission argued that military intervention is justified if a strict set of criteria - having the right intention, military measures being the last resort and the principle of proportionality, among others - are applicable, adding that “there is no better or more appropriate body than the United Nations Security Council to authorize military intervention for human protection purposes.”[4] In 2004, a panel set up by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan confirmed that there is a collective international responsibility to protect “exercisable by the Security Council authorizing military intervention as a last resort, in the event of genocide and other large-scale killing, ethnic cleansing and other serious violations of humanitarian law which sovereign governments have proved powerless or unwilling to prevent.”[5] From 2005 onwards, the “responsibility to protect” doctrine was up and running, as it was endorsed by all member states of the General Assembly at that year’s UN World Summit.[6]

Made-Up War Crimes

During Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in 2008, in which hundreds of civilians were killed, or any of the subsequent attacks on the coastal enclave, the Security Council did not even think about the “responsibility to protect.” But when allegations that Gaddafi was killing his own people were floating in early 2011, the world body did not hesitate to invoke it. Although the necessity of seeking adequate verification of facts before authorising military intervention resonated through all the above-mentioned documents, the UK, France and the US bombed Libya on the basis of undocumented allegations provided by NGOs in the first three months of NATO’s intervention, using only the Security Council resolutions as legal justification. It was only in late June that the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of Gaddafi, proclaiming the Libyan leader to be guilty of crimes against humanity. At the ICC’s press conference following the verdict, a reporter asked Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for concrete evidence proving Gaddafi’s guilt, after which Moreno-Ocampo referred her to a document, “most of which is public.”[7] The document is indeed public; the whole section in which the “proof” is enumerated, comprising about two thirds of the document, however, is not.[8]

As Prof. Maximilian Forte concluded in his book Slouching towards Sirte, the justification for intervention was based on three main interlinked myths: 1) that “African mercenaries” were employed by Gaddafi; 2) that these “mercenaries” were flown in from other African countries by Gaddafi, which increased the cry for a no-fly zone; and 3) that only intervention could stop an imminent genocide.[9] Although these myths were invented by the rebels, it were the major Western news outlets, NGOs and politicians who spread them worldwide in their attempt to legitimise their “just war.” Amnesty International, for instance, played a leading role in propagating the “black mercenary” narrative. The president of the French branch of the organisation, Geneviève Garrigos, spoke to France 24 on 22 February 2011, saying that Amnesty had received information that the Libyan government had sent in “foreign mercenaries” to fight against the protestors in order to “accelerate the oppressive process.” Later, however, she admitted that “we have no evidence Gaddafi employed mercenary forces. [...] We have no sign nor evidence to corroborate these rumours.” She repeated that Amnesty investigators never found any “mercenaries,” agreeing with her interviewer’s characterisation of their existence as a legend spread by the mass media.[10] The British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in a 2016 report, too, found that the UK government “failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element:”[11]

“Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence. The Gaddafi regime had retaken towns from the rebels without attacking civilians in early February 2011. [...] The disparity between male and female casualties [known to UN investigators in late February] suggested that Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians. [Moreover,] an Amnesty International investigation in June 2011 could not corroborate allegations of mass human rights violations by Gaddafi regime troops. However, it uncovered evidence that rebels in Benghazi made false claims and manufactured evidence. [...] While Muammar Gaddafi certainly threatened violence against those who took up arms against his rule, this did not necessarily translate into a threat to everyone in Benghazi. In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty. [...] We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya. [...] It could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion. UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of evidence.”[12]

There you have it from the horse’s mouth: Libya, just like Iraq in 2003, was invaded on false pretexts. This included the allegation that Gaddafi was bombing his own people, a myth that further stressed the need to implement a no-fly zone on Libyan military aircraft. On 21 February, the BBC claimed that “witnesses say warplanes have fired on protesters in the city [of Tripoli],”[13] echoing statements made by opposition activists and defected Libyan diplomats. Other mass media media outlets such as al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, CNN and the Telegraph made similar accusations.[14] At a Department of Defense press conference on 1 March, however, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen were asked if they had independent confirmation that Gaddafi “actually has fired on his own people from the air?”, to which they both replied they had none.[15] An Amnesty International investigation from June 2011 corroborated that there is no evidence that Gaddafi used helicopters, aircraft or anti-aircraft machine guns against civilian protesters.[16]

Another pretext that triggered NATO operations was the alleged massacre Gaddafi forces were about to inflict on the people of Benghazi. The city had fallen to opposition fighters in February, but when the Security council was set to vote on establishing a no-fly zone in mid-March, Gaddafi warned that an attack on the rebel stronghold was imminent. As acknowledged by the New York Times, he promised amnesty to those “who throw their weapons away” but “no mercy or compassion” for those who fight.[17] Obama, however, claimed later that month that “Qaddafi declared he would show ‘no mercy’ to his own people,” and that “if we waited one more day, Benghazi [...] could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”[18] He repeated this rhetoric in a joint letter with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in April published in the New York Times, which proclaimed that “the bloodbath that he [Gaddafi] had promised to inflict on the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi has been prevented [because our countries] responded immediately. Tens of thousands of lives have been protected.”[19] To date, these heads of state are yet to provide evidence that would support the claim that Benghazi would have witnessed the loss of “tens of thousands of lives.” In fact, prior to the operation to retake Benghazi, Gaddafi recaptured a number of other cities either fully or partially without perpetrating genocide. In the case of Misrata, for instance, only three percent of the 257 deaths that were counted by April were women, which strongly suggests that most of the deceased were fighters, and that the killing was not of indiscriminate nature.[20] Even the Washington Post Company-owned Foreign Policy magazine, along with other mainstream analysts, scrutinised the notion that there was going to be a Benghazi massacre.[21]

In a conversation between radio hosts James Corbett of the Corbett Report and Lionel of Lionel Nation, the idea was put forward that regarding false media stories, the greater the horror, the easier to fake, because the public is reluctant to question horrific stories.[22] Such is the case for the most heinous allegation made against Libyan government troops. On 28 March, al-Jazeera launched the story that Gaddafi used rape “as a weapon of war” as he distributed Viagra to his soldiers.[23] The story was then picked up by the usual war hawks, from US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. The latter went even as far as to say that “we have information that there was a policy to rape in Libya those who were against the government”[24] and that “Viagra is a tool of massive rape.”[25] Eventually however, the same Amnesty International report that is quoted above did not find any victim of rape or doctor who knew about somebody being raped, let alone of a policy of mass rape.[26] Similarly, the Human Rights Council inquiry into war crimes in Libya, released in 2012, concluded that although sexual violence occurred in Libya, “the commission did not find evidence to substantiate claims of a widespread or a systematic attack, or any overall policy of sexual violence against a civilian population.”[27]

Actual War Crimes

While Obama & co were crying crocodile tears about alleged atrocities by Gaddafi forces, they failed to notice the very real war crimes perpetrated by the insurgents. The true nature of the rebels became especially clear after the Battle of Sirte, in which they killed Gaddafi and captured the last stronghold of the Libyan government. Not only did Reuters and Associated Press reporters witness looting and ransacking of houses[28] and did an Amnesty International report detail the widespread torture of (especially dark-skinned) ex-officials, soldiers and civilians, at least 12 of whom died in the process,[29] but in the aftermath of the “liberation” of Sirte it was also revealed that the insurgents had gone on a killing spree. Human Rights Watch investigators on the ground found 53 decomposing bodies, presumed to be Gaddafi supporters, at an abandoned hotel on 23 October. “The bloodstains on the grass directly below the bodies, bullet holes visible in the ground, [...] the spent cartridges of AK-47 and FN-1 rifles scattered around the site [and the fact that] some of the bodies had their hands tied behind their backs with plastic ties [...] strongly suggest that some, if not all of the people, were shot and killed in the location where they were discovered,” the report read. At another site, the investigators saw the badly decomposed bodies of 10 people who, too, had been executed and were dumped in a water reservoir. At a third site, the investigators found the remains of at least 95 people. Although the vast majority of them probably died in combat, at least six appeared to have been executed at the site with gunshot wounds to the head and body.[30] Two days later, CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reported that

“nearly 300 bodies, many of them with their hands tied behind their backs and shot in the head, have been collected from across Sirte and buried in a mass grave. [...] There are no names in one graveyard, only numbers: 572 so far and counting. That’s because the graves hold the bodies of alleged mercenaries. Most were killed in the fighting, but local officials freely admit that some were summarily executed.”[31]

The insurgents’ brutal executions, however, were already documented by their own admissions from the very onset of the Libyan crisis. On 18 February, three days into the uprising, the Guardian quoted an al-Jazeera interview with “political activist” Amer Saad, who said:

“The protesters in al-Bayda have been able to seize control of the military airbase in the city and have executed 50 African mercenaries and two Libyan conspirators. Even in Derna today, a number of conspirators were executed. They were locked up in the holding cells of a police station because they resisted, and some died burning inside the building.”[32]

There has never been found any credible evidence of foreign African fighters employed by the Libyan government. These “African mercenaries” were thus killed merely for being sub-Saharan migrants or black Libyans who may or may not have served in the Libyan army. Compare this one event in which the “revolutionaries” by their own admission extrajudicially slaughtered more than 50 people to Human Rights Watch’s estimate of 84 people killed by government forces across the whole country from the day the protests erupted on 15 February until that same day of 18 February. While this latter number appears credible since it was based on telephone interviews with local hospital staff, the contention that they were all “peaceful protesters” killed “simply because they’re demanding change and accountability” relied solely on the claims made by unnamed protesters and eyewitnesses.[33] With the ruthlessness of the armed insurgency in mind, it is much more likely that at least some died in combat with government troops.

Conclusion

Although a number of unsubstantiated war crime allegations targeting the Libyan government turned out to be completely made-up, they were nonetheless reported upon without much scrutiny and taken serious for several months by the Western and Gulf mass media. Mounting evidence of very real war crimes by the NATO-backed insurgents, on the other hand, did not receive saturation coverage and were downplayed and covered-up to the extent possible, only to receive proper investigation after the regime change mission was concluded. This ultra-biased reporting influenced both public opinion and international policy makers in favour of NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention, not only in the days surrounding the implementation of the no-fly zone but also during the subsequent crucial months of bombardments. Reminiscent of the mainstream coverage in the critical months leading up to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, in addition to the blatant propaganda against the Syrian government today, this again shows how the mass media have become mouthpieces for the continuous cycle of war.

Since NATO declared Libya “liberated” after Gaddafi’s murder in October 2011, the country has plunged into chaos. Libya today is a hotbed for Islamist brigades including ISIS, rival governments and tribes are competing for power and migrants on their way to Europe are being sold at open slave markets.[34] As Libyan intelligence reports from 2011 obtained by the Washington Times found that NATO weapons being funnelled to Libya ended up with al-Qaeda-linked rebels,[35] a Libyan rebel commander in March 2011 admitted that his fighters had ties to al-Qaeda and the White House was well aware (though “concerned”) that Qatar was sending weapons to jihadis inside Libya from the beginning of the war onwards, Washington once again, just like in Syria today or Afghanistan in the 1980s, has clearly teamed up with the very same Islamist terrorist organisations against whom it is supposedly fighting a “war on terror.” Taking this into account, as well as the fact that there were significant rallies in favour of Gaddafi[36] and several reports revealed that civilians volunteered to take up arms to defend Sirte against the joint NATO-rebel operation against the city,[37] the question remains: was this a peaceful uprising for the ideals of democracy and human rights as the “humanitarian” interventionists would have us believe, or were the Arab Spring protests, just like in Syria, used as a pretext to enhance NATO imperialism?

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud  Analyst,  is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] International Federation for Human Rights, “Massacres in Libya: the international community must respond urgently,” 21.02.2011, http://fidh.org/en/region/north-africa-middle-east/libya/Massacres-in-Libya-The.

[2] UN Watch, “Urgent appeal to end atrocities in Libya: sent by 70 NGOs to the US, EU, and the UN,” 21.02.2011, http://secure.unwatch.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1330815&ct=9135143.

[3] United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, article 2 (United Nations, 17.03.2011), 2.

[4] Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun, ed., The responsibility to protect: report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (Ottawa: International Development Research Center, 2001), XI-XIII, http://responsibilitytoprotect.org/ICISS%20Report.pdf.

[5] United Nations General Assembly, Follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit, A/59/565, (United Nations, 02.12.2004), http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/instree/report.pdf.

[6] United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/1, (United Nations, 16.09.2005), 20-2.

[7] Press Conference International Criminal Court, 28.06.2011, available in Julien Tiel, “Libya: the humanitarian war. There is no evidence,” http://youtube.com/watch?v=pU9IzXsALwo.

[8] The International Criminal Court, Situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, public redacted version, ICC-01/11, 16.05.2011, http://nifcrimes.com/Libya_redacted.pdf.

[9] Maximilian Forte, Slouching towards Sirte: NATO’s war on Libya and Africa (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012), 238.

[10] Forte, Slouching towards Sirte, 250.

[11] House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Libya: examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options (House of Commons, third report of session 2016-17, 14.09.2016), 3, http://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmfaff/119/119.pdf.

[12] House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Libya, 14-5.

[13] “Libya protests: Tripoli hit by renewed clashes,” BBC, 21.02.2011, http://bbc.com/news/world-africa-12531637.

[14] “Libya protests spread and intensify,” Al-Jazeera, 22.02.2011, http://aljazeera.com/news/africa/2011/02/2011221133557377576.html; “‘Massacre’ in Tripoli as jets strike civilians: witnesses,” Al-Arabiya, 21.02.2011, http://alarabiya.net/articles/2011/02/21/138622.html; “Report: helicopters fire on Libya protesters,” CNN, 19.02.2011, http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/19/report-helicopters-fire-on-libya-protesters/; Nick Meo, “Libya protests: 140 ‘massacred’ as Gaddafi sends in snipers to crush dissent, Telegraph, 20.02.2011, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8335934/Libya-protests-140-massacred-as-Gaddafi-sends-in-snipers-to-crush-dissent.html.

[15] US Department of Defense, “DOD news briefing with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon,” Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, 01.03.2011, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4777.

[16] Patrick Cockburn, “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as a weapon of war,” Independent, 24.06.2011, http://independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/amnesty-questions-claim-that-gaddafi-ordered-rape-as-weapon-of-war-2302037.html.

[17] David Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim, “Qaddafi warns of assault on Benghazi as U.N. vote nears,” New York Times, 17.03.2011, http://nytimes.com/2011/03/18/world/africa/18libya.html?pagewanted=all.

[18] Barack Obama, “Remarks by the president in address to the nation on Libya,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 28.03.2011, http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2011/03/28/remarks-president-address-nation-libya.

[19] Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, “Libya’s pathway to peace, New York Times, 14.04.2011, http://nytimes.com/2011/04/15/opinion/15iht-edlibya15.html.

[20] Forte, Slouching towards Sirte, 244.

[21] David Bosco, “Was there going to be a Benghazi massacre?”, Foreign Policy, 07.04.2011, http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/04/07/was-there-going-to-be-a-benghazi-massacre/.

[22] James Corbett, “Interview 973 - Lionel on media fakery and historical distortion,” Corbett Report, 12.05.2014, http://corbettreport.com/interview-973-lionel-on-media-fakery-and-historical-distortion/.

[23] “Rape used ‘as a weapon’ in Libya,” Al-Jazeera, 28.03.2011, http://aljazeera.com/video/africa/2011/03/201132845516144204.html.

[24] Cockburn, “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as weapon of war.”

[25] “ICC to investigate reports of Viagra-fueled gang-rapes in Libya,” CNN, 18.03.2011, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/05/17/libya.rapes.icc/.

[26] Cockburn, “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as weapon of war.”

[27] UN Human Rights Council, Report on the international commission of inquiry on Libya (United Nations, 02.03.2012), 14, article 70, http://ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A.HRC.19.68.pdf.

[28] “Libya fighters loot Qaddafi tribe, show divide,” Fox News, 05.10.2011, http://foxnews.com/world/2011/10/05/libya-fighters-loot-qaddafi-tribe-show-divide.html; “Bulldozers raze Gaddafi compound,” BBC, 16.10.2011, http://bbc.com/news/world-africa-15329119; Rania el Gamal, “In Gaddafi’s hometown, residents accuse NTC fighters of revenge,” Reuters, 16.10.2011, http://reuters.com/article/us-libya-sirte-looting-idUSTRE79F2DL20111016.

[29] Amnesty International, Militias threaten hopes for new Libya (London: Amnesty International Publications, 2012), 14-25, http://amnesty.org/en/documents/MDE19/002/2012/en/.

[30] Human Rights Watch, “Libya: apparent execution of 53 Gaddafi supporters,” 24.10.2011, http://hrw.org/news/2011/10/24/libya-apparent-execution-53-gaddafi-supporters.

[31] Allen Pizzey, “Signs of ex-rebel atrocities in Libya grow,” CBS News, 25.10.2011, http://cbsnews.com/news/signs-of-ex-rebel-atrocities-in-libya-grow/.

[32] Ian Black and Owen Bowcott, “Libya protests: massacres reported as Gaddafi imposes news blackout,” Guardian, 18.02.2011, http://theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/18/libya-protests-massacres-reported.

[33] Human Rights Watch, “Libya: security forces kill 84 over three days,” 18.02.2011, http://hrw.org/news/2011/02/18/libya-security-forces-kill-84-over-three-days.

[34] Brandon Cole, “Migrants are being sold at open slave markets in Libya, International Business Times, 12.04.2017, http://ibtimes.co.uk/migrants-are-being-sold-open-slave-markets-libya-1616492.

[35] Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, “Secret Benghazi report reveals Hillary’s Libya war push armed al Qaeda-tied terrorists,” Washington Times, 01.02.2015, http://washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/1/hillary-clinton-libya-war-push-armed-benghazi-rebe/.

[36] “Thousands attend pro-Gaddafi rally,” BBC, 01.07.2011, http://bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-13998833/thousands-attend-pro-gaddafi-rally; Mahdi Darius Nazmroaya, “Libya in pictures: what the mainstream media does not tell you,” Global Research, 16.07.2011, http://globalresearch.ca/libya-in-pictures-what-the-mainstream-media-does-not-tell-you/25630.

[37] Ruth Sherlock, “Libya: exodus from Sirte as thousands flee rebel offensive,” Telegraph, 28.09.2011, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8794617/Libya-exodus-from-Sirte-as-thousands-flee-rebel-offensive.html; Hadeel al-Shalchi, “Fleeing Gadhafi bastion, bitter at the new Libya,” Boston.com, 04.10.2011, http://archive.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2011/10/04/fleeing_gadhafi_bastion_bitter_at_the_new_libya/; Rania El Gamal, “Sirte residents turn anger on Libya’s new rulers,” Reuters, 05.10.2011, reprinted on Eco Diario, http://ecodiario.eleconomista.es/internacional/noticias/3426676/10/11/Sirte-residents-turn-anger-on-Libyas-new-rulers.html.

Newsbud Exclusive- The Balkanization of Syria & Iraq: The Roadmap to US-Israeli Hegemony in the Middle East

We are often told that the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the war in Syria are disastrous failures of Western foreign policy. This article, however, argues that the architects of these wars were, and are, well aware of the destabilising consequences of their military efforts, and in fact, had always regarded the breakup of Iraq and Syria along sectarian lines as a desirable outcome. The millions of deaths and injuries resulting from these horrific wars, as well as the displacement of several more millions, then, are nothing more than “collateral damage” to achieve US-Israeli hegemony in the region. Viewed from this perspective, post-9/11 Western Middle East policy in retrospect is not a failure, but a success.

Part I: Partition, the only solution?

“Let’s look at the reality on the ground in the Middle East: Iraq and Syria are effectively partitioned along sectarian lines. [...] In the current, chaotic moment, we see two post-imperial systems collapsing at once: the state boundaries drawn by the Versailles Treaty in 1919 to replace the Ottoman Empire [...], and a U.S.-led system that kept the region in a rough balance [which has been shattered] by America’s failed intervention in Iraq. The ‘line in the sand’, as author James Barr called the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement to partition the region, is dissolving before our eyes, and the primary beneficiaries are ruthless Islamic terrorists.”[1]-David Ignatius, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a 2014 article in the Washington Post

In early 2016, then US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that “it may be too late to keep [Syria] as a whole,” and that “I know that [partition] is the best way to try to end the war and it is the only alternative available to us if indeed we are going to have a political settlement.”[2] Kerry coined the possible breaking up of Syria as “plan B,” making it sound like the proposal was a desperate move to save the peace. Both the Syrian government and the armed opposition rejected federalism, let alone partition, however,[3] and even the Kurdish National Council strongly denounced the federalism declaration of its PYD rivals in the wake of Kerry’s statement.[4] In addition, Maram Susli has pointed out that partitioning Syria would happen along sectarian lines instead on whether or not any particular state would be able to sustain its population. Therefore, as Syria’s scare water resources, as well as its agriculture and oil, would end up in the hands of only a small percentage of the population, perpetual war between divided Syrians would be the likely result.[5] So, if breaking up Syria is a recipe for endless conflict between weakened enclaves and is opposed by almost all Syrians, why did Kerry brought it up? Was it just a hastily mistake in his otherwise brave humanitarian endeavour to save the Syrian populace, or are there other agendas at play?

Actually, Kerry’s plan B sounds an awful lot like the plan A of various Anglo-American policy makers, strategists, think tanks and imperialist organs. Six months prior to Kerry’s statement, the Brookings Institute argued for the establishment of Western-backed “safe zones” that would eventually develop into more or less autonomous areas.[6] In October 2015, the author of the Brookings article, Michael O’Hanlon, specified his vision of Syrian balkanisation in an op-ed for Reuters as follows:

“One largely Alawite (Assad’s own sect) [sector], spread along the Mediterranean coast; another Kurdish, along the north and northeast corridors near the Turkish border; a third primarily Druse, in the southwest; a fourth largely made up of Sunni Muslims; and then a central zone of intermixed groups in the country’s main population belt from Damascus to Aleppo.”[7]

From 2013 onwards, variations to this plan have repeatedly been proposed by US establishment figures, such as Henry Kissinger for instance, who in June 2013 contended that he preferred “an outcome in which the various nationalities agree to co-exist together but in more or less autonomous regions.” Interestingly, he also claimed that although he supported the expulsion of Assad, he prioritised balkanising Syria.[8] John Bolton, another neocon war-hawk, advocated for the creation of an American-backed Sunni state, which he admitted would be “unlikely to be a Jeffersonian democracy for many years,” in an op-ed for the New York Times. This would counteract “the vision of the Russian-Iranian axis and its proxies,” he asserted, because “their aim of restoring [the] Iraqi and Syrian governments to their former borders is a goal fundamentally contrary to American, Israeli and friendly Arab state interests.”[9]

Most proponents of balkanisation imagine a threefold partition into an Alawitestan - perhaps ruled by Assad, but perhaps not - and Kurdistan aside from a Sunni heartland.[10] A year before ISIS declared its caliphate, Robin Wright, scholar at two Washington-based think tanks, even proposed a Sunni state crossing the Sykes-Picot border into Iraq:

“Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland. Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom. [...] Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority - notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-governments protests - may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan.”[11]

Barak Mendelsohn, in an article in Foreign Affairs - the quarterly of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) - bluntly called “Divide and conquer in Syria and Iraq: why the West should plan for a partition,” also argued for a US-backed “independent Sunni state that would link Sunni-dominated territories on both sides of the border.”[12] Although most of the time this dramatic measure is promoted as a solution to the only recent threat posed by ISIS, disclosed DIA documents reveal that the US and their allies desired a Sunnistan based on the principles of Salafi Islam at least since 2012, prior to ISIS’s emergence. “If the situation unravels,” the documents obtained by Judicial Watch show, “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality [aka Islamic State] in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition [defined elsewhere in the document as the West, the Gulf countries and Turkey] want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”[13]

For Iraq, division was of course already longer on the table. Plans to split the country into three parts have often been advocated by US officials since the 2003 invasion of the country. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the CFR, was the first to officially propose a three-state solution - “Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south” - in an op-ed for the New York Times a mere eight months after the US and Britain had entered Iraq.[14] Three years later he adjusted his plan to try to get all parties on board, reformulating it as “unity through autonomy” by way of decentralisation in an article published in the same newspaper, which he co-authored with Joe Biden, future Vice President under Obama and likewise a CFR member.[15] Also in 2006, retired Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters outlined a map comprising a divided Iraq that circulated widely in US and NATO military circles,[16] and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice provisioned the rise of a “new Middle East” out of the ashes of Israel’s aggressive assault on Lebanon.[17] By 2007, amid rising sectarian violence, many Anglo-American strategists and think tanks that would years later push for the balkanisation of Syria began to argue that breaking up Iraq into three statelets would be the only viable solution to the conflict their governments had created. Indeed, in January 2007, John Bolton, one of the leading architects of the 2003 invasion, stated that the US had no strategic interests in keeping Iraq united,[18] and later that year, the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center produced a paper calling for the “soft partition” of Iraq.[19] Interestingly, the report was co-authored by Michael O’Hanlon, who in 2015 was one of the first to call for the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria, which essentially is just a stepping stone towards partition.

Although officially the above-mentioned map for a “new Middle East” envisaged only the loss of Syria’s upper northeastern part in favour of a “Free Kurdistan,” leaked Wikileaks cables show that the US was as far back as 2006 already working on fomenting a civil war in the country. William Roebuck, at the time chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Damascus, clearly expressed hostility towards the Syrian leadership, focusing an entire briefing assigned to both Washington and Tel Aviv to possible actions to destabilise the Assad government. Aside from highlighting Kurdish complaints, he advised his superiors to coordinate more closely with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to fan the flames of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims inside the country.[20]

Although plans to break up Iraq and Syria into microstates based on religion or ethnicity are always presented as humanitarian efforts, they completely ignore the fact that it is Western post-9/11 policy that created much of the problems to which NATO strategists and officials are now offering self-serving solutions. In Syria, balkanisation proponents suggest that their ideas are the only solution to a civil war that has naturally unfolded after the Syrian people rose up against the dictatorial and tyrannical Assad government in the wake of the “Arab Spring” protests in northern Africa. They fail to mention, however, that rather than a civil war, the six-year debacle is actually an artificial proxy war on Syria; a war that likely would not have happened - or at least would not have raged on for so many years and killed so many people - absent 1) the financial, logistical, ideological and armaments-support that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO provided from the very onset of the conflict to the armed insurgency, and 2) the influx of foreign jihadis from all around the world from 2012 onwards, who were allowed to cross the borders into Syria by the Turkish and Jordanian governments and were often trained by the CIA in advance.[21]

Furthermore, they completely disregard the popular support the government maintained throughout the whole conflict, which can almost completely be established by admissions in sources linked to Assad’s adversaries. A Turkish poll from late 2011 showed that only 5% of the Syrian respondents supported violent protest, while 91% opposed it,[22] and a Qatar-sponsored enquiry from around the same time found that 55% of the Syrian population wanted Assad to stay.[23] In addition, an internal NATO study in 2013 estimated that 70% supported the president in contrast to a mere 10% support for the armed opposition.[24] After constitutional amendments following a referendum, the first real democratic and competitive presidential elections in decades were held in 2014. Although Western media were quick to dismiss the credibility of the elections, the over 100 international observers present - coming from allied (e.g. Russia and Iran) as well as nonpartisan (e.g. Brazil, Venezuela and Uganda) countries around the world - issued a statement in which they declared that the elections were “free and fair” and were held “in a democratic environment, contrary to Western propaganda.”[25] Assad won the elections against his two opponents with 88,7% of the vote, with a massive participation rate of 73,4%.[26] This means that a staggering 64% of the eligible voters chose for Assad to remain in power, which is more than double of the 26% of the eligible American voters that put Donald Trump into office. As Sunnis make up 75% of the population and Alawites only 11%, this completely shatters the false representation put forward by Western media and officials of the Syrian government’s rule as a sectarian Alawite dictatorship suppressing a Sunni majority.

In Iraq, on the other hand, tensions between the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds had existed for several decades, although the image of a sectarian divided country prior to the war is to a large extent an American self-fulfilling prophecy as well.[27] The architects of the 2003 invasion were nonetheless well aware of the ethnic and religious tensions, however, and they clearly sought to exploit them. In 1996, David Wurmser, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith predicted the chaos that would follow an invasion not long after they published their Clean Break report, a neocon-Israeli policy plan that sought the removal of Saddam Hussein and the containment of Syria. Contrary to arguments of certain scholars, they believed that Iraq would be “ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key families” because “underneath facades of unity enforced by state repression, [the country’s] politics is defined primarily by tribalism, sectarianism, and gang/clan-like competition.”[28] In addition, Carne Ross, a British diplomat who negotiated several UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq, admitted in retrospect that in the build-up to the Iraq war “we would frequently argue, when the US raised the subject, that ‘regime change’ was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.”[29] The American intelligence community, too, knew the consequences of a potential invasion. A 2007 report published by the US Senate Intelligence Community revealed that many of the country’s intelligence documents had predicted that violent sectarian divides would follow an invasion. Specifically, intelligence assessments that widely circulated within the Bush administration in January 2003, three months before the war, suggested that an “American invasion would bring about instability in Iraq that would be exploited by Iran and al Qaeda terrorists.”[30]

Rather than trying to control the internal sectarian divisions, Washington actually even further exacerbated them during the occupation. In abolishing the Iraqi army (as well as large parts of the massive state sector), thereby making some 400.000 armed and embittered soldiers jobless, the US created a vacuum that was filled by a Sunni-dominated insurgency. To counteract that insurgency in the short term, the occupation started to back the larger Shia population and effectively gave them control over the central government. Shia leaders were soon running militias and death squads of their own, however, and due to Iran’s influence with Iraq’s Shia community, Washington began to support extremist Sunni jihadis, thus abetting the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which would eventually morph into ISIS.

Part II: Divide and rule: the US-Israeli quest for a new regional order

“The Iraqi situation cannot be separated from the Palestinian issue. Our failure in dealing with the Iraqi situation means our failure in dealing with the Palestinian issue. [This war] will give them [the Israelis] the ability to completely surround the [Arab] resistance and will lead to the final solution; that is, a peace imposed by the Israelis, which is rejected by us all. And this could lead to the partition of Iraq in order for Israel to gain legitimacy in the region. When Israel would be surrounded by smaller nations, divided, Israel will gain then its legitimacy politically and socially. So when we are talking about the Iraqi situation, let us not forget our brothers in Palestine, and let us not forget the legitimate rights of the peoples in Syria and Lebanon.”[31] -Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab League two weeks before the 2003 Iraq war

The Israeli-American goal is “the drawing of a new map for the region. [Partitioning Lebanon, Syria and Iraq would leave Israel surrounded by] small tranquil states. I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states. In other words, Israel will be the most important and strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”[32]

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in an interview with Seymour Hersh in 2007

The idea of balkanising the Middle East has deeper roots than the current era of imperialism under the guise of the fraudulent “war on terror.” The carving up of the Arab world was brought up for the first time in NATO strategist circles by British-American historian Bernard Lewis. Lewis - a British military intelligence officer during the Second World War, advocate of the clash of civilisations theory, longtime supporter of the Israeli right and, you guessed it, member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) - wrote an article as far back as 1992 called “Rethinking the Middle East,” published in the CFR’s own Foreign Affairs. In it, he predicted the “lebanonisation” of the Middle East:

“Most of the states of the Middle East - Egypt is an obvious exception - are of recent and artificial construction [sic][33] and are vulnerable to [“lebanonisation”]. If the central power is sufficiently weakened, there is no real civil society to hold the polity together, no real sense of common national identity or overriding allegiance to the nation-state. The state then disintegrates - as happened in Lebanon - into a chaos of squabbling feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions and parties.”[34]

According to Lewis, American policy is mainly aimed at preventing adversarial regional hegemony (whether in the form of multilateral pan-Arabism or in the form of one strong regional power) that would establish monopolistic control over the Middle Eastern oil reserves. The US does not pursue this policy of “lebanonisation” in a classical imperial fashion, hints Lewis, but instead by invigorating Islamic fundamentalism, as religious opposition groups are the only ones that have at their disposal a network outside the control of the state.[35] Hence, just like Zbigniew Brzezinski would advocate for playing out the newly-created weak states in Central Asia and the Caucasus region and the ethnic minorities residing in them against each other in order to maintain American hegemony over Eurasia five years later,[36] Lewis laid out a model for American domination by divide and rule over the Arab world.

But there is another player involved, however, one that would benefit even greater from the disintegration of Syria and Iraq, who happen to be two of its main adversaries. The tactic of breaking up existing Arab states into small and inter-fighting weakened microstates was described in detail for the very first time not by an American or European strategist, but an Israeli one. Oded Yinon, a journalist with a past in the country’s Foreign Ministry, published an article called “A strategy for Israel in the nineteen eighties” in the journal of the World Zionist Organisation in 1982, in which he argued that in order for his country to become an imperial regional power, it must affect the division of all existing Arab nations into microstates based on ethnicity or religion. According to Yinon:

Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula and is already following that track. The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present day Lebanon, so that there will be a Shi’ite Alawi state along its coast, a Sunni state in the Aleppo area, another Sunni state in Damascus hostile to its northern neighbor, and the Druzes who will set up a state, maybe even in our Golan. [...] Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel. [...] Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon. In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shi’ite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north. It is possible that the present Iranian-Iraqi confrontation [1980-1988] will deepen this polarization.”[37] (emphasis added)

Ironically, according to Yinon, “this state of affairs will be the guarantee for peace and security in the area in the long run.”[38] Of course, he means that weakened Arab enclaves in a state of perpetual warfare with one another will bring “peace and security” only to Israel. Interestingly, some analysts have pointed out that the area Yinon wanted balkanised roughly coincides with “Greater Israel,” which, according to Theodor Herzl, extends all the way from the Brook of Egypt [i.e. the Nile] to the Euphrates.”[39] Indeed, just as biblical references are often used in legitimising the colonisation of Palestine, Zionist mythology might one day strengthen Israel’s imperial claims over the Arab world as well. This is not to say that Israel seeks to annex large parts of the Middle East, but rather that it wants to establish a new regional order in which the Zionist state asserts control over an ethnically and religiously diverse Arab world.

Noam Chomsky has called this the “ottomanisation” of the Middle East; that is, the recreation of the state of affairs that existed prior to the arrival of the European colonialists but with Israel replacing the Ottoman Empire as the dominant power exercising hegemony. Chomsky further noted that Israel’s drive for an Ottoman-style imperial domination over the Arab world has been advocated by figures in the Israeli mainstream as well, such as Daniel Elazar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies, and Yoram Peri, former advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and European representative of the Labor Party. The former argued that ethno-religious communities, not states, are the natural form of organisation in the Middle East and suggested as an alternative to the present-day situation an Ottoman millet system, which was a system in which each ethno-religious group had its own internal administration but under Ottoman rule; while the latter observed that a “true revolution” was taking place, in which Israeli foreign policy is gradually replacing co-existence for hegemony, as the country is increasingly becoming committed to the destabilisation of the region. Rather than seeking recognition with the status quo, Peri advocated that Israel should use its military dominance to expand its borders and to create a “new reality,” a “new order.”[40]

It is remarkable that most major Middle East conflicts following the publication of the Yinon plan served this agenda. In the short run, before 9/11, the US-backed Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in Syria’s Hama,[41] the Iran-Iraq war[42] and the First Gulf War[43] all weakened Ba’ath central governance or at least led to outrage and isolation from the international community, and in the long run, the post-9/11 Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq and the NATO-Gulf-Turkey-orchestrated proxy war on Syria reinforced the minorities mentioned by Yinon and eventually brought partition into the picture.

Although a common-held view about the 2003 Iraq invasion is that it was all about oil, Israeli pressure played a pretty unacknowledged yet fundamental role as well. In their in depth article called “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy,” distinguished American professors John Maersheimer and Stephen Walt have shown that the central focus of American foreign policy lies not in its own interests but rather in its relationship with Israel. Writing at the height of the US occupation of Iraq in 2006, Maersheimer and Walt put forward a myriad of evidence that Israeli pressure in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was absolutely crucial in the final push towards Washington’s decision to invade Iraq.[44] British-Israeli journalist Jonathan Cook further corroborated this thesis in his eye-opening book Israel and the clash of civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the plan to remake the Middle East, published in 2008. When the US invaded Iraq, Cook argued, it broke with its traditional policy of rewarding and punishing strongmen and resorted instead to regime overthrow and direct occupation. This policy change, which predictably brought sectarian divide with it, was opposed by the oil industry as well as the US State Department, however, as both preferred the old tactic of replacing Saddam Hussein with another US handpicked dictator. Rather than the oil giants, Cook concluded, it was the Israel lobby that persuaded the neocons that this new policy of invasion and occupation would be beneficial not only to Israel, but to American interests, too.[45]

A full month prior to the invasion of Iraq, senior Israeli officers were already foreseeing a domino effect, with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq followed by the demise of Israel’s other enemies, from the PLO’s Arafat to Hezbollah’s Nasrallah, the ayatollah in Iran, Libya’s Gaddafi and Syria’s Assad.[46] Just after the US started military operations in March, Uzi Benziman wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that “after the war in Iraq, Israel will try to convince the US to direct its war on terror at Iran, Damascus and Beirut.”[47] Once Baghdad fell in mid-April, Israeli officials, the Zionist lobby in the US and pro-Israel American officials started to put pressure on actions against Syria,[48] and since the outbreak of the war on Syria, many of them have voiced support for Assad’s extralegal removal from office. In December 2016, Israel’s right-wing defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, reiterated that the balkanisation of the Middle East would be vital to Israeli “national interests:”

“Many of the countries in the Middle East were established artificially, as a result of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and based on colonial considerations that did not take into account the pattern of inhabitance and the deep sectarian rifts within the respective societies. Thus, to genuinely solve the region’s problems, borders will have to be altered, specifically in countries like Syria and Iraq. Boundaries need to be redrawn between Sunnis, Shia and other communities to diminish sectarian strife and to enable the emergence of states that will enjoy internal legitimacy. It is a mistake to think that these states can survive in their current borders.”[49]

Taking all this into account, it might be easier to grasp why Ze’ev Schiff, the military correspondent of Ha’aretz, proclaimed just before Israel’s 1982 Lebanon war that the best that can happen for Israeli interests in Iraq is its dissolution into three states;[50] or why American-born Israeli journalist Caroline Glick in 2007 postulated that Israel should wage a preemptive war against Damascus as a follow-up to Washington’s invasion of Iraq in order to destroy Syria’s central authority;”[51] or why a leaked 2012 e-mail forwarded by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed Israel’s welcoming of a destructive ethnic standoff in the Middle East, because “the fall of the House of Assad could well ignite a sectarian war between Shiites and the majority Sunnis of the region drawing in Iran, which, in the view of Israeli commanders would not be a bad thing for Israel and its Western allies;”[52] or finally, why Efraim Inbar, an Israeli think tank director, recently expressed his belief that the destruction of ISIS would be a strategic mistake for his country, saying that “allowing bad guys to kill bad guys sounds very cynical, but it is useful and even moral to do so if it keeps the bad guys busy and less able to harm the good guys.”[53]

Part III: Different president, same plan

“As the international community continues to search for ways to resolve Syria’s civil war, this Perspective argues that recent developments in Syria and the region - including the cessation of hostilities that was sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey - reinforce the prospects for a national ceasefire based upon agreed zones of control backed by external powers. [...] After nearly six years of humanitarian catastrophe and geopolitical upheaval from Syria, the prospects of the removal of the Assad regime and a near-term transition to the ‘moderate opposition’ are poorer than ever. But there is a chance for the new administration in Washington to make real progress on de-escalating the conflict and contributing to stability in Syria if it focuses on a realistic but achievable end-state: a decentralized Syria based on agreed zones of control recognized and supported by outside partners.”[54] -RAND Corporation in its third proposal for a “peace plan” for Syria in February 2017

While Hillary Clinton was the pre-eminent candidate for war in the 2016 US presidential elections, Donald Trump campaigned on a more non-interventionist policy. Campaign-Trump spoke out against attacking the Syrian government many times, suggesting that American involvement could embroil his country into a global war with Russia. Although he said he would continue the war against ISIS, he expressed reservations about supporting the “moderate rebels” and also about ousting Assad, as he shared a mutual enemy with him.[55] On 30 March, following steady Syrian army military gains throughout the country, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a dramatic u-turn in Washington’s long-held policy of removing Assad, stating that “the long term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”[56] Following Tillerson’s remarks, a senior Trump administration official admitted that the policy change is “a measure of just realism, accepting the facts on the ground,” adding that “Assad is never going to have sufficient force to reassert control over the whole country.”[57] A week later, however, both Trump and Tillerson signalled they again sought Assad’s expulsion.[58] The reason? Assad, in a most suicidal move one can think of, supposedly gassed his own people in an area of no strategic significance on the eve of peace talks that would most likely have consolidated his future.

While at first hand it looked like Trump’s Middle East policy would have differed to some extent from that of his predecessor, it does not seem likely that he is going to put a halt to the agenda of balkanisation. To the contrary, a few days into office, Trump said he “will absolutely do safe zones” and reportedly requested the Pentagon and State Department to craft a plan within 90 days for setting them up.[59] Moreover, the temporarily frozen CIA funding of “moderate rebels” was restored in early April after a Western, Gulf and Turkey-backed new military alliance was set up, with al-Qaeda clone Ahrar al-Sham likely to play a dominate role.[60] Finally, the debate over “safe zones” coincides with the increased involvement of US troops and military assets into both Syria and Iraq,[61] which would in all likelihood further exacerbate sectarian tensions as the US keeps playing the divide and conquer-game by providing logistical support and funding to ethnic and religious minorities with whom it is aligned. Following the recent missile strikes on a Syrian army airbase near Homs, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster even advised Trump to sign off on a plan that would put 150.000 troops on the ground in Syria.[62]

All this suggests that Trump is not really in charge of US foreign policy. In addition to his unconditional support for Israel, a myriad of hawkish war-hungry generals occupy senior posts in the Trump administration. In his article “The president who loved generals,” William Hartung has shown that Trump’s foreign policy will in all probability be led by the military rather than by diplomats.[63] Indeed, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed has observed that:

“the Trump regime is not operating outside the deep state, but mobilizing elements within it to dominate and strengthen it for a new mission. [It] is not acting to overturn the establishment, but to consolidate it against a perceived crisis over a wider transnational deep system [and] to save the deep state from a decline caused by the failures of successive American administrations. [...] It would be mistaken to assume that Trump’s conflicts with the US intelligence community mean he is necessarily at odds with the military-industrial complex. On the contrary, his defense appointees and advisors are embedded across the military-industrial complex.”[64]

So, while mainstream pundits opposed to the Trump administration - such as the New York Times (Thomas Friedman; Bilderberg attendee and member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Trilateral Commission) and the Guardian (Hamish de Bretton-Gordon)[65] - keep advocating for the breakup of Syria, Trump happily follows their advice. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, even suggested a multinational occupation of Syria in a 2015 interview with Der Spiegel:

“The sad fact is that we have to put troops on the ground. We won’t succeed against this enemy [ISIS] with air strikes alone. [...] We can learn some lessons from the Balkans. Strategically, I envision a break-up of the Middle East crisis area into sectors in the way we did back then, with certain nations taking responsibility for these sectors. [...] The United States could take one sector, Russia as well and the Europeans another one. The Arabs must be involved in that sort of military operation, as well, and must be part of every sector.”[66]

The Trump administration, and the influential generals in it, are thus likely to follow orders from the Pentagon. Therefore, current US policy might be close to a strategy for partitioning Syria as laid out in a three-part series called A peace plan for Syria published by RAND corporation, a think tank closely aligned to the Pentagon. The first paper was initiated after Philip Gordon, senior fellow at the CFR and Bilderberg attendee, resigned as advisor to Obama and wrote an op-ed for Politico arguing for radical decentralisation in September 2015.[67] In the first RAND report, the authors, among them Gordon, claimed that establishing “safe zones” was “far better than the status quo and far more practical than any of the available alternatives;”[68] in the second piece, they presented a number of options, ranging from decentralisation to autonomy;[69] and in the last one, published in February 2017, they advised the new administration to enforce a balkanised Syria by establishing “control zones,” even though by then the Syrian army had retaken Aleppo and had made other military and diplomatic gains that shattered RAND’s previous plans.[70]

From their first publication onwards, RAND, just like Kissinger (who started advising Trump not long after his election), prioritised breaking up Syria over Assad’s removal, and in their last article, the authors even acknowledged that “it is now virtually certain, and widely accepted, that Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future.”[71] Moreover, whereas they in 2015 envisioned the sovereign Syrian government’s “control zone” to stretch only from the border area with Lebanon from Damascus through Homs to Hama to the Latakia and Tartus governorates along the Mediterranean coast, they were now forced to accept government control over the whole of Western Syria, including Aleppo and Palmyra but absent the area around Daraa in the south and Idlib and the Kurdish and Turkish controlled areas in the north. RAND did not recommend the US to leave the cleansing of the remaining pockets of the Western- and Gulf-backed terrorist insurgency to the Syrian government, however, the latter which has proven to be capable of doing just that with the help of the Russians, certainly if foreign countries would stop aiding and abetting the jihadis. Rather, the think tank proposed to carve out as much territory from sovereign Syria as possible, which they deemed possible because:

“In the west, the regime would be primarily focused on consolidating its rule, stamping out pockets of resistance, dealing with extremist threats from JFS [Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nursah, aka al-Qaeda] in Idlib, and rebuilding areas devastated by six years of war. Russia and Iran, having committed to preserve the Assad regime but not to assist in efforts to reconquer the areas it does not currently control, would focus their assistance on reconstruction and defense, rather than continued offensive operations.”[72]

RAND recognised that Idlib will likely fall to the government, but that does not mean that Turkey, the Gulf states, Israel and the US are going to let their proxies go down without a fight. Due to an agreement Turkey made with Russia, Turkish-supported armed groups, with their weapons, were allowed to leave for Idlib in the wake of east Aleppo’s liberation from years of extremist occupation.[73] Indeed, thanks to the Western media’s hypocritical outcry surrounding the retaking of Aleppo and their heroisation of the foreign-backed jihadis, thousands of al-Qaeda-linked fighters were allowed to be bussed out to rebel-held Idlib.[74] In addition, two days after the Khan Shaykhun chemical weapons attack in early April, the CIA restored logistical support and funding to the insurgents in northern Syria after a new military alliance of “rebel groups” was set up to “consolidate military control over Idlib province, the western part of Aleppo province and parts of Latakia province” under the auspices of the “Friends of Syria” coalition.[75]

According to a “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) source, Turkey is planning to install a unified rebel army to lead a second phase of Turkish operations in Syria which would focus on Idlib province.[76] In addition, RAND estimated that it is unlikely that Turkey will give up the territories it acquired under Operation Euphrates Shield, adding the possibility that Turkey will seek to further expand its “control zone” to include al-Bab (which it indeed captured from ISIS not long after the publication of RAND’s report) and Manbij (currently still under Kurdish control). As Turkey is now training a “Free Syrian Police” to assist the FSA with “secondary operations,” it does indeed look like Turkey is not going to leave Syria any time soon.[77] Regarding the Kurdish-Turkish rivalries in northern Syria, RAND foresaw a freezing into three zones of control - two Kurdish zones, separated by an Arab one controlled by the FSA and backed by Turkey. It concluded that “the United States could continue to support - but also restrain - both its Kurdish and Turkish partners,” or in other words, play them out against each other.

In the south, RAND claimed that the opposition around Daraa, where the foreign-backed jihadi insurgency started in March 2011, is comprised of more moderate Western-backed groups. As the area does not pose a strategic risk to Damascus any longer, the authors postulated, the Syrian government might tolerate them in the context of a national ceasefire. In light of this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in early April expressed his desire to establish a buffer zone against Syria, Iran and Hezbollah on Syria’s border with Israel and Jordan.[78] This would undoubtedly further decrease the chances of Israel ever giving back the illegally occupied Golan Heights to Syria. As an American company linked to Dick Cheney has obtained the right to explore oil and natural gas in the Golan Heights from the Israeli government in 2013, this would benefit the US, too.[79]

Finally, ISIS-controlled areas in eastern Syria are to be carved out as well according to RAND. On the grounds that it would “antagonize most U.S. allies in the region” and that somehow the Syrian army, contrary to Washington’s “moderate” proxies, would not be capable of preventing a return from ISIS, the authors desired that the US-supported Kurdish forces, along with their Arab auxiliaries, would outstrip and precede the Russian-backed Syrian government’s effort to retake Raqqa. They recognised, however, that a Kurdish-controlled Raqqa would not be tolerated by Turkey and thus proposed that the Kurdish component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should leave the city once it is taken, leaving behind the Arab “liberators.” Lastly, RAND called for a joint American-Russian effort to drive ISIS out of its last stronghold around Deir Ezzor, but given that Damascus already has a foothold there (and held onto it after the US bombed it, supposedly by accident, in September 2016), it acknowledged that the city is likely to fall back under the authority of the Syrian government. Just recently, the US deployed forces along the Syrian-Jordanian border, however, and could therefore nevertheless try to reach Deir Ezzor before the Syrian army following a potential incursion into Syrian territory.[80]

In this way, the Sunni-dominated heartland the Gulf countries, Turkey, Israel and NATO had long hoped to carve out of sovereign Syrian territory would come about after all. But crucial to that effort is the exclusion of the Syrian government from the operation to remove ISIS from Raqqa. Therefore, when government forces were making rapid gains east of Aleppo and southward alongside Lake Assad, the SDF, with ample support from the US, was able to cross the Euphrates river in March, thereby cutting off possible government advances towards Raqqa (see map). By the end of March, the SDF had also reached the strategically important Tabqa Dam, which sustains its reservoir Lake Assad, thereby gaining control over one of the country’s main sources of water for agriculture and livestock.[81] This echoes concerns raised by Maram Susli, who has pointed out that the Kurdish controlled al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria holds many of the country’s agriculture and oil riches. Whereas the governorate’s wealth was previously shared by all of Syria’s 23 million inhabitants, federalism or partition will leave the recourses to only a fraction of the population.[82] The Syrian government might thus have consolidated control over the country’s main population centres, less populated parts of the country, with resources that are badly needed to sustain those populous regions, might never return to their previous owners.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the years-long Anglo-American occupation, the subsequent rule by Shia-led governments, stronger autonomy grievances of the Kurds, the rise of sectarian militias and the emergence of al-Qaeda and ISIS have all contributed to further sectarian divide, as Iraqis are killing one another like never before. Now, other minorities aside from the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds are vowing for autonomy, too. In 2016, al-Monitor reported that Turkmens were calling for independence in the centre of Ninevah province, while Christians and Yazidis were opting for their own autonomous areas in the same province as well.[83] In March this year, this eventually resulted in the three minorities presenting a joint statement calling for three contiguous semi-autonomous regions in the country’s north: Tal Afar for the Turkmens, Ninevah Plain for the Assyrian Christians and Sinjar province for the Yazidis.[84] It remains to be seen what will happen to Iraq after ISIS has vanished from the face of the earth, but the long process of gradual balkanisation seems almost irreversible today.

# # # #

Bas Spliet, Newsbud Analyst & Author, is a bachelor’s student in History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time on getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. Mr. Spliet is proficient in English, Dutch and Arabic, and his analyses can be found at www.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com

Notes

PART I
[1] David Ignatius, “Piecing together the shattering Middle East,” Washington Post, 17.06.2014, http://washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-piecing-together-the-shattering-middle-east/2014/06/17/e73812f8-f63a-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html?tid=pm_opinions_pop&utm_term=.336d6cf999ef.

[2] Patrick Wintour, “John Kerry says partition of Syria could be part of ‘plan B’ if peace talks fail,” Guardian, 23.02.2016, http://theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/23/john-kerry-partition-syria-peace-talks.

[3] Sharif Nashashibi, “Is a federal Syria desirable or feasible?”, Al-Jazeera, 17.03.2016, http://aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/03/federal-syria-desirable-feasible-160315051734382.html; “Syria government, opposition reject federal system: de Mistura,” Press TV, 17.03.2016, http://presstv.ir/Detail/2016/03/17/456328/Syria-UN-Mistura-Daesh.

[4] Wladimir van Wilgenburg, “Kurdish National Council in Syria condemns federalism declaration by Kurdish rival,” ARA News, 19.03.2016, http://aranews.net/2016/03/kurdish-national-council-syria-condemns-federalism-declaration-kurdish-rival/.

[5] Maram Susli, “Kerry’s plan at balkanizing Syria,” New Eastern Outlook, 29.03.2016, http://journal-neo.org/2016/03/29/kerry-s-plan-at-balkanising-syria/.

[6] Michael O’Hanlon, “Deconstructing Syria: a new strategy for America’s most hopeless war,” The Brookings Institute, 30.06.2015, http://brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2015/06/30/deconstructing-syria-a-new-strategy-for-americas-most-hopeless-war/.

[7] Michael O’Hanlon, “Syria’s one hope may be as dim as Bosnia’s once was,” Reuters, 06.10.2015, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/10/06/syrias-one-hope-may-be-as-dim-as-bosnias-once-was/.

[8] Paul O’Neill, interview with Henry Kissinger, Ford School (interview, New York, 13.06.2013), 26m00 to 29m05, http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZVasCE1uOf4#t=1232.

[9] John Bolton, “To defeat ISIS, create a Sunni state,” New York Times, 24.11.2015, http://nytimes.com/2015/11/25/opinion/john-bolton-to-defeat-isis-create-a-sunni-state.html?_r=0.

[10] E.g. James Stavridis, “It’s time to seriously consider partitioning Syria,” Foreign Policy, 09.03.2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/09/its-time-to-seriously-consider-partitioning-syria/; James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A Peace Plan for Syria (RAND Corporation, 2015), http://rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE182.html.

[11] Robin Wright, “Imagining a remapped Middle East,” New York Times, 28.09.2013, http://nytimes.com/2013/09/29/opinion/sunday/imagining-a-remapped-middle-east.html?pagewanted=1.

[12] Barak Mendelsohn, “Divide and conquer in Syria and Iraq: why the West should plan for a partition,” Foreign Affairs, 29.11.2015, http://foreignaffairs.com/articles/turkey/2015-11-29/divide-and-conquer-syria-and-iraq.

[13] Defence Intelligence Agency, “Pgs. 287-293 (291) JW v DOD and State 14-812,” Judicial Watch, 18.05.2015, http://judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf.

[14] Leslie Gelb, “The three-state solution,” New York Times, 25.11.2003, http://nytimes.com/2003/11/25/opinion/the-three-state-solution.html.

[15] Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb, “Unity through autonomy in Iraq,” New York Times, 01.05.2006, http://nytimes.com/2006/05/01/opinion/01biden.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&.

[16] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, “Plans for redrawing the Middle East: the project of a ‘new Middle East’,” Global Research, 18.11.2006, http://globalresearch.ca/plans-for-redrawing-the-middle-east-the-project-for-a-new-middle-east/3882.

[17] Toby Harnden, “Death and despair amid US pursuit of ‘new Middle East’,” Telegraph, 30.07.2006, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/1525200/Death-and-despair-amid-US-pursuit-of-new-Middle-East.html.

[18] “French report: former U.N. envoy Bolton says U.S. has ‘no strategic interest’ in united Iraq,” International Herald Tribune, 29.01.2007, as cited in Jonathan Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the plan to remake the Middle East (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 138.

[19] Edward Joseph and Michael O’Hanlon, The case for soft partition in Iraq (Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, analysis paper no. 12, June 2007), http://brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06iraq_joseph.pdf.

[20] William Roebuck, “Influencing the SARG in the end of 2006,” 13.12.2006 (Wikileaks, Cable 06 Damascus 5399 a), http://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06DAMASCUS5399_a.html.

[21] Bas Spliet, “The proxy war on Syria,” Scrutinised Minds, 03.01.2017, http://scrutinisedminds.com/category/the-proxy-war-on-syria/.

[22] Mensur Akgün and Sabiha Senyücel Gündogar, The perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2011, transl. Jonathan Levack (Istanbul: TESEV Publications, 2011), 16.

[23] Jonathan Steele, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from Western media,” Guardian, 17.01.2012, http://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/17/syrians-support-assad-western-propaganda.

[24] Poll: 70% of Syrians support Assad, NATO says,” Before It’s News, 13.06.2013, http://beforeitsnews.com/middle-east/2013/06/poll-70-of-syrians-support-assad-says-nato-2452134.html.

[25] Anahita Mukherji, “Foreign delegation in Syria slams West, endorses elections,” Times of India, 05.06.2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Foreign-delegation-in-Syria-slams-West-endorses-elections/articleshow/36069541.cms.

[26] Tim Anderson, The dirty war on Syria: Washington, regime change and resistance (Montréal: Global Research Publishers, 2016), 33-5.

[27] Sectarian identities indeed date back several centuries in present-day Iraq, but violence did not accompany them as a social constant throughout. The dominating Ba’ath Party was secular, and violently suppressed communitarian or ethnic extremism, as a result of which the social divisions reflected the levels of urbanisation, class differences, political power, tribal membership and national identity more so than sectarian affiliation. But American policy makers tended to see only the sectarian divisions between the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, thus laying the groundwork for an “imagined community” that became true after the Anglo-American invasion and occupation: Nabil al-Tikriti, “US policy and the creation of a sectarian Iraq,” Middle East Institute, 02.07.2008, http://mei.edu/content/us-policy-and-creation-sectarian-iraq.

[28] Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Coping with crumbling states: a Western and Israeli balance of power strategy for the Levant (report, December 1996), reprinted at http://scotthorton.org/fairuse/coping-with-crumbling-states-a-western-and-israeli-balance-of-power-strategy-for-the-levant-by-david-wurmser-1996/.

[29] “The full transcript of evidence given to the Butler inquiry,” Independent, 15.12.2006, http://independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-full-transcript-of-evidence-given-to-the-butler-inquiry-428550.html.

[30] Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung, “Analysts’ warning of Iraq chaos detailed,” Washington Post, 26.05.2006, http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/25/AR2007052501380.html.

PART II
[31] “Arab League summit,” C-SPAN, 01.03.2003, http://c-span.org/video/?175319-1/arab-league-summit, 57m25 to 59m00.

[32] Seymour Hersh, “The redirection,” New Yorker, 05.03.2007, http://newyorker.com/magazine/2007/03/05/the-redirection.

[33] Contrary to what is often asserted, Syria is an exception, too. The term Syria dates back to Roman times, and has been used to describe the area for thousands of years. If Syria is not a historical state, no state is. The Sykes-Picot agreement was indeed a colonial endeavour to divide spheres of influence between France and Britain, but if anything, it did not draw the borders of Syria too large, but rather too small, as historical Syria included Lebanon and Iskandaron, too. As I pointed out in part I, the sectarian divisions in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion are to a large extent a self-fulfilling prophecy as well.

[34] Bernard Lewis, “Rethinking the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs 71, no. 4 (1992): 116-7.

[35] Lewis, “Rethinking the Middle East,” 107-16.

[36] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The grand chessboard: American primacy and its geostrategic imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 123-50.

[37]  Oded Yinon, “A strategy for Israel in the nineteen eighties,” Kivunim, translated by Israel Shahak (Massachusetts: Association of Arab-American University Graduates, 1982), paragraph 26 and 27.

[38]  Yinon, “A strategy for Israel in the nineteen eighties,” paragraph 22.

[39]  Theodor Herzl, Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol. 2 (New York: Herzl Press, 1960), 711.

[40] Noam Chomsky, Fateful triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (London: Pluto Press, 1999), 766-79.

[41] After years of sectarian attacks, the Brotherhood initiated a last final uprising in Hama around the time the Yinon plan was published, which at the same time marked its defeat as a real political force in Syria. The violent crackdown by the Syrian army, however, was met by international outrage. Just like with the events of Daraa in March 2011, which sparked the current crisis, the Islamist militants were backed by foreign countries, and in spite of the fact that the insurrection was initiated by a Brotherhood’s ambush in which 70 soldiers were slaughtered, the events are mainly remembered as a government massacre: Tim Anderson, The dirty war on Syria: Washington, regime change and resistance (Montréal: Global Research Publishers, 2016), 15-6.

[42] Although the US provided logistical, intelligence and armaments-support to Iraq in the war, it publicly condemned Saddam Hussein’s usage of chemical weapons (many ingredients of which were provide by the US) against Kurdish civilians and Iran, and from the First Gulf War onwards, it was used to ascribe the brutal character of Hussein’s rule.

[43] Israel in fact pushed and lobbied the US both via the diplomatic and covert channels very hard to initiate an attack on Saddam Hussein. The Israelis even regarded the American response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as moderate and wanted a harsher policy, to such an extent that Israeli President Chaim Herzog recommended that the Americans use nuclear weapons. See Harun Yahua, “Plan for Iraq invasion drawn up decades ago,” Rense, 10.07.2004, http://rense.com/general58/decades.htm.

[44] John Maersheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy,” Middle East Policy 13, no. 3 (2006).

[45] Jonathan Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the plan to remake the Middle East (London: Pluto Press, 2008).

[46] Aluf Benn, “Background enthusiastic IDF awaits war in Iraq,” Ha’aretz, 16.02.2003, http://haaretz.com/news/background-enthusiastic-idf-awaits-war-in-iraq-1.18896.

[47] Uzi Benziman, “Who would give the go-ahead?”, Ha’aretz, 22.03.2003, as cited in Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations, 45.

[48] Maersheimer and Walt, “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy,” 59-60.

[49] Avigdor Liberman, “Israel’s national security in a turbulent Middle East,” Defense News, 02.12.2016, http://defensenews.com/articles/avigdor-leiberman-israels-national-security-in-a-turbulent-middle-east.

[50] Ze’ev Schiff, “the Israeli interest in the Iraq-Iran war,” Ha’aretz, 02.06.1982, as cited in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 769.

[51] Caroline Glick, “Fighting the next war,” Jerusalem Post, 19.04.2007, as cited in Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations, 148.

[52] Wikileaks, “H: New intel Syria, Turkey, Israel, Iran. SID,” Hillary Clinton email archive, http://wikileaks.org/clinton-emails/emailid/12172.

[53] Efraim Inbar, “The destruction of the Islamic State is a strategic mistake,” BESA Center Perspectives, paper no. 352 (2016).

PART III
[54] James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A peace plan for Syria III: agreed zones of control, decentralisation and international administration (RAND Corporation, 2017), 1, http://rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE233.html.

[55] Tom McKay, “Here are 45 times Trump said attacking Syria was a bad idea and might start World War III,” Mic, 07.04.2017, http://mic.com/articles/173471/trump-world-war-iii-attacking-syria-wwiii-ww3#.9PunjXMW8.

[56] Tyler Durden, “McCain furious at Rex Tillerson for saying Assad can stay,” Zero Hedge, 31.03.2017, http://zerohedge.com/news/2017-03-31/mccain-furious-rex-tillerson-saying-assad-can-stay.

[57] “US changes its policy on Assad staying in power,” New York Post, 31.03.2017, http://nypost.com/2017/03/31/us-changes-its-policy-on-assad-staying-in-power/.

[58] Jacob Pramuk, “Trump, Tillerson suggest Assad should be removed, in apparent reversal,” CNBC, 06.04.2017, http://cnbc.com/2017/04/06/trump-tillerson-suggest-assad-should-be-removed-in-apparent-reversal.html.

[59] Julia Edwards Ainsley and Matt Spetalnick, “Trump says he will order ‘safe zones’ for Syria,” Reuters, 25.01.2017, http://reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-syria-safezones-idUSKBN1592O8.

[60] Mariya Petkova, “Syria’s ‘moderate rebels’ to form a new alliance,” al-Jazeera, 06.04.2017, http://aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/syria-moderate-rebels-form-alliance-170403064144285.html.

[61] Whitney Webb, “Safe zones as soft military occupation: Trump’s plan for Syria, Iraq is taking shape,” Mintpress News, 04.04.2017, http://mintpressnews.com/226552-safe-zones-as-soft-military-occupation-trumps-plan-for-syria-iraq-is-taking-shape/226552/.

[62]  Mike Cernovich, “H. R. McMaster manipulating intelligence reports to Trump, wants 150,000 ground soldiers in Syria,” Medium, 09.04.2017, http://medium.com/@Cernovich/h-r-mcmaster-manipulating-intelligence-reports-to-trump-wants-150-000-ground-soldiers-in-syria-83346c433e99; “Report: US boots on the ground in Syria by June,” Russia Insider, 09.04.2017, http://russia-insider.com/en/report-us-plans-send-troops-syria-enforce-safe-zones/ri19514.

[63] William Hartung, “The president who loved generals: Trump’s foreign policy will be led by the military, not diplomats,” Salon, 10.03.2017, http://salon.com/2017/03/10/the-president-who-loved-generals-trumps-foreign-policy-will-be-led-by-the-military-not-diplomats_partner/.

[64] Nafeez Ahmed, “How the Trump regime was manufactured by a war inside the deep state,” Insurgence Intelligence, 10.02.2017, http://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-trump-regime-was-manufactured-by-a-war-inside-the-deep-state-f9e757071c70.

[65] Thomas Friedman, “President Trump’s real-world Syria lesson,” New York Times, 05.04.2017, http://nytimes.com/2017/04/05/opinion/president-trumps-real-world-syria-lesson.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region; Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, “After missiles, the plan: here’s how Syrian safe zones could actually work,” Guardian, 07.04.2017, http://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/07/missiles-plan-syrian-safe-zones-donald-trump.

[66] Matthias Gebauer and Holger Stark, “We were too dumb: ex-US intelligence chief on Islamic State’s rise,” interview with Michael Flynn, Der Spiegel, 29.11.2015, http://spiegel.de/international/world/former-us-intelligence-chief-discusses-development-of-is-a-1065131.html.

[67] Philip Gordon, “It’s time to rethink Syria,” Politico, 25.09.2015, http://.politico.eu/article/syria-assad-war-russia-us/.

[68] James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A Peace plan for Syria (RAND Corporation, 2015), 9, http://rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE182.html.

[69] James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A peace plan for Syria II: options for future governance  (RAND Corporation, 2016), http://rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE202.html.

[70] Dobbins, Gordon and Martini, A peace plan for Syria III.

[71] Dobbins, Gordon and Martini, A peace plan for Syria III, 4-5.

[72] Dobbins, Gordon and Martini, A peace plan for Syria III, 7.

[73] Fehim Tastekin, “Is Turkey rattled by Russian-Kurdish deal?”, al-Monitor, 24.03.2017, http://al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/03/turkey-syria-russian-troops-arrive-afrin.html.

[74] Bas Spliet, “Coverage of Aleppo: a new low in the mainstream media’s integrity,” Scrutinised Minds, 03.02.2017, http://scrutinisedminds.com/2017/02/03/coverage-of-aleppo-a-new-low-in-the-mainstream-medias-integrity/.

[75] Petkova, “Syria’s ‘moderate rebels’ to form a new alliance.”

[76] Petkova, “Syria’s ‘moderate rebels’ to form a new alliance.”

[77] Khaled al-Khateb, “Free Syrian Army getting backup from Turkish-trained police,” al-Monitor, 23.03.2017, http://al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/03/turkey-trained-free-syrian-police-deployed-in-nothern-aleppo.html.

[78] “Israel seeks buffer zone on borders with Syria,” Middle East Monitor, 08.04.2017, http://middleeastmonitor.com/20170408-israel-seeks-buffer-zone-on-borders-with-syria/.

[79] Daniel Graeber, “Cheney-linked company to drill in occupied Golan Heights,” Oil Price, 22.02.2013, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Cheney-Linked-Company-to-Drill-in-Occupied-Golan-Heights.html.

[80] “Syrian war report - april 10, 2017: US deploys forces at Syrian-Jordanian border,” South Front, 10.04.2017, http://southfront.org/syrian-war-report-april-10-2017-us-deploys-forces-at-syrian-jordanian-border/; Tony Cartalucci, “Syria: watching the Jordanian border,” Land Destroyer, 14.10.2017, http://landdestroyer.blogspot.be/2017/04/syria-watching-jordanian-border.html.

[81] “Syria’s Tabqa Dam: a strategic prize,” Arab News, 29.03.2017, http://arabnews.com/node/1075756/middle-east.

[82] Maram Susli, “Why a Kurdish enclave in Syria is a very bad idea,” Global Research, 06.04.2016, http://globalresearch.ca/why-a-kurdish-enclave-in-syria-is-a-very-bad-idea/5519109.

[83] Wassim Bassem, “Iraq’s Turkmens call for independent province,” al-Monitor, 14.10.2016, http://al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/10/turkmens-iraq-mosul-tal-afar.html.

[84] Saad Salloum, “Iraqi minorities move forward with autonomy plan,” al-Monitor, 16.03.2017, http://al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/03/rafedin-minorities-iraq-nineveh-plain-autonomy.html.

Soft Power Centralization: The CIA, Bilderberg & the First Steps Towards European Integration

Everyone is familiar with hard power. We know that military and economic might often get others to change their position. [...] But sometimes you can get the outcomes you want without tangible threats or payoffs. The indirect way to get what you want has sometimes been called ‘the second face of power.’ [Aside from] threatening military force or economic sanctions, it is also important to set the agenda and attract others in world politics. This soft power - getting others to want the outcomes that you want - co-opts people rather than coerces them [and] rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others.[1] - Joseph Nye in Soft power: the means to success in world politics

Today, 25 March 2017, marks the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, one of the most important treaties in the long historical trend of European integration. The treaty led to the creation of a single market on 1 January 1958 between France, West Germany, Italy and the Benelux with the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) overseen by the European Commission, an executive governmental body operating autonomous from the participating states. The signing of the treaty did not come about overnight but concludes a heavily debated process since the end of the Second World War (WWII) between supranationalists, who wanted to create an executive governmental body above that of the nation-state, and the intergovernmentalists, who favoured multilateral relations. Euroscepticism, or at least reservations about centralisation, were indeed ubiquitously present in the period from WWII to 1957, but the overt and covert pressure from the US and its Atlanticist spin-off globalist organisations, largely absent from the historical debate, eventually helped to tip the scales in favour of a supranational Europe.

Overt pressure: the Marshall Plan & the Council on Foreign Relations

Severely hit by the carnage caused by WWII, the nations of Europe were significantly weakened. Because of the widespread poverty and the decisive role of communist resistance movements during the war, communism became relatively popular in postwar Western Europe. Electoral victories by communist parties were expected throughout Europe, and a Tito-backed communist insurgency in Greece was only beaten back with British intervention in the late 1940s. The US, hoping to expand its sphere of influence in Europe, was not just going to let that happen, however. The Truman Doctrine, kickstarted after President Truman addressed congress in March 1947, promised American support for all nations threatened by Soviet expansion, and a few months later, Secretary of State George Marshall laid out his Marshall Plan. Sold to congress as a means of preventing the spread of communism, the plan promised desperately needed aid to Western Europe in economic support to help rebuild the ravaged continent. In order to receive Marshall-help, however, the European nations had to liberalise their economy by lessening interstate barriers and dropping a number of regulations. This obviously benefited American exporters and industries, signalled by a period of economic boom after the implementation of the Marshall Plan in the US.[2] Another demand was partial political integration, as the Americans forced the 16 participating countries to work together through the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). The European nations were reluctant to relinquish some of their only recently reacquired sovereignty, but they complied due to the dire need of economic help.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), by far Washington’s most powerful globalist think tank, played an important role in the formulation of the Marshall Plan. It widely discussed European reconstruction in the winter of 1946-47,[3] and during the same time period, David Rockefeller, powerful banker and later CFR chairman, became secretary to a study group that was already working on a plan to reconstruct Western Europe with American money before Marshall was appointed Secretary of State in January 1947.[4] Of the 19 people on the executive board of the Marshall Plan Committee, eight were members of the CFR, among them Allen Dulles, CFR director and notorious CIA spymaster.[5]

The CIA, Monnet & the Roadmap to the Schuman Declaration

Soon, the US and their federalist allies in Europe realised that overt American pressure would play right into the hands of their eurosceptic rivals, however, as they feared accusations of American interference in European politics. Therefore, the US resorted to a number of covert ways to stimulate the European project instead, including subsidising pro-integration political parties, helping American and European trade unionists undermine the Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions, but also influencing cultural and intellectual trends in Europe by funding a variety of conferences, publications and radio stations.[6] Last but not least, American and British intelligence created secret paramilitary stay-behind or GLADIO networks under the NATO-umbrella in several European countries that were designed to offer resistance against the possibility of a Soviet incursion into Western Europe. In some countries, GLADIO was linked to right-wing terrorists who engaged in political manipulation, harassment of left-wing parties, massacres, torture, and most notoriously, committed a number of false flag terrorist attacks between the 1960s and 1980s, which were often falsely blamed on left-wing groups in order to keep the communist threat alive in the hearts and minds of the European population.[7]

The most profound covert American influence during the initial stages of European integration was waged through the American Committee on United Europe (ACUE), an organisation operating mostly on CIA and Rockefeller and Ford Foundation money. Created in the wake of The Hague Congress of 1948, in which Winston Churchill assembled the continent’s political elite to call for a “United States of Europe,” its primary function was to funnel millions of dollars to unofficial groups promoting European unity. William J. Donovan, the wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor of the CIA), and Allen Dulles, aside from prominent CFR member also head of the CIA in the early Cold War and its longest serving director to date, were ACUE’s chairman and vice-chairman respectively during its first years of existence. In this crucial time period from The Hague Congress until 1950, ACUE played an undeniably important role in saving the collapsing European Movement, a prestigious but fragmented umbrella organisation which lobbied other groups and think tanks throughout the continent for a rapid unification. As it provided almost half of the movement’s funds from late 1948 to early 1953, ACUE saved it from economic collapse.[8] According to Prof. Richard J. Aldrich, ACUE support to the European Movement and like-minded organisations was “central to efforts to drum up mass support for the Schuman Plan [and] a European Assembly with sovereign powers.”[9]

And indeed, on 9 May 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed to place Franco-German production of coal and steel under a common supranational High Authority with sovereign powers of its own. What followed was the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Committee (ECSC) between West Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux, the direct predecessor of the ECC. In other words, the dream of functionalist integration - coined by David Mitrany (a political scientist who was employed by the British counterpart of the CFR)[10] in 1943 as the strategy of supranational integration through a series of sectoral processes of internationalisation designed to trigger an autonomous logic which would ultimately make further integration inevitable - was finally set in motion.

Although called the Schuman Declaration, it was inspired and for the most part drafted by the French diplomat Jean Monnet, the first president of the High Authority (although never elected to public office). Aside from his cartoonish textbook description as the idealistic founding father of Europe, Monnet was tied into an extensive network of trans-Atlantic connections, spending much of his life in the US. Not only was he linked to powerful investment banks such as Lazard Frères and Goldman Sachs, both in the Rockefeller orbit, but he served as President Roosevelt’s wartime eyes and ears and personal advisor on Europe, too.[11] French President Charles de Gaulle, who blocked further European integration in the 1960s, even conceived of him as an American agent.[12]

Ultra-imperialism, Bilderberg and the Roadmap to the Treaty of Rome

In light of the rise of Atlanticism, culminating in NATO’s inception in 1949, a Western trans-Atlantic power elite was in the make after WWII. This transnational capital class, as called by some analysts, does not answer to a particular nation-state but instead to multinational banks, corporations, and the idea of globalism in general. Contrary to Lenin’s theory of imperialism, which assumes that competing nation-states act at the behest of nationally-based internal capitalist classes, bilateral capitalist interests between the US and Western Europe emerged in the wake of WWII. Although this transnational class feeds from the favours that governments grant them on both sides of the Atlantic, it thus transcends inter-imperialist rivalries and lives a life of its own beyond the scope of the nation-state. Hence, Kautsky’s notion of ultra-imperialism provides an alternative theoretical framework, as he postulates that rival capitalist interests can coalesce into a relative unified hegemonic bloc.

The emergence of this transnational power elite reverberates in the proliferation of globalist-minded think tanks, such as the CFR or the Trilateral Commission for instance, but also of secretive trans-Atlantic organisations and meetings, of which the Bilderberg Group is the most characteristic example in the case of European unification. The Bilderberg conference is an annual private invitation-only meeting of 120 to 150 people of the European and North American political elite in conjunction with leaders of industry, finance, academia and media. Although it brings together some of the globe’s most powerful people every year, the group is able to remain almost completely secretive, with hardly any reports reaching the outside world (although this has changed somewhat over the course of the last few years because of the rise of the internet and the pressure from the alternative media). This media blackout in itself gives you a pretty good idea of Bilderberg’s power.[13] Rather than a totally homogenous group, the Bilderberg meetings are organised around the principle of reaching consensus instead of through voting and formal resolutions.[14] Hence, the real power lies in the core Steering Committee and the powers behind them, who project their ideas onto the attendees who then go on to implement them through their various institutions.

The conference derives its name from Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands, where the first meeting was held in May 1954. It was initiated by Polish politician-in-exile Józef Retinger who, concerned about the growth of anti-Americanism in Western Europe, proposed an international conference at which the West European and North American elite would be brought together to promote Atlanticism. Other European founding members included Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who had joined the Nazi Party in the 1930s,[15] former Belgian Prime Minister Paul van Zeeland and then head of Unilever Paul Rijkens. Important attendees from the other side of the Atlantic were then head of the CIA Walter Bedell Smith, special assistant for psychological warfare to the US president and director of the Committee for a Free Europe and Radio Free Europe Charles D. Jackson, head of Lehman Brothers George Ball and powerful banker and oiligarch David Rockefeller.

The first five Bilderberg conferences played a decisive role in the lead up to signing of the Treaty of Rome, recognised by the EU itself as the formative event that lies at its foundation. During these meetings, protectionism was successfully subordinated to the liberalising idea of a common market. Documents leaked by Wikileaks show that there was a general recognition of “the pressing need to bring the German people, together with other peoples of Europe, into a common market” among the Bilderbergers at its third conference in September 1955. “It was generally recognised that it is our common responsibility to arrive in the shortest possible time at the highest degree of integration, beginning with a common European market,” the Wikileaks files show.[16] According to George McGhee, former US ambassador to West Germany and Bilderberg attendee, “the Treaty of Rome, which brought the Common Market into being, was nurtured at Bilderberg meetings.”[17]

In 1955, the same year in which the above-mentioned Bilderberg meeting was held, there was a revitalisation of European politics that eventually led to the signing of the Treaty of Rome. After the Conference of Messina in June, an intergovernmental conference under the leadership of Paul-Henri Spaak was set up to remove the last obstacles on the path to a common market. Spaak was a Belgian politician who, much like Monnet, was heavily tied into the Atlanticist power elite structure and had always been a staunch supporter of European economic supranationalism. He was minister of foreign affairs of the Belgian government in exile and thus resided in Britain during WWII, lies at the foundation of the Benelux customs union, presided over the Common Assembly of the ECSC from 1952 to 1953 and became head of the European Movement with the help of the CIA in 1950.[18] Later he would become NATO Secretary General and he is reported to have attended at least one Bilderberg meeting.[19] There were, however, a number of other insiders behind the scenes that played an instrumental role in the Spaak Report as well. These included Jean-Charles Snoy et d’Oppures, representative of the Belgian government, Robert Rothschild, a direct descendant of the founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty Mayer Amschel Rothschild, and Etienne Davignon, a well-known eurocrat who has attended countless Bilderberg conferences, used to be a member of its Steering Committee and even served as its chairman from 1998 to 2001.[20]

The final negotiations transpired relatively smooth in the Benelux countries,[21] Italy and West Germany, but the French government was not convinced despite De Gaulle’s temporary disappearance from the political stage. After it was assured the inclusion of Monnet’s EURATOM Plan, which centered around cooperation in the field of atomic energy, and a protectionist common European agriculture policy, France agreed to sign the Treaty of Rome, which eventually happened on 25 March 1957. The fact that as a result of time pressure the text was signed on blank paper without the signatories being aware of the scam[22] is perhaps perfectly characteristic of the power unelected, influenceable and corruptible eurocrat insiders have been able to wield through the backdoors of Brussels’ hub of centralisation.

Conclusion

The historical trend towards European integration can only be understood as a mixture of several intertwining factors. The more covert aspects that could explain the coming into existence of a common market in 1958, the event which is generally remembered as one of the if not the most important milestone of European integration, however, is largely absent from the historical debate. Therefore, I chose to focus on these often disregarded aspects rather than trying to give a comprehensive understanding of European unification. Thus, I recognise that other more well-known factors, such as the traumatising effect of WWII for instance, played an instrumental role in swaying public opinion in favour of integration as well. Nonetheless, this article in my opinion shows that even though public opinion might have been open to economic integration, the newly formed supranational institutions were made to serve the very special interests that I have covered in this account, not necessarily those of the people.

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Bas Spliet, Newsbud Contributing Analyst,  is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] Joseph Nye, Soft power: the means to success in world politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004), 5.

[2] Indeed, corporate public policy organisations in the US, such as the Committee for Economic Development, had not only helped formulate the Marshall Plan but were almost uniquely responsible for carrying it out, too. More on the origins of the Marshall Plan and its connection to several of these corporate lobbies and organisations, see David W. Eakins, “Business planners and America’s postwar expansion,” in Corporations and the Cold War, ed. David Horowitz (New York/London: Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, 1969), 164-6.

[3] As recalled in a memorandum by Charles P. Kindleberger, chief of the Division of German and Austrian Economic Affairs at the US Department of State who participated in the work of various departmental and interdepartmental committees on the Marshall Plan: United States Department of State, Foreign relations of the United States, 1947: the British Commonwealth; Europe, Volume III (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1947), 241, http://images.library.wisc.edu/FRUS/EFacs/1947v03/reference/frus.frus1947v03.i0007.pdf.

[4] Laurence Shoup and William Minter, Imperial brain trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States foreign policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), 35.

[5] William F. Jasper, “United States of Europe,” The New American, 10.04.1989, reprinted on its site on 10.05.2013, http://thenewamerican.com/world-news/europe/item/15360-united-states-of-europe.

[6] Richard J. Aldrich, “OSS, CIA and European unity: the American committee on United Europe, 1948-60,” Diplomacy & Statecraft 8, no. 1 (1997): 187-9.

[7] Daniele Ganser, NATO’s secret armies: Operation GLADIO and terrorism in Europe (Abingdon: Frank Cass, 2005).

[8] Aldrich, “OSS, CIA and European unity.” In the 1950s, after ACUE had saved the European Movement from economic collapse, the organisation went on to play a major role in mobilising European youth in favour of European unification.

[9] Aldrich, “OSS, CIA and European unity,” 185.

[10] Mike Peters, “The Bilderberg Group and the project of European unification,” http://www.bilderberg.org/bblob.rtf.

[11] Jasper, “United States of Europe;” Peters, “The Bilderberg Group and the project of European unification.”

[12] Amrose Evans-Pritchard, “The European Union always was a CIA project, as Brexiteers discover,” Telegraph, 27.04.2016, http://telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/04/27/the-european-union-always-was-a-cia-project-as-brexiteers-discov/.

[13] This chart shows the extensive linkages between the core members of Bilderberg and all sorts of powerful government agencies, banks, multinationals and globalist foundations, which clearly demonstrates the massive potential of the annual conference: Tyler Durden, “Does Bilderberg really run the world? One chart to help you decide,” Zero Hedge, 11.06.2016, http://zerohedge.com/news/2016-06-10/does-bilderberg-really-run-world-one-chart-help-you-decide. The role of Bilderberg in one particular event proves its grandiose power: the 1973 OPEC oil embargo during the Yom Kippur war. Leaked documents show that the crisis and its ensuing response was in fact prepared months ahead at the 1973 Bilderberg conference to create the Petrodollar, through which the oiligarchs reached unprecedented levels of control over the global economy: James Corbett, “How Big Oil engineered the Petrodollar,” International Forecaster Weekly, 02.01.2016, http://theinternationalforecaster.com/topic/international_forecaster_weekly/How_Big_Oil_Engineered_the_Petrodollar; For more details and documentation, watch the enclosed documentary or see William F. Engdahl, Myths, lies and oil wars, chapter 4: “A dramatic shock” (Wiesbaden: edition.enghdahl, 2012), 51-70. According to Etienne Davignon - Belgian industrialist, former EU Commissioner and former member of the Bilderberg Steering Committee - the annual conferences “helped create the euro in the 1990s,” too: Andrew Rettman, “‘Jury’s out’ on future of Europe, EU doyen says,” EU Observer, 16.03.2009, http://euobserver.com/political/27778.

[14] Peters, “The Bilderberg Group and the project of European unification.”

[15] “Bernhard was feitelijk wèl een Nazi,” NOS, 08.03.2010, http://nos.nl/artikel/142371-bernhard-was-feitelijk-wel-een-gewezen-nazi.html.

[16] Wikileaks, Bilderberg meeting report Garmisch-Patenkirchen, 1955, 08.05.2009, http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Bilderberg_meeting_report_Garmisch-Patenkirchen,_1955.

[17] Tony Gosling, “The master Bilders,” Bilderberg, http://bilderberg.org/1997.htm#Master.

[18] Aldrich, “OSS, CIA and European unity,” 195-8.

[19] “Secret meeting held in Cannes,” Washington Post, 30.03.1963, http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/doc/141884078.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=historic&date=MAR%2030,%201963&author=&pub=The%20Washington%20Post&edition=&startpage=&desc=Secret%20Meeting%20Held%20in%20Cannes.

[20] Wikispooks, Etienne Davignon, http://wikispooks.com/wiki/%C3%89tienne_Davignon.

[21] Apparently, Belgian King Baudoin and Prime Minister Achille van Acker had some issues with the establisment of a common market, but eventually Belgium did sign: Rik van Cauwelaert, “De grondwet omzeild,” De Tijd, 11.03.2017, http://tijd.be/opinie/column/De-grondwet-omzeild/9871600.

[22] “EU secret revealed: Rome Treaty was signed on blank sheet,” Euractiv, 16.05.2014, http://euractiv.com/section/public-affairs/news/eu-secret-revealed-rome-treaty-was-signed-on-blank-sheet/.