For Syrians, Palmyra is famous not only for its historical ruins but more darkly as the site of the notorious Tadmor Prison, where Muslim fundamentalists were imprisoned, including for thought crimes, and torture was practiced intensively. The regime is said to have moved the prisoners to a secret location before the city fell.
Personally, I disagree with those analysts suggesting that Palmyra is a strategic asset or that its fall brings Daesh to the gates of Damascus. It is a small town out in the eastern desert away from the population centers along the western border of Syria. Two-thirds of Syrians live in the corridors linking Damascus to Latakia and Aleppo via Homs. Daesh isn’t all that much closer to Damascus than it was in southern Raqqa province already. Maybe having it improves the organization’s logistics with its assets in Iraq, but that is about it. Some observers are also claiming that Daesh now controls half of Syrian territory. But that is a silly way of counting things. The eastern desert is sparsely populated and it isn’t even clear what ‘controlling’ it would mean. The scorpions and lizards wave black banners? What Daesh controls is mostly white in the below ethnic map of Syria (i.e. unpopulated).
The more colorful spots are non-Sunni ethnic minorities like the Druze, Alawites, Christians, etc. However tired these groups might be of the war, they will go to Israeli-style mass citizen mobilization before they will accept being conquered by Daesh. That is, the al-Assad regime may well fall in the end, but the conquest of Palmyra by Daesh does not actually indicate that fall is imminent.
Many Syrians on Twitter are complaining that world leaders like President Francois Hollande of France are all of a sudden energized about Syria now that Palmyra has fallen to Daesh, because of the organization’s iconoclastic policies and the danger it will destroy the Roman ruins. They want to know where Hollande has been while over 200,000 Syrians were killed in the civil war.
The big question is how Daesh, supposedly being bombed by coalition aircraft, was allowed to send out a substantial convoy down desert roads to Palmyra from Raqqa. The Pentagon has been issuing statistics on so many bombing raids etc. for months, but unless the bombing is degrading Daesh’s capabilities then it is a waste of taxpayer money. In Kobane, the bombing succeeded in keeping the city out of Daesh hands because Kurdish Marxist guerrillas also fought it on the ground. But the US can hardly give the genocidal al-Assad regime close air support. Without a ground force to support, the US bombing is merely symbolic.
The situation is different in Iraq, where US and coalition bombing raids have helped push Daesh back in Diyala, Salahuddin and Ninewa Provinces, in conjunction with ground operations by Kurdish Peshmerga or the Iraqi army and its Shiite paramilitaries. In that context, the fall of Ramadi was probably preventable with the right coordination. In Syria, I don’t see the US aerial intervention as so far having been consequential.
The inside-the-Beltway debate set off by the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) on Sunday is, as usual, Dadaistic in its disconnection from reality. Republican talking points blame Barack Obama for withdrawing US troops from Iraq in 2011, as though Daesh suddenly began in 2012. The GOP figures typically don’t mention that it was George W. Bush who set the end of 2011 as the date for a total US withdrawal from Iraq, because that was all he could get from the Iraqi parliament.
But the whole debate about “who lost Ramadi?” assumes facts not in evidence, i.e. that Ramadi has ever been “pacified” or somehow a United States protectorate, sort of like Guam or Puerto Rico.
In November of 2004, Bush launched a massive attack on Falluja, just to Ramadi’s east. It was seen throughout the Sunni regions as a sign that Sunnis were going to be subordinated by the Americans to Shiites and Kurds.
In early 2005, I wondered if the Sunni insurgency could eventually turn into a “Third Baath coup.” By that I meant that the remnants of the Baath Party (socialist, nationalist) allied with Salafi Muslim hardliners were systematically killing members of the new political class being stood up by the Bush administration, and were angling to take back over the country. We now know that former Baath officers set up the so-called “Islamic State” as a means of gaining recruits for their ongoing insurgency, at a time when the Baath Party no longer had any cachet but political Islam seemed a growing trend. The ex-Baath/ Salafi cells of resistance were all along strong in Ramadi.
In summer of 2005 Shiite parliamentarians had the major share in the drafting of the constitution. The US military occupied Ramadi but did not control it. Darren Mortenson reported in 2005:
The Marines say they think there are about 2,000 potential insurgents in Ramadi, led by a hard-core cadre of about 150 full-time fighters from Iraq and other countries who have expertise in weapons, bomb-making and guerrilla tactics. Since they arrived in Ramadi in March, the battalion has lost at least 14 Marines and sailors in combat, mostly roadside bombs that do not give the survivors targets against which to fight back. “I don’t think the Battle of Ramadi can ever be won,” said one company commander, according to the recent article. “I just think the Battle of Ramadi has to be fought every day.”
“Juan Cole, an Iraq expert who teaches Middle Eastern history and politics at the University of Michigan, said the U.S. cannot afford a bold military strategy or heavy hand in Ramadi, least of all now with the constitution and two upcoming elections in the balance. . . Cole said Ramadi will be an important place to watch to see if attempts at democracy can survive. “If you cannot get the Arabs of Ramadi to buy into it, you lose Anbar. And if Anbar province is lost to the government, then it means Iraq will be partitioned,” he said, offering little hope that a breakup could be avoided. “If there could be a breakthrough in Ramadi, then maybe there could be a breakthrough in other Sunni cities elsewhere. But I’m not going to hold my breath,” he said. “I think the whole thing is going south.”
People routinely used to call me unduly pessimistic back in the early days of the American occupation of Iraq, as if that whole thing was ever going to work out.
Al-Anbar Province solidly defeated the American-imposed draft constitution in mid-October, 2005. If you have three Sunni-Arab provinces that reject the national constitution, then you don’t have a country, you have a civil war waiting to happen.
“Still, more than two years after the American invasion, this city of 400,000 people is just barely within American control. The deputy governor of Anbar was shot to death on Tuesday; the day before, the governor’s car was fired on. There is no police force. A Baghdad cellphone company has refused to put up towers here. American bases are regularly pelted with rockets and mortar shells, and when troops here get out of their vehicles to patrol, they are almost always running. “You can’t just walk down the street for a period of time and not expect to get shot at,” said Maj. Bradford W. Tippett, the operations officer for the Third Battalion.”
Nor did the US do anything for the people of Ramadi. Their state-owned factories and enterprises were driven into bankruptcy by Paul Bremer’s neoliberal policies. Likely half of the men were thrown out of their jobs. At the end of the long American occupation, 23% of Iraqis, some 7 million out of 30 million, were living below the poverty line. All the killing had left behind large numbers of widows, and 4.5 million children and youth who had lost a parent. Many are now resentful young men old enough to hold a kalashnikov.
• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified – rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province; • 82 per cent are “strongly opposed” to the presence of coalition troops; • less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security; • 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation; • 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened; • 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.
If 82 percent of Iraqis in general didn’t want US forces in their country late in 2005, probably 100% of the people of Ramadi did not. And no one in Iraq thought that the US military had brought improved security with it.
Through 2006, Iraq fell into Sunni-Shiite civil war. On a random day in that year, I reported “Al-Zaman says that fighting continues between the US military and guerrillas in Ramadi, with 12 dead and 12 wounded on Tuesday.”
After the US military once again conquered Ramadi, an LA Times reporter visited it in 2007:
“No one underestimates the scope of the task, which is evident to anyone who drives through the city. Ramadi resembles a small-scale version of Berlin in 1945. Whole city blocks have been reduced to rubble by airstrikes, improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and other munitions. The government center has been leveled, and heavy armored vehicles that rumbled through the streets have ruptured water mains in scores of places.”
During WW II, the US and Britain fire-bombed German and Japanese cities. That Ramadi looked like Berlin after the war is an indictment for an occupying power, not a compliment.
So it completely escapes me why John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Boehner or Tom Cotton (who helped personally with the berlinization of Iraq) think that if only US troops had remained in country after 2011, the people of Ramadi would have been delirious with joy and avoided throwing in with radical anti-imperialist forces.
No one in Washington “lost Ramadi.” Washington never had Ramadi.
Al-Zaman (The Times of Baghdad) reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi met Tuesday with leaders of the Shiite militias to plan the retaking of Ramadi, a Sunni Arab city about 78 miles due west of Baghdad that fell on Sunday to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) as the Iraqi armed forces there collapsed.
Ramadi is potentially a base for attacking the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, with its tomb of the Imam Husayn, the martyred grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Daesh could also use it to gain control of nearby Iraqi military bases and their weapons depots.
The Shiite militias have rallied, now that PM al-Abadi has lifted his earlier injunction against them operating in heavily Sunni al-Anbar Province, and are making plans to push Daesh back from Ramadi.
Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Corps and over-all leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces or Shiite militias, said Tuesday that the military task of taking back Ramadi is actually less complicated than campaigning north of Baghdad in Salahuddin Province (where the militias and the Iraqi Army have taken Takrit and Beiji from Daesh).
He said that 25,000 militiamen were already gathering for the fight, which would begin as soon as the volunteers could be assembled and armed. He said they would be joined by Sunni tribal levies and American advisers, and would be given close air support by the US and its anti-Daesh coalition.
The Badr Corps is the paramilitary of the Badr Organization, a pro-Iran Shiite party. It was founded as a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the 1980s and originally was attached to the what is now the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a political party founded at the instance of Ayatollah Khomeini.
So that al-Ameri is talking about cooperating with American military advisers on the ground and receiving American, Jordanian and other close air support is quite remarkable and a sign of the strange bedfellows that Daesh has brought together against itself.
Although some observers have stressed Sunni-Shiite unity insofar as some Sunni clans of Eastern al-Anbar have fought against Daesh, the clansmen are dejected about the fall of Ramadi and the ignominious retreat of the Iraqi army.
BBC Monitoring quotes from al-Mada, saying it reported that the head of the Sunni Al-Bu Fahd, Rafi Abd-al-Karim al-Fahdawi remarked: “Al-Bu Fahd tribes in Al-Khalidiyah areas, eastern Al-Ramadi, deployed around 4,000 fighters to protect their areas from any attack by Da’ish.” He added that they are in a “state of disappointment and despair” and that “the morale of his tribe’s fighters deteriorated after the security forces’ withdrawal from Al-Ramadi and the government’s failure to meets its promises to supply them with weapons…” Another clan leader said, “some tribes abandoned fighting because they did not get any weapons or support” from Baghdad.
At the same time, there are signs of Baghdad coordinating with Iran. PM al-Abadi met with the Iranian defense minister, Brig. Gen. Husain Dehqan, in Baghdad on Tuesday evening and underscored that the security of Iran and Iraq are inseparable as they fight terrorist extremism (i.e. Sunni terrorist extremism), pledging that Iraq would never allow an attack on its eastern neighbor.
Al-Abadi also said, “we do not support the war on Yemen” and urged that the conflict be settled by negotiations among Muslim countries. The statement might underscore his alliance with Iran, but it is sure to anger the Gulf Cooperation Council states led by Saudi Arabia, who see the Houthi rebels in Yemen as agents of Iran.
Iraqi President Fuad Masoum, an ethnic Kurd, visited Tehran and likewise underscored the common security of Iran and Iraq.
Al-Abadi plans to head to Russia, where he hopes for support and weapons from Vladimir Putin. Since Daesh has a Chechen contingent, the Russians want to see it crushed, lest it spill back over onto Chechnya, an ethnic Muslim province in the Caucasus that has repeatedly staged secessionist rebellions against the Russian Federation. They have been crushed brutally, provoking a terrorist backlash.
Russia has already provided some arms to Iraq for its current fight against Daesh.
It’s commonplace to speak of “the fog of war,” of what can’t be known in the midst of battle, of the inability of both generals and foot soldiers to foresee developments once fighting is underway. And yet that fog is nothing compared to the murky nature of the future itself, which, you might say, is the fog of human life. As Tomorrowlands at world fairs remind us, despite a human penchant for peering ahead and predicting what our lives will be like, we’re regularly surprised when the future arrives.
Remind me who, even among opponents and critics of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, ever imagined that the decision to take out Saddam Hussein’s regime and occupy the country would lead to a terror caliphate in significant parts of Iraq and Syria that would conquer social media and spread like wildfire. And yet, don’t think that the future is completely unpredictable either.
In fact, there’s a certain repetition factor in our increasingly bizarro American world that lends predictability to that future. In case you hadn’t noticed, a range of U.S. military, intelligence, and national security measures that never have the effects imagined in Washington are nonetheless treasured there. As a result, they are applied again and again, usually with remarkably similar results.
The upside of this is that it offers all of us the chance to be seers (or Cassandras). So, with an emphasis on the U.S. national security state and its follies, here are my top nine American repeat headlines, each a surefire news story guaranteed to appear sometime, possibly many times, between June 2015 and the unknown future.
1. U.S. air power obliterates wedding party: Put this one in the future month and year of your choice, add in a country somewhere in the Greater Middle East or Africa. The possibilities are many, but the end result will be the same. Dead wedding revelers are a repetitious certainty. If you wait, the corpses of brides and grooms (or, as the New York Postput it, “Bride and Boom!”) will come. Over the years, according to the tabulations of TomDispatch, U.S. planes and drones have knocked off at least eight wedding parties in three countries in the Greater Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen) and possibly more, with perhaps 250 revelers among the casualties.
2. Latest revelation indicates that FBI [NSA, CIA] surveillance of Americans far worse than imagined: Talk about no-brainers. Stories of this sort appear regularly and, despite a recent court ruling that the NSA’s mass collection of the phone metadata of Americans is illegal, there’s every reason to feel confident that this will not change. Most recently, for instance, an informant-filled FBI program to spy on, surveil, and infiltrate the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline movement made the news (as well as the fact that, in acting as it did, the Bureau had “breached its own internal rules”). In other words, the FBI generally acted as the agency has done since the days of J. Edgar Hoover when it comes to protest in this country.
Beneath such reports lies a deeper reality: the American national security state, which has undergone an era of unprecedented expansion, is now remarkably unconstrained by any kind of serious oversight, the rule of law, or limits of almost any sort. It should be clear by now that the urge for ever more latitude and power has become part of its institutional DNA. It has already created a global surveillance system of a kind never before seen or imagined, not even by the totalitarian regimes of the last century. Its end goal is clearly to have access to everyone on the planet, Americans included, and every imaginable form of communication now in use. There was to be a sole exception to this blanket system of surveillance: the official denizens of the national security state itself. No one was to have the capacity to look at them. This helps explain why its top officials were so viscerally outraged by Edward Snowden and his revelations. When someone surveilled them as they did others, they felt violated and deeply offended.
When you set up a system that is so unconstrained, of course, you also encourage its opposite: the urge to reveal. Hence headline three.
3. FBI [NSA, CIA, DIA, or acronym of your choice] whistleblower charged by administration under the Espionage Act for revealing to reporter [any activity of any sort from within the national security state]: Amid the many potential crimes committed by those in the national security state in this period (including torture, kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, illegal surveillance, and assassination), the record of the Bush and Obama administrations is clear. In the twenty-first century, only one act is a crime in official Washington: revealing directly or indirectly to the American people what their government is doing in their name and without their knowledge. In the single-minded pursuit and prosecution of this single “crime,” the Obama administration has set a record for the use of the Espionage Act. The tossing of Chelsea Manning behind bars for 35 years; the hounding of Edward Snowden; the jailing of Stephen Kim; the attempt to jail CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling for at least 19 years (the judge “only” gave him three and a half); the jailing of John Kiriakou, the sole CIA agent charged in the Agency’s torture scandal (for revealing the name of an agent involved in it to a newspaper reporter), all indicate one thing: that maintaining the aura of secrecy surrounding our “shadow government” is considered of paramount importance to its officials. Their desire to spy on and somehow control the rest of us comes with an urge to protect themselves from exposure. As it happens, no matter what kinds of clampdowns are instituted, the creation of such a system of secrecy invites and in its own perverse way encourages revelation as well. This, in turn, ensures that no matter what the national security state may threaten to do to whistleblowers, disclosures will follow, making such future headlines predictable.
4. Contending militias and Islamic extremist groups fight for control in shattered [fill in name of country somewhere in the Greater Middle East or Africa] after a U.S. intervention [drone assassination campaign, series of secret raids, or set of military-style activities of your choice]: Look at Libya and Yemen today, look at the fragmentation of Iraq, as well as the partial fragmentation of Pakistan and even Afghanistan. American interventions of the twenty-first century seem to carry with them a virus that infects the nation-state and threatens it from within. These days, it’s also clear that, whether you look at Democrats or Republicans, some version of the war-hawk party in Washington is going to reign supreme for the foreseeable future. Despite the dismal record of Washington’s military-first policies, such power-projection will undoubtedly remain the order of the day in significant parts of the world. As a result, you can expect American interventions of all sorts (even if not full-scale invasions). That means further regional fragmentation, which, in turn, means similar headlines in the future as central governments weaken or crumble and warring militias and terror outfits fight it out in the ruins of the state.
5. [King, emir, prime minister, autocrat, leader] of [name of U.S. ally or proxy state] snubs [rejects, angrily disputes, denounces, ignores] U.S. presidential summit meeting [joint news conference, other event]: This headline is obviously patterned on recent news: the announcement that Saudi King Salman, who was to attend a White House summit of the Gulf states at Camp David, would not be coming. This led to a spate of “snub”headlines, along with accounts of Saudi anger at Obama administration attempts to broker a nuclear peace deal with Iran that would free that country’s economy of sanctions and so potentially allow it to flex its muscles further in the Middle East.
Behind that story lies a far bigger one: the growing inability of the last superpower to apply its might effectively in region after region. Historically, the proxies and dependents of great powers — take Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam in the early 1960s — have often been nationalists and found their dependency rankling. But private gripes and public slaps are two very different things. In our moment, Washington’s proxies and allies are visibly restless and increasingly less polite and the Obama administration seems strangely toothless in response. Former President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan may have led the way on this, but it’s a phenomenon that’s clearly spreading. (Check out, for instance, General Sisi of Egypt or Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel.) Even Washington’s closest European allies seem to be growing restless. In a recent gesture that (Charles de Gaulle aside) has no companion in post-World War II history, England, Germany, and Italy agreed to become founding members of a new Chinese-led Asian regional investment bank. They did so over the public and private objections of the Obama administration and despite Washington’s attempts to apply pressure on the subject. They were joined by other close U.S. allies in Asia. Given Washington’s difficulty making its power mean something in recent years, it’s not hard to predict more snubs and slaps from proxies and allies alike. Fortunately, Washington has one new ally it might be able to count on: Cuba.
6. Twenty-two-year-old [18-year-old, age of your choice] Arab-American [Somali-American, African-American or Caucasian-American convert to Islam] arrested for planning to bomb [drone attack, shoot up] the Mall of America [Congress, the Empire State Building, other landmark, transportation system, synagogue, church, or commercial location] by the FBI thanks to a Bureau informer: This is yet another no-brainer of a future headline or rather set of headlines. So far, just about every high-profile terror “plot” reported (and broken up) in this country has involved an FBI informer or informers and most of them have been significantly funded, inspired, or even organized by that agency right down to the fake weaponry the “terrorists” used. Most of the “plotters” involved turned out to be needy and confused losers, sometimes simply hapless, big-mouthed drifters, who were essentially incapable, whatever their thinking, of developing and carrying out an organized terror attack on their own. There are only a few exceptions, including the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and the Times Square car bombing of 2010 (foiled by two street vendors).
What the FBI has operated in these years is about as close as you can get to an ongoing terrorism sting-cum-scam operation. Though Bureau officials undoubtedly don’t think of it so crudely, it could be considered an effective part of a bureaucratic fundraising exercise. Keep in mind that the massive expansion of the national security state has largely been justified by the fear of one thing: terrorism. In terms of actual casualties in the U.S. since 9/11, terrorism has not been a significant danger and yet the national security state as presently constituted makes no sense without an overwhelming public and congressional fear of terrorism. So evidence of regular terror “plots” is useful indeed. Publicity about them, which runs rampant whenever one of them is “foiled” by the Bureau, generates fear, not to say hysteria here, as well as a sense of the efficiency and accomplishment of the FBI. All of this ensures that, in an era highlighted by belt-tightening in Washington, the funds will continue to flow. As a result, you can count on a future in which FBI-inspired/-organized/-encouraged Islamic terrorism is a repeated fact of life in “the homeland.” (If you want to get an up-close-and-personal look at just how the FBI works with its informers in the business of entrapping of “terrorists,” check out the upcoming documentary film (T)error when it becomes available.)
7. American lone wolf terrorist, inspired by ISIS [al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, terror group of your choice] videos [tweets, Facebook pleas, recordings], guns down two [none, three, six, other number of] Americans at school [church, political gathering, mall, Islamophobic event, or your pick] before being killed [wounded, captured]: Lone wolf terrorism is nothing new. Think of Timothy McVeigh. But the Muslim extremist version of the lone wolf terrorist — and yes, Virginia, there clearly are some in this country unbalanced enough to be stirred to grim action by the videos or tweets of various terror groups — is the new kid on the block. So far, however, among the jostling crowds of American lone mass murderers who strike regularly across the country in schools, colleges, movie theaters, religious venues, workplaces, and other spots, Islamic lone wolves seem to have been a particularly ineffective crew. And yet, as with those FBI-inspired terror plots, the Islamic-American lone wolf turns out to be a perfect vehicle for creating hysteria and so the officials of the national security state wallow in high-octane statements about such dangers, which theoretically envelop us. In financial terms, the lone wolf is to the national security state what the Koch Brothers are to Republican presidential candidates, which means that you can count on terrifying headlines galore into the distant future.
8. Toddler kills mother [father, brother, sister] in [Idaho, Cleveland, Albuquerque, or state or city of your choice] with family gun: Fill in the future blanks as you will, this is a story fated to happen again and again. Statistically, death-by-toddler is a greater danger to Americans living in “the homeland” than death by terrorist, but of course it raises funds for no one. No set of agencies broadcasts hysterical claims about such killings; no set of agencies lives off of or is funded by the threat of them, though they are bound to be on the rise. The math is simple enough. In the U.S., ever more powerful guns are available, while “concealed carrying” is now legal in all 50 states and the places in which you can carry are expanding. Well over 1.3 million people have the right to carry a concealed weapon in Florida alone, and a single lobbying group in favor of such developments, the National Rifle Association, is so powerful that most politicians don’t dare take it on. Add it all up and it’s obvious that more weapons will be carelessly left within the reach of toddlers who will pick them up, pull the trigger, and kill or wound others who are literally and figuratively close to them, a searing life (and death) experience. So the future headlines are predictable.
9. President claims Americans are ‘exceptional’ and the U.S. is ‘indispensible’ to the world: Lest you think this one is a joke headline, here’s what USA Todayput up in September 2013: “Obama tells the world: America is exceptional”; and here’s Voice of America in 2012: “Obama: U.S. ‘the one indispensible nation in world affairs.'” In fact, it’s unlikely a president could survive politically these days without repetitiously citing the “exceptional” and “indispensable” nature of this country. Recently, even when apologizing for a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that took out American and Italian hostages of al-Qaeda, the president insisted that we were still “exceptional” on planet Earth — for admitting our mistakes, if nothing else. On this sort of thing, the Republicans running for president and that party’s war hawks in Congress double down when it comes to heaping praise on us, making the president’s exceptionalist comments seem almost recessive by comparison. In fact, this is a relatively new phenomenon in American politics. It only took off in the post-9/11 era and, as with anything emphasized too much and repeated too often, it betrays not strength and confidence but creeping doubt about the nature of our country. Once upon a time, Americans didn’t have to say such things because they seemed obvious. No longer. So await these inane headlines in the future and the repetitive litany of over-the-top self-praise that goes with them, and consider them a way to take the pulse of an increasingly anxious nation at sea with itself.
And mind you, this is just to scratch the surface of what’s predictable in the American future. I’m sure you could come up with nine similarly themed headlines in no time at all. It turns out that the key to such future stories is the lack of a learning curve in Washington, more or less a necessity if the national security state plans to continue to gain power and shed the idea that it is accountable to other Americans for anything it does. If it were capable of learning from its actions, it might not survive its own failures.
Baghdad was shaken by the news that the Iraq army and police in Ramadi ran away from the advancing forces of Daesh (ISIL, ISIS). As a result, good American weaponry again fell into the hands of the extremists.
Diya’ al-Wakil, former Iraqi military spokesperson, has the same question, and he attempted some answers.
He asks: Why did the army and police and counter-terrorism forces retreate before the advance of the Daesh fighters?
Was the retreat a result of strategic or tactical errors?
What about psychological warfare?
Why would forces supported by close air support and heavy artillery retreat before small guerrilla groups?
Al-Wakil explains that Daesh takes cover in densely populated urban alleyways and fights from them, so that it is impossible to bomb them. This technique, he says removed the advantage the regular army has, since it becomes impossible for the the coalition air force to strike the enemy or for heavy artillery to be deployed.
Next, there is poor coordination between units. The coalition’s air forces were not effective because thy did not give the required support to the fighters on the ground because of poor integration.
The political divisions in Baghdad over whether to arm Sunni tribal levies properly and over whether to allow Shiite militias from Iraq’s south to deploy in Sunni al-Anbar province took these ancillary forces out of the fight.
Poor morale in the Iraqi army and effective psychological warfare by Daesh. This must be effectively countered if the army is ever to make progress. (He means that Sunni troops and police in al-Anbar Province are targeted by Daesh as “apostates,,” playing on the guilt some of them feel because they are serving a Shiite government.)
Ahmad al-Shamari argues that the Shiite militias or popular mobilization forces are not nearly as undisciplined and sectarian as they are depicted in the press.
Michael Schiavo is speaking out about Jeb Bush’s determined, sustained and energetic intervention, as Florida governor, in the private medical decision of the Schiavo family to take Terri off life support after her brain showed no sign of activity. Politico says,
“Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward. For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state. “It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”
‘ The article raises questions about what sort of president Jeb Bush would be.
The cynical use by the US Republican Party of the Terri Schiavo case repeats, whether deliberately or accidentally, the tactics of Muslim fundamentalists and theocrats in places like Egypt and Pakistan. These tactics involve a disturbing tendency to make private, intimate decisions matters of public interest and then to bring the courts and the legislature to bear on them. President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders like Tom Delay have taken us one step closer to theocracy on the Muslim Brotherhood model.
The Muslim fundamentalists use a provision of Islamic law called “bringing to account” (hisba). As Al-Ahram weekly notes, “Hisba signifies a case filed by an individual on behalf of society when the plaintiff feels that great harm has been done to religion.” Hisba is a medieval idea that had all but lapsed when the fundamentalists brought it back in the 1970s and 1980s.
In this practice, any individual can use the courts to intervene in the private lives of others. Among the more famous cases of such interference is that of Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid in Egypt. A respected modern scholar of Koranic studies, Abu Zaid argued that, contrary to medieval interpretations of Islamic law, women and men should receive equal inheritance shares. (Medieval Islamic law granted women only half the inheritance shares of their brothers). Abu Zaid was accused of sacrilege. Then the allegation of sacrilege was used as a basis on which the fundamentalists sought to have the courts forcibly divorce him from his wife.
Abu Zaid’s wife loved her husband. She did not want to be divorced. But the fundamentalists went before the court and said, she is a Muslim, and he is an infidel, and no Muslim woman may be married to an infidel. They represented their efforts as being on behalf of the Islamic religion, which had an interest in seeing to it that heretics like Abu Zaid could not remain married to a Muslim woman. In 1995 the hisba court actually found against them. They fled to Europe, and ultimately settled in Holland.
One of the most objectionable features of this fundamentalist tactic is that persons without standing can interfere in private affairs. Perfect strangers can file a case about your marriage, because they represent themselves as defending a public interest (the upholding of religion and morality).
Terri Schiavo’s husband is her legal guardian. Her parents have not succeeded in challenging this status of his. As long as he is the guardian, the decision on removing the feeding tubes is between him and their physicians. Her parents have not succeeded in having this responsibility moved from him to them. Even under legislation George W. Bush signed in 1999 while governor of Texas, the spouse and the physician can make this decision.
In passing a special law to allow the case to be kicked to a Federal judge after the state courts had all ruled in favor of the husband, Congress probably shot itself in the foot once again. The law is not a respecter of persons, so the Federal judge will likely rule as the state ones did.
But the most frightening thing about the entire affair is that public figures like congressmen inserted themselves into the case in order to uphold religious strictures. The lawyer arguing against the husband let the cat out of the bag, as reported by the NYT: ‘ The lawyer, David Gibbs, also said Ms. Schiavo’s religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic were being infringed because Pope John Paul II has deemed it unacceptable for Catholics to refuse food and water. “We are now in a position where a court has ordered her to disobey her church and even jeopardize her eternal soul,” Mr. Gibbs said. ‘
In other words, the United States Congress acted in part on behalf of the Roman Catholic church. Both of these public bodies interfered in the private affairs of the Schiavos, just as the fundamentalist Egyptian, Nabih El-Wahsh, tried to interfere in the marriage of Nawal El Saadawi.
Like many of his fundamentalist counterparts in the Middle East, Tom Delay is rather cynically using this issue to divert attention from his own corruption. Like the Muslim fundamentalist manipulators of Hisba, Delay represents himself as acting on behalf of a higher cause. He said of the case over the weekend, ‘ “This is not a political issue. This is life and death,” ‘
Republican Hisba will have the same effect in the United States that it does in the Middle East. It will reduce the rights of the individual in favor of the rights of religious and political elites to control individuals. Ayatollah Delay isn’t different from his counterparts in Iran.
The first mention of it was after 2000 BC, again, before Judaism existed, in an Egyptian text.
So I think we may conclude that the City of Shalem the god of dusk was probably the capital of a lot of peoples long before there was any religion called Judaism.
Roughly 1500-1200 BC, Jerusalem was ruled from Memphis in Egypt by the pharaohs, but the Canaanites remained their proxies.
Petty Canaanite kings continued to dominate the region after Egyptian control lapsed. Some of them over time gradually adopted practices later associated with Judaism, but many other streams of Canaanite belief remained. Probably there were petty tribal chieftains named David and Solomon after 1000 BC, but Jerusalem appears not to have been populated 1000 to 900 BC. and so they didn’t have a palace there.
Whatever the character of the various Canaanite tribal confederations in Palestine, including the proto-Israeli, in 900-770 BC, in the latter year the region fell to the Assyrians.
In 597 BC the Babylonians conquered Palestine and later transported at least some of its population to Babylon. Likely it was there that the Jewish religion became fully elaborated.
In 539 BC, Babylon falls to the Iranian Achaemenid Empire, which emancipates the Jews. The Achaemenids rule most of the civilized world, from Egypt to what is now Pakistan. Palestine is ruled by Iran for nearly 200 years, until 330, when Alexander defeats the Achaemenids.
The Greek Ptolemaic dynasty held sway over Palestine until 198 BC, when the Seleucids conquered it.
In 168 the Maccabean Revolt established a small Jewish state in the area. Aside from the Israeli clans of the pre-Assyrian period, this was the only premodern Jewish state to have Jerusalem as a capital. Even so, they were vassals from 40 BC to the Iranian Parthian empire. Herod became a vassal of the Romans in Palestine in 6 of the Common Era (AD).
Jerusalem was Roman/ Byzantine until 614 CE, when the Iranian Sasanid Empire again conquered it.
In 629 the Byzantines took it back.
The Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638 and ruled it until 1099, when the Crusaders conquered it it. The Crusaders killed or expelled Jews and Muslims from the city.
The Muslims under Saladin took it back in 1187 CE and allowed Jews to return.
So I think probably Jerusalem was the capital of, like, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. for several decades.
Muslims then ruled it until the end of World War I, or altogether over a millennium.
So Iran ruled Jerusalem altogether for some 250 years, and the Crusaders for about 200 years, and it was the capital of lots of peoples, including Canaanite kingdoms and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was also often a provincial capital under Muslim empires.
In the Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Britain during WW I, which shaped the Middle East, Jerusalem was awarded to Russia.
Lenin was outraged when he found the agreement in the Romanov palace after the 1917 October Revolution, and he had it published. He withdrew Russia from the war and forewent the prize of Jerusalem.
The city was awarded the British by the Versailles Peace Conference, as part of the British Mandate of Palestine.
In the 1947 UN General Assembly partition plan for Palestine, Jerusalem was designated a “Separate Body” to be administered internationally. It was not awarded to Israel by the UN. Although propagandists for Israel are always going on about how they accepted the UN partition plan, they did not, of course. They conquered a lot of territory that the GA did not award them, including West Jerusalem.
It was Jewish settlers in British Mandate Palestine who used violence to grab part of the city, disregarding international law and agreements. The city was mostly populated by Palestinians in any case, what with being a Palestinian city and all.
In 1967 the Israeli army took East Jerusalem, and ever since has squeezed the Palestinian population, driven them into poverty, usurped their property, and surrounded them by squatter settlements. There is no warrant in any part of any international agreement or law for the Israelis to behave this way toward the people who inhabited Jerusalem for over a millennium (and who are in any case almost certainly descendents of Palestinian Jews who converted to Islam). Violence is still a big part of the way Israel rules East Jerusalem, so Netanyahu warning of Muslim violence is rich.
Muslims consider Jerusalem the third holiest city of Islam. Despite Westerners constantly telling them they have no right to do that, they seem pretty attached to the doctrine. There are 1.5 billion of them, and their nerves are raw after centuries of Western colonialism during which they were told their religion was useless and backward. The occupation of Jerusalem was given by al-Qaeda as one reason for its attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The insistence of Jewish extremists on angering the Muslim world by invading the Aqsa mosque from time to time, and threatening to demolish it, is like those old Warner Bros. cartoons where the foolish little boy keeps teasing a tiger in its cage.
That the only freely elected president Egypt has ever known has been sentenced to death is only to be expected from the current military junta, which made a coup in July, 2013, and declared the former ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, to be a terrorist organization indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. Probably even under enormous pressure, some 20 percent of Egyptians at least somewhat identify with the Muslim Brotherhood (just as about 20 percent of Americans say they are evangelical Christians). To attempt to ban the entire religious Right as mere terrorists is a monstrous proceeding, and will inevitably produce the very terrorism it says it is trying to prevent.
As with so many recent Egyptian court rulings, the surprising thing is the judiciary’s willingness to go along with crackpot conspiracy theories.
Some Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Muhammad Morsi, were imprisoned by the regime of Hosni Mubarak late in his presidency. On January 28, 2011, three days after big demonstrations broke out against Mubarak, Morsi and the others managed to escape from prison in the chaos of a collapsing regime. Afer Mubarak’s overthrow in mid-February, 2011, they set up a headquarters in the Muqattam Hills above the city. Ultimately they won both parliament and the presidency. But the judiciary struck down their victory in the national legislature on the grounds that they had cheated by running party candidates in independent constituencies (this is true). Then the presidency was taken away from them when millions came into the streets against Morsi on June 30, 2013, and the military took advantage of the unrest to stage a coup.
The charges on which Morsi could be executed include that he and the other Muslim Brotherhood leaders smuggled out the plans of their high security jail to members of Hamas, the Gaza party-militia, and to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and to the Lebanese Shiite party-miitia, Hizbullah. These nefarious terrorist forces then broke Morsi et al. out of jail on Jan. 28. It is being alleged that sharing the prison plans with terrorists is a form of espionage. That Morsi and the others escaped their incarceration is not in question. That they were broken out by Hamas, Hizbullah and the Revolutionary Guards in concert is a looney tunes theory for which there is no evidence, and it is a very dark matter to take a man’s life over charges that would elicit a derisive guffaw from most sane people.
The other charge is that beginning in 2005, the top Muslim Brotherhood leadership began conspiring with Hamas to throw the country into turmoil, a plan that eventuated in the January 25, 2011, revolution. That Mubarak was overthrown by the Muslim Brotherhood or more precisely by the Palestinian Hamas organization is an absurd proposition. The majority of the demonstrators in the capital and big northern cities were left-of-center youth, not the older religious Right. In fact, the Brotherhood leadership was clearly uncomfortable with the demonstrations, and many Brotherhood youth stayed home as a result, though I found one estimate that about a fourth of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square were Brotherhood. If you know anything about Egypt, you’ll recognize that that is a tiny proportion for the country’s largest opposition movement. Hamas didn’t overthrow Mubarak, and it is an insult to the hundreds of youth martyrs who gave their lives in 2011 to suggest that it did.
Ordinarily the Egyptian Field Marshall/ President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is careful to praise the Jan. 25 revolution. But now his sycophantic judge is essentially declaring it, as well, a terrorist conspiracy and making it one of the grounds to execute the elected former president.
“An Egyptian court’s recommendation today to sentence ousted president Mohamed Morsi and more than 100 other defendants to death after grossly unfair trials shows the deplorable state of the country’s criminal justice system, said Amnesty International.
“Condemning Mohamed Morsi to death after more grossly unfair trials shows a complete disregard for human rights. His trials were undermined even before he set foot in the courtroom. The fact that he was held for months incommunicado without judicial oversight and that he didn’t have a lawyer to represent him during the investigations makes these trials nothing but a charade based on null and void procedures,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.”
I should underline that I think Morsi could well have been properly impeached for some of his actions while president and I am hardly a supporter of his wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The 20 years Morsi was earlier given for sending plainclothes Brotherhood thugs to break up youth demonstrations late in 2012, in the course of which 6 youth were killed, seem to me to have at least the pretense of rationality and basic facts in their favor, though that wasn’t a fair trial, either.
But these charges and this sentence are not rational. They are like the rumors that North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un has fed his uncle to the dogs. Sisi and his fellow officers are beginning to act like Kim. They are unhinged. They even claim to have discovered a cure of AIDS in their military labs. (They haven’t).
Egypt under the jackboot of the brigadiers is fast becoming an international pariah. Even Sisi’s recent visit to Spain produced howls of outrage that he was allowed into Madrid.
Egypt’s stock market lost $26 billion in the past week. Tourism is still way down. Arbitrarily executing people is not a procedure calculated to give the public, whether domestic or international, any confidence.
The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council came to meet President Barack Obama at Camp David in search of a renewed, formalized US commitment to their security. They came away disappointed. Though they did get firm oral commitments, there is no prospect of formal treaty obligations binding the US to defend them.
The GCC was formed in 1981 to strengthen relations among six states: Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. They are all monarchies, all are ruled by Sunnis or Wahhabis, all are on the Persian Gulf (which they call the Arab Gulf), all have substantial expatriate guest worker populations, and all have fossil fuel riches (though Bahrain is the poor cousin here). With the exception of Saudi Arabia they all have small Arabic-speaking citizen populations and therefore cannot hope to field armies to defend themselves. They were shaken by the Arab youth revolutions of 2011 and the rise of populist Muslim movements, and have come to fear uprisings from below. The combination of being small, weak, elitist and fabulously wealthy makes them understandably nervous about external threats, as well. Iraq’s attempt to erase Kuwait in 1990-91 sent chills down all their spines. More recently, Shiite Iran’s alliance with Iraq and with Houthi-dominated Yemen have made them feel surrounded and besieged.
Qatar is an example here. Its citizen population is less than 300,000, i.e. something like Lincoln, Nebraska or Fort Wayne, Indiana, inside city limits. It has nearly 2 million guest workers, mainly from South Asia (India, Pakistan, etc.) Its government has a bias toward middle of the road political Islam (e.g. the Nahda or Renaissance Party in Tunisia). Qatar is a major producer of natural gas, but tapped into a field that is shared with Iran. Iran occasionally complains about this and makes threatening noises, and I’m told Iranian ships sometimes make feints toward Qatar. Iran has a population of 77 million. Despite this tension, Qatar in most ways has good or correct relations with Iran, but it gave the US an air base at al-Udeid just to be on the safe side.
Since the GCC countries have depended for some time on the US for their security, they have been disturbed by the US rapprochement with Iran under Obama. They would like to see Iran’s nuclear enrichment program shut down and aren’t sure Obama can put sufficient safeguards in place to ensure it is not weaponized at some point down the road.
They also see Iran’s cementing of alliances with Lebanon and Iraq and its support for the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria and for the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a new and alarming flood of non-Arab, Shiite hegemony in an Arab region that they had previously influenced. Lebanon’s post-Civil War government was dominated by the figure of Rafiq Hariri, who had made his fortune in Saudi Arabia and was seen as an envoy of King Fahd. Today, Lebanon is deeply divided but the preponderance of political power probably lies with the Shiite Hizbullah (an Iran ally) and its Christian partners. In the 1970s and 1980s, Saudi money kept the Syrian government afloat during the expensive intervention in the Lebanon Civil War. Saddam Hussain’s Iraq was kept going during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s by GCC loans and gifts. The Arab nationalist government of Ali Abdallah Saleh in Yemen depended deeply on Saudi aid to survive. Now in each case, Saudi and GCC influence has been replaced by that of Iran.
I was in Qatar last week for an Aljazeera Forum and as I reported in The Nation, the mood of Arab intellectuals and politicians there was jittery about Iran.
Some of the Gulf countries are still not militarily very well equipped, and they want access to more sophisticated US weapons. They want to be reassured that Obama is not handing Iran a nuclear weapons capability (Iran denies that it wants a nuclear bomb and denounces it as a tool of the devil). They would ideally like to see the US lead them into a Middle East NATO-type organization of collective security. But every such mutual defense treaty the US signs has the potential for dragging it into unwanted wars, and after the Iraq imbroglio neither Obama nor the rest of the US government would be eager to take on such commitments.
One compromise is for Obama to designate each of the GCC countries a “major non-NATO ally.” This is a status that only Bahrain currently enjoys in the Gulf. It is fairly pro forma and does not involve mutual defense commitments. But the status does give a country special access to high-tech US weaponry and initiates joint military maneuvers.
Obama’s apparent hopes of a grand bargain with the GCC such that they would accept his rapprochement with Iran were dashed when King Salman of Saudi Arabia abruptly cancelled his attendance at the summit and snubbed the president. Likewise, the king of Bahrain went to a horse show in the UK rather than be at Camp David. Bahrain is the HQ of the US Fifth Fleet, so he knows the US needs him. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are annoyed with Washington for mildly criticizing the crackdown on the Shiite majority in Bahrain, and for suggesting that maybe the aerial bombing of Yemen is killing a lot of civilians and not obviously accomplishing any military goals. (Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and no. 3 man did come, and those who say that this is opportunity for Obama to get to know the next generation of leaders are not wrong; but he was still snubbed).
In short, the GCC monarchs were seeking unqualified support from Washington, but Obama just isn’t an unqualified kind of guy.
In his speech after the summit, Obama asserted that his Arab guests were reassured about his Iran negotiations, and he reaffirmed US commitment to their security. He also chastised Iran for “meddling” in the region and made it clear that such regional influence on the part of Tehran is a separate issue from the nuclear enrichment program and would be combatted by the US and its allies. It was something. It wasn’t enough.
The US may in any case be the only game in town for the GCC. The other great powers, Russia and China, are interested in a rapprochement with Iran just as the US is. One place the GCC is going for support besides the US is France, but it can hardly offer them a security umbrella. And the French business class is salivating over the possibility that Iran will be opened to them, as well. The GCC may just have to get used to a new world in which Iran is not pinned down by crippling sanctions.
The Arabic press widely and favorably reported the news that the Vatican has recognized Palestine as a state in a new treaty with it, despite a strong protest from Israel. The recognition was of Palestine within 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital. It came as part of a treaty between the Vatican and Palestine regarding the place and activities of the Catholic Church in Palestine. The Vatican maintains that since the UN General Assembly gave Palestine non-member observer state status in 2012, it has regarded Palestine as a state. This treaty is, however, the first formal document enshrining that recognition.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization welcomed the decision (she is herself a Palestinian Christian). She said, “The significance of this recognition goes beyond the political and legal into the symbolic and moral domains and sends a message to all people of conscience that the Palestinian people deserve the right to self-determination, formal recognition, freedom and statehood.”
About 8% of the roughly 2.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the Palestinian West Bank are Christians. Most are Eastern Orthodox, but a minority are Catholics. Christian Palestinians are even more numerous in the diaspora caused by the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, which expelled 750,000 or so Palestinians from their homes and made them homeless refugees abroad (the total Palestinian population has by now grown to some 11 million).
Egypt’s al-Yawm al-Sabi` reported that a leader of Fateh (a prominent constituent party of the PLO), Dr. Jihad al-Harazin, said that the recognition was a victory for Palestinian diplomacy and a form of spiritual support to the Palestinian cause, given the importance of the Vatican to the West. He pointed out that the step comes not long after recognition by Sweden, which joined the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta and Cyprus in Europe. Likewise, a number of European parliaments have voted non-binding resolutions in favor of recognizing Palestine during the past year.
The Vatican is also in the process of beatifying two Palestinian saints.
Given that some Catholic countries, such as Ireland and Spain, are already inclining toward a recognition of Palestine, this blessing of such a move by the Vatican may help accelerate that political momentum.