US Public Worried about ISIL, Putin– But Climate Change is Real Challenge

By Juan Cole

In a new Pew/ USA Today poll, the American public shows itself alarmed by the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq and Syria as a threat to US security, finding it more threatening even than Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who has risen on the villain scale quite a lot. Iran is seen as less menacing, as is North Korea. The Israel-Palestinian struggle is seen as a threat to the US by a little over half. More Americans still think the US is doing too much as the world’s policeman, but those who think it is doing too little have greatly increased in number, especially among Republicans.


But almost no Republicans think Global Warming is a threat, and only slightly more than a majority of Democrats do. In short, the US public is again being misled by its media and politicians as to the true shape of the world, and is likely to suffer pretty badly for this ignorance.

Americans’ concern about the rise of the so-called “Islamic State” is justified. It is an extremely nasty and vicious organization, and it has made significant advances this summer in northern Iraq. The public largely supports giving US close air support to Kurdish and Iraqi military forces against it.


But it seems likely that the public is not being given a sense of proportion about the region. Conservative pro-American monarchies in the Middle East include Morocco, Jordan, and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Secular republics that are non-NATO allies or at least relatively friendly toward the US include Algeria, Egypt and Yemen (though Yemen has local militant movements not under government control). Governments of the mild religious right have risen in Tunisia and Turkey but they are pro-American (Turkey is a NATO ally). Lebanon is hard to categorize– its government is pro-American but it includes Hizbullah which is not. It is not clear how much of the militia faction-fighting in Libya is a security threat to the US, and apparently people have been relatively unconcerned by the Syrian civil war until recently.

Of the some 400 million people in the Middle East, only a fraction live under IS — half of what’s left of Aleppo, the small city of Raqqa, Mosul and some other Iraqi cities. Given refugee flows (at least a fourth of Mosul fled), I shouldn’t imagine it is more than five or six million. It would be alarming if a militant group took over Tennessee or Wisconsin, but it is not as if those states bulk very large in a US of some 314 million. Given how vicious IS is, I don’t think it should be allowed to keep its conquests, and I think the international community can and should coordinate with local actors to push it back. In a way, IS is made for concerted United Nations action, since it alarms all the members of the Security Council.

But while the Ukraine conflict is concerning, it is a struggle between Russia and the European Union for a sphere of influence and therefore is largely a regional matter. It is hard to see how it poses a threat to the US or requires an intervention beyond tools such as sanctions (which have clearly had some effect in restraining Russia, though they haven’t been completely successful).

Iran is not a threat to the US. It is a country of some 75 million with a small conventional army that hasn’t invaded a neighbor for a century and a half and has a military budget between that of Norway and Singapore. It was never more than a bogeyman wielded by right wing US politicians to scare the people. The government of President Hassan Rouhani is clearly trying to reach a new modus vivendi with the US. The public is right to demote it further as a menace given the current negotiations.

North Korea is also not a threat to the US. Interestingly, China is seen by fewer Americans as a menace, presumably because Secretary of State John Kerry has good relations with Beijing and has played down the “pivot to Asia” rhetoric, some of which was aimed at preparing the way to an effort to contain China.

None of these threats is very serious for the actual lives lived by most Americans.

But Global Warming (what experts call Climate Change) is a dire threat to the health and well-being of millions of Americans. In the coming decades it will do trillions of dollars of damage to the American economy. Imagine what the city of Miami is worth; but much of it is doomed . We have locked in a four foot sea level rise over the next 80 years or so. But that is an average. In some places it will be higher (the ocean is not smooth). There will be episodes of rapid rise and storm surges leading to substantial coastal flooding for some towns and cities.

You are much more likely to die falling in the bathtub or being struck by lighting than to be killed by terrorists or by Vladimir Putin, much less by Hassan Rouhani of Iran. But Americans’ health and well-being is directly and powerfully threatened by global warming.

What to do about IS is not completely clear (President Obama has gotten into trouble for saying that he doesn’t yet have a policy for dealing with it in Syria, which actually was his way of walking back the assumption in the US press that he intends to bomb Syria unilaterally). Over time an approach will be crafted.

What to do about global warming is obvious. Stop spewing 34 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that prevents the sun’s heat from radiating back out into space from the earth’s surface. The more you have in the atmosphere, the hotter it is guaranteed to become over time. We’ve gone from 270 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the 18th century before the industrial revolution to over 400 parts per million today. We crossed that 400 ppm line just this year. There should have been urgent summits and hand wringing on Capitol Hill and massive urban demonstrations.

Our press and our politicians are screwing us over. We still take our cues from our two parties and from corporate mass media. Both are in effect lying to us on the whole, by not being shrill over the real problems we face. American political leaders and American television anchors are encouraging us to hold a dance party on the deck of the Titanic.

The last time carbon dioxide levels spiked the way we are making them spike today, in the Eocene epoch 50 million years ago, it wasn’t a pretty picture. Carbon dioxide goes into the oceans, making them acidic and killing off much sea life. Lots of humans live on fish; there won’t be any for many of them. It was tropical everywhere, with no surface ice. There was a third less land mass above the waters. There is some evidence of massive storms, some lasting thousands of years over the same area. Past eras like the Eocene reinforce the conclusions reached by climate modelers. Modeling can err, if the inputs are mistaken. But History does not lie. C02 levels matter for the health of the earth. We have a young species, only about 150,000 years old, and it is adapted to a relatively cool world. Can it survive another Paleocene-Eocene Climate Maximum?

We are locked in to going up by 4 degrees F. (scientists in the US should stop using Centigrade, which seems to downplay the problem to an American audience). There is no escaping it. But whether we go on up to a 9 degrees F. average rise in surface temperatures is up to us. To this generation. We could go to solar and wind as energy sources in a crash Manhattan Project-style effort over the next 20 years. We’d actually save money in the long run if we do it, not to mention averting some of the worst effects of global warming (loss of coasts, droughts, wild fires, species lost, extreme weather). We’d also free ourselves and our allies of dependence on foreign oil and gas. If you own a house and will be in it at least ten years, you’re crazy if you don’t put up solar panels and get an electric car or plug-in hybrid. At current prices you’d pay off both in 6 or 7 years and ever after you get free fuel. I did this and figure my household has avoided 3 metric tons of C02 so far this year. More extensive measures are needed that only governments (municipal, county, state and federal) can implement. But American homeowners can make an impact all by themselves. You get a $7500 tax break on the panels and another one on the auto. Every American produces on average 16 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, more per capita than any other major industrialized country in the world. We have met the terrorists, and they are us.


New York University: “A Window Into Climate Change Comes to Mercer Street”

Mitch McConnell caught Promising Billionaires he’ll Enrich them at our Expense

By Nicole Girard via Liberals Unite

Mitch McConnell really does not care about our problems. The way he talks about the needs of average Americans, you’d think we were his sworn, personal enemy.

At a Koch Brothers Summit in Dana Point, California this summer, the conscience-less, corporate shill basically promised our country’s head on a gold platter to his billionaire gang of perverse, psychotic donors.

In a leaked audio-recording, the Kentucky Republican swore to devote himself to the singular task of more fully lining the pockets of his audience: people so rich they could survive any tragedy, any sort of economic downturn, another of McConnell’s government shut-downs, effortlessly and without a care.

His words are revealing:

No money can be spent to do this or to do that.

Let’s stop right there. “This or that,” huh? What is “this or that?” Everything non-billionaires need?

We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.

We’ve known for a while McConnell and his donors are contemptuous of the non-rich but it’s a bit of an eye-opener to see that these essential issues are mere objects of annoyance to the unimaginably privileged. Those whose only fear is that the lowly masses may take an unnoticeable crumb of their corrupt and ill-gotten fortunes.

And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.

Perhaps one of the most offensive parts is his use of the term, “gosh darn.” Really, Turtle? You’re nothing less than ruthless, cussing would probably be the kindest thing you’ve done all week.

The fact that we live in a time of historic income inequality is no accident. It’s been engineered by puppets like McConnell. The standard CEO, who now earns eight-figures, is paid roughly 257 times what the average worker earns. Economists concede that while we need inequality to thrive, the level of inequality we currently have is unsustainable. They support the Democrat proposed minimum wage hike to $10.10 an hour, which would lift 4.6 million people out of poverty:

That’s a significant increase in the quality of life for our worst off that doesn’t require the government to tax and spend a single additional dollar. And, given that this policy is self-enforcing with virtually no administrative costs while challenging the employer’s market power, it is a powerful complement to the rest of the policies the government uses to boost the living standards of the worst off, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.
A higher minimum wage will lead to a significant boost in incomes for the worst off in the bottom 30th percent of income, while having no impact on the median household.

Seems like a no-brainer, but, it would make McConnell’s wealthy donors sad. So Turtle-brain will fight it.

And student loan reform?

Forty percent of households headed by someone under the age of 35 are saddled with student debt, unable to buy homes, raise families and secure their futures. This doesn’t just hold back individuals — it holds back our economic recovery. Meanwhile, Congress manufactures false debt crises instead of solving this very real one… The United States could and should do much more to help middle- and low-income families afford postsecondary education — especially at a time when our economic growth depends on an educated workforce.

This loathsome obstructionist vows to not even allow a debate on the very things stopping members of the middle and lower classes from getting anywhere in life. Gee thanks Turtle breath, you’re a stand-up guy.

The mounting evidence that we need real economic reform on every level is undeniable but it’s so clear this shell of a man is barely even in possession of himself. The lengths to which McConnell’s donors own him comes through in these cow-towing reassurances that he will, in fact, eviscerate the middle class and poor like a dutiful little boy. What a disgrace. He’s no leader.

McConnell’s thug-filled audience is living proof of the bizarro-world extent to which greed can corrupt. I can’t imagine why these billionaires are never satisfied. Why are they so afraid of allowing hard-working, average people to live with some small semblance of comfort and dignity? What more do they need?

McConnell is, and for a very long time has been, nothing but a detriment to the government and the country. He is the opposite of a patriot and is not fit to lead. It’s time for him to hole up in his shell where he can only cause harm to himself.

Please Kentucky, VOTE HIM OUT.

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Nicole Girard Nicole Girard is a political writer with a passion for civil rights and the truth. Follow her on facebook or twitter.

Mirrored from Liberals Unite

Syrian Rebels welcome US Air strikes on ISIL Terrorists

By Juan Cole

Ilaf reports that rebels in East Aleppo, Syria are deeply divided over the prospect of President Obama ordering US air strikes on the so-called “Islamic State” (IS). IS is vicious and has spent most of the past 18 months studiously avoiding actually fighting the Baath government of Syria, concentrating instead on destroying its rivals, the Jabhat al-Nusra (Succor Front), other radical groups, and the more secular-minded Free Syrian Army. When IS comes after its rivals among the rebels, it is vicious, mowing them down without conscience. Even classic al-Qaeda under Ayman al-Zawahiri has condemned IS and kicked it out of al-Qaeda.

Abu al-Miqdad of the Islamic Front, which has fought both the regime and IS, said he supported the American intervention against IS because of the latter’s bloodthirstiness. “They don’t distinguish between civilians and combatants and they kill people with knives,” he said. “Who kills people with knives?” He said he hoped the US bombed every last one of them to smithereens. “They are not Muslims,” he said, “but infidels.” He said that real Muslims would never have done what they did to civilians and to the Free Syrian Army.

Jaber, head of the Islamic Front’s ad hoc military police in Aleppo, agreed that the US air strikes would be welcome. He said that fighters were facing a de facto alliance of the regime of Bashar al-Assad with IS, since the two avoided fighting each other and concentrated on the other rebels.

Meanwhile, the UN has issued a report condemning both the Baath and IS/ ISIL for war crimes.


related video:

The Young Turks: “Does ISIS Really Pose A Threat To The United States?”

Open-Ended Ceasefire reached in Israel/ Gaza: But how Long will it Last?

By Juan Cole

Israel on the one side and Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the other have announced an open-ended cease-fire brokered by Egypt, the terms of which are similar to those of 2012.

Mass celebrations broke out among war-weary Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians could argue that they have won some concessions. New checkpoints will be open and restrictions on imports into Gaza by Israel will be eased. The zone of the Mediterranean allowed for Palestinian fishing will start at 6 nautical miles and extend to 12 by the end of the year. (Current Israeli restrictions on fishing have meant a huge loss in protein for the population, and it is difficult to see what their purpose is beyond imposing a caloric restriction on the people of Gaza, half of whom are children.) The US and Israel will drop their objections to Palestinian government officials in Gaza being paid. In further negotiations, Israel will press for Gaza to be a demilitarized zone (sort of on the model of Austria in the Cold War) and Hamas will press for the strip to be allowed an airport and seaport. Egypt will oversee these further talks and will police the agreements just made.

The Israeli side can claim to have inflicted substantial attrition on Hamas military capabilities, having destroyed many tunnels, rockets and armaments stockpiled by the party-militia that has ruled Gaza since it won the 2006 elections. Moreover, because the current Egyptian government abhors the Muslim Brotherhood and movements of political Islam like Hamas, it is unclear that Hamas can restock its rockets and other weapons via the Sinai, as in the past.

Still, what the Israeli military was going for was a result similar to its 2006 war on Hizbullah in Lebanon; since that conflict Hizbullah has not fired any rockets into Israel or Israeli-occupied territories like the Shebaa Farms (which belong to Lebanese farmers). It is not at all clear that the war produced any such similar cessation of hostilities between Gaza and Israel. In part, there are undisciplined small groups in Gaza perfectly able and willing to construct some flying pipe bombs and send them over to Beersheva and Sderot (former Palestinian cities from which Gaza refugees hail that are now Israeli cities). One drawback of Israel reducing Hamas’s capabilities is that it also reduced its ability to police the Strip. Hamas itself has in the past honored cease-fires as long as Israel has observed their terms. In part, that 70% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugee families from what is now Israel and that 40% still live in squalid refugee camps means that they are very unlike the Shiites of southern Lebanon, who are farmers with their own land.

If the Palestinian side really does get the things it is asking for– an end to the illegal and creepy Israeli blockade of the civilians in its Occupied Territory — then the struggle will have been a big win for them.

The good thing about peace, however, is that it need not be a zero sum game. Both sides can gain from it.

Obviously, this open-ended cease-fire is fragile. Some of the goals of the two sides will be very hard to attain. And, at root, the Israel-Gaza war won’t really be over until there is a comprehensive peace settlement with either a two-state or a one-state solution to Palestinian statelessness. Israeli propagandists say that Gaza could be “Singapore” if it chose peace, but in fact 1.8 million stateless people don’t have the kind of rights, including rights over property and trading routes, that would allow them to prosper.

Israel’s Likud government has the doctrine of the Iron Wall, of hitting its enemies hard and consistently until they comply. It has failed to secure the acquiescence of Palestinians in their dispossession because being stateless is intolerable. Israel is put forward by Zionists (Jewish nationalists) as a solution to the statelessness of European Jews under the fascists during the 1930s and 1940s. But they have a blind spot when it comes to the statelessness of Palestinians, figuring that that does not need a solution. Until Israelis come to terms with the Catastrophe (Nakba) that they have inflicted on generations of Palestinians, who have been left more or less homeless and in a kind of vast concentration camp, they cannot really make peace. And each episode of the Iron Wall with its Iron Fist degrades Israel a little more. Perhaps it can survive being an international pariah. But Israelis will one day look in the mirror and not like what they see, one little bit.


Related video:

Hamas & Israel reach long-term Gaza ceasefire – BBC News

5 Ironies of US Reaction to Egypt/UAE Bombing of Libya

The diplomatic angst issuing from Washington around the United Arab Emirates and Egypt bombing of weapons depots belonging to the Qatar-backed fundamentalist militia of Misrata holds many delicious ironies:

1. According to the BBC, “the US, France, Germany, Italy and the UK issued a joint statement denouncing “outside interference” in Libya.” Seriously, guys? Except for Germany, these are the NATO countries that intervened in Libya in the first place, in large part at the insistence of an Arab League led by Egypt and the UAE! It is true that the UAE and Egypt don’t have a UN Security Council Resolution, which authorized NATO involvement (I supported the then no fly zone on those grounds). But the newly elected Libyan House of Representatives has openly called for international intervention against Libya’s out-of-control militias and it is entirely possible that the Libyan government asked, behind the scenes for these air strikes. In any case, “outside interference” isn’t the issue!

2. The US is said to have been “caught off guard” by the air strikes. But the US bombed Tripoli in 1986 without coordinating with most of its Middle East allies. Or then there was that sudden invasion of Iraq for no good reason in 2003. The US is always catching the Middle East off guard.

3. The US is said to be concerned that the UAE used US military equipment in ways not authorized by Congress. But Israel does this all the time and there is no such expression of concern then.

4. The US is planning unilateral air strikes on Syria, the sort of operation that the UAE and Egypt are imitating.

5. The US Congress has been obsessing for years about the September 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi by extremist militias of the sort the UAE and Egypt are now weakening in Libya. Are the Republicans in the House just interested in making political hay with the deaths of the US ambassador and 3 other Americans, or do they really want to roll back extremist forces and lawless militias in Libya? If the latter, they have given no sign of it except carping.

Related video:

The Young Turks: “Mystery Over Who Just Bombed Libya — Solved!”

Victim of McCarthy-Era Witch Hunt calls on U-Illinois not to Fire Critic of Israeli Policies

Note by Juan Cole: In the early 1950s, under the influence of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), a national witch hunt was conducted for leftists. McCarthy claimed to have a list of 100 Soviet moles in the State Department. Even former members of the Communist Party, which had been popular in the 1930s Great Depression before Stalin’s crimes were recognized, and which was part of the formal US alliance against the Axis in World War II, were suddenly put under scrutiny. Running against secret Communists or alleged covert socialists became common in politics (a slimy sociopath named Richard Nixon got his start in Congress that way). Screen writers in Hollywood were fired, names taken off the films, and made non-persons. No actual crime had to be alleged or proven– people were punished and ostracized, essentially for thought crimes. These techniques of intellectual bullying and intimidation, supposedly on national security grounds, were intended by many of their proponents to roll back the New Deal reforms that made a decent life possible for working people and to make criticism of the absolute property prerogatives of corporations and the very wealthy illegal. Many of our social pathologies in the 21st century are rooted in the success of this inquisitorial drive. At the University of Michigan, there is still an annual lecture, the Academic Freedom Fund, in honor of three University of Michigan professors who were fired or suspended for refusing to testify to a visiting delegation from the House Un-American Activities Committee. One of those summarily fired was a mathematician, Chandler Davis, who emigrated to Canada. Professor Davis, still feisty in his late 80′s, has just written a personal letter to University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise urging her to rescind the firing of Professor Steven Salaita, a specialist in Native American Studies, for his trenchant criticisms of Israeli government policy toward the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. When I first wrote him suggesting I reprint the letter, in his gentlemanly way he said it was a letter to Chancellor Wise and he preferred not. Then it got out on the internet anyway, and he relented.

Chandler Davis writes:

Dr. Phyllis Wise
University of Illinois

Dear Chancellor Wise:

I write from a rich experience of attacks on academic freedom; I have seen the damage that enforcing conformity can do to intellectual life. Among the victims was myself. My expulsion from American academe in 1954 has been thoroughly refuted by history, so that I speak not with the bitterness of any unresolved grievance, but with the immediacy that personal memory gives.

When anti-segregationists were expelled, when socialists were expelled, the damage was dire for the victims, but dire also for the whole community. Today, we have our work cut out for us to defeat real anti-Semitism and real bigotry of all sorts. I am heartsick to see your office betray the struggle by joining the attack on Professor Steven Salaita.

Of course some sufficiently strong partisans of the Israeli government are sorry to hear his criticism, and might deplore his presence on your faculty. You are not obliged to bow to them. They are asking you to violate the security of an academic position– in this case, a position firmly promised though not yet taken up. Even if you could justify breaking your University’s commitment to Prof. Salaita –which you can not– you should reject with indignation the calls to wrench him from the community. He is an active opponent of anti-Semitism and other bigotry, as you must know from his writings. We need him by our side.

Chandler Davis


Related video added by Juan Cole

2011 Academic Freedom Lecture – Ellen W. Schrecker – 10/13/11


Support the U-Michigan Academic Freedom Fund here

Iraq: Bombs & Bullets vs. Political Process

By Juan Cole

A series of bombings and shootings left some 35 dead in Iraq on Saturday, following on a massacre of 68 worshipers Friday at a Sunni Mosque in mixed Diyala Province. This violence was strategic, not random. One side effect was a severe setback in the attempt of Haydar al-Abadi, the prime minister designate, to form a government of national unit that includes Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs.

The car bombings on Saturday were less important to the political process, but were clearly part of the Second Iraq Civil War provoked by the taking of Mosul, Tikrit and other Sunni cities by the so-called “Islamic State,” an al-Qaeda offshoot, in June. In Kirkuk, which is now held by the Kurdistan Regional Government, a bomber targeted Peshmerga and police, i.e. the Kurdish security forces now fighting IS around the Mosul dam with US air support. In Baghdad, a bomber targeted a domestic intelligence unit of the Ministry of Interior. Why such a facility would not have blast walls up and restrictions on vehicular traffic baffles me and tells you that the MoI in Iraq is not very good, which is why it has lost like 40% of the country this summer.

The IS tactic of car bombings of soft targets is and for many years is intended to foment civil war, since they focus on Shiite populations. Their hope is that they can convince hot-headed Shiite tribes and militias to strike back at Sunnis, thus helping mobilize Sunnis for IS in its fight against the Shiite-dominated government. Stalinists used to call this technique “sharpening the contradictions,” i.e., if class struggle were not happening they thought that sometimes you had to help it along with sabotage.

On Friday IS hit the jackpot, when a Shiite militia machine-gunned down 68 worshipers at the Mus`ab b. Umayr mosque in Diyala Province. The IS has made inroads in mixed Diyala, a province with Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis that borders Iran, and IS has been brutal to Shiites and Kurds.

The action sent a frisson of fear through the Sunni Arab community, afraid that it is being caught up in a war between extremist Shiites and the Salafi extremists of IS. Major Sunni Arab politicians that had been in talks with al-Abadi about forming a new government abruptly pulled out. Sheikh Ali al-Hatem, leader of the Dulaim tribe, charged that militiamen associated with outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki were responsible, and that the massacre was typical of al-Maliki’s creepy tactics in repressing rebellious Sunnis in the 6 provinces where they have a major presence. He also called for a boycott of al-Abadi until these tactics (which include, he said, aerial bombardment of Sunni villages) are discontinued. (Al-Maliki is close to the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, an extremist militia recruited by the former PM to fight IS). Sheikh Ali al-Hatem is not actually all that important, since a huge group like the Dulaim tribe is inchoate, but apparently his sentiments are widely shared among the Sunni elite.)

The deaths and subsequent recriminations and their impact on parliamentary politics signal how hard it will be for al-Abadi to put the country back together. But al-Abadi can hardly take executive action like curbing the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq militia until he forms a government, and in that sense the Sunni politicians are being irrational. Their best protest against al-Maliki policies would be to sit in a post-al-Maliki cabinet with al-Abadi and pressure the PM to move in a starkly different direction.


Related video:

CNN: “Gunmen open fire in Iraq mosque”

Obama’s budding Cambodia Policy in Syria

By Juan Cole

Former British ambassador to the United States Sir Christoher Meyer is advocating that the US and Western Europe stop advocating the overthrow of the Baath regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and instead coordinate with it to move against the so-called “Islamic State,” which controls some predominantly Sunni Muslim desert towns on both the Syrian and Iraqi sides of the border.

The Obama administration is also talking about hitting IS in Syria. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that the IS cannot be defeated without taking it on in Syria. For US fighter jets to fly over Syrian air space and avoid being shot down by Russian-supplied anti-aircraft batteries of the Baath government, the US would have to in some way coordinate with Damascus in this aerial bombing campaign. Typically this arrangement is made by sharing “Identify Friend or Foe” signal codes that the jets send out so that they can be seen as friendlies. Since the stated US position is that al-Assad should resign or be overthrown ASAP, such an arrangement would be, as Meyer says, “the mother of all U-turns.”

Meyer, however, is advocating not just a tacit recognition of strategic and tactical common interests with the Syrian Baath but an actual military alliance, which is unlikely.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond pushed back against Meyer’s amoral Realism. Hammond challenged the notion that you needed to coordinate with Damascus to do bombing runs on eastern Syria on IS positions. The foreign minister, however, is wrong about that. There would be a danger of setting off Baath Army anti-aircraft batteries unless there was at least minimal behind the scenes coordination.

For one thing, the Baath regime strategy has been to avoid fighting IS, which is the most gruesome and least sympathetic of its guerrilla enemies, and to allow IS gradually to defeat the moderate Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Succor Front (Jabhat al-Nusra). Damascus seems to think that, faced with the Hobson’s choice between letting the Baath alone to win the coming Armageddon between Baath and IS forces, and risking Caliph Ibrahim marching into Damascus, only 60 miles from the Israeli border, the West will blink and acquiesce in Assad rule. Meyer is only one of many Western strategists who have been persuaded by this strategy. He advocates this alliance despite our knowledge of Baath atrocities (pictures have come out of mass torture to death, a bizarre factory of pain and murder on an industrial scale, by the Baath of its prisoners from among the guerrilla groups). Then there was the indiscriminate shelling of parts of Homs, which left them in rubble, a disregard of the lives of the people who lived there along with a dogged determination to wipe out the rebels (which the regime did).

Obama staffers are leaking the alleged necessity of cross-border bombing as a trial balloon. For my generation, it all sounds drearily familiar. Richard Milhaus Nixon and Henry Kissinger felt they needed to bomb Cambodia to stop North Vietnamese infiltration of troops into South Vietnam. They did so secretly and without Congressional or public authorization (you never want your country secretly going to war against another). They destabilized Cambodia and paved the way to the Pol Pot genocide that polished off a million of Cambodia’s five million people, a far higher percentage of the general population than the Nazis genocided in Europe in the 1940s.

The Obama people are at least speaking publicly about bombing Syria, though not of getting Congressional authorization. I suppose they think the dreaded AUMF (Authorization of Military Force) of 2001 still applies to an al-Qaeda offshoot like IS. Nor it there an analogy from the Khmer Rouge to the Baath, though the Baath has also piled up mountains of skulls bleached white in the sun. (The UN puts the deaths in the Syrian civil war at 191,000, but many of those are indirect, e.g. people thirsting to death on being forced to flee their homes because of fighting between government and guerrillas, and it is at least alleged that slightly more direct deaths have been perpetrated by IS and its de facto allies than by the Baath Army. The calculus of mass murder is a dreary and unedifying business.

For someone who doesn’t think morality is irrelevant to foreign policy, this debate is extremely distressing, since it reveals a dark world in which one’s only recourse against war criminals is a tacit alliance with other war criminals. Though, Realists would point out that such conundrums are common in history. FDR and Churchill openly allied against Hitler with the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin, the paranoid head of a police state who had enormous amounts of blood on his hands. Ironically, the medium to far Left in the US and Western Europe agrees with the Neoconservative Meyer about a preference for al-Assad.

In the end, the idea that aerial bombing of IS in Syria is necessary should be interrogated. Giving close air support to the Kurdish peshmerga paramilitary to take the Mosul dam could practically work, as it worked in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance and in northern Iraq in 2003 (when the US helped the Peshmerga take Mosul from the Iraqi Baath). But just bombing IS vehicles on the Syrian side, without there being any force to take and hold territory on the ground, has merely logistical implications (presumably Washington doesn’t want them moving around gasoline and kerosene for their vehicles– they smuggle Syrian oil). That could, however, be done on the Iraqi side of the border.

Whatever the Cameron government says in London, or the NSC staffers say in Washington, however, the proposed Obama “Cambodia strategy” in Syria does ally the West with Damascus and makes it even more likely that the Baath regime’s momentum of the past 18 months will continue on to a dreary Algeria-like fragile victory over the rebels. In turn, the Obama administration’s de facto policy (as opposed to what they say), may be beginning to align with that of the Czech Republic (which has all along supported al-Assad), Russia and Iran.


Related video:

Wall Street Journal: “Syria Vital to Defeat Islamic State, Says Official”

Iraq: If Terrorists hit Southern Iraq oil fields, $5-$7 a gallon Gas?

By Juan Cole

Iraq’s former oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, warned on Thursday that the so-called “Islamic State” terrorist organization could hit the Iraqi oil fields in the south around Basra.

Basra is deep in the Shiite south, so IS could not take the city of 2 million as it did largely Sunni Mosul. But Bahr al-Ulum is pointing out that Basra’s oil fields and refineries are vulnerable to terrorism operations, i.e. bombings.

Brent crude oil futures have fallen about $10 a barrel in the past month, in part on economic news that China’s manufacturing sector is slowing.

Iraq exported about 2.4 million barrels a day in July.

In the unlikely case that Iraq’s southern production were taken off line, that would put the price up to $150 or $200 a barrel (hence $5 a gallon or even twice that for gasoline). The world produces about 86 million barrels a day of liquid petroleum, not counting ethanol and biofuels. But prices are at about $102/ barrel for Brent crude only because of hydraulic fracturing in the US, which has brought over 2 million new barrels a day on line in the past 3 years. The loss of Iraq would wipe out that excess US production and send the price shooting up.

Although Libya has brought its production up this year (who knows how and for how long), and Saudi is doing 10 mn barrels a day, there are countries that aren’t doing so well. Iran’s world sales are way off because of sanctions. South Sudan and Syria production, as well as that of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, are way down. Nigeria is unstable.

There was an attack on a Basra oil field in 2004.

IS fighters have been known to pull off big bombings deep in hostile territory. Strategically, cutting off the Baghdad government from its main funding sort


Related video added by Juan Cole

CNN: “Is Iraq’s oil under threat?”

What do Iraq’s Sunni Arabs have in common with Ferguson, Mo. African-Americans?

By Juan Cole

If prime minister-designate Haydar al-Abadi in Iraq is to hope to defeat the so-called “Islamic State” (actually a kind of mafia made up of serial murderers and marauders), he must find a way to re-incorporate Iraq’s Sunni Arabs into the government, which has been dominated by Shiite religious parties since 2005, partly because of Neoconservative US preference for Arab Shiite rule under the Bush occupation.

Al-Abadi has succeeded in getting a pledge from the largely separatist Sunni Kurds to hold off on leaving Iraq and to participate in his government at the cabinet and parliamentary level in Baghdad. (Kurdistan is an ethnic super-province a little like French-speaking Quebec in Canada, but with much more autonomy from the central government; Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani has threatened to hold a referendum within six months on complete secession and independence).

A Sunni Arab political bloc, al-Hall (“Solution”), led by Jamal al-Karbuli has sent a letter to al-Abadi detailing their demands. Al-Karbuli (or al-Karbouli) had led a faction within the old Iraqiya party coalition which has been the main vehicle of Sunni parliamentary politics in recent years. He blames Iraq violence and bombings on Shiite Iran.

They want the thousands of Sunni Arab detainees (accused of anti-government activity by outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki) given an amnesty;

They want a fair distribution of cabinet seats and government jobs (the only kind of reliable jobs there really are in Iraq) with regard to the Sunni Arabs, tens of thousands of which were fired in the past decade and replaced with Shiites;

They want the constant Iraqi army shelling of Sunni Arab towns and villages in the north and west halted;

They demand the return to the Sunni Arab community of religious endowments (waqf) for mosques and other religious purposes, which they maintain have been usurped by the Shiites;

They demand the expulsion of Shiite militias from Baghdad and the largely Sunni or mixed Sunni-Shiite provinces.

A spokesman for al-Abadi said that the incoming prime minister was willing to consider the demands sent over by al-Karbuli, but that they could not be seen as prerequisites for forming a new, inclusive government, which would be putting the cart before the horse. Many of them require executive authority, which al-Abadi does not have until he becomes prime minister, and which is still held by lame duck prime minister al-Maliki.

The demands of the al-Karbuli block reveal the situation as seen by Sunni Arabs, and they help explain why so many Sunni Arabs in Mosul and elsewhere preferred even rule by IS thugs to continued occupation at the hands of al-Maliki’s forces. They see themselves rather as African-Americans in Ferguson, Mo., do, as constantly coerced, imprisoned at disproportionately high levels, and kept as an economic underclass by systematic discrimination.

Of course, there is more than one side to the Iraq story, and al-Abadi can hardly suddenly turn on the Shiite militias offering paramilitary support against IS, or cease a military campaign to expel IS from Iraq. But some of what al-Karbouli is asking for, especially on the political and economic side, is obviously necessary if Iraq is not to permanently splinter.


Related video:

RT: “Iraq v ISIS: Army fights islamists with RPGs, heavy weaponry”