As we approach the new year, a fresh crop of overseas crises threatens to spring up, like mushrooms after a rain, and the prospects for peace on earth, this holiday season, are dimmer than ever.
Iraq: First up on the agenda is, of course, the war in Iraq, which, we are told, is going swimmingly. The much-touted statistics that we’re being fed by the War Party and its media enablers sound good, but if you look at them a bit closer, the illusion begins to dissipate. The downturn in violence that we’re hearing so much about is largely due to the fact that the ethno-religious cleansing of contested regions of Iraq has been completed, for the most part: in Baghdad, for example, the Shi’ites have driven the Sunnis out, with the help of the U.S.-supported “police” and the Iraqi “army” which are really just Shi’ite death squads. They’ve shed all the blood they can, at least for now: give them a moment to catch their collective breath, however, and the sectarian killings will recommence with gusto.
Similarly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hails the “return” of “7,000 families” to Baghdad as proof positive that the “surge” is working, but the reality is that, as Juan Cole points out, the many tens of thousands who fled to Syria are now being forced by the Syrian government to leave, which explains the great “return.” They’re being kicked out of Damascus, and they’re not allowed into the U.S., so where else are they supposed to go?
The emerging hotspot in Iraq is Kurdistan, which has been relatively peaceful until this point but only because the ruling parties have kept such a tight lid on internal dissent, ruthlessly suppressing their critics and growing fat on U.S. and Israeli aid. The lid is about to blow off the pot, however, due to two factors: first, terrorist attacks in Turkey carried out by guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which many Turks suspect is funded and managed by the U.S. and the Kurdish regional government, and second, a provision in the Iraqi constitution that requires a referendum to decide who gets the oil-hub city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by the Kurds and the Iraqi central government.
As I have said before on several occasions, the Kurds are the most disruptive and unpredictable factor in the Iraqi jigsaw puzzle, which virtually ensures that the state smashed by U.S. force of arms almost certainly cannot be put back together again, no matter how much glue in the form of U.S. troops and subsidies is poured into the breach. Virulent Kurdish nationalism, unleashed by the American invasion and empowered by U.S. and Israeli aid and arms, is on the march, and every nation in the region is going to be negatively affected. It isn’t going to be pretty, as the Turks have discovered to their sorrow and growing anger.
Admiral Fallon and a number of other military figures have spoken out against a new war in the Middle East, pointing to the overstretch of our resources and the near-impossibility of mobilizing an effective fighting force while we’re bogged down in Iraq, but realism was never the neoconservatives‘ strong point and that isn’t stopping them from pushing their agenda. The president, as I’ve pointed out before, is the most radical neocon of them all or, at the very least, a fervent fellow traveler and it really is up to him. Certainly the Kyl-Lieberman resolution gives him the legal and political tools to do it, since it can be seen as merely an extension of the original post-9/11 authorization to go to war against “terrorists.” If the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are “terrorists” and are actively killing American soldiers in Iraq, as Kyl-Lieberman avers, then the resolution in tandem with the post-9/11 legislation gives ample legal cover to an administration hell-bent on war with Iran.
Lebanon: Recent incursions by the Israelis over Lebanese airspace could prefigure another Israeli invasion, this time to prevent Hezbollah and its Christian allies from displacing the increasingly unpopular and beleaguered “pro-Western” government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. All factions are arming themselves, and the country looks ready to slide into yet another civil war, which would almost certainly provoke intervention by several outside interests, including the U.S. and/or Israel. Lebanon is the Balkans of the Middle East: a spark struck there could ignite the whole region.
Syria: I’ve been keeping a close watch on developments in Syria for years, in the belief that this is really the focal point of Israeli interests. Syria, after all, is where the Palestinian factions have been headquartered, and it is the front-line state that has provided support to the Palestinian resistance struggle. For more on Syria as an Israeli target of opportunity, read the now famous “Clean Break” scenario painted by prominent neocons now in high positions in the U.S. government.
Naturally, the Israelis have wanted to take out the Syrians, but they have lacked the capacity to do so. Now, as in the case of Iraq, it could be that the Americans are going to do the job for them. There’s been a lot of anti-Syrian rhetoric coming out of this White House, and our State Department has done everything but cut off diplomatic relations with Damascus: we have no ambassador presently in Syria, only low-level diplomatic personnel. Sanctions are hurting the always precarious Syrian economy, the Kurds are busy stirring up trouble, and now there’s this news from Nation columnist Eric Alterman:
“I got a letter the other day from a faculty member at the University of Maryland’s overseas division in Europe. UM is the primary university providing classes for U.S. service members abroad. Here it is:
“‘The reason that I am writing today is to inform you of something rather unsettling. Last weekend, we had a Europe-wide faculty meeting at our headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany. At that meeting, we were told that the U of MD military education contracts will be expanding soon to Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Djibouti, and other locations in the Middle East and Africa. This comes as no surprise.
“‘What is startling is that the U.S. military has also asked us to prepare a bid for educational programs in IRAN and SYRIA (and, oddly enough, France where we have had no presence since NATO was expelled in 1967 probably a function of the new conservative government there). We will be bidding on an education contract to these locations at the end of November.
“‘This is a truly ominous development. The U of MD overseas program follows the military around the world thus clearly the contingencies for an occupation of several Middle Eastern countries is not only being contemplated, but actually set up.'”
That Israeli air strike at what was supposedly a Syrian “nuclear facility” portends something, but as to whether it’s a U.S.-Israeli invasion is an open question. In my own view, it’s not a matter of if, but when.
Somalia-Ethiopia: This was supposed to be war as it should be fought, according to the War Party here on the home front. Why, those no-nonsense Ethiopians, who have no sissy-liberal compunctions about collateral damage, would soon make short work of those pro-terrorist Somalis, but there’s just one problem. The Ethiopians aren’t winning. You’ll remember how the neocons trotted out the old Stalinist eggs-omelet argument, in a new guise, but now we have to ask: where’s the beef?
Expect this latest front in our perpetual “war on terrorism” to degenerate further, as the Ethiopian regime faces increasing opposition on the home front, where its program of repression and ethnic supremacism is not only alienating large sectors of Ethiopian society and provoking a new civil war, but also further impoverishing one of the poorest nations on earth. Addis Ababa can’t even keep its own house from falling to pieces, so it’s no surprise that their Somali sock puppets are at each other’s throats. Another factor that could throw the rapidly deteriorating region into the spotlight is the resumption of Ethiopia’s endless war with Eritrea. The U.S. has sided with the Ethiopians in the ongoing Ethiopian-Eritrean dispute, giving aid and diplomatic cover to the neocon dictator Meles Zenawi’s dreams of a “Greater Ethiopia,” but we may well have picked the wrong horse in that fight. The Eritreans are a fierce and proud people who have successfully fought off Ethiopian attempts to incorporate them into “Greater Ethiopia” for centuries, most recently in the late 1990s, a conflict in which 70,000 perished. Of course, the U.S. has no interest in helping the thug Zenawi subjugate his neighbors, who have clung tenaciously to their thin strip of territory on the shores of the Red Sea since independence was won from Ethiopia in 1993.
The Russian periphery: I have long believed that the next stage in the neocons’ bid for empire will be a rapidly escalating assault on the remnants of Russian influence in the former Soviet Union dressed up as yet another crusade for “democracy,” Washington-style, launched by the U.S. This has so far been a political effort, typified by the various “color revolutions” that erupted in the post-Soviet periphery, from the Rose Revolution in Georgia to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution led by Viktor Yushchenko. These efforts are apparently stalled, and even suffering from a determined rollback led by nationalist forces, and the next phase is likely to be a series of low-level proxy wars between Russian-backed nationalists and U.S.-backed “democrats.”
There are a number of theaters where hostilities could break out, but I’ll just cover the hottest hotspots:
Georgia: As President Mikheil Saakashvili deflowers his own revolution and shuts down the opposition media, he could well try to divert attention away from his political problems by ginning up a fresh conflict with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are protected by Russian troops and regional militias. Saakashvili, the great “democrat,” is busy charging anyone who opposes him with being a pawn of the Russians (and therefore guilty of treason), but the West is calling on him to restore civil liberties and, in an apparent effort to propitiate his Western benefactors, he has lifted some restrictions and called new elections. Widespread and growing opposition to his strong-arm tactics, even among many of his former supporters, spells political trouble for Saakashvili and his corrupt cohorts, however and an appeal to Georgian ultra-nationalism (which was always the real ideological motivation of the Rose Revolutionaries) would bolster him in the polls and provide a much-needed distraction, at least from the ruling party’s point of view.
In the event of an outbreak of hostilities, expect the U.S. to do what they have done for the duration of Georgia’s political crisis: proffer unconditional support to Saakashvili. With Russia aiding and giving political and diplomatic support to the Abkhazians and the Ossetians, and the Americans letting loose a flood of military aid to Tbilisi, this could be the first theater of actual conflict in the new cold war.
Kosovo again!: The irony of this is all too apparent to longtime readers of Antiwar.com. Virtually alone among opponents of imperialism in the U.S., we opposed the American “liberation” of Kosovo and considered U.S. support for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) a gang of drug-smuggling thugs whose control of the European heroin trade subsidized their terrorist activities against the people of Kosovo and neighboring countries to be a war crime. As it turned out, it was the Clintonian precursor to the American sponsorship of Iraqi exile groups, such as Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, whose ersatz “intelligence” helped lie the American people into war. It is only fitting that this hotspot should get hotter even as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claims Kosovo as a model for what we ought to have done in Iraq.
The problem in Kosovo is that the “liberation” led to a reign of terror by the KLA, which burned Serbian Orthodox churches, terrorized the remnants of Serbian communities, and demanded immediate independence. On this latter demand, they managed to be contained by their NATO and U.S. allies, but that pot is about to boil over as Hashim Thaci, KLA militant and candidate of the grievously misnamed “Democratic Party,” takes the presidency. Ever since the “liberation,” the KLA was kept out of power by the prestige of Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo, but Rugova’s death from cancer in 2006 paved the way for the thuggish Thaci to seize power and he has.
A unilateral declaration of independence by the Thaci regime would not necessarily lead to fighting in the region, although there is that possibility. The real danger is that it will set off a chain reaction in Moscow, which will then encourage its allies in the various regions of the Russian “near abroad” to issue similar declarations: Abkhazia, Adjara (site of a Russian military base), Ossetia, and certain sections of Moldova could be granted diplomatic recognition by Russia and its allies, on the grounds that what’s good for the Kosovar goose is good for the Abkhazian-Adjarian-Ossetian-Transnistrian–Gagauzian gander. This could set off a whole series of proxy wars, with the Russians backing the breakaway republics and the Americans standing with their super-centralizing satraps, such as Saakashvili.
With the arms-control treaties pioneered by Reagan and other U.S. presidents now discarded, and the Russians chafing over a missile-defense system installed in the Czech republic and Poland supposedly because of an imminent danger of an Iranian attack, this new development is particularly dangerous.
The ultimate goal of the War Party is “regime change” in the Kremlin: they long to put another one of their stooges, along the lines of Boris Yeltsin, in the drivers’ seat. The problem with Yeltsin was that he couldn’t stay sober long enough to do Washington’s bidding. And now there is no plausible rival to the wildly popular Vladimir Putin, who has put the country back into some semblance of order. Their solution: declare Putin to be the reincarnation of Stalin and announce the death of “democracy” in the former Soviet Union. This would pave the way for a resurgence of aid to “democratic” organizations inside Russia, funneled covertly as well as overtly, and a slowly escalating series of trade sanctions designed to cripple the Russians economically, or at least make them feel the sting of Western wrath.
All in all, a rather grim outlook for 2008, and all the more reason to support Antiwar.com which, now that I mention it, seems to be lagging at the moment. Our winter fundraising effort, coming as it does between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, is being extended this year and we need your help more than ever. That’s because war clouds are currently gathering on the horizon in nearly every direction, and we’re busy as all get-out just trying to keep up. Add to that the increased difficulty in raising funds this time around, due to a number of factors beyond our control, such as the worsening economy and the start of the political season, and you can see why we’re experiencing a bit of a problem at the moment.
Look, I don’t want to push the panic button quite yet, but we don’t have a lot of cash reserves to fill the gap between expected contributions and the depressing reality of a shortfall. We need your contribution today or else I can’t guarantee that we’ll be here at the end of this year, at least in our present, comprehensive form.
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