Gwynne Dyer: Middle East changes may necessitate new U.S. policies and allies

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      After half a century of stasis, there are big new strategic realities in the Middle East, but people are having trouble getting their heads around them. Take the United States, for example. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first administration, is still lamenting her former boss’s failure to send more military help to the “moderate” rebels in Syria.

      “The failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton told Atlantic magazine recently. She’s actually claiming that early and lavish military aid to the right people would have overthrown Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, while freezing the al-Qaeda/ISIS jihadis out. If only.

      Clinton travels a lot, but she never really leaves the Washington bubble. There are intelligence officials there who would gladly explain to her that almost all the desirable weaponry sent to the “moderates” in Syria ends up in the hands of the jihadis, who either buy it or just take it, but she wouldn’t listen. It falls outside the “consensus”.

      Yet that really is how ISIS acquires most of its heavy weapons. The most striking case of that was in early June, when the Iraqi army, having spent US$41.6 billion in the past three years on training its troops and equipping them with American heavy weapons, ran away from Mosul and northern Iraq and handed a good quarter of them over to ISIS.

      In fact, that’s the weaponry that is now enabling ISIS to conquer further territory in eastern Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan. Which, in turn, is why Obama has now authorized air strikes in Iraq to stop ISIS troops from overrunning Irbil, the Kurdish capital.

      By now, he has also presumably abandoned his proposal of last June to spend US$500 million to train and equip “appropriately vetted” Syrian opposition fighters. (They were then supposedly going to overthrow Assad with one hand while crushing the jihadis with the other.)

      But Obama has not yet dropped the other shoe. A lot of people have not dropped their other shoes yet. They all know that the whole strategic environment has changed. They realize that may require new policies and even new allies. Changing horses in midstream is always a tricky business, so the realignments are only slowly getting under way, but you can see where they are going to go.

      The proclamation of the “Islamic State” in eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq has huge implications for every country in the Middle East, but for most of the great powers—Russia, the United States, China, India, Britain, France, and Germany—it is almost the only thing they still care about in the region. They all have Muslim minorities of their own, and they all want the Islamic State stopped, or at the very least isolated, contained, and quarantined.

      That means that both the Syrian and Iraqi governments must survive, and they will probably get enough outside help to do so (although it will take time for the U.S. and the major European powers to switch sides and openly back Assad). The army of the Iraqi Kurds might hold its own against the Islamic State if it had better weapons, so it will get them (although Baghdad will not welcome a more powerful Kurdish army).

      Containing the Islamic State to the north will be a simpler task, because Iran and Turkey are very big, well-organized states whose populations are relatively invulnerable to the ISIS brand of Sunni fundamentalism. But to the south of the Islamic State is Saudi Arabia, and that is a country that faces some tough decisions.

      The Wahhabi strand of Sunni Islam that is Saudi Arabia’s official religion is very close to the beliefs of the jihadis who now rule the Islamic State to their north. Much of their financial support and even their weapons have come from Saudi Arabia. But the rulers of that kingdom would be extremely unwise to assume that the jihadis regard Saudi Arabia’s current political arrangements as legitimate, or that gratitude would restrain them.

      Nor will the long-standing U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia endure if Saudi ties to the jihadis are not broken. Riyadh will have to decide, and it will be aware that its oil is no longer so vital to the United States that it can have it both ways.

      The Iranian-U.S. rapprochement will continue, and the issue of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions will be settled amicably despite Israel’s protests. Indeed, Israel may come under irresistible U.S. pressure to stop whacking the Palestinians or the Lebanese Shias every couple of years, stop the settlement program, and get on with the two-state deal. Washington would very much like Israel to stop alienating the people it needs as allies.

      Further afield, General Sisi’s new regime in Egypt can count on strong American support, and may even be encouraged by Washington to intervene militarily in Libya and shut down the Islamist militias there. Tunisia will be the only remaining flower of the “Arab Spring”, although there has also been a certain amount of progress in Morocco. But in the heartland of the Arab world, war will flourish and democracy will not.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles on world affairs are published in 45 countries.


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      Intel/ Co-intelpro/ Spook Community

      Aug 11, 2014 at 2:39pm

      The impending (and overdue) DUMP of the US dollar as the main currency of trade IS going to have more pronounced effects than what you're prognosticating. The desperate attempts to start WW III via various means (alternate media provides more than the propaganda MSM does) to keep the Empire afloat on a war economy is doomed to fail.


      Aug 11, 2014 at 3:47pm

      Gwynne provides us with a pretty good prognosis of a Middle East which is in a state of flux and disequilibrium. One has to wonder whether the current chaos was part of the American neoconservative grand design for the region or mostly unintended consequences of Anglo-American meddling? We really need to know who is supporting these murderous Salafist Takfiris, are they a scourge from Allah or do they have a more mundane provenance?

      I Chandler

      Aug 11, 2014 at 4:32pm

      "war will flourish and democracy will not."

      But on an optimistic note at least ther are no incubator babies being killed and Qaddafi is not ordering mass rapes:

      Obama's Big Foreign Policy Regret? Gadhafi - Obama is sounding more like Bush every day.
      Despite the good intentions of the Chocolate Kings democracy has not taken root. Prime minister Maliki is out and Abadi is in...The embattled Ukraine prime minister Yatsenyuk
      resigned last week after his coalition collapsed.

      The US has warned military officials not to get involved in the political process. "US denies role in plot to oust Iraqi prime minister Maliki , Americans merely supporting constitutional process in offering full backing in selection of new prime minister"

      "Much of ISIS financial support and even their weapons have come from Saudi Arabia."

      Wow...But where is the financial support for the Neo-Nazis coming from?

      The Hitch

      Aug 11, 2014 at 8:36pm

      "Religion Poisons Everything" - Christopher Hitchens.

      S H

      Aug 11, 2014 at 11:00pm

      "A lot of people have not dropped their other shoes yet."

      That is possibly, the least understated sentence of all time. Truer words may never have been spoken.

      I'd like to speculate:

      The Kurds have possession not only of Kirkuk, but also some parts of Northern Syria. I'd like to see them reach a deal on Kirkuk oil with Baghdad, and on nation-status with both Baghdad and Turkey.

      If Abadi is not assassinated by Maliki first, and with a US air campaign similar to that in Libya paving the way, both peshmega and Iraqi military might take the battle to ISIS and push them into Syria proper.

      I think you're right that the GUardian of the Two Holy Cities isn't going to put up with ISIS establishing a caliphate and attempting to wrest legitimacy from Riyadh. If Abadi reaches out to Sunnis the way Maliki should have done, this might entreaty the Hous of Saud to disinherit ISIS.

      Then, Alawite Assad would have only Iran and Russia to buttress him, and it just may be clear to all involved that a brighter future exists without him. Russia might maintain its warm port, and Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey would be seen as instrumental in acheiving the ouster of both ISIS and Assad.

      With Russia massing on Ukraine's border however, who knows what tomorrow may bring.


      "Washington would very much like Israel to stop alienating the people it needs as allies."

      Damn straight.

      Janice Vian

      Aug 12, 2014 at 8:51am

      At last, a discussion of the Islamic State. I am interested in how it is involved in the current Israeli vs Hamas mess, as well as it's relationship the the Islamist factions in Libya. The Islamic State is very well funded, and it's behavior demonstrates well-organized planning. It could have feasible territorial ambitions relevant to the entire ancient caliphate. I look forward to reading the views of other commentators.

      condor man

      Aug 12, 2014 at 12:22pm

      The fact that the illegal and genocidal doings of people like Assad or Bush era America are being respected in this article is very sad. Sure these Islamist people are barbaric but if we condone nazi style atrocities in the name of peace and freedom arent we the barbaric ones? I think the US has really fucked up the over all balance of morality in the western world! Perhaps we should have a war with them and just be done with all this non-sense!!

      I Chandler

      Aug 12, 2014 at 11:15pm

      "Middle East changes may necessitate new U.S. policies and allies"

      Glenn Greenwald's walk down memory lane offers some historical perspective and describes how pretty packaging in which all wars are wrapped, is almost never the actual purpose:
      "The U.S. does not oppose tyranny and violent oppression. To the contrary, it is and long has been American policy to do everything possible to subjugate the populations of that region with brutal force – as conclusively demonstrated by stalwart U.S. support for the region’s worst oppressors."

      Dyer: "The proclamation of the “Islamic State” has huge implications"

      Yes, this new state might take the top spot in poll questions: "What countries pose the biggest threat to you"

      Greenwald asks "What’s left? The propaganda has gone from “pulling babies from incubators: as bad as Hitler” to “rape rooms: worse than Hitler” to the new slogan: “worse than al-Qaeda!”

      Dyer: "Further afield, General Sisi’s new regime in Egypt can count on strong American support, and may even be encouraged by Washington to intervene militarily in Libya"

      Greenwald describes Clinton's new best friend:
      "The welfare of Libya was ignored by most intervention advocates the minute the fun, glorious, exciting part – “We came, we saw, he died,” chuckled Hillary Clinton – was over...Clinton so memorably put it: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.”

      Martin Gautreau

      Aug 13, 2014 at 2:39pm

      Great article as usual.


      Aug 17, 2014 at 4:31pm

      Anyone who thinks that the US will pressure Israel to stop stealing Palestinian land is dreaming. Obama hasn't the courage. To pressure Israel would mean handing the Senate and Congress over to the Republicans in the upcoming mid-term elections. As for sending Al Sisi into Libya to fix the mess that the US-backed NATO intervention made, forget it. The Egyptian army is a paper tiger, and a corrupt one at that. The generalissimo knows it. It will take all of Obama's courage to settle with Iran. Israel opposes it because it would mean readjusting the balance of power in the Middle East. And its allies in the Senate and Congress will rally round. Look for Israel to start generating Iran paranoia shortly. Saudi Arabia opposes a US/Iran entente as well. If the Israelis are belligerent when it comes to Iran, the Saudis are bloodthirsty. They helped finance Sadaam Hussein's war with Iran. They also financed ISIS to help destroy Iran's ally Syria. Look for the Saudis to get the Iron Dome and become even more belligerent, and reckless. The Middle East is not a place where reason and common sense prevail. Because of that, it is a place where WW3 could start.