Officially, US Syria policy took a step backwards a month ago in two camps. They agreed that Assad could stick around a while, and they gave an opening to the Russian interventions. Russia had already begun a military buildup at the time, but the airstrikes had not started. As small a step as it was, it was highly significant. With this move the US relinquished its plans to establish a “buffer zone” in northern Syria, which they had decided with Turkey at the end of August. The Russians now effectively have created their own no-fly zone, much to the chagrin of Turkey and Israel. Yet, almost incredibly, “no-fly zone” cheap talk is up-and-running once again in the US. The US now seems to have planted its back foot and is once again leaning forward with fists clenched. Whether bellicose words will turn to overt action remains to be seen.
Today — a high-readership Sunday –the Wall Street Journal announced “US Sees Beefed Up Mission in Iraq, Syria”. The front-page article began, “Defense Secretary Ash Carter signaled a new and more muscular policy in Iraq and Syria, saying the U.S. military would mount more raids and provide more active support to groups, including Kurdish fighters, who can counter Islamic State.” This followed Thursday’s US raid accompanied by Kurds, to free 70 prisoners scheduled for execution by ISIS in a prison near Kirkuk. This resulted in the first US combat death in Iraq since 2011. The raid was an initiative of the Kurds, the reports say, and the US came along as support. More raids of this type are planned, Carter says, but did not elaborate. Still, the “Beefed Up Mission” does not seem to amount to much. On the other hand, the lion’s share of US military intervention in Syria are “covert”. The CIA to Pentagon terrorist training ratios are 10,000 to 5.
The US also recovered substantial intelligence from the raid. This might be what concerns the US more than the innocents it has willingly sacrificed in the past. On the other hand, Russia’s “Put Up or Shut Up” anti-ISIS campaign may have provoked a change of heart in some decent members of US officialdom. Not too big a change, however, it seems. Especially Republicans candidates for President seem to believe the position requires they demonstrate how big a d*ick they will be on the world stage.
At least not yet, but there is yet hope that decent and rational minds may prevail. A lonely, eloquent voice of reason in the US Congress is Tulsi Gabbar (D-Hawaii), who served in the military and serves now on the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services and Foreign Affairs. From another generation and the other side of the aisle, one of the architects of “trickle-down” economics from Reagan’s Treasury Department, Paul Craig Richards, has long been a critic of US unilateralism and global bullying.
However, we know unofficial and not-so-covert support continues and may be ramped up if rabid John McCain gets his way. On the hopeful side, the WSJ admits the tough talk from the Defense Sect’y is ” designed in part to blunt criticism of White House policy from Capitol Hill.”
Some level of coordination with Russia, if never “cooperation,” has been maintained if intermittently disdained, since before the airstrikes began. The US, and even Israel, have conducted small scale and occasional military-to-military communications with the Russians to avoid accidents in the air. But no official links to communications centers unite the members of the “ambivalent” Western anti-ISIS coalition with the anti-ISIS coalitions forming in Damascus or even Baghdad.
Unwilling to cooperate more than necessary with Moscow, the western coalition members also are unable to cooperate among themselves. The coalition continues to unravel, each member beholden to its own regional and geo-political interests, its proxy groups, and its investments in military hardware to be found in Syria and Iraq. While the hardline trifecta, Turkey, Saudi, and Israel, are outraged by the recent US moves, some synchronization of the US step-back have come from two other close allies in recent days.
Canada has thrown over neo-con (more than Conservative) Stephen Harper while electing conservative (more than Liberal) Justin Trudeau. Trudeau has said he will legalize marijuana and bring back the Canadian fighter jets from the Syrian campaigns. Unlike Elizabeth May, Green Party candidate who got 1% of the vote, Trudeau continues to maintain all the other dubious allegations and narratives about Syria and Russia. Another close US ally, Jordan, has signed on to a cooperative agreement with Russia and the eastern anti-ISIS alliance. It is not yet clear whether this signals a real shift in Jordan’s longtime active support for rebels in the south, or simply King Abdullah’s good sense to play both sides of the new de facto balance of power.
As the “ambivalent coalition” splinters, the US seems intent upon building up its coalition with Kurdish groups in Syria, just as it had with the Kurdish Barzani regime in Erbil. This greatly angers the Turks, as the US alliance with Erbil angered Baghdad. Turkey has quite publicly complained about US arms drops to the YPG, Syrian Kurdish militants. Furthering tensions, the US has pulled its Patriot missiles from southern Turkey. The US has also withdrawn its single aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf. This appears to leave Israel in the lurch, as had the Iran deal. At least it leads the Houses of Likud and Sa’ud in the lurch. In any case, it signals further a US pullback from at least the public and overt side of its engagement in the Middle East. These moves do not transparently relate US intentions as these are quite complex, or perhaps contradictory.The US has announced increased aid to Israel and reduced aid to Palestine as what some call the “third intifada” grinds away day after day.
We need to look more widely to see what is going on in Syria.
Syria is a crucial global pivot because it provides a Mediterranean foothold and European access for the Russian-Iranian-Syrian alliance. A vast amount of energy wealth potentially flows along this path, this thorn in the side of NATO and its OPEC allies. While Russian and Iranian oil and gas may potentially compete, they know they need to have free-market access to their huge European markets. As Pepe Escobar and William Engdahl have long argued, the paths of the gas and oil lines that will criss-cross the Middle East from the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and Europe, to be determined by those who control the region, are the prizes of the global confrontation taking place in the region. These involve such distant crucial players as China and India. The possibility of gaining control of the Qatari gas line, arguably, was Erdogan’s chief interest in securing control, directly or through proxies, of Syria, and the only reason he thumbed his nose at Russia’s Turkstream peace offering. (“Bribe” the West would see it, as the Turks were already contracted to endless war alongside the US.)
The Middle East theatre is central, “pivotal”, but only one among many in the set of conflicts that the hacker group Anonymous and many others calls WorldWar3. Across the globe, verbal sparring is picking up between the crumbling western alliances and the congealing eastern ones even as their proxies go at it with guns. A lot of gripes are also heard amongst the Western allies, while the Easterners have kept their differences minimized for the time being. Still, the east-west flashpoints are many, from Eastern Europe where NATO is constantly increasing its armaments, including nukes, to the Ukraine, where the anticipated fall invasion of Donbass may be on hold.
In another hemisphere, the US has ratcheted up its rhetoric about Chinese construction of bases at Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and China has reacted in kind. Petulantly acting as if they were islets in the North American Sea that China had built its landing strips and lighthouses upon, Obama administration hawk-in-chief, Ashes-to-ashes Carter reiterated the message of Obama at the UN: the US will go where it wishes. Unlike Obama, Carter actually modified the phrase by saying “within the limits of international law,” which we hopefully may interpret that the US will not do anything untoward with the warships it has sent steaming that way. But legal limits are ambiguous when effective new islands are under construction, and tragically, in actions taken both on the domestic and foreign fronts, Obama consistently has demonstrated less respect for the “rule of law” than even the Bush administrations.
Certainly, US allies and puppet states in the South China Sea region, like Philippines and Indonesia, have reason for concern. On the other hand, the Chinese move did not come in a vacuum. The US “pivot to Asia” has mostly been about containing China. The TPP, the Trans-Pacific-Partnership trade treaty marshaling the entire Pacific Rim in the interests of Corporate Giantism, excludes China, and is meant to effectively surround and blockade the Red Giant. Now that it has surpassed the US as the world’s greatest consumer of oil, China clearly must protect its own access to Middle Eastern sources even though it is signing enormous trade agreements with Russia, including for oil. (These are denominated in yuan or other non-dollar currency). Another important context for understanding the Chinese move into the South China Sea concerns the south Asian alliances of the US.
India is the consummate new Great Game fence-player. A founding member of BRICS, India also never has lost sight of its longstanding conflicts with China, and continually courts the US while maintaining good relations with Russia and cordial ones with China. Last year India signed on to fresh military pacts with the US. This alliance effectively threatens Chinese access to Middle Eastern oil much more realistically than Chinese activities in the South China Sea threaten commerce of any kind.
There touches on another side to this that has been barely remarked so far, the economic and monetary side. I’ll finish this post with a few more words on that.
Like Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th c, the US in the late 20th and 21st has used its navy to enforce its manufacture’s global domination and that of its currency as well. The petrodollar, prepared with Bretton Woods (1944), was given flight as a fiat currency when the dollar was “temporarily” removed from the gold standard by Nixon in 1971. The trade in oil has loosely and unofficially underpinned the US petrodollar for decades, but the dollar has been used in global trade in all fields for decades. Sovereign reserves around the world have long depended on US treasury bonds, but China has been dumping them at an astounding rate for the last six months, even as it accumulates gold at just as astounding a rate over the last two or three years. China’s fairly minor devaluation of the yuan was taken, for a couple days, as “currency war”, the start of “beggar thy neighbor” policies that preceded WW2. Apart from speculating about the intent behind the devaluation, it is clear that China and Russia have forged powerful economic pacts in the last few years. The China-led AIIB bank (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) threatens the predominance and the new economic alliance of the BRICS, and the economic settlement system CIPS as an alternative to the Western SWIFT system, which has been wielded as a weapon in the age of sanctions. The eastern alliance have declared their independence from the corrupt Western “development” banks.
Since 2001, when a “policy coup” (Wesley Clark) set the US on its somewhat retarded “7 countries in 5 years” program of conquest, the interests were also monetary. Ghedaffi’s real crime was to contemplate a gold-backed dinar. Of course, pillage and more traditional forms of asset-stripping were not ignored in Libya, while a fresh crop of terrorists was planted.
But in the end, this is not about the West and the Rest. The US banking and financial elites also have launched war on their own middle class, and in the process have shredded what little true capital value once stood behind the imperial fiat dollar. In the process of booming and busting the ever more obviously manipulated markets, financial elites have ballooned their own assets through financial and monetary chicanery and when they were caught out, they received wrist-slapping for the largest thefts in history from the regulatory agencies whose legislation they write. It has recently emerged, incidentally, that Eisenhower’s memorable plea that the “military-industrial complex” threatened democracy, was originally written as the “military-industrial-Congressional complex.” I wonder, do people think he was joking?
Monetary manipulation and corporate control of Congress have always worked to the advantage of the 1%. The economic gaps opened up in the late 20th c, many clearly starting in 1971, have widened exponentially in the 21st century, especially since the “bail-outs” of 2008, called a “financial coup d’etat” by Catherine Austin Fitts, former Asst Sect’y of HUD and whistleblower. I am no apologist of capitalism, but what we have now is not that. Even “crony capitalism” does not do justice to the level of rank manipulation and illegal control of the markets by the corporate and banking bosses of a political system Princeton University study deems plainly an oligarchy.
Interest rates have stood at zero (ZIRP) since the “financial coup d’etat,” meaning capitalism is dead by all convention standards. Now NIRP (negative interest rates) is contemplated and already attempted in Europe. Also, a fourth round of Quantitative Easing (QE) is now contemplated. QE attempts to solve a debt problem with more liquidity, distributed to pay off bad loans made at the top and most crooked parts of society — in the US version. It can also be “for the poor”, as Jeremy Corbyn wants, but it is fundamentally unsound. It attempts to pay off debt, which strangulates the real economy, with more debt. This is not only self-defeating, it is fundamentally unfair. Again, US policy typically reduces to two alternative expanations, stupid or evil. The Rest have recognized, and it is high time the West does too, that the US exercises extraordinary leverage through the monetary system.
The creation of money to pay off one’s own junk debt is something permitted only to those who legitimately can create “money,” (sic) that is, to the nation that can command a global reserve currency that is a fiat currency, backed very arbitrarily by oil sales and more directly by global military force of the Western alliances. The magic of QE is conjured up by the international wizards of high finance that govern the US Federal Reserve. Unfortunately, these dark masters can whip up only debt as money. With 2008, they did not even pretend to be adults anymore. Like the Sorceror’s Apprentice, the Fed has tried to chase away debt with more debt. And while the tornado of frenetic liquidity that builds in the corner lifts a few light-headed Tribeca loft-dwellers to the ceiling, it sucks the air right out of the rest of the room and will eventually suffocate even these gallant white-shirts. Fed head Janet Yellen’s full minute of hypnotic silence in the midst of last month’s moot announcement that interest rates would, in fact, not go up once again (for the fifty-somethingish time in a row) suggests the air is already leaving the room.
Quantitative easing would be judged bat-sh*t crazy by Adam Smith and has done no more than balloon the books of crooked banksters and keep Wall Street lungs pumped with nitrous oxide. In the meantime, Main Street and manufacturing have been gutted (outside of the military-information industries, Big Pharma, and a few others). “Unemployment” figures are among those most patently manipulated. The labor participation rate is now lower than it was in the 1970’s before women entered the work force. Another example: Gold demand is rising all the time, unshipped orders at an all-time high, and yet, a miracle indeed, the price remains at historic lows.
The gap between an ever smaller elite and the burgeoning poor grows with every policy decision — and Hank Paulson continues to have a good laugh about it. He’s the US Treasury Sect’y, ex-Goldman Sachs CEO, that put these crooks bad debt on our backs. We are still figuring out how many trillion. The US empire, I reiterate, is not an empire that will benefit Americans. It benefits only those who have the wherewithal to influence politics, to corrupt the “democracy” that it then avidly exports from the West to the Rest. The very existence of the eastern alliances suggest that the Rest has had enough. This is why I believe Americans best stand on their side.