Pepe Escobar

Europe’s Slow Motion Debacle

s_500_opednews_com_0_---jpg_73066_20160303-743 gc2smFrom the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in Op-Ed News on March 3, 2016

 


From a failed attempt to clear the Calais jungle to the appalling situation at the Greek-Macedonian border, the EU crumbles under the strain of a massive refugee crisis. Even the Kafkaesque Brussels Eurocrat construct admits it — off the record, because official EU must always project a mythical image of unity: We are on the edge of an abyss.

Across the EU and amidst Russian intellectual elites, scenarios proliferate on the imminent collapse of Western civilization, as a huge number of refugees cannot be properly assimilated. In Russia, this process is examined with extreme concern because it happens not far from Russia's western borderlands, and involves what the Kremlin traditionally defines as our partners.

But what if this European slow-motion debacle was not enacted as a Mad Max dystopia, but rather brought about by a tsunami of Muslims ultimately displaced by Western-engineered wars?

Behold Fortress Europe

It was only six months ago that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government took a huge gamble in adopting a so-called humanitarian refugee policy; call it the civilized face of the otherwise politically tainted R2P (responsibility to protect) concept, which was ruthlessly manipulated for the invasion and destruction of Libya.

Six months later, we have swarms of refugees stranded all along the Balkan Route — and progressively encircled/trapped by strict border controls, the disappearance of social benefits, creeping fences and walls, and the practical extermination of the Schengen accords. The Merkel gambit is over; Fortress Europe is back with a vengeance.

 

Can you hear the sound of a basket of myths crumbling? Here are a few. The notion of European solidarity — not to mention egality and fraternity. The notion that EU members would accept a sensible, harmonious, proportional distribution of refugees. The notion that Europe would not reject, deport and repatriate people fleeing from war zones. The notion that Turkey would protect the EU from the crisis.

The Balkan Route, for all practical purposes, is now sealed off to refugees while Ankara, for its part, is slowly building a wall along stretches of the Turkish-Syrian border — not as much to really contain them (after all Ankara must keep open the Jihadi highway), but as a propaganda coup.

(image by Rabble, UK)   DMCA

Germany's humanitarian refugee policy is in tatters and corroded by self-doubt; only two weeks ago Chancellor Merkel was wondering whether she should pursue our European-Turkish approach or whether the EU should order the absolute sealing off of the Greek-Macedonian border, pure and simple.

And that leads us close to the heart of the matter — which is, of course, Turkey.

The majority of German conservative politicos want Merkel to seal off German borders to refugees, while Merkel still believes in the Hand of Providence; help from European partners — which won't come — and most of all from Ankara.

And that's exactly where Turkey's Sultan Erdogan wants her to be; as a supplicant, not as the leader of the number one European economic power.

Ankara's power play

One of the key myths of the whole refugee crisis is that Erdogan's AKP government is doing all it can to contain it.

Nonsense. The crisis itself was engineered by Ankara in 2015 — when refugees were released from their holding camps in Turkey under threat that they would not be cared for anymore. The refugee flood was not a spontaneous creation, as Syrians, Iraqis and/or Afghans suddenly decided to flee to the EU; it was directly instigated by Ankara. And Erdogan from the start was already contemplating the Big Prize; to bribe the EU, especially Merkel, to pay — at least 3 billion euros — so most refugees remain not on Turkish soil, but on one of his own neo-Ottoman sub-plots; a safe zone to be built inside Syrian territory.

Extra evidence pointing to Ankara's plotting is the fact that Turkey has not increased patrols on its Mediterranean coast — the departure point for scores of refugees to try their luck by boat on their way to safety of the Greek islands. The priority for Ankara was to close the Turkish-Syrian border. Not really close it, as safe passage remains guaranteed for selected moderate rebels.

The Warsaw-based European border control agency Frontex is absolutely convinced that the Turkey-EU refugee power play will continue. Diplomatically, Frontex's director Fabrice Leggeri advances that Turkey has to make it more difficult for the migrant smugglers.

Yet that won't happen. And Germany — and the EU as a whole — will continue to be hostages of Ankara's political maneuvering.

A EU-Turkey summit was held in November 2015. At the time, Erdogan promised there would be more security in the Aegean coast and more raids on migrant smugglers. Too little, too late. Turkey's Aegean coast is 2,800 kilometers long. Ankara does not have the resources to police it properly.

So smuggling on a massive scale proceeds unabated. Smuggling rings with the right contacts — within Turkish police and AKP-related politicians — only need to pay roughly 3,000 euros for each group of refugees to clear the border and hit the sea.

In parallel, Ankara is clearly at war in Southeast Anatolia against the PKK Kurds. This is the number one priority, not smuggling of refugees, not to mention fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu could not be more straight to the point when he visited Berlin late last year: the Erdogan/Davutoglu Plan A is to annihilate the PKK Kurds. There is no Plan B.

Chaos, created then applauded

No one in Brussels will do it. So Frau Merkel ultimately would have to be the only EU leader to confront Erdogan and read him the riot act. It's not only a matter of politely requesting Ankara to reduce refugee numbers. It's to order him to do so; question him on why he released them en masse in the first place last year; and withhold any future financial rescue package, including the building of refugee camps inside Syrian territory.

The stark fact is that the whole refugee crisis — an existential crisis for Europe — is being used by Ankara as a bargaining chip for an elaborate extortion racket. Erdogan wants a tsunami of EU cash; and he wants a tsunami of concessions regarding Turkey's negotiations for accession to the EU.

Meanwhile, there's no concerted EU refugee policy to be seen. Not even a balancing act between humanitarian concerns and deterrence, altruism and realpolitik. No EU political leader will confront the responsibility of NATO's wars (with petrodollar GCC support) crafting the whole crisis. The absolute majority of refugees are Syrians, Afghans and Africans who depart the continent via NATO-destroyed Libya.

Polls consistently show that a majority of EU citizens don't want to welcome refugees anymore. As Belgium-based Jean Bricmont, author of Humanitarian Imperialism has correctly stressed, EU citizens who were never consulted on the issue of refugees and who are constantly asked to make sacrifices because "there is no money" understandably do not accept this moral discourse anymore.

Bricmont is among the very few in Europe to connect the dots: The same people who encouraged "humanitarian" interventions and "support" for armed insurrections abroad, that have led to perpetual wars, generating a constant flow of refugees, are now demanding that the population of our countries "welcome the refugees." They first generate chaos there, then they applaud chaos here.

Well, that's the whole logic of the Empire of Chaos in a nutshell.


PepePepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The New Silk Roads and the Rise of the ‘Chinese Dream’

chinese flagsgc2smFrom the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in Counterpunch on February 26, 2016

 


Beijing is advancing a Chinese-led globalization that will challenge U.S. hegemony both regionally and globally.

Earlier last week, the first Chinese commercial train, with 32 containers, arrived in Tehran after a less than 14-day journey from the massive warehouse of Yiwu in Zhejiang, eastern China, crossing Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

This is a 10,400 km-long trip. Crucially, it’s also no less than 30 days shorter compared to the sea route from Shanghai to Bandar Abbas. And we’re not even talking about high-speed rail yet – which in a few years will be installed all along from eastern China to Iran and onward to Turkey and, crucially, Western Europe, enabling 500-plus container trains to crisscross Eurasia in a flash.

When Mohsen Pour Seyed Aghaei, president of Iran Railways, remarked that, “countries along the Silk Road are striving to revive the ancient network of trade routes,” he was barely touching the surface in what is an earth-shattering process.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran only last month – the first global leader to do so after nuclear sanctions were lifted. Then the heirs to the former Silk Road powers – imperial Persia and imperial China – duly signed agreements to boost bilateral trade to $600 billion over the next decade.

And that is just the beginning.

Trade Wars and Air/Sea Battles

To frame the earth-shattering process in a strategic perspective, from the Chinese point of view, it’s enlightening to revert to a very important speech delivered last summer by General Qiao Liang at the University of Defense, China’s top military school. It’s as if Liang’s formulations would be coming from the mouth of the dragon – Xi – himself.

Beijing’s leadership assesses that the U.S. won’t get into a war against China within the next 10 years. Pay attention to the time frame: 2025 is when Xi expects China to have turned into a “moderately prosperous” society as part of the renewed Chinese Dream. And Xi for his part would have fulfilled his mandate – arguably basking in glory once enjoyed only by the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping.

The secret for the next 10 years, as General Liang framed it, is for China to overhaul its economy (a work in progress) and internationalize the yuan. That also implies striking an Asian-wide free trade pact – which is obviously not the Chinese-deprived American TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), but the Chinese-driven RCEP.

General Liang directly connects the internationalization of the yuan to something way beyond the New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road, according to the official Chinese denomination. He talks in terms of a Northeast Asia free trade agreement, but in fact what’s in play, and what China aims at, is the trans-Asia free trade agreement.

As a consequence, a “ripple effect” will divide the world:

“If only a third of the global money is in the hands of the dollar, how can the U.S. currency maintain its leadership? Could a hollowed out United States, left without monetary leadership, still be a global leader?”

So the decline of the U.S. dollar is the key issue, according to the Beijing leadership, of China’s “recent troubles” under which loom “the shadow of the United States.”

Enter the U.S. “pivot to Asia.” Beijing clearly interprets its goal as “to balance out the momentum of China’s rising power today.” And that leads to the discussion of the former AirSea Battle concept (it has now “evolved” into another mongrel), which General Liang qualifies as an “intractable dilemma” for the U.S.

“The strategy primarily reflects the fact that the U.S. military today is weakening,” said Liang. “U.S. troops used to think that it could use airstrikes and the Navy against China. Now the U.S. finds neither the Air Force nor the Navy by themselves can gain advantages against China.”

Only this previous paragraph would be enough to put in perspective the whole, tumultuous cat and mouse game of Chinese advances and American bullying across the South China Sea. Beijing is very much aware that Washington cannot “offset some advantages the Chinese military has established, such as the ability to destroy space systems or attack aircraft carriers. The United States must then come up with 10 years of development and a more advanced combat system to offset China’s advantages. This means that Americans may schedule a war for 10 years later.”

Have War, Will Plan

So, no major war up to 2025, which leaves Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership free to advance like a juggernaut. Observers who follow the moves in Beijing in real time qualify it as “breathtaking “ or “a sight to behold.” The Beltway remains mostly clueless.

At the onset of the Chinese Year of the Monkey, the CCP under Xi’s orders released a sensational cartoon hip hop video that went mega-viral. Talk about Chinese soft power; that’s how Xi’s platform for his 10-year term, up to 2023, was announced to the masses.

Enter the Four Comprehensives: 1) to develop a “moderately prosperous society” (translated into a GDP per capita of US$10,000); 2) Keep deepening reforms (especially of the economic model); 3) Govern by the rule of law (that’s tricky; but essentially means the law as interpreted by the CCP); 4) Eliminate corruption from the CCP (a long work in progress).

None of this, of course, implies following a Western model; on the contrary, it shows off Beijing counteracting Western soft power on every domain.

And then, inevitably, all roads, sooner or later, lead to One Belt, One Road. And yet General Liang sees it as way beyond a globalization process, “the truly American globalization,” which he qualifies as “the globalization of dollars.” He – and the Beijing leadership – do not see the China-driven One Belt, One Road as “an integration into the global economic system. To say that the dollar will continue its globalization and integration is a misunderstanding. As a rising great power, One Belt, One Road is the initial stage of China globalization.”

Radically ambitious does not even begin to describe it. So as much as One Belt, One Road is the external vector of the Chinese Dream, bent on integrating the whole of Eurasia on a trade and commerce “win-win” basis, it is also “by far the best strategy China can put forward. It is a hedge strategy against the eastward move of the U.S.”

There we have it – mirroring what I have been writing since One Belt, One Road was launched. This is China’s “hedge strategy of turning its back to the U.S. eastward shift: You push in one direction; I go in the opposite direction. Didn’t you pressure me to it? I go west, neither to avoid you nor because I am afraid, but to very cleverly defuse the pressure you gave me on the east.” Welcome to China pivoting West.

Feel Free to Encircle Yourself

General Liang, predictably, prefers to concentrate on the military, not commercial aspects. And he could not spell it out more clearly.

“Given that China’s sea power is still weak, the first choice of One Belt, One Road should be to compete on land,” he said. Liang frames the top terrain of competition as the “belt” – overland New Silk Road routes; and that leads to worrying, still unanswered questions about the Chinese army “expeditionary capabilities.”

General Liang does not expand on this competition – arguably with the U.S. – along the New Silk Road belt. What he believes to be certain though, is “that in choosing China as its rival, America chose the wrong opponent and the wrong direction. Because in the future, the real challenge to the United States is not China; it is the United States itself, and the United States will bury itself.”

And how will that happen? Because of financial capitalism; it’s as if Gen. Liang has been reading Michael Hudson and Paul Craig Roberts (as he certainly does). He notes how “through the virtual economy, the United States has already eaten up all the profits of capitalism.”

And what about that “burial”? Well, it will be orchestrated by “the Internet, big data, and the cloud” as they are “pushed to the extreme” and will “gain a life of their own and oppose the government of the U.S.”

Who would have thought it? It’s as if the Chinese don’t even have to play go anymore. They just need to let the adversary encircle itself.


PepePepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

A dose of Dadaism to call the Sultan/Saudi bluff

Erdogan-angry-600x360gc2smFrom the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in RT on February 18, 2016

 


Darkness dawns at the break of noon, sirens blare, red alerts convulse – and it feels like we’re 30 seconds from the 9th circle of hell. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of demented intensity.

Is this the end, beautiful friend?

Well, not really. It’s a bluff. So let’s invoke Dada – the original internet – to put this hellhole in perspective. Dada was born a century ago at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich – smack in the middle of WWI. *Dada was not only a revolution in art; it’s a revolution still in progress.

Dada is a state of mind – pretty much the ideal antidote to manifestations of Cold War 2.0; it is all about destabilizing pomposity; search and destroy symbols; dislocation of language. So with multiple intimations of doom shaping the onset of (fake) WWIII, what’s best than to keep on truckin’ fueled by impertinence and fantasy? After all, “Life is a Cabaret”(Voltaire). Come to the cabaret.

Cut to a gaggle of rollicking Wahhabis making a cabaret entrance, complete with jets overflying Incirlik. They seem to be getting ready for…boo hoo! Ground operations in Syria! They desire it. Utterly. But, alas, there’s no plan. Listen to ringmaster Adel al-Jubeir in all his transgender glory; they may eventually add a “ground component”! But it all depends on ‘His Masters’ Voice’ issuing his permission. And the permission is not forthcoming.

bus Ankara

“The timing is not up to us,” moan the Wahhabis. So, thirsty for the limelight, and adding to the suspense, enter… the Turks! “The best time to enter Syria is now,” howl the pro-AKP hordes from Ankara to Antalya. How can we possibly allow those seedy YPG Kurds to concoct a buffer state along our border and, moreover, one that is controlled by the Yankees and the Russkies?

Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Terrorists! Off with their heads – like the Red Queen said, inspiring Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Our destiny is to set up a ‘secure’ refugee enclave 10 kilometers inside Syria. And forbid these refugees – by all means necessary – to cross into Turkey.

Onwards to the Jarablus pocket, north of the Azaz-Munbij line! It’s Kurd-shelling time! 
Oops! They did it again. The neo-Ottomans forgot to register that ‘His Masters’ Voice’ does not regard the PYD and the YPG as “terrorists”. After all, they are gallantly battling ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And they are not connected to “moderate rebel”Jabhat Al-Nusra, a.k.a. Al-Qaeda in Syria, while all the favorite Wahhabi/neo-Ottoman-linked goons are excited Nusra lovers. How Dada is that? And the Dada-o-meter spectacularly explodes into interstellar space as we add the seriouspossibility that no less than US Special Forces may be giving a little help to their Kurdish friends.

Say hello to my no-fly zone

While all hell is (moderately) breaking loose, everyone seems to have forgotten that Russia has (discreetly) imposed a de facto no-fly zone over virtually all of northern Syria. Not even squalid crows fly along the border, not to mention Turkish F-16s and copters. Turkish planes know that if they enter Syrian airspace, it’s an Ashes to Ashes scenario (Bowie dubbed in Cyrillic). So what is Washington to do? Provide “air support” to the neo-Ottomans and risk WWIII? Obviously not.

Erdogan tweetThe Kremlin totally gets Dada but plays constructivism. The secret: to win against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh and assorted Salafi-jihadi terror gangs is impossible without sealing the same Syria-Turkish border the neo-Ottomans are itching to trespass. After all, that’s the highway from where the Jihadi/Weaponizing flows in and smuggled oil flows out. Russia, constructively, is willing to strike deals with anyone who’s not Salafi-jihadi. But there’s the rub. The Russian guest list does not match the American guest list.

So how do you get into the club? And once inside, whose tune will you be dancing to? Israel, Egypt, Jordan and even the Emirates – that profitable marriage between Abu Dhabi oil and Dubai smuggling rackets – are in close touch with the Russian game in Syria. They want closure. Not exactly the Wahhabi/neo-Ottoman game. But even if the double down desperadoes might be “supported” by Qatar and Bahrain in that notoriously elusive “ground operation”, the notion they would dare to confront both Russia and the US head to head is nothing but prime Dada.

So no wonder selected neo-Ottoman heads are doing more spinning than dervishes in Konya. We hate everybody! But we can’t declare war against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, the PYD and that regime-unchanged ingrate Bashar Assad all at the same time!

To mollify their unspeakable chagrin, the neo-Ottomans dutifully persist in their offensive against… more Kurds – those of the PKK in Anatolia. But should they strike harder on the PYD in Syria, expect the PKK in Turkey to mastermind a lethal counterpunch.

And then, amidst such mayhem, whose head is held high as a portrait of moderation? The TSK (Turkish Armed Forces)! Picture proud Turkish generals resisting to play the (fake) prologue for a possible WWIII. How Dada is that?

White on white, anyone?

Common sense though has not prevailed – yet; that would have been so un-Dada. Re-enter ‘Northern Thunder’! Wahhabi General Ahmed Asseri continues to insist the notorious ground operation is “irreversible”. Sorry, eventually reversible if the green light from ‘The Masters’ never shines.

Still, never underestimate a frantically fearful Wahhabi for superior Dada effect. Jubeir, at the Munich Security Conference, said with a straight face that Assad is the “single most effective magnet for extremists and terrorists” in the whole Middle East. So it’s regime change or what, self-beheading en masse? Now that would be some performance art worthy of the Dadaist Manifesto.

Russia, meanwhile, behaves as placidly as Malevich’s White on White. Moscow certainly does not want to wallow into a Syrian swamp. And yet Russia is already firmly placed in Syria – and is not going anywhere apart from expanding its geopolitical footprint even further. That’s called Mediterranean projection. Everyone else, live with it.

We keep ragin’, ragin’ against the dying of the (Southwest Asian) light… And then, in a flash, we might even glimpse the possibility of the big powers, Russia and the US, reaching an ersatz of symbiosis in Syria, which may eventually translate into that “peace process” Kerry and Lavrov are so fond of. Who wants WWIII if not the mentally disabled? Oops, we Dada-it again. Tell it to ‘Sultan’ Erdogan and warrior Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

*Dada  was an art movement that surfaced during World War I in Zurich in negative reaction to the war. The art, poetry and performances of the Dada artists is often nonsensical in order to convey their message.


PepePepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

It takes a Greek to save Europa

eurpoagc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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eurpoa

Originally published in Ron February 11, 2016

 


Europa, in classical Greek mythology, was this Phoenician princess babe that drove lusty Zeus absolutely bonkers.

A trickster par excellence, Zeus turned into a white bull, lured Europa into riding him, and before she could escape, dove into the Aegean Sea and carried her off to Crete. The product of their inevitable lovemaking was King Minos. So keep in mind that Europa is the Minotaur’s step-grandmother (more on the Minotaur in a minute.)

Prolific lover that he was, Zeus in the end always came back to his wife, Hera. But this time, not before bestowing selected gifts upon Europa. One of these gifts was Laelaps, a hound that never missed his prey. Then, one day, fate ruled that Laelaps should go after the Teumessian fox – which according to divine design should never be caught.

Imagine Zeus’s predicament. After racking his divine brain, Zeus finally found an easy way out; he turned them both into stone and cast them into the night sky.

We can always draw on the psychedelic bacchanalia of classical Greek mythology to find graphic illustrations to the turmoil of our times. Imagine, for instance, Europa’s elite – Mario Draghi and co. – racking their brains in Laelaps meets Teumessian mode trying to solve the eurozone riddle. 

And imagine as well a new Minotaur eating modern Europa’s newborn sons and daughters.  

Meet DiEM25

Now to a new tale in the heart of Europa.

Seven months after resigning as the finance minister of Greece, self-described “erratic Marxist” Yanis Varoufakis is resurfacing (out of the Aegean Sea?) with a bang.

This past Tuesday, at the Volksbühne Theater in Berlin, Varoufakis launched a new project: the DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025), whose aim is to ultimately transfer power from Europa’s unaccountable, fiercely authoritarian elite and distribute it – fairly – among European citizens.  

Greek myth? Why not? And exactly when Europa badly needs a new foundation myth. Varoufakis bets that the movement will eventually reach a “basic consensus” on what to do to really introduce democratic practices into how the European behemoth is run. And then, onwards to parliamentary democracy, via elections.

The diagnostic by Varoufakis would resonate among every sound minded EU citizen. It features unaccountable European elites; “big finance” and “big industry” forming the “unholy cartel” that is the “main driver of EU policy”; the European Central Bank (ECB) propping up the “cartel” by printing money like there’s no tomorrow through quantitative easing (QE); Italy as the new Greece, suffocated by its debt repayments; the fallacy of the theoretically apolitical ECB controlling interest rates across vastly disparate countries; and the Mafia behavior of the Eurogroup (comprising the 19 finance ministers of eurozone members).  

Not surprisingly, the fallacy of this “model” of running the eurozone has produced devastating unemployment and facilitated the rise and rise and rise of the extreme right.

The concept of DiEM25 is inspired by what people across Europe should have done in the 1930s, before the ascension of Nazism and fascism; a pan-European, trans-political democratic movement. Varoufakis identifies all the toxic trends of the 1930s in the current, abysmal turmoil engulfing Europa.

He wants DiEM25 to be more than “just a think-tank and… an internet community”.

At the same time he’d like the movement to be essentially leaderless. And there’s the rub; Europa may not need heroes, but as it stands it definitely needs true leaders.

Chairperson of the German party 'Die Linke' Katja Kipping listens to Greek former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis during an event to mark the official launch of the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM) in Berlin on February 9, 2016. © AFP Photo

Chairperson of the German party 'Die Linke' Katja Kipping listens to Greek former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis during an event to mark the official launch of the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM) in Berlin on February 9, 2016. © AFP Photo

Meet the new Minotaur

Considering the current intellectual void all across Europa, Varoufakis at least is shaking up the torpor. Everything one needs to know about the deep causes of the 2008 global financial crisis has been dissected in his seminal book The Global Minotaur (Zed Books; check out the updated 2013 edition.)

The Minotaur metaphor is indispensable to understand the “model” – defined as “controlled disintegration of the world economy” – imposed upon the whole planet by former chairman of the Fed, Paul Volcker. Starting in the go-go 1980s, this “chaotic, yet strangely controlled flux,” as Varoufakis defines it, translated into foreign investors sending billions of US dollars to Wall Street every day, thus financing the US’s twin deficits – and feeding the Global Minotaur.


Greece's former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis addresses a news conference to introduce the so-called DiEM 25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025) at the Volksbuehne theatre in Berlin, Germany, February 9, 2016. © Fabrizio Bensch

Democratizing Europe: Varoufakis launches new movement to save EU from ‘disintegration’


So we’re back, once again, to Greek classical mythology. King Minos of Crete asked Poseidon for a bull as a sign of divine endorsement. He promised Poseidon he would sacrifice the bull in the god’s honor. Yet he didn’t. Punishment, thus, was inevitable.

Talk about creative punishment. The gods, using Aphrodite’s expert qualifications, had Minos’s wife, Queen Pasiphae, fall madly in love/lust with the bull. Using various props built by the legendary engineer Dedalus, the queen managed to get pregnant. The product was the Minotaur: half human, half bull.

When the Minotaur became huge and uncontrollable, Minos told Dedalus to build a labyrinth. The only way to appease the Minotaur in his labyrinth was to offer human flesh. And here we get into Minos from Crete getting his revenge on Athens; King Aegeus of Athens had killed Minos’s son after he won all the contests at the Pan-Athenian games. So after a brief war with Athens, Aegeus was forced to send seven young boys and seven unwed girls to be devoured by the Minotaur every year.

This – in myth – was the set up for a regular foreign tribute that kept the Minotaur well fed. Nowadays, or until 2008, this was the set up of Pax Americana. But unlike the myth, where Theseus – the son of Aegeus – eventually slaughtered the Minotaur, what doomed the new monster were the lowly subprime racket and a tsunami of CDOs and CDSs.

Varoufakis could not but be attracted to a remix of the Minotaur metaphor; a periodic one-sided tribute – in US dollars – from the whole planet enabling the hegemonic ‘Exceptionalists’ to project power across the seas. This Minotaur is now dying, the world is still encumbered with its rotting carcass, and no one knows what beast is to rise next.       

For now, it’s time to fight another, lesser Minotaur; a monster devouring its step-grandmother Europa’s children by autocracy, austerity, unemployment and fear. And once again, it takes a Greek, not a hero by any means, to show Europeans the way.

 


Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Why The ‘Sultan of Chaos’ Is Freaking Out

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sultan erdogan

Originally published in Information Clearing House  on February 5, 2016

 


Picture sleepless nights at ‘Sultan’ Erdogan’s palace in Ankara. Imagine him livid when he learns the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), backed by Russian air power, started a preemptive Battle of Aleppo – through the Bayirbucak region – cutting off Ankara’s top weaponizing corridor and Jihadi highway.

Who controls this corridor will control the final outcome of the war in Syria.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, the remote-controlled Syrian opposition, a.k.a. High Negotiations Committee, graphically demonstrated they never wanted to meet with the Damascus delegation in the first place – “proximity” talks or otherwise, even after Washington and Moscow roughly agreed on a two-year transition plan leading to a theoretically secular, nonsectarian Syria.

The Saudi front wanted no less than Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and all Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria, collaborators at the table in Geneva. So the Geneva charade, quicker than one can say “Road to Aleppo!” was exposed for what it is.

And forget about NATO

Notorious Saudi intel mastermind Prince Turki, a former mentor of one Osama bin Laden, has been to Paris on a PR offensive; all he could muster was an avalanche of non-denial denials – and blaming the whole Syria tragedy on Bashar al-Assad.

The bulk of the Syrian ‘opposition’ used to be armchair warriors co-opted by the CIA for years, as well as CIA Muslim Brotherhood patsies/vassals. Many of these characters preferred the joys of Paris to a hard slog on Syrian ground. Now the ‘opposition’ is basically warlords answering to the House of Saud even for bottles of water – regardless of the suit-and-tie former Ba’ath Party ministers handpicked to be the face of the opposition for the gullible Western corporate media.

Meanwhile, the ‘4+1’ – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah – is now winning decisive facts on the ground. The break down; there won’t be regime change in Damascus. Yet no one broke the news to the Turks and Saudis.  

‘Sultan’ Erdogan is wallowing in a sea of desperation. He continues to divert the gravely serious issues at stake to his own war against the PYD – the umbrella organization of the Syrian Kurds – and the YPG (People's Protection Units, their military wing). Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu wanted the PYD not only banned from Geneva but they want it smashed on the ground, as they see the PYD/YPG as “terrorists” allied to the PKK.

Yet what is ‘Sultan’ Erdogan going to do? Defy the recently arrived 4G++ Sukhoi Su-35S fighters – which are scaring the hell out of every NATO Dr. Strangelove? The Turkish Air Force putting its bases on “orange alert” may scare the odd vagrant dog at best. The same applies to NATO Secretary-General, figurehead Jens Stoltenberg, pleading to Russia “to act responsibly and fully respect NATO airspace.”

Moscow is going after the Turkmen with a vengeance and at the same time providing air support to the PYD west of the Euphrates. That hits the ‘Sultan’ in his heart of hearts; after all Erdogan has threatened multiple times that a PYD/YPG advance west of the Euphrates is the ultimate red line.

An already scared NATO won’t support the folly of an Erdogan war against Russia – as much as US and UK neocons may crave it; as NATO decisions must be unanimous, the last thing EU powers Germany and France want is yet another Southwest Asia war. NATO may deploy the odd Patriot missiles in southern Anatolia and the odd AWACs to support the Turkish Air Force. But that’s it.

Pick your favorite regime change

ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, meanwhile, continues to profit from its own Jihadi highway across a 98 kilometer stretch of Turkish/Syrian border, especially in Jarablus and Al Rai across from Gaziantep and Kilis in Turkey.

Taking a cue from Israel, Ankara is building a wall – 3.6 meters high, 2.5 meters wide – covering the stretch between Elbeyli and Kilis, essentially for propaganda purposes. Because the Jihadi Highway, for all practical purposes, remains open – even as Turkish Armed Forces may apprehend the odd trespasser (always released). We're talking about a monster smuggler/soldier scam; as much as $300 change hands for each night crossing and a noncommissioned Turkish officer may earn as much as $2,500 to look the other way for a few minutes.

The real question is why Gaziantep is not under a curfew imposed from Ankara, with thousands of Turkish Special Forces actually fighting a “war on terra” on the spot. That’s because Ankara and provincial authorities couldn’t give a damn; the real priority is Erdogan’s war on the Kurds.

This brings us to the only leverage the ‘Sultan’ may enjoy at the moment. From Brussels to Berlin, sound minds are terrified that the EU is now actually hostage to Erdogan’s Kurd “priority”, while Ankara is doing next to nothing to fight massive migrant smuggling.

When Davutoglu went to Berlin recently not only did he make no promises; he re-stressed Erdogan’s vow to "annihilate" the Syrian Kurds.

And that explains German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own desperation. How could the alleged most powerful politician in Europe falls for such a crude extortion racket? The ‘Sultan’ wants a lot of cash, a lot of concessions, and even a further shot at entering the EU. Otherwise, he won’t turn off the tap on the grim refugee flood.

No wonder the regime change rumor mill is frantic. In Ankara? No; in Berlin.


Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. He is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Iran- the New China?

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iran_china_afp.jpg_1718483346 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Chinese President Xi Jinping | Photo: AFP

Originally published in TeleSur on January 29, 2016


If Iran successfully engages in a Chinese-style economic development program it would further enhance its geopolitical status and significance.

It’s currently quite a toss-up when it comes to naming the hardest working man in geopolitical business: Chinese President Xi Jinping or Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Their paths cross last week in Tehran in spectacular fashion as Xi and Rouhani clinched a crucial strategic partnership. The two nations agreed to increase bilateral trade to $600 billion over the next decade. Geostrategically, as I pointed out, that was a master class.

Beijing regards Iran, not only in Southwest Asia but across Eurasia, as the essential hub for countering Washington’s much-advertised “pivot to Asia,” centered on U.S. naval hegemony. No wonder Xi made it clear that Iran is to be accepted as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as early as this year.

A strategic partnership implies Beijing’s full support for the Iranian economic/political/diplomatic renaissance across the arc spanning the Persian Gulf to the Caspian – and beyond. The arc also happens to span all the crucial New Silk Road maritime and land routes that are vitally important for the global projection of the Xi-coined Chinese dream.

And then, only a few days later, Rouhani was in Rome in a warm closed door meeting with Pope Francis after clinching $17 billion in multiple deals.

This frantic post-sanction activity only enhances, in perspective, the absurdity of the Washington-manufactured Iranian nuclear crisis. Geopolitical realism, from Europe to Asia, cannot ignore a nation placed in the intersection of the Arab, Turk, Indian and Russian worlds, underscored by its role as privileged entry and exit point to the vast Caucasus-Central-Asia ensemble, which also includes Afghanistan.

Geostrategically, as the ultimate Eurasian crossroads, Iran is unbeatable, linking the Middle East, Caucasus, Central Asia, Indian subcontinent and Persian Gulf; between three seas – Caspian, Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman; relatively close to the Mediterranean and Europe; and on the doorstep of Asia.

Xi did not have to talk explicit politics in Tehran as he was suffice to clinch deal after deal to impress his point. The long-term trend, inevitably, is for China’s One Belt, One Road vision to bridge the gap toward a Sino-Russian leadership across Eurasia, which translates practically into the progressive sidelining of the British-American imperial continuum. Meanwhile, Italy and France, during Rouhani’s European tour, kept themselves busy playing catch-up.  

When Khamenei Becomes Deng

The frantic post-sanction Iranian scene at least punctures the previous, relentless Western demonization and lays out the bases for   economic development in just about every sphere. The Islamic Republic of Iran has faced a tremendous handicap for the past 36 years – something that would have broken any less-resourceful society.  

Sanctions over the past 10 years cost Iran at least 480 billion euros; that’s roughly one full year of Iranian GDP. In a world not ruled by the usual suspects of financial oligarchy, Tehran would have grounds to take Washington to court with a vengeance.  

As for the “Iranian aggression” meme – which, by the way, still persists – that’s a lousy imperial joke. Iran spends 3,9 percent of GDP on defense; compare it with 10.3 percent for the House of Saud oil hacienda. In total, Iran spends seven times less on defense compared to the Gulf petro-monarchies, which cannot subsist without their mostly U.S., British and French weaponizing.  

The road ahead for Iran will be bumpy. Serious problems include corruption, bureaucratic incompetence, and economic sectors reserved to special interests or barred from foreign investment. Sections of the power elite – like the bonyads (religious foundations) and the pasdaran (the IRGC) are not exactly prone to relinquish their grip on vital sectors of the national economy. The economic opening of Iran will inevitably accelerate the social transformation of the country.  

What happens next will largely depend on the crucial, upcoming February elections – which will yield a new Majlis (Parliament), and a new Assembly of Experts in charge of choosing the next Supreme Leader.

Iran is a unique geopolitical case – where a republic derives its legitimacy, simultaneously, from Islam and universal suffrage. This may not be your classic Western parliamentary democracy, but at the same time it’s not some sort of crude authoritarianism of Saudi Arabia. A quite complex system of checks and balances is in place, involving the presidency, the Parliament, the Council of Guardians, the Assembly of Experts and different bodies such as the Discernment Council and the National Security Council.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has made it very clear he will pay close attention to cultural, political and security consequences of an economic opening that could enfeeble the revolutionary ideology of the Islamic Republic. What’s certain is that the Supreme Leader – as an arbiter – will preserve the careful balance of political forces in Iran.  

This means, in practice, that Team Rouhani won’t be allowed to draw unlimited political capital from the economic opening, while at the same time the social and cultural transformation of the country won’t be synonymous to a Western cultural invasion.

The Vienna nuclear deal clinched last summer was no less than a seismic geopolitical event in Iran. Internally, it sealed a consensus between the Tehran state machine and the majority of the population, which wanted Iran to become a “normal” nation again.

Now comes the hard part. The most probable scenario spells out an Islamic Republic of Iran engaged in a Chinese-style economic development program. Sort of a Persian “get rich is glorious” remix, under strict political control.

This begs the question: are we ready for the new Supreme Leader role as the Iranian Deng Xiaoping?


Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online, where he wrote the column The Roving Eye from 2000 to 2014. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015. He currently lives between Paris and Bangkok. Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pepe.escobar.77377

Rumble in the Ruble, Fire in the Markets

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benjamin

Originally published in Sputnik on January 25, 2016

 


A case can be made that for Moscow it would be a tremendous waste of hard-earned foreign exchange – to try to counter a rig against their currency they simply cannot beat, as the entire fiat financial power of the US is against them. Russia’s Central Bank by now should be all-out selling rubles for gold, and building Russia’s gold reserves.

Well, it is happening, somewhat. Last week, Russia’s Central Bank estimated gold reserves to have reached 1,415 metric tons in 2015 – over 17 percent more than 2014, valued at almost $48.6 billion. The share of monetary gold in Russia’s foreign currency reserves rose from 11.96 percent to 13.18 percent.

That’s still not good enough. Why? A harsh answer would be that the Russian Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance, as some analysts argue, are in effect run by saboteurs and vassals of the US financial elite, a.k.a. the Masters of the Universe.

Still, the Russian Central Bank did not intervene to prop up the ruble. And they should not. The best course of action would be to let the ruble go, ending almost all imports, thus forcing self-sufficiency. Or introduce capital controls, with only approved transactions involving foreign currencies. It did work for Malaysia, for instance, after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

 

Forget about a China crash

A serious case can be made that Russia does not need much Western foreign investment. That was mostly encouraged by the Central Bank, who held interest rates higher in Russia than the US and EU, naturally leading Russian companies to borrow abroad in US dollars or Euros.

The responsibility of Russia’s Central Bank is to create domestic credit to build the industries that have been cut off from Russia by the falling ruble. This is not inflationary; the increased production out of these investments would nullify the inflationary implications on the newly created credit.

The Russian Central bank instead went for tight money to fight inflation. It would have been much more profitable for Russia to fight inflation by creating credit at low interest rates to finance the construction of the industries necessary to replace the import of foreign products.

Now let’s look at the Russia-China strategic partnership. While Russia may be on the ropes, China is not. China will grow at an estimated 6.5 percent this year – versus 7 percent in 2015. Amid an astounding web of economic restructuring and de-leveraging, US multinationals such as Apple and GM certainly have no interest in a Chinese “crash”.

A key indicator to watch is the growth in China’s demand for oil. Construction has ebbed; but not car manufacturing, which is pumping out 25 million vehicles per year.

To deal with China, the Masters of the Universe deployed a different strategy; they tried to stop Chinese economic growth from fueling the rise in the oil price. Thus the offensive by the usual Wall Street suspects trying to crash China’s stock market using cash settlement on A shares. It did not work.

Now, the Masters of Universe, remote-controlling the Saudis, are essentially trying to pull the plug on global stock markets. One could call it a trillion dollar cash settlement derivative game. There’s no evidence this will be enough to break Russia.

The “assassin” versus the fifth column

Masters of the Universe hysteria on getting rid of President Putin (and reinstating vassal oligarchs) by any means available has reached fever pitch; the latest manifestation is “Putin The Assassin”, with crucial assistance provided by British“intelligence”.

There is no question Masters of the Universe operatives are behind the collapse in oil and ruble prices. Somewhat it’s a repeat of the scenario in mid-2014, when the oil price crashed and there was no visible increase in output; what happened was the – invisible – dumping of seven million barrels a day of Gulf oil under orders by the Masters of the Universe, according to surefire (American) banking sources.

The Fed mightily contributed to the present disorder by raising interest rates when the US economy was sick, while cash settlement manipulators in Wall Street used this as the basis for their move to tank the markets. It goes without saying that the usual suspects will make hundreds of billions of dollars out of the current market crash. A good place to watch is what goes on inside BlackRock.

Into this gloomy scenario steps in none other than the aspiring Master of the (New) Universe, Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his high-profile tour of the Middle East. Xi’s three-pronged business/charm offensive in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt should be interpreted as Beijing’s shot at reshaping Southwest Asia in a framework closer to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Xi as much as anyone knows very well how the whole American economy – based on a worthless global reserve currency – is fuelled by a rapacious, barely disguised tribute, paid by every nation in the world to the Empire of Chaos. And Xi knows how this tribute scam is unraveling, fast.

In Riyadh, Xi even implied, in a very Chinese, nuanced way, that the House of Saud would be doing a very good deal if it eventually dropped Washington as the Mafia-style protector, as well as the petrodollar as the privileged conduit for recycling Saudi oil income. What about yuan-denominated bonds and yuan-based oil benchmarks?

Needless to add, should the House of Saud even contemplate such a move en masse, a CIA-engineered coup in Riyadh would be a certainty, and all House of Saud assets confiscated – as many a Master of the Universe minion in the Beltway is already advocating off the record.

So we have the Saudis – following Masters of the Universe orders – frantically dumping securities on the market while the Russian Central bank wavers on what to do next.

Yet even if the Saudis managed to dump their $8 trillion in estimated assets Russia, adopting the correct strategy, could still move to a self-sufficiency that the US – or the EU – can’t even dream of. And on top of it enjoying full employment – while the West crashes itself down as their markets disintegrate.

So, Russian Central Bank and Finance Ministry, the steaming hot ball is in your court.


Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015.

Planet of Fear

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freda freedom fighter

Originally published in Information Clearing House on January 19, 2016

 


Facing the gleaming Doha skyline on a Persian Gulf winter carries the merit of a panoramic perspective. Most nations around it are going into melt down and the remaining ones – with the exception of Iran – exhibit neither the political leadership nor the economic and institutional infrastructure to do anything other than to meekly accept whatever tsunami hits their shores. They are nothing but scared spectators.

The Empire of Chaos has enough warmongering hardware pre-positioned within spitting distance to turn the whole of Southwest Asia into ashes – as a gaggle of usual suspects in the Beltway, neocon or neoliberalcon, still can’t find a cure to their itching to "really win the next war" in a sort of exponential Shock and Awe.

Fear reigns supreme. Jim Rickards, the author of Currency Wars, economist and CIA asset, has just released a new book, The Big Drop, with a pretty grim message. For his part Jim Rogers, a.k.a. the "Sage of Singapore", most of the time China-bound informing the Chinese elite where to place their investments, holds on to a nuanced perspective on the West blaming all the current global economy turmoil on China.

According to Rogers, "Yes, China is slowing. But mostly the world is doing so. Japan, one of China’s largest trading partners is officially in recession. Much of Europe is worse. The US stock market was down in 2015 while the Chinese stock market was one of the strongest in the world."

Rogers adds, "things are going to get worse worldwide so everyone will suffer and is to ‘blame’. The original source is the US Federal Reserve and its ludicrous, artificial interest rates caused by massive money printing which the world has copied. Throw in staggering debt increases by the US government [which the world has also copied] and there will soon be hell to pay."

So no wonder apocalyptic war rumors are the new normal – even as old timers boost their case for "only" a "good old-fashioned world war", as if nuclear exchanges wouldn’t be part of the equation. A few sound minds in the Atlanticist axis worry that if Il Duce Trump wins the next US presidential election, that translates into guaranteed bankruptcy for the US, and – what else – war if Il Trumpissimo implements half of what he’s boasting about.

Short all the oil you can

The Davos annual talkfest is about to begin; that’s one of those occasions when the Masters of the Universe – who usually decide everything behind closed doors – send their minions to "debate" the future of their holdings. The current debate centers on whether we are still in the midst of the Third – digitalized – Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things or whether we’re already entering the Fourth.

In the real world though all the cackle is about the age of old-fashioned oil. Which brings us to the myriad effects of the cheap oil strategy deployed by the House of Saud under Washington’s command. 

Persian Gulf traders, off the record, are adamant that there is no longer any real global oil surplus of consequence as all shut-in oil has been dumped on the market based on that Washington command.

Petroleum Intelligence Weekly estimates the surplus is at a maximum 2.2 million a day, plus 600,000 barrels a day coming from Iran later this year. The US consumption of oil – at 19,840,000 barrels a day, 20% of world production – has not increased; it’s the other 80% that have been mostly absorbing the dumped oil.

Some key Persian Gulf traders are adamant that oil should be surging by the second half of 2016. That explains why Russia is not panicking with oil plunging towards $30 a barrel. Moscow is very much aware of the "partners" that are carrying oil market manipulation against Russia, and at the same time is anticipating this won’t last too long.

That explains why Russia's Deputy Finance Minister Maxim Oreshkin issued a sort of "keep calm and carry on" message; he expects oil prices to remain in the $40-60 range for at least the next seven years, and Russia can live with that.

The Masters of the Universe – just like the Russians – have realized their oil manipulation cannot last. Hysteria, predictably, took over. That’s why they ordered major Wall Street firms to short oil using cash settlement. Compliant US corporate media was ordered to spin the shortfalls will last forever. The target is to drive down the price of a barrel of oil to $7 if possible.

The original Masters of the Universe strategy would eventually lead to regime change in Russia and the usual oligarch suspects back in the saddle re-conducting the massive looting operation Russia suffered during the 1990s. 

A fearful House of Saud is a mere pawn in this strategy. Assuming the plan would work, the House of Saud under – virtually demented – King Salman, now confined to a room in his Riyadh palace, would also be regime-changed, via Saudi military officers trained in the West and recruited by Western agents. As a bonus, the Islamic Republic of Iran would also collapse, with "moderates" (rebels?) taking control.

So the Masters of the Universe strategy essentially boils down to regime-change in Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, leading to Exceptionalistan-friendly elites/vassals; in sum, the ultimate chapter in the global Resource Wars. Yet what this is yielding so far is the House of Saud having absolutely no clue of what may happen to them; Riyadh royals may think that they are undermining both Iran and Russia, but in the end they may be only accelerating their own demise.

Losing my religion

In Europe, it’s as if we’re back to 1977 when The Stranglers sang No More Heroes. Now, no more heroes and no more ideals. Even as some of European youth’s best and brightest have tried to fight the immense violence of neoliberalism, via alter-globalization, the poorest among the young are now mired in violence and suicidal nihilism – extreme Wahhabism which they've learned online. Yet this has nothing to do with Islam, and it’s not a war of religion, as myriad extreme-right parties across Europe routinely insist. 

All across the spectrum, driven by fear, the toxic mix of political and economic instability continues to spread, leading quite a few insiders to wonder whether both the Fed and the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing don't really know what’s happening.

And that once again feeds the warmongering hordes, for which that "good old-fashioned world war" is the easiest ticket out. Cancel all the old debt; issue loads of new debt; turn ploughshares and iPhones into cannons. And after a little thermonuclear exchange, welcome to full employment and a new (waste)land of opportunity.

It’s in this context that, under the volcano, surfaces an essay by Guido Preparata, an Italian-American political economist now based as a scholar in the Vatican. In The Political Economy of Hyper-Modernity, soon to appear in an anthology published by Palgrave/Macmillan, Preparata offers an account of the last 70 years of US/international monetary dynamics/history by using a single indicator: the overall US balance of payments – which has not been released since 1975.

Yet the most important conclusion in the essay seems to be that "the neoliberal engine, which has had to run mostly on domestic fuel, has shown… appreciable resilience". The US Treasury and the Federal Reserve, "together" managed to erect a "wall of money".

And yet "US technocrats seem to have grown disillusioned with the neoliberal machine". So, "as a momentous alternative, the technocrats have called for some kind of ‘global rebalancing’". The US-led system "seems to be transitioning to a neo-mercantilist regime". And the answer is the TPP (The Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) trade agreements that, together, "will place the United States at the center of an open trade zone representing around two-thirds of global economic output".

This would imply, ultimately, a sort of Make Trade, Not War endgame. So why so much fear? That’s because in the internal battle raging among the Masters of the Universe, the freewheeling neoliberalcons have not yet imprinted the last word. So beware the Falcons of War.

© Strategic Culture Foundation

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Empire of Chaos preparing for more fireworks in 2016

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Originally published in Ron December 24, 2016

 


In his seminal 'Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization,' Bryan Ward-Perkins writes, "Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue forever… They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.”
 

The Empire of Chaos, today, is not about complacency. It’s about hubris – and fear. Ever since the start of the Cold War the crucial question has been who would control the great trading networks of Eurasia – or the “heartland”, according to Sir Halford John Mackinder (1861–1947), the father of geopolitics.

We could say that for the Empire of Chaos, the game really started with the CIA-backed coup in Iran in 1953, when the US finally encountered, face to face, that famed Eurasia crisscrossed for centuries by the Silk Road(s), and set out to conquer them all.

Only six decades later, it’s clear there won’t be an American Silk Road in the 21st century, but rather, just like its ancient predecessor, a Chinese one. Beijing’s push for what it calls “One Belt, One Road” is inbuilt in the 21st century conflict between the declining empire and Eurasia integration. Key subplots include perennial NATO expansion and the empire’s obsession in creating a war zone out of the South China Sea.

As the Beijing-Moscow strategic partnership analyses it, the oligarchic elites who really run the Empire of Chaos are bent on the encirclement of Eurasia – considering they may be largely excluded from an integration process based on trade, commerce and advanced communication links.

Beijing and Moscow clearly identify provocation after provocation, coupled with relentless demonization. But they won’t be trapped, as they’re both playing a very long game.

Russian President Vladimir Putin diplomatically insists on treating the West as “partners”. But he knows, and those in the know in China also know, these are not really “partners”. Not after NATO’s 78-day bombing of Belgrade in 1999. Not after the purposeful bombing of the Chinese Embassy. Not after non-stop NATO expansionism. Not after a second Kosovo in the form of an illegal coup in Kiev. Not after the crashing of the oil price by Gulf petrodollar US clients. Not after the Wall Street-engineered crashing of the ruble. Not after US and EU sanctions. Not after the smashing of Chinese A shares by US proxies on Wall Street. Not after non-stop saber rattling in the South China Sea. Not after the shooting down of the Su-24.

It’s only a thread away

A quick rewind to the run-up towards the downing of the Su-24 is enlightening. Obama met Putin. Immediately afterwards Putin met Khamenei. Sultan Erdogan had to be alarmed; a serious Russian-Iranian alliance was graphically announced in Teheran. That was only a day before the downing of the Su-24.

France’s Hollande met Obama. But then Hollande met Putin. Erdogan was under the illusion he fabricated the perfect pretext for a NATO war, to be launched following Article 5 of the NATO Charter. Not by accident failed state Ukraine was the only country to endorse – in haste – the downing of the Su-24. Yet NATO itself recoiled – somewhat in horror; the empire was not ready for nuclear war.

At least not yet. Napoleon knew history turns on a slender thread. As much as Cold War 2.0 remains in effect we were, and will remain, just a thread away from nuclear war.

Whatever happens in the so-called Syrian peace process the proxy war between Washington and Moscow will continue. Hubristic US Think-Tank Land  can’t see it any other way.

For Exceptionalist neocons and neoliberalcons alike, the only digestible endgame is a partition of Syria. The Erdogan system would gobble up the north. Israel would gobble up the oil-rich Golan Heights. And House of Saud proxies would gobble up the eastern desert.

Russia literally bombed all these elaborate plans to ashes because the next step after partition would feature Ankara, Riyadh – and a “leading from behind” Washington – pushing a Jihadi Highway all the way north to the Caucasus as well as Central Asia and Xinjiang (there are already at least 300 Uyghurs fighting for ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.) When all else fails, nothing like a Jihadi Highway plunged as a dagger in the body of Eurasia integration.

In the Chinese front, whatever “creative” provocations the Empire of Chaos may come up with, they won’t derail Beijing’s aims in the South China Sea – that vast basin crammed with unexplored oil and gas wealth and prime naval highway to and from China. Beijing is inevitably configuring itself by 2020 as a formidable haiyang qiangguo – a naval power.

Washington may supply $250 million in military “aid” to Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia for the next two years, but that’s mostly irrelevant. Whatever “creative” imperial ideas would have to take into account, for instance, the DF-21D “carrier killer” ballistic missile, with a 2,500 km range and capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

On the economic front, Washington-Beijing will remain prime proxy war territory. Washington pushes the TPP – or NATO on trade pivoting to Asia? It’s still a Sisyphean task, because the 12 member nations need to ratify it, not least the US featuring an extremely hostile Congress.

Against this American one-trick pony, Xi Jinping, for his part, is deploying a complex three-pronged strategy; China’s own counterpunch to the TPP, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP); the immensely ambitious “One Belt, One Road”; and the means to finance a tsunami of projects, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – the Chinese counter-punch to the World Bank and the US-Japan-controlled Asian Development Bank (ADB)

For Southeast Asia, for instance, the numbers tell the story. Last year, China was the top ASEAN partner, to the tune of $367 billion. This will grow exponentially with One Belt, One Road – which will absorb $200 billion in Chinese investment up to 2018.

Heart of Darkness – revisited

Prospects for Europe are nothing but bleak. French-Iranian researcher Farhad Khosrokhavar has been one of the few who identified the crux of the problem. A jihadi reserve army across Europe will continue to feed on batallions of excluded youth in poor inner cities. There is no evidence EU neoliberalcons will be fostering sound socio-economic policies to extract these alienated masses from the ghettos, employing new forms of socialization.

So the escape route will continue to be a virus-like version of Salafi-jihadism, sold by wily, PR-savvy profiteers as a symbol of resistance; the only counter-ideology available on the market. Khosrokhavar defined it as the neo-umma – an “effervescent community that never existed historically”, but now openly inviting any young European, Muslim or otherwise, afflicted by an identity crisis.

In parallel, on our way into a full 15 years of the endless neocon war against independent states in the Middle East, the Pentagon will be turbo-charging an unlimited expansion of some of its existing bases – from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan – into “hubs”.

From sub-Saharan Africa to Southwest Asia, expect a hub boom, all of them merrily hosting Special Forces; the operation was described by Pentagon supremo Ash “Empire of Whining” Carter as “essential”“Because we cannot predict the future, these regional nodes – from Moron, Spain to Jalalabad, Afghanistan – will provide forward presence to respond to a range of crises, terrorist and other kinds. These will enable unilateral crisis response, counter-terror operations, or strikes on high-value targets.”

It’s all here: unilateral Exceptionalistan in action against anyone who dares to defy imperial diktats.

From Ukraine to Syria, and all across MENA (Middle East and North Africa), the proxy war between Washington and Moscow, with higher and higher stakes, won’t abate. Imperial despair over the irreversible Chinese ascent also won’t abate. As the New Great Game picks up speed, and Russia supplies Eurasian powers Iran, China and India with missile defense systems beyond anything the West has, get used to the new normal; Cold War 2.0 between Washington and Beijing-Moscow.

I leave you with Joseph Conrad, writing in Heart of Darkness: "There is a taint of death, a flavor or mortality in lies….To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe….We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember, because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign – and no memories…”


PepePepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Fear And Loathing in the House of Saud

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saudi well

Originally published in Sputnik on January 8, 2016


Desperation does not even begin to describe the current plight of the House of Saud.

Riyadh was fully aware the beheading of respected Saudi Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr was a deliberate provocation bound to elicit a rash Iranian response.

The Saudis calculated they could get away with it; after all they employ the best American PR machine petrodollars can buy, and are viscerally defended by the usual gaggle of nasty US neo-cons.   

In a post-Orwellian world "order" where war is peace and "moderate" jihadis get a free pass, a House of Saud oil hacienda cum beheading paradise — devoid of all civilized norms of political mediation and civil society participation — heads the UN Commission on Human Rights and fattens the US industrial-military complex to the tune of billions of dollars while merrily exporting demented Wahhabi/Salafi-jihadism from MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) to Europe and from the Caucasus to East Asia. 

And yet major trouble looms. Erratic King Salman's move of appointing his son, the supremely arrogant and supremely ignorant Prince Mohammad bin Salman to number two in the line of succession has been contested even among Wahhabi hardliners.

But don't count on petrodollar-controlled Arab media to tell the story.

English-language TV network Al-Arabiyya, for instance, based in the Emirates, long financed by House of Saud members, and owned by the MBC conglomerate, was bought by none other than Prince Mohammad himself, who will also buy MBC.

With oil at less than $40 a barrel, largely thanks to Saudi Arabia's oil war against both Iran and Russia, Riyadh's conventional wars are taking a terrible toll. The budget has collapsed and the House of Saud has been forced to raise taxes.

The illegal war on Yemen, conducted with full US acquiescence, led by — who else — Prince Mohammad, and largely carried out by the proverbial band of mercenaries, has instead handsomely profited al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP), just as the war on Syria has profited mostly Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria.

Three months ago, Saudi ulemas called for a jihad not only against Damascus but also Tehran and Moscow without the "civilized" West batting an eyelid; after all the ulemas were savvy enough to milk the "Russian aggression" bandwagon, comparing the Russian intervention in Syria, agreed with Damascus, with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.   

US Think Tankland revels in spinning that the beheading provocation was a "signal" to Tehran that Riyadh will not tolerate Iranian influence among Shi'ites living in predominantly Sunni states. And yet Beltway cackle that Riyadh hoped to contain "domestic Shi'ite tensions" by beheading al-Nimr does not even qualify as a lousy propaganda script. To see why this is nonsense, let's take a quick tour of Saudi Arabia's Eastern province. 

All Eyes on Al Sharqiyya

Saudi Arabia is essentially a huge desert island. Even though the oil hacienda is bordered by the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, the Saudis don't control what matters: the key channels of communication/energy exporting bottlenecks — the Bab el-Mandeb and the Straits of Hormuz, not to mention the Suez canal.

Enter US "protection" as structured in a Mafia-style "offer you can't refuse" arrangement; we guarantee safe passage for the oil export flow through our naval patrols and you buy from us, non-stop, a festival of weapons and host our naval bases alongside other GCC minions. The "protection" used to be provided by the former British empire. So Saudi Arabia — as well as the GCC — remains essentially an Anglo-American satrapy.         

Al Sharqiyya — the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia — holds only 4 million people, the overwhelming majority Shi'ites. And yet it produces no less than 80% of Saudi oil. The heart of the action is the provincial capital Al Qatif, where Nimr al-Nimr was born. We're talking about the largest oil hub on the planet, consisting of 12 crisscrossed pipelines that connect to massive Gulf oil terminals such as Dhahran and Ras Tanura.

Enter the strategic importance of neighboring Bahrain. Historically, all the lands from Basra in southern Iraq to the peninsula of Musandam, in Oman — traditional trade posts between Europe and India — were known as Bahrain ("between two seas").

Tehran could easily use neighboring Bahrain to infiltrate Al Sharqiyya, detach it from Riyadh's control, and configure a "Greater Bahrain" allied with Iran. That's the crux of the narrative peddled by petrodollar-controlled media, the proverbial Western "experts", and incessantly parroted in the Beltway.  

Workers rest at Ras Tannura's oil production plant near Dammam in Saudi Arabia's eastern province

There's no question Iranian hardliners cherish the possibility of a perpetual Bahraini thorn on Riyadh's side. That would imply weaponizing a popular revolution in Al Sharqiyya.  But the fact is not even Nimr al-Nimr was in favor of a secession of Al Sharqiyya. 

And that's also the view of the Rouhani administration in Tehran. Whether disgruntled youth across Al Sharqiyya will finally have had enough with the beheading of al-Nimr it's another story; it may open a Pandora's box that will not exactly displease the IRGC in Tehran.  

But the heart of the matter is that Team Rouhani perfectly understands the developing Southwest Asia chapter of the New Great Game, featuring the re-emergence of Iran as a regional superpower; all of the House of Saud's moves, from hopelessly inept to major strategic blunder, betray utter desperation with the end of the old order.  

That spans everything from an unwinnable war (Yemen) to a blatant provocation (the beheading of al-Nimr) and a non sequitur such as the new Islamic 34-nation anti-terror coalition which most alleged members didn't even know they were a part of. 

The supreme House of Saud obsession rules, drenched in fear and loathing: the Iranian "threat".

Riyadh, which is clueless on how to play geopolitical chess — or backgammon — will keep insisting on the oil war, as it cannot even contemplate a military confrontation with Tehran. And everything will be on hold, waiting for the next tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; will he/she be tempted to pivot back to Southwest Asia, and cling to the old order (not likely, as Washington relies on becoming independent from Saudi oil)? Or will the House of Saud be left to its own — puny — devices among the shark-infested waters of hardcore geopolitics?


PepePepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

NATO’s got a brand new (Syrian) bag

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Smoke rises after what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Assad in Raqqa, which is controlled by the Islamic State

Originally published in RT on December 14, 2015


The FSB, SVR and GRU in Russia, while drawing all the right connections, cannot help but conclude that Washington is letting Cold War 2.0 escalate to the boiling point.

Imagine Russian intel surveying the geopolitical chessboard. 

A Russian passenger jet is bombed by an affiliate of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. A Russian fighter jet is ambushed and downed by Turkey;  here is a partial yet credible scenario of how it may have happened.

Ukrainian right-wing goons sabotage the Crimean electricity supply. A Syrian army base near Deir Ezzor – an important outpost against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in eastern Syria – is hit by the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO). The IMF “pardons” Ukraine’s debt to Russia as it joins, de facto, Cold War 2.0.

And this is just a shortlist.

This is a logical progression. The NATO-GCC compound in Syria is devoured by angst. Russia’s entry into the Syrian war theater – a proxy war, not a civil war – threw all elaborate, downright criminal regime change plans into disarray.

If the US-led CDO were really committed to fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, they would be working side by side with the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), not bombing it or trying to stall it.

And they would be actively trying to shut down the key Turkey-Syria crossroads – the Jarablus corridor which is in fact a 24/7 Jihadi Highway.

NATO’s game in Syria wallows in slippery ambiguity. Discussions with dissident EU diplomats in Brussels, not necessarily NATO vassals, reveal a counter-narrative of how the Pentagon clearly mapped out the Russian strategy; how they interpreted Russian forces to be relatively isolated; and how they decided to allow Ankara under Sultan Erdogan to go wild – a perfect tool offering plausible deniability.

Which brings us back to the downing of the Su-24. Venturing one step further, Russian expert Alexei Leonkov maintains that not only did NATO follow the whole operation with an AWACS, but another AWACS from Saudi Arabia actually guided the Turkish F-16s.

The F-16s are incapable of launching air-to-air missiles without guidance from AWACS. Both Russian and Syrian data – which can be independently verified – place the American and the Saudi AWACS in the area at the time. And to top it off, the detailed US-Turkey deal on the F-16s stipulates permission is mandatory for deploying the jets against a third country.

All this suggests an extremely serious possibility; a direct NATO-GCC op against Russia, which may be further clarified by the Su-24’s recovered black box.

As if this was not enough to raise multiple eyebrows, it could mean just the first move in an expanding chessboard. The final target: to keep Russia away from the Turkish-Syrian border.

But that won’t happen for a number of reasons – not least the Russian deployment of the ultra-lethal S-400s. The Turkish Air Force is so scared that everything – even owls and vultures – is grounded across the border.

Meanwhile, the Humint component is being boosted; more Western boots on the ground, Germans included, branded as mere “advisers” – which, if deployed to the battlefield, may inevitably clash with the SAA. To mold public opinion, the humanitarian bombing faction of German neoliberalcons is already spinning the tale that Assad is the real enemy, not ISISI/SIL/Daesh. Finally, the Germans have made it clear they won’t work alongside Russia and the SAA, but responding to Centcom in Florida and the CDO HQ in Kuwait.

The NATO master plan for northern Syria in the next few weeks and months essentially features US, UK and Turkey fighter jets, with the French still in the balance (are we de facto collaborating with the Russians, or is it just posture?) This is being sold to global public opinion as a “coalition” effort – with Russia barely mentioned.

The master plan, under the cover of bombing the fake “Caliphate” lair in Raqqa, would ideally open the way to a de facto, Erdogan-concocted “safe zone” across the Jarablus corridor, which in reality is a no-fly zone able to harbor a gaggle of“moderate rebels”, a.k.a. hardcore Salafi-jihadis of the al-Nusra kind.

In parallel, expect a torrent of Turkish spin centered on “protecting” the Turkmen minority in northern Syria, actually Turkey’s fifth column, heavily infiltrated by Islamo-fascists of the Grey Wolves kind. It started with Ankara accusing Moscow of “ethnic cleansing”. Erdogan will go no holds barred appealing even for R2P (“responsibility to protect” NATO liberation, Libyan-style.)

And here’s where NATO is totally in sync with Ankara; after all, a “safe zone” protected by NATO crammed with “moderate rebels” is the perfect tool to turbo-charge the breakup of the Syrian state.

It’s not legal but we don’t care

NATO’s Syria intervention is of course absolutely illegal.

UN Security Council resolution 2249 does not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Yet once again creative language – French-style rhetorical artifice – blurs the non-justification of military might by conveying the impression the UNSC approves it.

And that’s exactly how David of Arabia Cameron interpreted it. Obfuscation is inbuilt in the process, with London pledging to work side by side with Moscow.

Resolution 2249 is yet another case of international law reduced to rubble. For these – sporadic – UK and French air strikes, covered by the pretext of hitting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, were never authorized by Damascus, and the UNSC was not even consulted. Russia, on the other hand, has been fully authorized by Damascus.

On top of this, the CDO is no coalition of 60 or 65 countries, as the Obama administration is frantically spinning. They are actually a gang of seven: Germany, France, UK, US, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In a nutshell; a pared-down-to-the-bone NATO-GCC compound.

Who’s actually fighting the fake “Caliphate” on the ground are the SAA; Hezbollah; Iraqi Shi’ites under Iranian advisers; and outside of the “4+1” alliance (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah) a coalition of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and smaller Arab and Christian militias, now united under a political umbrella, the Syrian Democratic Council, which Ankara predictably abhors.

Ankara provocations won’t stop – including “creative” ways of denying the passage of “Syrian Express” Russian ships through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles without violating the Montreux Convention.

So NATO’s “new” master plan, twisting and turning, still slouches towards the prime objective: “liberating”, Libya-style, northern Syria and allow it to be occupied either by “moderate rebels” or in the worst case scenario Syrian Kurds, which in theory would be easily manipulated.

ISIS/ISIL/Daesh would be in this case “contained” (Obama administration lingo) not in eastern Syria but actually expelled to the Iraqi western desert, where they would solidify a Sunnistan. Erdogan also badly wants a Sunnistan, but his version is even more ambitious, including Mosul.

This is all happening while a gaggle of Syrian “moderate” rebels met – of all places – in Wahhabi/Salafi-Jihadi Central Riyadh to choose a delegation of 42 people to “select the negotiators” of future Syrian peace talks.

Once again they agreed “Assad must go” even during the transition process. And that “foreign forces” must leave Syria. Obviously that excludes the tsunami of mercenaries paid and weaponized by Riyadh alongside Doha and Ankara.

Any sound mind would ask how the House of Saud gets away with it: choosing who is a “moderate” in a nation they are heavily involved in destabilizing. Simple: because Riyadh owns a gaggle of US lobbyists and handsomely rewards PR gurus such as Edelman, the largest privately owned PR agency on the planet.

The die is cast. Whatever Ankara – under the cover of NATO – may be concocting to prevent the “4+1” from advancing on the ground in Syria, the writing is on the (lethal) wall. It may come embedded in cruise missiles delivered by the Caspian Fleet or delivered by submarines. And it will follow to the letter what President Putin himself told the Defense Ministry's collegium: And not by accident, the Syrian Democratic Council was not invited to go to Riyadh.

"I order you to act extremely tough. Any targets that threaten Russian forces or our infrastructure on the ground should be immediately destroyed."

 


Pepe Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

 

How Russia is smashing the Turkish game in Syria

CU740GCU8AAHTAIgc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Oil transportation routes into Turkey from Syria and Iraq. © Ministry of defence of the Russian Federation / Sputnik

Originally published in RT on December 3, 2015


So why did Washington take virtually forever to not really acknowledge ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is selling stolen Syrian oil that will eventually find its way to Turkey?
Because the priority all along was to allow the CIA – in the shadows – to run a “rat line” weaponizing a gaggle of invisible “moderate rebels”.

 

As much as Daesh – at least up to now – Barzani mob in Iraqi Kurdistan was never under Washington’s watch. The oil operation the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) runs to Turkey is virtually illegal; stolen state-owned oil as far as Baghdad is concerned.

Daesh stolen oil can’t flow through Damascus-controlled territory. Can’t flow though Shiite-dominated Iraq. Can't go east to Iran. It’s Turkey or nothing. Turkey is the easternmost arm of NATO. The US and NATO “support” Turkey. So a case can be made that the US and NATO ultimately support Daesh.

What’s certain is that illegal Daesh oil and illegal KRG oil fit the same pattern; energy interests by the usual suspects playing a very long game.

What these interests are focused on is to control every possible oil asset in Iraqi Kurdistan and then in “liberated” Syria. It’s crucial to know that Tony "Deepwater Horizon" Hayward is running Genel, whose top priority is to control oil fields that were first stolen from Baghdad, and will eventually be stolen from the Iraqi Kurds.  

And then, there’s the Turkmen powder keg.

The key reason why Washington always solemnly ignored Ankara’s array of shady deals in Syria, through its fifth column Turkmen jihadis, is because a key CIA “rat line” runs exactly through the region known as Turkmen Mountain.

These Turkmen, supplied by Ankara’s “humanitarian” convoys, got American TOW-2As for their role in preserving prime weaponizing/ smuggling routes. Their advisers, predictably, are Xe/Academi types, formerly Blackwater. Russia happened to identify the whole scam and started bombing the jihadis. Thus the downing of the Su-24.

The Turkmen fifth column

Now the CIA is on a mission from God – frantically trying to prevent the “rat line” from being definitely smashed by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) on the ground and Russia in the air.

The same desperation applies to the Aleppo-Azez-Killis route, which is also essential for Turkey for all kinds of smuggling.

The advanced arm of the “4+1” alliance – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah – is taking no prisoners trying to re-conquer these two key corridors.

And that explains Ankara’s desperation – with a little help from ‘His Masters’ Voice’ – to come up with an entirely new rat line/corridor through Afrin, currently under Syrian Kurd control, before Damascus forces and Russia air power get there.  

Once again it’s important to remember that a gaggle of Turkmen outfits are Ankara’s fifth column in northern Syria.

Most Turkmen live in Kurdish territories. And here’s the ultimate complicating factor; the majority happen to live in the Jarablus region, currently controlled by ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. It’s exactly this area that is cutting the geographic connection between the two Kurdish cantons, Kobani and Afrin.

So imagine a continuous Syrian Kurd control/autonomy/corridor all across the Turkish-Syrian border. For Ankara this is the ultimate nightmare. Ankara’s strategy is to move its Turkmen pawns, with added “moderate rebels”, all across the Jarablus region. The pretext: wipe Daesh off the map. The real reason: prevent the two Kurdish cantons – Afrin and Kobani – from merging.

And once again Ankara will be directly pitted against Moscow.

The Russian strategy rests on very good relations with Syrian Kurds. Moscow not only supports the Syrian Kurd canton merger, but qualifies it as an important step on the way to a new Syria rid of takfiris. Russia will even officially recognize the PYD (Democratic Union Party) and allow them a representative office in Russia.

Ankara regards the PYD and its paramilitary arm, the YPG (People’s Protection Units) as branches of the PKK. It gets curioser and curioser when we know that both Moscow and Washington are cooperating with the YPG against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

The predictable All-Out Ankara Freak Out came in the form of ‘Sultan’ Erdogan declaring the Euphrates a “red line” for the YPG. If they try to move westward to fight Daesh, sending them out of the Jarablus area, the Turkish Army will strike.

It’s absolutely key for Turkey to control this area between Jarablus and Afrin because here is the site of the would-be “safe zone”, actually a no-fly zone, which Ankara dreams of implementing using the three  billion just extorted from the EU to house refugees but also control northern Syria. Turkmen would be in charge of the area – as well as the Azez-Aleppo line, assuming the SAA does not clear it for good.

The case for UEBA

So Ankara is looking at two very unpleasant Turkmen-filled scenarios to say the least.

Turkmen becoming instruments of Ankara and gatekeepers against the Kurdish YPG; that means a nasty sectarian divide, orchestrated by Turkey, whose greatest loser is the unity of the Syrian nation.

Meanwhile, the SAA and Russian air power are on the verge of total control of Turkmen Mountain.

This will allow the “4+1” to go much deeper fighting against the so-called Army of Conquest and its twin-headed reptile, Jabhat al-Nusra (a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria) and Ahrar al-Sham, the whole lot “supported” and weaponized by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The “4+1” inexorable advance comes with extra benefits; the end of all rat lines in the region, and no more possible threats to Russia’s air base in Hmeimim.   

Make no mistake that Moscow will inflict as much pain on ‘Sultan’ Erdogan as possible.

As Turkish newspaper Radikal quoted him, Prof. Abbas Vali of Bogazici University confirmed, “The PYD was pleased about Russia’s intervention in Syria. An alliance between the PYD and Russia is inevitable. Russia’s bombardment of the radical Islamist groups on the ground will have a huge impact on the PYD operations.”

So no matter which way we look, Turkey and Russia are on a serious collision course in Syria. Moscow will support Syrian Kurds no holds barred as they push to link the three major Kurdish cantons in northern Syria into a unified Rojava.

As for Washington’s “strategy”, it now boils down to the CIA need for a new “rat line”. That could imply sitting on the – weaponizing – sidelines watching Turkmen and Kurds slug it out, thus creating an opening for the Turkish Army to intervene, and the Russian Air Force to prevent it, with all hell guaranteed to break loose.

‘Sultan’ Erdogan badly needs a new CIA-secured “rat line” to weaponize not only his fifth column Turkmen but also Chechens, Uzbeks and Uyghurs. And Bilal Erdogan, a.k.a. Erdogan Mini Me, desperately needs new oil smuggling routes and a couple of new tankers; Russia is watching their every move. The latest news from Russia’s Defense Ministry has struck like a volcanic eruption; the Erdogan family mob was branded as “criminals”, with Moscow presenting only an appetizer of the all the evidence it has in store.

So we have the Afghan heroin rat line. The Libyan oil racket (now over). The Ukraine fascist rat line. The Libya to Syria weapon rat line. The stolen Syrian oil trade. The northern Syrian rat lines. Let’s call them UEBA: Unregulated Exceptionalist Business Activities. What’s not to like? There’s no business like war business.


Pepe Escobar
 Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015.

Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?

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chessbattleship

Originally published in Tom Dispatch on November 22, 2015

Silk Roads, Night Trains, and the Third Industrial Revolution in China


The U.S. is transfixed by its multibillion-dollar electoral circus. The European Union is paralyzed by austerity, fear of refugees, and now all-out jihad in the streets of Paris. So the West might be excused if it’s barely caught the echoes of a Chinese version of Roy Orbison’s “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” And that new Chinese dream even comes with a road map.

The crooner is President Xi Jinping and that road map is the ambitious, recently unveiled 13th Five-Year-Plan, or in the pop-video version, the Shisanwu. After years of explosive economic expansion, it sanctifies the country’s lower “new normal” gross domestic product growth rate of 6.5% a year through at least 2020.

It also sanctifies an updated economic formula for the country: out with a model based on low-wage manufacturing of export goods and in with the shock of the new, namely, a Chinese version of the third industrial revolution. And while China’s leadership is focused on creating a middle-class future powered by a consumer economy, its president is telling whoever is willing to listen that, despite the fears of the Obama administration and of some of the country’s neighbors, there’s no reason for war ever to be on the agenda for the U.S. and China.

Given the alarm in Washington about what is touted as a Beijing quietly pursuing expansionism in the South China Sea, Xi has been remarkably blunt on the subject of late. Neither Beijing nor Washington, he insists, should be caught in the Thucydides trap, the belief that a rising power and the ruling imperial power of the planet are condemned to go to war with each other sooner or later.

It was only two months ago in Seattle that Xi told a group of digital economy heavyweights, “There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.”

A case can be made — and Xi’s ready to make it — that Washington, which, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya to Syria, has gained something of a reputation for “strategic miscalculation” in the twenty-first century, might be doing it again.  After all, U.S. military strategy documents and top Pentagon figures have quite publicly started to label China (like Russia) as an official “threat.”

To grasp why Washington is starting to think of China that way, however, you need to take your eyes off the South China Sea for a moment, turn off Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and the rest of the posse, and consider the real game-changer — or “threat” — that’s rattling Beltway nerves in Washington when it comes to the new Great Game in Eurasia.

Xi’s Bedside Reading

Swarms of Chinese tourists iPhoning away and buying everything in sight in major Western capitals already prefigure a Eurasian future closely tied to and anchored by a Chinese economy turbo-charging toward that third industrial revolution. If all goes according to plan, it will harness everything from total connectivity and efficient high-tech infrastructure to the expansion of green, clean energy hubs. Solar plants in the Gobi desert, anyone?

Yes, Xi is a reader of economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, who first conceived of a possible third industrial revolution powered by both the Internet and renewable energy sources.

It turns out that the Chinese leadership has no problem with the idea of harnessing cutting-edge Western soft power for its own purposes. In fact, they seem convinced that no possible tool should be overlooked when it comes to moving the country on to the next stage in the process that China’s Little Helmsman, former leader Deng Xiaoping, decades ago designated as the era in which “to get rich is glorious."

It helps when you have $4 trillion in foreign currency reserves and massive surpluses of steel and cement.  That’s the sort of thing that allows you to go “nation-building” on a pan-Eurasian scale. Hence, Xi’s idea of creating the kind of infrastructure that could, in the end, connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe.  It’s what the Chinese call “One Belt, One Road”; that is, the junction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road.

Since Xi announced his One Belt, One Road policy in Kazakhstan in 2013, PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong estimates that the state has ploughed more than $250 billion into Silk Road-oriented projects ranging from railways to power plants. Meanwhile, every significant Chinese business player is on board, from telecom equipment giant Huawei to e-commerce monster Alibaba (fresh from its Singles Day online blockbuster). The Bank of China has already provided a $50 billion credit line for myriad Silk Road-related projects. China’s top cement-maker Anhui Conch is building at least six monster cement plants in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Laos. Work aimed at tying the Asian part of Eurasia together is proceeding at a striking pace.  For instance, the China-Laos, China-Thailand, and Jakarta-Bandung railways — contracts worth over $20 billion — are to be completed by Chinese companies before 2020.

With business booming, right now the third industrial revolution in China looks ever more like a mad scramble toward a new form of modernity.

A Eurasian “War on Terror”

The One Belt, One Road plan for Eurasia reaches far beyond the Rudyard Kipling-coined nineteenth century phrase “the Great Game,” which in its day was meant to describe the British-Russian tournament of shadows for the control of Central Asia. At the heart of the twenty-first century’s Great Game lies China’s currency, the yuan, which may, by November 30th, join the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights reserve-currency basket. If so, this will in practice mean the total integration of the yuan, and so of Beijing, into global financial markets, as an extra basket of countries will add it to their foreign exchange holdings and subsequent currency shifts may amount to the equivalent of trillions of U.S. dollars.

Couple the One Belt, One Road project with the recently founded, China-ledAsian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Beijing’s Silk Road Infrastructure Fund ($40 billion committed to it so far).  Mix in an internationalized yuan and you have the groundwork for Chinese companies to turbo-charge their way into a pan-Eurasian (and even African) building spree of roads, high-speed rail lines, fiber-optic networks, ports, pipelines, and power grids.

According to the Washington-dominated Asian Development Bank (ADB), there is, at present, a monstrous gap of $800 billion in the funding of Asian infrastructure development to 2020 and it’s yearning to be filled. Beijing is now stepping right into what promises to be a paradigm-breaking binge of economic development.

And don’t forget about the bonuses that could conceivably follow such developments. After all, in China’s stunningly ambitious plans at least, its Eurasian project will end up covering no less than 65 countries on three continents, potentially affecting 4.4 billion people.  If it succeeds even in part, it could take the gloss off al-Qaeda- and ISIS-style Wahhabi-influenced jihadism not only in China’s Xinjiang Province, but also in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Imagine it as a new kind of Eurasian war on terror whose “weapons” would be trade and development. After all, Beijing’s planners expect the country’s annual trade volume with belt-and-road partners to surpass $2.5 trillion by 2025.

At the same time, another kind of binding geography — what I’ve long called Pipelineistan, the vast network of energy pipelines crisscrossing the region, bringing its oil and natural gas supplies to China — is coming into being.  It’s already spreading across Pakistan and Myanmar, and China is planning to double down on this attempt to reinforce its escape-from-the-Straits-of-Malacca strategy. (That bottleneck is still a transit point for 75% of Chinese oil imports.) Beijing prefers a world in which most of those energy imports are not water-borne and so at the mercy of the U.S. Navy. More than 50% of China’s natural gas already comes overland from two Central Asian "stans" (Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) and that percentage will only increase once pipelines to bring Siberian natural gas to China come online before the end of the decade.

Of course, the concept behind all this, which might be sloganized as “to go west (and south) is glorious” could induce a tectonic shift in Eurasian relations at every level, but that depends on how it comes to be viewed by the nations involved and by Washington.

Leaving economics aside for a moment, the success of the whole enterprise will require superhuman PR skills from Beijing, something not always in evidence. And there are many other problems to face (or duck): these include Beijing’s Han superiority complex, not always exactly a hit among either minority ethnic groups or neighboring states, as well as an economic push that is often seen by China’s ethnic minorities as benefiting only the Han Chinese. Mix in a rising tide of nationalist feeling, the expansion of the Chinese military (including its navy), conflict in its southern seas, and a growing security obsession in Beijing. Add to that a foreign policy minefield, which will work against maintaining a carefully calibrated respect for the sovereignty of neighbors. Throw in the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia and its urge both to form anti-Chinese alliances of “containment” and to beef up its own naval and air power in waters close to China.  And finally don’t forget red tape and bureaucracy, a Central Asian staple. All of this adds up to a formidable package of obstacles to Xi’s Chinese dream and a new Eurasia.

All Aboard the Night Train

The Silk Road revival started out as a modest idea floated in China’s Ministry of Commerce. The initial goal was nothing more than getting extra “contracts for Chinese construction companies overseas.” How far the country has traveled since then.  Starting from zero in 2003, China has ended up building no less than 16,000 kilometers of high-speed rail tracks in these years — more than the rest of the planet combined.

And that’s just the beginning. Beijing is now negotiating with 30 countries to build another 5,000 kilometers of high-speed rail at a total investment of $157 billion. Cost is, of course, king; a made-in-China high-speed network (top speed: 350 kilometers an hour) costs around $17 million to $21 million per kilometer. Comparable European costs: $25 million to $39 million per kilometer. So no wonder the Chinese are bidding for an $18 billion project linking London with northern England, and another linking Los Angeles to Las Vegas, while outbidding German companies to lay tracks in Russia.

On another front, even though it’s not directly part of China’s new Silk Road planning, don’t forget about the Iran-India-Afghanistan Agreement on Transit and International Transportation Cooperation. This India-Iran project to develop roads, railways, and ports is particularly focused on the Iranian port of Chabahar, which is to be linked by new roads and railways to the Afghan capital Kabul and then to parts of Central Asia.

Why Chabahar? Because this is India’s preferred transit corridor to Central Asia and Russia, as the Khyber Pass in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands, the country’s traditional linking point for this, remains too volatile. Built by Iran, the transit corridor from Chabahar to Milak on the Iran-Afghanistan border is now ready. By rail, Chabahar will then be connected to the Uzbek border at Termez, which translates into Indian products reaching Central Asia and Russia.

Think of this as the Southern Silk Road, linking South Asia with Central Asia, and in the end, if all goes according to plan, West Asia with China. It is part of a wildly ambitious plan for a North-South Transport Corridor, an India-Iran-Russia joint project launched in 2002 and focused on the development of inter-Asian trade. 

Of course, you won’t be surprised to know that, even here, China is deeply involved. Chinese companies have already built a high-speed rail line from the Iranian capital Tehran to Mashhad, near the Afghan border. China also financed a metro rail line from Imam Khomeini Airport to downtown Tehran. And it wants to use Chabahar as part of the so-called Iron Silk Road that is someday slated to cross Iran and extend all the way to Turkey. To top it off, China is already investing in the upgrading of Turkish ports.

Who Lost Eurasia?

For Chinese leaders, the One Belt, One Road plan — an “economic partnership map with multiple rings interconnected with one another” — is seen as an escape route from the Washington Consensus and the dollar-centered global financial system that goes with it. And while “guns” are being drawn, the “battlefield” of the future, as the Chinese see it, is essentially a global economic one.

On one side are the mega-economic pacts being touted by Washington — the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — that would split Eurasia in two. On the other, there is the urge for a new pan-Eurasian integration program that would be focused on China, and feature Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, and India as major players. Last May, Russia and China closed a deal to coordinate the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with new Silk Road projects. As part of their developing strategic partnership, Russia is already China’s number one oil supplier.

With Ukraine’s fate still in the balance, there is, at present, little room for the sort of serious business dialogue between the European Union (EU) and the EEU that might someday fuse Europe and Russia into the Chinese vision of full-scale, continent-wide Eurasian integration. And yet German business types, in particular, remain focused on and fascinated by the limitless possibilities of the New Silk Road concept and the way it might profitably link the continent.

If you’re looking for a future first sign of détente on this score, keep an eye on any EU moves to engage economically with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  Its membership at present: China, Russia, and four "stans" (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan). India and Pakistan are to become members in 2016, and Iran once U.N. sanctions are completely lifted. A monster second step (no time soon) would be for this dialogue to become the springboard for the building of a trans-European “one-belt” zone.  That could only happen after there was a genuine settlement in Ukraine and EU sanctions on Russia had been lifted. Think of it as the long and winding road towards what Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to sell the Germans in 2010: a Eurasian free-trade zone extending from Vladivostok to Lisbon.

Any such moves will, of course, only happen over Washington’s dead body.  At the moment, inside the Beltway, sentiment ranges from gloating over the economic “death” of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), most of which are facing daunting economic dislocations even as their political, diplomatic, and strategic integration proceeds apace, to fear or even downright anticipation of World War III and the Russian “threat.”

No one in Washington wants to “lose” Eurasia to China and its new Silk Roads. On what former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski calls “the grand chessboard,” Beltway elites and the punditocracy that follows them will never resign themselves to seeing the U.S. relegated to the role of “offshore balancer,” while China dominates an integrating Eurasia.  Hence, those two trade pacts and that “pivot,” the heightened U.S. naval presence in Asian waters, the new urge to “contain” China, and the demonization of both Putin’s Russia and the Chinese military threat.

Thucydides, Eat Your Heart Out

Which brings us full circle to Xi’s crush on Jeremy Rifkin. Make no mistake about it: whatever Washington may want, China is indeed the rising power in Eurasia and a larger-than-life economic magnet. From London to Berlin, there are signs in the EU that, despite so many decades of trans-Atlantic allegiance, there is also something too attractive to ignore about what China has to offer. There is already a push towards the configuration of a European-wide digital economy closely linked with China. The aim would be a Rifkin-esque digitally integrated economic space spanning Eurasia, which in turn would be an essential building block for that post-carbon third industrial revolution.

The G-20 this year was in Antalya, Turkey, and it was a fractious affair dominated by Islamic State jihadism in the streets of Paris. The G-20 in 2016 will be in Hangzhou, China, which also happens to be the hometown of Jack Ma and the headquarters for Alibaba. You can’t get more third industrial revolution than that. 

One year is an eternity in geopolitics. But what if, in 2016, Hangzhou did indeed offer a vision of the future, of silk roads galore and night trains from Central Asia to Duisburg, Germany, a future arguably dominated by Xi’s vision.  He is, at least, keen on enshrining the G-20 as a multipolar global mechanism for coordinating a common development framework. Within it, Washington and Beijing might sometimes actually work together in a world in which chess, not Battleship, would be the game of the century.

Thucydides, eat your heart out.


PepePepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

And here’s the top 10 terrorist list

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shutterstock_70632367

Originally published in Asia Times on November 13, 2015

 


They might as well have hauled David Letterman from retirement to do it.

Episode two of the Vienna charade – sorry, the Syrian peace talks – this Saturday comes with a show biz package; all 20 players on the table are supposed to come up with a definitive Syria terrorist list. As in who gets a seat to talk about prospective Syria unity in the future, and who qualifies for being bombed.

This is inbuilt – Chinese box-style – in a truly surrealist ploy; a purported Syria peace plan that should include a ceasefire between Damascus and some “opposition groups.” As if ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goon squads would respect any ceasefire.

So imagine the frenzy at that Viennese table. One man’s jihadi is another man’s “freedom fighter.” Not to mention that according to the Beltway ethos, anyone subscribing to “Assad must go” is a “moderate rebel.”

The usual suspects – US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar – have unsurprisingly pre-empted the move, fiercely defending their (moderate) Rebels With a Cause. These are the ones that would respect democratic elections in Syria; respect other religious groups; would be willing to negotiate with anybody; would respect a ceasefire, de-weaponize and abide by the political transition; and would never engage in global jihad. All of the above, of course, if you take them at face value.

Sultan Erdogan, “moderate rebel” pin-up

Turkish Sultan Erdogan is the undisputed protector saint of “moderate rebels.” So let’s see how some outfits praised his recent electoral landslide.

What passes for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) sent congratulations. Same for Khaled Khoja, chairman of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

The Army of Conquest, which groups all sorts of goons, from hardcore jihadis to discreet Salafis, and is heavily weaponized via Saudi money said, “We are ardently awaiting the day of Assad’s collapse and the building of brotherhood bridges between the people of Turkey and Syrians.”

The Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – totally supported by the ruling AKP, not to mention Qatar – predictably praised the AKP and “the Turkish people.”

All in all, around 15 opposition outfits hailed the Sultan. These will definitely not make the Top Ten terrorist list.

But Vienna, we got a problem. Many, if not the majority of these outfits, are striking “non-hostility pacts” with ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Daesh will lead the terrorist list. In fact it may be THE terrorist list itself; Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria, are regarded as “moderate rebels” by Washington. What gives?

Meanwhile, as reported by Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen, US military advisors are already training “moderate rebels” near Salma, in Latakia province, very close to Russia’s air base.

For his part Muhammad Bazarbashi, the leader of the Army of Damascus outfit (3,000 fighters north of Aleppo), told the Anatolian News Agency they are ready to help Ankara fight PKK/PYD Kurds in Syria. Compare it with the fact PKK/PYD are side-by-side with the Americans in the fight to liberate Sinjar in Iraq.

So expect NATO member Turkey to forcefully defend outfits such as these in Vienna – even if they go against American interests.

Bets can be made that Sultan Erdogan, now on a full-fledged ego trip, won’t admit his “strategy” in Syria is in tatters. Even the ultimately demented option – the Turkish Army invading northern Syria – is not out of the cards. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – who buried his own “zero problems with our neighbors” policy – is now frantically spinning Turkey would join a hypothetical “coalition ground operation” targeting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, with Washington leading from behind.

Despair, or read Shelley

Ankara is planning by itself to send no less than 10,700 soldiers to invade northern Syria 46 kilometers deep in mid-December to allegedly fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. The real target would not be ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, of course; but PKK/PYD Kurds. And ultimately, that would pit Turkey directly against the “4+1” (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah).

Neglecting all setbacks so far, Erdogan has not given up on his pet “buffer zone” north of Aleppo. That would be Erdogan’s “gift” to the EU: “solving” the refugee crisis via 17 security zones, 11 logistics bases and 6 refugee camps. Inside Syrian territory.

This is arguably Erdogan’s pièce de résistance at the G20 summit in Antalya starting this weekend. After unveiling the cake, he will pass the hat around the Big Table; after all he needs the cash to buy it. Russia, of course, reserves the right to smash the cake in the Sultan’s face.

Selected sound minds in the Pentagon – they do exist — must have been forced to admit that facing the recent advances of “4+1”, Erdogan’s dream is now a no-go.

Or not. Take this hallucinatory, straight from the Cheney regime-era spin that the US needs boots on the ground to “occupy” and even “govern” parts of Syria.

Vienna and Antalya may end up with a certified terrorist list of One (the fake “Caliphate”) and a check for the invasion of northern Syria.

The rest of us may find consolation in Shelley’s long-lost 1811 poem – composed when he was a 18-year-old student at Oxford – just acquired by the Bodleian Library, where he writes about “cold advisers of yet colder kings” and political leaders who lend “to each smooth rogue a courtier’s smile.”


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

NATO Invades Spain

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NATO Spain

Originally published in SputnikNews on November 6, 2015

 

Fresh from its thunderous humiliation by the Taliban; its “liberation” of Libya for the benefit of militia hell; and while Russia was bombing the hell out of a Salafi-jihadi/”moderate rebel” constellation in Syria, NATO – in search for a “360-degree” response to Russia – resorted to invading… Spain.

And Portugal. And Italy. The whole “central Mediterranean” for that matter. Trident Juncture – the heroic denomination of NATO’s war games – is supposed to last a very long five weeks, involving 36,000 troops, 230 military units, 140 fighter aircraft, more than 60 ships, and Humvees spectacularly bogged down on Portuguese beaches.

Oh yes; it takes a lot of effort to find those elusive, evil tapas of mass destruction (TMDs).

NATO secretary-general, Norwegian figurehead Jens Stoltenberg, ceremonially landed in Zaragoza to “observe” Trident Juncture in person, spinning there were now “many threats to the South of the alliance”. No, he was not talking about himself.  

Stoltenberg was evidently oblivious to pan-European civil society protesting his weaponized Big Brother en masse. In Zaragoza. In Rome. In Sofia. In Montenegro.

An helicopter takes part in the NATO's Trident Juncture Exercice at San Gregorio training ground near Zaragoza on November 4, 2015.

Instead, he advanced that in early December NATO will come up with a new “southern strategy”. Essentially more patrols in the Club Med; deployment of NATO troops in “advisory” roles across Middle East-Northern Africa (MENA); and reinforced, permanent NATO military deployments all over Europe.

Trident Juncture involves what NATO calls “spearhead force”. So may the force be fit to invade not only PIGS but all points Africa as well.

Maybe we should copy DHL?

With Trident Juncture, we have a NATO invasion of some of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy and Spain) – all nasty, pejorative connotations included – essentially designed to reassure NATO’s “eastern allies” that Russia will not be able to invade them.

After all, Admiral John Richardson, the new chief of US Navy operations, had already confirmed the Pentagon is sending extra ships and submarines to deter “Russian adventurism”.

He was echoed by Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander, who invoked perennial “freedom of navigation” to justify an escalation; “As we observe the deployment of more sophisticated [Russian] capabilities with considerable reach it becomes more and more important that we refresh our deterrence.”

So from now on expect a NATO “continuum of deterrence” all across southern Europe. That includes five Global Hawk surveillance drones based in Sicily that will allow non-stop spying across the Mediterranean to MENA.

Predictably, to justify Trident Juncture, Western corporate media turned up the excuse bullhorn to ear-splitting levels – from “wrong-footed US-led alliance” to “tactical surprises” by Russia – while praising NATO’s “biggest modernization since the Cold War”. Gen. Denis Mercier from France spun NATO’s new, multi-layered “deterrence” effort as, "We need to develop a strategy for all kinds of crises, at 360 degrees." Well, a few extra degrees towards the Eastern Mediterranean would pit NATO against Russia – but that’s too risky. Better try to find those tapas. 

 

Proverbially unnamed NATO officials were kept busy anyway spinning that Russia could deploy warships from the Eastern Mediterranean to Libya to “hamper” a NATO “effort” to support a future government of national unity. As if NATO’s “strategy” of creating a wasteland in northern Africa and calling it “victory” would qualify it for nation building.

Trident Juncture is just about – well — tapas. The full dinner takes place at a NATO summit in July 2016 in Russia-demonizing Poland. Europeans are advised to expect lots of brilliant ideas lifted from DHL and Amazon. As NATO’s Mercier indelibly put it, “We should look at what the civilian world does, to DHL and Amazon. How do they improve their logistics?"

Oh, those mysterious Russians

NATO’s cluelessness is a direct consequence of American military perplexity, as reflected in this priceless briefing by Dr. Strangelove, sorry, NATO supremo Gen. Philip Breedlove himself.

In his own words; “We cannot be fully certain of what Russia will do next. We still cannot fully discern Mr. Putin’s intent.”

And that perplexity in itself reflects the Pentagon’s deadly mix of ire and impotence. Take US Army Chief of Staff General Mike Milley, blasting at the Defense One summit in Washington that Russia is “aggressive”; “adversarial to the interests of the United States”; a violator of “the Westphalian order” since 2008 by “invading sovereign nations”; and in sum – fully subscribing to the latest US military doctrine — an existential threat.

Breedlove/hate at least admitted the Pentagon’s perennial obsession with (supposed) Full Spectrum Dominance, projected way beyond  Europe towards MENA and deep into Africa; “Most of the forces we have in Europe are also dual-hatted to Africa Command. While they are stationed in Europe, their focus is on AFRICOM missions on the continent. In this way, EUCOM is supporting across that seam into AFRICOM.”

And yet the number one issue in MENA remains Syria.

The Pentagon is deploying a dozen F-15C Eagle fighters to Turkey’s Incirlik base. The official spin is to “ensure the safety” of “NATO allies”, which should be translated as “protecting” US and other Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO) allied jet fighters from… Russian jet fighters.

Theoretically the F-15Cs will be “escorting” the odd CDO attack planes that bomb ISIS/ISIL/Daesh once in a blue moon. Rubbish; the F-15Cs carry only air-to-air weapons. And their pilots are trained to only shoot down enemy aircraft.

 

The notion that the Pentagon would dare declaring its own no-fly zone over northern Syria to protect a gaggle of “moderate rebels” from Russian and Syrian Arab Army (SAA) bombing is preposterous. What next? “Red” fighters against “Blue” fighters on air-to-air combat? As much as he’s cornered by a neocon-infested Pentagon, Obama is not suicidal. Still, the wondrous plot of two divergent coalitions in Syria – the CDO versus the “4+1” (Russia-Syria-Iran-Iraq plus Hezbollah) — keeps thickening.

Adding to Pentagon freak out, Russia has sent missile systems to Syria, on top of fighter jets, bombers and helicopters, as Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev told the Komsomolskaya Pravda. As Bondarev and other Russian military officials have kept mum on what sort of missiles, the Pentagon assumes they are the deadly accurate S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. Oh dear. Better scrap that Pentagon no-fly zone.

So it’s easy to see why the Pentagon and NATO are so dejected. It’s so much safer to keep looking for those elusive tapas of mass destruction (TMDs). And then go for a deterrence siesta.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The Caliph at the Gates of Vienna

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AbuBakr_alBaghdadi-020515

Originally published in Asia Times on October 29, 2015

 


History has a jolly habit of repeating itself as surrealist farce. Is it 1683 all over again, with the Ottoman Empire laying siege to Vienna just to be defeated by the “infidels” at the last minute?

No; it’s 2015 and a Caliph simulacrum – Ibrahim, a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — has prompted a gaggle of world powers, lesser powers and assorted minions to converge to Vienna to discuss how to defeat him.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Westphalians, we got a problem. None of this makes any sense if Iran is not at the table discussing a solution for the Syrian tragedy. Moscow knew it from the start. Washington — reluctantly — had to admit the obvious. But the problem was never Iran. The problem is the ideological matrix of goons who metastasize into Caliphs: Saudi Arabia.

Back — inevitably — to surrealism. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir stated, “The view of our partners … was that we should test the intentions of the Iranians and the Russians in arriving at a political solution in Syria, which we all prefer.”

Translation: “Our partners” means “His Masters’ Voice,” Washington; and the beheading-addicted oil hacienda does not “prefer” a political solution; they want regime change and a House of Saud satrapy.

Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, the EU, France and even Qatar — whose mini-emir wanted to launch his own military campaign for regime change before someone told him to shut up — are keeping company to Iran in Vienna, alongside the US, Russia, Turkey and the House of Saud.

Talk about parallel lives. One thing is a polite altercation inside a gilded Vienna palace. The shifting military sands across a Sykes-Picot-in-shambles “Syraq” tell a very different story.

Beware the new Global Jihad

The ideal solution is tempting; Russia dispatches the Spetsnaz and some extra commandos; beheads the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goons from a C4i point of view; surrounds them; and wipes them out.

Yet it won’t happen, as long as Sultan Erdogan in Turkey, petrodollar GCC minions and the CIA persist to “support” and/or weaponize assorted Salafi-jihadi goons, “moderate” or otherwise.

The fake “Caliphate” will be a very tough nut to crack because they don’t – and won’t – care about their own mounting casualties. The “4+1” alliance – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah – already knows it, and has already experienced trouble in their ranks.

Hezbollah took casualties. So did Iran’s Quds Force – as in reliable mid-level commanders. Iran has around 1,500 fighters on the ground – many of them Afghans – on the “4+1” side. On the opposite side we have the House of Saud funneling a lot of cash and TOW anti-tank missiles to the Army of Conquest, which is nothing but an al-Qaeda-led coalition of the willing displaying relatively overlapping agendas (first regime change, then Caliphate or Muslim Brotherhood reign).

There’s no evidence – yet – that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh has been depleted of the bulk of their shoulder-fired anti-aircraft plus anti-tank guided missiles.

So while Vienna talks, what is ISIS/ISIL/Daesh really up to?

They are about to choose between two different strategies.

  1. They dig in in Raqqa – the former capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, before Baghdad – waiting for a Mother of All Battles. After all they can’t afford to lose it, as Raqqa, geostrategically, is the ultimate crossroads in Syria. Former Ba’athist military and a cluster of Arab nationalists are lobbying for this strategy.
  1. Forget about digging in. The best is to expand the frontline, into the deeper desert, to the max. This means no clusters of targets available to the Russian Air Force, with the added benefit of the “4+1” – as in the Syrian Arab Army (SAA)/Iran/Hezbollah ground units supported by the Russian Air Force — overextending their lines of communication/supply and being faced with extra logistical problems. Hardcore Turks, Chechens, Uyghurs and Uzbeks are lobbying for this strategy.

Arguably the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh command is leaning towards option 2 – because of the Jihad Inc. component. At least 2,000 fake “Caliphate” goons – most of them from Chechnya, Turkey, Central Asia and Xinjiang – were killed in Kobani, which, unlike Raqqa, had no strategic value. The Jihad Inc. gang now wants to expand all the way to Central Asia, Xinjiang, Russia and, if they manage to find an opening, Europe and the US.

Option 2 also carries the added benefit, for fighting purposes, of extra support for “moderate jihadis” (not “rebels”), which means more interaction with Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, a few Army of Conquest factions, the Islamic Front and a bunch of Turkmen Salafi groups. None of these, by the way, are “moderate rebels”.

All these outfits would perfect mesh into an ISIS/ISIL/Daesh “expanding frontline” strategy, defended, among others, by one Muslim Shishani, Chechen commander of the Jund al-Sham, which is currently fighting around Latakia.

Shishani, significantly, told al-Jazeera Turk, “Fronts [such] as Raqqa and Aleppo will have no significance in a ground war against the Russians. The real war will be on the Tartus-Latakia front line. Jihad must be moved to that area.”

So imagine all of these outfits coalescing on an internal jihad plus global jihad platform, and still flush with cash. It’s no secret that Russian intel is alarmed by the high number of Chechens in the fake “Caliphate” ranks, not to mention Chinese intel regarding the Uyghurs. These may find very hard to return to Xinjiang; but the Chechens will be back in the Caucasus. That’s the famous “Aleppo is 900 km away from Grozny” syndrome.

To add to the royal mess, FSB director Alexander Bortnikov has already warned about a concentration of Taliban – many of whom pledged allegiance to the fake “Caliphate” — at Afghanistan’s northern borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. For Putin and the Russian intel apparatus, the situation in Afghanistan is “close to critical”. A jihad spillover across Central Asia is all but certain.

The bottom line, thus, is stark. Move over, al-Qaeda; ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is using the “4+1” offensive to forge its identity as the leader of a Global Jihad. Saudi imams anyway have already declared jihad against Russia. And the decrepit Al-Azhar in Cairo is about to do the same thing.

Check the Iranian game

There’s no evidence the Obama administration is about to admit all “moderate rebels” are, after all, jihadis. The ISIS/ISIL/Daesh command, anyway, is waiting; were that to happen – as in Washington sharing Moscow’s analysis – all outfits will switch to Global Jihad mode, led by the fake “Caliphate.”

Russian airstrike against ISIS in Syria

 

 

 

 

Russian airstrike against ISIS in Syria

It’s already murky enough as it stands. The mix of Syrian/Iranian ground intel plus the Russian air campaign have to make sure not only that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh does not have the hardware nor the manpower to defend Raqqa; they also need to cut off all their communication/supply lines with those jihadis who are fighting the “4+1” in western Syria.

Even under attack by the Russian Air Force, which forced a large number of goons and their families to flee Syria for the Western Iraq desert, ISIS/ISIL/Daesh managed to make progress in southern Aleppo, infiltrating al-Safira, and keeping control of at least 10 checkpoints along the crucial supply line that runs from Hama, through Salamiyeh, Ithriyah and Khanaser, all the way to Aleppo. The SAA simply cannot afford to lose this corridor; now that’s priority number one. Hundreds of thousands of Aleppo civilians, meanwhile, are trying to survive as de facto hostages.

It’s crucial to check out the Iranian game on the ground. The best source so far has been the deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Brig. Gen. Husayn Salami, who talked extensively to the Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 2.

Salami – that’s the IRGC speaking – frames Syria as the “focal point of strategic efforts made by an international coalition” to implement a “destructive political scheme in the Islamic world.” By “international coalition” he means NATO plus the Saudis. Iran’s role is “guaranteeing the political, psychological, economic and military stability of the Syrian system.”

He frames Iran’s role on four levels. “On a strategic level, we support the Syrian government, nation and army politically and psychologically. As advisors, we transfer our war experiences to top commanders in the Syrian army. Actually, we are helping them modernize and rebuild the structure of the Syrian army … When it comes to the operational level, we are helping brigade commanders for example … This is why a number of our commanders are there and are helping in planning and devising operational strategies.” Iran also helps at a tactical and technical (logistic) level.

And here’s something absolutely key – as well as anathema for the House of Saud; “Our national security is intertwined with the security of important parts of the Islamic world, the national security of Syria. This is the main philosophy behind our presence [in Syria].” The nuance that US Think Tankland is incapable of spotting is this doesn’t have anything to do with keeping Assad in power forever, as Iranian diplomats are now saying on the record.

Salami also stressed Russia went into Syria because otherwise it would have to fight jihad at home (that’s exactly what the Chechens at ISIS/ISIL/Daesh want). Putin’s Syria strategy, by the way, has been fully supported by the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, who was a key guest at the Valdai summit last week.

I’m the Caliph; hear me roar

Faced with the Russian/Iranian strategy, what is the Empire of Chaos to do?

Murk the already murky sands, what else? That sorry lot that passes for Obama’s “senior national security advisers” has recommended positioning US Special Forces closer to ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Syria.

This special “guidance” is supposed to help the coalition known as Democratic Forces of Syria – which is led by the YPG Kurds – to take Raqqa. But that does not necessarily mean US Special Forces will be fighting alongside the “4+1” towards the same objective. After all, we’re always thrown back deep into Geopolitics Surrealistan – where the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO) totally ignores what the “4+1” are doing. And don’t forget intra-coalition hatred — as in Ankara abhorring the US insistence on working with Syrian Kurds.

As for Iraq, the Obama administration and the Pentagon now barely qualify as the butt end of running jokes. Sunnis in Anbar province are furious that the mightiest satellite surveillance system in history simply failed to register ISIS/ISIL/Daesh’s advances, from Tikrit to Ramadi and environs.

To add a final insult to (repeated) injuries – as in the “4+1” intel center in Baghdad, excluding the US, plus the authorization for Russia to bomb fake “Caliphate” convoys trying to cross from the Syrian desert – Baghdad and the EU have just agreed to set up yet another intel center to exchange data on ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. The bottom line is the Obama administration is absolutely terrified that the EU is inclined to support the Russian campaign – increasingly regarding the CDO for what it is; a joke.

The near future offers even more dangerous surrealist instances; think of the Obama administration helping Shi’ite militias to take Mosul in Iraq back from ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, and at the same time helping Kurds in Syria to take back Raqqa, an Arab city. All hell is bound to break loose between Sunnis across “Syraq” and Americans – and ISIS/ISIL/Daesh will mightily profit from it.

As it stands, there’s not going to be a frontal attack on Aleppo by the SAA and Iran/Hezbollah, covered by the Russian Air Force; instead, the “4+1” strategy will be to disrupt to the max the logistical supply routes to all Salafi-jihadi outfits, which implies trying to cut off the flux of cash and weapons smuggled via Turkey.

But once again; what about the Empire of Chaos?

The Obama administration is essentially fighting — sort of — ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Iraq, where Washington lost a multi-trillion dollar war. Team Obama never bothered to fight the fake “Caliphate” in Syria — because they were contributing to the “Assad must go” agenda.

Sultan Erdogan – with Ankara at the table in Vienna – is still allowed to have a free-for-all border out of which ISIS/ISIL/Daesh profits handsomely. And the paranoid, Shi’ite-hating House of Saud – with Riyadh at the table in Vienna – is still allowed to shower all manner of Salafi-jihadi goons with all manner of weapons. This is what passes for Obama’s policy in Syria, as the Caliph’s roaring laughter can be heard all the way to Vienna.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Moscow doubles down on Washington

 putin obamagc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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putin obama

Originally published in Ron October 15, 2015

 


History may eventually decide the ‘New World Order’ started on September 28, when Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama had a 90-minute face off at the UN in New York.
 

Irrespective of spin – “productive” according to the White House, “tense”according to a source close to the Kremlin – facts on the ground accumulated almost immediately.

Putin did press Obama for the US to join Russia in a real grand coalition bent on smashing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. The Obama administration, once again, relented. I detailed here what happened next: an earth-shattering game-changer in the ‘New Great Game’ in Eurasia, straight out of the Caspian Sea, that caught the acronym fest of US intelligence – not to mention the Pentagon – completely off-guard.

So this was Putin’s first message to Washington, and the Pentagon/NATO combo in particular; your fancy ideas of stationing tactical nuclear weapons or expanding missile defense to Eastern Europe, or even Asia-Pacific, are just a mirage. Our cruise missiles are capable of wreaking real effective havoc; and soon, as this piece argues, there will be more hypersonic, high-precision long-range missiles added to the mix.

Old habits don’t die hard – they remain in a coma forever. The Pentagon’s response to the facts launched from the Caspian Sea was to conduct an airdrop of light weapons to “a select group of vetted leaders and their units,” as in those famously non-existent Syrian “moderate rebels.” The weapons will inevitably be captured by assorted Salafi-jihadi goon outfits in no time.

Then the British government was forced to deny a Murdoch-controlled Sunday Times “report” that British Tornadoes in Syria are now armed with air-to-air missiles to counter potential Russian aerial “attacks.”

And to top it off, the proverbial “military experts” infesting US corporate media started spinning that we are only 30 seconds from World War III.

The Glazyev nuclear plan

A still apoplectic Pentagon will take time to absorb the new military facts on the Syrian ground – and skies. That will add to the utter desperation displayed by the ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the Washington/Wall Street axis – itching to break the China-Russia strategic partnership by all means necessary. Quite a feat when the Pentagon is still fighting World War II, with its weapons, ships and monster aircraft carriers displayed as sitting ducks against Russia’s new batch of missiles.

But then there’s also Putin’s second – silent – message to Washington, which didn’t even have to be delivered in person to Obama. US intel though may have a hint about it, as they closely follow Russian media.

It’s about Sergey Glazyev’s (presidential aide) plan for Russia’s immediate economic future here is a summary of the plan, in Russian. The plan was formally proposed to Russia’s Security Council. Here is a very good summary on how Russia’s Security Council works.

There are at least three absolutely key points in Glazyev’s plan. We may summarize them like this:

1. If the emerging trend of freezing private assets of Russian legal entities and individuals continues, Russia should consider full or a partial moratorium on the servicing of loans and investment from the countries involved in the freezing.

2. The amount of foreign currency assets of the Russian Federation located in the jurisdiction of NATO countries accounts to more than $1.2 trillion, including short-term debt of about $800 billion. Their freeze may be partially offset by retaliation against NATO assets in Russia, which amounts to $1.1 trillion, including over $400 billion long-term. So this threat would be neutralized if Russian monetary authorities organized a timely withdrawal of Russian short-term assets in the US and the EU.

3.  Glazyev is adamant that the Russian Central Bank continues to serve the interests of foreign capital – as in the financial powers in London and New York. He contends that the high interest rates practiced by the Russian Central Bank led Russian oligarchs to borrow more cheaply from the West, making the Russian economy dependent, a debt trap which the West used to slowly squeeze Russia. Then the rigged Western oil and ruble collapse increased the pressure as debt service in ruble cost and interest doubled.

Sergei Glazyev, Presidential Advisor for Regional Economic Integration © Ramil Sitdikov

Sergei Glazyev, Presidential Advisor for Regional Economic Integration © Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti

 

Essentially, once again, a Russian default on a $1 trillion-plus debt to private Western parties remains a possible scenario discussed at the highest level – assuming Washington will persist in its anti-Russia demonization campaign.

 

It’s clear the squeeze Russia is feeling has less to do with sanctions than the grip maintained by Western financial powers over the Russian Central Bank. The Russian Central Bank did create a debt trap by maintaining high interest rates in Russia while the West was lending at low interest rates.

Needless to add, such a default, if it ever happened, would collapse the entire Western financial system.

One should never forget the Big Picture; the Syria/Ukraine/sanctions saga runs in parallel to Russia-China and closer BRICS integration shifting the balance of geopolitical power. For the ‘Masters of the Universe’, this is beyond anathema. Enter, for instance, the use of cash settlement through their Wall Street proxies to raise the A shares of China to hysterical highs and then try to crash their entire stock market by a reverse cash settlement rig as in 1987.

China is moving toward their own SWIFT payment system, not to mention a whole new Chinese-led set of international institutions independent of US control. Russia, for its part, recently passed a bill that would allow the seizing of foreign assets if Russian assets in the West are seized. As Glazyev pointed out, investment in Russia by the West are more or less equivalent to investments of Russia in the West.

The ‘Masters of the Universe’ may keep insisting on using financial weapons of mass destruction. Russia, silently and with a few key facts in the Caspian Sea, is letting them know it’s ready for whatever scenario they can come up with.

A less apocalyptic ending may be healthy. So here’s a popular joke in Moscow nowadays, as told by William Engdahl. Putin is back in the Kremlin after his meeting with Obama in New York. He tells an aide he invited Obama for a game of chess. And then he tells it how it works: “It’s like playing with a pigeon. First it knocks over all the pieces, then it shits on the board and finally struts around like it won.”

 


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The NATO-Russia face off in Syria

Российская боевая авиагруппа на аэродроме "Хмеймим" в Сирииgc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Российская боевая авиагруппа на аэродроме "Хмеймим" в Сирии

© Russian Su-30 aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. © Dmitriy Vinogradov / RIA Novosti

Originally published in Ron October 6, 2015

 


So a Su-30 enters a few hundred meters into Turkish airspace for only two minutes over Hatay province, and returns to Syrian airspace after being warned by a couple of Turkish F-16s.

Then all hell breaks loose as if this was the ultimate pretext for a NATO-Russia war.

NATO, predictably, went out all rhetorical guns blazing. Russia is causing“extreme danger” and should immediately stop bombing those cute“moderate rebels” the coalition of the dodgy opportunists refuses to bomb.

But wait; NATO is actually too busy to go to war. The priority, until at least November, is the epic Trident Juncture 2015; 36,000 troops from 30 states, more than 60 warships, around 200 aircraft, all are seriously practicing how to defend from the proverbial “The Russians are Coming!”

Still, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – he of the former “zero problems with our neighbors” doctrine – actually“warned” Moscow that next time Ankara would respond “militarily”.

Until, of course, he backed down; “What we have received from Russia …is that this was a mistake and that they respect Turkey's borders and this will not happen again.”

The incident could have been easily defused – via military to military communication – without the posturing.

But Ankara – NATO’s eastern flank – is under immense pressure from ‘Exceptionalistan’. It’s no accident Pentagon supremo and notorious neocon Ash Carter “conferred” with Ankara about the incident. Carter of course is the most stellar practitioner of the official Beltway diktat; “By taking military action in Syria against moderate groups’ targets, Russia has escalated the civil war.”

Syria's northern Raqqa province. © Reuters

 

 

 

 

‘Sultan’ Erdogan, right on cue, and straight from Strasbourg (no, he was not campaigning for the European Parliament) doubled down: “Assad has committed state terrorism, and unfortunately you find Russia and Iran defending (him).”

And yet ‘Sultan’ Erdogan won’t go down in history as the catalyst for the much-awaited NATO-Russia Hot War 2.0. At least not yet.

 

Only bomb if we say so

Enter Dr. Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski, growling in a FT Op-Ed that Washington should “retaliate” if Moscow does not stop attacking US assets in Syria. “US assets” means CIA-trained “moderate rebels”. And after all, “American credibility” is at stake.

Dr. Zbig – Obama’s prime foreign policy mentor – insists bombing CIA-trained “rebels” accounts for “Russian military incompetence”. And the American counter-attack should be to “disarm” the “Russian naval and air presence.” Now that’s how you go for a NATO-Russia Hot War 2.0.  

Dr. Zbig admitted though that “regional chaos could easily spread northeastward,” and then “both Russia and then China could be adversely affected.” Who cares? What matters is that “American interests and America’s friends…would also suffer.”

This is what passes for prime geopolitical analysis in the ‘Empire of Chaos’.  

‘Sultan’ Erdogan, for his part, remains restless. Moscow has already evaporated his so cherished three-year-old dream of a no-fly zone over northern Syria. There is an actual no-fly zone all over Syria now in effect. But it’s managed by Russia.

And that explains why there’s already full spectrum hysteria for more US Congress sanctions on Russia. How can a no-fly zone be imposed over Syria when Russia got there first?

And it was all going so swimmingly for the ‘Sultan’. Ankara – at the insistence of Washington – had finally thrown open its air bases to fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, but as long as this was part of a regime change operation in Damascus. And for that, Ankara would get its no-fly zone.  

Enter ‘The Sultan’s’ recurrent nightmare; the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its sister organization, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

‘The Sultan’ simply cannot accept the PYD advancing to the western bank of the Euphrates to help in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. ‘The Sultan’ wants to “contain” the PYD in Kobani.

The problem is the PYD – supported by the PKK – is the only reliable ‘Empire of Chaos’ ally in Syria. Yet ‘the Sultan’ could not help himself; he got into a war – again – against the PKK. Washington was not exactly amused.

And then there’s the key corridor from the Bab al-Salam border crossing down to Aleppo – controlled by Ankara-supported goon squads. That’s Ankara’s bridge to Aleppo; without it, not the slightest chance of regime change, ever. The fake“Caliphate” was threatening to take over the corridor. So action was imperative.

Russia’s spectacular entry into the war theatre threw all these elaborate plans into disarray. Imagine a complete liberation of northeast Syria as soon as the PYD – with help from PKK fighters – is weaponized enough to smash the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goons. And imagine the Russian Air Force providing air cover for such an operation, with extra coordination by the Russia-Syria-Iraq-Iran central in Baghdad.

‘The Sultan’, in desperation, would have to maneuver his F-16s against such an offensive. And then we might really have a NATO-Russia five seconds to midnight scenario – with terrifying consequences. ‘The Sultan’ would blink first. And NATO would collapse into the ignominy it never left – back to its elaborate “Russia is invading” drills.

 

Say hello to my geopolitical jihadi tool

Next steps for the Russian campaign would be to pay close attention to the road linking ISIS/ISIL/Daesh’s capital, Al-Raqqah, around which jihadis are fighting for the control of oil and gas in Sha’ir and Jazal. And then there are pockets east of both Homs and Hama, and in al-Qaryatayn. Moscow – slowly, surely, methodically – is getting there.

What the Russian air campaign has already graphically exposed is the whole rotten core myth of the new Jihad International.

ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra and assorted Salafi-jihadi goon squads have been kept up and running by a massive financial/logistical/weaponizing “effort” – which includes all sorts of key nodes, from arms factories in Bulgaria and Croatia to transportation routes via Turkey and Jordan.  

As for those Syrian “moderate rebels” – and most of them are not even Syrian, they’re mercenaries – every pebble in the ravaged Sykes-Picot desert sands knows they were trained by the CIA in Jordan. The desert pebbles are also aware that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goons have been infiltrated into Syria from Turkey – once again, across Hatay province; and vast swathes of ‘the Sultan’s’ Army and police were into the game.

As for who pays the bills for the lavish weaponizing, talk to the proverbial “pious wealthy donors” – incited by their clerics – in the GCC, the petrodollar arm of NATO. None of these goon squads could possibly thrive for so long without full, multidisciplinary “support” from the usual suspects.

So the hysterical/apoplectic/paroxystic rage enveloping the ‘Empire of Chaos’ betrays the utter failure, once again, of the same old “policy” (remember Afghanistan) of using jihadis as geopolitical tools. Fake “Caliphate” or “rebels”, they are all NATO-GCC’s bitches.

To add insult to injury, a frustrated ‘Sultan’ has also been forced to annex himself to a slightly changing Washington position – which now rules that “Assad must go,” yes, but it may take some time, as part of a yet to be defined “transition”.

‘The Sultan’ will remain a pile of nerves. He does not give a damn about ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Washington now does – sort of. He wants to smash the PYD and the PKK. For Washington, the PYD is a helpful ally. As for Moscow, ‘the Sultan’ better watch his neo-Ottoman step.

‘The Sultan’ simply cannot afford to antagonize ‘The Bear’. Gazprom will expand the Blue Stream pipeline into Turkey. It would be by 3 billion cubic meters; instead it will be by 1 billion cubic meters. According to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, it’s due to technical capabilities.

Yet Ankara better get its act together, because even that extension may evaporate if there’s no agreement on the commercial terms of TurkStream, the former Turkish Stream. Ankara is under tremendous pressure from the Obama administration. And ‘the Sultan’ knows very well that without Russia all his elaborate plans to position Turkey as the key energy transit hub from East to West will vanish in Anatolian scrub. In the end, he may even get regime-changed himself.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Putin and Xi rock da house

Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putingc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin

Originally published in Asia Times on September 25, 2015

 


Pope Francis may be the rock star. But once again, the real heart of the action is all about Russia and China — those prime “threats” to Exceptionalistan, according to the Pentagon.

Where’s Benjamin’s Angel of History when we need him? His gaze is now certainly focused on the home of the brave. Francis may have brought the House down in DC, but it’s Xi Jinping who really rocked da house in the West Coast, while Putin gets ready to be crowned the new King of New York. Who’d imagine that the New Great Game in Eurasia could be so fun?

Calling Frank Underwood

Even before Putin talked new world order geopolitical business at the UN, China’s Xi Jinping was talking Silicon Valley business with, well, the whole Silicon Valley elite. It’s all in the photo, delightfully deconstructed by the South China Morning Post.

This is where the action is — much more than in what Xi may have discussed with Obama; cyberspace piracy, spying, new Japanese laws on defense, the environment. China needs top IT to turbo-charge not only the internal market but also key nodes of the New Silk Roads.

Even Facebook was allowed to bow to the Red Emperor. Mark Zuckerberg, in suit and red tie, talked to Xi for less than a minute, in Mandarin, at Microsoft’s campus. Side by side was none other than a smiling Lu Wei – who controls China’s Great Firewall, which blocks, among others, Facebook. As a priceless aside, here’s Internet-alert Lu Wei calling all and sundry to “sail into the future with mutual benefit and win-win.”

Xi and Putin

 

 

Xi and Putin

Barely blinking while he bought 300 Boeings for lunch, Xi’s real howler in the West Coast was his House of Cards gambit.

Referring to Beijing’s massive crackdown on graft, he said, “We have punished tigers and flies … It has nothing to do with power struggles. In this case there is no House of Cards.”

Non-biased China hands all interpret the anti-corruption campaign as essentially a clean up of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) so it may continue to rule ad infinitum. It’s the party, stupid. So obviously there’s a “hard rain’s gonna fall” component, because resistance from powerful interest groups is immense.

The irruption of House of Cards was predictable. Much more than a nod to Netflix, this was about China. According to GlobalWebIndex, no less than over 200 million Chinese have been using VPNs to get to Netflix and watch the season 3 of House of Cards on streaming video.

Frank33Millions among these are Beijing residents, comfortably middle class; and that includes a lot of Party heavyweights – such as the head of the anti-corruption committee, Wang Qishan, a huge fan of Frank Underwood. Check out this priceless  Global Times piece showing how House of Cardsheavily draws from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

On top of it, season 2 of House of Cards was already China-intense, featuring cyber-war, the South China Sea and currency manipulation. Sharp Chinese viewers inevitably compared factional fighting in Washington with Beijing’s anti-graft campaign, which, so far, has nailed 80,000 functionaries, at least 90 high-caliber politicians and 30 PLA generals. China Daily didn’t measure its words — stating that House of cards represents a “mirror” of these Chinese functionaries.

Xi knew exactly who his audience was when he invoked US soft power — tremendously popular in China — to send a message. And he also knew that even when the American system is critically eviscerated — as in House of Cards — the fascination quotient of US soft power remains unbeatable. If you can’t beat them, join them. Why not instrumentalize House of Cards as Beijing deploys its own version of The Art of War?

Start spreading the news…

And now, live from New York, it’s Putin The Great.

Last week on Asia Times we saw how if there’s going to be some solution to the Syrian tragedy, it’s all Putin’s fault. (Not) reacting to it, the Obama administration remained mired in its proverbial bewilderment – or perplexity.

Finally, the White House was forced to announce that the coin finally dropped on Obama, and he will talk to Putin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Right on cue, a senior adviser to Bashar al-Assad started spinning that the US and Russia had reached a “tacit agreement” on ending the mess in Syria.

Quick recap. Putin started it all by refusing “Assad must go” as a prerequisite for peace negotiations. Then he turbo-charged the military build up in Latakia; proverbially, once again, neither the Pentagon nor the White House ever saw it coming.

So this is what Putin accomplished even before Obama saw the light and decided to talk:

1) Forget about a Libya-remixed NATO war on Syria. 2) Forget about a Sultan Erdogan-driven no-fly zone over areas controlled by Damascus. 3) Out with the old world order. This is how the emerging new world order should work, and Russia is also driving it.

Putin’s speech on Monday at the UN General Assembly will be about “the joint struggle against terrorism” (as branded by TASS). One should expect abundant apoplexy, much more than perplexity, all across the Washington/New York axis.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, last Sunday on Russian TV, already clarified the themes at the heart of the speech; the unipolar world order, and the absolute necessity of the “joint struggle against terrorism,” which” must be waged without double standards.”

Lavrov was very sharp when referring to” unilateral coercive measures” — and not only as far as Russia is concerned. In his own words:

“Nowadays, you know, our Western partners, primarily, under the influence, perhaps, of American mentality, are losing in general the culture of a dialogue and the culture of achieving diplomatic solutions. The Iranian nuclear program was a bright – and even very bright – exception. In most other cases – in conflicts that continue to flare up in the Middle East, in North Africa – they try to resort to measures of military intervention, as was the case in Iraq and Libya, in violation of UN Security Council decisions, or to resort to sanctions.”

Expect Putin to talk about all of it in detail. But the showstopper will be, predictably, Putin on Syria. In Lavrov’s words:

“We have declared that we will be helping the Syrian leaders, as we help the Iraqi leaders, or the leaders of other countries who are facing the threat of terrorism. And our military-technical cooperation pursues exactly these objectives. Of course, the supplies of arms [by Russia], they have been going on, they are going on [now] and they will continue. Their [supplies] are inevitably accompanied by our specialists that help put the according equipment up, help to train Syrian [military] personnel to handle these weapons and there are absolutely no mysteries and no secrets [in all of this].”

cardsAnd yes, Putin will call the usual suspects — from Turkey to the GCC petrodollar gang — to help Assad “without indoctrinations or double standards” in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And he will demonstrate how the refugee crisis was not created by Assad, but by the fake “Caliphate.” As far as these refugees from the Sykes-Picot-smashed Middle East are concerned, it’s up to the EU to deal with them. In Lavrov’s words:

“Russia has been fulfilling all her obligations under the international conventions. All those who fall under the category of refugees, we take in, and we will take into the Russian Federation, sometimes even going beyond the criteria that is applied. I refer to the refugees from Ukraine, there are about one million [in Russia]. We sympathize with our European neighbors with regard to the problem that they have been facing, and I believe that they will solve it [on their own].”

Last but not least, Putin will make it very clear Russia never again will be fooled into signing dodgy documents such as UNSC Resolution 1973, which legitimized R2P in 2011 via that legendary “no-fly” zone over Libya, with the corollary of NATO bombing the country into a wasteland run by militias. No wonder deranged R2P groupie Samantha Power wants to kick Russia out of the Security Council. Who needs a shoe-banging Khrushchev? Black (Apoplexy) Monday will definitely be a riot.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Peace in Syria? It’s Putin’s fault

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Originally published in Asia Times on September 18, 2015

 


All one needs to know about the intellectual caliber of the Obama administration is that it is still pondering whether to persist in “ignoring” Russian President Vladimir Putin, or invest in a real partnership to solve the Syrian geopolitical/humanitarian drama. After all, when in doubt between diplomacy or chaos, the Beltway weapon of choice still veers towards the simplistic group think uniting neocons and neoliberalcons: regime change.

 Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad shake hands in Moscow in 2006

 

 

Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad shake hands in Moscow in 2006

And then there’s the non-stop The Russians Are Coming! hysteria — the Cold War 2.0 remix, now switching from the invasion/military occupation of Ukraine to the invasion/military occupation of Syria. The White House — which, same as the Pentagon, does not do irony — actually appealed to the Kremlin to behave in a “more constructive” way side-by-side with the spectacularly inefficient coalition of the dodgy opportunists which is in thesis fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest clarified that when Obama decides that the Sisyphean task of picking up the phone and dialing K for Kremlin is actually in America’s interests, he will do it. The Shakespearean doubt may last days — even as Putin reaffirmed, via Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov, he was always open to dialogue.

The White House at least is mulling an offer from Moscow to actually discuss the Russian buildup in Syria via direct military-to-military talks. The Pentagon will do the talking, seeking the “clarity” that so eludes the Obama administration.

Ankara’s double game

Diplomacy, meanwhile, has been hectic. Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu went to Sochi to talk Syria – and Ukraine – with the Russians. Ankara’s position remains fossilized; any support for Bashar al-Assad equals more civilian casualties.

They also talked Pipelineistan – as in Turkish Stream; unlike apocalyptic US corporate media reports, the pipeline has not been ditched by Ankara; the problem is Ankara cannot even form a coherent government after the June elections.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s superstar commander Qasem Soleimani also went to Moscow this week to promote Damascus-Moscow cooperation. Wait; he didn’t, because Moscow flatly denied the visit. Soleimani was in Russia actually three months ago. The next important meeting to discuss Syria is actually on Monday, between Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Bogdanov.

A quick recap is essential. The Syrian Arab Spring chapter was sponsored/financed/weaponized mostly by Ankara – totally reversing its previous “zero problems with our neighbors” geopolitical doctrine — with backing by Doha, substantial House of Saud involvement and full led-from-behind support by the Obama White House.

After over four and a half years and immeasurable tragedy, the real face of this “Assad must go” regime change operation is the refugee crisis. Over 2 million out of 4 million Syrians fled to Turkey; Ankara recently released them en masse from holding camps on their way to the Balkans and the Teutonic Promised Land.

So Ankara is right at the center of the largest refugee crisis in Europe in 70 years. And so is Ankara-supporting Washington; ISIS/ISIL/Daesh captured all the weapons delivered with CIA help to that pathetic “Free Syrian Army” – as well as tanks and Humvees from the disjointed US-trained Iraqi Army. Any possible solution for relieving the refugee crisis while fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh must include cutting off Ankara’s myriad direct and indirect forms of “support” for the fake “Caliphate.”

The problem is Ankara is part of the supremely inefficient US coalition. The glaring paradox at least has been identified by some adults in Washington. Yet the Obama administration is still besotted by a dominatrix Ankara playing wag the dog. Team Obama still believes “Assad must go” is responsible not only for the creation of the fake “Caliphate” — an absurdity gleefully repeated by David of Arabia Cameron and General Hollande — but he’s also responsible for the abysmal failure of the US coalition to smash it. It’s actually Ankara that rules what passes for a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border, and what Ankara wants to fight is Syrian Kurds or PKK Kurds, not al-Baghdadi’s goons.

Damn, where’s my ground intel?

Meanwhile the Pentagon machine, were they to focus on the “mission,” could shock and awe the “Caliphate” goons on a weekend binge. Yet considering how much they did not learn in Iraq, it’s unlikely the Pentagon has minimally decent ground intel.

It’s all about an over 400 kilometer-long desert strip alongside the Sykes-Picot-in-disarray Syrian-Iraqi border — between al-Baaj in northern Iraq and Rutba near the Jordanian border. Some call it the Iraqi Tora Bora; yes, it does look a bit like Afghanistan, only with more desert.

ISIS/ISIL/Daesh rules over the provinces of Ninive, Dijla, Ifrit and Al-Jazeera in Iraq, Abu Kamal and Deir ez-Zor in Syria, and most of all in Iraqi Furhat, around al-Baaj; that’s where the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh command and control center is located. If some Pentagon analyst took the trouble to contact Iraqi analyst Hisham al-Hashemi, he would tell him that al-Baghdadi himself is holed up in al-Baaj, along with his two wives. But who’s actually in command for the moment is the emir for Syria and Iraq, Abu Alaa al-Afari.

The US never managed to control these desolate lands – not to mention, previously, Saddam Hussein. Local tribes are extremely hardcore and excel in smuggling. “Caliphate” goons married tribal women and are totally integrated. All Shi’ites are derided as evil heretics, even worse than Christians. Guess who indoctrinated the tribals? Saudi Arabian imams.

Yet the coalition could easily bomb to smithereens five ISIS/ISIL/Daesh special batallions – up to 500 jihadis each, divided by nationality and specialization, and all concentrated locally; GCC and Maghreb nationals assure the protection of the commanders, for instance, while Eastern Europeans and Asians collect the loot, taxes and take care of weapons transportation. The key brigade is the one that “liberated” Mosul; 80% are Iraqis, and they are now fighting in Hassake, in Syria.

There may be up to 125,000 “Caliphate” goons in action, including up to 15,000 foreigners. But the hydra-like heads of the snake are in al-Baaj. Raze it to the ground, and we got Perseus Obama slaying the jihadi medusa.

Instead, we have the pitiful spectacle of four – I repeat, four – US-trained “moderate rebels” left to fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Syria, as admitted by US General Lloyd Austin at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this past Wednesday. Everyone remembers those “rebels” out of a hefty group of 54 who were attacked by Jabhat al-Nusra in July. That is, al-Qaeda in Syria – paraded as “moderate” by neocons and US corporate media — reduced the “moderate rebel” Obama administration chimera (15,000! Well trained and well equipped!) to … well, a chimera.

Aaaaand now, heeere’s Putin

The Obama administration – duly followed by the European minions – simply won’t listen. Already in 2014 former UN-Arab League representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was saying the Russian analysis of the whole Syrian puzzle was right from the beginning.

Now, Nobel peace prize winner and former negotiator Martti Ahtisaari is saying that already in early 2012 a Russian proposal was floated that included Assad stepping out of power after peace negotiations with credible, non-jihadi opposition interlocutors.

What Moscow has done now is to step up the diplomatic game – trying to bridge the gap between Damascus and the credible opposition (not exactly a huge crowd) while cobbling up a real coalition to fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh; as far as Moscow is concerned, this is a major national security threat, what with jihadis slouching towards “Syraq” from the Volga to the north Caucasus.

And here we find an important distinction; Russia’s national security interests do not necessarily converge with Iran’s national security interests (as in Syria offering a bridge to Hezbollah and also a Mediterranean projection for Iran.)

Still, Moscow’s is the only diplomatic game in town because Washington’s Plan A continues to be regime change, and there’s no coherent “Western” road map which simultaneously guarantees smashing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh while preventing the catastrophic dismemberment of the Syrian state.

Assad’s position, in detail, is here. Putin’s position, in detail, is here. It’s up to any informed, unbiased observer to draw the necessary conclusions. Meanwhile, the enormity of the refugee crisis is open to scrutiny practically next door to EU headquarters; no summit-addicted Eurocrat even bothered to go there and talk to the asylum seekers.

As it ramps up the diplomatic front, Moscow obviously pays attention to facts on the ground – as in the expanded infrastructure at Latakia’s air base where Russian advisers are stationed. US Think Tankland’s concerted hysteria denouncing the build up “greatly complicates” the US-led coalition campaign do not even qualify as a kindergarten prank.

There won’t be a “direct clash” between coalition F-16s and Russian jets – and the Pentagon knows it. What the Pentagon cannot possibly admit is that the Russian build up necessarily prevents funny ideas such as the coalition pulling a Turk – as in bombing Assad’s forces instead of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And by the way, Ankara’s clout in Washington continues to drop – as in the US not being part of a much-hyped no-fly zone to be established over northern Aleppo.

Turkey and GCC coalition members have been indirectly warned; forget about targeting Russian advisers opposing “moderate rebels” using lethal weapons supplied by Turkey, GCC and the US. “Complicating” the coalition “efforts”, in US Think Tankland newspeak, means one cannot bomb Assad’s forces with impunity. Damn, it’s tough to deliver regime change under so many constraints.

Back to pre-Bismarck?

The EU, meanwhile, pays the price for the regime change obsession, convulsed and torn apart by endless divisions provoked by the refugee crisis coupled with the specter of the eternal recurrence of jihad in the streets – and trains – linking major European capitals. But then, as the EU may desperately want a solution to the tragic Syrian puzzle, we have David of Arabia Cameron and General Hollande getting ready to deliver puny air strikes that will hardly cause “Caliphate” goons to shake in their designer desert boots.

No wonder pan-Europe public opinion is increasingly considering it’s actually the Obama administration which is perpetuating the Syrian tragedy — as long as it sticks to the mirages of regime change, a non-existent “Free Syrian Army,” “moderate rebels” (of the al-Qaeda in Syria kind), not to mention demonizing any support offered by Russia and Iran to Damascus.

Putin could not have been more crystal clear — and adults from Washington to Brussels did get the message; “Without an active participation of the Syrian authorities and the military, it would be impossible to expel the terrorists from that country and the region as a whole … Without Russia’s support for Syria, the situation in the country would have been worse than in Libya, and the flow of refugees even bigger.”

So if there’s any chance of a peace deal in Syria, it’s Putin’s fault.

But there’s another possible scenario being actively discussed for the near future. That would be the “surge’ of multiple microstates across the Middle East – as a counterpunch to internecine carnage. So we would have, among others, Allawistan, Kurdistan, Druzistan, Yazidistan, Houthistan – with borders that are already reasonably clear on the ground.

Talk about a 21st century remix of pre-Bismarck Europe princely states. The precedent is what the EU created in the Balkans; the break up of Yugoslavia across religious lines even as the bulk of the population is Slavic.

A Middle Eastern remix would only work if Turkey and Iran would agree to a Kurdistan. It won’t happen. Most Iraqis and Syrians, for their part, have also developed a strong national identity; 70% of Syrians, in a recent poll, oppose the partition of the country (while 82% view ISIS/ISIL/Daesh as a US and/or foreign made concoction.) Yet Syria arguably could still be split in three, depending on where the US-Russia power play will lead. But as we stand, the struggle for a unified, pacified, secular Syria is the only realpolitik game in town.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

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