Nation’s Fall: Civil War in The Cradle of Civilization

Image via
Sunni protesters wave Islamic flags while others chant slogans at an anti-government rally in Fallujah, Iraq, on April 26, 2013. Image via

Iraq has fractured, almost beyond repair. The strings that held the county together, namely the U.S-led occupation and Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, have disintegrated and ignited an inferno. While sectarian  violence, which is crudely dividing Iraq into homogeneous enclaves, lies near the heart of the Iraqi Civil War, numerous other factors are fueling the war. Facilitating a solution to this complex conflict will be a major challenge to any policymaker.

Iraq is plagued by conflict and will continue to be, particularly if socio-economic grievances are not addressed. Whilst religion is a factor in the conflict, it would be an oversimplification to only assess the civil war along sectarian lines and the role of the Islamic State as mainstream media does. The resumption of severe violence  in Iraq (2013 – present), while inextricably linked to the consequential occupation of Iraq, is also connected to the wider crisis engulfing the Middle East and the Islamic State is a symptom of Iraq’s core issue; inclusion. 

Image via the Guardian
Image via the Guardian

The Arab Spring is about poverty, resentment, and economic inequalities. Socio-economic inequalities are the main driving forces behind the Arab Spring. They triggered all the original revolutions and it is the core problem of the matter which has made places like Iraq and Syria hot-beds for radicalism, allowed sectarian issues to fester, and sent shock-waves across the Middle East. In order to look for solutions to Middle East current and dismal predicament of perpetual war, pursuit of socio-economic policies must be adopted alongside military solutions for military problems.

Islamic State is a bi-product of the Syrian Civil War and it was in Syria where it was able to considerably hone its military skills and capacity. However it is also a product of protests which began in Iraq in 2012 when ordinary citizens frustrated by marginalisation, poor national security, poor public services, unemployment and naturally abuses of anti-terrorism laws took to the streets.

Under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, elections were plagued by corruption, intimidation and terror as secular and religious candidates were targeted and many were arrested and disqualified from elections under contentious pretexts of being associated with the former regime of Saddam Hussein. 

The UN and several other human rights groups, according to Al Jazeera, had heavily criticised al-Maliki’s government for executions and the perpetration of torture.

Torture Iraq
Image via Al-Jazeera

Prisoners, both men and women, were forced to drink copious amounts of water without being able to urinate, fingernails were torn off by pliers, people were hung upside down while being whipped and beaten with metal pipes and rods, they were punched, starved, raped, incarcerated in darkness, hung by the wrists, waterboarded and humiliated for their protests against what they perceived to be a sectarian driven, Sh’ia dominated government. As Arab journalist Zaki Chehab notes in Iraq Ablaze in his research of the 2005 insurgency ‘there is no underestimating the significance of honor in Arab society’ and al-Maliki’s excesses, particularly those of the militias, reminded protesters (an assortment of tribal, religious (including Sh’ia), political and secular protesters) of their perceived subjugation.

Between December 2012 and April 2013 hundreds of thousands have demonstrated and prayed on the main highway linking Baghdad and Anbar Province. They were frequently met with a violent crackdown by Iraqi Security Forces which, as the American actions did in 2004, ignited a tribal war as tribes of Zoba, Al-Jumeilat, Al-Bu Issa tribal factions joined to the Dulaim tribe  in engaging the al-Maliki’s security forces in Fallujah in late 2013. Attempts to pursue peaceful methods of protest had failed.

These major protests occurred across major cities which are now hotly contested arenas of war between Islamic State and Sh’ia militias allied with Iraqi Security Forces  such as Mosul, Samarra, Tikrit, and Fallujah. The latter, “the city of tribes”, the epicentre of the uprising against the U.S military in 2004 and thorn in the side of Saddam’s regime,  once again kick-started the revolt, this time against Al-Maliki’s government. ISIS took root in this revolt by allying themselves with the many  tribal factions opposed to the actions of Iraqi Security Forces.

The local  realpolitik (politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations), the dynamics of tribal politics in Iraq alongside wider religious, secular and national issues played into the hands of insurgents. Tribal leaders were more than willing to ally themselves with al-Qaeda militants if it meant they could consolidate their local power and autonomy. Al-Qaeda’s support uprooted and ejected government police and security forces from Fallujah during the Anbar Campaign. The Washington Post article by Liz Sly reported on 3rd January, 2014:

“A rejuvenated al-Qaeda-affiliated force asserted control over the western Iraqi city of Fallujah on Friday, raising its flag over government buildings and declaring an Islamic state….affirming the soaring capabilities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the rebranded version of the al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

While local tribal militia and militants also fought against the rejuvenated Islamic State it was unclear as to whether all the tribal fighters battling the al-Qaeda-affiliated militants were doing so in alliance with the Iraqi government.

The reemergence of spectacular violence was a symptom of  political gridlock in Baghdad and the violation by an increasingly authoritarian/national government of the unwritten agreements on the relative authority and autonomy of local factions and fiefdoms in regional provinces.

ISIS broke this rule in 2007 when they were formerly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Despite ISIS providing protection to Sunni refugees during the sectarian civil war in Baghdad (2005-2007), the deployment of suicide bombs against Iraqi civilians and the execution and assassination of local Sunnis under puritanical Islamic law in their self-proclaimed caliphate in Ammaria led to numerous insurgent and tribal groups to turn against the insurgent group.

U.S forces under General Petraeus was able to exploit this opportunity provided by AQI’s political and military blunders during the Surge and inflicted a strategic defeat on them after he struck effective short-term political bargains with local warlords, tribal leaders, and Sunni insurgents. However if socio-economic inequalities and the issue of inclusion were not provided with a viable long-term solution, extremist groups could return to exploit it as exemplified by the current campaign of the ISIS.

Fast-forward to 2015 and ISIS control large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria in a self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’ which dwarfs the ‘caliphate’ established in the 2000s during the American occupation. The movement had learned  their lesson the hard way and edited their strategy as exemplified by the Anbar Campaign in early 2014.

ISIS’s brand of political violence is hardly Islamic, an Islamic caliphate is a secondary goal, the by-product of a good society (the primary objective) and one encompassing tolerance. ISIS have done little to realise their envisioned physical and spiritual ‘paradise’.

ISIS executions

As Sageman argues (through Mehdi Hasan’s necessary reading on ISIS How Islamic is the Islamic State?) ‘Religion has a role but it is a role of justification…religion plays a role not as a driver of behavior but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity.’ Hasan’s article goes on to quote Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan;

“When I first began interrogating al-Qaeda members, I found that while they could quote Bin Laden’s sayings by heart, I knew far more of the Quran than they did – and in fact some barely knew classical Arabic, the language of both the hadith and the Quran. An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.”

The disorientation can in-part explain why thousands of European and Middle Eastern citizens have decided to rampage and die across Iraq and Syria with Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and ISIS committing humiliating and brutal acts of violence in the process. The violence while disturbing  is neither ‘medieval’ or ‘barbaric’ nor an illustration of so-called ‘Islamic fascism’ as Kevin Mcdonald argues:

“Contemporary jihadism is not a return to past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology with a very significant debt to western political history and culture….When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state. Maududi’s Islamic state is profoundly shaped by western ideas and concepts.

Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state/state-sponsored terror. The predominant drivers of  violence based on sectarian lines are the Iraqi government and the associated Sh’ia militia and extremists; the backbone of the Iraqi Army. It is undeniable that ISIS have perpetrated ethno-religious violence and ethnic/cultural cleansing against Sh’ia, Sunnis and Kurds as well as minorities such as the Yezidis, the Mandaeans, Assyrian Christians, Turkmens, and Shabaks.

However such is the fluidity of the organisation and the diversity of the recruits within its ranks it is difficult to suggest that ISIS’s objectives can purely be sectarian even if they propose to be an ‘Islamic State’. ISIS is not a monolithic organisation, it is a loose alliance of sub-factions, tribal groups and splinter terrorist cells united in name. Allies and affiliates will have different local and regional objectives and different motives be they secular, national or religious and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his clique have managed to some extent serve the interests of various local actors.

Iraq Special Forces
Iraqi Security Forces and Sh’ia militia have perpetrated human rights abuses and war crimes.

The violence of the Sh’ia militias has been frequently overlooked in our obsession to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. There are always more subtle actors and subtle horrors in war. Is it little wonder that thousands of refugees have fled the violence when the onslaught on Tikrit is being spear-headed by militias responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in southern Iraq since 2004? The ethnic cleansing perpetrated by death-squads in the 2005-2007 war was not limited to Baghdad either; according to Ledwidge, Basra’s Sunni population had been reduced from 15% at the beginning of the war in 2005 (of a population of a million) to an estimated 4% whilst in Al Zubayr, its Sunni population lost about half  of its population by 2007.

The emergence of ISIS as a threat to the Sh’ia dominated government has led to a resumption of pogroms being committed against Sunnis and other minorities in southern Iraq by militias and gangs aligned with Muqtada al-Sadr’s party in government.  Al-Maliki’s authoritarian rule contradicted the plan to re-unify the country and meant that the Surge effectively prepared the country for potential de-centralisation and a second round of sectarian civil war. The incorporation of a mere twenty percent of Petraeus’s Sunni allies ‘Sons of Iraq’ into Iraqi Security Forces illustrated the reluctance of al-Maliki’s government to share power with the Sunnis, the prime minister stating: “You could be creating a new militia…We’re talking about 105,000 Sunnis who do not trust the government. They were against Al-Qaeda, but they weren’t pro-government.”

The government’s paranoia, opposed by moderate Sh’ia, has shone through in recent months. Amnesty International published a harrowing report, Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq, a twenty-four page documentation of Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated militia’s (Badr Brigades, the Mahdi Army, the League of the Righteous, and Hizbullah Brigades) abduction, torture and executions of hundreds if not thousands of Sunnis.

“The human rights abuses detailed in this briefing are extremely serious and some constitute war crimes, notably the widespread killings by paramilitary Shi’a militias….Militias have been armed, and/or allowed to be armed, by the state; successive governments have allowed and encouraged militias to operate outside any legal framework…The existence of these sectarian, unregulated and unaccountable militias is both a cause and a result of the country’s growing insecurity and instability.”

Mass graves have been exhumed, bodies have been frequently found  in dumpsters, streets and road-sides and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has done little to reign in the rampant militias. According to the Guardian witnesses to a massacre of forty Sunnis said ‘gunmen, some masked, set up roadblocks and stopped motorists in the mainly Sunni suburb of Jihad, near Baghdad airport, demanding to see identity cards. Those with Sunni names were shot dead; Shias were released.

Image via Huffington Post
Image via Huffington Post

ISIS’s extreme brutality, its viral videos, and propaganda has drawn of our attention away from the violence of extremist Sh’ia. Cockburn quoted that the mass-execution of Iraqi soldiers  cadets  near Tikrit by a line of ISIS gunmen as they stood in front of a shallow open grave reminded him of pictures of the SS murdering Jews in Russia and Poland during World War II. The stories of Sh’ia militia executing civilians at road-blocks reminded me of Interahamwe Hutu paramilitary units (instruments of the Rwandan government) checking Tutsi and moderate Hutus’ identity cards at roadblocks before subsequently hacking them to death with machete during the Rwandan genocide.

This is not to emphasise that Iraq is heading towards a genocide; the point is that there are several narratives in the conflict besides that of ISIS and its particular brand of political violence. ISIS is a symptom of conflict, not a causality.

How does the conflict end?  It inevitability depends on the situation in Syria which has served as a destabalising factor to it neighbor Iraq. The international community has been left horrified by the Islamic State and Barack Obama has assembled an anti-ISIS coalition to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS’ in response to the Iraqi government’s plea for assistance after the gains of the fluid rebel movement. ISIS, in its brutality has alienated and turned a large swath of the Middle East against it (including the Gulf States and external influences that funded it in Syria in the fight against Bashar al-Assad). Military solutions must inevitably be accompanied by sustainable socio-economic solutions, development programmes and an effective disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme and effective security sector reforms which accommodate local and regional needs of Iraq’s minorities, tribes and political factions.

Image via International Business Times
Image via International Business Times

The international community and the Obama administration cannot provide that directly with boots on the ground.The assumptions of the Bush administration, the waging of an illegal war in 2003 organised by the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz have left U.S credibility and ideals blood spattered and in the dust . The question as to whether they can even provide effective support indirectly is another matter. American air-strikes cannot win the political war in Iraq and the current process of arming the Iraqi government and it accompanying extremist elements and the Kurds may return to haunt Western policy makers. While the Kurds have a unique opportunity to build future Kurdistan and demand greater autonomy than before the current crisis from the Iraqi government, diplomats and non-governmental organsations alike have labelled PKK and YPG militant groups various actions against Arab populations as war crimes and campaigns of ethnic cleansing.

De-legitimising and defeating ISIS will require non-violent solutions, waiting for its revolution to crumble at local level (as it did in 2007) and accompanying this collapse in credibility with concentrated external pressure by regional actors using military force.

However if the political situation predating the conflict does not change, future troubles whether it is in the next decade or several is guaranteed.

There is no perfect solution to this inherently complex situation. The cost of doing nothing is high and there is no good option in Iraq. A violent Iraqi government? Carving up Iraq into separate states? A so-called ‘Islamic State’? Boots on the ground? Jihadists? The role of Iran? Either way the agonising evolution of the violence in the civil war will leave a deep wound on Iraqi society for generations.

Iraq as a nation may endure yet it has fallen from grace, it has lost something in the blood-bath and it convulsive revolutionary changes catalysed by the American occupation. It has been torn apart by invasive external actors and destroyed by internal actors both of whom fighting in the name of economics, sanctions, politics, and power.

Whether it be the neo-conservative agendas of the Project for the New American Century, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ‘Islamic State’, Saddam’s dictatorship, al-Maliki’s authoritarian mindset, or the Iranian ideal for a client Iraq dominated by the Sh’ia; warped ideals and supposed ‘values’ have torn the societal and cultural fabric of Iraq and its people asunder.

Image via
Image via

Indigenous cultures, ancient religions, museums, and historical sites, have disappeared beneath the boots of extremists, vandals and looters. Hundreds of thousands of people have vanished, permanent refugees displaced by the ferocity of two decades of constant war, the West’s destabilizing presence, and intolerance perpetuated by Iraq’s new political dialogues.

Hundreds of thousands are maimed, raped and wounded, others slowly die from US fired depleted uranium (DU) weapons or disease brought about by the lack of basic resources and food, and innumerable coalition soldiers, insurgents, jihadists and Iraqi civilians suffer from PTSD.  Thousands more families are homeless and their children’s futures’, as their nation’s, have been shattered by the realities of war.

Then there are the dead, the hundreds of thousands more faces of men, women and children that once encompassed a vibrant, multi-cultural, and largely tolerant society. They are gone, never to return. They are ghosts, victims of occupation, suicide bombs, increasing sectarianism, extremism, and war. Iraq endures, yet it is hollowed out and empty. This is the ultimate tragedy for the Cradle of Civilisation.

Matthew Williams


Conflict 2014: in pictures – Conflict Archives

Ukraine Priest 2.0

Ukrainian Revolution 2014: A priest stands between Viktor Yanukovych police and protesters during a historic regime change in February. The protests were subsequently followed by the annexation of Crimea and a tense standoff between Russia and NATO.

Syria Ruins

Desolation: The Syrian city of Deir Ezzor lies in ruins as the Syrian Civil War nears its forth year.

Attack Synagogue

18th November 2014: Four Israelis were killed and several injured as two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a West Jerusalem synagogue.

North Korea

February 2014: Sketches by former prisoners in North Korean gulag camps published.


June-July 2014: Religious and ethnic tensions have reemerged between Buddhists and Muslims in  Burma with deadly consequences.

Americans Afghanistan

US Marines and British Armed Forces end their thirteen year stay in Afghanistan. Over 20,000 Afghan civilians and 3,479 Coalition troops have been killed since 2001.

Central African Republic

Ethnic cleansing and genocidal violence in the Central African Republic: Between November 2013 – March 2014 Christian milita, commonly known as the anti-balaka, fighting the violent Muslim group Séléka ethnically cleanse the Muslim population. Thousands of Muslims are killed by machete and hundred of thousands of Muslims are systematically removed from the country.


August 9, 2014: Shooting of teenager Michael Brown sparks protests and riots across the United States against police brutality, racism and fears of police militarisation.


From Russia with Love: Following the Ukrainian revolution Vladamir Putin and his ‘little green men’, annex Crimea sparking the Crimea crisis (February 23, 2014 – March 19, 2014). This has led to increasingly strained relations between NATO and the Russian Federation.

Iraqi Helmets

The Northern Offensive: During the 2014 World Cup, the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began a major offensive in northern Iraq against Nouri al-Maliki‘s U.S sponsored government. The latter’s forces melt away in the wake of ISIS’s advance and shocks the world.

ISIS execution

Viral Executions: ISIS have indiscriminately committed  war crimes against various Muslim communities including Sunnis and perpetrated genocidal violence against Iraq’s Christian minorities (most notably the Yazidi population). The neo-Wahabbist organisation have publicly executed POWs, journalists and humanitarian aid workers.


16th May 2014: Libya’s instability between 2011-2013 reignited civil war which is mainly being fought between Islamist forces and Libyan parliamentary forces.


17th July 2014: A scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur is shot down during the Ukrainian civil war/pro-Russian unrest, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The Russian Federation is condemned by the international community for supplying pro-Russian rebels.

John Jihadi

Jihadi John: A British citizen and a member of ISIS who has come to encapsulate ISIS’s violent rampage. He publicly murdered U.S citizens James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and Peter Kassig and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning and oversaw the beheadings of 18 Syrian soldiers.

Obama Strategy

September 10th 2014: After a summer of blood, Barack Obama speaks to the American people outlining his plan to fight ISIS.

Pakistan Attack

December 16th 2014: Using suicide bombs and fire-arms militants from the Pakistani Taliban have attacked an army-run school in Peshawar, killing 141 people, 132 of them children. It is the organisation’s worst atrocity.

South Sudan

The world’s youngest nation South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since December 15th 2013 between government and rebel forces. The ethnic groups (Dinka and Nuer) have been targeting each other and the resulting violence has killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.  Both sides have committed genocidal violence.

Climate Change

31 March 2014: A major report by the UN states that the impacts of global warming are likely to be “severe, pervasive and irreversible.”  On 21st September, protestors across the world stage the Climate march in the face of impending climate change.

Donetsk Protests

March 2014: Pro-Russian protestors occupy governmental building across eastern Ukraine, most notably Donetsk and Sloviansk. Over 5,000 are killed in protests and by the Ukranian Armed Forces, often indiscriminate ‘terrorist’ crackdowns.


March 18th 2014: President Vladimir Putin speech following the official annexation of Crimea.

Sydney Siege 2.0

15th December 2014: A hostage escapes the Sydney Siege. Three people (including gunman and ISIS inspired Man Haron Monis ) are killed in the ensuing struggle at Lindt Cafe in Martin Place.

Ebola 2.0

Epidemic: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have been afflicted by the worst outbreak of Ebola in recorded human history. The death toll from Ebola in the three worst-affected countries in West Africa has risen to 7,373 among 19,031 cases known to date there.

Yemen Drone

Drone warfare: The use of drones, particularly in Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been condemned by international onlookers, various journalists and activists as violations of international law.


21st January: The BBC state that there is clear evidence that Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees. Syria has encapsulated the continued problem of the perpetration of torture by police, military units and governments across the globe.

Bring Back Our Girls

Nigeria’s insurgency: Boko Haram, the militant Islamic group based in north-east Nigeria, has cut a swathe through the country killing thousands of civilians in a wave of suicide bombings and armed raids. They have also kidnapped hundreds of civilians including young women and children.

Bring Back Our Girls

December Revelations: While unsurprising to the majority of the world, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the damning executive summary of its five-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme initiated by the Bush administration during the Global War on Terror.


A wave of anti-government demonstrations – the largest in a decade – has been sweeping through Venezuela since early February.


The 2nd Gaza War and the Silent Intifada (June – present 2014): The kidnap of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas inspired militants and the incineration of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli settlers helps spark the 2nd Gaza War and the silent/third intifada.

Matthew Williams

Palestine’s Autumn Storm: The Silent Intifada

Palestinian Throwing Stone

The shadow of Operation Protective Edge looms large over the fading weeks and months of 2014. It has in-part encapsulated the horrors and revolutionary changes sweeping the Middle East which John Simpson has correctly coined as ‘The Summer of Blood’. More importantly it has opened up a new phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a new intifada and how it evolves and ripens in both the short-term and long-term should be of important consideration to current policy-makers and the international community who wish to see the seeming impasse between occupier and repressed narrow.

The occupied territories have been under the Knesset and the Israeli Defence Forces’ control since  1967 (depending on your standpoint) in a conflict that has in truth been ongoing since the 1920s if not earlier. Nearly a century later in October 2014, there are mummers that the ‘third intifada’ is brewing in the streets of Jerusalem. This is a mistake. The third intifada began months ago with the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers (June 2014) and the immolation of a young Palestinian boy at the hands of right-wing Israeli extremists both events signalling the beginning of protests and riots in the West Bank and the 2nd Gaza War between Israel and Hamas.

Operation Protective Edge has left Israel open to accusations of serious war crimes.

The summer campaign  left 2,189 Palestinians dead (of whom 1,486 are believed to be civilians, including 513 children) and has stoked the flames of the the conflict.

Amnesty International have accused “Israeli forces of having ‘brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes‘ while the UN has accused Israel of serious war crimes in their indiscriminate targeting of the Gaza Strip. Meticulous evidence on the ground conducted by humanitarian organisations, NGOs, papers and journalists indicate this. The Russell Tribunal in Brussels produced an even more disturbing report:

“In terms of the crime of incitement to genocide, the tribunal received evidence ‘demonstrating a vitriolic upswing in racist rhetoric and incitement’ during the summer of 2014. ‘The evidence shows that such incitement manifested across many levels of Israeli society, on both social and traditional media, from football fans, police officers, media commentators, religious leaders, legislators, and government ministers.”

The Gaza campaign in the summer of 2014 was the extreme misapplication of the ‘iron wall’ doctrine which includes indiscriminate targeting policy that affects civilians as well as militants on the ground and the brutal Hannibal Protocol which is initiated should a Israeli soldier be kidnapped.

The casualties were avoidable. The IDF as quoted by Haaretz ‘introduced a document defining rules of engagement for the military during combat in areas of civilian population. It incorporates lessons gleaned from Operation Cast Lead’ where similar charges of war crimes were brought up against the Israeli military as well as in the 2006 Lebanon War.

The campaign has also, courtesy of the Israeli military, refocused the international community’s attention on a subject which had taken a back-seat to the violent shake-up of the geo-political shape of the Middle East in recent years.

Originally the violence appeared to have died down after the withdrawal of the IDF (26th August, 2014). However the settlement expansion as much as anything has provoked continued instability and drawn fresh condemnation as several nations question Israel’s seriousness in applying a successful peace-process (not for the first time). Israel’s policies clearly illustrate they do not want a just peace.

As with the second intifada, the violence continues to grow in the heart of Jerusalem, the protests and riots of which originated in the Shu’fat district. Significant events have already occurred which include a Palestinian ramming his car into a group of passengers waiting in the light rail station which killed a 3-months old baby and injuring several others (22nd October, 2014).

This was swiftly followed by the shooting of a 14 year old Palestinian-American in protests two days later and the counter-terrorism unit killed a Palestinian man suspected of trying the night before to assassinate a leading agitator for increased Jewish access to the site.

The state of crisis the Holy City finds itself in has led to repeated closures of the Holy Sites the latter of which was central (some argue), along side the collapse of Camp David, to sparking the second intifada in the early 2000s and let us not forget that the catalyst for the first intifada was a road accident in the Gaza Strip in the late 1980s.

According to Benjamin Netanyahu, the latest car attack (5th November, 2014) which left many Israelis injured and one policeman dead, is ‘a direct result of incitement’ by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. This was hours after renewed clashed occurred at the Holy Sites and the resultant shooting of the driver has resulted in more riots across the Old City, Shu’fat and Sheikh Jarrah. On 18th November four Israelis were  killed and eight injured as two men armed with a pistol, knives and axes attacked a West Jerusalem synagogue.

Thus far the situation remains bottled up in the capital, however it is likely that in the coming weeks and months the chaos will ignite the rest of the region as the spontaneous situation worsens.

Netanyahu’s claims are somewhat contentious particularly as criticism of the continued expansion of illegal settlements (a key factor undermining any potential peace proposals) has been occurring during these protests. Mere days ago ‘an Israeli government committee on 2nd November advanced plans for 500 settler homes in East Jerusalem, an official said, in the face of disapproval from the United States at construction on occupied Palestinian land.’ This follows the proposed construction of 2,610 homes  the Givat Hamatos area which was disclosed by the activist group, Peace Now in early October.

The Israeli government by deliberately pursuing a policy of establishing ‘facts on the grounds’ is worsening the situation on the ground as the current semi-violent situation continues to deteriorate. This is inevitably tied with the fact that the Likud’s ‘Greater Israel’ project, its settlement project, its attempts to be rid of ‘the Palestinian question’ are doomed.

Israel faces a demographic crisis unless it implements a fair-two state solution. The Times of Israel itself states the facts (February 2014): ‘Statistics indicate there are 6.1 million Jews and nearly 5.8 million Arabs living in the Holy Land, threatening Israel’s Jewish character like never before.’

The refugee problem, which has remained unsolved since the Jewish-Palestinian civil war in 1947 is hitting home hard as reflected in the increasingly draconian immigration policies and the continued construction of settlements in the West Bank. Even Shlomo Gazit, the military man who oversaw the occupation with Moshe Dayan and helped construct the ‘Operational Principles for the Administered Territories’ (which include direct instructions for ethnic cleansing in Fundamental Guidelines (2) and (3)) in October 1967 is now stating an occupation conducted in its current form cannot work anymore.

The issue will not disappear, Jerusalem and the holy sites as always is an important stumbling block in the peace process, but the crux of the conflict is the refugee problem. It will be the cause of future war. Part of this problem is the state of mind surrounding the refugee problem. Many, including protesters abroad staunchly believe that everything will be returned to the Palestinians.

The reality is simple, and it pains me to say this, traditional Palestine is gone, it is unrealistic to assume everything will be returned and to some extent the PLO accepted that in 1988. The 500 or so towns and villages they once presided in are destroyed or built upon and the Israeli state is not going to vanish into thin air. This mindset has to change, they have to compromise. So as long as the Israelis and Palestinians cannot come to terms on the issue of ‘right of return’ and the ‘claims of return’ the peace process is doomed and future conflict beckons which will benefit neither party.

The Palestinians (now Israeli Arabs one of whom was shot dead during current protests, Kheir Hamdan, 22) who stayed behind, after events in 1947-1948 forced around 750,000 Palestinians to flee, have grown from 150,000 to 1.2 million. This is 22% of the population that suffer horizontal social, economic and political inequalities will increase and with the introduction of separate buses for different ethnic groups, the moves by the Knesset to ban Palestinian political parties, and other inflammatory legislative acts in recent years this equates to one thing (if it hasn’t already); apartheid.

Synagogue Attack

Something invariably has got to give as poverty, hunger, deep horizontal social inequalities that would have Nelson Mandela turning in his grave, racism, and the continued growth of the Palestinian population threaten to construct as Mark Fiore quotes ‘a little Mogadishu’ not just on Israel’s doorstep in the form of the Gaza Strip, but also amongst Israeli civilians. Demographics are not on Israel’s side and they certainly won’t be in the future.

Constant insecurity, revolt, and violence is all that Israel faces unless it compromises. This can only occur under intense pressure from the international community as Israeli politics plunges further and further into right-wing territory.

True, the Palestinians have squandered opportunities for a settlement of which the current generation would only dream of. Israel for all it cruel projects and policies in regard to the ‘occupied territories’ has been willing to compromise in the past. The Palestinians unwillingness to compromise (in some circumstances rejected under very fair pretenses) and the current divisions in Palestinian politics between Hamas (who are unwilling to recognise the state of Israel), Fatah, and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation have played into Netanyahu’s hands and used to justify the unjustifiable policies of occupation.


Accelerating events on the ground are inevitably attached to how the world governments react to them. These illegal settlement expansions, alongside the bloody summer slaughter and ugly racist (and occasional genocidal) incitement, has increasingly isolated Israel from the international community further. Sweden’s historic decision to recognize Palestine and the United Kingdom’s symbolic non-binding vote, supported by 274 MPs with 12 voting against are important. Sweden became first EU member in western Europe to make the move, the new government stating that ‘It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, we hope this will show the way for others’.

What of the question of the contradictions in U.S – Israeli relations? The Obama administration’s relationship with Israel seems to have a hit turbulence in recent weeks the former stating that Israel faces isolation in the wake of its inflammatory settlement policies in October. Obama has also threatened to drop the veto at the United Nations Security Council that America uses to block anti-Israel measures, in response to continued rejection of US demands   regarding the Middle East peace process as the situation deteriorates on ground and abroad for Israel. The rhetoric is  unusually severe Josh Earnest stating in early October:

“The United States is deeply concerned by reports the Israeli government has moved forward with planning for settlements in a sensitive area poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but with the very Arab governments with which Netanyahu had said he wanted to build relations.”


The tensions seemed to have also boiled over in celebratory-esque tit for tat insults being flung between the Knesset and the White House. An official in the White House was reported to have called Netanyahu chicken s**t, whilst The White House refused to give Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon an audience with Vice President Joe Biden the former of who had previously accused John Kerry of being “messianic and obsessive” in regard to the latest failed peace-talks. John Kerry. The U.S Secretary of State was also forced to apologize for stating behind a closed-door meeting that Israel actively becoming an “apartheid state”.

However it no secret that U.S rhetoric is still being undermined by its continued logistical support for Israel. As Glen Greenwald puts it who covered the unique story of Edward Snowden; “Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the U.S. government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise though as both the United States, the UK and others frequently supply Israeli Armed Forces with weaponry (the most prominent the Iron Dome missile shield) alongside intelligence. The latter in-particular (according to James Bamford of the New York Times) under the jurisdiction of Unit 8200 was accused by veterans ‘of startling abuses….that…the information collected..’ was being used ‘against Palestinians for “political persecution.”‘ Israel alongside the United States reputation is badly affected by the NSA scandal.

Historically the West has used Israel as a valuable buffer both in the Cold War era against the Soviet Union ideological expansion and post-9-11 era against Islamic extremism/conducting military operations in the Middle East. However it is clear that amidst an ongoing and growing Middle Eastern crisis surrounded by enemies such as Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, jihadist movements such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, strategically the long-term conflict with the Palestinians is unfeasible (even if they do possess nuclear weapons).

A rogue Israel is the last thing the Middle East or the West needs right now. Certainly the need for a strong Israel is a necessity in the regional crisis but not a volatile one that acts with relative impunity. Clearly the patience of the international community is waning as it continues to become clearer and clearer that support for Israeli belligerence, war crimes and policies based upon ethnic cleansing is counter-productive in the face of changing public opinion, particularly in the European states.

How should the West react to the current intifada? With other matters consuming the Middle East, it will be one amongst many grave issues plaguing the Middle East, but it must be regarded as equal importance as the war against ISIL.

The Palestinians methods of resistance are currently semi-violent, they have not evolved into conventional modern warfare. The latter is inevitably a battle they will lose, however the images of Israeli police and soldiers repressing and killing largely unarmed protesters and civilians will serve to further add to the horrific pictures that have emerged from the Gaza Strip. These will ruin the country’s already tarnished reputation. How the fragmented Palestinian leadership and Hamas also react to current events is of equal importance if peace talks are to come about in the future.

The Palestinians must break the bottle-neck in Jerusalem and embark on a massive intifada (largely without weapons) and the illegal settlements must be boycotted by the international community as they are direct breach of international law. A local issue must become a regional dispute.

As Ahron Bregman states in his new book Cursed Victory: The Occupied Territories ‘the international community and particularly the U.S will have to be tough with Israel and when necessary bribe it into compromise…that if Israel, Jordan  Egypt can come to compromise…something previously unthinkable then so can Israel and the Palestinians.’

The influence of the intifada on world opinion will and has to be nurtured by the increase of both Palestinian resistance and attacks and the repression of Netanyahu’s coalition government which will lead to substantial international pressure. As of now events must be allowed to hold course as trying to establish a cease-fire or call to the peace table would only benefit the Israelis as a stalling tactic to restore control.

The strong party (in this case Israel) must have its arm twisted at the right moment by external and internal influences if the partition plan/two-state solution  is to work. Timing is everything.

Matthew Williams

New Enemies, New Strategies: The Dilemmas of Obama’s ‘War on Terror’

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

9/11 changed the world.  Major events echo through the pages of history, causing ripples decades or centuries later. Its secondary consequences are sometimes a direct result of the event themselves and driven by our perceptions of the significant incident. The more time that passes the more we can continue to analytically interpret the impact of 9/11. The globe enters a new phase in the ‘Global War on Terror’ with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and various other Islamic extremists terror cells and ISIL have in many ways reopened the debate about the war on terror and without a doubt  poses the first serious challenge a terrorist organisation has given to the Obama administration. How Barack Obama tackles this threat will in many ways come to define his foreign policy as president and his role in the war on terror. 

Barack Obama has had a testing year. He has been questioned and criticised from many different angles both at home and abroad by the public, journalists, former and current politicians, myself on occasion, and even jihadists. Some regard his foreign policy as weak, others as necessarily restrained in these thoroughly complex times as the world drifts towards a looming global crisis.

The narrative of the destruction of the World Trade Center, the targeting of the Pentagon and United 93  is relived year on year to honor the memory of the  2,977 victims (including 373 foreign nationals) who were murdered that day. Internal and petty rivalries within its the White House bureaucracy had overlooked the escalating threat of Al-Qaeda. The presidency had failed the American people and  those culpable for this failure and the death of so many have yet to answer the questions.

These questions have not been credibly answered. Instead 9/11 heralded in an almost permanent war. America ignited its ignominious ‘Global War on Terror’ and a second dawn for Washington’s  excess use of military power under Bush. I have covered this in detail before so in short war crimes were committed, trillions were lost and several key officials have got away with war-profiteering and murder whilst destroying American ideals.

The first phase of the war against Islamic terrorism was originally successful in uprooting Al-Qaeda’s bases in Afghanistan and produced results. Twenty-two important al-Qaeda leaders were killed in a record number of 158 drone strikes which were carried out by the CIA in Pakistan in 2008. This was coupled with the death of Al-Zarqawi controlled a chain of regional terrorist groups across Europe, which carried out  several terrorist attacks in the UK, France, Russia and the harrowing  train bombing in Madrid in 2004. He was killed when a American jet dropped two 500-pound guided bombs, a laser-guided GBU-12 and GPS-guided GBU-38 on his safehouse  north of Baqubah, June 7th, 2006.

Relatively successful yet the costs were staggering and so destructive to American values and those who were caught between the United States’ military machine and that of insurgents and jihadists. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, detained, and tortured, thousands of U.S troops were killed or wounded and trillions of dollars were spent while nasty episodes involving military contracters such as Blackwater and Abu Ghraib prison came to encapsulate the horrors of Bush’s war in Iraq.

Iraq devoid of structure in the wake of ‘Shock and Awe’ became a hot-bed for insurgents and a testing ground for extremist guerilla fighters such as Al-Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Iraq (now known as ISIL). The gains made by the Bush administration against Islamic extremism (which they in part created in Iraq) were overshadowed by terrible and often deliberate decisions that took an immense human, financial and political toll.

Obama stepped into the White House left behind by the Bush administration. The West was humbled by its ordeal in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the recession. What changed? How do we measure the difference between the Obama Doctrine to that of George Bush? After all Obama admitted earlier this month that he had no strategy to deal with ISIL. Should we assume that Bush’s war on terror for all its monumental flaws was inherently more successful than Obama’s?

This is where I am inclined to disagree with those who criticise Obama. Both administration’s have the same calculations that they are at war and they will use whatever means necessary to eliminate that threat. The difference is the methods involve eliminating it. The previous administration bludgeoned its way to ‘victory’ almost indiscriminately while Obama has adopted a covert strategy of engaging with Islamic extremism which limits the amount of American civilians and soldiers lost in the process. As former CIA agent Michael Hayden comments;

“And so, we’ve seen all of these continuities between two very different human beings, President Bush and President Obama. We are at war, targeted killings have continued, in fact, if you look at the statistics, targeted killings have increased under Obama.”

Obama prefers small wars from afar using drones and airstrikes rather than deploying American soldiers. He has even targeted American civilians involved in extremism. He rarely speaks of idealistic notion of uprooting regimes. The ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, black sites and detention areas have been shut down and Obama still maintains an equal level if not more ruthless efficiency in targeting terrorist leaders and organisations at a lower cost to the United States’ prestige.

Low intensity shadow wars, irregular warfare, untypical ways of waging military engagements seem more suitable in the hands of Obama. This can not be better illustrated by the successful assassination of Osama Bin Laden (May 2nd, 2011) by SEAL Team Six which stood in stark contrast to the failure of traditional military intervention in Libya in March 2011. Before ISIL came to prominence ISIL was decimated by United States Army Special Forces under the jurisdiction of the Obama administration. On April 18th, 2010 new leaders of AQI, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi were killed in a joint operation conducted by American and allied Iraqi forces in Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad.

Overseas Operations Contingencies (a.k.a The Global War on Terror)

The military footprint becomes smaller and easier to manage locally, domestically and internationally while expanding the re-branded Overseas Contingency Operations (a.k.a War on Terror) to many more countries across the world. This can be exemplified by his statement that he will target terrorism anywhere across the world in his speech.

Team Obama employ an increasingly elastic interpretation of the 9/11-inspired Authorization for the Use of Military Force and expanded covert ops, special ops, drone strikes and regime change to peoples and places beyond the range of the original law, and certainly beyond the limited scope of CIA covert action under Bush. If critics of Obama were to call this ‘soft power’ think of it as ‘smart power’.

The Obama Doctrine rarely interrogates, it simply kills and as the result the drone-strikes have attracted much criticism and horror. The tactics of the Obama administration are still illegal and an affront to the U.S Constitution and in many ways the laws introduced by the Patriot Act have been tightened under the Obama administration. Yet the administration’s bombings pale in comparison to the Bush administration war crimes in Iraq, the use of napalm and chemical weapons in Vietnam and Cambodia by Nixon and Johnson, the leveling of Japanese cities by firebombing and nuclear bombs in 1945 under Roosevelt and Truman and other such crimes perpetrated by the White House.

However ISIL presents a new challenge to the Obama Doctrine,  the Overseas Contingency Operations and his past methods of waging war against jihadist extremists. The problem is simple. Unlike Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, ISIL cannot be defeated in the shadows. They are armed to the teeth with military hardware from Iraqi, American and Syrian caches, battle-hardened and a lethal combination of both guerrilla and traditional lightning military tactics. They also wear their war crimes likes badges of pride and are far more aggressive in promoting their ideology via propaganda than Al-Qaeda ever did. Obama’s every single move in the war on terror is now scrutinized.

If you bring down one enemy, ultimately someone even worse and far more powerful can replace him. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIL are an army as much as they are a terror cell and they do not campaign like Al-Qaeda who from their beginnings were covert, guerrilla fighters fighting in their various countries of operations (i.e Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, India etc.).

Then there is the second problem which comes into the equation that President Obama, like his predecessor, experienced; ideology. The fight against Islamic extremism is (as quoted in a previous article) the equivalent of a modern hydra. It cannot and will not be defeated by conventional military means.

As Jason Burke quotes “high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication…may be useful to treat the symptom but does not, and will never’ solve the questions surrounding Islamic extremism which is flourishing afflicting the likes of  Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Saudi Arabia and more. Al-Qaeda’s decimation has seen ISIL, the Al-Nusra Front, Boko Haram and others assume the mantle of waging  jihad. You cannot wage permanent war against ideologies and methods, it is unsustainable even for the United States, not just economically, but in the eyes of a war weary public.

The fascistic subversion of Islam into  neo-Wahabbist and neo-Salafist ideological cores by factions such as ISIL, Al-Qaeda, and various terrorist factions have to be isolated and destroyed. This can only occur with a substantial reform by states of various educational systems and religious doctrines across the Middle East which promote and staunchly protect radicalized versions of the Islamic faith’. This is best seen in Saudi Arabia a state that regards Al-Qaeda as an enemy promotes the 18th century Wahhabi version of Islam  to counter what it sees as the threat of Shi’a Muslims spreading their version of Islam, a main source of which come from Iran.

These indirect causes are bear greater significance.  Islamists, Salafists, Wahabbists, Sunnis, Sh’ia Muslims and more  are divided and while this remains there is little hope that the political and religious grievances will be resolved particularly when various segments of the Western population are misinformed on the finer details of how the faith works. Change must also be facilitated by moderate Muslim political and religious leaders.

This problem coincides with the continued way in which the West conducts itself in Middle Eastern politics which not only failed dismally in Iraq, but also in the wake of the still-born Arab Spring. The problems are vast and the solutions unattainable at present moment.  Destroying ISIL would not destroy religious extremism. What is required is  a combination of carefully planned short-term political plans and military operations with that of long-term educational and intellectual solutions to the problems from within and outside the Middle East.

On the other side the war on terror’s conduct  has led to many voicing concerns about the impact on civil liberties, the cost of the additional security focused changes and the implications of the invasions and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The episodes of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assage, the militarisation of police forces in the United States and the NSA surveillance program are examples of these major concerns. In taking the fight to extremism (de-facto permanent war) we have been forced to compromise the democratic ideals and international rules we strive to live by. Is it a necessary evil to eliminate ruthless organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS?  Or is it a misguided strategy that fosters radicalism and creates enemies not just on a terrorist level but a state level? It is one of the big questions of our time.

President Obama lays out his campaign strategy for ISIL!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_460/image.jpg

So what are Obama’s solutions to ISIL? As he outlined and reiterated on the eve of 9/11 he will harness alliances such as NATO and the UN to contain ISIL and pursue the root of the problem which lies in Syria.  This is where ISIL’s main headquarters are located from which they are waging a three front war in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. He also does not give ISIL any recognition as a state by labeling them what others (particularly mainstream media) and themselves call them ‘Islamic State’. It would also be surprising that Special Forces were not already on the ground, if not since the beginning of ISIL’s Northern Offensive as ‘advisors’.

The United States are one of many players in the current Middle Eastern proxy war but they did not ultimately create the series of interconnected micro-conflicts between authoritarian governments and the various Islamic extremists. The catalyst for these wars were ultimately the Arab uprisings in 2010-2011. The United States, like all of us, are sometimes witnesses to spontaneous historical events  originally beyond our control.

The question as to whether Assad will accept the invitation of U.S airstrikes in Syria knowing that they will potential target his forces as well as ISIL has quickly been identified as a serious source of contention. Inevitably the stance of Russia, Iran and China will be of crucial importance and a line the U.S government must tread with extreme caution. The Russian Federation has announced that any air strikes in Syria will be considered as an act of aggression.

However the United States must stop supplying weapons to hard-line jihadist and Islamic extremists in Syria, via their allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, (who have supported hard-line extremists) such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS.  Evidence on the ground and many newspaper outlets indicate that the Free Syrian Army committed to bringing down Assad work openly with the Al-Nusra Front. They also have a substantial list of human rights abuses and war crimes much like the Islamic extremists which according to Human Rights Watch include the execution of civilians and pro-government officials alike dating back to beginning of the war like Assad.

The U.S have been supplying the FSA and other factions opposed to Assad.

Using  broad coalition capabilities using institutions and rallying the international community (including Russia and China) is a more legitimate method of pursuing ISIL and ending the Syrian Civil War. ISIL would have no better opportunity to strike at America than killing, torturing and decapitating  ground troops. The Kurds are the last remaining reliable ally against both Assad and ISIL and supporting them appears to be the priority of Obama and Cameron. They must starve ISIL and the FSA of financial power, weaponry, address the political grievances of regional groups and powers and continue supplying humanitarian aid.

The default instinct of President Obama is restraint and analysis before action. He addresses the world as it is, not as he would wish it to be, a stance of an a-typical foreign policy realist. Deploying ground troops to depose of Assad and ISIL will not be the end of the regional conflict. The shale gas revolution means the United States is becoming  increasingly autonomous in terms of producing energy. This in turn easing its dependence on oil rich Gulf monarchies in the Middle East. Petro-politics still remains important but less so than it has before.

The previous administration operated as it would like the world to be, particularly in its effort to ‘democratise’ the Middle East which was a dangerous illusion when applied to the Middle East. The spectacular  failure is a major factor (though not the sole reason) in why the West stands where it is today in the region. Non-intervention and under intervention had terrible consequences in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s which was followed by over-intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan which has been again followed by military uncertainty over Syria and Iraq.

Desolation: Homs, Syria

Those who claim “If only Obama golfed less!” the United States would surely be able to fix things in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and any other trouble spot in the world are wrong. The Middle East’s current predicament is far too complex for even a super-power like the United States and President Obama to solve unilaterally  nor are the great powers solving a situation that has developed into a proxy war. The world under the Bush administration was far less complicated in the 2000s. The Obama administration cannot contain all foreign fighters who flock to the region. This responsibility lies with regional powers in the Middle East (some of whom are currently rallying behind the U.S to defeat ISIL) and the European nations including the stance of Vladamir Putin and Russia who are allies of Assad.

There are no simple solutions to the crisis and the question of jihadist extremism or and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. Obama’s strategy for ISIL which includes using new alliances (even with Iran), using  multilateral institutions to isolate the ideological threats, and containment is effectively the only way we can fight terrorism at this current moment. Whether this strategy will be used simultaneously against the current Syrian government could have grave repercussions in the international theater.

It is not only exclusively the West that can solve the Middle East. The infamous ‘red-line’ of Obama in the wake of the Ghouta chemical attacks,  the consequences of deposing of Gaddafi in Libya and of-course the Iraq War are factors which should influence our thinking. We cannot remain disengaged from the Middle East, the humanitarian crisis and dangers to European security are too great a threat now to ignore  yet we cannot keep repeating the cycle of mistakes made in recent history.These are times where errors of judgement can be dangerous for the politically charged atmosphere across the globe blighted by nationalism, separatism, religious extremism and economic downturn.

New strategies for new enemies are required and Obama up to a point recognises that. How effectively  he realises these goals will be subject to scrutiny now and until the end of his presidency.

Matthew Williams


Long-Term Strategy: The Middle East’s Salvation?

 Iraq Special Forces

 Iraq has collapsed. The United States and its allies are paying witness to the Republic of Iraq’s downfall and for the first time the international community is truly coming to terms with the catastrophic failure of the ‘Global War on Terror’.  Even if the current Iraqi government survives the Islamic State’s onslaught the nation itself will be irrevocably changed as it goes through yet another phase of convulsive violence. How will this invariably effect Iraq, Middle East, and the wider world (particularly the West) is open to interpretation alongside how we tackle the unfortunate present and future circumstances presented to us.

In my most recent article I covered the roots and rise of ISIL engineered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and without doubt the Islamic State (IS) has contributed strongly to the anarchy that has consumed Iraq.  Yet Fuad Massoum and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have in equal measure constructed a path for ISIS. This was a path that the insurgents were not only able to exploit but walk down with worrying ease in bringing down America’s Iraq.

The replacement of al-Maliki, Haider al-Abadi

The replacement of al-Maliki, Haider al-Abadi, will face an uphill struggle. The first challenge fighting an tenacious jihadist insurgency cutting a swathe through Iraq and its minorities. The second will be consolidating the disputing Iraqi government as al-Maliki’s supporters claim that ousting al-Maliki was ‘a coup’ claiming it breached the constitution as he had thirty days left at his post. Internal chaos will all but guarantee ISIS an eventual victory over the politically leaderless and already demoralized Iraqi military.

Iraq and the Middle East is Western foreign policymakers new Yugoslavia. However one can only fear the repercussions of what they have helped unleash will make the consequences far more outreaching and costly. The failure of  Middle Eastern foreign policy in the last four years  is a tough psychological blow to the credibility of various countries within NATO and the EU, particularly the United States and United Kingdom.

The humanitarian operations comprising of airstrikes and aid for the escaping refugees and various minorities such as the Yazidis underway undoubtedly has to be undertaken. The operations however successful will only solve a small fraction of the issue. Northern Syria remains the primary headquarters and base of operations for ISIL. This has been the case since they commenced their campaign in Syria in April 2013. While the Syrian Civil War continues in its current format ISIL will continue possess the perfect environment in which it can continue to recruit local and foreign jihadists surrounded by stockpiles of weaponry from all corners of the Middle East and globe.

There are various choices that can be taken. Intervention on the ground in Syria is unfathomable. The infamous ‘redline’ of Obama following the Ghouta chemical attacks a year ago and the threat to strike Syria and intervene threatened a potential Third World War with China and the Russian Federation (whether rightly or wrongly) reeling in the bullish Obama administration in mid-August 2013. This idea was undermined similarly by American public opinion both in the military and public staunchly against intervention in another Middle Eastern conflict. The Obama administration has been left with the smoldering wreckage of Iraq by the hawkish Bush government.

Embedded image permalink Instability in Iraq would undoubtedly be worsened by the Syrian revolution. That is what the failure and criminality with which the Iraq war was waged would bring. The Iraq War has effectively blocked us from deploying soldiers into Syria, the memories of Iraq being too painful for many of the public  who are angered that  they were  systematically lied to and brushed aside by the Bush administration in 2003 as they plundered Iraq and killed Iraqi civilians. This stance against intervention in Syria and Iraq for many anti-interventionists is coupled with the tarnished reputation of the United States and the United Kingdom for their military adventurism in the international community.

Circumstances change. ISIL have rapidly changed the structure of the Middle Eastern conflicts and James Bloodworth makes some good points in his article regarding how we deal with ISIL. ‘Liberals are very good at calling for the bombs to stop, but now is the time for anyone of a remotely progressive temperament to call for an intensification of the military campaign against Isis.’

Without a doubt I agree with many of his views. I want nothing more, like any decent human being, to see the destruction of ISIL even if they were the spawn of the Iraq War and supported by various individuals within the Gulf monarchies, our allies, and in many circumstances ourselves. This is our mess and we owe the Iraqi people. The past cannot be unwritten and the Bush administration and Blair, who were quick to jump to their own defense in the wake of ISIL’s Northern Offensive, must answer some serious questions.


Yet what we need, as Obama suggests, is long-term strategy. Even if we had destroyed Assad in 2013 what then?  ISIL and various terrorists cells including Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra were in existence in August 2013. Capable in guerrilla warfare perfected in the Iraq War, chaos and violence would remain and the civilians and soldiers alike would die as they did during the Iraq insurgency. Jihadists and would-be insurgents could manipulate humanitarian intervention into yet another example of Western adventurism in the Middle East and recruit more extremists. Unseating Assad would result in another post-Gadaffi/post-Saddam scenario where we would have indirectly supported the wrong factions (as seen in Libya) or de-stabalised the region as we witnessed in Iraq in 2003.

This question should be applied to ISIL. If we destroy them what then? Even if the Kurds and Iraqi ground units push back ISIL and by some miracle they are simultaneously destroyed by the Syrian rebels and Assad’s forces what then? The beliefs of ISIL like Al-Qaeda’s are now banners around which jihadists and militants rally and/or create their own organisations. The root problems lie at the heart of various versions of Islam and Western foreign policy.

The United States is protecting its economic and political interests in the Middle East currently whilst trying to save a faltering Iraqi government. Airstrikes, bombs, a ground invasion and humanitarian aid will not solve Syria, Iraq, Libya or the question of extremist Islamic beliefs. Military means (undoubtedly required when concerning terrorists) are short term alleviations and solutions to what is now a generational problem. Short term strategies must coincide with broader vision and much change must come from within Islam itself and how outsiders engage with the faith and political side of the religion. 

The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.  The issue within Muslim societies is often what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having.

This is  guided by both fear of violence and repercussions against families and individuals, but is also the result of a neglect to encourage or promote more diverse ways of thinking about the structures of their faith and establish an effective rapport between different communities which will challenge the norms and rules of Muslim society. What is lacking is a sufficient and convincing challenge against elements (previously mentioned) that wholly undermine the more enlightened and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam. These are problems the outside world can help solve, but ultimately not fix.

The fascistic subversion of Islam into neo-Wahabbist and neo-Salafist cores by factions such as ISIL, Al-Qaeda, and various terrorist factions have to be isolated and destroyed. This can only occur with a substantial reform to many educational systems across the Middle East which promote and staunchly protect radicalized versions of the Islamic faith, in-particular Saudi Arabia which, though an enemy of Al-Qaeda, promotes the 18th century Wahabbi version of Islam  to counter what it sees as the threat of Shi’a Muslims spreading their version of Islam. Islamists, Salafists, Wahabbists, Sunnis, Sh’ia Muslims and more  are divided and while this remains there is little hope that the issue will be resolved particularly when various segments of the Western population are misinformed on the finer details of how the faith works.

This problem coincides with the continued way in which the West conducts itself in Middle Eastern politics which not only failed dismally in Iraq, but also in the wake of the Arab Spring, the continued and uncompromising support of a violent and militant Israel and our inherent obsession with oil and petro-politics. The problems are vast and the solutions unattainable at present moment.  Destroying ISIL would not destroy the ideology of militant Islam. What is required is  a combination of carefully planned short-term political plans and military operations with that of long-term educational and intellectual solutions to the problems from within and outside the Middle East. Both sides need to take a good hard look at themselves. We need better ideas and the Middle East isn’t unsolvable as many contend.

Matthew Williams

The Rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

“From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.”

Salman Rushdie

John Jihadi

The Middle Eastern conflicts continue to lurch from one calamity to the next and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stick to the depressing script by committing stark and bloody brutality that seem barely fathomable to the average Westerner.  ISIS’s developing caliphate is the spawn of the Syrian Civil War and George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet who are these men, where did they come from, how are they organised and what do they want as they relentlessly wage war on the greater Middle East? 

It all started with the Iraq War (19 March 2003 – 15 December 2011). The largely fabricated pretexts for the invasion were that Saddam Hussein allegedly possessed weapons of mass-destruction and harbored affiliates of Al-Qaeda who had recently carried out the world’s most devastating terrorist attack on American soil at the World Trade Centre, September 11th 2001.

Both assumptions concocted by the hawkish Bush administration were lies and costly lies which cost the United States over $4 trillion and left 4,487 U.S soldiers dead, 32,226 wounded and the United Kingdom death toll stood at 179. More importantly the Iraqi dead varied between 150,000 to perhaps 500,000 while thousands were detained and/or tortured. U.S credibility and ideals were blood spattered and in the dust as the result of the illegal war organised by the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Iraq’s infrastructure was de-stabilized  by the coalition forces destruction. Alongside this a shambles of a ‘democracy’ was put in place crudely by the Bush administration without competent consideration to the colonial history and the multicultural melting pot that is Iraq.

According to Charles Tripp, 350,000 strong Iraqi Armed Forces were dissolved in the wake of Iraq’s occupation many of whom angry at being conquered and defeated would come to assist the armed resistance against America. Just over a decade later the end product presents a fairly damning verdict on those responsible for leading us to war all those years ago. The end result is that ISIS threaten to establish an Islamic caliphate, unchecked jihadists roam with relative impunity and the Iraqi population continues to suffer.

Abu Masab al-Zarqawi: founder of ISI (now ISIS)

Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad was originally the organisation from which ISIS evolved. Created in Europe between 1999-2000 by Abu Masab al-Zarqawi the aim of al-Tawhid wal-Jihad  was primarily to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and (like ISIS intends to now) create an Islamic caliphate. Al-Zarqawi was an experienced in insurgency and terrorist activities fighting with mujaheddin in the insurgency against the Soviet Union during their invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.  He also ran Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, where he taught recruits to use chemical and biological weapons. From 2001 onward he controlled a chain of regional terrorist groups across Europe, which carried out  several terrorist attacks in the UK, France, Russia and the harrowing  train bombing in Madrid in 2004.

It was during the ground invasion of Iraq in 2003 that  Al-Zarqawi re-named  the organisation Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (which would later become  the Islamic State of Iraq)and within a year the faction had pledged itself to Al-Qaeda.

“No sooner had the calls been cut off than Allah chose to restore them, and our most generous brothers in al-Qaeda came to understand the strategy of the Tawhid wal-Jihad organization in Iraq, the land of the two rivers and of the Caliphs, and their hearts warmed to its methods and overall mission. Let it be known that al-Tawhid wal-Jihad pledges both its leaders and its soldiers to the mujahid commander, Sheikh ‘Osama bin Laden’ (in word and in deed) and to jihad for the sake of Allah…”

This was where its power began to be nurtured by conflict and bolstered by funding by Al-Qaeda, raids, and individual and foreign support from Syria and Iran. The United States invaded looking for Saddam’s ‘terrorists’ and ironically they had  in-part created their very own who were now looking to resist the occupation.

Al-Zarqawi had entered Iraq after NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan before the invasion however intelligence showed that Al-Zarqawi had no connections to the former dictator. ISI was one amongst many nationalists, Shi’a and Sunni armed resistance/terrorist movements that sprung up over large areas of Iraq such as ‘The Strugglers of Iraq’, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (ASI), ‘The Islamic Army of Iraq’, ‘The Army of Muhammad’ and more.

Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003 20130227_iraq_10yrs1_800.jpg
Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003

Al-Zarqawi’s organisation  effectively became an extension of the Al-Qaeda network From the very beginning came to be associated with  extreme violence. Like most Islamist terrorist factions AQI did not distinguish between Western civilians and soldiers. Collaborators were hunted down with ruthless efficiency nor were the Shi’a exempt from targeted terror attacks as the faction declared war on Shi’a Muslims.

AQI/ISI was like the a-typical Islamist terror cell and adopted effective guerrilla tactics to disrupt the coalition forces which made up for their (then) deficiencies in direct combat with American soldiers. Various strategies were adopted such as targeting institutions and personnel associated with the newly installed government, the use of spectacular violence such as car bombs, kidnap, executions and the targeting of minorities (for instance Shia Muslims, Christians. Coalition forces, the new Iraqi Armed Forces and police were obvious targets.

The barbarism we are watching unfold in Iraq, the terror tactics used on Iraqi Armed Forces in June 2014, Iraqi Christians and the Yazidis such as the beheading and execution of prisoners (most famously American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff) were carried out by AQI during the insurgency period 2003-2011. The most notorious during this period were the separate executions of American hostages Nicholas Berg (May 2004) and Eugene Armstrong (September 2004). Their executions was carried out by Al-Zarqawi personally.

8 December 2009 Baghdad bombings conducted by ISIS

AQI managed to master the guerrilla tactics considerably. The physical trauma and psychological stress of  urban warfare took its toll on the American military in the likes of Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul and Kirkuk. We cannot underestimate how important this period was in molding ISIS into increasingly independent entity.This autonomy would have been accelerated by the death of Al-Zarqawi who was killed when a American jet dropped two 500-pound guided bombs, a laser-guided GBU-12 and GPS-guided GBU-38 on his safehouse  north of Baqubah, June 7th, 2006.

In 2008 Bush made the decision under the Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government that US combat troops would depart in 2011. Those who argue that it was Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq are incorrect, he was merely carrying out the policy of his predecessor and also upholding his promise to the American people that troops would return home. However the role of America in creating ISIS will return later in the narrative.

The announcement of the American retreat saw a sharp rise in suicide attacks and AQI in-particular carried out  devastating coordinated attacks on October 25th, 2009 and December 8th, 2009 (pictured above) which, combined, killed 282 civilians. The future of Iraq hardly looked promising in the face of such well-planned atrocity and cracks were already appearing in the new state which with all it newly trained armed forces and reformed government looked fragile at the core.

The U.S abandoned Iraq with a system of governance based on ethnicity and sectarianism with the Shi’a majority with Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister rule being characterized by corruption and inaccessibility for the minorities to the political scene which in turn exacerbated violence between Sunni and Shi’a factions. This was hardly aided by the fact that al-Maliki was to be regarded by many as an illegitimate puppet put in place by invading U.S forces.

Obama announcing the death of Bin Laden×280.jpg

This is not to say though that ISIS  didn’t have its fair share of instability as between 2010 and 2011 then ally Al-Qaeda’s leadership, including its own, was decimated by United States Army Special Forces under the jurisdiction of the Obama administration. On April 18th, 2010 new leaders of AQI, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi were killed in a joint operation conducted by American and allied Iraqi forces in Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad.

This double blow was then followed by the black op which resulted in the killing of Osama Bin Laden on May 2nd, 2011 in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda was weakening. The cries of ‘U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!’ chorused outside the White House and across America into the spring night.

As AQI reeled with its decimated ally the Arab Spring began to gather momentum. In late 2010 revolutionary demonstrations and protests swept Northern Africa and the Middle East rendering it an inviting hot-bed for radicalism as civil wars broke out in Libya andIraq’s neighbor Syria. Syria  was to provide an avenue by-which ISI would not only re-group but consolidate its power and become a bigger challenge to local and Western politicians.

The Arab Spring and the alarming growth in terrorist organisations across the Middle East and Africa were to serve Jason Burke’s analysis of Islamic extremism perfectly: “Language of high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication….the latter may be useful to treat the symptom but does not, and will never, treat the disease.” AQI was about to place itself on the map as ISIS and become more powerful than its affiliate Al-Qaeda. There were several internal and external factors by which ISIS would rise to prominence.


In the wake of the deaths of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi, a Islamist radical stepped out the shadows to assume control of AQI. The man was known as Dr. Abu Dua, Ibrahim bin Awad Al-Samarra’i who would later become known as ISIS’s ruthless and charismatic leader Abu Bakir Al-Baghdadi.  It has widely been accepted by Western political leaders, the international media and journalists alike that al-Baghdadi has played a massive role in engineering the rise of ISIS into an independent terrorist organisation.

Born in 1971, Al-Samarra’i original home was situated amongst the Diyala and Samarra tribes located in central Iraq 130km north of Baghdad. ‘He is descendant from the tribes of Al-Sada Al-Asharaf Al-Badriyin’ and while little of his childhood and upbringing is known he was brought up as a devout Sunni Muslim. According to a widely cited biography released by jihadists, “he is a man from a religious family. His brothers and uncles include preachers and professors of Arabic language, rhetoric and logic.”  He married Saja al-Duleimi who has only been seen in raw footage of an exchange between Islamic militants Al-Nusra and that of ISIS before the two became enemies in February 2014.

Like the leaders of Al-Qaeda Zawahiri and Bin Laden who were both wealthy and educated individuals alongside their conservatism (which when combined with a sense of injustice can be potent in the hands of intelligent dissidents) Al-Samarra’i comes from an highly educated background which seems odd given the psychotic and violent nature of his organisation. He undertook Islamic studies and history at the university of Baghdad where alongside his dedication to his studies he became a teacher, an intellectual, and a preacher at mosques across Baghdad. He obtained a doctorate at Islamic University in Baghdad and became known to many as Dr. Ibrahim.

Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein, December 20th 1983. Rumsfeld would later lead the U.S campaign in 2003 to topple Saddam. This was after the summer of 1983 when Iran had been reporting Iraqi use of using chemical weapons for some time.

All these factors paint Al-Samarra’i as a deeply conservative individual who grew up during the years of savage dictatorship under Saddam Hussein, the Iraq-Iran War (1980 –1988), the Gulf War (1990-1991) and American meddling in Iraq as far back at the 1960s which only increased during his lifetime. The Gulf War destroyed critical infrastructure such as hospitals, roads, bridges and water treatment plants and Saddam Hussein’s regime was placed under sanctions by the United States which led to starvation of thousands of Iraqi civilians under Clinton’s authorization.

His deep seated hatred of Americans may have begun during this period of instability in Iraq as America propped up Saddam’s Baathist dictatorship despite their knowledge of his use of chemical weapons against the Iranians and Kurds. However what mattered to the United States was that he was a deterrent to communist influence, a check on Iranian power and secured Western oil interests, Al-Samarra’i’s hatred of the United States and Western influences would have been cemented by the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq when the Shi’a government and the Kurds under al-Maliki was to alienate the Sunnis from the halls of power.

Al-Samarra’i became thoroughly radicalized by the insurgency period and war against U.S occupation forces. In 2005, he was captured by American forces and spent the next four years a prisoner in the Bucca Camp in southern Iraq until his release in 2009 although there is some debate as to whether he was held for less than a year in 2004.

Incarceration, likely interrogation and the destruction of many parts of Iraq by coalition combat troops pushed al-Samarra’i further into the neo-Wahabbist terrorist cells in Iraq where he began to gain influence. He would likely in his 30s have been exposed to the more radical subversion of  Wahhabist extremist ideologies  espoused by Bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, and Zawahiri.  During this time he assumed the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.


According to the BBC ‘al-Baghdadi and his group joined the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) in 2006, in which he served as a member of the MSC’s sharia committee.‘ Following the renaming of the MSC as the ISI in 2006, al-Baghdadi became the supervisor of the ISI’s sharia committee and a key member of the group’s senior consultative council.

The turning point for al-Baghdadi came in April 2010 when the United States struck at the leadership of AQI/ISI and at its lowest ebb since its creation al-Baghdadi having gained significant influence in the ranks of Al-Qaeda assumed command of ISI from the deceased al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Baghdadi.

Over four remarkable years several important changes occurred within the organisation which was influenced by significant geo-political events and al-Baghdadi’s ability to react to these events All this occurred along his harrowing and quite unique strategic vision we are witnessing unfold.

The Syrian Civil War’s death toll now stands at 200,000 people

The Syrian Civil War began in March 2011 and what had originally been a fight between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Armed Forces of Bashar Al-Assad. The civil war (still ongoing)  quickly degenerated into a complex and bloody conflict with both sides, particularly that of Assad originally committing war crimes (i.e. Houla massacre May 25, 2012) and being accused of torture. The Ghouta chemical attacks (the perpetrator of which is uncertain and most likely to have been the splintered rebel factions) have come to encapsulate the war.

Meanwhile al-Baghdadi had stabilized AQI and was responsible for several bombing and assassinations in Iraq during 2011 as United States military withdrew and AQI aimed at immediately undoing the ‘successes’ of the occupation.

The most spectacular displays of violence included the August 28, 2011 attack on the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, which killed prominent Sunni lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi, an attack in Hilla, Iraq, that killed 24 policemen and wounded 72 others, and the August 15, 2011, a wave of AQI suicide attacks comprising  shootings, bombings, car bombs, IEDs, suicide bombings began in Mosul, Iraq, which has resulted in over 60 deaths. The resulting attacks attracted a bounty of $10 million to AQI’s powerful head figure. 

It seemed that the scalp of Bin Laden was a small victory in a disastrous decade for U.S foreign policy. Not content with sitting on his opening flourish of  success in 2011, al-Bagdadi expanded his war against almost everything and everyone.

During the U.S occupation AQI had struggled in close quarter fighting with combat troops. Syria provided the jihadists a battleground in which they could hone their fighting skills and make a name for themselves slaughtering rebels and Syrian government troops alike as well as attracting foreign fighters. This would not be so difficult as under al-Zarqawi the group was originally comprised of locals and foreign jihadists.

The Syrian war has seen the use of chemical weapons.!/image/59111700.JPG_gen/derivatives/landscape_640/59111700.JPG

The Syrian war as al-Baghdadi envisaged would make ISIS a more coherent, well-armed, experienced, uniform organisation, a powerful military force that was able to conduct two major operations under al-Baghdadi. Firstly Iraq was to be rendered inherently unstable and ISI would exploit the discontent of the Sunni minority in the face of Shi’a dominance by continuing its guerrilla war. Secondly they would become an effective military force. Syria had become a massive weapons depot  with the United States and Russia supplying each side with the necessary weapons to win the conflict.

The process by which ISIS entered into the war is important. Syria is where ISIS  began its Northern Iraq Offensive in June 2014. Many Syrians were part of the AQI/ISI during the occupation period as it was composed of many foreign fighters. Many of these Syrians of ISI crossed the border under the command of Abu Mohammed al-Joulani to establish a foothold in the war-torn country and aid the Free Syrian Army in fighting Assad’s forces at Aleppo in late 2011.

Despite differences in ideology and the secular moderates worry for the theocratic/ fundamentalist nature of Al-Nusra, they fought cohesively together. In-fact Al-Nusra was identified by Syrians as more ‘moderate’ than hard-line ISIS despite being an extension of Al-Qaeda.

Al-Nusra sought to help the rebels topple dictator Assad.

On 24 January 2012, al-Joulani announced the official formation of the Al-Nusra Front after the group staged several bombings in Aleppo, al-Midan, and Damascus. This would provide the perfect bridge through which AQI/ISI members from Iraq and other countries could be assimilated quickly into  the Syrian conflict.  According to Soufan group over 12,000 Islamist fighters flocked to Syria to fight against secular Assad’s dictatorship all with a mixture of different individual and factional goals whether it be martyrdom, caliphates, power and blood lust.

During 2012 the Al-Nusra Front gained power through its incursions into Syrian territory. With borders seen on a map virtually non-existent in reality, the Islamic State of Iraq deployed itself in northern Syria in April 2013 and formerly became ISIL or as we know it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ISIS’s objectives were ambitious and terrifying as rebels, Syrian soldiers on both sides, and civilians caught in the cross fire were to discover. Al-Baghdadi was determined to create a cleansed Islamic state and impose brutal sharia law with immediate effect on any seized towns and territories, in effect a caliphate which al-Baghdadi would  ‘rule’ over all ‘world Muslims’.  This caliphate would stretch from Iraq to as far as Israel and Lebanon and be based on neo-Wahabbist/neo-Salfist Islam which regards Shi’a, Sufi, Jews, and Christians as heretics and women as second-class citizens. It was a 18th century fascistic, twisted, and violent off-shoot of Islamic worship.

Idealistic in practice and perhaps unrealistic it was the creation of a brilliant yet psychotic mind molded by first and foremost extremism but also extensive education in Islamic studies, Middle Eastern history and many, many sharia committee meeting in Iraq. Yet the grounds on which it can be formed would constitute ethnic cleansing and genocide as the plight of the Iraqi Christians, Kurds, Shi’a Muslims and the Yazidis illustrates.

This is where the divisions began to appear between Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and the newly proclaimed ISIS. As Sarah Birke summarises in her article on ISIS:

” ISIS and Nusra share many aims, and both are well funded and trained, there are significant differences between the two groups. Jabhat al-Nusra stresses the fight against Assad, while ISIS tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory. Nusra has pursued a strategy of slowly building support for an Islamic state, while ISIS is far more ruthless, carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately.”

ISIS were effectively regarded as ‘invaders’ whilst Al-Nusra though the creation of Syrians who had previously been of ISIS were ‘Syrian’.Thus they were deemed a domestic issue rather than a foreign faction despite its capacity for inflicting human suffering. Al-Baghdadi arrived in Syria seeking to absorb the Al-Nusra Front into ISIS the former of which had been officially blessed by Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation separated from the control of Al-Baghdadi.

The dispute over how to follow up success, objectives, and the ultra-violent way in which ISIS imposed itself on Syria throughout 2013 led to Al-Qaeda dissociating itself from ISIS in February 2014. Zawahiri stated:

“ISIS is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group . . . does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,”

This severing of ties was a combination of Zawahiri’s disdain for the growing power of al-Baghdadi and the latter’s ambition to become a covert and independent organisation. This disdain was coupled with ISIS’s  hard-line outlook on how to impose an Islamic state. Al-Qaeda was also now weaker than ISIS and al-Baghdadi calculations were likely to have been formed after Al-Qaeda’s leadership was targeted by the Obama administration.

The statement of Al-Qaeda has had little effect on the logistical capabilities of ISIS. Al-Nusra’s Mohammed al-Joulani followed suit after the killing of one of its members Abu Khaled al-Souri and went further declaring war on ISIS. An intra-jihadist civil war had erupted.

The arrival of ISIS effectively created what was originally a war between various rebel factions glued crudely together against Assad into a two front war where the Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra would be caught between Assad’s forces and those of ISIS.

Iraqi Special Forces face an uphill challenge to keep Iraq together.

ISIS gained the necessary experience required to take on the Iraqi Armed Forces trained by the U.S military. They successfully combined their guerrilla tactics honed in the insurgency in the Iraq war with that of  ‘surprise attack, inflict maximum casualties and spread fear before withdrawing without suffering heavy losses…’ while using ‘militarily untrained foreign volunteers as suicide bombers either moving on foot wearing suicide vests, or driving vehicles packed with explosives.’ The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated with conviction ISIS’s strength:

“ISIS is the strongest group in Northern Syria – 100% and anyone who tells you anything else is lying.”

I do not need to go into detail on the trail of horror and grotesque brutality they left in their wake (mass executions, beheading, rape, mass murder, crucifixion and more) but what is happening in Iraq was inflicted on Syrian men, women and children and soldiers.

The campaign in northern Syria was relatively successful with key battles and successes won in Aleppo, the city of Raqqa and very recently ISIS were able to  launch several incursions into Lebanese territory, 41% of the population of whom are Christians while 27% of the Muslims are Shia. Turkey’s most devastating terrorist attack was carried out by ISIS in May 2013, a month after they entered Syria whilst Fallujah was seized in Iraq by the faction. Now ISIS and Kurdish soldiers are fighting tooth and nail for the border town of Kobane in Northern Syria.

As Al-Qaeda, ISIS and various Islamist factions starting turning against each other the Obama administration in their battle to topple Assad began  supplying weapons to hard-line jihadist and Islamic extremists in Syria. The inability of the Russian Federation  and the United States to come to a conclusion as to how to solve the conflict fueled the problems in Syria. Supply was done  via their allies such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (various Gulf monarchies who have supported hard-line extremists for some time) and according to the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, the C.I.A.  According to Juan Cole of Truthdig neither Saudi Arabia or Qatar have thus far have openly criticized ISIS for their crimes.

On October 20, 2010, U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Specific individuals are a key source of funding according to leaked U.S diplomatic cables in 2009  according to Hilary Clinton:

“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority…Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” 

This comment by Alex Spillius may state that it sponsors Al-Qaeda, yet we must remember that ISIS used to be ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’ so at some stage they will have received logistical support from the Saudi, Syrian and Qatari governments.
Members of the Al-Nusra Front

Both ISIS and Al-Nusra ideologies’ are combination of neo-Wahhabist, Salafist and Sunni, so whilst the Iraq invasion may have destroyed the fundamental military, police and security structures  the Obama administration has hardly curbed the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Technically many of us are inadvertently funding terrorism not just assisting refugees in the Syrian war. This is a product of of deliberate and poor long term and short-term U.S/Western strategy in regards to the Middle East, seen most obviously in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front  flourished and grew more powerful than than their affiliates Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda thanks to financial and logistical support from the West’s Middle Eastern allies, and the weaponery seized from Assad’s Syrian Army. The violence of both ISIS and Al-Nusra as seen by pictures and Youtube videos (warning contains very graphic content) posted by both organisations are violent.

The Arab Spring had ushered in an online propaganda war between power and people. Twitter in-particular has been utilized to tremendous effect to not only rapidly post tweets in quick 140 word bursts but to trend to gain international attention when specific breaking news or events are occurring.

It is also a useful place to privately or publicly interact with followers and other users and the younger generation have often found ways to use the system even if it blocked by intelligence and government networks as seen by the Turkish riots of this year.

This was to become useful to ISIS in promoting their brand, notoriety, power, objectives, ideology, terror tactics (pictures of mass executions, crucifixions and beheading) and successes through Youtube and Twitter accounts or admirers of the organisation reach and influence. Their current hashtag campaigns are achieving considerable international attention as are the lone wolves who seek to support and promote their cause. Even then ISIS don’t have to do it themselves. We are doing it by #ISIS to spread the terrible stories and as they gain traction they grow richer and more powerful as they attract investment.

They even have (bizarrely) merchandise now selling t-shirts and making cakes and promoting their cause via smartphone! For all its utter barbarity there is a very modern and sophisticated way in which ISIS conducts itself. The deployment  of tactics a-typical of protesters in the early stages of the Arab Spring, with the objective to spread terror, despair, and their barbaric ideology have been particularly effective. Their annual report is as impressive as it is chilling.

Interestingly ISIS’s social media propaganda campaign trends the most in Saudi Arabia’s region in the Middle East under the hash tag #itwillremain and #ISIS at 35.1% whilst Qatar and Iraq stands at 7.5%, the U.S.A at 9.1%. This is an attempt to recruit more foreign fighters and wealthy donors of which there are plenty in Saudi Arabia and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, the latter of which was no secret as far back as 2008 according to Wikileaks.

“U.S. officials have described Qatar’s counter-terrorism cooperation since 9/11 as significant; however, some observers have raised questions about possible support for Al Qaeda by some Qatari citizens, including members of Qatar’s large ruling family.”

Naturally the U.S.A may desire to support the moderates fighting Assad yet an ocean of oil lies beneath the Middle East and Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter and producer. America’s hunger to consume cheap oil may influence political and moral decisions. Destabilizing Iraq’s oil supplies through civil war and disintegration will increase demand for Saudi Arabian oil exports.This is a recurring theme in past Middle Eastern history; blood oil and petro-politics.

By June 2014 Al-Baghdadi and ISIS now stood ready to take the fight to the Iraqi government installed by the U.S government now deeply unpopular with the Sunni minority.  As al-Baghdadi predicted the Iraqi Sunnis would be more than willing to turn to the jihadists and foreign fighters when their political future was non-existent under Nouri al-Maliki. An ample amount of U.S hardware lay in sight to seize and rub further salt in the wounds of America’s new Vietnam.

Independent, the wealthiest terror cell in the world, battle-hardened, uniformed, at-least 15,000 strong and most importantly unified and determined. ISIS’s rise to the full public awareness was nearly complete and as I have analysed with a considerable amount of depth it was through a variety of factors that they came into being.

ISIS’s victory, America’s failure.

While Obama seeks to contain the Islamic state by airstrikes (a tactic that did not prevent Khmer Rouge from seizing power in Cambodia in 1975) it cannot avoid the several depressing conclusions: this is the legacy of the Iraq War, this is the legacy of unchecked colonialism, this is the product of America’s Middle Eastern politics, and without doubt this is the bloodiest chapter in the Middle East’s bleak mid-winter. For all the strategic genius and charisma of al-Baghdadi his extremist faction have opened up one of the darker chapters in the history of the Middle East. The Arab Spring if not dying now lies murdered in its cradle. The Middle East’s  future for now is ISIS; jet black, a battle ground for authoritarian regimes and Islamic militants.

Matthew Williams

The Israeli Firewall

Israeli soldiers Gaza

Israel is in a state of deep division and as always holds much controversy in regards to its history, its politics and its brutal conduct in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The 2013-2014 peace-talks presided over by the United States of America  once again stalled and finally collapsed on April 29, 2014 whilst violence has flared between Israelis and Palestinians after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found in a field near Hebron in the West Bank.   The broad opinion is that Israel (led by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu)  facilitated the disintegration of prospects for a peace between the warring factions. The question is what Israel’s next move is  regarding the Palestinians, Gaza, and the firestorm of post-Arab Spring Middle Eastern politics?

The focus is once again on the Israeli occupation over the Palestinians. Eye for eye bloodshed has come to epitomize the Arab-Israeli conflict that has now been ongoing since 1948 and the instability in the Middle East look set to increase the stakes in the war. Recent events, a few good books on the real history of Israel and Palestine and re-watching the critically acclaimed District 9 has heightened my intrigue and horror at both the past and present crises involving Israel and the Middle East.

Betar Jerusalem Football Club is plagued by extreme Zionist youth movements

The real threat to Israel comes not from tiny, impoverished Gaza, but from the policies of Israel’s increasingly right-wing politicians. The Palestinian people are not welcome, they are not accepted, and they are dehumanized in Israeli media and propaganda where the #IsraelDemandsRevenge plagues Twitter and users on Instagram (most notably two very normal looking girls) post plaque cards stating that “To hate Arabs isn’t racism, it’s having values.”

Football hooligans (most notoriously Beitar Jerusalem’s supporters group ‘La Famila’ known for its anti-Arabism and racism), zealous Zionists and right-wing ultranationalists chant ‘Death to Arabs!‘, threaten and attack activists (with aid by the police in some cases), isolate the ‘traitors’ who criticize the state, and vandalize the property of Israeli dissenters, fellow Jews and Israeli Arabs.

In regards to Beitar Jerusalem, football so often reflects society. At its very worst it can represent hatred, class division, discrimination and disregard for diversity and there is no doubt that football hooligans and fanatics are deeply rooted in Israeli society and politics.  Israeli football, like its politics possesses ultra-nationalist and fascist/racist elements much like some sectors of Ukrainian and Russian football.

Alongside violent attacks, racial abuse and vandalism against Arabs and activists,  settlers recently kidnapped a Palestinian boy and forced him to drink petrol setting him alight and burning him to death. Doesn’t this make them hypocritical if the Palestinians are to be regarded in equal barbarity?

Embedded image permalink
“To hate Arabs isn’t racism, it’s having values. #IsraelDemandsRevenge”

It is exceedingly dangerous to dehumanize religious and ethnic groups. Dehumanizing and rendering other humans ‘alien’ has led to some of the world’s greatest atrocities and the treatment of the Palestinians is no exception to this. On average for one Israeli, dozens of Palestinians die and though the murder of those three Israeli was an unwelcome and horrific tragedy the Israeli Defence Forces have wounded and killed hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian children and teens since 2000 and imprisoned thousands more yet the mainstream media has normalized it. The imbalance in casualties in death, injuries and infrastructural damage is staggering. Invariably any death in war on both sides is a crime.

The gradual rise since the late 2000s and early 2010s of more radical Israeli groups are playing a disturbing rhyme to the annals of violent history.  The sensationalistic methods by which the Israeli teens’ deaths were reported has produced vicious public displays of racism. Hate crime against Arabs are rampant and largely ignored by the Israeli police whilst perhaps hundreds, maybe thousands of Palestinians are expected to die as supposed to a handful of Israeli citizens in the developing Gaza conflict.

Chris Hedges highlighted a interesting point via Isaiah Berlin known as “the conscience of Israel,” ‘warned that if Israel did not separate church and state it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult. He quotes:

 “Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” said Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous and would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and any hope of democracy. He warned that the rise of a virulent racism would consume Israeli society. West Bank Wall

When I saw the remnants of the Berlin Wall for the first time and then for the first time saw images of the West Bank wall under construction I was horrified by its bone-chilling resemblance to the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War, epitomized the war between the ideals of communism and western democracy/capitalism. Yet it was not a racial divide such as the one that exists between Israel and Palestine.

Walls, barbed wire, whitewashed racism, an increasing resemblance to apartheid South Africa, ethnic cleansing, extremism, religious/political manipulation, and permanent militarization.  It was unsurprising that the far right-wing Israeli government’s massive land theft and push to settle squatters on Palestinian land, and its sabotage of John Kerry’s peace initiative, would produce another round of violence.  While Palestinian militants also bear some responsibility, the majority of the blame rests with the Likud Party and its rapacious coalition partners. The Likud-Beiteinu coalition held 31 seats in the Israeli Knesset but the split now leaves Likud with 20 seats, one more than the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Lieberman’s Beiteinu party with 11.

What do the majority of Palestinians want? The majority just want to go home, they want justice, they want to live with the Israelis with compromise as shown by the peace-talks that recently failed. This hope has almost completely dissipated in the face of Israeli aggression and brutal  policies which has only served to radicalize, enrage and inflame the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people.

However the Palestinian radicals are predominantly Israel’s creation, a product of decades of occupation without a willingness in most cases to compromise at this given moment.

Israel at the end of the day is in part responsible for this escalation. This will shift attitudes across the world as international opinion turns against the Israeli government.

In the violent military campaign ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 Twitter, Tweetdeck and Facebook were being nurtured and were yet to become wholly politicized by events across the world. The Arab Spring, the Ukraine crisis, Snowden and the new Iraqi civil war have changed this. Amazingly #Israel and #Gaza managed to remain aside worldwide trends such as the historic dismantlement of the Brazilian football team by Germany at the 2014 World Cup (this was the most tweeted sporting event ever thus far).

Social media, the explosion of blogs and alternative news sites has aided the unshackling of the realities of the Israeli occupation that are sensitized or whitewashed by mainstream media and news outlets. Twitter can in many ways be regarded as the new public opinion outlook on current and trending world affairs. From various opinions both mainstream, groups, and individuals you can glean a more realistic interpretation of facts and realities on the ground, what is the truth, what isn’t being covered by mainstream media and what is manipulation and propaganda.

Social media can useful tools for peaceful condemnation and peaceful use to start a coherent international movement to boycott Israeli goods which though started along time ago can gain significant traction. This is not dissimilar to those wishing to promote extremist causes as seen by ISIS for example.

The military wing of Hamas, though undoubtedly doing little to ease the violence, pales in comparison to the Israeli occupation forces who have committed atrocities to safeguard Israeli citizens.

The most recent crimes include Operation Cast Lead (2000 civilians killed, thousands wounded + wide infrastructural destruction), the 2006 Lebanon War (1300 Lebanese civilians dead), Operation Pillar of Defence, and Operation Protective Edge. These crimes are deemed a necessity and acceptable for a ‘survivalist state’.

The Israeli’s have left little if any room for compromise. Criticism which is dished out on them is turned on its head by the Israeli state as summarized perfectly by Gideon Levy

“Anyone who dares criticize the occupation policy is branded an anti-Semite or a traitor, every act of resistance is perceived as an existential threat. All international opposition to the occupation is read as the “delegitimizing” of Israel and as a provocation to the country’s very existence. The world’s seven billion people – most of whom are against the occupation – are wrong, and six million Israeli Jews – most of whom support the occupation – are right. That’s the reality in the eyes of the average Israeli.”

Peace activists within  Israel are being muzzled. In some cases they receive death threats and are killed as seen in the pre-dawn hours of May 31, 2010 when Israeli military forces stormed the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships carrying humanitarian relief to Gaza. The Israelis killed (some by point blank range execution) at least nine activists and injured dozens of others. Film footage and pictures were destroyed to conceal the brutality of the Israeli forces.

The ship was searched before it left Turkey and was clear of weapons yet the Israeli media firestorm convinced its people otherwise that humanitarianism and peace activists were a looming ‘terrorist’ threat. Terrorism is the new dirty word, a pretext under which many government’s believe the can act with dictatorial impunity and Israel is one of many government’s which have acted under the cloak of ‘terror’ to gain political advantage and/or achieve local or international objectives.

Where do the keys lie to this crisis, one which has existed for so long and seems to be steadily worsening predominantly under the orchestration of Israel?

The key lies with Israel yet it is suffering an identity crisis. Does it continue down the path of alienating the international community or does it try to establish much needed peace and reaffirm itself with more democratic values alongside the Palestinians? The pervading boorish attitudes coupled with a rejectionist, uncompromising agenda, which has effectively replaced democracy with the leadership of the ‘strong’ (i.e. war-mongers) will only hasten the Middle East’s instability and lure jihadists and insurgencies more radical than Hamas to Israel’s (quite literal) doorstep. Unless an unlikely ceasefire is organised between the two conflicting factions, a new war on the Gaza strip is inevitable and the death toll is already steadily rising.

What is the difference we may ask? Surely Israel and Palestine have always been a problem? I answer to that with a resounding yes. However the geo-political earthquake since the Arab Spring has changed the situation that has existed since the Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead.

The Arab Spring, the Islamic winter (as many would call it) or the Middle Eastern conflict has become an all-consuming blood-bath most notably seen in Syria. Yet the crisis is affecting  Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a violent domino effect on the region and Israel will invariably have a role to play in safeguarding Middle Eastern security. Israel naturally has to be on a state of high alert lest it be sucked into a whirlwind of sectarian violence and insurgency.

What role it chooses to play in the wider context is subject to debate. The peace-talks that failed recently are an indication that Israeli government rather than choosing peace and compromise with Palestine has chosen the more destructive option; drones, fighter jets, bulldozers and bombs.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

This will solve neither the short-term and long-terms between the two countries, nor will it solve the Middle Eastern crisis (now long-term) which Israel invariable has the power to influence. It cannot do so amidst rightful worldwide condemnation of orchestrating a more radical form of apartheid against the Palestinians than we witnessed in South Africa, coherent and growing calls for boycotting Israeli goods and dependence on the U.S tax dollar for military and economic support.

The United States and the Western world must take a firm stand on Israel and Palestine lest the situation become a serious headache rather than a potential invaluable asset to a peaceful future in the Middle East. Eventually the peace activists, the human rights movements, the non-governmental organisations, and boycotters will be heard. A reactionary Israel is the last thing the West or Middle East needs right now yet alone dealing with the escalation of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and the emergence of ISIS.

Turning a blind eye to atrocities on both sides will not just condemn us to history as inactive onlookers, it will also add to collective and unnerving problem that is the Middle Eastern conflict.

War is built on deception and deceit. A state in permanent war with others and its ideals and built on fantasies and to some extent historical manipulation is a potent cocktail.

Israel needs to save itself from itself as much as the Palestinians need to be  a state free from Israeli occupation. These are critical times for both countries and both are vitally important to the future of the Middle East. Israel needs to be saved from the likes of Avigdor Liebermann, the Likud party and the young extremists that have been indoctrinated into a dangerous system. Israel needs peace and Palestine needs peace, it could be a symbol of hope for the future of the Middle East rather than a symbol of vituperative hate. Uncertainty must be replaced with hope. Cultural impunity must be replaced by co-existence.

This is the only sane way for this to end and invariably history tells us that something has eventually got to give. How the war will be decided, whether by extensive bloodshed or peace, is up to how the international community, Israel and Palestine choose for it to end.

Matthew Williams

Gaza Facts courtesy of Juan Cole:

This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.

  • Population of Palestinians of Gaza: 1.7 million
  • Number of Palestinians in Gaza whose families were expelled as refugees from their homes in what is now southern Israel: 1.2 million
  • Number of Palestinians in Gaza still living in the 8 recognized refugee camps, “which have one of the highest population densities in the world”:  over 500,00
  • Compensation Palestinians of Gaza have received for the billions of dollars of property taken from them by Israelis in Beersheva, Sderot, etc.:  $0
  • Years since Israel allowed Palestinians of Gaza to export what they produce:  7
  • Unemployment in Gaza as a result of Israeli blockade on civilians:  38.5%
  • Estimated unemployment rate in US during the Great Depression:  25%
  • Percentage of children in Gaza suffering from acute malnutrition:  13.2%
  • Rate of anemia in Palestinian Children in Gaza:  18.9%
  • Percentage of water in Gaza that is potable:  10%
  • Years, according the the UN, before Gaza becomes “uninhabitable”:  6
  • Number of airports in Gaza rendered inoperable by Israeli airstrikes: 1
  • Number of airports working in Gaza:  0
  • Number of ports allowed by Israelis to operate on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast:  0

The Arabian End Game

“War does not determine who is right – only who that is left”

Bertrand Russell

ISIS executionThe Arab Spring, now dubbed by many the Arabian winter, has consumed the Middle East and Northern Africa like a wildfire, uncontrollable and almost beyond taming from the outside. What looked like a series of short-term crises have molded into a long-term regional conflict.  Revolution and reform has festered into civil war, counter-revolution, coups, civil strife, insurgency, authoritarianism, terrorism and various humanitarian crises. Global refugee figures now stand at 51.2 million the highest since World War II and it only looks set to increase as annually violence intensifies and many borders that we see on maps are now the merest of illusions. As Anton Guterres (UN High Commission for Refugees) remarks the ‘quantum numbers’ parallel the ‘quantum’ leap in the stakes of this regional crisis. 

The Iraq crisis has served to exacerbate the severity of the regional collapse with the focus shifting from the Ukrainian borderlands back to the Middle East. Finger pointing has commenced in America as it struggles to come to terms with its new Vietnam, Obama in a potentially unattainable situation in regards to Iraq.

Naturally the focus has been on the Bush administration, the West’s legacy in Iraq and the denial and bitterness of key politicians who orchestrated and oversaw the Iraq invasion and occupation (2003-2011). The focus should undoubtedly remain on them and inquiries must be conducted in the UK and United States to explain all the controversy surrounding coalitions action regarding war crimes and the illegitimacy of the grounds for invasion.

Area of the world affected by civil strife, war, insurgency, violence, revolution, terrorism and chaos. Global crisis?
Areas of the world affected by serious civil strife, war, insurgency, violence, revolution, state of alert, terrorism and chaos. Global crisis?

However at the same time solutions for the now and the long-term have to be considered to resolving the crisis, lest men radicalized by conflict return or emerge on our shores and other regions of the world to promote extremism and violence. This could quite easily spill over into unstable Greece and Turkey, the former of whom is starting to support the more fascist elements within the political spectrum such as Golden Dawn. Turkey is likewise suffering from civil unrest, economic instability and the repression of many civil liberties (we saw the shut down of Twitter to quell political dissent online a tactic regularly used now by activists, insurgents and jihadists).

Containing the threat is as important as solving it and whilst the international community would like to see the bloodshed cease, most notably in Syria, the crisis in Middle East is starting to look beyond the direct control of the super-powers (such as the Russian Federation and the United States). This is largely due to the splintering of rebel factions into a variety of insurgents, hard-line jihadists with varying goals and objectives, freedom fighters, and those fighting for a secular government all of whom tend to overlap with one another.

Local powers hold the key to this crisis as the Western powers have either bungled their support for the pro-Western/democratic entities or have tainted their reputations with regard to conduct and policies in regards to Middle Eastern affairs. Nevertheless history and the continued Global War on Terror dictates that the West will remain key to the Middle East’s future.

The success or failure of the Iran nuclear deal could be an important factor in containing the Middle Eastern conflicts not to mention our relationship with Putin and the Kremlin over the Ukrainian civil war and the Syrian civil war. How the Iraqi government, its armed forces and political parties deal with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) in the coming weeks is also pivotal.

Using drones and air-strikes as Obama does in Pakistan as stated in a previous article is unlikely to deter the opposition who are well armed and from videos that have been seen on the ground it is an  urban war in the towns and cities of Iraq. Airstrikes would only incur heavy casualties both civilian and military and leave many embittered against the Obama administration, a useful propaganda tool for jihadist and insurgency organisations.

More crucially those who are pro-Western in Iraq would or could be a target of retribution and being pro-Western can be manipulated into anything from western affiliation to political and religious beliefs or ethnicity. This is in-part already happening but bombings would only accelerate the crimes against humanity not ease them.

The United States must also stop supplying weapons to hard-line jihadist and Islamic extremists in Syria, via their allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, (who have supported hard-line extremists) such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS. According to Juan Cole of Truthdig neither thus far have openly criticized ISIS for their crimes. On October 20, 2010, U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Specific individuals are a key source of funding according to leaked U.S diplomatic cables in 2009  according to Hilary Clinton:

“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority…Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” 

Both ISIS and Al-Nusra ideologies’ are predominantly Sunni, so whilst the Iraq invasion may have destroyed the fundamental military, police and security structures (an incompetent strategy employed by Rumsfeld then Secretary of Defence) the Obama administration has hardly curbed the rise of violent Islamism in Syria and Iraq. So technically many of us are inadvertently funding terrorism not just assisting refugees in the crises. This is a product of of deliberate and poor long term and short-term U.S/Western strategy in regards to the Middle East, seen most obviously in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front have flourished and grown more powerful than than their affiliates Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda thanks to financial and logistical support from the West’s Middle Eastern allies and seized depots of Assad’s Syrian Army. The violence of both ISIS and Al-Nusra as seen by pictures and Youtube videos (warning contains very graphic content) posted by both organisations are horrific and easily found. Our allies often funded by government’s in Western Europe and America fund the very men we claim to fight, such as those who commited atrocities on 9/11, 7/7, Woolwich, in Madrid and Mumbai since 2001.

Interestingly ISIS’s social media propaganda campaign trends the most in Saudi Arabia’s region in the Middle East under the hash tag #itwillremain and #ISIS at 35.1% whilst Qatar and Iraq stands at 7.5%, the U.S.A at 9.1%. This is an attempt to recruit more foreign fighters and wealthy donors of which there are plenty in Saudi Arabia and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, the latter of which was no secret as far back as 2008 according to Wikileaks.

“U.S. officials have described Qatar’s counter-terrorism cooperation since 9/11 as significant; however, some observers have raised questions about possible support for Al Qaeda by some Qatari citizens, including members of Qatar’s large ruling family.”

Naturally the U.S.A may desire to support the moderates fighting Assad yet an ocean of oil lies beneath the Middle East and Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter and producer. Americans hunger to consume cheap oil and economics may influence political and moral decisions. Destabalizing Iraq’s oil supplies through civil war and disintegration will increase demand for Saudi Arabian oil exports.This is a recurring theme in past Middle Eastern history; blood oil and petro-politics.

Whether or not these pictures are real are disputed, ISIS’s and Al-Nusra’s atrocities are not on Youtube.

Supporting extremists is unlikely to fill the void of Assad’s government with a pro-Western affiliate nor will the ending of Assad’s regime guarantee a peaceful power transfer. In-fact a second civil war would likely occur if Assad was removed from power between the extremists, moderates, and insurgents and encourage the continuation of sectarian violence; essentially a repeat of Iraq. This is something we are seeing unfold in Libya since Gaddafi’s execution October 20th 2011 and NATO’s airstrikes against pro-Gaddafi forces.

Military rule in Egypt
Military rule in Egypt

The dilemma between authoritarianism and anarchy in the Middle East is particularly difficult and contentious issue that we must address. In Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has rapidly and brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, however there a belief amongst many that a civil war would have began had the military not taken control in wake of the 2nd coup and ousting of democratically elected but incompetent and ineffective Mohammed Morsi.

Yet the death penalty for dissidents, and legitimate protesters as well as the detainment of thousands more is no peace, just martial law, a reversal of the gains made since Mubarak was removed by the protesters in a largely bloodless coup in 2011. The west is in a moral quandary not supporting elected Morsi while silently condoning the army coup.The Egyptian military is again in part funded by the United States and it is the same old story much like that of Saddam Hussein who was installed by the C.I.A  none other than President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam.

Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein, December 20th 1983. Rumsfeld would later lead the U.S campaign in 2003 to topple Saddam. This was after the summer of 1983 when Iran had been reporting Iraqi use of using chemical weapons for some time.

As long as the government is pro-Western rather than democratic, these are the people we tend to back whether it be Saddam who used chemical weapons against the Iranians and Kurds but he is a deterrent to communist influence and secures Western oil interests, Saudi Arabians funding terrorists but being the world top exporters of oil or the Israeli pro-Western buffer state who have ethnically cleansed the Palestinians and bomb the Gaza Strip since 1948 and are increasingly right-wing and fascist under Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu.


This is not about democracy and the Arab Spring’s eventual decline into a series of regional  proxy wars highlights this. Iran and the Russian Federation aren’t innocent either. They back their ally Assad who uses napalm, barrel bombs, and other ruthless tactics including torture to fight both moderate and radical secular/religious factions. Both sides have been accused of using official and home-made nerve gas and sarin chemical weapons against each other. With extremists on both sides not just Assad’s that would not and should not surprise us.  It is either authoritarian rule or the proxy-conflicts and brutal caliphates/Islamic states of hard-line militants.

Will we see more troops on the ground under a future president of the United States and NATO? After all this is a long-term crisis that will most likely past Obama’s term in office which has spread to parts of Africa (asides North Africa) most notoriously Mali, Kenya and Nigeria while Somalia has been plagued by violent Islamism in the form of Al-Shabaab since the 1990s.

The frustration and isolation of Russian Muslims in the politics of the Kremlin as well as those in satellite states such as Chechnya and Dagestan only increase the problems. Conflict has torn apart the provinces creating power vacuums filled by warlords and fundamental groups determined to be independent Islamic states (radical or not).

The violence is beyond Western control unless stark military deployment is contemplated a route that many in the Western public is unlikely to support in the wake of the calamitous Iraq war nor will the Russians, Iranians, Assad, or China permit such a radical solution. The choices are difficult, imperfect peace or the pursuing of, whether subtlety or not, the continuation of violence.


Yet neither of these are the solution to the long-term problems as authoritarian regimes are susceptible to future protests, revolutions and acts of terror (whether or not they are done under just or unjust motives) whilst encouraging and supplying perpetrators (applied to all super-powers involved) of violence only makes the Middle East a hot-bed for radicalism, jihadi extremism, and human rights abuses. Ending the Syrian civil war and new Iraqi conflict is part of the solution to restoring a semblance of ‘order’ to the region, establishing dialogue with sides willing to engage and compromise and alienate support and further supplies to violent groups.

Easier said than done when you contemplate not only the divisions and rivalries but sheer number of sides involved. The procedure of the Geneva II Conference on Syria and the inability for several sides to come to a decisive political solution with little if no help from Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry indicates this issue.

Yes it is most certainly an Arabian winter in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands are dead, thousands more starve, millions dwell in refugee camps and violence and torture tower over human rights in this political earthquake that has only gained momentum rather than being stopped. This is our generation’s concern and those of the future not just those who lived through the dialogue and ideologies of the Cold War.

The answers to solving the challenges between the West and Middle East cannot be presented in two-thousand words. The issue stretches out over most human debates conceivable be they social, economic, political, geographical, historical, religious, ideological concepts and more within both Europe and the Middle East.


These gaps have to narrowed on both sides of the spectrum if attitudes are to shift and radical elements are to be understood. Military power is the riskiest and least helpful way of solving the problem as summarised perfectly by author Jason Burke: ‘Language of high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication. The latter may be useful to treat the symptom but does not, and will never, treat the disease’ (Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam).

The past as well as the present holds the key to the crisis and the whys are as important as how in any local, regional or global conflict. Western Europe, eastern Europe, and the Middle East are  entwined in mutual history and experience and seeing the opposing sides as alien entities is the pathway to unending conflict.  Failure is the passageway to success. We can do better lest the Arabian end game is defined by madness rather than hope, development, education, peace and mutual existence.

Matthew Williams



Permanent War: The Ascent of American Militarism

“To state the matter bluntly, Americans in our time have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and out-sized expectations regarding the efficacy of force”

Andrew J. Bacevich (Vietnam war-veteran, author of The New American Militarism )

We witnessed the power of Islamic extremism at its most sinister in September 2001 as thousands of lives were lost (including that of over thirty Muslims, one of whom carried an unborn child) in New York. 9/11 was a day that quite possibly changed the United States of America forever and for quite the wrong reasons. It heralded in the 9/11 decade, a time in which the world saw America ignite it’s ignominious ‘Global War on Terror’ and a second dawn for Washington’s  unquestionable use of military power under the administration of George Bush.  What we saw on 9/11 was not just the terrorism of Al-Qaeda, but the beginning of a new militarism in America that contaminates the ‘democracy’ of the nation and has spited the face of its foreign policy and continues to do so under the Obama administration.

The statistics, when you compare the military budget of the United States  to that of the rest of global military expenditure, are colossal. In 2014 the official U.S defence budget (including military spending, veterans, and foreign military aid) is currently at $785.9 billion (roughly 20% of the federal budget). The U.S spends more on its military than the all other military powers around the globe combined whilst the Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China stand at only a third of U.S expenditure. The U.S Marine Corps is larger than the entire British Army and the military have between 700-800 military bases abroad. Simply put the U.S military is the most powerful the world has seen, the question is how can they sustain it and why do they continue to maintain such volatile if undemocratic power? Why don’t we question such power?

Most of our generation have only known the United States’ as the world’s dominant super-power back in the day when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union disintegrated somewhat anti-climatically into history. Surely the battle of ideologies was over, capitalism (for now) had won, why was there a need to sustain such astonishing military capabilities especially when the debt of the nation is now currently $21 trillion? The answer is rooted in both long-term factors inherent in America’s political system and short-term factors which is dominated by a inherent obsession with ‘global power projection’ and a case of spending money you don’t have.

Historian Bagevich blames this new found militarism on a number of factors one being the tempestuous relationship between civilian and military authority when it came to armed conflict. The disaster of the ‘War on Terror’, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Vietnam War has shown how terrible wars can be run by those in the White House. Yet the wars are fought under myths, illusions, and the lies of American ‘exceptionalists’, neoconservatives and those who believe America has a ‘duty’ to lead the world as the supreme example of ‘democratic ideals’ founded in the American constitution.

Communism was the ideology to invest millions of lives into Vietnam and the U.S.A ran into the quagmire of South-East Asia overlooking key political and cultural aspects of Vietnam and its surrounding area. Thousands of Americans died in the name of ‘American patriotism’, the military was entirely destabilized and the United States buckled. It was not until Operation Desert Storm that this credibility was restored through a series of reforms that placed more military control in overall strategy that failed so miserably in Vietnam in the hands of civilian puppeteers.

All that changed on 9/11. A new ideology threatened the United States in the form of Islamic extremism. Over 2,600 American civilians were dead (excluding foreign nationals and the hijackers) and the White House stood humiliated. Internal and petty rivalries within its own bureaucracy had overlooked the escalating threat of the extremist organisation. The presidency had failed the American people and  those culpable for this failure and the death of so many have yet to answer the questions.

9/11 was the pretext under which civilian authority and neoconservatives could reimpose themselves in these most opportunistic of tragic circumstances. The PATRIOT Act was installed and the Global War on Terror (GWOT) began as the PATRIOT ACT quotes “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes.”  Supporters claim that it’s been instrumental in a number of investigations and arrests of terrorists, while critics counter the act gives the government too much power, threatens civil liberties and undermines the very democracy it seeks to protect.

My opinion is that overall the PATRIOT ACT was a beginning of a series of events that have only served to perhaps irrevocably harm the United States’ image and most importantly foreign civilians, their own civilians and soldiers, and others across the globe. Nearly 7,000 U.S soldiers have been killed in the GWOT, nearly eight times more wounded whilst hundreds of thousands suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Nearly twenty thousand Afghanistan civilians are dead and over one hundred thousand were left dead as a consequence of the American/British occupation in Iraq. Today fifty people died in a series of bomb explosions in Baghdad, a familiar and tragic story, the legacy of the Bush and Blair administration’s attempt to impose ‘democracy’ on the Iraq and the Middle East. The Middle East today and the countries within are hardly beacons of hope for democracy as the Arab Spring appears more of a miscarriage than an emblem of hope for aspiring liberal and democratic peoples and nations.

American liberal and democratic ideals have been tainted by the Bush administration and sheer economic power. Trillions is being and has been spent on the GWOT, effectively on an enemy that cannot be defeated. Terrorism will always exist and has done long before the events of 9/11. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Black Hand Serbian terrorist organisation sparked World War I (alongside other factors). Terrorism cannot be eliminated because the relations of states and civilians, minorities, and oppressed peoples are built on resisting whether rightly or wrongly to what they consider excessively powerful and corrupt authority. Nelson Mandela and the current South African ruling party (ANC) were regarded as terrorists resisting apartheid the latter of which was a morally bankrupt, racist and oppressive regime.

I myself cannot offer a clear solution to the question of terrorism however one thing is for certain; military solutions are the easiest but least helpful and riskiest solution to the problem. When necessary and well-planned, to protect civilians, force is necessary and to suggest otherwise would be naive.  However invading countries based on the trumped up charges of WMD’s and installing a hollowed out democracy is hardly the answer to protecting our own shores from radicals and terrorism. The United Kingdom is no stranger to that as seen by the IRA, 7/7, and the horrific Woolwich incident.

Anti Balaka now branded Christian Terrorists in the Central African Republic
Anti Balaka now branded Christian Terrorists in the Central African Republic

The causes of terrorism are so inherently variable that to merely associate it with ‘global’ terms as the Bush administration did is to overlook a huge list of factors that create the conditions for the growth of terrorist groups. This list comprises of things like socio-economics, cultural differences, ethnicity, religion, state structure, politics, history, education, poverty and each factor shapes an individual consciously and unconsciously, radically or moderately. Even the definition is very open ended in the dictionary.

  1. The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially  for political purposes.
  2. The state of fear and submission produced by terrorism and terrorisation.
  3. A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
Shia Islamic extremists in Nigeria 'Boko Haram'
Shia Islamic extremists in Nigeria ‘Boko Haram’

The war against Islamic extremism and terrorism is as illogical (if not more so) as the war on communism. If the United States are waging war on terrorism why aren’t the Obama administration in Nigeria fighting Boko Haram? Because it is as one of the officials in the White House described as a ‘hydra-headed’ entity where new enemies are created. The mighty Hercules when he fought the Hydra during his arduous twelve labors could not defeat it by conventional means of decapitation, he had to eliminate the source of growth at the neck by burning the neck with the aid of his servant.

9/11 Al-Qaeda airline hijackers fifteen of whom came from Saudi Arabia.

For Washington eliminating the sources are beyond their capabilities and the military means have been overused and some argue exhausted. New methods are needed. This isn’t a story though, this is reality and too many people have died in the name of America’s overused trigger finger. Osama Bin Laden is dead but at what cost? The word terrorism is now a dirty word so applicable to any situation of violence that states can use it to crush dissidents in a population or turn public opinion against the ‘terrorists’ regardless of intended dissent or protest.

The 2nd Ukrainian Civil War would appear unusual to readers now simply because Kiev, CNN, and BBC would label and the enemies of pro-EU Kiev ‘Pro-Russian separatists’ rather than ‘Ukrainian rebels or civilians’ to distort Russian credibility on the whole crisis. The reality is that both sides (NATO and the EU included) have their hands mired in sewage, not just Putin and his government for what has happened in Ukraine.

The friendly neighbourhood watch?: Homeland Security
The friendly neighbourhood watch?: Homeland Security

Overlooking these factors has left the United States’ default policy as ‘permanent war’. War is unsustainable and never democratic. The last thirteen years have only seen the erosion of liberties and rights of the American people in the name of fighting an extremist entity that is realistically unbeatable. This not defeatist, it is plain realistic interpretation. The erosion of liberties has only led to the abhorrent mass-surveillance program, the empowerment of the NSA, the increasing militarized appearance of Homeland Security (since when did HS need enough bullets to sustain a Iraq war that would last 20 years?) and  the enabling of drones to kill American civilians (if determined a ‘terrorist’ threat). Let us not forget the void between rich and poor, the political and who can access power, the 1% who can access and dictate the levers of power.

People have emerged questioning this policy of permanent war and they need to be heard. People such as Andrew J. Bacevich, Chris Hedges, Edward Snowden,  Chelsea Manning all from different backgrounds (a veteran, a war-journalist, a government employee, a soldier) need to be understood not about who they are, but why they protested.

It is one thing to know who Nelson Mandela is or recognize dissidents, another to understand what they fought against and ask the disturbing questions. “Why should apartheid be a legitimate form of government?” or “Why is mass-surveillance in any shape or form lawful?” or “Why should a wall exist within Berlin?” or “Why am I in this job?” Asking questions  exceptional, blatant, or unusual renders individuals, states and even ourselves uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable questions are asked every single day and they way you deal with the question at hand no matter how troublesome they may be and how you react to it is key. Every one of us, state or individual has been guilty of air-brushing a problem or sweeping it under the carpet until it reemerges even bigger than before.

To question the norms is the duty of thinkers, to question is to be a dissenter, and even governments need them for regulation, restraint and control. They do not simply require ‘yes-men’. The men I mentioned are questioning (or have questioned) the system of the United States and when you connect the dots there are some very uncomfortable truths about regarding American debt, domestic and foreign policies and truths regarding contemporary Western culture.

Donald Rumsfeld. Former Secretary of Defence
Donald Rumsfeld. Former Secretary of Defence

The question revolving around Snowden is whether or not he is a traitor and narcissist or a hero of moral courage with extraordinary ability to stand against what was inherently wrong with mass-surveillance. The real question exposed by this whole situation and others since 9/11 should be why should the United States’ government need to bug Andrea Merkel and Ban Ki Moon’s meetings, are they classified as ‘terrorists’? Why should the United States be able to exercise military power unilaterally yet others like Russia can’t? ‘Why aren’t George Bush, John Yoo Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney behind bars as war criminals regarding the PATRIOT Act, unilateral invasions, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (aka torture as seen in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay through a combination of psychological and physical methods), the expansion of the NSA’s power and their role in the ‘War on Terror’?

A unethical form of patriotism and American exceptionalism stalks the nation and seats of power where using military power is cherished as one of the pillars of what means to be an American. Before their reluctant entry into World War I and their late entry into World War II, many Americans prided themselves as being a nation of restraint, that war was a folly that destroyed man as witnessed by hundreds of years of European  history.

These values have been subverted and changed since the turn of the 20th century, many claiming that ‘American empire’ is the end product of the rise militarism and the manipulated idea of American exceptionalism. The balance of economic and military as well as civilian needs have been completed shattered by unrealistic expectations of fighting the ideology of terrorism.

Athens in classical Greece became the beacon of democracy for the ages yet it fell prey to imperialism. Athenian democracy existed only in name, gradually becoming an empire. Athens fell after decades of war, excess expenditure, geographical overextension and inner turmoil.

They were left a weakened entity and never recovere, their reputation was somewhat blemished by colonising and spreading their version of what is politically correct to other cultures, city states, tribes, and empires in the region.  What the others saw was greed, militarism, and conquest veiled in the lofty notions of democracy presented only at the tip of a sword, spear, hoplites’, mercenaries, and the leveling of cities who revolted against their opinions. Why isn’t the modern world any different? History doesn’t repeat itself it rhymes very well though.

Is the receding of American dominance a bad thing or welcome for now? Only time will tell. The United States has spited its own face in recent years and have had, to some extent, their hands tied by other international players, events and circumstances big and small. What we see as weakness on Obama’s part for failing to maintain the standard hegemony should be taken as a dose of realism. America, though irreplaceable in the international theater, must have its limits and restraints in the 21st century lest it fall into the realms of creating  new hallucinations and new, but very real enemies.

Matthew Williams

The Death of the Pax Americana: Obama the Realist?

The Westpoint Speech delivered by Barack Obama was certainly one that was necessary and one which directly addressed the burning question for some; namely what is the United States’ new role in the world both as a political and military force?

For many the question remains unanswered or the speech to them lacks a convincing amount of information to truly figure out the motives of the Obama administration within the halls of the White House. Obama’s conduct has been misconstrued at times, confused and to many uncertain particularly given the ‘red-line’ scenario that nearly unfolded in the wake of the chemical attacks in Syria, August 2013.

Military action was strictly ruled out by voices inside the military, Congress and that of Russia, China and the international community. The ghosts of the Bush administration aggressive foreign policy very much remain in the minds of Western politicians and U.S public. Thousands of American lives have been lost, billions of dollars wasted in questionable conflicts. The West has renounced its rights to intervene in Middle Eastern affairs since the defeat in Iraq (what else was it?) and the continued slaughter in Afghanistan from which the United States and the UK are ejecting from in late 2014 (by-enlarge).

In normal times Obama’s thinking and words would have been considered a merit amongst many, the media, and the world. Unfortunately these are not normal times. The 2nd Ukrainian Civil War (what else is it?) or as Kiev would have us call it ‘counter-terrorism operations’, between the pro-Western government and pro-Russian seperatists has shook Eastern Europe and relations between the Russian Federation and NATO are at their worst since the end of the Cold War.

This is coupled with the increased tension between Japan and China over territorial disputes in the South-Asia Pacific Region and the chaos in the Middle East where unchecked regional aggression threatens to boil over into a far more serious regional conflict. The Arab Spring is static in the bleakest of mid-winters.


Then there is the infamous ‘War on Terror’, a conflict against insurgent groups across the globe, a threat of which has increased in the blood-shed across the Middle East and Africa. The latter has witnessed the alarming rise in extremist Islamism, most notoriously Al-Shaabab and Boko Haram who cut a swath through Somalia, Kenya and Nigeria in a wave of suicide attacks, kidnappings, mass-shooting, and drug trafficking whilst recruiting disenchanted youths to their largely unholy, extremist cause.

Yes, these are anything but normal times. The 9/11 decade has re-shaped the 21st century and Obama is in an unwinnable situation of suffering from the mistakes of the Bush administrations violations of international law (though Obama has committed a few violations himself) and the worst recession since the Great Depression of 1929.

Undoubtedly the Obama administration has made key mistakes that make it a target for criticism. Guantanamo Bay, a focal point for criticism of the previous White House administrations remains open, even though Obama promised it would be shut down. Likewise his economic policies have not taken off as they would have liked as the U.S buckles under potentially ruinous debt in its trillions.

Nor can his response in the Syrian Civil War encouraged onlookers that they can look to the USA for support, even it is in a package bundle of $5 billion. Afghan and Iraq security forces hardly gave anyone conviction that they could secure the new ‘democractic’ beacons created by the USA, UK and NATO.

However in regard to U.S foreign policy in the last decade the criticism of their neo-imperialism, interference, non-conformity to international law and militarism reached an absolute crescendo not witnessed since Vietnam. To continue a staunch military stance and use bellicose words such as Bush did in the wake of 9/11 would only further many’s disdain for the United States’s foreign policy. If anything Obama is attempting to collect the pieces of a now redundant foreign policy option.

The Washington Post recently stated that ‘This binding of U.S. power places Mr. Obama at odds with every U.S. president since World War II. In effect, he ruled out interventions to stop genocide or reverse aggression absent a direct threat to the U.S. homeland or a multilateral initiative.’

Obama is not at odds with former presidents foreign policies in regard to interventions. When George Bush Senior invaded Somalia in the 1990s and Clinton continued the U.N operation how did they fare? They merely undermined the U.N mission and single-handedly scapegoated the United Nations for their hot-headed unilateral operations absent regard for U.N regulations. Somalia remains a desolate region, conflict unresolved and Al-Shaabab has only strengthened. Did Clinton halt the Rwandan genocide in 1994 which completely destabilized the region, which in part still suffers twenty years on?

When Clinton administration did intervene along with NATO in the Balkans in the 1990s during the Bosnian Civil War, they intervened only when it was too late and drowning in evidence that suggested they could have and should have intervened sooner. The victory over the Serbian nationalists was glossed in blood, a Pyrrhic victory.

We don’t even need to go into the end results of Lyndon Johnson’s decision to invade Vietnam and the cost for both South-East Asia and the United States politically, militarily and economically. Besides that the United States has never intervened to directly halt genocide so Obama is not acting different to what other president’s do, whereby he promotes national interest above that of other countries across the world. It is how American foreign policy, however ‘exceptionalist’ or questionable, has largely operated since it assumed leading power role in 1919.

When the United States sits backs, we cry cowardice, uncertainty or retreat, evading responsibility yet when they attack we cry war-mongers, militarism, interference, and state that the United States over-reaches. It is one of the most complex arguments of the international arena.

The United States is, along with the Russian Federation,  by no accounts is in any shape or form doing its best to remove the sting from the Ukrainian crisis. Both sides are equally culpable in pushing Ukraine towards civil war. The leaders of both the United States and the EU have turned a blind eye to the dangerous elements within the interim Ukrainian government which have to be isolated whilst Putin has quite obviously, even if Crimea is historically a monument to Russian nationalism and predominantly Russian, flouted international law.

What we are witnessing in the 21st century is  a marked decline in the idea that reciprocal hegemony and liberalism in international relations are realistic. It is an unrealizable dream, a dangerous illusion, that politics like human nature is rooted in self-interest, and self-centered objectivity and most big powers players will do anything to hold on to their position on the international stage. Unilateral power-politics either of a military or arbitrary nature still and probably will always trump economic and soft power.  

Critics of Obama state that he is de-facto abandoning Ukraine, and that in short only U.S interests, core interests and that of NATO are of primary concern to the United States, that the U.S.A has become in foreign policy as uncertain as it has ever been even weak, a slumbering giant when the right are adamant that this is a time in which the United States should be at its firmest abroad.

Ukraine is of our concern undoubtedly, but realistically what can military force do in Ukraine but enrage the Russian Federation and push us closer to the unimaginable? Ukraine, though a borderland between western and eastern Europe, lies within Russia’s sphere whether the most uncertain of European Union’s would like it or not. Besides that as stated in previous articles the West and the United States lacks both moral and economic leverage with which it can use full capapcity to influence what happens in Ukraine. Nor can we rule out the geographical military advantage Russia possesses unless you bring in the quite ludicrous consideration of nuclear missiles.

The United States is the most powerful military force on the planet. Its budget exceeds half the world’s total military capabilities. If Obama and the U.S.A would wish to use it they could. Mark Mardell sums it up rather well:

“Obama’s paradox is that he is commander-in-chief of the most powerful military ever known, in a country that doesn’t want to go to war. So he uses a simple saying to reinforce his point – just because you can fight, and would probably win, it doesn’t mean you have to do so.”

The use of military force is not necessarily always the correct solution to a civil war or a military crisis. If Obama pulls off a deal with Iran, his critics will fall silent. You can have a Plan A whereby invasion and deployment of troops is done effectively and the war is won. The problem is as seen in Iraq, Somalia and Vietnam; an effective Plan B, C, and D were lacking. What do you do afterwards? How do you calculate how a population reacts to occupation under foreigners who we may have no cultural affiliation or understanding of and with? How do you consolidate victory in modern war and conflict, when concepts of insurgency and terrorism is entering a new phase?

This is something that even a giant, be it Russia, the United States and China, would struggle with at varying degrees as traditional military conflict is a dying entity and containing a occupied population fraught with more difficulty than ever before.  Obama highlights this at West Point referencing the power of the individual in the modern world. It can vary from it most volatile to 9/11 and further illustrated by Woolwich, 7/7, Mumbai, Madrid, Volgograd  or simply social media, a click of a button,  the power to express yourself  at your fingertips in the form of a keyboard.

It has never been an easier time to express your opinions no matter how moderate or radical. This is a very difficult thing for states to fight, which is both a good and bad thing as a pardigm must exist between a state and civilians where mutual interests are respected (the world’s most difficult balance).

Certainly the U.S and Obama are reacting to events rather than preparing for them and the mistakes of the administration are laid bare for all to see. The reversal in Syria springs to mind as does the contradictory statements coming out the White House that Al-Qaeda is a vanquished organisation whilst at the same time a ‘hydra-headed entity’.  Extremist Islam has never been so powerful despite its civil war. There is a degree of uncertainty which leaves John Kerry undermined as an identity crisis engulfs Washington D.C.

The United States is less of a democratic entity then it ever was and it has tightened under the Obama administration.  Obama’s extension of the Patriotic Act in 2011 and the capabilities of Homeland Security to stamp down control as seen in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings, the use of drones to kill civilians, contentious targets and even Americans if need be are an emphasis upon how the United States image and policies have shifted since 9/11. We cannot forget Edward Snowden’s revelations (also likely a confirmation of what many suspected) of the NSA’s worst excesses which include spying on its own people and its NATO allies in a global mass surveillance program.

All this amounts to a clear fact, the United States has the capability to impose itself if it so wishes on the global stage and for its rivals to risk affecting  their interests and that of their allies is one that they do at their own peril.

The eagle has undoubtedly receded in influence across the areas of the globe, and has been weakened both by the Bush administration war crimes, criminality and impunity to international law and in some cases by Obama himself (though he does not admit it which is a mistake). Enemies will exploit what they see as the lack of a resolved United States to meet their local and regional objectives. Obama is correct in most cases in showing restraint, favoring diplomatic resolutions and preferring dialogue to violence as realistically public opinion, world opinion by-enlarge, has shifted strongly against U.S foreign policy.

The Pax Americana is over joining the ‘New World Order’ dominated by America which died in the 1990s under Clinton. Obama may as much be a cause of the former’s demise as anyone and that is the debate of the now. The Pax Romana under Imperial Rome only lasted so long. The United States and the Obama administration are victims of their own history and mistakes. The United States has multiple enemies, perhaps more than anytime in its history and it cannot fight them all individually.

Many an empire has fallen victim to history treading too boldly and overreached arrogantly believing themselves too great to fall be it the Romans, Tsarist Russia, the British Empire, the Aztecs, the Mongols, the Third Reich or Napoleon, even the Soviet Union, nor did any fall in a day or year for that matter, they crumbled over time piece by piece until they succumbed. Obama’s speech at Westpoint was correct in many ways; the United States is far from a defeated or losing influence, but its ‘superiority complex’ is under threat and being questioned like it hasn’t been before this decade.

Is the receding of American dominance a bad thing or welcome for now? Only time will tell. The United States has spited its own face in recent years and have had, to some extent, their hands tied by other international players, events and circumstances big and small. What we see as weakness on Obama’s part for failing to maintain the standard hegemony should be taken as a dose of realism. America, though irreplaceable in the international theater, must have its limits and restraints in the 21st century.

Matthew Williams