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


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


Islamic Extremism: The Modern Hydra?

“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.”

Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam, p.294

The ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT) or now known under the Obama administration as ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’ against Islamic extremism (predominantly) is an unwinnable conflict. It is de-facto permanent war and the reality checks for the Western powers have been stark as they have come across an ever evolving entity that cannot be destroyed by conventional means only. Understanding why Islamic radicalism is flourishing and why it exists is a much more important than how states counter the jihadists, mujahideen, terrorists, and insurgents.

In Greek mythology the Learnaen Hydra was a serpent which possessed many heads. Heracles arrived on orders King Eurystheus to perform his second of his fabled Twelve Labors to kill the beast. He engaged with the Hydra and crushed the heads with his club only to be exasperated as with each Hydra head he destroyed, another two would replace it. Again and again and again he tried to slash and hack at the creature until he was forced to retreat in exhaustion. For all his might, the strongest man in the world could not defeat the creature by normal means.

His nephew then came upon the idea of using a firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after each decapitation. Heracles cut off each head and Iolaus cauterized the open stumps until eventually he defeated the great creature, burying the immortal head under the rocks so that it would not re-emerge.


Naturally we shouldn’t take the Hydra story as a way to interpret Islamic radicalism. As mentioned before presenting it as a single entitey would be to misconstrue how we interpret the complex world that is Islam. The message of this story is that Heracles had to find an alternate tactic to defeat the Hydra as simple brute force could not work. Defeating Islamic extremism through the use of simple brute force and counter-terrorism will not deal with the problems blighting the Middle East. The death of Osama of Bin Laden and the recline in influence of Al-Qaeda is the most obvious testimony to this as is the idea to see the conflict as a ‘us versus them’ scenario, ‘good versus evil’, the ‘clash of civilisations’ or a GWOT.

Terrorism will always exist and has done long before the events of 9/11. One hundred years ago the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Black Hand Serbian terrorist organisation sparked the First World War (alongside other factors). Terrorism cannot be eliminated because the relations of states and civilians, minorities, and oppressed peoples are built on resisting whether just or unjust to what they consider excessively powerful and corrupt authorities.

20140111_MAP001_0It creates new enemies and ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab have  joined the burgeoning ranks of extremists (though differing goals and objectives). These are four of many diverse factions and splinter groups. In 2011, the death of Osama Bin Laden appeared to symbolise in the eyes of the White House that the war against the most violent elements of Islamism were over. Notable terrorist activity in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, the division of opposition in Syria, the attacks on Volgograd, the continued instability in the Caucasus the beheading of Lee Rigby in London, and the Boston Bombing suggest otherwise. Eighteen countries and its civilians felt the wroth of radical  Islam in 2013 alone.

All encompassing global application overlooksthe importance of regional and local political, social and religious issues that affect the evolution and formation of a ‘terrorist’ organisation. As Jason Burke notes ‘to blame…contemporary Islamic militancy…on one man….is gross oversimplification. Building bin Laden up to be a global mastermind directing….a network of terror is counter productive.’

Nor should we see Islamic extremism as the product or sheer fanaticism, of just psychotic personalities and deluded, nor are they simply always suffering in poverty and seeking a way out. They certainly are prevalent in many radical movements, but not all, not amongst the tens of thousands of men and women across the globe who fight for their faith. Individuals as well as groups vary in both motive and extremes of promoting their faith. Leaders of Al-Qaeda Zawahiri and Bin Laden 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.

Supplying weapons to Syrian rebels be they the Islamic Front, the Free Syrian Army, or jihadists is not even containing the cure. The New York Times doesn’t even deny that jihadists are being supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar who recieve shipments from allies of the Western sphere to the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS.  Making  Syria and Iraq weapon depots and combining that with national, religious and/or political and social grievances enflamed by the Arab Spring only make the problems more complex. Nor is using drones and airstrikes a solution to endearing the West to Middle-Eastern countries or the families suffering on the grounds.

Things are worse now than they ever were before 9/11 and this is a problem which will extend into a long-term issue for the Middle East, the United States and Eastern Europe. The 2nd Ukrainian Civil War,  though a serious situation unseen for decades in Europe, is still a recoverable situation despite the violence between the eastern Ukrainians and the government of Poroshenko in Kiev.

So if it becomes a long-standing issue how do we fight it? To discount military means completely would be to leave innocent civilians vulnerable. Security and development must work hand in hand and at this current moment the gross imbalance in prizing military strength over diplomatic, soft power, and development is worrying. Short-term objectives must be combined with long-term strategy.

Radical changes in attitudes in our own society on the Middle East must change and incorporating the Arab Spring, the history of the Middle East and Islam as a compulsory part of our education system would be a first very important step. Answers lie in the past as well as the present and future.

9/11 should be understood from looking at both sides of the coin. Why do some Islamic radicals hate us and often each other? Why did the United States become so involved in Middle Eastern affairs? How does Islamic society, politics and religion work?

The main point of this is that rather than understanding the motivations of the men and the build up and aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11 the West chose a more militant stance against it which has not only cost us man-power and destabalised the region, but cost  excessive amounts of money and the blood of both soldiers and civilians.  We have encouraged radical extremism to flourish rather than recede. Al-Qaeda did not exist under Saddam Hussein rule and now ISIS and civil war occupy the Iraqi people.

The emergence of militant Islam in Africa is a clear indicator that development, poverty, and the failure of government’s to meet the needs of their people can be a traction to join terrorist organisations alongside the questions of faith and radical ideologies. The violence in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya are such examples. People also forget to ask what will become of the Muslim refugees in the Central African Republic?  Will they be radicalised by their suffering, their increased poverty and the ethnic cleansing of the Christians?

This is a problem with no quick remedy, it is a product of contemporary issues created and aided by misunderstanding  historical ‘clashes’. The Crusades were not simply wars between Christians and Muslims. They involved numerous secular and religious conflicts often Muslims fighting Muslims, Christians fighting Christians or pagans fighting Christians and though often shrouded by religious motives were wars a-typical of medival times; factions, tribes, fiefdoms, kingdoms, empire, anarchy and violence.

Once regarded as a valuable and complex centre of human civilisation, intellectual discourse Islam, like Europe, has a confusing and difficult histories of empire which divided Muslim cultures just as it did Christian society during medieval times and the Renaissance period.

Muslims have a European history, the Ottoman Empire, one of the most powerful in the world stretched, at it zenith, to the doors of Vienna in Austria back to the deserts of Iran. What we see is a faith of a supposed ‘other world’ with unfathomable concepts, largely devoid of European significance.

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

The Crusades were not wars of civilizations which was often used as propaganda by the papacy to meet secular goals and increase its influence in the holy land, ‘the land of milk and honey’, the latter statement alluding to the economic value of the Middle East even in medieval times. Almost sounds like George Bush using the Global War on Terror as a pretext to restore American influence in the Middle East, ‘the land of oil’! Patterns.

Oversimplifying the answers to an inherently complex issue is bound to get a poor grade. Saying that the Crusades were simply wars between Christians and Muslims is like answering the question ‘What is Al-Qaeda?’ with ‘it is a fanatical global terrorist organisation’.  This is in-part correct but it is only a basic explanation.


Generosity and the spirit of the intellectual were key pillars in Islamic civilisation. What we choose to see or only hear of now, and they are serious problems, is the attempt to enforce sharia law, calls to jihad, prejudice against homo-sexuals, horror stories of forced marriages and honor killings, rape, and acid attacks that maim innocent and beautiful women because they challenge their faith and for arguing for the notions of femininity, education, and freedom and against  the imposition or choices made by many to embrace of extremist doctrines. All we here is the brutality of the Al-Nusra Front and the violence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

We also sometimes fall prey to the idea that Islamic extremism is the sole threat. Presenting Islam as a wholly anti-western pillar only serves to alienate the minority and in many circumstances radicalise those on the wrong end of racism and xenophobia, particularly the United States and Europe. Few remember that the greatest atrocities carried out in Europe in recent memory were targeted against Muslims during the break-up of Yugoslavia by Serbian nationalists in the 1990s.

DO_NOT_USE_MARCUSC_2826353bNor do many pay heed to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militia (the anti-balaka) currently, the blood of thousands staining the country’s soil. Let us also not forget that the most horrifying act of mass murder and terrorism in Europe was perpetrated by Anders Breivik, a Norweigian far-right fanatic, operating in the name of Islamophobic white supremacy, his own warped crusade.

The problems of history are linked with the contemporary problems facing Islam. However there is only so much the West can solve. The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the moderates, extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.

The issue within Muslim societies is  what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having in the debate; the adaptability and the balance between religion and politics. Some argue they should be unquestionably linked whilst other argue that compromise must be instituted. Those who demand for compromise and restraint get denounced as heretics and not Muslim and open themselves up to reprisal from extremist factions. Why? Because to many Islamic intellectuals like Qutb a solely political state would become decadent and corrupt in partnership with unfettered Western capitalism without the spirituality and codes of Islam as seen by his time spent in America in the 1940s.

The lack of conversations and debate is in part 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  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, moderate and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam. Military power must be used to combat extremism up to a point, but it will not solve a problem that is predominantly social and economic.

Matthew Williams

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



The Iraq Crisis: The bitterness of Dick Cheney and the war-mongers

richard-dick-cheneyDick Cheney and the neo-conservatives are back to their old ways of lies and deceit. To solely blame the president for the disintegration of the coalition’s policy in Iraq since 2003 with open lies and neglecting his administration’s predominant responsibility for this fresh Iraqi  catastrophe is laughable as it is appalling. Nearly 5,000 U.S soldiers are dead, thousands more wounded alongside hundreds more coalition soldiers. They also take with them most importantly and tragically hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, security and military forces.

Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, and Tony Blair thus far have either evaded responsibility for their failures or placed the atrocities and slaughter currently unfolding in Iraq squarely at the feet of Obama. Such actions are not only cowardly, but obscene.

This isn’t a defence of Obama.  Mistakes have been made by the Obama administration in relation to the Syrian crisis without question. The red-line incident, the controversy  surrounding the supplying of Syrian rebels, the use of drones, the NSA scandal as well as the EU and NATO’s inability to condemn the fascist elements in the pro-Western Ukrainian movement which, combined with Russian actions and pro-Russian movements, have left Ukraine unstable and in the midst of a new civil war.

Their weapons supplied to anti-Assad military forces have often fallen into the hands of  jihadist extremists courtesy of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. However Robert Scheer points out that it was very fortunate that Barack Obama in fact didn’t ‘succumb to his critics demands that he supply the insurgents in Syria with more sophisticated weaponry’ lest they be used against the pro-American Iraqi government.

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)
Are airstrikes the solution to urban warfare on the ground?

What some see as weakness on Obama’s part for failing to maintain the standard hegemony should be taken as a dose of realism. The use of military force is not necessarily always the correct solution to a civil war particularly one as volatile and complicated as Iraq even it were to be based on humanitarian principles.

American air strikes would reek bloody carnage on the Shiite [ISIS] forces, yet how effective would air-power be in urban fighting, hand to hand street fighting? How effective would air-strikes be if ISIS  consolidate and shore up their defences in Mosul and other captured towns? Indiscriminate carpet bombing, even precision bombing of Baghdad risks killing more civilians and Obama would be at the center of the fiasco rather than the 2003 class. Thugs of George W. Bush, Cheney,  Wolfowitz,  Kristol and Paul Bremer, have been given airtime on the U.S networks and space in the opinion pages to condemn President Obama for the current crisis in Iraq.

Dick Cheney

Cheney wrote that “rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many” in the Wall Street Journal, pointing the finger yet evading his responsibility of the quagmire.Yet it was amusing to hear Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid state “Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history.

Note Cheney a leader prides himself on restraint, control, realistic outlook, and calculation not grand illusions, global ideologies of democracy and favoring military force over diplomatic means the last of your options in your article. Read a dictionary and realize that terrorism is a tactic not an ideology or state several of which you have inflamed. In-fact read a book on radical Islam, any book on the danger of using grand ideologies to supplement war whilst overlooking regional socio-political and religious issues that stretch back decades and centuries. America must co-exist with the world, not spread Western ‘democracy’ at the edge of a sword. That is the reality and the Americans cannot control the upheaval in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The hawks, christian right and neo-conservative pundits and politicians are as wrong now as  they were when promoting the Iraq War back in 2003 under the trumped-up assumptions that Saddam Hussein was harboring members of Al-Qaeda, linked to the destruction of the World Trade Center, and possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction. Did I forget to mention that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, not Iraq or Afghanistan?

It was Bush who decided in 2008 under the Status of Forces agreement with Iraq government that  US combat troops would depart 2011. Obama oversaw the last steps of a failed policy in Iraq and unfortunately the remnants of a now redundant policy of American exceptionalism, neo-conservatism, and stark militarism that has affected the liberties of those at home and abroad has latched on to Obama like a disease. It threatens to contaminate him.

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

He has inherited the mistakes of an administration that inadequately addressed both the Great Recession and destroyed the United States’ future abroad. Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defence) resignation was due to, according American generals, of gross strategic incompetence and military planning. He also supported the enhanced interegation techniques created by John Yoo (Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General in the Office of the Legal Council Department of Justice) whilst Paul Wolfowitz according to American professor and historian Andrew Bacevich was the key to the Bush Doctrine’s creation.

“Although none of the hijackers were Iraqi, within days of 9/11 you were promoting military action against Iraq. Critics have chalked this up to your supposed obsession with Saddam. The criticism is misplaced. The scale of your ambitions was vastly greater….to unshackle American power.”

Obama has made mistakes and he is struggling to contain militarists and interventionists such as Donald Kagan (who claims that Super Powers don’t retire).  Iraq is their Vietnam and 17% of the U.S’s debt is partly attributable to the cost of the Iraq War initiated by Bush according to International Spectator.


The PATRIOT Act was the 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. Nearly 7,000 U.S soldiers have been killed in the Global War on Terror, nearly eight times more wounded whilst hundreds of thousands suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Nearly 20,000 Afghanistan civilians are dead and over 100,000 were left dead as a consequence of the American/British occupation in Iraq.

Tojo was hung in 1948 for Count 1: waging wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law and Count 54: ordering, authorizing, and permitting inhumane treatment of Prisoners of War. Pardon me but don’t the crimes of the many within the Bush administration fall under these categories? No wonder Putin can act with impunity on Crimea.


These men spit in the face of the dead, maimed, and psychologically scarred of the conflict and not just of the American military but others across the globe. They have waged war on the American ideals and reduced the American constitution to a dead letter. The worst thing is they don’t care and this is the gulf between world of American elitists and politicians and the American people. They insult the ideals of America, they insult the American military, they insult Obama openly (a partisan hijack and tasteless), and they continue to smear their own reputations as they stand on mounds of dead Iraqi’s whilst possessing (just like in 2003) little if no understanding of the enemy we are fighting and why the enemy fight.

These politicians are the epitome of what is wrong with American politics at this moment in time and whether or not you are a Democrat or a Republican the criminals inside the Bush administration instead of holding high positions in American society should be cast out and held accountable for war crimes, wasting trillions of dollars on what can be best be described as war-mongering imperialism, and spiting the reputation of the United States. The injustice is infuriating as it is harrowing and summed up neatly by Tom Hayden:

Anti-war voices need to be amplified to help Obama stave off the most irrational forces during this crisis. We need to construct a narrative that blocks the hawks from blaming Obama for “losing” Iraq, and turns the focus on the neo-conservatives, Republicans, and Democratic hawks who took this country and that sorrowful region into a sea of blood.”

Barack Obama standing in front of a wooden writing desk and two flagpoles.

For those who frequently criticize Obama’s foreign policy as weak heed the warnings. 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. Obama has made misjudgments domestically and abroad particularly in regards to the conduct of his allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, yet they pale in the face of the errors of the Bush administration.

Matthew Williams


The Ukrainian Right: Symptoms of a Sinister Past

The former Yugoslavia was destroyed by ethnic and nationalist splits and political differences

“Question everything that is said.”

Srebrencia, Bosnia 13th July 1995. Atleast 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims are dead in the name of a ‘Greater Serbia’ endorsed by Milošević under a Serbian nationalist agenda. Yugoslavia, a multi-cultural hub for centuries, a jewel of differences was torn apart in a matter of years by the catastrophic civil war between 1992 -1995. The Bosnian Serbs’ 1992 edicts, hoped to impose specific rules on the minority and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats that took place under this political agenda saw some of the greatest atrocities seen in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

Why do I speak of Ukraine and speak of the Bosnian Civil War? Ukraine is showing many symptoms of heading down Bosnia’s road perhaps an even greater problem for Europe given the high stakes vested in Crimea and Western Ukraine by both the Russian Federation and the United States. Ethno-religious fault-lines are threatening to flare be they Russian, Tartar, Ukrainian, or even Jewish. The Balkans likewise was split on various ethnic and religious grounds as its diversity became its downfall.

The most powerful and influential contingent emerging from the wreckage of Kiev and Yanukovych’s former government are the parties Svoboda and the Right Sector comprised of neo-Nazis, fascists and ultra-nationalists. These elements are extremely dangerous to the future of Ukraine and although I would hesitate to say that the protests in Ukraine were a predominantly ‘ultra-nationalist movement’, it is difficult to argue against the fact that these groups have infiltrated and exploited the revolution in Kiev and the democratic, pro-EU elements and the power vacuum left behind by the removal of the corrupt and brutal Yanukovych. Certainly these are not empty slurs and accusations if you consider Svoboda, Right Sector, and Ukraine’s history.

Svoboda is particularly controversial. Its name until 2004 was the “Social-National Party” and it maintains informal links to another group, the Patriots of Ukraine, regarded by some as proto-fascist. In 2004, Tyahnybok was kicked out of former President Viktor Yushchenko’s parliamentary faction for a speech calling for Svoboda’s platform calls for passports to specify the holder’s ethnicity, and for government positions to be distributed proportionally to ethnic groups, based on their representation in the population at large. Another interesting fact is that what are we are seeing is a prominent division between western and eastern Ukraine matches the elections rate for Svoboda (based largely in western Europe) who won 30-40% of vote in three western regions in 2012 – and about 1% in three eastern regions. Many of their insignias are comprised of Hitler’s notorious SS. The SS, under Himmler’s command, were the primary perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Consider Ukraine’s history before and during the Second World War. The Holodomer and the repression of Ukrainian nationalism by the Soviet Union. The former I refer to in particular was the orchestration of the Holodomer (death by starvation) by Joseph Stalin on the Ukrainian people which some have claimed was a genocide orchestrated by Stalin to eradicate Ukrainian nationalism under the guise of the collectivization of the peasantry and Soviet industrialization as rural households entered collective farms with their land, livestock, and other assets. Five to seven million people were believed to have starved to death in Ukraine, and the atrocities of Stalin marked the lowest depths to which Ukrainian-Russo relations could sink. This was hardly helped by the Ukrainians who chose to align with the murderous regime of the Nazi’s and fascist ideologies.

During World War II  independence following liberation by Nazi Germany saw the brutal ethnic cleansing of over 80,000 Poles, Tartars, Russians and Roma people by enclaves of Ukrainian society and the escalation of Anti-Semitic feelings within the country towards the Jews. Ukrainian soldiers and military police were directly involved in the massacre at Babi Yar (the sight of one of the largest massacres of Jews in World War II). In fact one of the most heart-wrenching pictures (pictured above) of the war in my opinion was taken in Ukraine, a mother protecting a child with her body as Einsatzgruppen soldiers aim their rifles, the final seconds of life encapsulated by both remarkable cruelty and love. This was taken in Ivanhorod, Ukraine, 1942.

Such groups of men were assisted in Ukraine by numerous collaborators and even the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Ukrainian) consisting predominantly of volunteers with Ukrainian ethnic backgrounds. It very much an unpleasant stain on Ukraine’s recent history, although it must be highlighted that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fought against the Nazi regime and suffered at their hands  the constraints on Ukrainian autonomy, mistreatment by the occupiers, and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians as slave laborers, soon led to a rapid change in the attitude amongst those willing to work with the fascists. Between 1941 and 1945, approximately 3,000,000 Ukrainian and other non-Jewish victims were killed as part of Nazi extermination policies, along with between 850,000 – 900,000 Jews who lived in the territory of modern Ukraine.  Such memories between the two nations are not likely to be forgiven entirely, nor forgotten.

I am not suggesting that all Ukrainians were involved in the massacre of the Jews, Poles and more in the country during World War II. The Nazis should always be held accountable for the murders. However history very often leaves an imprint, a mindset in many segments of society and clearly the Nazis left their mark on some radical elements of Ukrainian society. The leaders of Western Europe should remember that from a Russian perspective, fascism is not exactly their most favorable term when you remember Operation Barbarossa and the slaughter of over ten million soldiers and fifteen million civilians. Believe it. Such slaughter would leave a mark greater than that of 9/11 on the United States and that of World War I on the United Kingdom, the genocide in Rwanda, and that of the Holocaust to Israel. The legacy and memory of history are very important considerations in this crisis when looking at it from a Russian  perspective.

Like the former Yugoslavia before its collapse, Ukraine is swiftly being swamped by economic instability due to the crisis. The deterioration in economic and social stability of the latter prompted a unnerving rise in Serbian nationalism.  Over the next several years, Bosnian Serb forces, with the backing of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, targeted both Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croatian civilians for atrocious crimes resulting in the deaths of some 100,000 people (80 percent Bosniak) by 1995. Some branded it ethnic cleansing, others went further labeling the atrocities genocide.

Holdomor 1930s
Holdomor 1930s

I do not want to appear an ‘alarmist’ but as Lemarchand notes, ‘history does not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes’ as can be seen by the ethnic divisions between Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russians predominantly, the Russians and Crimean Tartars, the Ukrainian fascists and Ukrainian Jews living within the country. It may not happen at all, it may happen in or over a number of years, but their elements are there to become an bloody conflict. Pro-Russian militia have been beating up Ukrainians and Crimeans opposed to their attitudes and threatening foreign onlookers, the protests seen in Kharkiv and Donetsk are certainly not peaceful. Russian ultra-nationalists also represent a threat to the stability of the region as any action by the Ukrainian government against them could see further reasons for Putin to occupy Eastern Ukraine and annex it. This is unaided by Right Sector members talking of a ‘clean’ Ukraine.

Consider the fact that BBC itself has covered the rise of ultra-nationalism in Ukraine in 2012. Similarly for all football fans who remember Euro 2012 that tournament preparation was marred by racist violence, anti-semitism, and xenophobia at the heart of Polish and Ukrainian football. Panorama itself covered the fundamental problems at the heart of Ukrainian football in-particular titled ‘Stadiums of Hate’. Eastern Europe including Russia in many aspects still holds many backward concepts, that are unacceptable in Western Europe and very often we see this at its very worst in football stadiums support run by Eastern European ultras. Football can represent society at its very best for unification. At its very worst it can represent hatred, discrimination and disregard for diversity which can often be starkly highlighted by these events.

These beliefs can often be rooted in that society and culture of a particular country. Ukrainian football, like its politics possesses ultra-nationalist and fascist elements.  They have to contained if the situation is to be prevented from escalation as much as the Russian military must remain as bloodless as possible. The withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the Crimea, ultimately a surrender, is likely to ease the tensions for a brief period.

The protests which escalated into riots had the media all over the world fearing Europe’s first civil war since the Balkan crisis until the Russian intervention, our generations second if you were born in the 1990s. Our politicians, NATO, and the United States are suggesting that Putin is on the ‘wrong side of history’ and certainly controversy surrounds the man, however is it possible to consider that we are going to be on the wrong side of history? What if extremists in the coalition government have the potential to trigger a civil war or regional conflict, rather than the Russians?

The Ukrainian Right has been bullish with the Russian intervention in the Crimea. In Bosnia and Kosovo it would not simply be a case of NATO playing catch up as seen in ‘Operation Deliberate Force’ when the damage was already done, the region reeling in the wake of mass-murder, torture and rape. It would be a case of both Russia and NATO propping up and allowing the extremists (of which they exist on both sides) to flourish in the power vacuum which will not only increase tensions within the Ukrainian socio-political spectrum, but also between the Kremlin and the White House.

The Ukrainian borderlands are being conditioned for war. Whether it would reach the ethnic and nationalist extremes witnessed in Bosnia is yet to be seen, but the continued problems of racism, religious division and more in Eastern Europe in the past and future are not particularly favorable omens.

 Matthew Williams : Ukraine crisis timeline.

Impasse Crimea: A matter of perspectives

It has been nearly twenty days since the Russian Federation responded to the ‘dangers’ to ethnic Russians in the Crimea and often we have been asking ourselves who is in the wrong, is it the Russians. Certainly under international law they have violated several rules under the United Nations Charter. However Western hypocrisy has so often rendered many areas of the world a war zone, and on many disastrous occasions left regional crises worse than before. We can point to Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan and the splintering of Yugoslavia as several examples whereby NATO and the United States have bungled flare points in international and regional affairs either by inaction or military inflexibility.Irrespective of the past the situation does remain very dangerous.

The Russian Federation can argue that thus far their intervention has ensured a relatively stable process whereby the Republic of Crimea has gained it independence and moved towards it preference; that being a satellite in the Russian sphere of influence. Still it will remain only a partially recognized subject as many across the world contend the autonomy and the fairness of the election.

Let’s look at the potential ‘what ifs’ scenarios had the Russian not intervened; who have on the face of it ensured a stable, if illegitimate referendum to break-away from a disgruntled Ukraine. The Russian military swiftly mobilised and encircled locations where the Ukrainian were located on the Crimean peninsula denying them the ability to engage with the Crimean people or intervene in the referendum. The question is what if the Ukrainian soldiers had been able to engage with the ethnic Russians who strongly protested for secession, especially the self-employed/volunteer militia? Perhaps a bloodier result would have emerged had Ukrainian soldiers and police loyal to Kiev clashed with ethnic Russians. Similarly would this have sparked more violence in the other places dominated or partly occupied by other Russian speaking people and prompt a more bullish response than we are currently seeing by the Russian Army?  These potentially violent splits and threats to Russian security could have prompted a far more serious crisis than the one we are already witnessing unfold.

Neo-Fascists in Ukriane.

Let us look at it from a Russian perspective and that of the Crimea. Physically and politically, Crimea belongs to Ukraine; mentally and emotionally, it identifies with Russia and makes many Ukrainian citizens feel like strangers on their own territory. One of my close friends also noted an interesting point.

‘The problem is that the newly installed government in Ukraine do have strong neo-nazi elements, which is worrying. The last time Russia had Nazis on their border 30 million or so Russians were killed. Crimea used to be part of Russia, and it is like the Falkland Islands, choosing to be part of a country by popular opinion. The people in the Crimea deserve a say in which country they want to be part of. Russia also needed to secure its only ‘warm water’ naval base, which is key to its sphere of influence.’

Is simply a case of deja vu? The outcome is very similar to the current outcome of votes at 97%. Undoubtedly the opposition within the Crimea to the vote boycotted the vote, nor can you blame them. Who would vote in the shadow of Russia’s military might or the appalling pressure of some militant ethnic Russians (not all) and no government or election would win by such staggering proportions as we witnessed on Sunday. There are dangers on both side of the political spectrum be they Russian ultranationalists and the empowerment of extreme Ukrainian nationalists and neo-fascists is no less a menace than Putin’s use of force in the Crimea for example Svoboda and the Right Sector. Those who dismantle a government or attempt to as seen in Syria have their own clear faults. Hence the need to secure Russian interests and as I have repeated on numerous occasions the Western hemisphere condemn in wake of their own violations of international politics “don’t break agreements (let’s exclude the one not to expand NATO eastward), don’t invade countries on controversial pretexts (except Iraq) and don’t support minority secession movements (except Kosovo).

A matter of perspective? U.S Soldiers in Iraq’s occupation.

There are legitimate fears amongst the Tartars who have a tarnished history with the Russian state, that old wounds will re-open similar to the chaos in Chechnya, the harrowing explosion at the station and markets in Volgograd 32 (+2 perpetrators) are testimony to the continued tension between the Kremlin and Islamist militants in Caucasian Emirate (a self-proclaimed virtual state entity in Russia). Note: Each region has its different objectives. In response to the increasing terrorism, Russia tightened its grip on Chechnya as well as expanded its anti-terrorist operations throughout the region. Russia installed a pro-Moscow Chechen regime. In 2003, a referendum was held on a constitution that reintegrated Chechnya within Russia, but provided limited autonomy. According to the Chechen government, the referendum passed with 95.5% of the votes. Nevertheless not everyone will welcome becoming part of this New Crimea.

Certainly there are exceptional dangers on both sides and Putin, though his actions have been likened to previous dictators is not a 19th century imperialist, nor can he in any sense of the word be a 20th century genocidal leader, that is unrealistic. His actions are a direct violation of international law, but so far direct Russian military action has not resulted in the death of any civilians, though a disturbing reports while I was writing this has revealed in Simferopol that a Ukrainian serviceman was shot and killed this afternoon. It is no longer a bloodless intervention. Our values in the West have changed as supposed to what we believe we represent and how international affairs should be conducted. NATO and in particular the United States are enduring a severe identity crisis in foreign policy. The rhetoric does not match the actions nor do the actions taken match the aggressiveness of the speeches and threats. Although the Kremlin should always be monitored with a mixture of respect and caution, antagonising its hard-line elements without sufficient muscle to back up your convictions and opinions is a dangerous game which has already branded both ‘rude and reckless’.


It would also be fair to point out that despite the underlying problems pervading Russian society and government we have set ourselves giddy heights by which our own societies should be judged, as the United States and many others are pervaded by some very serious problems of their own that some overlook whether it be oligarchic power, politicians that lack any sort of identification with their own people and certainly in some circumstances moral and political apathy. Of course it difficult to compare different societies and cultures but we misunderstand Russia so frequently. Nevertheless any further action by the Russians in Ukraine would certainly escalate the crisis. Based upon the West’s impotence you wouldn’t doubt Putin to be bold and press further to defend the interests of Russia.

Which ever route Europe decides go to on Putin’s actions we have little economic, moral, and military leverage by which to outwit the bear which currently deals with its cub’s tantrums Economic sanctions would spark a trade war and worsen relationships which have already been set back by the current situation, perhaps this is why NATO, the EU and the U.S.A choose (thus far!) not to impose further sanctions than banning travel visas. Certainly the whole scenario has already weakened Western credibility and Russia though it has exaggerated the threat to the ethnic Russians and has overseen an election surround by barbed wire has acted in a way that the got the objective completed without soiling its reputation to the extent the cumbersome, head strong United States has done so often in history be it Vietnam, Angola, and the Middle East.

The Russian Federation is hardly in the right, nor is it a perfect state, nor is its history.  What we are witnessing 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.  

It is not a Second Cold War, there are dangers on both sides of the spectrum, the question is at the moment as this who is provoking who? Who are the antagonists? The Russians? The Western Powers? Or the extremists on both sides? Does the threat lie in Western Ukraine or Crimea? Perspectives are of critical importance at this juncture as well as actions.  All it takes is one individual action or misinterpretation to change everything. For example Ukraine’s military says an officer has been killed in an attack on a base in Crimea. Ukraine has now authorized its troops to fire in self-defense. Alternately everything I have written could completely flip and the Russian Army could make a hash of an already dangerous situation as provocations increase between all sides. No side will win in these circumstances.

Matthew Williams

The Syrian Void


“My sect is the scent of my homeland, the soil after the rain, and my Syria is my only religion.”

Youssef Bou Yihea

There is cruelty on every side of war and Syria is no exception to this normality as the civil war grinds on, consuming the country, the children and future generations of a nation with nothing but ash at their feet with which to build the new Syria or consolidate the current regime. Where did three years go for the Syrian people?

130,000 – 150,000 military personnel, rebels, and civilians are dead (over 10,000 of them innocent children) and the numbers continue to increase each week bringing stories of barrel bombs, torture, a militia group conducting a massacre or the mass-starvation of civilians in the sieges at Homs and Aleppo. The latter can also be applicable to the displaced Syrian population which equates to nine million (40% of the population) as humanitarian crisis walks hand in hand with violence.

 Syria leads the way in 2013 for epitomising the Arab’s Spring’s descent from revolutionary optimism to bleak mid-winter. Whilst the future of Libya, Turkey, and particularly Egypt remain volatile, Syria remains the benchmark for the troubling aspects of the consequences of the revolutionary fever that gripped the Middle East in the wake of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in 2010. The results  include the violation of basic human rights and the staunch stand of Assad’s authoritarian government against democratic rights and demand for a regime change.

The collision of interests has spawned sectarian violence, the first use of chemical weapons in the 21st century and splintered the opposition into varying degrees of radicalism with differing goals and strategies to removing Assad. Outsiders are finding it very difficult to define who the enemy is in Syria, the shame being that the Free Syrian Army has splintered into radical factions, eclipsing those fighting for democracy against Assad’s government.
Victims of the Ghoutra gas attacks in August 2013

Assad’s government, his ruthless militia Shabiha, and the Syrian Armed Forces are supported by Iran and Hezbollah, both involved in the war politically, logistically and militarily whilst the latter also fields soldiers in the conflict. The Syrian government also receives arms and political support from the Russian Federation .The main Syrian opposition body – the Syrian coalition – receives logistic and political support from major Sunni states in the Middle East, most notably Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. France, Britain and the United States have also provided political, military and logistic support to the opposition. Though as foreign onlookers have highlighted, is the West’s assistance actually being delivered to the wrong rebels, the Islamist extremists, militia, criminals and worst of all Al-Qaeda, those determined to uproot the spirit of Syria’s Revolution?

As mentioned in previous writings, Syria is the epicentre of a seismic shift in Middle Eastern socio-political upheaval which has created a regional catastrophe. It has shown it has the the potential to become even more problematic for the international community, at worst a very serious international war  which nearly proved to be the case in late August 2013 when the United States ideas of military intervention  were vetoed by Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation following the Ghouta chemical attacks (21 August 2013).

The entire region has become a training ground for extremism, left, right and centre which has spilled over into Lebanon provoking sectarian rivalries into violence, Iraq (increasingly resembling a failed state), Yemen and Turkey, with the potential to drag in more dangerous players such as militant Israel, Iran and deteriorating Egypt. So often we read the papers highlighting the dangers of young English-Syrians joining the conflict, that the disaster in Syria will be felt on our doorstep and yet there is little the international community can do to smother the conflict. Foreign journalists and aid workers have been targeted and killed in the conflict, a great price to pay to running the gauntlet of sharing Syria’s tragedy and assisting the population buckling under the strain of war.

Humanitarian assistance has been vital and billions has been spent of keeping the country from capitulating in its entirety, the United States alone delivering  $385 million in aid and the United Kingdom committing £240 million to contain the threat of disease, starvation, basic sanitation and shelter during particularly harsh winters in some areas of the country. According to the UNHCR, Jordan is  reeling under the refugee presence, estimating the related cost at more than US$1.7 billion so far. In this resource-poor country, the government is paying hundreds of millions worth of additional subsidies to ensure refugees have access to affordable water, bread, gas and electricity. The economic cost on both Syria and the rest of region is of equal concern to local powerhouses like Qatar and Saudi Arabia and their global connections.

The stalemate  and the Syria Geneva II peace talks appear to confirm that the more things change the more they stay the same, maps and regions are redrawn and new and dangerous players emerge alongside the continuum in Syrian politics and the battle for influence on the conflict between the United States, Russia, and China. There is no doubt that Syria has irrevocably changed, but if anything it has taken a large step back from where it was in 2011 when the civil war began with both rationale and objectives shifting amongst rebel factions and regime.

That being said the stark violence remains the most disturbing aspect of the war, the images that plague Google are harrowing so much so I refrained from uploading such graphic content, particularly that of the  massacre in Houla in 2012. The use of napalm substances in shells, indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, and the several uses of poison gas, mass-starvation (though it is difficult to gauge who conducted the attack) and rampant militia and jihadists on both sides.  Even though it is lawless and immoral, the laws of war have been consistently violated by both sides on occasions. The unique use of social media and amateur footage has affected our perceptions of the conflict and how we view the violence on each side is part of the legacy of the civil war.

“Why bomb us when we are at school?! Why?!” one of the children injured by a napalm attack in 2013

Though foreign intervention has been widely called for both by the international community, some Syrian civilians, and particularly David Cameron and Barack Obama, the West has renounced its rights to intervene in Middle Eastern affairs since the debacle in Iraq. Added to the exhaustion of the military excursions is the economic stagnation of the British economy which does render our role to bystanders in this particular conflict. The clumsy and coarse nature of the military operations in Basra, Baghdad and Helmand (Afghanistan) with no long-term strategy or understanding of the countries involved hardly convince anyone that the West is up to the task of stabilizing the country through predominant military means despite the small victory in Libya. Even then their diplomatic solutions lack conviction What we are seeing in Ukraine is Russia exploited the West hesitancy, highlighting the fact that Western hypocrisy has so often rendered the world a battlefield, particularly in the ‘9/11 decade’.

It is sad that the Russian Federation looked almost heroic in halting the United States intervention in 2013 despite the fact they prop up, with Iran, the murderous regime of Assad as he slaughters his own people under the flimsy evidence that ‘terrorists’ are hijacking his dynasty. Assad’s brutality has  radicalized segments now and these radicals comprised of Islamic radicalism, political extremists and criminals are blotting out those who are fighting for democracy, human rights and the end of authoritarian government.

It may not be the headline story, military intervention is off the table but indifference to what is going on in Syria, in fact any conflict around the world is unacceptable  considering the revolution of technology which allows us to see images and events practically in real-time. We can commit and engage rather than display inaction, not wanting to prevent, and influence events. As summed up by the Youtube clip portraying a British child as a victim of war instead of in Syria “Just because it isn’t happening here, it does not mean it isn’t happening.”

Matthew Williams

The West’s Impotence in the Face of Putin’s Gambit

“We cannot afford to be killing one another”

Nelson Mandela

Between the 21st and 23rd February we were talking of Putin’s impending political defeat in the wake of the Ukrainian revolution in Kiev. The reality is that, it is a potential diplomatic and political disaster for the United States, EU, NATO and the United Nations.

On the face of it, under international law, on so many different levels this intervention is wrong. The Russian Federation is defending its interests, but their are many other ways of protecting their interests which would not require the extremity of military force. Furthermore this intervention in Ukraine, ‘the greatest crisis in Europe we have seen’ according to our foreign minister Hague, will perplex many as it undermines the restraint and subtlety shown by Putin in Syria where the United States was halted in its tracks on carrying out a strike against Assad’s regime.

The Kremlin can argue that the United States condemnation of Russia particularly by Kerry, though justified in my opinion, were hypocritical in the light of the controversy of the United States’ foreign policy in the last decade or so. That also includes the United Kingdom. However in the case of Libya, they could argue that supporting the Libyan rebels removed despot Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The counter-argument to that is the grounds for the invasion of Iraq and the controversy surrounding the existence  of the WMDs. On top of that are the casualties sustained in Iraq and the failure that came with it (Iraq is in a worst state than which the U.S.A and United Kingdom entered it). We also forget the  U.S’s killing of Osama Bin Ladenwhich as Amnesty International states ‘was conducted under the US’s theory of a global armed conflict between the US and al-Qaeda in which the US does not recognise the applicability of international human rights law.’ It was a violation of Pakistani airspace, an illegal operation, even though his death was welcome to those across who have lost so much in the wake of his terrorist attacks. Simply put the West is culpable to similar controversies committed by their opponents across the international spectrum. Not to mention we should not forget that thus far the affair has been bloodless in comparison to the Western led operations.

The use of force is a mistake by Kremlin as the authorization of the deployment is that it has not only led to condemnation in the West, but also the threat of looming economic sanctions. They are unlikely to deter (even if they are deployed, the United Kingdom not even planning to impose trade sanctions) Putin as his grip tightens on the Crimea and holding Ukraine within his sphere of influence. NATO can do little as geo-politics and even if they chose to act upon the military option (which they won’t) military pragmatics are set firmly against them. Like Poland in 1939, it is on the other-side of Europe out of reach, thousands of miles away from the United States; deploying military operations (even with NATO military bases scattered across Europe) when 150,000 Russian soldiers are already deployed on the borders of Ukraine, and already dug in the Crimea would incur heavy, unacceptable casualties. Putin, the Russians and the Crimea care more deeply about the outcome than the average citizen in the United Kingdom than we would be willing to risk or Europe would be willing to risk (one of them a potential European war). The Western powers have little economic, geographic, or some even moral leverage by which to outmaneuver the Russian Federation. Nevertheless in the UN Security Council, it was clear that Russia  faced a verbal onslaught by most members in face of byenlarge condemnation.


Ukraine will realistically not be saved by diplomacy and economic isolation nor can it realistically confront the Russian Army successfully. The former is better equipped, numerically superior, technically advanced, and also possessing considerable strategic initiative in the Crimea Ukraine’s forces all but surrounded. The Russian forces also potentially have their sights trained on Donetsk and Kharkiv (other Russian-speaking regions). To add insult to injury Ukraine cannot expect to join the EU when it has internal unresolved territorial disputes in the form of the Crimea, the pro-western government already has an unlikely future under such circumstances of combined economic, military and political pressure. As seen by the horrors of Syria, war would leave the country shattered and massively de-stabilise the region and benefit no one as the Russian bear wrestles with its overtly rebellious cub. 

As the United States and NATO retreat from the Middle East amidst the public divisions in individual countries over the necessity of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the horrific losses that came with it. Military exhaustion, economic weakness, a lack of political will, and Putin’s masterminding of Russia’s return to the international stage as a serious power player have contributed to the West’s decline in the international theatre. 


Nevertheless the relationship between the Russian Federation and United States with NATO is at a crucial juncture in its history, and both hold the key (particularly Russia) to complications in the Middle East, particularly on the mediation of Iran’s nuclear programme and the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Putin’s actions though very much a decisive and well-played calculation will affect their relationship for many years to come, to the point perhaps that their may be a Second Cold War where the West and Russia would gain little.

For Russia this invasion to defend the human rights of ‘ethnic Russians’ will have consequences of the global stability and security structure (undermining the credibility of NATO and the United Nations) that has been tested since the end of the Second World War and Cold War. Sure, if the U.S.A national interests were threatened, hypothetically they would do the same as the Russians now, as shown by their willingness in the Pay of Bigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis to occupy Cuba and many other scenarios during the Cold War. What would we do if our citizens were under threat?

You can hardly say the protests starting in November/December looked like an ultranationalist/fascist movement. They only became violent when fired upon and killed by the corrupt thug Yanukovych a few week ago and as I have re-iterated before no president or prime minister, no matter the fairness of their election in my view has to right to put down legitimate protests in such a manner and expect to remain in power.

If Russia and NATO were to engage in an economic conflict (highly likely) the capability of them to both cripple each other would be disastrous, a war cataclysmic. As seen already this week the crisis has impacted the Russian economy, the stock markets falling and the value of the rouble against the dollar at an all time low against the U.S dollar, whilst Russia holds the key to much of Europe’s gas supplies. The long-term winner would be Chinese dragon who have observed the ongoing Ukrainian crisis as a concerned but distant observer, more critical of the West’s bellicose than of Russia’s actions, but nonetheless distant.

The greatest impact  a potential Ukrainian-Russian war will have will be upon the U.S.A and the West already divided, suffering from post-economic stagnation, and deficits and now a identity crisis in their foreign policy. The consequences could see the end of the the United States as the world’s modern policeman as it recedes in influence across the globe with Russia standing to  gain another victory against the Obama administration. Make no mistake we are living and breathing historical times. I sincerely hope the Russian Federation backs down in the face of international scrutiny and that this current stand is corrected on what is unfolding in the Ukraine.

Matthew Williams