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Pepe Escobar’s brilliant analysis of the Mali War – mega Afghanistan in Africa

Burn, burn – Africa’s Afghanistan
By Pepe Escobar
From Asia Times Online

LONDON – One’s got to love the sound of a Frenchman’s Mirage 2000 fighter jet in the morning. Smells like… a delicious neo-colonial breakfast in Hollandaise sauce. Make it quagmire sauce.

Apparently, it’s a no-brainer. Mali holds 15.8 million people – with a per capita gross domestic product of only around US$1,000 a year and average life expectancy of only 51 years – in a territory twice the size of France (per capital GDP $35,000 and upwards). Now almost two-thirds of this territory is occupied by heavily weaponized Islamist outfits. What next? Bomb, baby, bomb.

So welcome to the latest African war; Chad-based French Mirages and Gazelle helicopters, plus a smatter of France-based Rafales bombing evil Islamist jihadis in northern Mali.
Business is good; French president Francois Hollande spent this past Tuesday in Abu Dhabi clinching the sale of up to 60 Rafales to that Gulf paragon of democracy, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The formerly wimpy Hollande – now enjoying his “resolute”, “determined”, tough guy image reconversion – has cleverly sold all this as incinerating Islamists in the savannah before they take a one-way Bamako-Paris flight to bomb the Eiffel Tower.

French Special Forces have been on the ground in Mali since early 2012.

The Tuareg-led NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), via one of its leaders, now says it’s “ready to help” the former colonial power, billing itself as more knowledgeable about the culture and the terrain than future intervening forces from the CEDEAO (the acronym in French for the Economic Community of Western African States).

Salafi-jihadis in Mali have got a huge problem: they chose the wrong battlefield. If this was Syria, they would have been showered by now with weapons, logistical bases, a London-based “observatory”, hours of YouTube videos and all-out diplomatic support by the usual suspects of US, Britain, Turkey, the Gulf petromonarchies and – oui, monsieur – France itself.

Instead, they were slammed by the UN Security Council – faster than a collection of Marvel heroes – duly authorizing a war against them. Their West African neighbors – part of the ECOWAS regional bloc – were given a deadline (late November) to come up with a war plan. This being Africa, nothing happened – and the Islamists kept advancing until a week ago Paris decided to apply some Hollandaise sauce.

Not even a football stadium filled with the best West African shamans can conjure a bunch of disparate – and impoverished – countries to organize an intervening army in short notice, even if the adventure will be fully paid by the West just like the Uganda-led army fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia.

To top it all, this is no cakewalk. The Salafi-jihadis are flush, courtesy of booming cocaine smuggling from South America to Europe via Mali, plus human trafficking. According to the UN Office of Drugs Control, 60% of Europe’s cocaine transits Mali. At Paris street prices, that is worth over $11 billion.

Turbulence ahead
General Carter Ham, the commander of the Pentagon’s AFRICOM, has been warning about a major crisis for months. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. But what’s really going on in what the New York Times quaintly describes as those “vast and turbulent stretches of the Sahara”?

It all started with a military coup in March 2012, only one month before Mali would hold a presidential election, ousting then president Amadou Toumani Toure. The coup plotters justified it as a response to the government’s incompetence in fighting the Tuareg.

The coup leader was one Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who happened to have been very cozy with the Pentagon; that included his four-month infantry officer basic training course in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2010.
Essentially, Sanogo was also groomed by AFRICOM, under a regional scheme mixing the State Department’s Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership program and the Pentagon’s Operation Enduring Freedom. It goes without saying that in all this “freedom” business Mali has been the proverbial “steady ally” – as in counterterrorism partner – fighting (at least in thesis) al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Over the last few years, Washington’s game has elevated flip-flopping to high art. During the second George W Bush administration, Special Forces were very active side by side with the Tuaregs and the Algerians. During the first Obama administration, they started backing the Mali government against the Tuareg.

An unsuspecting public may pore over Rupert Murdoch’s papers – for instance, The Times of London – and its so-called defense correspondent will be pontificating at will on Mali without ever talking about blowback from the Libya war.

Muammar Gaddafi always supported the Tuaregs’ independence drive; since the 1960s the NMLA agenda has been to liberate Azawad (North Mali) from the central government in Bamako.

After the March 2012 coup, the NMLA seemed to be on top. They planted their own flag on quite a few government buildings, and on April 5 announced the creation of a new, independent Tuareg country. The “international community” spurned them, only for a few months later to have the NMLA for all practical purposes marginalized, even in their own region, by three other – Islamist – groups; Ansar ed-Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”); the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO); and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Meet the players
The NMLA is a secular Tuareg movement, created in October 2011. It claims that the liberation of Azawad will allow better integration – and development – for all the peoples in the region. Its hardcore fighters are Tuaregs who were former members of Gaddafi’s army.
But there are also rebels who had not laid down their arms after the 2007-2008 Tuareg rebellion, and some that defected from the Malian army. Those who came back to Mali after Gaddafi was executed by the NATO rebels in Libya carried plenty of weapons. Yet most heavy weapons actually ended up with the NATO rebels themselves, the Islamists supported by the West.

AQIM is the Northern African branch of al-Qaeda, pledging allegiance to “The Doctor”, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Its two crucial characters are Abu Zaid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, former members of the ultra-hardcore Algerian Islamist outfit Salafist Group for Predication and Combat (SGPC). Belmokhtar was already a jihadi in 1980s Afghanistan.

Abu Zaid poses as a sort of North African “Geronimo”, aka Osama bin Laden, with the requisite black flag and a strategically positioned Kalashnikov featuring prominently in his videos. The historical leader, though, is Belmokhtar. The problem is that Belmokhtar, known by French intelligence as “The Uncatchable”, has recently joined MUJAO.

MUJAO fighters are all former AQIM. In June 2012, MUJAO expelled the NMLA and took over the city of Gao, when it immediately applied the worst aspects of Sharia law. It’s the MUJAO base that has been bombed by the French Rafales this week. One of its spokesmen has duly threatened, “in the name of Allah”, to respond by attacking “the heart of France”.

Finally, Ansar ed-Dine is an Islamist Tuareg outfit, set up last year and directed by Iyad ag Ghali, a former leader of the NMLA who exiled himself in Libya. He turned to Salafism because of – inevitably – Pakistani proselytizers let loose in Northern Africa, then engaged in valuable face time with plenty of AQIM emirs. It’s interesting to note in 2007 Mali President Toure appointed Ghali as consul in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia. He was then duly expelled in 2010 because he got too close to radical Islamists.

Gimme ‘a little more terrorism’
No one in the West is asking why the Pentagon-friendly Sanogo’s military coup in the capital ended up with almost two-thirds of Mali in the hands of Islamists who imposed hardcore Sharia law in Azawad – especially in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, a gruesome catalogue of summary executions, amputations, stonings and the destruction of holy shrines in Timbuktu.
How come the latest Tuareg rebellion ended up hijacked by a few hundred hardcore Islamists? It’s useless to ask the question to US drones.

The official “leading from behind” Obama 2.0 administration rhetoric is, in a sense, futuristic; the French bombing “could rally jihadis” around the world and lead to – what else – attacks on the West. Once again the good ol’ Global War on Terror (GWOT) remains the serpent biting its own tail.

There’s no way to understand Mali without examining what Algeria has been up to.
The Algerian newspaper El Khabar only scratched the surface, noting that “from categorically refusing an intervention – saying to the people in the region it would be dangerous”, Algiers went to “open Algerian skies to the French Mirages”.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Algeria last October, trying to organize some semblance of an intervening West African army. Hollande was there in December. Oh yes, this gets juicier by the month.

So let’s turn to Professor Jeremy Keenan, from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London University, and author of The Dark Sahara (Pluto Press, 2009) and the upcoming The Dying Sahara (Pluto Press, 2013).

Writing in the January edition of New African, Keenan stresses, “Libya was the catalyst of the Azawad rebellion, not its underlying cause. Rather, the catastrophe now being played out in Mali is the inevitable outcome of the way in which the ‘Global War on Terror’ has been inserted into the Sahara-Sahel by the US, in concert with Algerian intelligence operatives, since 2002.”

In a nutshell, Bush and the regime in Algiers both needed, as Keenan points out, “a little more terrorism” in the region. Algiers wanted it as the means to get more high-tech weapons. And Bush – or the neo-cons behind him – wanted it to launch the Saharan front of the GWOT, as in the militarization of Africa as the top strategy to control more energy resources, especially oil, thus wining the competition against massive Chinese investment. This is the underlying logic that led to the creation of AFRICOM in 2008.

Algerian intelligence, Washington and the Europeans duly used AQIM, infiltrating its leadership to extract that “little more terrorism”. Meanwhile, Algerian intelligence effectively configured the Tuaregs as “terrorists”; the perfect pretext for Bush’s Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, as well as the Pentagon’s Operation Flintlock – a trans-Sahara military exercise.

The Tuaregs always scared the hell out of Algerians, who could not even imagine the success of a Tuareg nationalist movement in northern Mali. After all, Algeria always viewed the whole region as its own backyard.

The Tuaregs – the indigenous population of the central Sahara and the Sahel – number up to 3 million. Over 800,000 live in Mali, followed by Niger, with smaller concentrations in Algeria, Burkina Faso and Libya. There have been no less than five Tuareg rebellions in Mali since independence in 1960, plus three others in Niger, and a lot of turbulence in Algeria.

Keenan’s analysis is absolutely correct in identifying what happened all along 2012 as the Algerians meticulously destroying the credibility and the political drive of the NMLA. Follow the money: both Ansar ed-Dine’s Iyad ag Ghaly and MUJAO’s Sultan Ould Badi are very cozy with the DRS, the Algerian intelligence agency. Both groups in the beginning had only a few members.

Then came a tsunami of AQIM fighters. That’s the only explanation for why the NMLA was, after only a few months, neutralized both politically and militarily in their own backyard.

Round up the usual freedom fighters
Washington’s “leading from behind” position is illustrated by this State Department press conference. Essentially, the government in Bamako asked for the French to get down and dirty.

And that’s it.

Not really. Anyone who thinks “bomb al-Qaeda” is all there is to Mali must be living in Oz. To start with, using hardcore Islamists to suffocate an indigenous independence movement comes straight from the historic CIA/Pentagon playbook.

Moreover, Mali is crucial to AFRICOM and to the Pentagon’s overall MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) outlook. Months before 9/11 I had the privilege to crisscross Mali on the road – and by the (Niger) river – and hang out, especially in Mopti and Timbuktu, with the awesome Tuaregs, who gave me a crash course in Northwest Africa.
I saw Wahhabi and Pakistani preachers all over the place. I saw the Tuaregs progressively squeezed out. I saw an Afghanistan in the making. And it was not very hard to follow the money sipping tea in the Sahara. Mali borders Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Guinea. The spectacular Inner Niger delta is in central Mali – just south of the Sahara.
Mali overflows with gold, uranium, bauxite, iron, manganese, tin and copper. And – Pipelineistan beckons! – there’s plenty of unexplored oil in northern Mali.

As early as February 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T Moeller was saying that AFRICOM’s mission was to protect “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market”; yes, he did make the crucial connection to China, pronounced guilty of ” challenging US interests”.

AFRICOM’s spy planes have been “observing” Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara for months, in thesis looking for AQIM fighters; the whole thing is overseen by US Special Forces, part of the classified, code-named Creek Sand operation, based in next-door Burkina Faso. Forget about spotting any Americans; these are – what else – contractors who do not wear military uniforms.

Last month, at Brown University, General Carter Ham, AFRICOM’s commander, once more gave a big push to the “mission to advance US security interests across Africa”. Now it’s all about the – updated – US National Security Strategy in Africa, signed by Obama in June 2012. The (conveniently vague) objectives of this strategy are to “strengthen democratic institutions”; encourage “economic growth, trade and investment”; “advance peace and security”; and “promote opportunity and development.”

In practice, it’s Western militarization (with Washington “leading from behind”) versus the ongoing Chinese seduction/investment drive in Africa.

In Mali, the ideal Washington scenario would be a Sudan remix; just like the recent partition of North and South Sudan, which created an extra logistical headache for Beijing, why not a partition of Mali to better exploit its natural wealth? By the way, Mali was known as Western Sudan until independence in 1960.

Already in early December a “multinational” war in Mali was on the Pentagon cards.

The beauty of it is that even with a Western-financed, Pentagon-supported, “multinational” proxy army about to get into the action, it’s the French who are pouring the lethal Hollandaise sauce (nothing like an ex-colony “in trouble” to whet the appetite of its former masters). The Pentagon can always keep using its discreet P-3 spy planes and Global Hawk drones based in Europe, and later on transport West African troops and give them aerial cover. But all secret, and very hush hush.

Mr Quagmire has already reared its ugly head in record time, even before the 1,400 (and counting) French boots on the ground went into offense.

A MUJAO commando team (and not AQIM, as it’s been reported), led by who else but the “uncatchable” Belmokhtar, hit a gas field in the middle of the Algerian Sahara desert, over 1,000 km south of Algiers but only 100 km from the Libyan border, where they captured a bunch of Western (and some Japanese) hostages; a rescue operation launched on Wednesday by Algerian Special Forces was, to put it mildly, a giant mess, with at least seven foreign hostages and 23 Algerians so far confirmed killed.

The gas field is being exploited by BP, Statoil and Sonatrach. MUJAO has denounced – what else – the new French “crusade” and the fact that French fighter jets now own Algerian airspace.

As blowback goes, this is just the hors d’oeuvres. And it won’t be confined to Mali. It will convulse Algeria and soon Niger, the source of over a third of the uranium in French nuclear power plants, and the whole Sahara-Sahel.

So this new, brewing mega-Afghanistan in Africa will be good for French neoloconial interests (even though Hollande insists this is all about “peace”); good for AFRICOM; a boost for those Jihadis Formerly Known as NATO Rebels; and certainly good for the never-ending Global War on Terror (GWOT), duly renamed “kinetic military operations”.

Django, unchained, would be totally at home. As for the Oscar for Best Song, it goes to the Bush-Obama continuum: There’s no business like terror business. With French subtitles, bien sur.

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Guerra en Mali: cómo empieza y cómo acaba

A Basque paper’s take on the war in Mali:

La narrativa de quienes han declarado la guerra en Mali justifica esa decisión con el argumento de evitar a toda costa que ese país se convierta en una incubadora de «terrorismo» que extienda el caos desde Somalia en el océano Índico hasta Mauritania en el Atlántico. Pero paradojas de la historia, los mismos que apostaron por la guerra en Libia han dado la mayor victoria a la insurgencia islamista de la última década.
Miles de combatientes tuaregs experimentados y bien armados que lucharon en el ejército de Gadafi volvieron a Mali y conquistaron una tras otra las principales ciudades del norte, las distintas facciones islamistas armadas aprovecharon la oportunidad del momento y, como consecuencia, un territorio tan extenso como el del Estado francés está bajo su control.
La guerra en Libia llamó a la guerra en Mali y utilizar ahora la misma receta, una intervención exterior de la que se sabe cómo se empieza y nunca cómo acaba, solo conllevará más destrucción y más muerte a una de las zonas más pobres del mundo.

Las antiguas potencias coloniales, en esta caso el Estado francés, raramente abandonan sus ambiciones. Su decisión de bombardear ciudades y de liderar una intervención de la que no se conoce su naturaleza y su alcance tiene que ver con el pasado pero sobre todo con el futuro.
Mali es la puerta al desierto del Sahara bajo cuya arena se encuentran ingentes cantidades de gas y petróleo, además de oro, uranio y otros minerales preciosos. Asegurar el acceso y la explotación de esos recursos se antoja decisivo. Se ha construido un semiconsenso para que París vaya a la guerra en Mali, pero a la vista de los precedentes, la inquietud por lo que venga después se ha hecho muy presente en el mundo.

La intervención militar no puede solucionar el caos por sí sola. Tiene garantizada la victoria a corto plazo, sin embargo, la superioridad de tecnología y poder militar, por muy aplastante que sea, no puede evitar las consecuencias en el futuro.
Los ciudadanos de Mali serán los próximos que aprenderan esta lección. Y la devastación definirá Mali y toda la región del Sahel por mucho tiempo, a costa de muchas, demasiadas vidas.

Gara.net

CiU y ERC pactan la Declaración de Soberanía y buscan más apoyos

Gara.net

Catalunya es un «sujeto político y jurídico soberano», según se recoge en el borrador de la Declaración de Soberanía del Pueblo Catalán acordado ayer por CiU y ERC, que esperan recabar, para su tramitación parlamentaria, el apoyo de otros partidos como PSC, ICV-EUiA y CUP.

Beñat ZALDUA

Tal y como preveía el acuerdo de estabilidad firmado por CiU y ERC, la Declaración de Soberanía del Pueblo Catalán será la primera estación del proceso independentista puesto en marcha en el Principat. Ayer ambos partidos presentaron el borrador de la declaración, que deberá ser aprobada en el primer pleno del Parlament, previsto para finales de este mismo mes. Antes, sin embargo, extenderán el documento al PSC, a ICV-EUiA y a la CUP, con el objetivo de pactar el texto con ellos y conseguir el máximo apoyo posible.

En el preámbulo, el borrador repasa el relato que ambos partidos han mantenido en los últimos meses, asegurando que «las dificultades y negativas por parte de las instituciones del Estado español comportan una negativa radical a la evolución democrática de las voluntades colectivas del pueblo catalán», algo plasmado en la calle y en las urnas, lo que, según se lee en el documento, otorga la legitimidad para «hacer efectivo el ejercicio del derecho a decidir como plasmación del derecho a la autodeterminación de los pueblos y hacer efectiva la voluntad de constituir Catalunya en un nuevo estado dentro del marco europeo». Una autodeterminación a la que el Principat tiene derecho por ser un «sujeto político y jurídico soberano».

El borrador publicado ayer por varios medios catalanes consta de seis puntos. El primero: la «soberanía» en sí misma, que no radica en nadie más que en el pueblo catalán «por razones de legitimidad democrática», algo bastante comprensible que, sin embargo, entra en contradicción con la Constitución, para la que «la soberanía nacional reside en el pueblo español».

El segundo punto es, de hecho, la «legitimidad democrática» y en él se recoge el carácter «escrupulosamente democrático» del ejercicio del derecho a decidir, antes de pasar al tercer punto: la transparencia. «Se facilitarán todas las herramientas necesarias para que el conjunto de la población y la sociedad civil catalana tenga toda la información», se explica en el borrador.

En el cuarto punto, el «diálogo», los firmantes apuestan por establecer canales de negociación «con el Estado español, las instituciones europeas y el conjunto de la comunidad internacional». Precisamente «Europa» es el título del quinto punto, en el que la Declaración se compromete a «defender y promover los principios fundacionales de la Unión Europea».

El sexto y último eje es el de la legalidad, que recoge la utilización de «todos los marcos legales existentes para hacer efectivo el fortalecimiento democrá- tico y el ejercicio del derecho a decidir».

En busca de apoyos

CiU y ERC enviaron el borrador ayer mismo a los grupos parlamentarios de PSC, ICV-EUiA y CUP, entre los que esperan poder recabar apoyos para la aprobación parlamentaria. Aunque descontentos por lo que consideran una apropiación del derecho a decidir por parte de nacionalistas y republicanos, ICV-EUiA y la CUP han mostrado constantemente su apoyo al derecho a decidir, por lo que cabe pensar que su apoyo podría ser posible. Será más complicado conseguir el de un PSC envuelto en sus propias contradicciones. Ayer mismo, su portavoz en el Parlament, Maurici Lucena, anunció que votarán en contra, al considerar que la declaración «disfraza la independencia de derecho a decidir».

Iran tests America’s grasp of reality – Pepe Escobar’s view

By Pepe Escobar

In Election 2012’s theater-of-the-absurd “foreign policy” debate, Iran came up no less than 47 times. Despite all the fear, loathing, threats, and lies in that billionaire’s circus of a campaign season, Americans were nonetheless offered virtually nothing substantial about Iran, although its (non-existent) WMDs were relentlessly hawked as the top US national security issue. (The world was, however, astonished to learn from candidate Romney that Syria, not the Persian Gulf, was that country’s “route to the sea”.)

Now, with the campaign Sturm und Drang behind us but the threats still around, the question is: can Obama 2.0 bridge the gap between current US policy (we don’t want war, but there will be war if you try to build a bomb) and Persian optics (we don’t want a bomb – the Supreme Leader said so – and we want a deal, but only if you grant us some measure of respect)?

Don’t forget that a soon-to-be-reelected President Obama signaled in October the tiniest of possible openings toward reconciliation while talking about the “pressure” he was applying to that country, when he spoke of “our policy of… potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”

Tehran won’t, of course, “end” its (legal) nuclear program. As for that “potentially”, it should be a graphic reminder of how the establishment in Washington loathes even the possibility of bilateral negotiations.

Mr President, tear down this wall
Let’s start with the obvious but important: on entering the Oval Office in January 2009, Obama inherited a seemingly impregnable three-decade-long “Wall of Mistrust” in Iran-US relations. To his credit, that March he directly addressed all Iranians in a message for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, calling for an “engagement that is honed and grounded in mutual respect”. He even quoted the 13th century Persian poet Sa’adi: “The children of Adam are limbs of one body, which God created from one essence.”

And yet, he was crippled from the start by a set of Washington misconceptions as old as that wall, and by a bipartisan consensus for an aggressive strategy toward Iran that emerged in the George W Bush years when congress ponied up US$400 million for a set of “covert operations” meant to destabilize that country, including cross-border operations by special forces teams. All of this was already based on the dangers of “the Iranian bomb.”

A September 2008 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, was typical in assuming a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran as a fact. It was drafted by Michael Rubin from the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, the same AEI that had unashamedly promoted the disastrous 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Several future Obama advisers “unanimously approved” the report, including Dennis Ross, former senator Charles Robb, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Anthony Lake, future UN ambassador Susan Rice, and Richard Clarke. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate by all US intelligence agencies stating that Iran had ended any nuclear weapons program in 2003 was bluntly dismissed.

Mirroring the Bush administration’s “all options are on the table” approach (including cyberwar), the report proposed – what else? – a military surge in the Persian Gulf, targeting “not only Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but also its conventional military infrastructure in order to suppress an Iranian response.” In fact, such a surge would indeed begin before George W Bush left office and only increase in scope in the Obama years.

The crucial point is this: as tens of millions of US voters were choosing Barack Obama in 2008, in part because he was promising to end the war in Iraq, a powerful cross-section of Washington elites was drafting an aggressive blueprint for a future US strategy in the region that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia and that the Pentagon was then still calling the “arc of instability.” And the key plank in this strategy was a program to create the conditions for a military strike against Iran.

R.e.s.p.e.c.t.?
With an Obama 2.0 administration soon to be in place, the time to solve the immensely complex Iranian nuclear drama is now. But as Columbia University’s Gary Sick, a key White House adviser on Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the Tehran hostage crisis of 1979-1981, has suggested, nothing will be accomplished if Washington does not start thinking beyond its ever-toughening sanctions program, now practically set in stone as “politically untouchable.”

Sick has proposed a sound path, which means that it has no hope of being adopted in Washington. It would involve private bilateral discussions by credible negotiators for both sides based on a mutually agreed-upon agenda.
These would be followed by full-blown negotiations under the existing P5+1 framework (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – US, Russia, China, France, and Britain – plus Germany).

Considering the frantic post-2009 seesawing of sanctions, threats, cyber attacks, military surges, and colossal mutual incomprehension, no one in his right mind would expect a pattern of “mutual respect” to emerge easily out of Washington’s “dual track” approach.

It took Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and spokesperson for the Iranian nuclear negotiating team from 2003 to 2005, to finally explain it all last August in a single sentence: “The history of Iran’s nuclear program suggests that the West is inadvertently pushing Iran toward nuclear weapons.” Chas Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, agrees, suggesting in a recent speech that Iran now “seems to be reenacting Israel’s clandestine weapons development program of five decades ago, developing capabilities to build and deliver nuclear weapons while denying that it intends actually to do any such thing.”

What makes these developments even more absurd is that a solution to all this madness exists. As I wrote a few weeks ago (see War fever as seen from Iran, Asia Times Online, August 22, 2012), to satisfy the concerns of the West regarding Iran’s 20% stockpile of enriched uranium:

A mutually acceptable solution for the long term would entail a “zero stockpile”. Under this approach, a joint committee of the P5+1 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany] and Iran would quantify the domestic needs of Iran for use of 20% enriched uranium, and any quantity beyond that amount would be sold in the international market or immediately converted back to an enrichment level of 3.5%. This would ensure that Iran does not possess excess 20% enriched uranium forever, satisfying the international concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. It would be a face-saving solution for all parties as it would recognize Iran’s right to enrichment and would help to negate concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Time to hit the New Silk Road(s)
The current US strategy is not exactly a raging success. Economist Djavad Salehi-Esfahani has explained how Tehran’s theocratic rulers continue to successfully manage the worst effects of the sanctions and a national currency in free fall by using the country’s immense oil and natural gas wealth to subsidize essential imports. Which brings us to the bedrock question of this – or possibly any other – moment: will Obama 2.0 finally admit that Washington doesn’t need regime change in Tehran to improve its relationship with that country?

Only with such an admission (to itself, if not the world) are real negotiations leading to a Wall of Mistrust-blasting deal possible. This would undoubtedly include a genuine detente, an acceptance of Iran’s lawful pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program, guarantees that the result would not be a covert weapons project, and a turning away from the possibility of a devastating war in the Persian Gulf and the oil heartlands of the Greater Middle East.

Theoretically, it could also include something else: an Obama “Nixon in China” moment, a dramatic journey or gesture by the US president to decisively break the deadlock. Yet as long as a barrage of furiously misinformed anti-Iran hawks in Washington, in lockstep with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government, deploy a relentless PR offensive burning with incendiary rhetoric, “red lines,” deadlines, and preemptive sabotage of the P5+1 negotiations, such a moment, such a gesture, will remain the faintest of dreams.

And even such an elusive “Obama in Tehran” moment would hardly be the end of the story. It would be more like a salutary twist in the big picture.
To understand why, you need to grasp just how crucial Iran’s geopolitical positioning is.
After all, in energy and other terms that country is the ultimate crossroads of Eurasia, and so the pivot of the world.
Strategically, it straddles the supply lines for a sizeable part of the globe’s oil and gas reserves and is a privileged hub for the distribution of energy to South Asia, Europe, and East Asia at a moment when both China and India are emerging as potential great powers of the 21st century.

The urge to control that reality lies at the heart of Washington’s policy in the region, not an Iranian “threat” that pales as soon as the defense spending of the two countries is compared. After all, the US spends nearly a $1 trillion on “defense” annually; Iran, a maximum of $12 billion – less, that is, than the United Arab Emirates, and only 20% of the total defense expenditures of the six Persian Gulf monarchies grouped in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Moreover, the Iranian nuclear “threat” would disappear for good if Obama 2.0 ever decided to push for making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. Iran and the GCC have endorsed the idea in the past. Israel – a de facto (if never officially acknowledged) nuclear power with an arsenal of up to 300 warheads – has rejected it.

Yet the big picture goes way beyond the strategic gaming of the US and Israel about Iran’s possible future arsenal. Its position at the ultimate Southwest Asian strategic crossroads will determine much about the future New Great Game in Eurasia – especially whose version of a modern Silk Road will prevail on the great energy chessboard I call Pipelineistan.

I’ve argued for years that all these intertwined developments must be analyzed together, including Washington’s announced Asian military “pivot” (aka “rebalancing”). That strategy, unveiled in early 2012 by President Obama, was supposed to refocus Washington’s attention away from its two disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region with a special focus on containing China. Once again, Iran happens to lie right at the heart of that new policy, given how much of its oil and natural gas heads east to China over waters patrolled by the US Navy.

In other words, it hardly matters that Iran is a rickety regional power run by aging theocrats with an only modestly impressive military. The relationship between Obama 2.0 and Iran is guaranteed to involve the nuclear question, but also (whether acknowledged or not) the global flow of energy across Pipelineistan, and Washington’s future relations with China and the rest of Asia.
It will also involve Beijing’s concerted movements to prop up the yuan in relation to the dollar and, at the same time, accelerate the death of the petrodollar.
Finally, behind all of the above lies the question of who will dominate Eurasia’s 21st century energy version of the old Silk Road.

At the 2012 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting in Tehran, India, Iran, and Afghanistan pushed for the creation of what might be called a new southern Silk Road – really a network of roads, railways, and major ports that would connect Iran and its energy wealth ever more closely to Central and South Asia. For Delhi (as for Beijing), getting closer to both Afghanistan and especially Iran is considered crucial to its Eurasian strategy, no matter how much Washington may disapprove.

India is betting on the port of Chabahar in Iran, China on the port of Gwadar in Pakistan (and of course a gas pipeline from there to Iran) as key transshipment hubs linking Central Asia and the Gulf. Both ports will be key pawns in Pipelineistan’s New Great Game, which is quickly slipping from Washington’s control. In both cases, despite its drive to isolate Iran, there is little the Obama administration can do to prevent these and other instances of closer Eurasian integration.

Washington’s grand strategy for a “Greater Central Asia” under its control once centered on Afghanistan and India. Its disastrous Afghan War has, however, blown a hole through its plans; so, too, has its obsession with creating energy routes that bypass Iran (and Russia), which looks increasingly irrational to much of the rest of Eurasia. The only version of a Silk Road that the Obama administration has been able to devise has been war-related: the Northern Distribution Network, a logistical marathon of routes crisscrossing Central Asia for bringing military supplies into Afghanistan without relying fully on an increasingly unreliable Pakistan.

Needless to say, in the long term, Moscow will do anything to prevent a US/NATO presence in Central Asia. As with Moscow, so with Beijing, which regards Central Asia as a strategic rearguard area when it comes to its energy supply and a place for economic expansion as well. The two will coordinate their policies aimed at leaving Washington in the lurch through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That’s also how Beijing plans to channel its solution for eternally war-torn Afghanistan and so secure its long-term investments in mineral and energy exploitation. Ultimately, both Russia and China want post-2014 Afghanistan to be stabilized by the United Nations.

The ancient Silk Road was humanity’s first globalization highway centered on trade. Now, China in particular is pushing for its own ambitious version of a new Silk Road focused on tapping into energy – oil and natural gas – from Myanmar to Iran and Russia. It would, in the end, link no fewer than 17 countries via more than 8,000 kilometers of high-speed rail (on top of the 8,000 kilometers already built inside China). For Washington, this means one thing: an evolving Tehran-Beijing axis bent on ensuring that the US strategic target of isolating Iran and forcing regime change on that country will be ever just out of reach.

Obama in Tehran?
So what remains of the initial Obama drive to reach out to Iran with an “engagement that is honed and grounded in mutual respect”? Not much, it seems.

Blame it – once again – on the Pentagon, for which Iran will remain a number one “threat,” a necessary enemy. Blame it on a bipartisan elite in Washington, supported by ranks of pundits and think tanks, who won’t let go of enmity against Iran and fear campaigns about its bomb. And blame it on an Israel still determined to force the US into an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities that it desires. In the meantime, the US military build-up in the Persian Gulf, already at staggering levels, goes on.

Somebody, it seems, has yet to break the news to Washington: we are in an increasingly multipolar world in which Eurasian powers Russia and China, and regional power Iran, simply won’t subscribe to its scenarios. When it comes to the New Silk Road(s) linking South Asia, Central Asia, Southwest Asia, and China, whatever Washington’s dreams may be, they will be shaped and constructed by Eurasian powers, not by the United States.

As for an Obama 2.0 “Nixon in China” moment transplanted to Tehran? Stranger things have happened on this planet. But under the present circumstances, don’t hold your breath.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for al-Jazeera and the Russian network RT, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

From Asia Times, initially from TomDispatch.

La estrategia del terror de EEUU y sus aliados (I)

GARA.NET

Iñaki Urrestarazu | Economista

Desde que el imperialismo norteamericano cogió el relevo del inglés tras la II Guerra Mundial, y durante seis décadas, ha seguido la estrategia diseñada a comienzos de los 50, basada en que «la política de EEUU ha de ser una lucha constante y perpetua por el poder mundial». Esta política se ha mantenido inalterable desde entonces, tanto durante la etapa de confrontación con la URSS en la Guerra Fría como durante los dos decenios en los que EEUU ha ejercido como única superpotencia mundial tras el desmoronamiento de la Unión Soviética, con todos y cada uno de los presidentes, incluido Obama, el genocida carnicero de Libia y tantos países.

Uno de los principales estrategas estadounidenses, Zbigniew Brzezinski, impulsor de la guerra anticomunista de Afganistán (1979-1989) y de la utilización de los integristas musulmanes, los muyahidines, como mercenarios de guerra al servicio del imperialismo -de donde surge Al Qaeda, que será ampliamente utilizada después-, en su conocida obra «El gran tablero mundial», marca unas pautas que van a adquirir un gran peso en la estrategia norteamericana:

1) Voluntad hegemónica mundial de los EEUU. 2) Control, especialmente, del llamado Corredor Eurasiático, donde se hallan los mayores yacimientos de petróleo y gas y las principales rutas comerciales. Comprende el Mediterráneo y Norte de África (Argelia, Libia, Egipto…), el Cáucaso (Azerbaiyán…), Oriente Medio (Siria, Libano, Irak…), el entorno del Indico, es decir, el Cuerno de África (Somalia, Etiopía…) y el Sur de Asia(Afganistán, Irán, Pakistán…), Asia Central (Kazajistán, Turkmenistán…) y Sudeste asiático (Indonesia…). Es más o menos lo que en otros proyectos se ha solido denominar como el Gran Oriente Medio o la Ruta de la Seda. 3) Hegemonía militar absoluta de los EEUU. 4) Establecimiento de alianzas diversas, basadas en lo político, económico y militar, por zonas, siempre bajo la hegemonía de los EEUU y vendiendo «seguridad», «paz», «libertad», «democracia» y «desarrollo».

Apartir de ahí, todos los planes y proyectos norteamericanos, incluido el gigantesco fraude del autogolpe del 11-S han ido en la línea de fortalecer su poderío y hegemonía militar, de lograr una impunidad absoluta en la rapiña de recursos y en la dominación de los pueblos, de crear una auténtica estrategia terrorista de liquidación, desestabilización, división, desgaste, debilitamiento, confrontaciones de todo tipo -religiosas, étnicas, territoriales…-, caos, muerte y desolación, con gigantescas intoxicaciones mediáticas. Y es el caso también de Siria.

Los últimos meses, en Siria, EEUU y sus lacayos han continuado la misma política de acoso y derribo de un régimen, que junto con Irán y el Libano de Hezbolah, bloquea los planes expansionistas del imperialismo, posee un territorio de una gran riqueza de hidrocarburos en su subsuelo y es un enclave estratégico en la geopolítica de los oleoductos.

En julio de este año se produjo una de las operaciones más sangrientas y brutales de todo el conflicto, la denominada «Volcán de Damasco y terremoto de Siria». Un atentado contra altos responsables del ejército y la seguridad sirios, un atentado de inteligencia de alto nivel, acompañado de una masiva ofensiva de mercenarios, unos concentrados en Damasco y otros, formando columnas, procedentes de todas las fronteras sirias. Ello acompañado de una brutal campaña mediática intoxicadora y de guerra psicológica, de la fuga del presidente del Parlamento, y en vísperas de otra reunión del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU. Una operación que fracasó estrepitosamente, por una parte, por la respuesta contundente del Ejército sirio y por el gran apoyo de la población al mismo, y por otra, por el doble veto chino y ruso, a la propuesta de condena de Siria en el Consejo de Seguridad. Una vez más, el origen de los detenidos y muertos de los «rebeldes», mostró su origen internacional y mercenario: Jordania, Egipto, Irak, Afganistán, Libia, Jordania, Turquía, Arabia Saudita, Chechenia, Líbano, Somalia… E igualmente la sofisticación y potencia de las armas y su origen occidental: EEUU, Israel, Alemania… La siguiente fase fue una nueva ofensiva, esta vez en Alepo, tras la reorganización de los restos de los mercenarios, que también fracasó, aunque fue un combate más largo, dado que los «insurgentes» utilizaban a la población civil como escudos humanos.

Tras el fracaso de esta gran ofensiva, la estrategia mercenaria volvió a ser la habitual: brutales atentados contra líderes religiosos, sectores cristianos, alauitas o drusos para fomentar la segregación religiosa; ataques terroristas contra sunitas no radicales, líderes sociales, periodistas o personajes relevantes de la sociedad siria, a niños y sectores sociales sin más, o a sectores partidarios del Gobierno; ataques a instituciones o edificios del Gobierno, y miembros de la Policía y el Ejército. Todo esto, siempre alimentado por un flujo constante desde el exterior, de nuevas remesas de mercenarios, y de grandes cantidades de dinero para pagar sus salarios, y de armas, proporcionadas por Arabia Saudita, Qatar y las potencias occidentales.

Lo que hay en Siria no es una guerra civil, la población no se involucra con los llamados «rebeldes», sino todo lo contrario. Es una guerra del Gobierno contra las potencias terroristas occidentales y sus mercenarios, que no tienen nada que ver con el pueblo, y que lo que pretenden es derribar el Gobierno o desgastarlo, para volver a intentarlo más adelante. Kofi Annan dimitió antes de plazo como delegado de la ONU para la Paz, seguramente viendo que no se cumplían las expectativas de derrumbar el sistema que tenían él y las potencias occidentales. Fue sustituido luego por el argelino Lakhdar Brahimi, que tampoco parece que vaya a lograr nada, como no lo hizo ni siquiera en el intento de alto el fuego en la fiesta del Cordero.

Cuando no son los atentados, son las amenazas de intervención por la presunta intención de Siria de usar armas químicas, o las provocaciones de Turquía, con sus bombarderos, persiguiendo a los kurdos, o los supuestos conflictos en la frontera. Y esto, cuando está siendo la retaguardia y refugio de los mercenarios en sus correrías en Siria, cuando está montando auténticos arsenales de tanques y misiles -ahora quieren introducir los poderosísimos Patriot- en la frontera, o está tratando de crear en la zona fronteriza una zona de exclusión aérea, que sería el preludio de una intervención. Ha estado a punto, varias veces, de entrar en guerra con Siria, a pesar del rechazo de su población y de una buena parte de su parlamento. La marcha atrás de la OTAN, de momento, seguramente por cálculo estratégico, es la que ha frenado la guerra y ha llevado a Turquía y a su descerebrado presidente al borde de una crisis de nervios. Y para colmo, y para terminar de enredar las cosas, aparece Israel, también con amenazas. O la UE, que quiere armar -más- a la «Contra».

La cuestión es que la inmensa mayor parte de la población siria, tanto los partidarios del gobierno como los críticos que quieren solucionar los problemas por vías pacíficas y de negociación, en donde entran también los kurdos, están hartos de la intromisión exterior y del terrorismo mercenario -apoyados por muy escasos sectores sirios de salafistas y de los archirreaccionarios Hermanos Musulmanes-, que están bloqueando toda salida a los problemas de Siria. La responsabilidad fundamental del impasse es del imperialismo, que quiere derrocar el Gobierno por sus ambiciones expansionistas, y de sus mercenarios del islamismo ultra, que no pretenden otra cosa que una Siria islamista radical, sectaria, antilaica, capitalista y basada en la Sharia. La suspensión del trasiego de armamento, mercenarios y dinero, haría fácil, una salida digna y negociada a los problemas políticos, económicos y sociales de Siria.

Is English Politics stuck in the merde?

Three by-elections – three victories for Labour. In the 80’s that would have been cause for cheer, with visions of booting out the hated Tories.
Fast forward to today, and we have to acknowledge it’s not what it says on the tin.
For UK’s Labour, read PSOE of Spain or PASOK in Greece or the Social Democrats in Germany. Why not mention U-turn Hollande in Paris too?

The only ones crowing last night were UKIP – a decidedly nasty party which uses the BNP as a foil to say that it’s not fascist or racist, simply patriotic.

So, why did BNP activists canvass and campaign on behalf of UKIP?

The dirty little secret in the UK was that we did have a political force every bit as vile as Marie le Pen’s National Front in France and its equivalent in Holland, Italy, Hungary and Finland.

English politics can be classified so:

Far-Right: BNP & English Defence League
Hard-Right: UKIP
Right: Tories
Centre-Right: Lib-Dems & New Labour
Left: Individual Labour MP’s/activists / Greens (though
with a powerful German Greenesque cabal) &
Respect (controlled by a theocratic Right wing)

England is now shifting to the Hard Right. UKIP don’t need to win any Parliamentary seats in this rotten electoral system which discriminates against smaller parties.
UKIP has set the agenda. All parties, especially the One Nation Labour Party, is bowing down to this.
The shrill anti-immigration rhetoric of all parties is what we shall see more of before 2015. The opportunistic anti-EU budget stance of Miliband and Labour shows what’s in play.

To secure the southern English seats, Miliband will shift further to the right (while keeping to populist anti-banks slogans).
His model is France’s Francois Hollande.
Fool the Commentariat, appeal to the ‘progressive vote bank’ and let Ed Balls do a deal with the City of London.

Make no mistake, as people were fooled with Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems in 2010, they look like repeating that mistake with Ed Miliband in 2014-15 (as I did in 1997 with Tony Blair).
So, if Miliband does become PM (with help from LibDem Cable), we should except the Labour administration to follow similar hollowed out Socialists on the mainland and continue with the neo-liberal agenda of inequality in the name of efficiency.

I see no basis for a English Syriza to rise later in this decade.
There is no sign now, and precious little in its history, to show that that there is any appetite for rebellion.

Instead, I fear that an embittered England, finding it difficult coming to terms with the departing Scots, will recreate a Harsh Right tinged Identity politics.
Exclusion, forced patriotism & a backs-to-the-wall siege mentality will dictate the discourse.

After all, the background to this is the fact the UK is one of the most highly indebted states on this planet where its elite refuses to re-invent the state into a peaceful European entity.
The Greeks continued to spend on armaments even while the economy was tanking.
England continues the same (spending almost twice as much per head as most of Europe). Imperial delusions and a servile relationship with the USA demand that the only strategy is for obeisance to the City of London and sacrificing the working classes and the Precariat.
The welfare state has no protectors in any of the mainstream parties. There are some startling similarities between the Spanish and English elite.
Both are now looking to drive down the economy and make it Low-Cost.
Both are counting on the majority to meekly allow this social and economic engineering to reach its conclusion.
In Iberia, it looks like the rebellion will manifest itself in independence movements and the final break up of Imperial Spain.
On this island, the Scots will leave eventually.
What then for the English?

Truncheons, blood, strikes & elections in Barcelona

The explanation of the Police thugs was that they didn’t mean to crack open the head of a 13 year old, walking next to his mother during yesterday’s demonstrations.
Apparently, the truncheon bounced off the kid’s ruck-sack and hit his head, leaving him with blood pouring out.

It happens. Of course, it does. Welcome to Bahrain.

Yesterday’s general strike took place within the context of the Catalan election campaign, with voters going to the polls on November 25.
The two parties not present yesterday, the Right-wing nationalists CIU and Unionist Right-Wing Partido Popular (PP) are agreed on one thing: they both approve the austerity programme.
The difference between them is: who pays the bill?

CIU wants €5 billion back from Madrid but will want to enact the same disastrous programme of cuts to show the financial markets that Barcelona can take the axe to public sector budgets like the rest.

The CIU will win the election and do some populist grandstanding.
However, its leader, Artus Mas, is riding the tiger. The social unrest has been channeled into strikes and also a call for independence.
The CIU is only a stop on the journey to social transformation.
Breaking the chains of Madrid is not going to be enough.
The battle will then be between the likes of ICV (Greens), ERC and popular networks against the entrenched big business friendly Catalan nationalists of the CIU.
Or to put it another way: Left-wing and Green Nationalists vs. Right-Wing nationalists.
A similar dynamic is in place in the Basque Country, also set to leave the Spanish straitjacket.

The slow-motion crash of the State of Spain continues and the social conflict is shifting to a clash between Right and Left.