jueves, 23 de octubre de 2014

Intelectuales en tiempos oscuros

Linda nota de Arthur D. Robbins para el Intrepid Report de hoy (http://www.intrepidreport.com). Acá va: 

Título: Dark Times: What to Do. The Role and Responsibility of Intellectuals

Epígrafe: Professor Noam Chomsky has written an essay entitled, “The End of History: The short, strange era of human civilization would appear to be drawing to a close.” Chomsky invokes the Roman goddess Minerva as she contemplates the end drawing nigh. His essay is thoughtful. It is eloquent. But something is missing.

Texto: Professor Chomsky references the devastation visited upon the Middle East by the American war machine. He mentions the brutal onslaught of ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate, as well as the military dictatorship in Egypt. And then he turns to the principal issue, climate change and a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report concludes that the increasing level of greenhouse gas risks “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” Ice sheets are melting. Sea levels will rise. Major cities and coastal plains will be inundated.

Species are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate. The melting of permafrost regions will result in even more greenhouse gases being released, with even graver consequences for the planet’s ecosystem. The Siachen Glacier, high up in the Himalayas, has been home to armed conflict between India and Pakistan. As the glacier melts “empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums [and] ice axes” appear, “a most appropriate metaphor,” says Arundhati Roy, “for the insanity of our times.”

Chomsky’s brief essay concludes on an elegiac note—“Sad species. Poor Owl,” referring to the goddess Minerva—and makes us wonder if this piece isn’t primarily a lament. Implicitly there is a shrug of the shoulders, “Don’t blame me. I’m just reporting the facts.” Perhaps this is the problem. Missing is the framework that would help the reader direct his thoughts productively. There is a fatalistic disengagement. Some larger force is at work over which we humans have no control. God?

This fatalism pervades several of Professors Chomsky’s pieces. One essay is entitled, “Humanity Imperiled: The Path to Disaster,” another, “Can Civilization Survive Capitalism?” In “Is the World Too Big to Fail? The Contours of Global Order” Chomsky observes that maybe the financial system can be fixed, “but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative.”

Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Hebrew Bible. It was his role to reveal the sins of his people, thus explaining the reason for impending disaster, hence the word jeremiad, a moralistic essay in which its author denounces society for its wickedness, and prophesies its downfall.

Our Puritan forefathers were Calvinists. They also believed that mankind had sinned and that there was nothing he could do to save himself. There was an elect. They were the saints. They would be saved. God alone would determine who they were. The rest would perish. Whether it was crop failure, blizzard, drought or pestilence, a jeremiad would be sure to follow.

Chomsky’s brief essay is jeremiad like. From some higher place, where reside the saints, he has issued civilization’s death certificate. We have made war and killed many innocents. We have sinned against nature by fouling the air. And we must pay the price. There is no redemption through good works.

The effect of “The End of History” is to close the door to original thought and to eliminate the possibility of public initiative. The essay disempowers those who would undertake to redirect the forces that are destroying our planet. In this context it is useful to consider what Alexis de Tocqueville has to say on the subject of history and historians.

Tocqueville (Democracy in America, vol. 2) speaks of historians who “not only deny that the few have any power of acting upon the destiny of a people, but deprive the people themselves of the power of modifying their own condition, and they subject them either to an inflexible Providence or to some blind necessity.” He adds, “In perusing the historical volumes [of our age] . . . it would seem that man is utterly powerless over himself and all around him. The historians of antiquity taught how to command; those of our time teach how to obey.” I believe these remarks apply to Professor Chomsky’s writing as well. In his version of history there is no room for human agency. “An inflexible Providence” marches us inexorably to our demise. There is nothing humans can do to stop it.

In 1967, Professor Chomsky wrote an essay entitled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” His piece was inspired by the writing of Dwight McDonald who, a decade earlier, had explored the issue of responsibility concerning the suffering wrought by the Nazis. Were the German people, just ordinary folk leading modest lives, responsible for the actions of their government? Shouldn’t they have done something to stop the devastation? Chomsky raises the same question and applies it to the war in Vietnam. Did we Americans have responsibility for the atrocities and wasn’t it our job to stop them? And don’t intellectuals have a special responsibility?

Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us. The responsibilities of intellectuals, then, are much deeper than what Macdonald calls the “responsibility of people,” given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy.

Specifically, what is the intellectual’s responsibility, as Chomsky sees it? “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.” Based on this definition one can say that Professor Chomsky has acquitted himself admirably over the past decades.

But one can reasonably ask if there is any difference between the journalist and the intellectual based on Professor Chomsky’s definition. It most certainly is the job of responsible journalism to speak the truth and expose the lie. Then what is it that we expect from an intellectual that we don’t expect from a journalist? New ideas. And here I am afraid Professor Chomsky has had little if anything to offer.

To quote Sean O’Casey, “Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis.” Why is it that way? Does it have to be that way? What can be done to set it straight? These are the questions the intellectual should be asking.

There are many factors creating the “state o’ chassis.” Most of them can be traced to a combination of action and inaction on the part of government. Government promotes the exploitation of fossil fuels. It favors the private car over public transportation. It diverts to war critical resources that could be used to develop alternative sources of energy. All of these policies are humankind’s contribution to global warming. These policies can be reversed, but not without transforming government. And I am afraid yet another election will not do the job.

Currently, there is considerable discussion and some experimentation exploring the possibilities of using sortition as a means of restructuring government. In ancient Athens, sortition was used as a means of selecting magistrates. We could substitute sortition for elections as a means of selecting our representatives and senators.

Sortition is another word for lottery. Essentially, a number is picked out of a hat. A pool of candidates is established. Often it is simply those who volunteer, those who want to hold the office. Then there is some kind of vetting process. Perhaps there are requirements of age and citizenship. Other parameters can be introduced as well.

Once the pool of candidates is established a number is drawn and the name attached to that number is now the magistrate. In ancient Athens he served for a year and but once in a lifetime. The Athenians used juries to keep track of a magistrate’s performance. If they didn’t like what he was up to another lottery was held and the magistrate was replaced.

Such a means of selecting those who govern has some obvious advantages over holding elections. There is no electioneering, i.e., lying and pandering, at election time. There are no political parties and no leaders to be bought off. Thus there is considerably less corruption. Corporate control of government is dramatically reduced.

Sortition is more democratic than elections because it establishes true political equality. Anyone can serve. Setting brief term limits insures rotation in office—this could be applied to the presidency as well—further limiting the opportunity for abusing power. If one wanted to democratize the process even further one could introduce referenda on key issues. Decisions concerning war and peace would certainly be one opportunity. This was the protocol in ancient Athens.

Or one could completely democratize the governing process by having the citizens govern themselves. This was the meaning of democracy in ancient Athens. The citizens, not their representatives, met in the Assembly, debated and voted on legislation and policy. The same principle could be applied in the United States. Instead of one assembly there would be thousands spread throughout the country. In Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained: The True Meaning of Democracy, I explore these and other possibilities at length.

Such thoughts will undoubtedly be dismissed as foolhardy, naïve, utopian by those who are stuck in the here and now, mired in the fixity of things as given, those who have a fear of change and want to cling to the present setup at all costs. Yes, changing government has its risks. There are outcomes that cannot be predicted. But if Professor Chomsky is right—and I believe he is—then the biggest risk of all is letting things stay as they are and believing we will survive. Change does occur and will continue to do so. The only questions are: What direction will it take? Whose hands will guide it?

What is the responsibility of the intellectual? Is it simply to gather the facts and uncover the lie, or is it the intellectual’s responsibility to lead the way? It is easy enough to predict the end of civilization. It is quite another thing to do something about saving it. With courage and imagination mankind can live to see another day, but not without transforming government into an instrument that serves the common good.

miércoles, 22 de octubre de 2014

Los últimos días

Días extraños todos estos. Tan raros. Misil táctico en Donetsk; se incendian Siria e Irak a la altura de la frontera turca; 175 minicrashes del flash-trade en media hora, cosas así. Tonces prendés la tele y aparece una de Fellini. Pero no, son Tinelli y un tal Pachano hablando de cosas imposibles de comprender porque ni siquiera les vas a dedicar el paleocortex cerebral a tratar de entenderlas; te alcanza con mirar esas caras salidas de La Strada, Ocho y Medio, gesticulando pavadas en el aire, incomprensibles…

De golpe te encontrás con una nota de Raúl Ilargi Meier en The Automatic Earth, y mientras te tomás el primer whisky ponés Almost Blue de Chet Baker y empezás a mirar las fotos de Dorothea Lange, esas fotos que muestran a los estadounidenses cuando todavía eran seres humanos que tenían algo que decir, no esos zombies ridículos impostando su impostura de Nación Indispensable, y te viene esa nostalgia infinita de un pasado que se te antoja comprensible. En fin.

Título: The Last Days Of The Growth Story

Texto: I am thinking about the similarities between a financial crisis and for instance a family crisis, the death of a loved one or close friend, a divorce, or a personal bankruptcy.

And I wonder why in the case of our recent (aka current) financial crisis, we allow nothing to enter our communications, and our train of thought, but the idea of recovery and a return to growth. Has everyone always reacted that way after earlier financial crises – history is full of them -, or is something else going on? Why do we insist on returning to something we once had, even if we have no way of knowing whether we can ever return? Why don’t we focus – more – on what lies ahead, instead of what is behind us? Is it because we loved what we had so much? Or is something else going on?

Even if we do love what once was so much, there’s a time to move on after every disaster, every death in the family, every bankruptcy. And deep down we know that very well. Life will never be the same, but it’ll still be life. It seems safe to say that in general, life is about turning, not returning. Life changes, we change, every day, every minute, every millisecond.

This refusal to turn a new leaf and find out what’s on the other side of the hill has enormous consequences. We are actively digging ourselves so deep into debt that it’s preposterous to claim this debt is ours only, because it’s painfully clear, though we would never admit it (too painful perhaps?), that we can never pay it back. We leave that honor to our children, and to the generations after them.

We should undoubtedly have protected us from ourselves, by making it illegal and punishable by law to engage in such behavior (something along the lines of Child Protection Services). We chose instead to be blind to it. We still could – should – write such legislation, but it looks as if present politics and economic ‘thinking’ will only exacerbate a situation that is already far worse than we care to know.

The overruling ‘wisdom’ looks to be that we miraculously freed ourselves from the yoke of a balanced budget, an idea seemingly justified by the fact that a return to growth has been elevated to the status of a law, of either physics or a deity of our choice, growth that will subsequently make all debts melt like the snow on the Kilimanjaro.

That overruling wisdom, as should be obvious, is at best wishful thinking, but far more likely pure fantasy. Which has become our main, make that only, approach of the crisis we find ourselves in. If only we believe, our leaders will deliver us to growth heaven.

But what if this is the end of the growth story? What if it’s already behind us? It’s not as if growth has been a constant factor in the lives of our ancestors. And it’s not as if the laws of physics put no limits on everlasting growth. Growth is a passing thing, it’s a phase.

Most of us have heard of the seven stages of grief. Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Depression, Acceptance. Where are we in our journey through these stages when it come to the financial crisis, and to growth? There’s only one stage that even remotely sounds right: Denial. We’re not even close to Anger yet, not when it comes to the larger population.

We simply deny that something has really changed. And even if you wish to claim that it hasn’t, no-one can deny the possibility that it has. Still, that is exactly what happens. Denial, everywhere you look.

The something else that is going on is that our brains have been kidnapped by those who (probably not even always consciously) seek to strengthen their – power – political and financial positions by making us believe in the growth story long after it has – for all we can see – died. That’s why we listen only to the growth story, to the exclusion of any and all other stories.

It’s a form of progress, though not a benign one. Freud’s ideas are (ab)used to hide reality from us (to ‘sell’ the message), while Keynes’ ideas are abused to hide the reality that you can’t buy growth with debt your children will have to pay back. Pretty simple, when you think about it.

If you know how to sell people detergents and presidents, abstract ideas is easy. And if those ideas are about economics, that nobody knows much about and all the trusted experts and press have the same message about 24/7, the circle is pretty much closed. All that’s left then is places like the Automatic Earth and others to get your alternative stories, but that’s no match for full blown propaganda.

Still we’re seeing, we’re living in, the last days of the growth story. And when the master class decides to drop that story, watch out. The emperor is one ugly wrinkled old duckling when he’s naked. You don’t want your kids to see that.

Los peores escenarios

Continuando con la línea del post anterior, relativo al hartazgo de medio planeta con el Imperio, acá reproducimos un lindo artículo de Peter Van Buren aparecido hoy en TomDispatch.com. En verdad, ¿qué podría salir mal en esta nueva aventura de la Nación Indispensable?

Presentación: Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, Seven Bad Endings to the New War in the Middle East

It was May 23, 2012, and President Obama was giving a graduation speech at the Air Force Academy when he told the assembled cadets that they should "never bet against the United States of America... [because] the United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs."  On that basis, he suggested, the twenty-first century, like the twentieth, would be an American one.  Then, on October 23, 2012, in the final presidential debate with Mitt Romney, he reiterated the point, saying: "America remains the one indispensable nation, and the world needs a strong America, and it is stronger now than when I came into office."

That phrase, “the indispensable nation,” is of relatively recent coinage, but it is now seemingly an indispensable word for any American politician and so it’s not surprising that the president continues to cling tightly to it.  On May 28, 2014, for instance, giving another commencement speech, this time at West Point, he once again went for that indispensable rhetorical jugular. “And when a typhoon hits the Philippines,” he assured the cadets, “or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help.  So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.  That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.”  (Of course, to this day those schoolgirls remain kidnapped and there are still masked men in buildings in Eastern Ukraine, but those are small points indeed.)  On August 26th, Obama returned to the theme, speaking to the national convention of the American Legion. “No nation,” he told the assembled veterans ringingly, “does more to help people in the far corners of the Earth escape poverty and hunger and disease, and realize their dignity.  Even countries that criticize us, when the chips are down and they need help, they know who to call -- they call us.  That's what American leadership looks like.  That's why the United States is and will remain the one indispensable nation in the world.”

You get idea.  We are... go ahead, chant it: indispensable!  And this is: our century... if you don’t mind my completing the phrase... to screw up totally.  As it happens, that word “indispensable” is often used without any indication of what exactly our indispensability consists of.  Evidence from the last 13 years, however, suggests that we have been exceptionally, indispensably, undeniably, inscrutably important when it comes to destabilizing significant chunks of the planet and encouraging the growth of jihadist organizations.  Now, in the post-9/11 exceptionalist sweepstakes, President Obama and his crew (with the Republican wolves of war baying at his heels) have evidently decided to outdo themselves by launching yet another war, even lamer than the previous ones, based on an expanding bombing campaign that's going nowhere.  Today, State Department whistleblower andTomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren offers a sweeping worst-case vision of American indispensability in the Middle East.  And as an account of disasters to come -- I don’t hesitate to say it! -- it is both exceptional and indispensable reading as the latest iteration of the American Century goes down in flames. Tom

Título: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? 

Subtítulo: Seven Worst-Case Scenarios in the Battle with the Islamic State 

Texto: You know the joke? You describe something obviously heading for disaster -- a friend crossing Death Valley with next to no gas in his car -- and then add, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Such is the Middle East today. The U.S. is again at war there, bombing freely across Iraq and Syria, advising here, droning there, coalition-building in the region to loop in a little more firepower from a collection of recalcitrant allies, and searching desperately for some non-American boots to put on the ground.

Here, then, are seven worst-case scenarios in a part of the world where the worst case has regularly been the best that’s on offer. After all, with all that military power being brought to bear on the planet’s most volatile region, what could possibly go wrong?

1. The Kurds

The lands the Kurds generally consider their own have long been divided among Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. None of those countries wish to give up any territory to an independence-minded ethnic minority, no less find a powerful, oil-fueled Kurdish state on their borders.

In Turkey, the Kurdish-inhabited border area with Iraq has for years been a low-level war zone, with the powerful Turkish military shelling, bombing, and occasionally sending in its army to attack rebels there. In Iran, the Kurdish population is smaller than in Iraq and the border area between the two countries more open for accommodation and trade. (The Iranians, for instance, reportedlyrefine oil for the Iraqi Kurds, who put it on the black market and also buy natural gas from Iran.) That country has nonetheless shelled the Kurdish border area from time to time. 

The Kurds have been fighting for a state of their own since at least 1923. Inside Iraq today, they are in every practical sense a de facto independent state with their own government and military. Since 2003, they have been strong enough to challenge the Shia government in Baghdad far more aggressively than they have. Their desire to do so has been constrained by pressure from Washington to keep Iraq whole. In June, however, their military, the Peshmerga, seized the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul and other northern cities in the face of the militants of the Islamic State (IS). Lacking any alternative, the Obama administration let the Kurds move in.
The Peshmerga are a big part of the current problem. In a near-desperate need for some semi-competent proxy force, the U.S. and its NATO allies are now arming and training them, serving as their air force in a big way, and backing them as they inch into territory still in dispute with Baghdad as an expedient response to the new “caliphate.”  This only means that, in the future, Washington will have to face the problem of how to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle if the Islamic State is ever pushed back or broken.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and now under the control of the Islamic State, is the most obvious example. Given the woeful state of the Iraqi army, the Kurds may someday take it. That will not go down well in Baghdad and the result could be massive sectarian violence long after IS is gone. We were given a small-scalepreview of what might happen in the town of Hassan Sham. The Kurds took it back last month. In the process, some Shia residents reportedly sided with their enemies, the Sunni militants of IS, rather than support the advancing Peshmerga.

Worst-case scenario: A powerful Kurdistan emerges from the present mess of American policy, fueling another major sectarian war in Iraq that will have the potential to spill across borders. Whether or not Kurdistan is recognized as a country with a U.N. seat, or simply becomes a Taiwan-like state (real in all but name), it will change the power dynamic in the region in ways that could put present problems in the shade. Changing a long-held balance of power always has unintended consequences, especially in the Middle East. Ask George W. Bush about his 2003 invasion of Iraq, which kicked off most of the present mess.

2. Turkey

You can’t, of course, talk about the Kurds without discussing Turkey, a country caught in a vise. Its forces have battled for years against a Kurdish separatist movement, personified by the PKK, a group Turkey, NATO, the European Union, and the United States all classify as a terrorist organization. Strife between the Turks and the PKK took 37,000 lives in the 1980s and 1990s before being reduced from a boil to a simmer thanks to European Union diplomacy. The “problem” in Turkey is no small thing -- its Kurdish minority, some 15 million people, makes up nearly 20% of the population.

When it comes to taking action in Syria, the Turks exist in a conflicted realm because Washington has anointed the Kurds its boots on the ground. Whatever it may think it’s doing, the U.S. is helping empower the Kurdish minority in Syria, including PKK elements arrayed along the Turkish border, with new weapons and training.

The Turkish ruling party has no particular love for those who run the Islamic State, but its loathing for Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad is such that its leaders have long been willing to assist IS largely by looking the other way. For some time, Turkey has been the obvious point of entry for “foreign fighters” en route to Syria to join IS ranks. Turkey has also served as the exit point for much of the black-market oil --$1.2 to $2 million a day -- that IS has used to fund itself. Perhaps in return, the Islamic State released 49 Turkish hostages it was holding, including diplomats without the usual inflammatory beheading videos. In response to U.S. requests to “do something,” Turkey is now issuing fines to oil smugglers, though these have totaled only $5.7 million over the past 15 months, which shows the nature of Turkey's commitment to the coalition.

The situation in the IS-besieged town of Kobani illustrates the problem. The Turks have so far refused to intervene to aid the Syrian Kurds. Turkish tanks sit idle on hills overlooking the hand-to-hand combat less than a mile away. 

Turkish riot police have prevented Turkish Kurds from reaching the town to help. Turkish jets have bombed PKK rebels inside Turkey, near the Iraqi border. Meanwhile, U.S. air strikes do little more than make clear the limits of air power and provide material for future historians to write about. American bombs can slow IS, but can’t recapture parts of a city. Short of destroying Kobani by air to save it, U.S. power is limited without Turkish ground forces. Under the present circumstances, the fighters of the Islamic State will either take the city or it will slowly burn as they slug it out with the Kurds.

The Turkish price for intervention, publicly proclaimed, is the creation of a U.S.-enforced buffer zone along the border. The Turks would need to occupy this zone on the ground, effectively ceding Syrian territory to Turkey (as a buffer zone occupied by Kurds would not do). This would involve a further commitment from Washington, potentially placing American warplanes in direct conflict with Syria’s air defenses, which would have to be bombed, widening the war further. A buffer zone would also do away with whatever secret agreements may exist between the U.S. and Assad. This zone would represent another open-ended commitment, requiring additional U.S. resources in a conflict that is already costing American taxpayers at least $10 million a day.

On the other hand, Washington’s present policy essentially requires Turkey to put aside its national goals to help us achieve ours. We've seen how such a scenario has worked out in the past. (Google "Pakistan and the Taliban.") But with Kobani in the news, the U.S. may yet succeed in pressuring the Turks into limited gestures, such as allowing American warplanes to use Turkish airbases or letting the U.S. train some Syrian rebels on its territory. That will not change the reality that Turkey will ultimately focus on its own goals independent of the many more Kobanis to come.

Worst-case scenario: Chaos in Eastern Turkey’s future, while the sun shines on Assad and the Kurds. An influx of refugees are already taxing the Turks. Present sectarian rumblings inside Turkey could turn white hot, with the Turks finding themselves in open conflict with Kurdish forces as the U.S. sits dumbly on the sidelines watching one ally fight another, an unintended consequence of its Middle Eastern meddling. If the buffer zone comes to pass, throw in the possibility of direct fighting between the U.S. and Assad, with Russian President Vladimir Putin potentially finding an opening to reengage in the area.

3. Syria

Think of Syria as the American war that never should have happened. Despite years of calls for U.S. intervention and some training flirtations with Syrian rebel groups, the Obama administration had managed (just barely) to stay clear of this particular quagmire. In September 2013, President Obama walked right up to the edge of sending bombers and cruise missiles against Assad’s military over the purported use of chemical weapons. He then used an uncooperative Congress and a clever Putin-gambit as an excuse to back down.

This year’s model -- ignore Assad, attack IS -- evolved over just a few weeks as a limited humanitarian action morphed into a fight to the finish against IS in Iraq and then into bombing Syriaitself. As with any magician's trick, we all watched it happen but still can’t quite figure out quite how the sleight of hand was done.

Syria today is a country in ruins. But somewhere loose in that land are unicorns -- creatures often spoken of but never seen -- the Obama administration's much publicized “moderate Syrian rebels.” Who are they? The working definition seems to be something like: people who oppose Assad, won't fight him for now, but may in the meantime fight the Islamic State, and aren’t too “fundamentalist.” The U.S. plans to throw arms and training at them as soon as it can find some of them, vet them, and transport them to Saudi Arabia. If you are buying stock in the Syrian market, look for anyone labeled “moderate warlord.”

While the U.S. and its coalition attacks IS, some states (or at least wealthy individuals) in that same band of brothers continue to funnel money to the new caliphate to support its self-appointed role as a protector of Sunnis and handy proxy against Shia empowerment in Iraq. Vice President Joe Biden recently called out some of America's partners on this in what was billed as another of his famousgaffes, requiring apologies all around. If you want to see the best-case scenario for Syria’s future, have a look at Libya, a post-U.S. intervention country in chaos, carved up by militias.

Worst-case scenario: Syria as an ungoverned space, a new haven for terrorists and warring groups fueled by outsiders. (The Pakistani Taliban has already vowed to send fighters to help IS.) Throw in the potential for some group to grab any leftover chemical weapons or SCUD-like surface-to-surface missiles from Assad’s closet, and the potential for death and destruction is unending. It might even spread to Israel.

4. Israel

Israel’s border with Syria, marked by the Golan Heights, has been its quietest frontier since the 1967 war, but that’s now changing. Syrian insurgents of some flavor recently seized border villages and a crossing point in those heights. United Nations peacekeepers, who once patrolled the area, have mostly been evacuatedfor their own safety. Last month, Israel shot down a Syrian plane that entered its airspace, no doubt a warning to Assad to mind his own business rather than a matter of military necessity.

Assumedly, the Obama administration has been in behind-the-scenes efforts, reminiscent of the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi SCUDS began raining down on Israeli cities, to keep that country out of the larger fight. It is not 1991, however. Relations between the U.S. and Israel are far more volatile and much testier. Israel is better armed and U.S. constraints on Israeli desires have proven significantly weaker of late.

Worst-case scenario: An Israeli move, either to ensure that the war stays far from its Golan Heights frontier or of a more offensive nature aimed at securing some Syrian territory, could blow the region apart. “It’s like a huge bottle with gas surrounded by candles. You just need to push one candle and everything can blow up in a minute,” said one retired Israeli general. Still, if you think Israel worries about Syria, that's nothing compared to how its leadership must be fuming over the emergence of Iran as an ever-stronger regional power.

5. Iran

What can go wrong for Iran in the current conflict? While in the Middle East something unexpected can always arise, at present that country looks like the potential big winner in the IS sweepstakes. Will a pro-Iranian Shia government remain in power in Baghdad? You bet. Has Iran been given carte blanche to move ground forces into Iraq? Check. Will the American air force fly bombing runs for Iranian ground troops engaged in combat with IS (in a purely unofficial capacity, of course)? Not a doubt. Might Washington try to edge back a bit from its nuclear tough-guy negotiations? A likelihood. Might the door be left ajar when it comes to an off-the-books easing of economic sanctions if the Americans need something more from Iran in Iraq? Why not?

Worst-case scenario: Someday, there’ll be a statue of Barack Obama in central Tehran, not in Iraq.

6. Iraq

Iraq is America’s official “graveyard of empire.” Washington’s “new” plan for that country hinges on the success of a handful of initiatives that already failed when tried between 2003-2011, a time when there were infinitely more resources available to American “nation builders” and so much less in the way of regional chaos, bad as it then was.

The first step in the latest American master plan is the creation of an “inclusive” government in Baghdad, which the U.S. dreams will drive a wedge between a rebellious and dissatisfied Sunni population and the Islamic state. After that has happened, a (re)trained Iraqi army will head back into the field to drive the forces of the new caliphate from the northern parts of the country and retake Mosul.

All of this is unrealistic, if not simply unreal. After all, Washington has already sunk $25 billion dollars into training and equipping that same army, and several billion more on the paramilitary police. The result: little more than IS seizing arsenals of top-notch Americans weaponry once the Iraqi forces fled the country’s northern cities in June.

Now, about that inclusive government. The United States seems to think creating an Iraqi government is like picking players for a fantasy football team. You know, win some, lose some, make a few trades, and if none of that works out, you still have a shot at a new roster and a winning record next year. Since Haider al-Abadi, the latest prime minister and great inclusivist hope, is a Shia and a former colleague of the once-anointed, now disappointed Nouri al-Maliki, as well as a member of the same political party, nothing much has really changed at the top. So hopes for “inclusiveness” now fall to the choices to lead the key ministries of defense and the interior. Both have been tools of repression against the country’s Sunnis for years. For the moment, Abadi remains acting minister for both, as was Maliki before him. Really, what could possibly go wrong?

As for the Sunnis, American strategy rests on the assumption that they can be bribed and coerced into breaking with IS, no matter the shape of things in Baghdad. That’s hard to imagine, unless they lack all memory. As with al-Qaeda in Iraq during the American occupation years, the Islamic State is Sunni muscle against a Shia government that, left to its own devices, would continue to marginalize, if not simply slaughter, them. Starting in 2007, U.S. officials did indeed bribe and coerce some Sunni tribal leaders into accepting arms and payments in return for fighting insurgent outfits, including al-Qaeda. That deal, then called the Anbar Awakening, came with assurances that the United States would always stand by them. (General John Allen, now coordinating America's newest war in Iraq, was a key figure in brokering that “awakening.”) America didn’t stand. Instead, it turned the program over to the Shia government and headed for the door marked “exit.” The Shias promptly reneged on the deal.

Once bitten, twice shy, so why, only a few years later, would the Sunnis go for what seems to be essentially the same bad deal? In addition, this one appears to have a particularly counterproductive wrinkle from the American point of view. According to present plans, the U.S. is to form Sunni “national guard units” -- up-armored Sunni militias with a more marketable name -- to fight IS by paying and arming them to do so. These militias are to fight only on Sunni territory under Sunni leadership. They will have no more connection to the Baghdad government than you do. How will that help make Iraq an inclusive, unitary state? What will happen, in the long run, once even more sectarian armed militias are let loose? What could possibly go wrong?

Despite its unambiguous history of failure, the “success” of the Anbar Awakening remains a persistent myth among American conservative thinkers. So don't be fooled in the short term by media-trumpeted local examples of Sunni-Shia cooperation against IS. Consider them temporary alliances of convenience on a tribe-by-tribe basis that might not outlast the next attack. That is nowhere near a strategy for national victory. Wasn't then, isn't now.

Worst-case scenario: Sunni-Shia violence reaches a new level, one which draws in outside third parties, perhaps the Sunni Gulf states, seeking to prevent a massacre. Would the Shia Iranians, with forces already in-country, stand idle? Who can predict how much blood will be spilled, all caused by another foolish American war in Iraq?

7. The United States

If Iran could be the big geopolitical winner in this multi-state conflict, then the U.S. will be the big loser. President Obama (or his successor) will, in the end, undoubtedly have to choose between war to the horizon and committing U.S. ground forces to the conflict. Neither approach is likely to bring the results desired, but those “boots on the ground” will scale up the nature of the ensuing tragedy.

Washington’s post-9/11 fantasy has always been that military power -- whether at the level of full-scale invasions or “surgical” drone strikes -- can change the geopolitical landscape in predictable ways. In fact, the only certainty is more death. Everything else, as the last 13 years have made clear, is up for grabs, and in ways Washington is guaranteed not to expect.

Among the likely scenarios: IS forces are currently only miles from Baghdad International Airport, itself only nine miles from the Green Zone in the heart of the capital. (Note that the M198 howitzers IS captured from the retreating Iraqis have a range of 14 miles.) The airport is a critical portal for the evacuation of embassy personnel in the face of a future potential mega-Benghazi and for flying in more personnel like the Marine Quick Reaction Force recently moved into nearby Kuwait. The airport is already protected by 300-500 American troops, backed by Apache attack helicopters and drones. The Apache helicopters recently sent into combat in nearby Anbar province probably flew out of there. If IS militants were to assault the airport, the U.S. would essentially have to defend it, which means combat between the two forces. If so, IS will lose on the ground, but will win by drawing America deeper into the quagmire.

In the bigger picture, the current anti-Islamic State coalition of “more than 60 countries” that the U.S. patched together cannot last. It’s fated to collapse in a heap of conflicting long-term goals. Sooner or later, the U.S. is likely to once again find itself alone, as it eventually did in the last Iraq war.

The most likely outcome of all this killing, whatever the fate of the Islamic State, is worsening chaos across Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region, including possibly Turkey. As Andrew Bacevich observed, “Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.” The loss of control over the real costs of this war will beg the question: Was the U.S. ever in control?

In September, Syria became the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded, occupied, or bombed since 1980. During these many years of American war-making, goals have shifted endlessly, while the situation in the Greater Middle East only worsened. Democracy building? You’re not going to hear that much any more. Oil? The U.S. is set to become a net exporter. Defeating terrorism? That’s today’s go-to explanation, but the evidence is already in that picking fights in the region only fosters terror and terrorism. At home, thesoundtrack of fear-mongering grows louder, leading to an amplified national security state and ever-expanding justifications for the monitoring of our society.

Worst-case scenario: America’s pan-Middle Eastern war marches into its third decade with no end in sight, a vortex that sucks in lives, national treasure, and Washington's mental breathing room, even as other important issues are ignored. And what could possibly go wrong with that?

martes, 21 de octubre de 2014

Cómo perder un imperio

Ya hemos posteado varias notas de ese ruso brillante que es Dmitri Orlov, cuyo blog, Club Orlov (http://cluborlov.blogspot.com) suele ser de lectura obligatoria. Hoy nos regala este análisis sobre el hartazgo del planeta en general, y de los rusos en particular, ante las escaramuzas del Imperio. Hemos resaltado (en cursiva) algunas cositas que nos han parecido particularmente relevantes. Acá va:

Título: How to start a war and lose an empire

Texto: A year and a half I wrote an essay on how the US chooses to view Russia, titled The Image of the Enemy. I was living in Russia at the time, and, after observing the American anti-Russian rhetoric and the Russian reaction to it, I made some observations that seemed important at the time. It turns out that I managed to spot an important trend, but given the quick pace of developments since then, these observations are now woefully out of date, and so here is an update.

At that time the stakes weren't very high yet. There was much noise around a fellow named Magnitsky, a corporate lawyer-crook who got caught and died in pretrial custody. He had been holding items for some bigger Western crooks, who were, of course, never apprehended. The Americans chose to treat this as a human rights violation and responded with the so-called “Magnitsky Act” which sanctioned certain Russian individuals who were labeled as human rights violators. Russian legislators responded with the “Dima Yakovlev Bill,” named after a Russian orphan adopted by Americans who killed him by leaving him in a locked car for nine hours. This bill banned American orphan-killing fiends from adopting any more Russian orphans. It all amounted to a silly bit of melodrama.

But what a difference a year and a half has made! Ukraine, which was at that time collapsing at about the same steady pace as it had been ever since its independence two decades ago, is now truly a defunct state, with its economy in free-fall, one region gone and two more in open rebellion, much of the country terrorized by oligarch-funded death squads, and some American-anointed puppets nominally in charge but quaking in their boots about what's coming next. Syria and Iraq, which were then at a low simmer, have since erupted into full-blown war, with large parts of both now under the control of the Islamic Caliphate, which was formed with help from the US, was armed with US-made weapons via the Iraqis. Post-Qaddafi Libya seems to be working on establishing an Islamic Caliphate of its own. Against this backdrop of profound foreign US foreign policy failure, the US recently saw it fit to accuse Russia of having troops “on NATO's doorstep,” as if this had nothing to do with the fact that NATO has expanded east, all the way to Russia's borders. Unsurprisingly, US–Russia relations have now reached a point where the Russians saw it fit to issue a stern warning: further Western attempts at blackmailing them may result in a nuclear confrontation.

The American behavior throughout this succession of defeats has been remarkably consistent, with the constant element being their flat refusal to deal with reality in any way, shape or form. Just as before, in Syria the Americans are ever looking for moderate, pro-Western Islamists, who want to do what the Americans want (topple the government of Bashar al Assad) but will stop short of going on to destroy all the infidel invaders they can get their hands on. The fact that such moderate, pro-Western Islamists do not seem to exist does not affect American strategy in the region in any way.

Similarly, in Ukraine, the fact that the heavy American investment in “freedom and democracy,” or “open society,” or what have you, has produced a government dominated by fascists and a civil war is, according to the Americans, just some Russian propaganda. Parading under the banner of Hitler's Ukrainian SS division and anointing Nazi collaborators as national heroes is just not convincing enough for them. What do these Nazis have to do to prove that they are Nazis, build some ovens and roast some Jews? Just massacring people by setting fire to a building, as they did in Odessa, or shooting unarmed civilians in the back and tossing them into mass graves, as they did in Donetsk, doesn't seem to work. The fact that many people have refused to be ruled by Nazi thugs and have successfully resisted them has caused the Americans to label them as “pro-Russian separatists.” This, in turn, was used to blame the troubles in Ukraine on Russia, and to impose sanctions on Russia. The sanctions would be reviewed if Russia were to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Trouble is, there are no Russian troops in Ukraine.

Note that this sort of behavior is nothing new. The Americans invaded Afghanistan because the Taleban would not relinquish Osama Bin Laden (who was a CIA operative) unless Americans produced evidence implicating him in 9/11—which did not exist. Americans invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein would not relinquish his weapons of mass destruction—which did not exist. They invaded Libya because Muammar Qaddafi would not relinquish official positions—which he did not hold. They were ready to invade Syria because Bashar al Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people—which he did not do. And now they imposed sanctions on Russia because Russia had destabilized and invaded Ukraine—which it did not do either. (The US did that.)

The sanctions against Russia have an additional sort of unreality to them, because they “boomerang” and hurt the West while giving the Russian government the impetus to do what it wanted to do all along. The sanctions infringed on the rights of a number of Russian businessmen and officials, who promptly yanked their money out of Western banks, pulled their children out of Western schools and universities, and did everything else they could to demonstrate that they are good patriotic Russians, not American lackeys. The sanctions affected a number of Russian energy companies, cutting them off from Western sources of technology and financing, but this will primarily hurt the earnings of Western energy companies while helping their Chinese competitors. There were even some threats to cut Russia off from the SWIFT system, which would have made it quite difficult to transfer funds between Russia and the West, but what these threats did instead was to give Russia the impetus to introduce its own RUSSWIFT system, which will include even Iran, neutralizing future American efforts at imposing financial restrictions.

The sanctions were meant to cause economic damage, but Western efforts at inflicting short-term economic damage on Russia are failing. Coupled with a significant drop in the price of oil, all of this was supposed to hurt Russia fiscally, but since the sanctions caused the Ruble to drop in tandem, the net result on Russia's state finances is a wash. Oil prices are lower, but then, thanks in part to the sanctions, so is the Ruble, and since oil revenues are still largely in dollars, this means that Russia's tax receipts are at roughly the same level at before. And since Russian oil companies earn dollars abroad but spend rubles domestically, their production budgets remain unaffected.

The Russians also responded by imposing some counter-sanctions, and to take some quick steps to neutralize the effect of the sanctions on them. Russia banned the import of produce from the European Union—to the horror of farmers there. Especially hurt were those EU members who are especially anti-Russian: the Baltic states, which swiftly lost a large fraction of their GDP, along with Poland. An exception is being made for Serbia, which refused to join in the sanctions. Here, the message is simple: friendships that have lasted many centuries matter; what the Americans want is not what the Americans get; and the EU is a mere piece of paper. Thus, the counter-sanctions are driving wedges between the US and the EU, and, within the EU, between Eastern Europe (which the sanctions are hurting the most) and Western Europe, and, most importantly, they drive home the simple message that the US is not Europe's friend.

There is something else going on that is going to become more significant in the long run: Russia has taken the hint and is turning away from the West and toward the East. It is parlaying its open defiance of American attempts at world domination into trade relationships throughout the world, much of which is sick and tired of paying tribute to Washington. Russia is playing a key role in putting together an international banking system that circumvents the US dollar and the US Federal Reserve. In these efforts, over half the world's territory and population is squarely on Russia's side and cheering loudly. Thus, the effort to isolate Russia has produced the opposite of the intended result: it is isolating the West from the rest of the world instead.

In other ways, the sanctions are actually being helpful. The import ban on foodstuffs from EU is a positive boon to domestic agriculture while driving home a politically important point: don't take food from the hands of those who bite you. Russia is already one of the world's largest grain exporters, and there is no reason why it can't become entirely self-sufficient in food. The impetus to rearm in the face of NATO encroachment on Russian borders (there are now US troops stationed in Estonia, just a short drive from Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg) is providing some needed stimulus for industrial redevelopment. This round of military spending is being planned a bit more intelligently than in the Soviet days, with eventual civilian conversion being part of the plan from the very outset. Thus, along with the world's best jet fighters, Russia is likely to start building civilian aircraft for export and competing with Airbus and Boeing.

But this is only the beginning. The Russians seem to have finally realized to what extent the playing field has been slanted against them. They have been forced to play by Washington's rules in two key ways: by bending to Washington's will in order to keep their credit ratings high with the three key Western credit rating agencies, in order to secure access to Western credit; and by playing by the Western rule-book when issuing credit of their own, thus keeping domestic interest rates artificially high. The result was that US companies were able to finance their operations more cheaply, artificially making them more competitive. But now, as Russia works quickly to get out from under the US dollar, shifting trade to bilateral currency arrangements (backed by some amount of gold should trade imbalances develop) it is also looking for ways to turn the printing press to its advantage. To date, the dictat handed down from Washington has been: “We can print money all we like, but you can't, or we will destroy you.” But this threat is ringing increasingly hollow, and Russia will no longer be using its dollar revenues to buy up US debt. One proposal currently on the table is to make it impossible to pay for Russian oil exports with anything other than rubles, by establishing two oil brokerages, one in St. Petersburg, the other, seven time zones away, in Vladivostok. Foreign oil buyers would then have to earn their petro-rubles the honest way—through bilateral trade—or, if they can't make enough stuff that the Russians want to import, they could pay for oil with gold (while supplies last). Or the Russians could simply print rubles, and, to make sure such printing does not cause domestic inflation, they could export some inflation by playing with the oil spigot and the oil export tariffs. And if the likes of George Soros decides to attack the ruble in an effort to devalue it, Russia could defend its currency simply by printing fewer rubles for a while—no need to stockpile dollar reserves.

So far, this all seems like typical economic warfare: the Americans want to get everything they want by printing money while bombing into submission or sanctioning anyone who disobeys them, while the rest of the world attempts to resist them. But early in 2014 the situation changed. There was a US-instigated coup in Kiev, and instead of rolling over and playing dead like they were supposed to, the Russians mounted a fast and brilliantly successful campaign to regain Crimea, then successfully checkmated the junta in Kiev, preventing it from consolidating control over the remaining former Ukrainian territory by letting volunteers, weapons, equipment and humanitarian aid enter—and hundreds of thousands of refugees exit—through the strictly notional Russian-Ukrainian border, all the while avoiding direct military confrontation with NATO. Seeing all of this happening on the nightly news has awakened the Russian population from its political slumber, making it sit up and pay attention, and sending Putin's approval rating through the roof.

The “optics” of all this, as they like to say at the White House, are rather ominous. We are coming up on the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II—a momentous occasion for Russians, who pride themselves on defeating Hitler almost single-handedly. At the same time, the US (Russia's self-appointed arch-enemy) has taken this opportunity to reawaken and feed the monster of Nazism right on Russia's border (inside Russia's borders, some Russians/Ukrainians would say). This, in turn, makes the Russians remember Russia's unique historical mission is among the nations of the world: it is to thwart all other nations' attempts at world domination, be it Napoleonic France or Hitleresque Germany or Obamaniac America. Every century or so some nation forgets its history lessons and attacks Russia. The result is always the same: lots of corpse-studded snowdrifts, and then Russian cavalry galloping into Paris, or Russian tanks rolling into Berlin. Who knows how it will end this time around? Perhaps it will involve polite, well-armed men in green uniforms without insignia patrolling the streets of Brussels and Washington, DC. Only time will tell.

You'd think that Obama has already overplayed his hand, and should behave accordingly. His popularity at home is roughly the inverse of Putin's, which is to say, Obama is still more popular than Ebola, but not by much. He can't get anything at all done, no matter how pointless or futile, and his efforts to date, at home and abroad, have been pretty much a disaster. So what does this social worker turned national mascot decide to do? Well, the way the Russians see it, he has decided to declare war on Russia! In case you missed it, look up his speech before the UN General Assembly. It's up on the White House web site. He placed Russia directly between Ebola and ISIS among the three topmost threats facing the world. Through Russian eyes his speech reads as a declaration of war.

It's a new, mixed-mode sort of war. It's not a total war to the death, although the US is being rather incautious by the old Cold War standards in avoiding a nuclear confrontation. It's an information war—based on lies and unjust vilification; it's a financial and economic war—using sanctions; it's a political war—featuring violent overthrow of elected governments and support for hostile regimes on Russia's borders; and it's a military war—using ineffectual but nevertheless insulting moves such as stationing a handful of US troops in Estonia. And the goals of this war are clear: it is to undermine Russia economically, destroy it politically, dismember it geographically, and turn it into a pliant vassal state that furnishes natural resources to the West practically free of charge (with a few hand-outs to a handful of Russian oligarchs and criminal thugs who play ball). But it doesn't look like any of that is going to happen because, you see, a lot of Russians actually get all that, and will choose leaders who will not win any popularity contests in the West but who will lead them to victory.

Given the realization that the US and Russia are, like it or not, in a state of war, no matter how opaque or muddled, people in Russia are trying to understand why this is and what it means. Obviously, the US has seen Russia as the enemy since about the time of the Revolution of 1917, if not earlier. For example, it is known that after the end of World War II America's military planners were thinking of launching a nuclear strike against the USSR, and the only thing that held them back was the fact that they didn't have enough bombs, meaning that Russia would have taken over all of Europe before the effects of the nuclear strikes could have deterred them from doing so (Russia had no nuclear weapons at the time, but lots of conventional forces right in the heart of Europe).

But why has war been declared now, and why was it declared by this social worker turned national misleader? Some keen observers mentioned his slogan “the audacity of hope,” and ventured to guess that this sort of “audaciousness” (which in Russian sounds a lot like “folly”) might be a key part of his character which makes him want to be the leader of the universe, like Napoleon or Hitler. Others looked up the campaign gibberish from his first presidential election (which got silly young Americans so fired up) and discovered that he had nice things to say about various cold warriors. Do you think Obama might perhaps be a scholar of history and a shrewd geopolitician in his own right? (That question usually gets a laugh, because most people know that he is just a chucklehead and repeats whatever his advisers tell him to say.) Hugo Chavez once called him “a hostage in the White House,” and he wasn't too far off. So, why are his advisers so eager to go to war with Russia, right now, this year?

Is it because the US is collapsing more rapidly than most people can imagine? This line of reasoning goes like this: the American scheme of world domination through military aggression and unlimited money-printing is failing before our eyes. The public has no interest in any more “boots on the ground,” bombing campaigns do nothing to reign in militants that Americans themselves helped organize and equip, dollar hegemony is slipping away with each passing day, and the Federal Reserve is fresh out of magic bullets and faces a choice between crashing the stock market and crashing the bond market. In order to stop, or at least forestall this downward slide into financial/economic/political oblivion, the US must move quickly to undermine every competing economy in the world through whatever means it has left at its disposal, be it a bombing campaign, a revolution or a pandemic (although this last one can be a bit hard to keep under control). Russia is an obvious target, because it is the only country in the world that has had the gumption to actually show international leadership in confronting the US and wrestling it down; therefore, Russia must be punished first, to keep the others in line.

I don't disagree with this line of reasoning, but I do want to add something to it.

First, the American offensive against Russia, along with most of the rest of the world, is about things Americans like to call “facts on the ground,” and these take time to create. The world wasn't made in a day, and it can't be destroyed in a day (unless you use nuclear weapons, but then there is no winning strategy for anyone, the US included). But the entire financial house of cards can be destroyed rather quickly, and here Russia can achieve a lot while risking little. Financially, Russia's position is so solid that even the three Western credit ratings agencies don't have the gall to downgrade Russia's rating, sanctions notwithstanding. This is a country that is aggressively paying down its foreign debt, is running a record-high budget surplus, has a positive balance of payments, is piling up physical gold reserves, and not a month goes by that it doesn't sign a major international trade deal (that circumvents the US dollar). In comparison, the US is a dead man walking: unless it can continue rolling over trillions of dollars in short-term debt every month at record-low interest rates, it won't be able to pay the interest on its debt or its bills. Good-bye, welfare state, hello riots. Good-bye military contractors and federal law enforcement, hello mayhem and open borders. Now, changing “facts on the ground” requires physical actions, whereas causing a financial stampede to the exits just requires somebody to yell “Boo!” loudly and frighteningly enough.

Second, it must be understood that at this point the American ruling elite is almost entirely senile. The older ones seem actually senile in the medical sense. Take Leon Panetta, the former Defense Secretary: he's been out flogging his new book, and he is still blaming Syria's Bashar al Assad for gassing his own people! By now everybody else knows that that was a false flag attack, carried out by some clueless Syrian rebels with Saudi help, to be used as an excuse for the US to bomb Syria—you know, the old “weapons of mass destruction” nonsense again. (By the way, this kind of mindless, repetitive insistence on a fake rationale seems like a sure sign of senility.) That plan didn't work because Putin and Lavrov intervened and quickly convinced Assad to give up his useless chemical weapons stockpile. The Americans were livid. So, everybody knows this story—except Panetta. You see, once an American official starts lying, he just doesn't know how to stop. The story always starts with a lie, and, as facts emerge that contradict the initial story, they are simply ignored.

So much for the senile old guard, but what about their replacements? Well, the poster boy for the young ones is Hunter Biden, the VP's son, who went on a hookers-and-blow tour of Ukraine last summer and inadvertently landed a seat on the board of directors of Ukraine's largest natural gas company (which doesn't have much gas left). He just got outed for being a coke fiend. In addition to the many pre-anointed ones, like the VP's son, there are also many barns full of eagerly bleating Ivy League graduates who have been groomed for jobs in high places. These are Prof. Deresiewicz's “Excellent Sheep.”

There just isn't much that such people, young or old, can be made to respond to. International embarrassment, military defeat, humanitarian catastrophe—all these things just bounce off them and stick to you for bringing them up and being overly negative about their rose-colored view of themselves. The only hit they can actually feel is a hit to the pocketbook.

Which brings us all the way back to my first point: “Boo!”

Siria y más allá

Una nueva e interesante nota de Thierry Meyssan sobre la situación en Siria y países aledaños, y lo que cabe esperar en el futuro mediato. No te la pierdas. Para lo que sigue, el término “Daesh” equivale al del grupo terrorista “Emirato Islámico”. Acá va la nota aparecida hoy en Red Voltaire:

Título: Geopolítica de la guerra contra Siria y de la guerra contra Daesh

Epígrafe: En este nuevo y original análisis, Thierry Meyssan expone las causas geopolíticas del fracaso de la guerra contra Siria y los verdaderos objetivos de la supuesta guerra contra el Emirato Islámico. Este artículo resulta especialmente importante para quien aspire a entender el panorama de las relaciones internacionales en este momento y la cristalización de los conflictos en el Levante (Irak, Siria y Líbano).


Las tres crisis en el seno de la coalición estadounidense

En este momento estamos viendo la tercera crisis que tiene lugar en el bando de los agresores desde el inicio de la guerra contra Siria.

En junio de 2012, durante la conferencia Ginebra I, que debía iniciar el regreso a la paz y organizar una nueva repartición del Medio Oriente entre Estados Unidos y Rusia, Francia –donde Francois Hollande acababa de ganar la elección presidencial– planteó una interpretación restrictiva del comunicado final de aquel encuentro. Y después organizó la reanudación de la guerra, con la complicidad de Israel y Turquía y con el apoyo de la secretaria de Estado Hillary Clinton y del director de la CIA David Petraeus.

Cuando el presidente Barack Obama sacó del juego a Hillary Clinton y David Petraeus, Turquía, junto con Israel y Francia, organizó el ataque químico en las afueras de Damasco, atribuyéndolo a Siria. Pero Estados Unidos se negó a dejarse arrastrar a una guerra punitiva.

En una sesión secreta del Congreso realizada en enero de 2014, Estados Unidos impuso la aprobación del financiamiento y la entrega de armamento a Daesh [1], grupo yihadista al que se le asignó la misión de invadir la parte sunnita de Irak y la parte de Siria donde viven los kurdos. El objetivo era dividir esos dos grandes Estados. Francia y Turquía armaron entonces al grupo representante de al-Qaeda en Siria (el Frente al-Nusra) para que atacara a Daesh y lograr así que Estados Unidos volviera al plan inicial de la coalición. Al-Qaeda y Daesh se reconciliaron en mayo de 2014, como resultado de un llamado de Ayman al-Zawahiri en ese sentido, y actualmente Francia y Turquía siguen sin sumarse a los bombardeos de la coalición estadounidense.

En general, en la coalición de los llamados «Amigos de Siria», que en julio de 2012 contaba «un centenar de Estados y organizaciones internacionales», hoy sólo quedan 11 países. Por su parte, la coalición formada contra Daesh cuenta oficialmente «más de 60 Estados», pero estos tienen tan poco en común que la lista se mantiene en secreto.

Intereses muy diferentes

La coalición se compone en realidad de numerosos Estados que persiguen cada uno sus propios objetivos muy específicos, al extremo de no lograr ponerse de acuerdo sobre un objetivo común. Podemos distinguir 4 fuerzas:

-Estados Unidos quiere controlar los hidrocarburos de la región. En el año 2000, el National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) presidido por Dick Cheney había identificado –gracias a imágenes satelitales y datos provenientes de prospecciones– las reservas mundiales de hidrocarburos y había observado las inmensas reservas de gas existentes en Siria. Durante el golpe de Estado militar que se produjo en Estados Unidos el 11 de septiembre de 2001, Washington decidió atacar sucesivamente 8 países (Afganistán, Irak, Libia, Líbano y Siria, así como Sudán, Somalia e Irán) para apoderarse de sus riquezas naturales. El estado mayor estadounidense adoptó entonces el plan de rediseño del «Medio Oriente ampliado», que también incluye el desmantelamiento de Turquía y Arabia Saudita, y el Departamento de Estado creó al año siguiente su departamento MENA para organizar las «primaveras árabes».

-Israel defiende sus propios intereses nacionales: a corto plazo el Estado hebreo prosigue su campaña de expansión territorial. Simultáneamente y sin esperar a controlar todo el espacio entre los dos ríos (el Nilo y el Éufrates) Israel también espera controlar todo el conjunto de la actividad económica de la zona, incluyendo –por supuesto– los hidrocarburos. Para garantizar su propia protección en esta era de misiles, Israel espera simultáneamente hacerse del control de una zona de seguridad a lo largo de su frontera (en este momento, ha expulsado a los cascos azules de la frontera del Golán, reemplazándolos por al-Qaeda) y neutralizar por otra parte los ejércitos de Egipto y de Siria sorprendiéndolos de revés (despliegue de los misiles Patriot de la OTAN en Turquía y creación de un Kurdistán en Irak y así como de Sudán del Sur).

-Francia y Turquía persiguen el sueño de la restauración de sus respectivos imperios. Francia espera obtener un mandato sobre Siria, o al menos sobre una parte de ese país. Para eso creó el Ejército Sirio Libre y le entregó la bandera verde, blanca y negra con las tres estrellas utilizada en tiempos del mandato francés en Siria. Mientras tanto, Turquía espera restaurar el Imperio otomano. Desde septiembre de 2012, Ankara designó un wali encargado de administrar lo que ya consideraba una provincia. Los proyectos de Turquía y Francia son incompatibles dado que el Imperio otomano había admitido que algunas de sus provincias fueran administradas con otras potencias coloniales.

Para terminar, Arabia Saudita y Qatar saben que sólo pueden lograr sobrevivir poniéndose al servicio de Estados Unidos y combatiendo los regímenes laicos, cuyo único representante en la región es precisamente la República Árabe Siria.

Evolución de la coalición

Esas 4 fuerzas sólo lograron colaborar entre sí durante la primera parte de la guerra –desde febrero de 2011 hasta junio de 2012. Se trataba, en efecto, de una estrategia de 4ª generación: varios grupos de fuerzas especiales organizaban incidentes y emboscadas aquí y allá, mientras que las televisiones atlantistas y de los países del Golfo iban creando la imagen de una dictadura alauita que reprimía una revolución democrática. Las sumas invertidas y la cantidad de soldados desplegados no eran gran cosa y cada uno de los participantes creía que después del derrocamiento de la República Árabe Siria podría arreglárselas para sacar el mayor provecho a expensas de las otras fuerzas.

Sin embargo, a principios de 2012, la población siria comenzó a dudar de las televisiones que aseguraban que el presidente Bachar al-Assad era un torturador de niños y que el derrocamiento de la República Árabe Siria daría paso a un régimen confesional al estilo libanés. El asedio impuesto a los takfiristas del emirato islámico de Baba Amro ya se veía como el preludio del fracaso de la operación. Francia negoció entonces una salida de la crisis y la liberación de los oficiales franceses que habían caído prisioneros. Estados Unidos y Rusia negociaron para tomar los lugares del Reino Unido y de Francia y repartirse toda la región, como Londres y París lo habían hecho en 1916 con los acuerdos Sykes-Picot.

Y desde aquel momento nada ha funcionado bien en el seno de la coalición. Sus sucesivos fracasos indican que no puede ganar.

En julio de 2012, Francia celebraba con bombo y platillo en París la reunión más importante de la coalición y reanudaba la guerra. El discurso del presidente francés Francois Hollande había sido redactado en inglés, probablemente por los israelíes, y traducido al francés para que lo leyera el presidente de Francia. La secretaria de Estado Hillary Clinton y el embajador estadounidense Robert S. Ford (formado por John Negroponte [2]) emprendían la mayor guerra secreta de la historia. Al igual que en Nicaragua, ejércitos privados reclutaban mercenarios y los enviaban a Siria. Pero esta vez los mercenarios contaban con una formación ideológica cuyo objetivo eran la creación y entrenamiento de las hordas de yihadistas. El Pentágono perdía el control de las operaciones, control que pasó a manos del Departamento de Estado y la CIA. El costo de la guerra ya alcanzaba proporciones colosales. Pero ese costo no lo asumieron Estados Unidos, Francia ni Turquía sino Arabia Saudita y Qatar.

Según la prensa atlantista y los medios de las monarquías del Golfo, algunos miles de extranjeros acudieron así en ayuda de la «revolución democrática siria».

Pero en Siria «la revolución democrática» no aparecía por ningún lado. Lo que sí podía verse eran grupos de fanáticos que gritaban eslóganes como «¡Revolución pacífica: los cristianos a Beirut, los alauitas al hueco!» [3] y «¡No al Hezbollah! ¡No a Irán! ¡Queremos un presidente temeroso de Dios!» [4]. Según el Ejército Árabe Sirio, a Siria llegaron no algunos miles sino 250 000 yihadistas entre julio de 2012 y julio de 2014.

Sin embargo, al día siguiente de su reelección, Barack Obama obligaba al general David Petraeus a renunciar a su cargo como director de la CIA y descartaba mantener a Hillary Clinton como miembro de su nueva administración. Así que, a inicios de 2013, la coalición se reducía prácticamente a Francia y Turquía mientras que Estados Unidos hacía lo menos posible. Por supuesto, era el momento que el Ejército Árabe Sirio esperaba para iniciar su inexorable reconquista del territorio.

En Siria, Francois Hollande y Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hillary Clinton y David Petraeus pretendían derrocar la república laica e imponer un régimen sunnita, que habría estado bajo la administración directa de Turquía pero que incluiría altos funcionarios franceses, un modelo heredado del final del siglo XIX pero que no presentaba interés de ningún tipo para Estados Unidos.

Barack Obama y sus dos secretarios de Defensa Leon Panetta y Chuck Hagel, abrigan una visión política radicalmente distinta. Panetta fue miembro de la Comisión Baker-Hamilton y Obama fue electo en función del programa de esa comisión. Según ellos, Estados Unidos no es ni debe ser una potencia colonial en el sentido mediterráneo del término. O sea, Estados Unidos no debe plantearse el control de un territorio mediante la instalación de colonos. En relación con lo que se obtuvo, el experimento de la administración Bush resultó extremadamente costoso y por lo tanto es algo que no debe repetirse.

Después de que Turquía y Francia trataran de empujar Estados Unidos a emprender una gran campaña de bombardeos contra Siria con la puesta en escena del ataque químico del verano de 2013, la Casa Blanca y el Pentágono decidieron retomar la iniciativa. Así que en enero de 2014, la Casa Blanca y el Pentágono convocaron el Congreso de Estados Unidos en una reunión secreta y lo obligaron a votar una ley secreta que aprobaba un plan para dividir Irak en 3 Estados así como la secesión de la zona kurda de Siria. Para ello decidieron financiar y armar un grupo yihadista capaz de hacer lo que las fuerzas armadas de Estados Unidos no pueden hacer porque el derecho internacional no lo permite: una limpieza étnica.

Barack Obama y sus ejércitos no se plantean el rediseño del «Medio Oriente ampliado» como un objetivo en sí sino únicamente como una manera de controlar los recursos naturales. Y utilizan un concepto clásico: el principio de «divide y vencerás», no para crearse puestos de reyes y presidentes en nuevos Estados sino para proseguir con la política que Estados Unidos ha venido aplicando desde los tiempos de la administración de Jimmy Carter.

En su discurso sobre el Estado de la Unión pronunciado el 23 de enero de 1980, el entonces presidente Jimmy Carter planteaba la doctrina que lleva su nombre: Estados Unidos considera que los hidrocarburos del Golfo son indispensables para su economía y que por lo tanto le pertenecen. Así que cualquier forma de poner en duda ese axioma será considerada «un acto contra los intereses vitales de los Estados Unidos de América y ese acto será rechazado con todos los medios necesarios, incluyendo el uso de la fuerza militar». Con el tiempo, Washington se ha dotado del instrumento necesario para aplicar esa política –el CentCom– y ha extendido su zona vedada hasta el Cuerno de África.

A partir de lo anterior, la actual campaña de bombardeos de la coalición ya no tiene nada que ver con la voluntad inicial de derrocar la República Árabe Siria. Tampoco tiene relación alguna con la supuesta «guerra contra el terrorismo». Sólo busca defender los intereses económicos exclusivos de Estados Unidos, incluso en caso de que eso implique la creación de nuevos Estados aunque no obligatoriamente recurriendo a ello.

En este momento, unos cuantos aviones de Arabia Saudita y Qatar prestan al Pentágono una ayuda puramente simbólica, pero ni Francia ni Turquía lo están haciendo. El propio Pentágono dice haber realizado más de 4 000 misiones aéreas en las que habrían muerto sólo un poco más de 300 combatientes del Emirato Islámico. Si nos atenemos al discurso oficial, eso representa más de 13 misiones aéreas y ni se sabe cuántas bombas y misiles para matar un solo yihadista. Se trataría entonces de la campaña aérea más costosa y más ineficaz de toda la Historia. Pero si tenemos en cuenta el razonamiento anterior, el ataque de Daesh contra Irak corresponde a una manipulación de los precios del petróleo que ha hecho caer los precios del barril de crudo en un 25% (de 115 dólares a 83 dólares el barril). Nuri al-Maliki, el primer ministro iraquí democráticamente electo que vendía a China la mitad del petróleo iraquí, fue súbitamente vilipendiado y derrocado. Daesh y el gobierno regional del Kurdistán iraquí redujeron por sí mismos su robo de petróleo y sus exportaciones de crudo en alrededor del 70%. El conjunto de las instalaciones petroleras utilizadas por las compañías chinas simplemente fueron destruidas. De hecho, el petróleo iraquí y el petróleo sirio ya no están ahora al alcance de los compradores chinos… pero volvieron al mercado internacional controlado por Estados Unidos.

La actual campaña de bombardeos aéreos es, en definitiva, una aplicación directa de la «doctrina Carter» y una advertencia al presidente chino Xi Jinping, quien actualmente intenta concluir una serie de contratos bilaterales destinados a garantizar el aprovisionamiento de su país sin pasar por el mercado petrolero internacional.

Prever el futuro

Como resultado de este análisis, podemos concluir que:

-En el actual periodo, Estados Unidos únicamente está dispuesto a aceptar guerras que tengan como objetivo la defensa de su propio interés estratégico en controlar el mercado internacional del petróleo. Por consiguiente, podría entrar en guerra contra China pero no contra Rusia.

-Francia y Turquía nunca lograrán realizar sus sueños de recolonización. Francia debería reflexionar sobre el papel que el AfriCom le ha asignado en África. Podrá seguir interviniendo en todos los Estados que tratan de acercarse a China (Costa de Marfil, Mali y la República Centroafricana) y reinstaurar el orden «occidental» pero nunca logrará restaurar su imperio colonial. Turquía también deberia bajar el tono. Aunque el presidente Erdogan lograra concretar una alianza contranatura entre la Hermandad Musulmana y los oficiales kemalistas turcos, de todas maneras tendría que renunciar a sus ambiciones neootomanas. Y tendría que recordar sobre todo que, como miembro de la OTAN, Turquía está mucho más expuesta que otros países a ser víctima de un golpe de Estado proestadounidense, como ya sucedió en Grecia en tiempos de Georgios Papandreu y en la propia Turquía en tiempos de Bulent Ecevit.

-Arabia Saudita y Qatar nunca lograrán recuperar los miles de millones de dólares que invirtieron tratando de derrocar la República Árabe Siria. Peor aún, es probable que tengan que pagar parte de la reconstrucción de ese república laica. La familia reinante en Arabia Saudita tendrá que seguir plegándose a los intereses económicos de Estados Unidos, pero debería evitar seguir metiéndose en guerras de gran envergadura y tener en cuenta que en cualquier momento Washington puede decidir dividir el país que los Saud consideran de su propiedad.

-Israel puede abrigar la esperanza de seguir jugando por debajo de la mesa a provocar a mediano plazo la división de Irak en 3 Estados diferentes. Así obtendría la creación de un Kurdistán iraquí comparable al Sudán del Sur que ya creó anteriormente. Pero es poco probable que pueda incorporar de inmediato el norte de Siria a ese «Kurdistán». Es también poco probable que logre expulsar a la FINUL del sur del Líbano y reemplazarla por al-Qaeda, como ya hizo con los cascos azules que garantizaban la separación entre las fuerzas israelíes y sirias en la frontera siria. Pero, a lo largo de 66 años, Israel se ha acostumbrado a tratar siempre de ir más lejos y a menudo ha logrado avanzar siempre un poco más. Israel es, en realidad, el único ganador de la guerra contra Siria en el seno de la coalición. No sólo ha debilitado por un buen rato a su vecino sirio sino que además logró obligarlo a renunciar a su arsenal químico. Por lo tanto, Israel es actualmente el único país del mundo que dispone oficialmente tanto de un arsenal atómico perfeccionado como de un arsenal químico y biológico.

Irak ya está divido de facto entre Estados diferentes. Uno de ellos, el Califato proclamado por el Emirato Islámico, nunca podrá obtener el reconocimiento de la comunidad internacional. En cambio, no hay a la vista razones que parezcan impedir la secesión del Kurdistán, aparte de lo difícil que resultará explicar cómo fue que logró expandir su territorio en un 40%, apoderándose además de los campos petrolíferos de Kirkuk. El califato podría ir cediendo poco a poco su lugar a un Estado sunnita, probablemente gobernado por individuos que «abandonarían» Daesh oficialmente. Se trataría entonces de un proceso comparable al de Libia, donde los ex combatientes de al-Qaeda fueron aupados al poder sin que nadie protestara por ello.

-Siria volverá paulatinamente a la paz y habrá de dedicarse a su larga reconstrucción. Para ello se volverá hacia las empresas chinas, pero mantendrá a Pekín al margen de sus hidrocarburos. Para reconstruir su industria del petróleo y explotar sus reservas de gas, Siria tendrá que volverse hacia las empresas rusas. El tema de los oleoductos o gasoductos que podrían transitar por su territorio dependerá del apoyo que puede encontrar en Irán y Rusia.

-El Líbano seguirá viviendo bajo la amenaza de Daesh, que nunca obtendrá más papel que el de grupo terrorista. Los yihadistas sólo serán la herramienta necesaria para prolongar un poco más el congelamiento del funcionamiento político de un país que sigue hundiéndose en la anarquía.

-Para terminar, Rusia y China deberían intervenir urgentemente contra Daesh, en Irak, Siria y Líbano, no por compasión hacia las poblaciones locales sino porque Estados Unidos utilizará próximamente contra ellas ese grupo yihadista –también denominado como Emirato Islámico. Aunque está bajo las órdenes del príncipe saudita Abdul Rahman –el hombre que pone el dinero– y del autoproclamado califa Ibrahim, Daesh ya cuenta en este momento con georgianos –todos miembros de los servicios secretos de Georgia– que fungen como sus principales oficiales y con algunos chinos de lengua turca. El ministro georgiano de Defensa incluso reconoció, antes de corregir esas declaraciones, la existencia en Georgia de campos de entrenamiento de yihadistas. Si Moscú y Pekín no se deciden pronto, tendrán que acabar enfrentando a Daesh en el Cáucaso, en el valle de Ferghana y en la región china de Xinjiang.