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Tag Archives: isis

Should the media act more responsibly?

By Dave Chadwick

The public’s hunger for every image and piece of information about terrorist acts and mass murders does not always need to be sated. I question the effort of the media to feed this hunger with endless detailed national coverage when an attack occurs. Do they not realise that this is the exact reaction the awful perpetrators are hoping for, or are they so greedy for ratings they do not care?  Would a more restrained approach make society even a few percentage points safer?

The valued concept of a free and impartial media to act as the ‘Fourth Estate,’ and hold all three branches of government accountable to their representatives has a long history in democratic theory. The importance of a balanced and independent analysis of national and international affairs is put into stark definition by the blatantly deceptive and obfuscating practices that modern politicians employ. Although its Fourth Estate role is a powerful argument against government interference (which doesn’t seem to bother our current government), it is not a licence for the media to publish and post whatever pleases them. It also charges them with the responsibility of publishing in the public interest.

I’m not an historian or expert in media law, but it seems to me that the media has misinterpreted the idea of public interest.  Public interest here does not necessarily mean what the public is interested in – but what is in the public’s interest to know.

What is in the Public Interest?

I could write a whole article about media outlets’ preoccupation with selling us news stories that are really not in our interest, such as what happened on last night’s episode of the Bachelor (which by the way, I really don’t care), instead of giving us a better understanding of ongoing developments in Ukraine or the South China Sea, but I won’t. I am not really arguing against this (doesn’t mean I like it though), as I realise they have to make a commercial decision about what consumers want and some publications are marketed to a particular type of consumer.

My concern is when the media (and with the advent of online technology, all social media users have the potential to become lay-journalists) publish and share information that is actually against the public interest. Whether through greed or naïveté, media users are unthinking accomplices to the aims of terrorist groups and psychopaths with the incredibly detailed coverage they reward them with. If social media users were more discriminating with what they shared and media outlets were more restrained with their coverage, the payoff these groups and individuals get from their atrocities would be reduced, potentially reducing the likelihood of further atrocities. That sounds like something that would definitely be in the public interest to me.

Only recently, a clearly unwell man acted out his rage in a heinous double murder in Virginia and even went to the trouble of videoing it and posting it to social media. The logical inference of such action is that he wanted to share his actions with the world. How did the media and the rest of the world react? Exactly the way he wanted. Television and print media published articles about every aspect of the attack and his life, while the online community was retweeting and sharing his gruesome posts. News articles even provided screenshots and links to his social media page. I actually saw an article in The Herald Sun that published his final social media posts after describing him as a man who wanted his actions and words to go viral. Nice of them to fulfil his dying wishes. To other unwell, lonely, desperate people, what is the message? The more despicable your actions are, the more attention you will receive.

Now I don’t want to imply any less personal responsibility of the perpetrators of disgusting acts like these, but I do wonder what useful function does the saturation media coverage and vapid online sharing of these types of event serve.  Would most attacks still take place?  Probably, but would all of them?  I’m less sure.

When the first of ISIS’s execution videos was released, like most of us I was saddened for the victim and his loved ones.  I was also horrified and angered at those who would perpetuate such an atrocity and deliberately seek to use it as a political strategy. These feelings of impotent rage returned each time I saw it on TV news bulletins and heard the audio on radio or saw people sharing the video on social media.  That happened an awful lot. It was difficult to avoid for a few days. If the terrorists wanted to bring their message to people around the world, they succeeded.  However they only succeeded because they were allowed to.

The public execution was a propaganda strategy that held no tactical value. If no one watched the videos would there be any reason to make them?  I would contend not. So why are people in the west so helpful in actually facilitating and encouraging it?  I know Tony Abbott liked to see national security headlines on every paper as often as possible, but was it actually in the public interest? It was no surprise to see a string of similar videos released in the following weeks.

What if …

What if a law was passed making it illegal to broadcast or forward any vision or audio these crimes?  Or even without legislation, if the media guidelines changed to dramatically reduce the frequency and detail with which they did cover them. Obviously the exception would be for the files to be passed on to DFAT or the AFP so they could take appropriate actions.  A short factual, unsensationalised (I know it’s technically not a word, but its meaning is obvious) report detailing the important facts of the story is all that needs to be made public. The public’s fascination with every aspect of this does not have to be fed, just like six-year old’s love of ice cream doesn’t have to be fed. Is there any other reason people really need to see the video?  I would argue it is hardly in the public interest and would suggest it is actually against it.

I realise this idea may draw some unflattering Orwellian comparisons from civil libertarians. But is this really a slippery slope to the government-controlled media of 1984 (I’m not talking about an actual year that is the title of a book for those to young to have realised)? I don’t think so. You can use a slippery slope argument to predict pretty much anything, but that doesn’t mean your prediction is correct (as Eric Abetz and Corey Bernadi have shown). Increased government regulation of the media and individuals’ online activities may ring some alarm bells, although I believe there are similar laws about child pornography and although it is a significantly different issue, I haven’t heard any complaints about such laws.

The other argument people may raise is that such a law would make people even more beholden to the media and would prevent independent verification of the reporting of these types of events. It is true to an extent, but seeing the video or reading a mass murderer’s life story (as reported in the media) doesn’t solve that anyway. I would agree the potential for media agencies to shape national dialogue with their reporting of an event is already unsettling, but social media provides a counterpoint to this already. I can’t see this change adding much to this situation as there is still much that can be reported and shared. The videos of 9/11 and the moon landing have not stopped the conspiracy theorists on either subject because some people will believe what they want to believe no matter what evidence is- that is why there are still anti-vaccers and climate change deniers in the world.

Is that the answer?

I do like the concept of an independent, uncensored media, free from government and shareholder interference, but Australia seemed to give that up some time ago. The reality is that a lot of news reporting and commentary is filtered by existing beliefs and assumptions of the commentators, even this one (astonishing I know). I have outlined how I believe current media practices around the reporting of terrorist attacks and mass murders, as well as the unthinking actions of social media users, may play a part helping the perpetrators achieve their goals. Political attacks mean very little when their message is contained, after all. I know it wouldn’t stop such actions, but would it make them less attractive to desperate individuals? I think so. As much as governments are often wary of over regulating the media for fear of public backlash, I think it would at least be worth thinking about and discussing?

What do you think?

This article was originally published as Real Agents of the Fourth Estate or just greedy Real Estate Agents on Quietblog.

 

Terrorism – The bottom line

By Richard O’Brien

So what does Daesh (aka ISIS/ISIL/IS) really stand for?

Profit. With assets of around US$2 billion – much of it obtained from looting money from banks, and the sale of near priceless artefacts stolen from museums and archaeological digs throughout Iraq and Syria – and an annual turnover of more than $1.5 billion, Daesh is big business. Putting that in perspective, back when al-Qaeda were top of the terrorism leader board, the CIA estimated their running costs at $30 million a year. According to the most conservative estimates, Daesh makes $30 million a month just from illegal oil sales.

About 60 per cent of Iraq and Syria’s oilfields are held by Daesh. Some of the oil produced is used for domestic consumption, some is sold back to the embargoed Assad regime, most of it is smuggled out through Turkey, Iran and Jordan, using routes established during international sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and sold on the black market at a heavily discounted price.

The US, NATO and their allies have begun targeting oil trucks and refineries. On a good day they might destroy a few hundred barrels, out of an estimated daily production of 60,000. Daesh’s largest source of income, however, is derived from taxes extorted from the 8,000,000 people who live in the self-proclaimed Caliphate.

When it comes to ideology, Islamic State is about as Islamic as the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea is democratic.

Sharia law is imposed throughout the Caliphate, not as part of some ultra-orthodox, jihadist belief system, but because it generates a lot of money. There are two reasons for this. Firstly its brutality terrifies the populous into submission – allowing Daesh to impose flat-rate taxes on electricity, ‘hygiene services’ and use of telephone networks, paid in cash to Daesh’s established revenue agency, Al Hisba, as well as customs on imported and exported goods. Secondly it is used to generate more revenue by imposing heavy fines on anyone who can (literally) afford to live in the Caliphate found guilty of not adhering to Daesh’s strict interpretation of Salafis doctrine.

That doctrine is not so strictly adhered to by Daesh themselves, who have no qualms about cultivating and trafficking illicit drugs, most of which finds its way to Europe via Turkey. Tens of millions more come from kidnapping and ransoming hostages, Internet cafes run in occupied territories and an estimated $40 million a year from private donations received mainly from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; our allies in the war against Daesh.

Last, but by no means least, is agriculture. Daesh occupies farmland that is responsible for producing most of Iraq and Syria’s wheat, and almost all of Iraq’s barley. Even heavily discounted on the black market, this brings in another $200 million a year.

Fronting this business is a grotesquely brutal social media campaign, designed by some of the best paid marketing consultants in the business. Daesh’s target is Islam, who it plans to “cleanse” of all who do not adhere to their perverted, yet highly profitable, brand of jihadism. Unwittingly aided by the far-Right, whose hatred bears a striking resemblance to that of Daesh, their aim is to marginalise, radicalise and recruit people. The number of recruits they attract is currently very few, but as estimates of Daesh’s numbers presently ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 suggest, they don’t need very many.

Destroying Daesh won’t come from bombing Syria, a country that has already been ravaged by 4 years of civil war which has killed between 250,000 – 340,000 people and displaced over 4 million more. It won’t come from blaming Muslims – who are by far the biggest casualties of Daesh’s terror.

If the world is going to defeat Daesh it must do so by cutting it off from that which is most important to it – its profits. If we can justify laws that take away the privacy and civil liberties of citizens to protect them from terrorism, then we can do the same to the banks and hedge funds who hold and invest Daesh’s profits, or the companies that enable their black market sales, or the neighbouring countries that turn a blind eye to them.

That’s the bottom line.

 

The wrong side of history

“Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.”

 It’s been three weeks weeks since Vladimir Putin dropped his 50 megaton truth bomb on the United Nations General Assembly, exposing Washington’s mischief in the Middle East and calling for decisive action against any and all terrorists operating in Syria, in full cooperation with the elected government and under charter of international law. In this time Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the SAA have achieved what the US and its coalition partners had failed to do in 18 months of reckless bombing, wanton destruction, and untold human suffering – ISIS has been all but destroyed. Ground forces are now entering the clean up phase, and word has it Saudi helicopters have begun evacuating rebel fighters, presumably moving their assets on to Yemen.

The bombing of the MSF hospital in Kunduz Afghanistan has done little for US credibility, and after Ban Ki-Moon’s recent shock suggestion that the US presence in Syria is illegitimate and that they should probably go home, one would expect to see Obama running away with his tail between his legs. Adding to the chorus of dissent, US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has called out Washington’s effort to oust Assad as both “counterproductive” and “illegal.” With no moral ground left to stand on, surely no one would expect an escalation at this point? And yet this seems to be exactly what we are seeing.

While Putin has been wiping the floor with ISIS, the US has been wreaking devastation on Syria’s civil infrastructure, conducting bombing raids on power stations and water treatment plants in scenes eerily reminiscent of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In a move that’s either brazenly audacious or just plain sadistic, the US State Department has accused Russia of bombing up to six hospitals in Syria, but refuses to provide any evidence to support its claims. Meanwhile the US has airdropped 50 tons of weapons to moderate opposition head choppers fighting the ‘Assad regime’.

In what could be the ultimate provocation Obama is now putting boots on the ground in Syria, committing 3000 troops in an advisory capacity to the aforementioned ‘moderate rebels’. A more cynical person might question if these troops were not being deployed as human shields, or for even more nefarious ends, since any American casualty cause by a stray Russian missile would undoubtedly lead to the kind of direct confrontation that the Washington war hawks cheered on by Senator John McCain and cold war policy adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski are openly spoiling for. I guess if this fails there is always the option of shooting down a civilian passenger jet, but let’s not go there, just yet.

With millions of refugees flooding into Europe and people perishing in their thousands attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, Nobel laureate and warmonger-in-chief Barry bin-Hussein O’Bomber can no longer pretend that this war has anything to do with human rights. Without so much as a fig leaf of decency to cover its fetid plans Washington continues to demand Basher al-Assad’s removal as a condition of peace. Meanwhile recent polling suggests that Dr Assad retains the support of 80% of Syrians. US motives have been laid bare. This war has no more to do with liberating the Syrian people from a brutal dictatorship than with ridding the world of the CIAs pet terrorists. Like so many countries before it, Iran, Chile, Guatemala, Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, The Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yugoslavia, Somalia, the list goes on and on, Syria is being punished for daring to exercise an independent foreign policy, something which US hegemony does not tolerate.

If there was ever any confusion over sides in this conflict, the battle lines should be now clearly visible. Since Russia has begun flexing its military muscle the Saudi Islamists have made their call to arms, while further north in Erdoganistan, thanks to a well timed terror attack, the Muslim Brotherhood now has majority it needs to continue its military offensive on Syria and genocidal attacks against the Kurds. The Israelis have already sold the drilling rights for oil and gas in the occupied Golan Heights, while Cypress has been signed into the EU just in time to deliver a $300bn water pipeline through Turkey to Israel. Meanwhile the North Atlantic Terror Organization positions its nuclear and biological weapons arsenals ever closer to Russia’s borders.

In his devastating takedown of US foreign policy in front of the UN General Assembly, Putin reminded his colleagues of Russia’s crucial role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, while hinting at a more subtle subtext. Just as the West created Hitler, applying pressure from above and below at a cost of millions of lives, so too the US has created ISIS to do its dirty work in the Middle East. Lest there be any doubt, Putin makes it clear, speaking of both Islamist rebels and the US backed coup which ousted the legitimate government of Ukraine: We know their names, we know who pays them, and we know how much they are paid.

In a recent interview with Kerry O’Brien, Paul Keating observed how the West through its policy toward post-soviet era Russia had created Putin, who has now turned around to bite them on the tail. Apparently that which doesn’t kill a bear makes it stronger. Trade sanctions have forced Russia to mobilise its workforce and increase domestic production while reaching out to other countries which refuse to be bullied by Wall Street and its military, forging stronger ties between the BRICS nations. At the same time we are seeing a shift in economic power as emerging industrial economies prepare to overtake their colonial masters. (China for example now holds the tender to deliver over priced nuclear energy to Britain.)

Recent posturing in the South China Sea suggests that the US is preparing for a war on two fronts, and if history is anything to go by, this will not end well. The US certainly has a gift for overplaying its hand, and in trying to squeeze Germany and Russia at the same time it may have done exactly that. Amid the ongoing refugee crisis which threatens to destabilise Europe, Angela Merkel has called for trade sanctions against Russia to be lifted immediately. While any move to embolden Russia should be welcomed by sane people everywhere as an alternative to US military and corporate domination, it may be cold comfort as we edge ever closer toward the likelihood of nuclear extinction.

 

Qatar: the new kid on the block in the Middle East

By Mike Mizzi

An old Arab motto goes something like this: “The young son against the elder brother, the elder brother against the father, the daughter against the mother, the family against the clan the clan against the tribe and the tribe against the world”.

In the current escalating wars in the Middle East we could almost trace this idea into every and each nation now embroiled in what is turning out to be a military fiasco brought on by a spark ignited way back after September 11 2001 when the US invaded Iraq.

The complexity of the scenario unfolding there is immense and so are the stakes.

Everyone knows of the major actors such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Iran but little has been said about the tiny and filthy rich oil state of Qatar.

Decreased US interest in the region creates an opportunity for regional actors such as Qatar to take on a greater role in the resolution of conflicts in the region. Dr Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of London School of Economics and Political Science, believes that:

“The country took advantage of the unique niche which it had spent years crafting in order to play an astoundingly high-profile and increasingly controversial role in the uprisings. Initially, it displayed unprecedented regional leadership bordering on outright activism in responding to crises across the Arab world”.

There are also economic reasons that drive its policy.

In 2012 Felix Imonti, an analyst cited by Ansa Mediterranean, posed the article entitled Qatar: Rich and Dangerous, published by specialized website “Oilprice.com”. There he provided the clue to the real motives behind Qatar’s Middle East policy. Imonti suggested that:

“Qatar’s involvement in the Syria civil war was based in part on its desire to build a pipeline to Turkey through Syria. According to him, the discovery in 2009 of a new gas field near Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria opened new possibilities to bypass the Saudi Barrier and to secure a new source of income. Pipelines are in place already in Turkey to receive the gas. Only Al-Assad is in the way. Qatar along with the Turks would like to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the best organised political movement in the chaotic society and can block Saudi Arabia’s efforts to install a more fanatical Wahhabi based regime. Once the Brotherhood is in power, the Emir’s broad connections with Brotherhood groups throughout the region should make it easy for him to find a friendly ear and an open hand in Damascus”.

That’s the gist of it. First and foremost it is a matter of finances. Transporting gas by pipeline is quicker and far more economical than cooling it down to liquid form to be shipped in specialised tankers. And although Saudi Arabia and Qatar may be working hand in hand to remove Bashar Assad from power, this is where their cooperation stops. Both the Saudis and the Qataris want to control the outcome of the Syrian conflict.

Enter Vladimir Putin.

At the Valdai discussion forum on October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin said some countries are playing a double game, adding that while they fight against terrorism they also “place figures on the board” in their own interests. “Success in fighting terrorists cannot be reached if using some of them as a battering ram to overthrow disliked regimes” Putin told the forum, saying that this way the terrorists would not go anywhere. “It’s just an illusion that they can be dealt with [later], removed from power and somehow negotiated with” he added.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already embroiled in an expensive and bloody war in Yemen that may limit both their military and financial resources. An overt intervention in Syria would be a gross violation of international law if it is not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council or conducted upon an invitation of Syria’s government. The notion that Qatar would even consider going into Syria against Russian forces is too bizarre to be considered let alone acted on. But there may be bigger cats in the bushes waiting to pounce once given the raison d’etre to act namely the USA and allies. America may just be biding her time to see how successful Putin is in pushing back ISIS and the other forces arrayed against Assad.

After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre the US moved its Middle East base from Saudi Arabia into Qatar, effectively giving Qatar client state bases and a launch pad into the Syrian theatre of war. The US has been in Qatar since the 1970s and has two bases there; the Al Udeid Air base which also services Australian and British air force squadrons.

So the idea that Qatar would be engaging in Syria alone would be facile. In fact current US operations in Syria would most likely be implemented from Qatar.

There is an odd prophetic overtone to all these gatherings of armies in the Middle East. It seems that a final battle for control of the lucrative Middle East oil and gas trade are definitely winding out.

As alliances form and the spoils eyed off a conflagration of epic proportions is in the making. The result of which will form the basis for the economic and cultural landscape across the entire region for decades to come.

 

The end of American exceptionalism?

By Mike Mizzi

Accusations of everything from being a Muslim Brotherhood plant in the Whitehouse to arming and instigating the growth of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, or to the possibility of purposely fermenting WW3, the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama has been anything but dull.
Sometime next year an election will be held in the USA to find a new resident for the Oval Office but in the meantime the US has to contend with one of the most abrupt and seemingly speedy rise in recent times; that of the claim to power of Russia.

During his UN General Assembly speech, Russian president Vladimir Putin criticised and castigated Americans for the mess they have created in the Middle East. Like a cranky patriarch chastising a wayward child, Putin spread the verbal picture of the situation in Syria and Iraq out for the world to see and then asked the Americans; “Do you realise what you have done?

It seems a bit ingenuous of Putin to make such comments considering his country’s ongoing support for the dictatorship of Basher Al Assad in Syria which has caused the deaths of 250,000 human beings, most of who were non-combatant civilians.

So what are we seeing in Syria and Iraq? Is this another cold war or a flash point to a hot war between American and Russian proxies?

Putin dropped a bombshell recently when he suggested it was the Americans who were the author of ISIS in the region. Mind you, such suspicions have been circulating on the internet for months, if not years.

Of course Putin knows that his reputation has been dealt a vast uplift since taking on ISIS in Syria and he has been invited to do the same in Iraq. Iraq! Isn’t this the US centre of operations in the Middle East post the ousting of Saddam? Not for much longer it seems, as the Russian bear slaps mercilessly at the American eagle, clipping its wings in the theatre of Syria by destroying the operations centres of its ISIS hordes. Or perhaps we have just been sucked in by Russian propaganda. Whichever way you look at it, American uni-polarity and sole superpower status has been dealt a blow from which recovery will be slow and difficult considering Obama’s seeming weakness when it comes to decisive application of US force in the Middle East. Facing dissent from both the left and the right on the issue of wars and the money they consume, which many think could be better spent on things like roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other necessary infrastructure in the USA, Obama is presenting himself as a president who is frightened to use American power decisively to win a war in Syria and rid the region of Assad. Unlike Bush and his single minded pursuit of Saddam and his regime’s downfall, Obama has left the attacks on Assad mostly up to a small group of local “rebels” and an army of foreigners from the Salfaist world to do America’s dirty work.

The obvious question here is, has Putin sounded the death knell to American hegemony and exceptionalism?

Putin’s success have shown he is a master strategist. He has stopped the absorption of Azerbaijan into the NATO umbrella, brought Crimea back into the Russian Federation, created a strong alliance with China and forced the halt of ongoing expansion of the US bases in Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan.

Image from facebook.com

Image from facebook.com

A popular cartoon which went viral in the Muslim world has a Russian bear bedecked with the colours of the federation’s flag striding confidently while three figures, one representing ISIS, another the CIA and another the rebels cowering behind a rock.

This cartoon has attracted comments which laud the new Russian ascendancy as being the balancing power needed in the world to check US military adventurism. So far it seems, at least in Syria, Putin has moved his pawns and knights to the fore while Obama dithers as to which move he will make next.

Finding her voice in all this is EU leader Angela Merkel who, in the spirit of real politick, recently said, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be involved in peace talks to end the Syrian war. “We have to speak with many actors; this includes President Assad, but others as well” Merkel said. “Not only with the United States of America, Russia, but with important regional partners, Iran, and Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia”.

Her leaving out Israel is telling in its obtuseness, seeing as Israel has been actively supporting both sides of this conflict in what amounts to a hedge bet.

Whichever way the Syrian war pans out one thing is certain. The geostrategic polarity of the world will never be the same. Obama has overseen one of the swiftest declines of American influence and power for decades and his disengagement with direct military action may be a policy we will see from the USA for a while now. The question then will be, how far will Russia go in assuming its new status?

 

The pigeon and the chessboard, or why Obama should probably stick to golf.

A statement allegedly made by Russian President Vladimir Putin about U.S. President Obama has gone viral on the World Wide Web. The statement was, “Negotiating with Obama is like playing chess with a pigeon. The pigeon knocks over all the pieces, shits on the board and then struts around like it won the game.”

The first item in my newsfeed this morning was an article explaining why Angela Merkel would like to see trade sanctions on Russia lifted. In an even more unusual twist, information has also come to hand that France and Germany may have plans to join Putin’s coalition in Syria. Now you’d think that bombing terrorists in Syria would be like shooting fish in a barrel, and yet some reports suggest that Russia managed to take out more IS targets in the first day of its air campaign than the US has in an entire year. Understandable when you consider who has been arming and training these terrorists.

Mr Putin seemed to take brinkmanship to a whole new level in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week. His scathing attack on US exceptionalism was diplomatic but uncompromising as he warned America to stop acting out of imperialistic ambitions, and his bold commitment to carbon reduction provided the perfect sting in the tail of what was by any measure a glorious middle finger salute to his hosts. Poroshenko walked out, and while Obama tried his hardest to sound defiant, he couldn’t help but appear to be on the back foot. The subsequent meeting between the two leaders is said to have been a frank discussion in which little was resolved, despite running an hour over time. Mr Putin’s masterstroke tho was the Q&A which followed. “As far as I know Obama and Hollande are not Syrian citizens,” he reminded an eager press, “and can’t decide Syria’s future.” He went on to speak of the need to work within the framework of international law in resolving geopolitical conflict, namechecking Australia and noting that all uninvited incursions into Syrian airspace are actually illegal. “Of course Russia, France and Germany work in the Normandy format,” he said, with any implied sarcasm lost in the translation.

Barely 24 hours later Russia had begun launching air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria. The air campaign is predicted to last three to four months, and at the current rate ISIS and its affiliates will be lucky to see out the year. The western media propaganda machine is now in full swing, with Washington running a hard line that Russia is playing a dangerous game, and making a “catastrophic mistake” according to Kerry, which “could lead to Syria being destroyed.” These words incidentally were spoken just hours before the bombing of a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz which killed 19 civilians including 9 hospital workers and injured dozens more. An apology has since been issued by NATO, citing ‘collateral damage’. Needless to say this could not have come at a worse time for Obama.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has urged the US military to stay out of the way in Syria, to which Kerry has responded with a firm and resounding no-siree, arguing that their support of the democratically elected Syrian government puts Russia and Iran alone against the world. The reality however may be just the opposite. With more Putin devotees signing up by the day, it may well be Washington which now finds itself isolated. It seems the US-Saudi plan of unleashing controlled chaos on the Middle East is rapidly unravelling, and ISIS and its affiliates are starting to look more and more like multi-billion dollar stranded assets.

In exposing this duplicity Putin has lifted his head above the parapet of geopolitics and proven himself a world leader to be reckoned with; a man who doesn’t mince his words and whose actions are spoken loudly. No doubt the US will still try to knock over all the pieces and shit on the board, but maybe we can all rest a little easier knowing there’s a new cop on the beat.

 

Weighing in on the Kurds: a history of statelessness.

It was with 90 percent anger and 10 percent rage I greeted the news that Turkey has just launched its heaviest air strikes yet against PKK forces in northern Iraq. With the latest assault in the global war on democracy coming hot on the heels of a terror attack in which 30 Kurdish university students were blown to smithereens by an ISIS suicide bomber, it’s probably fair to say it’s not a good time to be a member of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, but then again, was it ever a good time to be a Kurd?

With a history dating back to at least the 10th century, this ethnic minority were granted nominal statehood after WWI and have been fighting over territory ever since. Repressed by the Turks, used and abused by the West, poisoned in the tens of thousands by Saddam back when he was still one of the good guys, the Kurds are no less the victims of imperialist genocide than any number of murdered Jews, Rwandans, or Armenians. Their would-be autonomous homeland sits at the crossroads of a multi-proxy war for control of the oil rich fertile crescent which stretches from Jordan to Iran. Landlocked, flanked by Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, they face regular opposition on all sides. It’s little surprise their military are well trained and well prepared.

The strong representation of women among Peshmerga ranks makes them a revolutionary army in more than one sense. Theirs is largely a secular, Marxist ideology, equally offensive to the sensibilities of Islamist extremists as those of the neo cons. Washington clearly won’t have a bar of an independent Syria, so you’d have to think the prospect of a free and independent Kurdistan was never on the cards for the Cheney’s, McCain’s, Rumsfelds, Rices and Clintons who’ve worked tirelessly behind the scenes setting the stage for the apocalyptic burlesque show we see unfolding today.

Public discussion of US foreign policy has struck a plaintive tenor in the last year or so. If you listen closely you might here a muffled admission from official sources that the recent emergence of ISIS is no accident, but rather the blowback from a botched operation. The argument is generally framed as follows: Former CIA director turned president George H.W. Bush entered the Persian Gulf Tournament confident of a comfortable victory in the first round, pulling off Operation Desert Storm with surgical precision before adjourning to the clubhouse for a photo-op with Yitzhak Shamir. In round two, Bush Jr. played a fat shot off the tee, killing 1.5 million Iraqi civilians and making a general cock up of the occupation having failed to prosecute the case for invading in the first place. Team America’s dream of winning the championship was finally dashed when Obama pulled out of the third round after losing his balls in a sand trap, ending the mission early and leaving the field open for his nearest rival. (Michael Jordan has described Obama as a ‘hack’ and a ‘shitty golfer’)

Of the many inconsistencies which arise from the popular narrative I find it most ironic that for all the incursions visited upon the Middle East in the name of democracy and freedom, the states which have been typically targeted by Western powers have been emerging democracies. I sometimes ask myself what a modern day Iran might look like sans the Anglo-Soviet invasion of 1946 and 1953 coup d’état? Or what Afghanistan might be like today had it not been made a playground for US war games. Syria is now the last secular state in the Arab world. What is it about this modern pluralist democracy the rest of the world finds so intolerable?

These are complex questions, but there are simple ones which I find just as compelling: Questions like where the hell did ISIS get its megafleet of brand new white 4WDs from? And why are ISIS militants only ever pictured with their faces covered? Our news channels describe a sophisticated recruitment network which stretches to every corner of the internet, presumably including Tel Aviv, where a recent cache of encrypted messages appear to originate from. Our leaders talk of the threat of radicalisation and lone wolf attacks in the West, but they don’t mention the rank and file of private militias armed and trained by foreign powers. The point has been well made that Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a State. But if not a state then what is it?

IScorp is estimated to be worth about $2bn in cash and assets, which would make it the wealthiest terror group in the world, but how has it obtained this enormous wealth? We are told that it controls oil fields in Syria, but what are the logistical implications of this? What is the mechanism which allows the world’s deadliest terror group to profit from selling oil on the open market, and who is buying it? For years oil has been shipped by pipeline from Kirkuk to the Mediterranean seaport of Haifa to be sold on to European markets, so more pertinently one might ask, how else would ISIS be getting the money needed to run a state? Occupying armies don’t come cheap.

Hezbollah, the Syrian Arab Army and the PKK have been far more effective in resisting the advance of ISIS than the mindless destruction wrought by coalition air strikes and drone attacks. Erdogan seems to have seized his opportunity with appallingly bad timing, but hey what’s a little ethnic cleansing between old friends? Meanwhile Obama is putting his money on Al-Qaeda.

In the absence of a believable official narrative does it stretch the limits of credulity to ask whether ISIS is really the apocalyptic threat to global security portrayed to us, or just another pawn in the game of empire? What if US foreign policy helped create the pretext rather than the conditions for ISIS as we are invited to believe? We assume that ISIS is an independent actor, but what if it’s just being expertly stage managed?

Washington’s noncommittal strategy invites an even more cynical line of questioning. Could the potential rapprochement of Iran and Iraq be a more painful thorn in its side than Assad’s intransigence? Could adding an autonomous Kurdistan to this mix create a potential power bloc even stronger than the one which took two invasions to undermine? Has anybody even thought this though?

How might any of this affect the fortunes of British banks, or a US backed rogue state at the eastern end of the Mediterranean? And what of Russia’s interests? Could Putin have called everyone’s bluff by proposing a broad coalition to wipe out the scourge of Islamist terror once and for all? The US and its allies seem to be gearing up for a long war, but how long? Eight years? Ten? Until every last house is burned, every antiquity destroyed and every factory razed to the ground? Half of Syria’s residents are now displaced or seeking refuge. What will become of the other half? And what of the Kurds? It’s almost a hundred years since the last time the Empire redrew the map of the Middle East. How will the spoils of war be divided this time? Will we see another Israel, or another Gaza?

Is ISIS a threat to national security?

Tony Abbott has repeatedly decried the “apocalyptic death cult” ISIS as a threat to our national security but is that true?

Do they present a military threat to, or engage in political coercion in, Australia?

Do they threaten our economic security, energy security, or environmental security?

Perhaps, to a very small degree, yes, but is the risk worth the investment?

Authorities believe that around 150 Australians are currently fighting alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria, making the country the highest foreign per capita contributor to the violence according to Time.

Speaking to the ABC, Julie Bishop said “This is one of the most disturbing developments in our domestic security in quite some time.  There’s a real danger that these extremists also come back home as trained terrorists and pose a threat to our security.”

I guess so.  But none of them have returned and carried out a successful attack here.  Apparently some threatened/planned to and got locked up, which tells me that our security forces have adequate resources to protect us from organised domestic threats.

What they cannot, and will never be able to, protect us from is random attacks carried out by people with mental illnesses.  The man who carried out the Lindt café siege was well known to authorities and deemed not a threat but he snapped, just like the woman in Cairns who, the next day, stabbed to death 8 children.  Where is the report on our mental health industry which has been sitting on someone’s desk since last November?

As has been pointed out countless times, domestic violence is a far greater threat to Australian society, taking a far greater toll, yet compare the money devoted to addressing it with the billions spent on a foreign war and increased surveillance in Australia.

As far as threats to our economic. energy, or environmental security are concerned, our government, in cahoots with big business, pose a far greater threat on that front.

As Jocelyn Chey of the Australian Institute of International Affairs points out,

  1. There is no UN agreement on this campaign
  2. Our Defence policy is to concentrate on regional issues
  3. No clear goals or outcomes have been defined so that the campaign, as the PM has admitted, may well drag on for years
  4. Civilian casualties are likely to be high
  5. Australia’s security threat will be increased
  6. The drain on our budget is hard to justify when the public is told that there is a national emergency and social services are being cut.

Robert O’Neill, from the same organisation argues that

“The size and nature of the conflict which is building there and in Syria suggests that we should be employing political, social and economic means to help local governments and religious groups to settle their differences. The local people have to do it – we cannot force a solution on the region with military means. Military intervention on the scale proposed is likely to undercut other efforts without achieving a lasting result. So it would be better not to send forces now; let us not forget that the lives of the men and women that we send are on the line in such a deployment. We should be very careful about balancing the risks they have to run in the line of duty with the worth of the goals that a forced deployment might achieve.”

Tony Abbott has repeatedly said they we were invited to take part in military action by the Iraqi government.  This is not true.  In his obscene haste to deflect attention from domestic problems by confecting a threat to “national security”, Abbott even caught Obama off guard.  Our defence force was sent over with no diplomatic agreement and then spent months cooling their heels in the United Arab Emirates while our government tried to nut out a deal to allow them to carry out military operations in countries that had no desire to see foreign troops invade yet again.

Many people have argued that our previous involvement in Iraq, combined with draconian sanctions, has led to the rise of ISIS.  Whilst I agree it has been a contributing factor, so have many other issues like ethnic and sectarian violence and discrimination, political disenfranchisement, the subjugation of women, government corruption, poverty and lack of education.

One thing I find very hard to reconcile is Abbott’s rhetoric about an apocalyptic death cult with his desire to return asylum seekers to face it.  Far from supporting those who reject the violence and ideology of extremist cults like ISIS, we revile them, lock them up, and then try to send them back to the horror they risked their lives to flee.

To risk the lives of people who have fled this torment, and now the lives of our armed forces for a battle we cannot win, all for political gain, is unconscionable.  What do we hope to achieve?

As Tony simplistically pointed out, this fight is often baddies vs baddies.  Many of those involved have legitimate grievances against their oppressive, non-representative governments.  We have no business being there other than to offer humanitarian aid.

This has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with our subservience to the US coupled with a desire to deflect attention from our government’s inability to do their job.

The Maintenance of Madness: How Australia Funded a Warlord in Afghanistan

The Federal Cabinet has approved the deployment of about 300 additional Australian troops to the Middle East to help train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State. The deployment will be for two years from the middle of may, and the troops join 200 existing special forces troops already in deployment in the region.

The Australian contingent will be joined by more than 100 New Zealand military personnel. They will be based at Taji military complex north of Baghdad, which is considered an “enduring base” by the United States Military, one of 14 such bases in the country.

Prime Minister Abbott made statements regarding the deployment at a press conference on the 3rd of March this year.

“We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission, not a combat mission. This is not just about Iraq, this is about our national security.”

A casual glance at the history of conflict in the Middle East will show that military intervention does not, as the government claims, increase national security, in fact it performs the exact opposite function, creating heavily armed and motivated militia groups with the spurious justification of prior Western aggression for their continued aggression.

Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson has let it slip that highly trained military personnel, likely indirectly trained by US or Coalition forces, make up the leadership of ISIS:

“[ISIS] is led by experienced former Iraqi generals and others with substantial military experience.”

ISIS is, in effect, the current incarnation of AQI, or Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of the central body of Al-Qaeda with links to Osama Bin Laden and notable members of the terrorist organisation. Older readers and the more historically astute will remember that the United States was responsible for training and arming mujahideen forces against the then Soviet Union during its war in Afghanistan, including Bin Laden and his compatriots, who later became instrumental in forming the modern day iteration of Al-Qaeda.

The official reason for deployment is to help the Iraqi government prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against Islamic State and regain control of its territory.

Abbott noted that Australian personnel will “not be working with irregulars, we don’t work with informal, armed groups.”

It turns out that this statement is entirely false and doesn’t accord with the documentary record.


Around November 2010, under the then Gillard government, six senior militia fighters loyal to Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan were flown to Australia to train with elite special forces as part of a “covert strategy to strengthen military operations against the Taliban.”

Matiullah Khan is known in the press as “Australia’s biggest ally in Afghanistan”. His uncle is former Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammed Khan, who has a reputation for corruption, brutality and double dealing.

In a few short years he went from being a taxi driver to a millionaire running security for NATO convoys in the area. He was appointed chief of police in Uruzgan province, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses. There are reports that he has dealings with drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents.

We have contracted with his private army, Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, to provide security services to the bases around his compound in the Uruzgan province.

Under an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior, the Australian Government pays for roughly 600 of Matiullah’s 1,500 fighters, including Matiullah himself, despite the fact that the force is not under government control or oversight.

Matiullah Kahn was killed in Kabul earlier this year in March by a suicide bomber.

From the Pakistani Daily Times:

“Khan’s militia has been involved in mass murder, rape and abductions of men and women.

The New York Times reported that he was earning $ 2.5 million a month through highway robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and extortion. Once, Khan warned his opponents that he could eliminate them by purchasing suicide bombers with the money he received from the Australian army.

WikiLeaks of the US embassy pinned him as a stand-over merchant, a wealthy warlord and drug trafficker.

Australian intelligence knew he was a corrupt war criminal but, despite the US army’s opposition, the Australian army and intelligence corps lobbied to make him an inspector general of the Uruzgan police in 2011.”

From Green Left Weekly, citing a story published in the Dutch Daily, De Pers:

“The extent of Matiullah’s brutality was shown in a massacre reported on by the July 18 Dutch daily De Pers.

The paper said the previous month, Matiullah’s army made a surprise attack on a meeting of 80 people in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Five people were killed in the ensuing shootout.

The remaining 75 were knifed to death.

Mohammed Daoud, the district chief of Chora, told De Pers: “As torture, they were first stabbed in the shoulders and legs. The corpses were treated with chemicals to make them unrecognisable.””

In this interview released several days before his death, the contents of Matiullah’s office suite are described as containing “plaques of appreciation from the Australian Federal Police” and a “boxed boomerang – a gift from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, formerly head of the Australian Defence Force.

From the same interview, detailing a raid on a nearby village by Jan Mohammed Khan and Matiullah Khan:

“One man told me how his son was made to lie on the ground – and then they drove a truck over his head.”

These accounts are horrifying, and our complicity in them more so. Indirect involvement in these abuses, though despicable, could be rationalised as a product of the idea that we are working towards some greater good, and indeed, it seems this is the justification for our involvement from many of the sources mentioned in the above interview and publications.

Our direct involvement in war crimes in the region however, cannot be rationalised away.

Reports from The Age in 2009 describe cover-ups by the ADF of attacks on civilians by SAS soldiers in Iraq around 2006-7. The attacks in November 2007 resulted in the murders of three men, two women and one child in a house that allegedly belonged to an insurgent.

In the same month, the newspaper reported the use of SAS patrols as death squads, carrying out assassinations in Afghanistan.


One has to ask the question: how exactly does action of this sort confer an increase in our national security? If the Iraqi military is to be trained by the same forces responsible for the financial support of a local warlord and who have engaged in war crimes of their own, I don’t see it as unreasonable to suppose that ethics and adherence to international law will be covered as an afterthought, if at all.

The approach of fighting fire with fire has been an abject failure in stemming the tide of radicalised Islamic extremism in the Middle Eastern theatre, and this new deployment of troops into the region is simply more of the same.

We cannot hope to bring peace to the Middle East with the sword.


This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

Jake Bilardi and the Helen Lovejoy Approach to Justifying War

Front page news in todays Herald Sun:

“PLOT TO BOMB US”

“Jihadi Jake’s plan to attack Melbourne”

The photograph of an eighteen year old boy stares back at us from the right of the headline. The article describes his blog posts, which detailed the boy’s fantasies of bombing Melbourne and carrying out grenade and knife attacks as “chilling”, and states that “chemicals” were found in the boy’s home. Jake Bilardi is now dead, allegedly as part of a suicide bombing which resulted in the deaths of ten or more people.

How hysterical has the media become to trot out this story as if it were proof of an existential threat to Australians everywhere?

In between lazy appeals to the public’s fear of ISIS, the article mentions that Jake Bilardi was intensely interested in world politics, and prior to his ‘radicalisation’ was an atheist. In a blog post Jake penned some weeks before his death, he states that he was “growing tired of the filthiness and corruption of Australian society” and that his research into the war on terror led him to form a “complete hatred and opposition to the entire system Australia and the majority of the world was based upon.”

We can all agree that the path Jake took was not an exemplary one. He chose to side with a group of fascists responsible for horrific crimes against humanity, an act that we must condemn wherever it occurs and whoever it involves.

But why, when context is so key to understanding these complex issues, is the Herald Sun not asking important, difficult questions?

The question we should be asking ourselves as a country is, what could we have done differently to prevent this from happening? We can blame ISIS until we’re blue in the face, the fact of the matter is that in doing so we are accomplishing nothing except for currying a feeling of moral, cultural and nationalistic superiority. Whether this is grounded or not, it confers no benefit to us as a community.

Jake’s mother had died several years prior to his involvement with ISIS, and friends and family point to this as a turning point for the boy, leading an already quiet young man to withdraw even further into himself. Where were the support services this human being needed? Where was the funding that could have provided those services, services which may have prevented his eventual death in a foreign land at the hands of sick old men? It was being spent on fighter jets and defence.

It’s true that we each have personal responsibility for the choices we make, and that as adults we bear the consequences for our actions. But Jake was not an adult. He was eighteen years old, a vulnerable, seemingly confused but intelligent young man looking for a sense of meaning and belonging in a world that had painfully wronged him. Why did we, as a people, not provide that for him? What is it about our culture that makes that search for meaning lead to the ranks of a bizarre quasi-religious militia on the other side of the world?

To use this child’s death as grist for the war mill is despicable behaviour, and the editors of the Herald Sun should be ashamed of the tone of the articles they allowed to be published this morning. We could have used this as an opportunity to ask ourselves what each of us can do to fix the endemic social problems here at home, and in doing so create a society so vastly preferable to religious extremism that it would be next to unthinkable to leave it to engage in such chaotic violence. We could have fostered some empathy with the real victims of this situation, the ten or more innocent human beings who may have lost their lives because of our inability to constructively criticise our own nation and implement support networks for those most in need, or perhaps with his family, who no doubt will experience vilification and hatred from the strikingly ISIS-like neoconservatives calling for a nuclear genocide in the middle east.

Mark Knight’s cartoon depicts Jake at his computer, surrounded by shadowy figures with culturally incorrect facial hair and overemphasised features, disturbingly reminiscent of antisemitic propaganda from the second world war. The caption reads, “you’re never alone on the internet.” A statement that is all too true, but that applies not just to the violent extremists overseas, but equally to their equivalents in our own parliament.

The Herald Sun’s comment:

“President Barack Obama may have to put American boots on the ground to stop the slaughter.”

Are we so afraid of the spectre of terrorism that it has become an acceptable behaviour for the mainstream media to sell war using the death of a child?

Whatever the answer to that question may be, we can be sure of one thing: if Obama puts American boots on the ground, the last thing we’ll see is an end to slaughter.


This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

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