Sunday, June 15, 2014

Milestones in shamelessness: Addendum

London protestor in Blair mask, maybe 2010? Photo by DPA, via Der Spiegel.
One more vampire called out by the current crisis in Iraq is former British prime minister Tony Blair, literally arguing that you can't blame the crisis on the 2003 invasion of Iraq, because the instability in Iraq is a direct consequence of the war in Syria:
In a defence of his actions in Iraq, Blair attacked as "extraordinary" any notion the country would be stable if Saddam Hussein had stayed in power.
"The civil war in Syria with its attendant disintegration is having its predictable and malign effect. Iraq is now in mortal danger. The whole of the Middle East is under threat."...
He said that the rise of Isis was partly a consequence of the Syrian war. "To argue otherwise is wilful. The operation in Mosul was planned and organised from Raqqa, across the Syria border. The fighters were trained and battle-hardened in the Syrian war..."
That's exactly the point I've been trying to make for the last couple of days, except Blair omits a key part: that the Syrian war is, in its own turn, a direct consequence of the 2003 invasion. He seems to believe the Syrian war is a conflict between Bashar al-Assad and the peaceful democracy activists who began demanding civil and political rights in 2011, inspired by similar movements to the west in North Africa and the Gulf, but he refuses to wonder why it happened in Syria and not in Libya, say, or Bahrain: is Assad a nastier person than Qaddhafi was? Are Bahrain's Shi'ites just more placable than Syria's Sunnis?

The difference in Syria is the presence of a well-armed Salafi army opposing both the peaceful democratic activists and the ruthless Baathist dictatorship, and Desert Storm is what got them there. Veterans of the Afghanistan wars like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Saudi and Yemeni jihad wannabes and Internet fanboys from England and America, financed by our allies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, converged on Iraq to start a local Al Qa'ida, the very organization that didn't exist when Blair and Bush decided to drive it out of Iraq.

Oh, and from Syria too, because it turns out (according to Peter Neumann in the London Review of Books, just this April) there were a bunch of Salafists there, being nourished by the Assad government for its own complex purposes:
The director of one of Syria’s intelligence services told visiting US officials, according to a WikiLeaked US State Department cable, that ‘we have a lot of experience and know these groups.’ He went on: ‘We don’t attack or kill them … We embed ourselves … and only at the opportune moment do we move.’ This approach, he said, had resulted in ‘the detention of scores of terrorists, stamping out terror cells’.
Assad had a couple of reasons for allowing the Syrian Salafists to go fight the Americans in Iraq: that he himself would be safer while they were out of the country and distracted, and that they could be contributing to the Americans' eventual defeat, discouraging the invaders from moving on to more candidates for "regime change", for example in Damascus. So he did, and this transformed the jihadi movement in Iraq:
Less than a year after it had been set up, the Syrian pipeline was so well established that it started attracting jihadists from countries like Libya, Saudi Arabia and Algeria, who flew into Damascus or travelled via one of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. In 2007, the US government estimated that 90 per cent of suicide bombers in Iraq were foreigners, and that 85-90 per cent of the foreign fighters had entered Iraq through Syria. The jihadist networks in Syria had, in essence, become an extension of those in Iraq...  The jihadist networks had expanded so quickly, even [the highest ranking of Assad's infiltrators in the movement,] Abu al-Qaqaa, who was told to call for ‘moderation’ when the insurgency started turning into a sectarian war, had lost much of his influence; and the smuggling of fighters had become so lucrative and deeply ingrained that it would have taken a full-scale conflict with the tribes to stop it. The regime had created a phenomenon it could no longer control.
To which we might add that the process was immeasurably reinforced by General Petraeus and the "success" of his Surge, which was mainly successful at beefing up the Salafist presence in the Syrian camps of Iraqi refugees, producing a temporary, superficial calm in Anbar at the price of stability in Syria.

This is why Assad's response to the Arab Spring was so different from those of the other dictators of the region, so quick and so violent: because of the monster he himself had created to torment Bush's and Blair's Coalition of the Willing. When Assad screamed about how he was being threatened by Sunni terrorists we (unlike the Christian and Alawite communities inside the country) didn't believe him—all we could see was the brave young liberals demonstrating in the streets—but he wasn't kidding.

So if Assad is responsible for the war in Syria and by extension for the ongoing catastrophe in northwestern Iraq, Blair and Bush are more responsible still. Those fighters were "trained and battle-hardened", all right, but years before the Arab Spring, in the chaos and horror of the Anglo-American invasion, brought on for reasons the two have still never coherently explained.

#NotAllDictators, right, Tony? Via PressTV.

In an important post, Juan Cole reminds us that regardless of its consequences Blair's conduct was criminal and fraudulent. Of course Blair's making the argument because he doesn't know, or thinks we can't understand, what the consequences were, but they were clearly just as bad as we (that's me and six million of my closest friends, and Professor Cole too) said they were going to be eleven years ago. And if Saddam had kept power, awful as that would have been for any new victims, none of these international disasters could possibly have happened.

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