Friday, March 30, 2012

An airfield called Azerbaijan

Source: Perry-Castenda Collection
Earlier this week, Mark Perry published an excellent article at Foreign Policy magazine detailing the military alliance that has formed between Israel and Azerbaijan, and specifically the possibility of Azerbaijan being used as a jumping off or landing point for attacks on Iran.  Perry reports that the U.S. has concluded that Israel has been granted access to Azeri airbases, quoting a senior U.S. administration official as saying "the Israeli's have bought an airfield, and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."

For Israel and its partners in Washington and London, Azerbaijan provides prime territory to agitate against both Russia and Iran.    If they wanted to bomb Iran, as former CENTCOM commander Joe Hoar described to Perry, the Israeli's "would save 800 miles of fuel" by launching from Azeri bases, making an increased payload possible. "That doesn't guarantee that Israel will attack Iran, but it certainly makes it more doable," Hoar said.  Besides territorial proximity, around 17% of the Iranian population of 70 million is of Azeri ethnicity.  Recently, there have even been calls in the Azeri parliament for the name of the country to be changed to North Azerbaijan, suggesting that the ethnic Azeri's in Iran live in a "south Azerbaijan" that needs to be freed.

This, however, is not a new partnership, according to a 2006 Middle East Quarterly article, as Israel made political inroads into Azerbaijan soon after the country gained independence following the Soviet crack-up:
In 1991, Azerbaijan was economically fragile, politically unstable, and militarily weak. Desperate for outside assistance, Baku turned to Israel to provide leverage against a much stronger Iran and a militarily superior Armenia. Israel promised to improve Azerbaijan's weak economy by developing trade ties. It purchased Azerbaijani oil and gas and sent medical, technological, and agricultural experts. Most importantly for Azerbaijan, Israel's foreign ministry vowed to lend its lobby's weight in Washington to improve Azeri-American relations, providing a counterweight to the influential Armenian lobby. According to Azerbaijan's first president, Abulfas Elçibey, "Israel could help Azerbaijan in [the] Karabakh problem by convincing the Americans to stop the Armenians."Azerbaijani diplomats recognized the need to diversify their contacts in Washington, especially after the U.S. Congress imposed sanctions on Azerbaijan at the behest of the Armenian lobby following the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijani military officials also believed that Israeli firms could better equip the ragtag Azerbaijani army, which needed new weapons following its defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh. On several occasions, Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan's president between 1993 and 2003, personally requested military assistance from Israeli prime ministers.

By the middle of the 1990's, Tel-Aviv began to solidify its relationship with Azerbaijan.  First, in 1994, the Israeli telecommunications firm Bezeq bought a large share of the Azeri telephone operating system.  Then, high-level official visits to Baku commenced, starting in 1996 by Health minister Ephraim Sneh, then in 1997 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in 1998 by a high-level Knesset delegation.

For the U.S., Azerbaijan was seen exclusively through a geopolitical lens, in terms of great-power spheres of influence over energy and security matters.  In the 1980's, massive new oil and gas were discovered in the Soviet Union's Caspian Basin.  When this area gained independence from Moscow in 1991, Washington moved to establish control over the Caspian region, in order to develop pipeline corridors to transport the petrofuels to sea, and European and Asian markets.  For the U.S., the critical matter was bypassing the traditional powers in the region, Russia and Iran, and thus small and troublesome states like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan had to be dealt with in order to reach the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean.  The Caspian port of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, was the starting point for one pipeline, the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC), which went from the Caspian through the Caucuses to Turkey and its Mediterranean coast.

In the process of building this geopolitical control, values like good-governance and human rights were sacrificed on the alter of energy security.  The result was that a swath of Soviet era strongmen remained in power across the region, supported by Washington due to their fealty on energy and security matters.  A frank assessment of the situation was made by a State Department official in early 1992, after Secretary of State James Baker made a whirlwind tour of the regions newly independent states: "some of these new countries are going to make it, and others are going to join the swelling ranks of third world basket cases, just limping along. Those that are most likely to make it are those like Turkmenistan that have economies based on agriculture, oil, gas and minerals." (New York Times, 2/15/92)

Azerbaijan, ruled by former KGB general Heydar Aliyev, was determined to be one of the countries that "made it."  He heavily courted the major Western oil corporations, signing in 1994 a $7.4 billion oil concession deal with 10 companies, including BP and Unocal.  According to a Mother Jones article, Aliyev went as far as to sign the deal into Azeri national law, as Azerbaijan lacked an adequate commercial code.  More contracts with Chevron and ExxonMobil soon followed.  To go along with the energy deals, Azerbaijan also sought out NATO, the Western Cold War military alliance, through the Partnership for Peace military training program.  Azerbaijan was one of the first states to join the program, with President Aliyev signing the framework in a 1994 visits to NATO headquarters.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

al-Jazeera follow-up

Today, the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, which has been on the forefront of Middle East media criticism regarding the "Arab Spring," published details into al-Jazeera's editorial position on Syria.
They focus on the period from November 2011, when a significant shakeup occurred at the top of the Doha based editorial board, through today.
When the former director general Wadah Khanfar left in September 2011, the channel’s administration changed.  The Egyptian-born Ibrahim Helal was then appointed as head of news.  He replaced an Algerian, Moustafa Sawwaq, who was appointed as director general of the Arabic channel.  Another Algerian, Mohammad Safi, was appointed as director of input instead of the Jordanian Mohammad Daoud. Abdul Haq Saddah, also from Algeria, was appointed as head of planning.  These changes came as a result of an internal settlement of accounts. Thus begins the era of the hawks in the Qatari news channel.
They write that Helal originally attempted to reform al-Jazeera's coverage of Syria, which he viewed as "unprofessional" and too heavily focused on opposition-provided casualty counts, which Helal did not trust:
The killing of French journalist Gilles Jacquier in Homs on 11 January 2012 led to Helal losing his composure. Rather than highlighting Jacquier’s death, the editorial department focused on the numbers of Syrians killed and exaggerated the number. Helal thought this was purely sensational.  He sent out a letter entitled “The Killing of the French Journalist” on 12 January 2012. It was highly critical of the “obsession” and “celebration” of “the death toll.” He stressed the sanctity of Al Jazeera’s slogan and insisted on “not adopting a position just to appease viewers.”
Helal's attempts at reform, however, failed to take hold, as the al-Akhbar article states "senior employees admit in their private circles that no one who works for the channel can express opinions on Syria contrary to those of the Qatari emir. Otherwise, they will be ostracized and humiliated until they leave."  This seems to be the case of Ali Hashem, the al-Jazeera Beirut correspondent who resigned earlier this year over the channels editorial dictates on Syria.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ali Hashem on the Real News Network

Earlier this month, I wrote about media censorship in Syria, and brought up a report by al-Akhbar English that the head of al-Jazeera Arabic's Beirut bureau, Ali Hashem, had resigned in protest over the channels editorial dictates on Syria and Bahrain.

Mr. Hashem has now begun to speak out himself, and last week Paul Jay at the Real News Network conducted a three part interview with him.  Also newsworthy is the fact that Mr. Hashem's resignation has not been touched upon by any U.S. mainstream media, and was only briefly mentioned in the British Guardian.  While venues like the The Real News Network and RT are covering his story, it is being blackballed in the major press.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Page: Public Opinion Polls

Recently, I have become interested in the effect of Foreign Policy on the 2012 elections, and thus have been searching out a lot of polling numbers.  I have begun to compile them on a blog page here, located on the top left hand corner of the site.  So far, I have only collected polls taken during the Obama Administration, and have looked at surveys done by Pew Research, ABC News, and Gallup Polls.

Please read, and if you have any polls you would like added, put a link in the comments section.
Here is a nice inforgraphic from a recent poll on Afghanistan
Preference for US troop presence in Afghanistan
For the full list of polls so far, continue reading, or look at the page on the left

Monday, March 19, 2012

"The Lebanonization of Syria: New Observer Delegation Report

Source: University of Texas
Today a new report on Syria came to my attention (h/t Syria Comment), published in January 2012 report by the "French Centre for Intelligence Research (CF2R)" and the "International Centre for Research and Study on Terrorism and Victims of Terrorism (CIRET-AVT)."  These groups sent a delegation of four experts to Syria between 12/3/11 and 12/10/11, to interview leader on the ground and gather evidence.  Of note, their mission ended when the Arab League Observer Mission began.
     Their 55 pg. report, titled "The Lebanonization of Syria," portrays a state that is cracking apart along social and religious fault lines, to the dismay of a majority of the Syrian population that desires stability above all else.  The report gives a good timeline of the 2011 uprising, detailing both the actions of the government security forces and the armed opposition, as well as the protest centers in Homs and Deraa.  Their thesis is that violence by both sides is working in sync to radicalize the crisis.  When the Syrian security forces were overly brutal at the beginning of the protests in March 2011, it sent the opposition to arms, and then then when Assad backed off, it only encouraged opposition fighters to become more violent.  The report states that as early as March 18, three days after protests began:
Military weapons were spotted not only in Deraa, but also in Homs, Hama and in different towns near the Turkish border.  However, for three months, demonstrations were mostly peaceful...after several weeks of revolt and repressions, many peaceful demonstrators were arrested, leaving the streets to the more radical elements.  The population then observed the appearance of armed demonstraots with support from abroad...As of June 2011, the movement began to radicalize in most of the centers of protest and the activists began to demand the resignation of Bachar al-Assad and the end of the regime. According to many witness reports from among representatives of the domestic opposition and leaders of the religious communities, after the appearance of these armed activists in the summer of 2011, demonstrations were no longer peaceful and protesters were actively seeking direct confrontation with the security forces and started making use of their military hardware.
     The report also highlights the extensive anti-Assad propaganda being put out by Arab, Gulf-funded media (such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya), as well as U.S. and U.K. media, which omits facts on the ground, and in some cases even has faked video evidence.  "The media coverage is overly one-sided and appears to fit the dominant geopolitical agenda, that of the American neoconservatives who have divided the Middle East between 'moderate Arab nations' (Egypt, Jordan and the oil-rich monarchies) and the 'forces of the axis of evil' (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas)," the report states.  In the words of Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III, a Christian leader in Damascus, "the position of the international press and foreign players is to act as if absolutely nothing true or good could come from the Damascus regime, and to make them responsible for every problem.  This has made Syrian public opinion turn against Western countries and their journalists."  Asma Kaftaro, the director of the Sunni Women's Organization, notes that "no international media organization covers the demonstrations against foreign intervention which take place frequently," and that "the harshest criticism of the regime comes from abroad, from the international press, far more than from inside the country."

For much more information, please read the full report below.       The Lebanonization of Syria

Sunday, March 18, 2012

C-Span Founder Brian Lamb retiring

This weekend, it was announced that Brian Lamb, the founder of non-profit Television network C-SPAN, was retiring.  Despite CSPAN's reputation as only showing the snoozeworthy U.S. Congress, the network has not been afraid to cover the more controversial side of American politics.  Here is a long and excellent interview conducted by Lamb.
      The sibject is Karen Kwiatkowski, an Air Force Lt. Col. who worked in the Pentagon as a Middle East analyst during the run up to the Iraq War.  Two days after the war began, she quit the Pentagon and went on to blow the whistle on the cooked up Iraq intelligence she had witnessed at the Defense Department, notably in the "Office of Special Plans."       

Republicans moving away from pro-war message

Following up on last weeks post on the public's increasing anti-war views, The Hill recently published an article on the GOP's move away from unchecked bellicosity.  Titled "Republicans shift from McCain on War," the article details the divide growing between the hawkish wing of the party that is calling for an extended mission in Afghanistan and intervention in Syria, led by Senator's John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and the numerous Congressmen who have not signed onto these positions:
In the case of the surge in Iraq, Republicans followed McCain, the party’s standard-bearer in the 2008 election. But they haven’t been as quick to follow him on Libya last year, and on Syria and Afghanistan this year.
This extends to the presidential race, where Newt Gingrich this week questioned whether the mission in Afghanistan was “doable,” and Rick Santorum suggested faster withdrawal should be a possibility. 
Eaglen said McCain’s call for staying on the current course in Afghanistan “is an increasingly solitary position in this town, not just among members but also among pundits and movement leaders... 
On Syria, McCain has constantly been out front calling for arming the rebels and an international coalition launching air strikes, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has continued to attack opposition forces.
The Obama administration has opposed getting involved militarily, and Republicans have also been reluctant.
“We should be extremely skeptical about actions that could commit the United States to a military intervention,” said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, at a hearing on Syria.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) warned that aligning with the opposition could be joining with groups like al-Qaeda.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told The Hill that most, if not all, Republican lawmakers abhorred the violent response of Assad's troops against Syrian rebels, but said, “we should be careful about stretching our military.”
One of the main quandries in this situation is that the Obama Administration has already built a very hawkish foreign policy resume, pushing the entire spectrum to the right, thus making McCain and his crew seem extremist.  In Afghanistan, the White House escalated the American troop numbers there throughout 2009, without ever really signing on to the military's counterinsurgency doctrine.  This led to a large, and essentially mission-less, military presence stretched across the mountainous country, attempting to "degrade" but not "defeat" the Taliban, creating the conditions for what Daniel Ellsberg calls "an atrocity-generating situation."  And now, when the atrocities are starting to pile up, the Obama administration is still advocating for a tempered withdrawal.  Anybody looking at this situation would find it hard to push for an even more militarist policy, and yet this is McCain et al's position.
    The situation in the Middle East is little different, with the U.S. military leading the NATO intervention in Libya, the White House putting almost no restraints on Israel's military occupation and settlement policies, and the U.S.'s relationship with the Arab Monarchies of the GCC strengthened even more.  These are all policies that Republican's would usually smile at, but McCain has made the GOP's position one of calling for another, more difficult, intervention in Syria, and to bash the White House for not allowing Israel more freedom to attack Iran.  But now McCain is finding himself lonely, with many of his fellow Grand Old Partiers noticing the prevailing war weary public, as well as the American Empire's less and less secure hold on the role of World Policeman.  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

All GCC states close their embassies in Syria

Last week, it was announced by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Abdullatif Al-Zayani that Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, and Oman were closing their embassies in Syria, joining their fellow GCC-states Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who made a similar announcement earlier in the week.
This is just the latest provocation by the Gulf's autocratic monarchs during the Arab spring.  Qatar and Saudi Arabia helped lead the charge against Libyan leader Gadaffi, and have been openly arming the Syrian opposition fighters (with the tacit approval of Washington).  This is all in contrast to any internal opposition in the GCC states, which has been violently cracked down on, most blatantly in Bahrain, where Saudi and UAE troops were called in by the Bahraini rulers to put down protests.  While revolutions are fine elsewhere, the GCC monarchs are happy to hold onto their own thrones.
    Concerning their recent moves in Syria, the GCC is attributing the cause to the Syrian government's wanton use of violence, however with a short study of the regions history, other, less harmonious, motives are easily seen.
     Primarily, the GCC governments must be viewed as vassals of the U.S.-U.K military alliance in the Persian Gulf.  The area, known (minus Saudi Arabia) as the British Empire's "trucial coast," were some of the last states to receive independence after World War Two, some as late as the 1970s.  Moreover, this was a particular type of "independence," as the ruling monarchical families held onto their thrones, and the Western military powers maintained their arrangements.  In Saudi Arabia, which had never been under British dominion, the situation was not much different, dating back to the 1945 meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt and Saudi King Ibn al-Saud aboard a war-ship on the Suez's Great Bitter Lake, where the U.S.-Saudi oil for protection relationship was born.
  In 1967, following London's proclamation that it was pulling back its military forces from east of the Suez canal, the U.S. moved in to be the international protector of the Persian Gulf.  Their first strategy was the "Nixon Doctrine," which aimed for regional powers like Iran and Saudi Arabia to serve as American proxy forces.  Accordingly, during the 1970's much of the new oil wealth in the region was spent on American weapon systems.  However, once the Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979, Washington increasingly moved to exert its own military control over the region.  The Pentagon created a military command for the region, known originally as a "Rapid Deployment Force" and then as "Central Command," putting the area on the same footing as Europe, South America, and Asia.  Concurrently the White House began to exert more energy meddling in regional affairs.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Maybe someone should campaign on these issues (updated)

3-15-12 FP #2Today, Pew Reseach published the results of a recent poll they took on American's foreign policy opinions.  Conducted between March 7th and 11th, Pew interviewed 1,503 people, and found that the country is in no mood to provide any military support in Syria, and a majority (57%) of people want the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible."  On Iran's nuclear program however, there is still fear, as across the political spectrum a majority of people are worried that the U.S. "will wait to long to act" as opposed to "act too soon."

The overall picture is of a country very weary of war, and hesitant to take on new interventions.  In Libya last year, polls showed even less support for an intervention than currently in Syria, and although these numbers jumped slightly once the bombs began to fly, even when Tripoli was captured by the rebels in September, airstrikes were seen as "the right decision" by less than 50%.
3-15-12 FP #4
3-15-12 FP #5 The war in Afghanistan is also incredibly unpopular in Pew's poll (which was conducted before the recent night time shooting spree by an American soldier).  69% of Democrats say removing troop "as soon as possible" in the right policy, as do 58% of Independents and 41% of Republicans.  Among Democrats, only 25% approve of the policy of "keeping troops there until stable."  Moreover, the Republican base is divided, with a slight majority (51%) of moderate republicans favoring a cut and run policy, and only 57% of conservative Republicans favoring to prolong the mission until stability is achieved.

Update:  An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted over the same time frame gives similar numbers.  On Afghanistan, 54% of respondents thought that the U.S. should withdraw its troops "even if the Afghan Army is not adequately trained."  Given the question "has the war in Afghanistan been worth fighting?" 60% thought that it was "not worth fighting," and 44% of them strongly so, while only 35% thought that it has been worth fighting.   (See chart below).

On Iran, the poll shows a remarkable phenomenon.  Despite the fact that the public is convinced (84%) that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, which is not the opinion of the U.S. intelligence community,  81% still favor direct diplomatic talks between Washington and Tehran to solve the situation, a policy the U.S. has distanced itself from for over 30 years. A majority of people also oppose both the U.S. or Israel bombing Iran's nuclear sites, an idea discussed exhaustively over the past year in the media.  Here you have an American public that has bought into the fear-mongering, and yet is still far more open to diplomacy with this supposed "enemy" than the government is.

One wonders what effect these type of numbers will have on the rhetoric of the 2012 elections.  Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have already mentioned their doubts of ever achieving success in Afghanistan, and the less mainstream candidates like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson have campaigned against the war stridently.  If Democrats are polling even lower than Republicans on the issue, this message has to be taken up by Democrats running for Congressional seats.  It is absurd for the Democrats to suddenly become the pro-War party in the face of GOP anti-war messaging.  It makes much more sense for a bi-partisan consensus to be reached on the failure of the Afghanistan troop presence, realigning the Congressional ideology away from nation building

Moreover, what effect does the unpopularity of intervention, whether "humanitarian" or not, have on the current Republican power structure.  The hawkish duo of John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been foaming at the mouth for nearly a year to send the military into Syria, and they have brought along Senate wunderkind Marco Rubio, a name being bandied about for Vice President, to help carry the banner.  If it is clear that American's are not in favor of these missions, can the GOP build a national strategy on the backs of those who have loudly called for another Middle East intervention?

Washington Post/ABC News Relevant Poll Numbers

-17. On another subject: All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

            ----- Worth fighting ----   --- Not worth fighting --     No 
            NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly   opinion 
3/10/12     35       17         18      60       16         44         5
6/5/11      43       23         20      54       15         40         3
3/13/11     31       17         14      64       16         49         5
12/12/10    34       18         16      60       18         43         5
7/11/10     43       24         19      53       15         38         4
6/6/10      44       26         18      53       13         41         3
4/25/10     45       26         19      52       15         38         3
12/13/09    52       33         19      44       10         35         4
11/15/09    44       30         14      52       14         38         4
10/18/09*   47       28         19      49       13         36         4 
9/12/09     46       28         18      51       14         37         3
8/17/09     47       31         15      51       10         41         3
7/18/09     51       34         18      45       11         34         4
3/29/09     56       37         19      41       12         28         4
2/22/09     50       34         17      47        9         37         3
12/14/08    55       NA         NA      39       NA         NA         5
7/13/08     51                          45                             4
2/25/07     56        "          "      41        "          "         3
*10/18/09 "was" and "has been" wording half sampled. Previous "was."

-20. On another subject, based on what you’ve heard or read, do you think Iran is or is not trying to develop nuclear weapons?
           Is   Is not   No opinion
3/10/12    84     9          8
10/18/09   87     8          4

21. To try to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, would you support or oppose [ITEM]? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?
3/10/12 – Summary Table

                                       ---- Support -----    ----- Oppose -----   No 
                                       NET  Strgly.  Smwt.   NET  Smwt.  Strgly.  op.
a. The United States bombing Iran's 
   nuclear development sites           41     27      14     53    18      35      6
b. Increasing international economic 
   sanctions against Iran              74     54      20     21     9      11      5
c. Direct diplomatic talks between 
   the United States and Iran to try 
   to resolve the situation            81     60      21     16     5      12      2 


a. The United States bombing Iran’s nuclear development sites

           -------- Support -------    -------- Oppose ---------     No 
           NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly   opinion
3/10/12    41       27         14      53       18         35         6
10/18/09   42       NA         NA      54       NA         NA         4
1/26/06*   42       NA         NA      54       NA         NA         4
* “Iran says it is refining uranium to use in nuclear power plants. Other countries are concerned Iran may also use this uranium in nuclear weapons…”

b. Increasing international economic sanctions against Iran

            -------- Support -------    -------- Oppose ---------     No 
            NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly   opinion
3/10/12     74       54         20      21        9         11         5
10/18/09*   78       NA         NA      18       NA         NA         4
1/26/06*    71       NA         NA      26       NA         NA         3
*”Imposing international…”

c. Direct diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran to try to resolve the situation

            -------- Support -------    -------- Oppose ---------     No 
            NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly   opinion
3/10/12     81       60         21      16        5         12         2
10/18/09    82       NA         NA      18       NA         NA         1

22. Would you support or oppose Israel bombing Iran’s nuclear development sites?
          Support   Oppose   No opinion
3/10/12     42        51          7

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Middle East English Language Newspapers

Recently, I have updated the links on the right to include a list of English Language newspapers published in the Middle East.  I have tried to not list official government news agencies, although as some states suffer from the lack of a free press, some government agencies made it into the list.
If you have any worthwhile additions, please list them in the comments sections
Full list after the jump

Interview with Larry Wilkerson on executive power

Today at the Real News Network, Paul Jay interviewed Col. Larry Wilkerson on the Obama Administration's accumulation of executive power.  Considering both the case of Attorney General Eric Holder's recent speech at Northwestern University, where he declared the U.S. has a right to assassinate anybody without trial, worldwide, based only on the White House's decision, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's recent Congressional Testimony, where he stated that the President did not need Congressional approval to attack Syria, Wilkerson has come to the opinion that:
 I think we're watching our democracy disappear before our very eyes. We certainly are watching our Constitution trampled on. The Constitution, in Article One, is very clear who has the war power, and it is the Congress of the United States. And the Congress has been pusillanimous, it has been without intestinal fortitude over the last half-century or so, since 1945, and it has increasingly balked at doing anything that would require it to stand on its own hind legs and be identified. But that notwithstanding, just because of the cowardice of the Congress is no reason to abandon the Constitution. The more the war power is consolidated in the executive branch, the more, as Madison, Hamilton, and a host of other founders warned, we approach tyranny.

More at The Real News

After the Jump, there is video and transcript of both Panetta's and Holder's comments

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Please Write your Representative

Yesterday, Republic Representative Walter Jones (NC) introduced a resolution, H. Con. Res. 107,  to "classify initiating war without congressional approval as an unconstitutional, impeachable offense."  Please email your representative and urge them to support this resolution.
Find your representative by zip code
      In light of President's Obama flagrant violation of the War Powers Act during the US led NATO intervention in Libya, on which Congress was not allowed to vote, and recent comments by Secretary of Defense Panetta that an intervention in Syria would follow a similar path, Representative Jones has deemed it essential that the decision to wage war must rest with the Congress, as mandated by Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.  An imperial presidency leads to an imperial foreign policy, and the most shameful act the U.S. could commit would be to start another Middle Eastern War without so much as a congressional vote.
       Jones himself is a remarkable figure.  A Republican in a North Carolina district with a heavy military presence, Jones was originally a vocal supporter of the Iraq war, famously sponsoring legislation to rename the French Fries sold in government cafeterias as "freedom fries."  But then, beginning in 2005, Jones began to turn against the war, and became one of the most vocal Congressional critics of the U.S.'s militarist Foreign Policy.  Despite, or perhaps because of this turn, Jones maintained his popularity in his district, home to the Marine Corps Camp Lejeune and the largest military presence of any district in North Carolina.

The Mediterranean NATO Part 2

Part II: The Cold War, Decolonization, and Israel
    While Part I of this series detailed the post WWII ascendancy of the NATO powers through 1958, their grasp began to slip throughout the 1960s.  First, French President Charles de Gaulle gradually withdrew Paris from the Alliance between 1958 and 1967, banning the presence of foreign troops and nuclear weapons on French soil.  As a result, the U.S. Air Force transferred 200 aircraft out of the country and relinquished control of 10 airbases back to France.
   One major development that spawned from the French withdrawal was the basing of nuclear equipped Jupiter missile squadrons in Italy and Turkey.  The U.S. Air Force had originally wanted to station the mid-range ballistic missiles in France, but when De Galle balked at the idea, the Pentagon moved the batteries to Italy and Turkey.  Starting in 1961, ten Jupiter sites were established in Italy, housing two squadrons, each consisting of nuclear warheads, fifteen missiles, and 500 support personnel.  In Turkey, one Jupiter Squadron was deployed over five sites near the eastern coastal city of Izmir.
    These sites, especially in Turkey, were seen as a major Cold War provocation by Moscow, threatening the Soviet's southern flank.  In response, they began to set up similar missile bases in Cuba, triggering what is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.  In the negotiations between Kennedy and Kruschev that ended this crisis, both powers agreed to abandon their ballistic missile sites.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mediterranean Control: The NATO Ascendency

Following up on last week's piece on the recent discoveries of massive energy deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, below I will attempt to sketch the history behind NATO's current posture in the vital water that connects Europe to Africa and the Middle East.
Part I:  The NATO Ascendency

      NATO's Mediterrean presence can be traced back to the military alliance's origins in 1949, when France and Italy were two of the treaties twelve original member states, along with the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.  At this time, the U.S. military also controlled Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya, as well as stationing what became the Navy's 6th fleet in Naples, Italy.  The U.K held on to their colony on the island of Cyprus, where they maintained two military bases--Akrotiri Air Base in the West and Dhekelia Army Base in the East.
     Shortly after NATO's birth, its true function as a Cold War political tool was revealed when Greece and Turkey, decidedly not on the North Atlantic, joined the alliance in 1952.  Both countries had been supported by American military aid since the declaration of the Truman doctrine in March 1947, which pledged to protect the two states from communist influences.  For Athens, this meant conducting a brutal civil war against the Greek communist party, the KKE, and its National Liberation Front (EAM) militia.  Historian Gabriel Kolko writes of this period:
The throttling of the opposition and the Left certainly provides the overriding framework within which one must assess the events in Greece; the repression persisted as the source of the domestic turmoil because it drove people to the mountains in desperation.  After the United States proclaimed the Truman Doctrine in March 1947 and assumed the military and economic costs that Greece's venal rules generated, the regime's incentive to find nonviolent, political solutions disappeared, and from the very beginning the U.S. consistently opposed a negotiated peace.  The cycle of repression and responses to it increased the scale of violence and eliminated human and civil rights, but the successive rightist regimes clearly initiated the casual chain...
Given their corruption and their inability to survive in a democratic political context, and the condition of the economy and the weakness of their army, repression was the Greek authorities' only recourse.  American officials nominally supported the demand of basic liberties but at the very same time encouraged a policy of massive forces evacuations in the regions where the rebels were strongest (Kolko, Century of War, 378). 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

US Intelligence Officials: "Assad could survive the revolt"

McClatchy News continues to have the ears of DC intelligence officials skeptical of a Syrian intervention. They are now reporting on sources who state that Assad is still in control of Syria:

"Our sense is right now he's very much in charge," of their military operations, one U.S. official said. Another noted, "He (Assad) might survive this." The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. 
The intelligence assessments run counter to a message voiced with confidence for months by senior administration officials including President Barack Obama, who told a White House news conference on Tuesday that "ultimately, this dictator will fall."
Perhaps more fundamentally, the analysis calls into question an American foreign policy that has been based on the idea that Assad's regime is overwhelmed and doomed.

Read more here:

The McClatchy article also notes that U.S. intelligence considers the recent defections from Assad's government to be of unimportant officials, and is also not convinced that Assad has lost the non-Alawite population:

In particular, the officials made it clear that the United States does not have a clear picture of what's going on inside Syria. For instance, while there have been some seemingly high-profile defections from the Syrian military and government — including, this week, a man who described himself as a deputy oil minister — Assad's regime has stayed mostly intact, which could suggest that the level of popular discontent with the dictator isn't as high as perceived.
On Friday, Turkey said that three high-ranking Syrian military officers — two generals and a colonel — had defected. Neither these nor the oil official, however, were key players, the U.S. officials said...
The Syrian conflict is seen as a struggle of Assad's Alawite Shiite minority against the majority Sunni population. But the officials said that while the military's leadership ranks are largely Alawite, the bulk of the soldiers carrying out orders are Sunni conscripts. Yet the military remains cohesive, they said.
One official noted that other minority Syrian populations — Christians, Kurds and Druze — "have not abandoned the regime yet."

Read more here:

Read more here:

The Syrian conflict is seen as a struggle of Assad's Alawite Shiite minority against the majority Sunni population. But the officials said that while the military's leadership ranks are largely Alawite, the bulk of the soldiers carrying out orders are Sunni conscripts. Yet the military remains cohesive, they said.

One official noted that other minority Syrian populations — Christians, Kurds and Druze — "have not abandoned the regime yet."

Read more here:

Read more here:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Media Censorship of Competing Narratives in Syria

       This week, two stories have come out of news organizations censoring their employees views on Syria, both in American and Arabic media.
       The first comes from Sharmine Narwani (see her interview on the Real News Network here), a Senior Associate at Oxford's St. Antony's College, and writer for al-Akhbar English and the Huffington Post.  Concerning the Huffington Post, which she is now charging with censorship, Narwani began working there in September 2009, hired by Hanna Ingber, the founding World Editor of the website (and no longer a Huffington Post employee). Narwani wrote articles and commentary on contentious issues like the Palestinian conflict, the War on Terror, and US-Iranian relations, and as she put it, quickly discovered that her "niche at the HuffPost was providing counter-narratives to Washington’s narratives on the region."  Despite these hot button topics, Narwani states that prior to July 2011, all 41 of her long and detailed articles were published by the Huffington Post.

Presidential Study Directive 10: Mass Atrocities Prevention Board

On August 4th, 2011, President Obama signed off PSD 10, an order to create an "Atrocities Prevention
Board." After declaring that "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States."  the directive stated:
I hereby direct the establishment of an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board within 120 days from the date of this Presidential Study Directive. The primary purpose of the Atrocities Prevention Board shall be to coordinate a whole of government approach to preventing mass atrocities and genocide. By institutionalizing the coordination of atrocity prevention, we can ensure: (1) that our national security apparatus recognizes and is responsive to early indicators of potential atrocities; (2) that departments and agencies develop and implement comprehensive atrocity prevention and response strategies in a manner that allows "red flags" and dissent to be raised to decision makers; (3) that we increase the capacity and develop doctrine for our foreign service, armed services, development professionals, and other actors to engage in the full spectrum of smart prevention activities; and (4) that we are optimally positioned to work with our allies in order to ensure that the burdens of atrocity prevention and response are appropriately shared.

This effort was spearheaded by Samantha Power, a National Security Council director for multi-lateral affairs, former Harvard professor, and the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which won the 2003 Pulitzer prize for Non-Fiction.  She also has a long history with President Obama, dating back to 2005-2006, when she was an advisor to the then Senator, reportedly turning him onto the Darfur situation.  She also worked on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign as a top foreign policy advisor, however was forced to resign after she called Hillary Clinton "a monster" for some of the campaign tactics she was employing in Ohio.  This snafu was soon forgotten though, and Power worked on the State Department Transition Team before being appointed to a top post in the National Security Council.  It was during the 2008 campaign that Power met, and then married Cass Sunstein, another advisor to Obama who now works in the White House, heading up the Department of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Stratfor Emails: Western Covert Ops in Syria

Starting on February 27th, Wikileaks began to release what it claims is a cache of five million internal emails from "Stratfor," a private security and intelligence company run out of Texas   My knowledge of Stratfor is that their emails have been clogging my inbox for a year or so, and that I usually delete them without reading them.  But with the wikileaks release, I became more interested, and started searching through the database for treasures.  And it seems there is a big one.
        On December 6th, 2011, Stratfor researcher Reva Bhalla reported back on a Pentagon meeting he had just attended with an Air Force Strategic Studies Group, which consisted of himself, four Air Force Lieutenant Colonels, as well as a representative from both Britain and France.
Bhalla, who was there to explain the "strategic picture" in Syria to the military officials, asked about the current (Dec. 2011) military picture in Syria, and was given a remarkable response:

After a couple hours of talking, they said without saying that SOF teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce missions and training opposition forces. One Air Force intel guy (US) said very carefully that there isn't much of a Free Syrian Army to train right now anyway, but all the operations being done now are being done out of 'prudence.' The way it was put to me was, 'look at this way - the level of information known on Syrian OrBat this month is the best it's been since 2001.' They have been told to prepare contingencies and be ready to act within 2-3 months, but they still stress that this is all being done as contingency planning, not as a move toward escalation...
I kept pressing on the question of what these SOF teams would be working toward, and whether this would lead to an eventual air camapign to give a Syrian rebel group cover. They pretty quickly distanced themselves from that idea, saying that the idea 'hypothetically' is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within. There wouldn't be a need for air cover, and they wouldn't expect these Syrian rebels to be marching in columns anyway.

Interview with Hamid Dabashi

Yesterday, Paul Jay at the Real News Network interviewed (transcript) Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.  The interview is title "Saudis and US Waging a Proxy War in Syria."
Dabashi's main point:
Syria has now emerged as the site of a proxy war between two contending forces. On one side is Islamic Republic and Russia, and by extension China, that they don't want a post Bashar al-Assad Syria to be to their disadvantage. And on the other side you have Saudi Arabia, United States, and Israel, and by extension the Gulf Cooperation Council, and even the Arab League. They are also actively involved in micromanaging the aftermath of what will happen to Bashar al-Assad. And in between, as you said in the introduction, are caught ordinary Syrian people who have started these demonstrations, this uprising peacefully, and who will have to survive this brutal confrontation/proxy war between two contending forces. Chiefly responsible for this on one side is Russia that wants to have a piece of the pie in the aftermath of Bashar al-Assad. They don't care about Bashar al-Assad particularly. And on the other side is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, as a retrograde regime, is very frightened by what will happen in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. As we have seen, they deploy forces, military forces in Bahrain when it comes to their interest. Equally frightened is, of course, Israel. Israel is using the events in Syria, and also the fabricated crisis in the Islamic Republic, to detract attention from their own crisis, namely the question of Palestinian homeland.

More at The Real News

"U.S. policy is now aligned with enabling the opposition to overthrow the Assad regime"

The White House has stepped up its "official" aid to the Syrian opposition forces by providing direct communication and humanitarian assistance, according to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy's: The Cable.  Rogin writes:
Last week, a group of senior Obama administration officials met to finalize a package of options for aiding both the internal and external Syrian opposition, to include providing direct humanitarian and communications assistance to the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed toThe Cable. This meeting of what's known as the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council set forth a new and assertive strategy for expanding U.S. engagement with Syrian activists and providing them with the means to organize themselves, but stops short of providing any direct military assistance to the armed opposition.
Rogin quotes his official sources further, writing, "These moves are going to invest the U.S. in a much deeper sense with the opposition," one administration official said. "U.S. policy is now aligned with enabling the opposition to overthrow the Assad regime. This codifies a significant change in our Syria policy."

The article also lays out the administration's thinking on a number of related issues.
  • Concerning the Syrian Opposition being armed by allied Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the administration is tolerant of the idea, but does not want to publicly endorse it, in a sense giving the White House future wiggle room.. "The decision has been made at the next Friends of Syria meeting to not oppose any proposals to arm the FSA and we're not going to publicly or privately message on that," said one 
  • The plan to provide communication and humanitarian assistance to the opposition is being tasked to the State Department and USAID, working through State's "Middle East Partnership Initiative."
  • Perhaps most importantly, the White House has decided to back the newly established Syrian National Council Defense Committee as the administrative body through which opposition assistance will be coordinated, despite the dismissal of the SNC'd defense committee by the Free Syrian Army
In a telling sign, this newest policy shift comes just as the usual trio of Senate hawks (McCain, Graham, and Lieberman) on the Armed Services Committee call for air strikes to be leveled against Syria.  As from the start of the Obama administration's regime change policy in Syria (April 2011), the White House has tagged only slightly behind these Senators in their belligerence.  Each round of Syrian sanctions issued by the Treasury Department so far has been predicated by a statement of bill from this trio.  Will this pattern continue, with the White House looking more fondly at the McCain idea of air-strikes, or will they ere of the side of caution, only "officially"  providing communication and humanitarian help?

Monday, March 5, 2012

F. William Engdahl "The New Mediterranean Oil and Gas Bonanza"

Recently, economic researcher and historian F. William Engdahl published a two part report (Israel's Levant Basin: a new Geological Curse? (2/19/12), Rising Energy Tensions in the Aegean: Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria (3/3/12)) detailing the massive new hydrocarbon discoveries that have been made in the Levantine Basin of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  While his report was circulated among internet publishishers like the Canadian "Center for Research on Globalization" and the French "Voltaire Network," as well as picked up by RT, Russia's english language satellite television network, no U.S. mainstream news network has touched Engdahl's work, or even approached the subject it deals with.  In all of 2010 and 2011, while the "Arab Spring" was engulfing the eastern Mediterranean, the New York Times published only three articles (one on 8/20/10, one on 12/30/10, and one on 7/10/11) that mentioned the massive energy reserves being discovered just offshore.  The Washington Post also published only three mentions of the discoveries, all of them in 2010.  This virtual blackballing of the subject by the two papers make it apparent that for the American people, oil politics and the "Arab Spring" were not to be associated with each other.  This makes tantamount the importance of scholars seeing through the blur of Wurlitzer narratives and understanding the real developments that have been taking place in the Middle East over the past year.

Engdahl's report states:

In October 2010 Israel discovered a massive “super-giant” gas field offshore in what it declares is its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The find is some 84 miles west of the Haifa port and three miles deep. They named it Leviathan after the Biblical sea monster. Three Israeli energy companies in cooperation with the Houston Texas Noble Energy announced initial estimates that the field contained 16 trillion cubic feet of gas—making it the world’s biggest deep-water gas find in a decade, adding more discredit to “peak oil” theories that the planet is about to see dramatic and permanent shortages of oil, gas and coal. To put the number in perspective, that one gas field, Leviathan, would hold enough reserves to supply Israel’s gas needs for 100 years.

The story of this "game-changer," as he calls it, began in 2009, when Noble Energy, which employs as a lobbyyist Bill Clinton, discovered the Tamar field 50 miles west of Haifa, estimated to contained 8.3 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of natural gas, making it the biggest gas discovery of 2009. This discovery, and the speculation that it may have just been the tip of the energy iceberg, prompted the U.S. government to carry out its first ever energy survey of the Levantine Basin, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey at the Department of the Interior. Their findings, released in April 2010, were breathtaking, estimating that the basin held 122 tcf of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil. Brenda Peirce, a program coordinator for the Geological Survey, stated at its release: "The Levant Basin Province is comparable to some of the other large provinces around the world and its gas resources are bigger than anything we have assessed in the United States."
    Months later came the discovery of the Leviathan field, and suddenly the Eastern Mediterranean was awash in the problems that follow being deemed the next energy El Dorado.  Lebanon put in a claim to the UN that part of Israel's new discoveries sat in Lebanese territorial waters, within their Exclusive Economic Zone.  And Obama's White House, perpetually ticked off at Israel's intransigent right-wing leadership, reportedly endorsed the Lebanese claim, sending State Department Envoy Frederic C. Hof on a round of shuttle diplomacy between Beirut and Jerusalem to help negotiate the issue.
      Israel's finds also led other countries in the region to explore their waters for untapped hydrocarbon deposits, and as Engdahl writes, "Preliminary exploration has confirmed similarly impressive reserves of gas and oil in the waters off Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and potentially, Syria."  
     Greece made the most significant discoveries, with preliminary estimates putting the Ionian Sea, to the west of Greece, as containing 22 billion barrels, and the Aegean Sea, to the north, at 4 billion barrels, with the Southern Aegean Sea and the Cretan Sea yet to even be explored.  Greece's economy, however, is getting in the way of Greek people prospering off these finds.  While much of the exploration was done prior to the Greek debt crisis coming into full swing, the international financiers of the EU and Wall Street are now demanding that Greece impose strict austerity policies that slash government spending and privatize state industries, like ports and oil companies, making it impossible for the Greek government to use their new found energy wealth to pay off the debt.  Engdahl writes:
Tulane University oil expert David Hynes told an audience in Athens recently that Greece could potentially solve its entire public debt crisis through development of its new-found gas and oil. He conservatively estimates that exploitation of the reserves already discovered could bring the country more than €302 billion over 25 years. The Greek government instead has just been forced to agree to huge government layoffs, wage cuts and pension cuts to get access to a second EU and IMF loan that will only drive the country deeper into an economic decline...Notably, the IMF and EU governments, among them Germany, demand instead that Greece sell off its valuable ports and public companies, among them of course, Greek state oil companies, to reduce state debt. Under the best of conditions the asset selloffs would bring the country perhaps €50 billion.  Plans call for the Greek state-owned natural gas company, DEPA, to privatize 65% of its shares to reduce debt.  Buyers would likely come from outside the country, as few Greek companies are in a position in the crisis to take it.

Engdahl also reports that the U.S. State Department has not been a neutral player in regards to Greek energy deposits. He notes a July 2011 trip taken to Greece by Secretary Clinton, where she was accompanied by Richard Morningstar, a special envoy for Eurasian Energy. Morningstar made his name during the Clinton Administration, when he was an advisor to the President on Caspian energy issues, where the name of the game was a zero-sum pipeline race between the U.S. and Russia for control and transportation of oil and gas deposits. Engdahl describes Morningstar as "the U.S. specialist in economic warfare against Russian energy diplomacy," and his presence with Secretary Clinton at Greek negotiations signals that the U.S. is intent on Western companies being able to benefit from Greek oil. Engdahl quotes an independent Greek analyst Aristotle Vassilakas as saying the U.S. plan is for Greece to join forces with Turkey on oil and gas, "to force a formula to divide resulting oil and gas revenues. According to his report, Washington proposes that Greece get 20% of revenues, Turkey another 20% and the US-backed Noble Energy Company of Houston Texas, the company successfully drilling in the Israeli and Greek offshore waters, would get the lion’s share of 60%."
    Adding on to the Greek complications is the presence of oil, also found by Noble energy, off the island of Cyprus, which is divided between an ethnically Turkish north and an ethnically Greek south, the Republic of Cyprus, which belongs to the EU.  It is off the waters of southern Cyprus that the deposits were found, where President Christofias leads the Republic as the only communist in the EU, holding close ties to Israel and Russia, while being critical of Turkish and American policy.  Recently, Israel agreed to an underwater pipeline deal that would stretch across the waters of the Republic of Cyprus to the Greecian mainland, where it would reach the EU market.  Turkey, which was left out of these negotiations entirely, was fuming at the deal. 

      These new-found oil deposits go hand in hand with NATO's policy to militarize the Mediterranean. Investigative journalist Russ Baker, writing on the recent Libyan war, brings up the "Mediterranean Union" proposed in 2007 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which would link the 15 states bordering the Sea to the EU's 27 members. He invited all EU head's of state and 17 non-EU heads of state to a Paris summit in July 2008, however one voice stood out as distinctly critical of the plan, Libya's Gaddafi. Speaking prior to the conference, he stated, "We shall have another Roman empire and imperialist design. There are imperialist maps and designs that have already been rolled up. We should not have them again." Gaddafi was upset at the inclusion of Israel and the greater EU in the plan, saying, "we Arabs have not been able to unite together. How can we have a union with Scotland or Scandinavia or Israel?"
      The US has also upped NATO member Turkey's role in the military architecture of the region by placing radar systems for its long planned Eurasian Missile Defense Shield in the east of the country.  The radar, agreed to in September 2011 and made operational in January 2012, was described by a senior White House official as "the biggest strategic decision between Turkey and the U.S. in 15 or 20 years." Located in the town of Malatya, 300 miles south-east of Ankara, the radar is manned by American and Turkish forces, but controlled from an American base in Germany.  It will transmit data to Naval forces throughout the region, as well as U.S. command posts worldwide.  
       Although the  shield has a stated goal of containing the threat of Iranian attacks, Russia sees itself as being in the cross-hairs of the Western missile batteries, which are creeping ever closer to its borders.  Russia's only Naval station in the Mediterranean is located in Syria, which is enflamed in conflict with Western calls en-masse for the Assad government to get out.  Moscow does not want to lose its influence and stake in the region, and sees the United States as trying to create a "unipolar world," as Vladimar Putin told the Munich Security Conference in 2006. 

     The current combination of new oil discoveries and unstable governments that exists in the Eastern Mediterranean is very similar to the Caspian Basin in the 1990's, referred to as a "New Great Game."  This period was recently brought up by the House of Windsor's Prince Andrew in State Department cables released by Wikileaks.  In a cable following a October 2008 meeting between the Duke of York and U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgzstan Tatiana Gfoeller, it was written

Addressing the Ambassador directly, Prince Andrew then turned to regional politics. He stated baldly that "the United Kingdom, Western Europe (and by extension you Americans too") were now back in the thick of playing the Great Game. More animated than ever, he stated cockily: "And this time we aim to win!" 
The mindset of this game necessities that when new energy deposits are discovered, U.S. officials and businessmen begin to see the region as simply a pool of oil that must be secured. What goes out the window is consideration of values like human rights and economic development, and governments are judged solely on their willingness to put up with the Washington Agenda.  This is why a brutal dictatorship in Uzbekistan is propped up and dissident leaders in Libya are toppled, why Greek oil wealth cannot be used to pay off Greek debt.  The American military mission has become intertwined with the activities of Western energy corporations, and as such energy and military policy are formed concurrently.
     Moreover, both energy and security are thought of, in the councils of the National Security State, as a zero-sum geopolitical competition with other great powers like Russia and China (and Iran, to a lesser extent).  But whereas back in the 1990s Russia had not yet recovered from the collapsed Soviet economy and held very few bargaining chips within their former sphere of influence, now the Russian Bear has its strength back and is building ties with China and other powers, most notably through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  Will Moscow exert its regional influence and hold back the West in its pursuit and control of the Mediteranean and Southwest Asia?  Syria will be one crucial testing-case.  The longer Russia and China can weather the rhetoric being pushed by Western leaders and keep up their support of Assad, the longer they can cast condescending smiles at NATO's recent Mediterranean intervention experiment, leaving the entire line-up of Western leaders with egg on their face for insisting that Assad must step down, and then not having the ability to make it happen.  Will this stand in the Western corridors of power, drenched in the scent of newly discovered petroleum?  It is an important question, and one on which may tilt another World War.