Counter-terrorism has been a pop field for some decades. As vague as what it purports to counter, it has generated a pundocracy of sorts, guns and mouths for hire across the US imperium and its associate powers.
Much of this resembles the various fictions common during the Cold War: the notion that insurgencies could be defeated from the outside; the teeth chattering idea of a global Communist threat directed with intellectual clarity from Moscow or Beijing. Human minds were, like puttee, pliable before the doctrinaires and ideologues. If you were told how to think, you would behave accordingly.
False rationalism pervades this entire field. And there are few in this area more misguided on this point than Sebastian Gorka, President Donald Trump’s deputy assistant, former Breitbart editor and member of the White House Strategic Initiatives Group created by Stephen Bannon and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The Gorka recipe for defence, spiked with anti-Islam fervour and dislike for misguided eggheads, neatly fits the Trump view of the world, though he remains, unlike his boss, a true ideologue. Fake news, not to mention old-fashioned bias, is repeatedly alleged, and on that score, he is not always wrong. (The assertion that networks can be pristinely objective is a fantastic one that needs debunking.)
Where the world of make-believe impresses itself upon Gorka is any rational assessment of the presidency and its meagre achievements so far. Calling them “fabulous”, Gorka repeatedly makes remarks to the extent that reporting on the inner workings of the Trump world bear “almost no resemblance to reality.”
This enables us to then assess what resemblance to reality Gorka assesses when it comes to his pet subject: the Global Jihadi scourge. On several fronts, Gorka fails to supply his audience with any explanation as to whether there is such a global jihadi problem, let alone what form it is meant to take. To do so would naturally entail having to describe a fantasy, even a conceit.
A spate of murderous drive-down spectaculars in European cities instigated by assailants either inspired by Islamic State or some other group with apocalyptic credentials is hardly evidence of a globally coherent world strategy. Had there been a unified leader of Islam, a fact hardly tenable given its various sects and internal contradictions, then assertions of a global jihadi front might hold some water.
Gorka’s Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War reads much like the screeds on modernisation theory churned out during the initial stages of postcolonialism. As long as money, bubble gum and US ideas of liberal capital were filling the nationalist void in the Third World, favour towards communism would be stemmed. Such an argument ignored the obvious point that nationalism was the driving force to begin with, with communism being conscripted to that end.
Similar errors in analysis are made in dealing with the “Global” Jihadi problem. Categories are conflated; entities reduced to a common denominator of world revolution. The attacks of 9/11 were acts of “jihadi terrorism… but, more importantly, that event was linked to communism. It was linked to fascism.”
This stunningly hollow reasoning would tend to neglect that US involvement in funding the mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets, not to mention propping regimes of such brutish reputation as Mubarak’s in Egypt, might also have had their share. Ideology, as ever, provides refined blinkers.
In Defeating Jihad, Gorka claims that the United States was caught unawares, and as chief defender of Freedom’s lands,
“It is time for the America that vanquished the Third Reich and the Soviet Union to rise from its slumber.”
Tiresome moral references aspiring to clarity are made. “It is time for us to speak truthfully about those who wish to kill us or enslave us. It is time again to speak the words ‘evil’ and ‘enemy’.” The next error on equating threats follows. “And it is time to draw a plan for victory, calling on strategies that have proved themselves against other totalitarian foes.”
Fictional formulas sell well in this field. Jihadists are rendered monolithic miscreants of the global order, requiring expunging. They are like Soviet-styled politburos, posing “existential threats” to the American way of life. For Gorka, with his revamped neoconservative slant shaped by his own taste of Hungarian communism, it is all painfully clear. If only people were willing to listen to his revelation that Islam has a central motor, a vehicle for world domination that needs to be stopped in its tracks.
Essential, then, is a similar “Long Telegram” in the mould of former Soviet scholar, US diplomat and author of the doctrine of containment, George Kennan. “If George Kennan had been a senior diplomat in the US embassy in Baghdad during the rise of ISIS in 2013 and had been asked to explain what was happening in the Middle East, his reply would have been practically the same as the Long Telegram.” Or perhaps not, as Kennan subsequently saw his analysis hijacked, condensed and ironed out for ideological purposes during the Truman administration.
Gorka finds it easy to plot a timeline of Islamic violence, claiming that the Jihadism of the last 30 years can be squarely rooted in the anti-modernism of various writers that gained traction in the nineteenth century. But this is hardly remarkable. What is unfortunate is Gorka’s reading of history as having meaningful signs and parallels, showing the way for those bedazzled by faith. Having gazed at its movement, he finds true meaning. It is precisely why such zeal is not merely dangerous, but ultimately worn.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge and lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Syria – Trump Administration Will Continue Obama Policy
There is a serious confusion about statements made yesterday by the Trump administration. It sets the fight against ISIS as the top priority and no longer demands an immediate leaving of Bashar Assad as the Syrian president. Reports try to sell this as a new position. But it is not new at all.
The U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced a “change of priorities”:
“You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told a small group of reporters.
Secretary of State Tillerson confirmed that position:
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Ankara on Thursday, said Assad’s longer-term status “will be decided by the Syrian people.”
The United States has announced a shift in its diplomatic policy on Syria and is no longer insisting that its president Bashar al-Assad be removed as the head of the war-torn country.In a clear departure from the Obama administration’s stance on Assad, and against EU policy, the US is now moving its focus to its battle with Isis.
But the Trump administration statements are not new at all. The “announced” positions were established under Obama:
President Barack Obama spent a significant portion of his final State of the Union speech discussing the fight against the terrorist group ISIS.
Obama said that fighting ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) and other terrorists is the top priority of his administration.
Also in January 2016 then Secretary of State Kerry used a similar wording as Tillerson used now:
“It’s up to the Syrians to decide what happens to Assad,” Kerry said. “They are the negotiators and they will decide the future.””It’s up to the Syrians to decide what happens to Assad,” Kerry said. “They are the negotiators and they will decide the future.”
There is no change of policy. The top priority has been and will be for a while the fight against ISIS. The U.S. will use this to occupy the eastern parts of Syria. When ISIS is suppressed enough to no longer be an immediate issue the removal of Assad will again become a top priority.
That Assad’s position will be “decided by the Syrian people” is just obfuscating as long as it is not said WHICH Syrian people are HOW to decide over it.
The War On Syria will go on until the U.S. really changes its positions and until the Wahhabi oil sheiks stop their financing of their various Takfiri mercenaries – be they ISIS, al-Qaeda or whatever name they want to apply.
US Foreign Policy: Hegemony or Stability, Not Both
US foreign policy has for decades been predicated on achieving and maintaining global peace, security and stability. In reality, it has for over a century constituted an overreaching desire to achieve and maintain global hegemony.
And where US efforts focus on achieving hegemony, division and destruction follow. From the Middle East to Eastern Europe, and from Southeast Asia to the Korean Peninsula, US intervention politically or militarily all but guarantee escalating tensions, uncertain futures, socioeconomic instability and even armed conflict.
The Middle East and North Africa
US efforts in the Middle East since the conclusion of the first World War have focused on dividing the region, cultivating sectarian animosity and pitting neighbors against one another in vicious, unending combat. During the 50s and 60s, the US pitted its regional proxy, Israel, against its Arab neighbors. In the 1980’s the US armed both the Iraqis and the Iranians amid a destructive 8 year long war.
Today, the US props up Persian Gulf states who in turn are fueling regional, even global terrorism that has destabilized or entirely dismembered entire nations. And from the Middle East and North Africa, waves of refugees have reverberated outward affecting adjacent regions who have so far been spared from the chaos directly.
In Syria, the United States poses as a central player in restoring stability to the conflict stricken nation. In reality, it was the US itself that trained activists years ahead of the so called Arab Spring, as well as funneled money into the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist groups to serve as militant proxies after the protests were finally underway. Today, militant groups operating under the banners of Al Qaeda and its various affiliates are almost exclusively funded, armed and trained by the Persian Gulf states through which the US launders its own support to these groups through.
Thus, while the US poses as an agent of stability in Syria, it is the central player intentionally creating and perpetuating chaos.
Likewise, the North African state of Libya has been rendered all but destroyed, fractured into competing regions ruled by ineffective warlords, former generals, proxies of ever sort and Persian Gulf sponsored terrorist networks including the Islamic State. The instability in Libya has afforded the United States, its policymakers and the special interests who sponsor their work a safe haven for the vast infrastructure required to maintain regional proxy forces including training camps and weapon depots.
This infrastructure, since 2011, has been used as a springboard to invade Syria, destabilize neighboring North African states and to fuel a divisive refugee crisis in nearby Europe.
Since the conclusion of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has continued to expand toward Russia’s borders. Far from a defensive alliance, NATO clearly serves as a multinational military conglomerate used as cover for expanding US hegemony worldwide. NATO operations in far-flung Afghanistan and Libya illustrate the shape-shifting nature of its alleged mission statement, revealing it to be but a pretext for an otherwise unjustified, aggressive front.
Its expansion into Eastern Europe and the ongoing military build-up along Russia’s borders mirrors similar tensions fostered by Nazi Germany during the 1930s. NATO’s sponsorship of the violent coup which overthrew the Ukrainian government between 2013-2014 likewise provides an example of how US “stability” often manifests itself instead as failed states, perpetual violence and the constant threat of further escalation.
Over the past 10 years, the United States has attempted to “pivot” itself back toward Asia. While claiming this “pivot” represented an American effort to maintain stability across Asia-Pacific, proclamations from the US State Department itself smacked of literal imperialism. An article published in Foreign Policy titled, “America’s Pacific Century,” was penned by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all but admitting this.
The United States is not an Asian nation, yet despite this obvious fact, it declared its intent to reassert American primacy across Asia Pacific. In order to do this, the US found itself fueling political opposition across much of Asia and more specifically, in Southeast Asia.
Nations like Myanmar are now headed by regimes installed into power via decades of US political support, funding and training. And despite pro-democracy rhetoric accompanying these regimes as they ascend into power, their true nature is nothing short of despotic, with Myanmar’s current government overseeing systematic violence targeting ethnic minorities, the silencing of political critics and opponents, the curtailing of free press and other flagrant abuses the US now conveniently ignores.
In nations like Thailand, US efforts to co-opt regional political orders have failed. However, despite their failure, simmering conflicts remain, threatening sociopolitical and economic stability both currently and in the near future.
On the Korean Peninsula, America’s presence continues to drive instability. Joint military exercises with South Korea often and openly serve as rehearsals for “decapitation” strikes against the North Korean government, fueling North Korean paranoia and provoking continued posturing on both sides. In short, the US presence serves to intentionally keep the neighboring states pitted against one another, undermining, not bolstering regional stability.
A similar strategy of tension is being played in the South China Sea where the US has for two presidencies now attempted to provoke China both directly and through the use of Japanese, Vietnamese and Philippine tensions to contest and curtail Beijing’s growing military deterrence.
The endgame in the South China Sea for China is to eventually push the United States out of the region, reducing or eliminating its capacity to target China directly, and reduce America’s ability to destabilize China’s peripheries. It should be noted that destabilizing China’s peripheries (those nations bordering China) is a stated objective of US policymakers.
Hegemony or Stability, Not Both
Ultimately the US seeks hegemony, not stability. Hegemony by necessity requires the division and destruction of competitors, which in turn requires constant and ever-escalating sociopolitical and economic instability. While the US has all but declared its intent to establish global hegemony for decades, it uses the pretext of seeking global peace, security and stability as cover along the way.
Understanding that only through a multipolar global order in which state sovereignty holds primacy, not multinational alliances, institutions or openly hegemonic world powers, can a real balance of power be struck, and only through this balance of power can real global stability be achieved. Until then, as the US seeks hegemony over the planet, the world can expect an equal but opposite decline in stability.
Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.