We Are All Neo-Cons Now


 “If Obama is pursuing policies similar to those taken by George W. Bush, why do we not see any giant protests against him from the Left, of the kind regularly seen during the Bush years?”

Ron RadoshPAJAMAS MEDIA

Recently, some of our most able pundits have been arguing that neoconservatism is dead. As usual, The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart leads the pack. He could not have stated his case more clearly than here: “the ideology that 9/11 made famous — neoconservatism — has died.” Beinart is certain of this. His evidence? Al-Qaeda is finished; not only Osama bin Laden is dead, but now his second in command, Abd al-Rahman, has been killed by the U.S. No longer is jihadism a major threat, “a threat on par with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union,” he argues. It is “sliding into irrelevance,” leaving the U.S. with quite a different challenge — that of China’s authoritarian capitalism. What killed al-Qaeda, he says, is “exactly the narrow targeted policies that neoconservatives derided.”

Obama has gained his ends through intelligence and drone strikes, Beinart argues, and any resulting democracy in the Middle East comes not from the United States, but from the local rebellion of young Muslims. He also argues that Republican candidates are not attacking the president along neoconservative lines; instead, they largely avoid the issue, since they “have little appetite for the neconservative agenda of continued war in the Middle East.”

He implies that we should get out of Afghanistan, because it is not worth the cost of American lives, and because we can’t afford it. Right or wrong, the money is not there, something he says neoconservatives never paid attention to. America, he says — sounding like a conservative — must pay attention to limits, and we must hold in our grandiose ambitions.

Is Beinart right? First, let us point to a factor he pays little attention to: that despite a confused and ambivalent doctrine in foreign policy, President Obama is pursuing much of the same “neo-con” policies advocated by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in their administration. No one has made a stronger case for this than Walter Russell Mead. Obama’s defenders, he writes,

must also squirm; in general, President Obama succeeds where he adopts or modifies the policies of the Bush administration. Where (as on Israel) he has tried to deviate, his troubles begin.

He writes the following:

The most irritating argument anyone could make in American politics is that President Obama, precisely because he seems so liberal, so vacillating, so nice, is a more effective neoconservative than President Bush. As is often the case, the argument is so irritating partly because it is so true.

President Obama is pushing a democracy agenda in the Middle East that is as aggressive as President Bush’s; he adopts regime change by violence if necessary as a core component of his regional approach and, to put it mildly, he is not afraid to bomb.

And finally, the heart of Mead’s case:

In many ways we are living through George W. Bush’s third term in the Middle East, and neither President Obama’s friends nor his enemies want to admit it. President Obama, in his own way and with his own twists, continues to follow the core Bush policy of nudging and sometimes pushing nasty regimes out of power, aligning the US with the wave of popular discontent in the region even as that popular sentiment continues to dislike, suspect and reject many aspects of American power and society. And that policy continues to achieve ambivalent successes: replacing old and crustily anti-American regimes, rooted deeply in the culture of terror and violence within and beyond their borders, with weaker, more open and — on some issues at least — more accommodating ones.

In Libya, as we have seen, a humanitarian effort became, in reality, a use of force to promote regime change. True, he moved too slowly, and casualties may have been avoided had he promoted his real aim from the start. And in Syria, he began by proclaiming Assad a “reformer,” only to finally, in the past few weeks, call for the Syrian dictator to step down. Yet, as Mead concludes, “half way through President Obama’s tenure in office, we can see that regime change and democracy promotion remain the basis of American strategy in the Middle East — and that force is not excluded when it comes to achieving American aims.”  So Mead writes — somewhat I think with tongue in cheek — “the Bush-Obama agenda marches on.”

Writing in the Washington Post Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz present more arguments similar to those invoked by Mead. As they put it:

President Obama used American power to liberate a Muslim people. Like George W. Bush, Obama came into office with a narrower, “humbler” conception of America’s interests abroad. In his first visit to the region, he confused the majesty of Islam with the dignity of Muslim potentates. Sept. 11, 2001, transformed Bush. We must wait to see whether the Great Arab Revolt has permanently changed Obama.

The final answer is not yet in, but these authors argue that the reasons for supporting the Syrian opponents of Assad are as great as those used by Obama for wanting to save the people of Benghazi, whom Qadaffi had threatened. Aligned with Iran, and headquarters for Hezbollah, Syria is a greater threat to the U.S. and the region than was Libya. Forcing the end of the Assad regime may be easier. Rather than use military resources, it can be done with tougher sanctions, along with arm twisting of European allies. And, they point out, the U.S. can now give funds to the united Syrian opposition, which includes striking auto workers. It can also provide communications hardware, including wi-fi equipment.

The authors conclude:

Barack Obama is the son of an African Muslim and an American woman who dedicated her life to the Third World. He is tailor-made to lead the United States in expanding democracy to the most unstable, autocratic and religiously militant region of the globe. The president obviously hasn’t seen himself as that kind of “friend of Islam.” But the Great Arab Revolt is transforming the way Arab Muslims see themselves. It may do the same for Barack Obama.

This means, as Michael Ledeen points out on his PJMedia blog today, the Syrian regime is the main danger to our interests, along with Iran, and as he writes, “if it’s right to intervene in Libya to stop the carnage, is there not even more reason to stop the greater carnage in Syria and Iran?” And the means to help them is the same taken by the Reagan administration, of which Ledeen was a part, when it gave overt aid to the anti-Communists Solidarity members in Poland. It does not have to be via bombing or troops, but through the kind of support and aid that Ledeen has long advocated.

Finally, I offer some thoughts on an obvious problem. If Obama is pursuing policies similar to those taken by George W. Bush, why do we not see any giant protests against him from the Left, of the kind regularly seen during the Bush years? Where are Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, the anti-war marches on Washington, the condemnation of Obama for killing civilians in drone attacks, for keeping Guantanamo open, for using rendition, and for giving up on civilian trials of terrorists and proceeding with military tribunals?

All of these were brought up day in and day out against the Bush administration, and now we have nothing but silence. Does the Left really think that all they screamed about is now good, because this time it is being carried out by an African-American president whom they supported?

Of course, the Left was always wrong when it condemned Bush and Cheney. While the president may himself reevaluate his position and move from where he started out, as Gerecht and Dubowitz hope he will, the organized left wing will not. I think that their quiet is motivated only by one thing alone — to attack President Obama is to, in essence, attack their own cadres, whom they pushed to do the hard work in 2008 to get Obama elected. To reevaluate openly is to harm their own credibility, so they prefer to remain silent and hope that no one will notice.

At least we know one thing now. At our present historical moment, contrary to Beinart, Jacob Heilbrunn of The National Interest, and others, we are now all neocons.

Ronald Radosh is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Hudson Institute, and a Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York. He is the author or co-author of 14 books.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pyramidion’s editorial policy.

Why the Syrian Regime Won’t Fall


The Syrian epic could be branded “Sunnis and Shi’ites battle for Arab republic”.

By Pepe Escobar

Suppose this was a Hollywood script conference and you have to pitch your story idea in 10 words or less. It’s a movie about Syria. As much as the currently in-research Kathryn Bigelow film about the Osama bin Laden raid was pitched as “good guys take out Osama in Pakistan”, the Syrian epic could be branded “Sunnis and Shi’ites battle for Arab republic”.

Yes, once again this is all about that fiction, the “Shi’ite crescent”, about isolating Iran and about Sunni prejudice against Shi’ites.

The hardcore Sunni Wahhabi House of Saud – in yet another towering show of hypocrisy, and faithful to its hatred of secular Arab republics – has branded the Bashar al-Assad-controlled Ba’ath regime in Syria “a killing machine”.

True, Assad’s ferocious security apparatus does not help – having killed over 2,400 people since unrest erupted in March. That is much more, incidentally, than Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces had killed in Libya when United Nations Resolution 1973 was rushed in to allow foreign interventions. The Diogenes the Cynic response to this “where’s the UN” discrepancy would be that Syria, unlike Libya, is not sitting on immense oil and gas wealth.

The Assad regime issues from the Alawite Shi’ite sub-sect. Thus, for the House of Saud, this means Sunnis are being killed. And, to add insult to injury, by a regime aligned with Shi’ite Iran.

Thus, the Saudi condemnation, followed by minions of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), also known as the Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club, plus the toothless, Saudi-manipulated Arab League. To top it off, House of Saud and Gulf wealth is actively financing the more unsavory strand of Syrian protests – the radicalized Muslim Brotherhood/fundamentalist/Salafi nebula.

By contrast, the only thing pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain received from the House of Saud and the GCC was an invasion, and outright repression.

Now for the Turkey shoot

The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkey’s position is far more nuanced. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is overwhelmingly Sunni. They are playing for the regional Sunni gallery. But the AKP should be aware that at least 20% of Turks are Shi’ites from the Alevi branch, and they have a lot of empathy with Syrian Allawis.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – the academic father of the celebrated “zero problems with our neighbors” policy – this week spent no less than six hours talking to Assad face-to-face in Damascus. He was deeply enigmatic at his press conference, implying that the Assad regime ending the crackdown and meeting the protesters’ demands was a “process”. Assad could reply he had already started the “process” – but these things, such as free and fair elections, take time.

Davutoglu explicitly said; “As we always underlined, our main criteria is that the shape of the process must reflect only the will of the Syrian people.” At the moment, the regime would reply, the majority of the Syrian people seem to be behind the government.

Davutoglu’s words also seem to imply there’s no reason for Turkey to interfere in Syria as long as Damascus is reasonable and stops killing people (Assad admitted “mistakes” were made) and introduces reforms. So the impression is left that Davutoglu was contradicting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has vocally advocated for Turkey to “solve” the Syrian quagmire.

That would be Erdogan’s way to prove to Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the Turkish model is the way to go for the Arab world – assuming the Saudis and the Qataris foot the bill for Erdogan to pose as the Great Liberator of Sunnis in Syria, financing a Turkish army advance over Assad’s forces. That certainly sounds much more far-fetched now than it did a few days ago.

The Assad regime has done the math and realized it won’t fall as long as the protests don’t reach the capital Damascus and the major city of Aleppo – that is, convulse the urban middle class. The security/military apparatus is fully behind Assad. All Syrian religious minorities make up at least 25% of the population; they are extremely fearful of Sunni fundamentalists. Secular Sunnis for their part fear a regime change that would lead to either an Islamist takeover or chaos. So it’s fair to argue the majority of Syrians are indeed behind their government – as inept and heavy-handed as it may be.

Moreover, the Assad regime knows the conditions are not ripe for a Libyan-style North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign in Syria. There won’t even be a vote for a UN resolution – Russia and China have already made it clear.

Europe is melting – and it will hardly sign up for added ill-planned adventurism. Especially after the appalling spectacle of those dodgy types of the Libyan transitional council killing their military leader and fighting their tribal wars in the open – with the added ludicrous touch of Britain recognizing the “rebels” the same day they were killing and burning the body of their “commander”.

Bashar Assad

There’s no reason for a Western “humanitarian intervention” under R2P (“responsibility to protect”) because there’s no humanitarian crisis; Somalia, in fact, is the top humanitarian crisis at the moment, leading to fears that Washington may in fact try to “invade” or at least try to control strategically-crucial Somalia.

So the idea of the Barack Obama administration in the United States telling Assad to pack up and go is dead on arrival as a game-changer. What if Assad stays? Will Washington drone him to death – under the pretext of R2P? Well, the Pentagon can always try to snuff him with an unmanned Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 – the new toy “to respond to threats around the globe”, in Pentagon speak. But oops, there’s a snag; the prototype hypersonic glider has gone missing over the Pacific.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pyramidion’s editorial policy.

Kurds eagerly watch South Sudan’s independence


The Kurdish Globe
By Qassim Khidjir &
Ramazan Partew

“The declaration of South Sudan is a great lesson that no force can oppress the rights of a nation.”

 “Arabs should look at their serious blunders and moral failures by facing the fact that the South Sudanese are an oppressed people whose grievances were against Arab rule and not against Western domination”

On the day when the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan emerged, most of the editorials in the Kurdish media in Iraqi Kurdistan Region were about South Sudan. This was not because Kurds are particularly interested in Africa’s affairs, but because Kurds believe they have similar history as the South Sudanese. They both faced decades of struggle, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

“Today is a bright day, not only for the history of South Sudanese, but also for all nations that struggled for a long time for their independence,” said Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani in a congratulatory letter to South Sudan President Salva Kiir. Barzani pointed out, “this is living proof that any nation with an independence movement can one day reach their goal.”

Barzani expressed his admiration to the leaders of the Republic of Sudan for respecting the decision of South Sudanese people. In a referendum last January, 98 percent of South Sudanese people voted to break away from Sudan. In the meantime, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Barham Salih, in a letter to Kiir said, “The declaration of South Sudan is a great lesson that no power can oppress the rights of a nation.”

Member of the Kurdistan Parliament Omer Nuradini explained that the Kurds were excited about the independence of South Sudan more than the independence of other nations because South Sudan, like Kurdistan, is in the Arab region. He also noted Sudan like Iraq was a British colony; Sudan like Iraq is a multi-ethnic and religious country; and South Sudan like Kurdistan Region took arms to gain liberation.

Another Kurdish MP, Abdul Salam Barwari, said the difference between Kurdistan Region and South Sudan is when South Sudan got federalism, it was submitted in the constitution that South Sudan has the right to hold a referendum to decide whether they want to be part of Sudan or break away. But in the Iraqi Constitution, it is not mentioned that Kurdistan Region has right to hold a similar referendum.

Iraqi Kurds weren’t the only ones celebrating South Sudan’s independence. Kurdish politicians and thinkers in Turkey’s Kurdish areas also celebrated. Former chief of pro-Kurdish Rights and Freedom party in Turkey, Sertaç Bucak, said until 1989, the United Nations and Western countries considered the minority issue to be an internal affair. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, minority issues became an international issue. Furthermore, Bucak told the Globe the referendum in Sudan was the first time the U.N. observed this type of referendum. Remarkably, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir respected the results of the referendum and attended the celebration of the independence of South Sudan. “South Sudan has showed the world that every nation has the right for self-determination.”

A Kurdish politician and writer in Turkey, Îbrahîm Guçlu, believes now it is the era for oppressed nations to get their rights. “I hope the South Sudan model will be repeated for all the oppressed nations, particularly the Kurdish nation.”

Pan-Arabism and political Islam have failed in South Sudan

Southern Sudanese celebrating independence

Iraqi Arab leaders barely made a statement about the independence of South Sudan. Observers believe the Arab world has to draw the right lessons from it wants to avoid other Arab states breaking apart into ethnic and sectarian enclaves. The birth of South Sudan is first and foremost a testimony to the failure of the official Arab order, pan-Arabism, and especially the Islamic political projects to provide civil and equal rights to ethnic and religious minorities in the Arab world. The jubilation that swept the people of South Sudan at their independence from the predominantly Arab and Muslim north attests to the long-standing feelings of repression and alienation by a people, the majority of whom were born into the post-independence Arab world.

Lamis Andoni, an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs, wrote to Al-Jazeera and said Intellectuals in the Arab world should not comfort themselves by pointing — even though rightly so — to Western hypocrisy and double standards in supporting, embracing and recognizing the new state of South Sudan while effectively blocking the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. Arabs should look at their serious blunders and moral failures by facing the fact that the South Sudanese are an oppressed people whose grievances were against Arab rule and not against Western domination. It is true the people of South Sudan may still find themselves prey to greedy Western governments interested in their rich natural resources, but that does not change the reality that people of the new state celebrated the end of what they viewed as oppression by an Arab and Muslim elite.

“Pan-Arabism was initially an anti-colonial movement, some of its branches — especially the Baath Arab parties that ruled Syria and Iraq — demonstrated and practiced destructive racist policies and actions against other ethnic groups and nationalities. The case of the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq testify to different degrees of exclusivist, supremacist and racist policies by both Baathist political parties,” said Andoni.

“The Arab uprisings have already exposed the utter political and financial corruption of Arab leaders and the absence of freedom and justice. The Arab order has not only failed minorities and its non-Arab components, but the Arab masses as well,” she concluded.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Pyramidion’s editorial policy