By: Kourosh Ziabari
Saturday, 14 May 2016
Toxic Legacy of the Cold War
US – Saudi Relationship: Toxic Legacy of the Cold War
Iran Review’s Exclusive Interview with Tim Anderson
By: Kourosh Ziabari
By: Kourosh Ziabari
As the international powers struggle to keep alive the diminutive chances of a lasting ceasefire in Syria and push the warring parties to refrain from getting involved in further aggression and deepening the hostilities, it’s still a valid, looming question whether the crisis in Syria can be resolved peacefully and within a reasonable timeframe five years after its eruption.
Syria has turned into a battlefield where several proxies with conflicting interests are pitted against each other. The two major global superpowers, the United States and Russia, have approached Syria with an eye on shifting the geopolitical makeup of the Middle East in their own favor and finding foothold in a highly sensitive, strategically imperative region. They certainly prioritize Syria because of its crucial borders with the oil-producing giant Iraq, Turkey – the most immediate EU neighbor to the Middle East and the country’s invaluable energy resources. However, they also have wider implications to take into consideration, and share a common concern: to conquer the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Daesh).
An Australian political scientist believes some regional actors have played a destructive role in the Syrian crisis and fanned the flames of sectarianism in the Arab country already shattered into pieces by the ISIS terrorists and their subsidiaries.
“In 2007, the U.S. military discovered documents showing that around half the Al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters were from Saudi Arabia, with the second largest group from North Africa,” said Prof. Tim Anderson in an interview with Iran Review.
“In 2012, just before ISI moved from Iraq into Syria to become ISIS (Daesh), U.S. intelligence – [mostly] the DIA – reported that the creation of a Salafist state by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and allied Salafist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, was exactly what the U.S. and its regional allies wanted, in order to isolate the Syrian regime,” he added.
Prof. Anderson is skeptical of the U.S.-Saudi collaboration in Syria and considers it a “toxic legacy” of the Cold War days: “The relationship between the Al Saud family and Washington is a toxic legacy of the Cold War, passed on by the British, who had learned “divide and rule” from the Romans. The Saudis are a family, not a nation, and it is surprising that their family business is recognized as a state in today’s world.”
Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He studies and writes on development, rights and self-determination in Latin America, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. He has published several chapters and articles in a range of academic books and journals. His most recent books are “Land and Livelihoods in Papua New Guinea” (Australia Scholarly Press, 2015) and “The Dirty War on Syria” (Global Research, 2016). He has visited Syria three times since 2013, initially as a member of Australian delegations in solidarity with Syria.
In the following interview with Iran Review, Prof. Anderson discussed his views on the troubling growth of ISIS, the role of foreign actors in the fomentation of war and unrest in Syria and the possible scenarios for the future of the crisis-stricken Arab nation.
Q: You’ve suggested that the U.S. military intervention in the region was one of the factors leading to the emergence and rise of ISIS. Do you believe the United States intentionally paved the way for the ISIS to grow and become so strong, or was it an inadvertent by-product of the U.S. Mideast policy? Washington is now investing heavily on the diplomatic and military fronts to defeat this militant group. How do you explain that?
A: The evidence is quite clear that the United States created Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which became ISI, then ISIS, over 2005-2006 to generate political violence in Iraq, in a failed attempt to stop Baghdad becoming close to Tehran. Al-Qaeda had not existed in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2007, Seymour Hersh described a “redirection” of the Bush regime, which wanted to use “moderate Sunni states” to contain the influence of Iran. Subsequently, Al Saud began to finance anti-Shiite terrorism in Iraq, helping in what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the use of “creative destruction” to reshape the region into a U.S.-led New Middle East. In 2007, the U.S. military discovered documents showing that around half of the Al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters were from Saudi Arabia, with the second largest group from North Africa. In 2012, just before ISI moved from Iraq into Syria to become ISIS (Daesh), U.S. intelligence – [mostly] the DIA – reported that the creation of a Salafist state by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and allied Salafist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, was exactly what the U.S. and its regional allies wanted, “in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” Chapters 2 and 12 of my book “The Dirty War on Syria” document this.
Q: During an October 2014 question and answer session at Harvard University, the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden bluntly accused the major Washington allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Turkey of pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad” including the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda and “extremist” elements coming from other parts of the world. Biden later onapologized to the three countries for his scathing comments, but partly echoed the private understanding shared by the U.S. leaders that Syria’s neighbors have significantly contributed to the empowerment of ISIS. With such an awareness, couldn’t the Obama administration take effective steps to preclude the growth of ISIS at least through stopping its regional partners from funding and arming this terror gang?
A: In theory yes, but in practice no, because Obama’s major regional allies – the Saudis, Turkey and Qatar – could never have taken this step without U.S. approval in the first place. The U.S. has a special office to rigorously license the re-export of any U.S. weapons. So, for example, the Al Saud family cannot provide masses of weapons to terrorist groups without direct U.S. approval or collaboration. Nor can a strategy for backing a large-scale terrorist war be conducted by the close allies of the U.S. without direct U.S. approval. Of course this will be spoken of differently in diplomatic processes, but we should not ignore the plain truth.
Vice President Joe Biden’s statement was repeated by the head of the U.S. armed forces, General Martin Dempsey, who said, “I know major Arab allies who fund [ISIS]”. The head of the U.S. Congress Armed Forces Committee Senator Lindsey Graham responded, “They fund them because the Free Syrian Army couldn’t fight Assad; they were trying to beat Assad.”
Q: Just recently, the Saudi government threatened that it will sell off $750 billion’ worth of U.S.-based assets held by the kingdom if the Congress passes a bill allowing the American courts to hold the Saudi government responsible over its possible role in the 9/11 events. Former Senator Bob Graham has said in a recent interview, “the Saudis have known what they did in 9/11, and they knew that we knew what they did, at least at the highest levels of the U.S. government.” However, the strategic U.S.-Saudi partnership move forward unimpeded while Riyadh’s role in 9/11 is almost undisputed. How would you describe it?
A: The relationship between the Al Saud family and Washington is a toxic legacy of the Cold War, passed on by the British, who had learned “divide and rule” from the Romans. The Saudis are a family, not a nation, and it is surprising that their family business is recognized as a state in today’s world. It is not just about the enormous oil reserves they have appropriated for themselves, and of course these will not last forever. But the Saud family remains useful to the United States as a key agent of sectarian division and confusion in the Arab-Muslim world, in parallel with Israel. The special protection this regime enjoys, from real scrutiny including criminal accountability, is only because they remain useful to the big power. It is hard to imagine that the Saudi regime would survive if Washington were to give up its ambition to dominate the region.
Q: Do the European states have a firm strategy to deal with their radicalized citizens who take up the adventurous journey of traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight for the ISIS? Recent reports show that around 1,700 French citizens, 760 Britons, 470 Belgians and 300 Swedish nationals have been recruited by the ISIS, and many of them are already coming back to their countries. How is the EU going to tackle the crisis originating from the alarming return of these brainwashed ISIS loyalists to their homeland?
A: It seems they do not have such a strategy. They tend to follow the U.S. line on Russia and the Middle East, even though they have distinct interests and are affected far more directly by “blowback” terrorism than is North America. They are of course concerned about this terrorism and have instituted a series of measures when it is incoming, much less so when it is outgoing. We know for example that the British-Pakistani man Moazzam Begg, charged with terrorist offences in the UK in 2014, was released after it was shown that his travels to Syria had been condoned by British intelligence MI5. Those European states will seek ways to “outsource” their problems, but they seem largely incapable of recognizing their own responsibility for fomenting terrorism in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.
Q: What role can Iran play in trouncing the ISIS? Is the U.S. government willing to collaborate with Iran and find a common, unified strategy for rooting out the menace of ISIS from the region? Iran apparently has an interest in seeing the ISIS defeated and Syria stabilized. Do you think it’s possible for Tehran and Washington to ignore their differences over the fate of Bashar al-Assad for a moment and concentrate on the shared objective of defeating ISIS?
A: Iran is already playing a tremendous support role in both Syria and Iraq, a role very poorly recognized in the Western countries that pretend there is some sort of sectarian relationship. In fact, the key reason for Western and Zionist hatred of Iran is precisely its independent and non-sectarian role in support of Palestine, which has very few Shiite Muslims, and the regional Axis of Resistance. It is encouraging to see the regional Axis of Resistance including Iraq these days. More careful observers would have noted that the Iraqi security services would prefer Iranian support over U.S. support, when it comes to their anti-Daesh operations. Pluralist Syria has always maintained a strong relationship with the Islamic Republic. Iran has provided training, logistical and material support to Syria from the beginning of the crisis and, more recently, has suffered significant casualties in defense of Syria. I do not see that any strategic alliance between Iran and the U.S. is possible, so long as Washington maintains its ambition to subjugate and control the entire region. Iran is, after all, the leading anti-imperial nation in the region. However there may be some room for pragmatic cooperation at times, including over Daesh, even though, as I said earlier, the U.S. is the mastermind of Daesh and all similar sectarian groups. The U.S. will probably want to save face as its operations progressively collapse.
Q: Are you optimistic that Syria can find a way out of the current chaos in the foreseeable future? President Obama has made it clear that the U.S. won’t send ground troops to Syria, because this is exactly what the ISIS terrorists wish. Is there any political and diplomatic solution? The parties with an interest in the Syrian question including the Arab states of the region, Turkey, the NATO member states, Russia, the U.S. and Iran have serious differences, divided by seemingly unbridgeable gaps. Will they be able to eventually strike a compromise?
A: Yes I am. I do not believe any U.S. administration in the near future will attempt a direct intervention in Syria. They were always worried about the coherence of the Syrian Army and its strong allies, principally Iran and Russia. The last five years will have reinforced those fears. Syria has faced a test of fire; it has suffered enormously but has also become stronger. Importantly, too, the alliance built during the Syrian war is a very powerful one, certainly the strongest joint army in the region. Despite the tens of thousands in proxy terrorist armies, all of them directly or indirectly backed by Washington and its key allies, Syria and its allies are winning. Other than adding weapons systems like surface-to-air missiles, the U.S. and its minions have run out of military options. Nevertheless, the diplomatic process remains important because some measures can help stop the war, as well as lifting Syria’s voice, also important in face of the huge disinformation campaign. There are of course differences of interest between the U.S., Turkey, the Saudis and Israel. That fragmentation will divide them, as they lose. Of course they remain dangerous, as they lose, and they do not like to lose, but it is clear now that they are losing.
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