Was Trump’s attack on the lira Putin’s idea?

 

Trump Impeachment Odds Slashed to Shortest Ever After ...

What did Trump and Putin agree in their secret meeting in Helsinki in July? Trump’s attack on the Turkish economy has given Putin just the leverage he needs with Erdogan over Idlib.

Trump’s critics warn us that his belligerent policies towards Iran and Turkey are pushing them into Moscow’s arms, even as they seek evidence of ‘Russian collusion’ in all the wrong places. This collusion is not to be found in shady backroom campaign meetings; it is hiding in plain sight.

“He does things the right way” Trump said of Erdogan last month. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; the two men have much in common after all: nationalist tubthumping autocrats with a contempt for constitutional limits on presidential might, who see few problems which cannot be solved through the right combination of willpower and firepower. His comment specifically referred to Erdogan’s ability to ignore his own parliament, and was followed up with a mutually aggrandising fistbump. Yet the budding bromance was to be short-lived.

 

Days later, Trump entered his now infamous two-hour private meeting with Putin in Helsinki. According to their own account, one of the main items on the agenda was Syria, which for seven years has been the battleground for a proxy war between (among others) the two men’s respective countries. In this war, Turkey and the US were supposed to be on the same side; yet Trump, on Syria as so many issues, has been ambivalent as to US goals in the conflict. The original objective, of course, was to transform Syria – an independent regional power allied to both Iran and Hezbollah – into a failed state on the Iraqi/ Libyan/ Afghan model. Yet the Syrian state – with a level of popular support surprising to those western observers susceptible to their own propaganda – stubbornly refused to be destroyed. Russian intervention helped turn the tide in September 2015, and since then, one victory after another – most notably in Aleppo – has made it clear that not only will the Syrian government survive, but that it will very likely restore its authority nationwide. Most rebel-held cities have now been retaken by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), whilst the Kurdish YPG – who have always, correctly, feared the US-backed sectarian insurgency far more than they have feared Assad – have entered into negotiations with the government, leading to a growing role for the SAA in YPG-held areas as well. The only major population centre still fully outside government control, then, is Idlib, home to almost 3 million, and largely under the control of Hay’et Tahrir Al Sham, the latest rebrand of Syria’s Al Qaeda franchise.

 

All the signs are that a government offensive on this last rebel stronghold is imminent, with government forces amassing at the western edge of the province near Jisr al Shughour. Yet one major obstacle remains. Turkey.

 

Turkish troops are now present on the ground in Idlib at around a dozen ‘observation posts’ set up under the terms of the ‘de-escalation zones’ agreed by Iran, Turkey and Russia at the Astana conference, making a direct assault on the governorate very difficult without risking a major escalation with Turkey – still, despite everything, a NATO member. Furthermore, Turkey wields extensive influence over many of the rebel groups present in Idlib. Back in May, Turkey formed a coalition of around a dozen anti-government militias there under the banner of the ‘National Liberation Front’. Earlier this month, they persuaded two HTS splinters – Nour al-Din al-Zenki, the US-UK-funded group infamous for their livestream beheading of an 11 year old, and Ahrar al-Sham, another Al-Qaeda in all but name and attitude to the west – to sign up. Through this force, Turkey now claims to control up to 100,000 fighters in Idlib, in addition to its own troops on the ground. In other words – Turkey has positioned itself to act as a major spoiler to any forthcoming Idlib operation.

 

Russia, then, seeks to pressure Turkey into agreeing to, if not a surrender of the province, then at least the removal of its troops, and a negotiated settlement with its NLF proxies – perhaps even a joint operation against HTS by the SAA, the NLF and Russia. This might be acceptable to Turkey – given a guarantee of influence in the aftermath – and Russia, but would be very hard to swallow for the Syrian government, who have no desire to share power with Al Qaeda lite. What Russia needs, then, in order to oversee an Idlib settlement on its own terms, is some kind of leverage over Turkey.

 

Enter Trump. Trump’s attack on the Turkish currency – already under pressure from the rising dollar due to its huge mountain of debt – precipitated an unprecedented decline in its value, only stemmed by a $15 billion loan from Qatar. But this is likely to only be a temporary solution. Cut out of US markets, and facing further sanctions over its purchases of Iranian oil, what Erdogan needs is a new, more dependable ally than his volatile erstwhile buddy in the White House.

 

Enter Putin. On August 10th, following the Trump tweet that triggered the lira’s plunge, Erdogan immediately spoke to Putin to discuss “trade and economic cooperation”. 3 days later, Erdogan explained that he had “made advancements in our ties with Russia in accordance to our benefits and interests”. This was followed up with a visit to Ankara by Foreign Minister Lavrov the next day and then, at the end of last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was received in Moscow by Putin himself. Russia had already reaffirmed its commitment to the delivery of its much-feared S-400 missile system by early next year, and made some vague promises to use the lira in its transactions with Turkey at some unspecified point in the future. But nothing new, nothing concrete. Russia was signalling that it was ready to come to Turkey’s aid; but at a price. That price may well be Turkish support for Russian proposals in Idlib, which Putin will be hoping to finalise in the forthcoming Syria summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran next week. Already, the statements coming out of Turkey following the various meetings which have taken place have indicated something of a shift in the Turkish position, with Cavusoglu admitting the presence of “terrorist groups” in Idlib, which need to “neutralised” – “to alleviate the concerns of our Russian counterparts”. At the same time, Putin can use the prospect of Turkish acquiescence to an operation in Idlib as leverage on the Syrian government to accept both its own proposals for recognition of Kurdish autonomy and Israeli demands on the Iranian presence in Syria. Such an outcome would allow both Netanyahu and Trump to claim a much-needed victory in their campaign to ‘rollback’ Iran, whilst simultaneously increasing Iranian and Syrian dependence on Russia. Trump’s attack on the lira, in other words, by throwing Turkey into Moscow’s arms, may have been the key to unlock the final stages of a Syria settlement under Russian tutelage. This is the real Trump-Russia collusion: not in backroom campaign meetings, but hiding in plain sight.

This article was originally published on Middle East Eye 

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The Qatar blockade, the petro-yuan, and the coming war on Iran

 

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Trump with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Sultan

Trump’s speech to the assembled Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia on May 21st is worth reading in full. It is deeply disturbing.

Having praised himself for his $110billion arms deal with the Saudis, he goes on to talk about the threat posed by terrorism, and what a wonderful job the US and the Gulfis – that is, the leading state sponsor of the region’s supremacist death squads, and its assembled proxies – are doing in combating it. He then goes on to claim that at the root of the region’s terrorism lurks – guess who? The power leading the regional pushback against ISIS and Al Qaeda – Iran.

 

“Starving terrorists of their territory, their funding, and the false allure of their craven ideology, will be the basis for defeating them” he says, “But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment”. This is pretty much exactly how Joe Biden – in his own attempt to whitewash US involvement – described Trump’s Saudi hosts three years earlier. But Trump is not talking about IS’s Saudi backers; he is talking about Iran – the same Iran responsible, with its Syrian and Russian allies, for that fact that the IS flag is NOT today flying over Damascus.

 

It gets worse. Look at the following passage, just after he calls on “all nations of conscience to work together to isolate Iran”:

“Will we be indifferent in the presence of evil? Will we protect our citizens from its violent ideology? Will we let its venom spread through our societies? Will we let it destroy the most holy sites on earth? If we do not confront this deadly terror, we know what the future will bring—more suffering and despair. But if we act—if we leave this magnificent room unified and determined to do what it takes to destroy the terror that threatens the world—then there is no limit to the great future our citizens will have.

The birthplace of civilization is waiting to begin a new renaissance. Just imagine what tomorrow could bring. Glorious wonders of science, art, medicine and commerce to inspire humankind. Great cities built on the ruins of shattered towns. New jobs and industries that will lift up millions of people.”

This is the language of genocide. Heroism and genocide have always gone hand-in-hand in the settler-colonial ideology internalised by the likes of Trump, for which ‘building great cities on the ruins of shattered towns’, be they native American, Palestinian, or, it seems, Iranian, has always been the highest accolade. Some have accused Trump of making novice blunders during his first lumbering foray into the Middle Eastern maelstrom. But I think he knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows very well that the loosely-defined ‘ideology’ he speaks of as ‘spreading venom’ will be much more readily interpreted by his hosts as Shi’ism – the creed to which Iran actually subscribes – than as Wahhabi’ism, the sectarian ideology behind ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Saudi state. And just to make clear what he is demanding be done to this ill-defined – but, nudge-wink, understood – enemy, he spells it out: “The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.

It is a choice between two futures — and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.

A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and

DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH.”

 

Doesn’t this sound horribly like Trump giving the green light to an all-out war of eradication against the region’s Shia – that is, a war very similar to the one actually being waged, in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, by Trump’s government, his hosts, and their proxies?

 

At the same time, having found it harder than expected to rip up the Iran deal, Trump is instead hoping to render it null and void by simply blackmailing individual nations into not dealing with Iran, ensuring the formal lifting of sanctions is replaced by an informal blockade.

 

This is where Qatar comes in. Qatar  has clearly not been playing ball with the US-approved, Saudi-led ‘isolate Iran’ programme. This is partly because, ever since the current Emir toppled his pro-Saudi father in 1995, the country has made independence from Saudi Arabia a hallmark of its foreign policy. But it is mostly because Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest natural gas field – known in Qatar as North Field and in Iran as South Pars.

 

In fact, the two countries have had decent relations for some time: in May 2010, for example, in stark contrast to the hardline attitude of his Gulf neighbours, the Qatari Emir Al-Thani joined forces with President Assad of Syria, no less, to support Turkey’s diplomatic proposals over Iran’s nuclear programme. Then, in 2014, in a ‘dry run’ of today’s crisis, the Saudis, UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha following a Qatari proposal to help Iran develop its side of the North Field/ South Pars gas field. But what’s taking place now is much more serious. And that is largely because of the likely earth-shattering impact of the decisions surely now being considered by the two powers over where their gas will go, how it will get there – and in what currency it will be sold.

 

In April of this year, a self-imposed 12-year moratorium on the development of Qatar’s share of North Field came to an end, potentially opening up a flood of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) onto the market in the years to come. But where will it go? Qatar had originally been hoping to build an LNG pipeline to the Mediterranean via Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey; indeed, many have speculated that Assad’s blocking of this proposal in favour of an Iran-Iraq-Syria route was a major reason for Qatar’s support of the anti-government insurgency there. The failure of this insurgency, however, has spelled the death of this proposal, leaving Qatar bound to look East to Asia – already their biggest customers – for their LNG markets. But most of the existing Eastbound LNG pipeline infrastructure is controlled by Iran. For Qatar, then, cutting its Iran links would be cutting off its nose to spite its face. This is why the Saudis aim to demonstrate that the alternative is having their entire face cut off.

 

For the US, the stakes couldn’t be higher. In 2012, Iran began to accept yuan for its oil and gas payments, followed by Russia in 2015. If this takes off, this could literally spell the beginning of the end of US global power. The dollar is the world’s leading reserve currency, in the main, only because oil is currently traded in dollars. Countries seeking foreign exchange reserves as insurance against crises within their own currencies tend to look to the dollar precisely because it is effectively ‘convertible’ into oil, the world’s number one commodity. This global thirst for dollars is what allows the US to print endless amounts of them, virtually for free, which it can then exchange for real goods and services with other countries. This is what is known as ‘seignorage privileges’; that is, the ability to absorb ever-increasing amounts of goods and services from other countries without having to provide anything of equivalent value in return. In turn, it is this privilege which helps to finance the staggering costs of the US military machine, now running at over $600 billion per year.

 

Yet, this whole system falls apart once other countries stop using the dollar as their prime reserve currency. And they stop doing this once oil stops being traded in dollars. This is one reason why the US were do keen for Saddam Hussein to go after he began trading Iraqi oil in Euros.

 

And, slowly but surely, this change is already occurring. In 2012, the People’s Bank of China announced it would no longer be increasing its holdings of US dollars, and two years later, Nigeria increased its holdings of yuan from 2% to 7% of its total foreign exchange reserves. Many other countries are moving in the same direction.

 

At the same time, China has been on a gold-buying spree, setting up its own twice-daily  pricing of gold in yuan in 2012 as part of what the chair of the Shanghai Gold Exchange called the “internationalisation of renminbi”, ultimately aiming towards making yuan fully convertible to gold. Once this happens, the choice for oil-producing countries between trading oil for ever-more-worthless paper dollars, or trading it for convertible-to-gold renminbi will be a no-brainer. For Qatar, the pull may already be irresistible.

 

Hence the urgency to pre-emptively punish Qatar for its likely move towards a joint venture with Iran to supply Asia with LNG priced in yuan. The aim is to demonstrate that, however economically suicidal it may be in the long term to snub Iran and continue trading in the dollar, it will be politically suicidal in the immediate term to do anything else. Just how far Trump and his Arab friends are prepared to take this remains to be seen. But Trump has repeatedly suggested that the whole point of having a military is to use it.

This article originally appeared on RT.

MI6 and ‘overseas terrorism’: a special relationship (from January 2016)

siddhartadhar

Last week, Siddharta Dhar, a Hindu-born Muslim convert, made front page news as the latest British citizen to turn up in Syria draped in ISIS imagery and toting an AK. He may or may not be the masked Brit who starred in a recent ISIS snuff movie, but, like pretty much all those who preceded him, he was well known to the British security services. A member of Al-Muhajiroun, a ‘proscribed organisation’ under the 2000 Terrorism Act, he was on bail for terrorism offences at the time he left the country, and had been asked to hand over his passport to the police (he didn’t bother, as it turned out). Indeed, according to Andy Burnham, shadow British Home Secretary, “He was well-known to the authorities having been arrested six times on terrorism related offences”. Perhaps stating the obvious, Burnham added that “People will be shocked that a man detained on a series of counts of terrorism-related activity could be allowed to walk out of the country, unimpeded.” Nor was his flight exactly unpredictable. Earlier in the year, he had declared – on the BBC’s ‘This Morning’ programme, no less – that “Now that we have this caliphate I think you’ll see many Muslims globally seeing it as an opportunity for the Koran to be realised”. Just to clarify his intentions, he went on to tell Channel Four News: “I would love to live under the Islamic State”. I’m no expert on decoding terrorist lingo, but to my untrained eye this statement appears fairly unambiguous. But perhaps no one in British intelligence has a telly.

Or perhaps there is another explanation. Once in Syria, Dhar tweeted that “My Lord (Allah) made a mockery of British intelligence and surveillance…What a shoddy security system Britain must have to allow me to breeze through Europe to the Islamic State.” Shoddy? Maybe. But as Nick Lowles, from the group Hope not Hate, put it, “With at least six prominent members of al-Muhajiroun (the banned extremist group) having been able to slip out of Britain whilst on bail or having been banned from leaving, questions need answering. One absconding is a worry, two appears careless but six – well, that needs answering.” Indeed it does.

In fact, it seems that pretty much every time a British ISIS or Al Qaeda recruit is unearthed, they turn out to have deep ties to the intelligence services. The case of Michael Adebalajo is a case in point.

On 22 May 2013, Adebelajo and Michael Adebowale stabbed Fusilier Lee Rigby to death in London. It soon emerged that MI5 had been trying to recruit him at the time. But for what?

 

The parliamentary committee on intelligence and security conducted hearings on the murder later that year, and its report makes fascinating reading. It revealed that, prior to the murder, Adebolajo had been identified as a Subject of Interest (SoI) in no less five separate MI5 investigations, including one which was focused specifically on him.  This surveillance had revealed that he was in contact with“a high profile and senior AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] extremist” as well as two “Tier 1 SoIs being investigated…due to their possible links with AQAP in Yemen”. At one point in 2011, this particular investigation was “MI5’s highest priority operation” and it led MI5 to conclude that “Adebolajo was a primary contact of BRAVO and CHARLIE”, codenames for the two suspected AQAP members under investigation.  

Of course, ‘guilt by association’ alone would not have been enough to arrest him. But his drug dealing would have been. In theory, MI5 are supposed to ‘disrupt’ the activity of extremists by, for example, facilitating their arrest if they are involved in criminality. In Adebolajo’s case, the ‘intrusive surveillance’ which he was under for a time revealed not only that he “was involved in drug dealing” but indeed that he was “spending most of his time” drug dealing. This was the perfect opportunity for MI5 to ‘disrupt’ the activities of a man suspected of being a recruiter for Al Shabaab and known to be in contact with senior members of Al Qaeda. But MI5 seemed curiously uninterested in pursuing it. They did eventually pass some information onto the local police – but without passing on any actual evidence, and “accidentally omitting” his house number, with the result that “the police officer tasked to investigate concluded…that no further action could be taken”, an entirely predictable outcome.

Further opportunities for ‘disruption’ were also ignored. The report notes that “In November 2012, Adebolajo was part of ‘a larger group of individuals who were [involved in] a violent confrontation’…Following the disruption, it was noted that “Adebolajo’s details will be passed to [another police unit]”. For some reason, however, this didn’t happen. Nor was Adebolajo prosecuted for his membership of a proscribed organization (Al Ghurabaa, aka Al Muhajiroon). But most suspicious was the British response to his arrest in Kenya in 2010:

 

“On 22 November 2010, the Kenyan police reported to the MPS officer based in Nairobi that they had arrested Adebolajo the previous day. He had been arrested with a group of five Kenyan youths and was assessed to have been attempting to travel into Somalia to join Al Shabaab (a Somalia-based terrorist group).” Information apparently relating to Adebolajo’s involvement with terrorism – but redacted from the report – was known by MI6 at the time of his arrest according to the British counter-terrorist police officer stationed in Kenya at the time. According to the Daily Mail, “The Kenyans believed Adebolajo, 28, had played a crucial role in recruiting his co-accused, including two secondary school-aged boys, after they were radicalised during weekly visits to a mosque in Mombasa.” Kenyan government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said: ‘We handed him to British security agents in Kenya and he seems to have found his way to London and mutated to Michael Adebolajo. The Kenyan government cannot be held responsible for what happened to him after we handed him to British authorities.’ The security agents in question belonged to a highly secretive counter-terrorism unit in Kenya (referred to in the report as ARCTIC) with “a close working relationship” with the British government. Adebolajo alleged on several occasions that he had been tortured during his time in custody, leading the Committee to point out that “if Adebolajo’s allegations of mistreatment did refer to his interview by ARCTIC then HMG could be said to have had some involvement”.

 

MI6 consistently lied to the Committee about their involvement with Adebolajo in Kenya – a point noted (albeit somewhat apologetically) in their report. Of his detention, MI6 claimed “we did not know it was going on”; prompting the Committee report to “note that SIS [MI6] had been told that a British citizen was being held in detention: therefore, they did know that “it was going on”. The Chief of MI6 then lied about their responsibility to investigate the allegations of abuse, claiming that this “is not an SIS responsibility”, directly contradicting emails written by an MI6 officer at the time which had stated that “We obviously need to investigate these allegations”. This, said the Committee,clearly indicates that SIS officers believed that they had a responsibility to investigate the allegations”, adding that this is “not consistent with the evidence provided to the Committee by the Chief of SIS”, and going on to note their “concern that this email was not provided as part of the primary material initially offered in support of this Inquiry as it should have been [as] it was clearly relevant to the issues under consideration.” Finally, a redacted piece of information referring to what the Committee called “relevant background knowledge” concerning Adebolajo was disowned by MI6, who claimed only to have heard it when told by the police. The police, however, had already explained that it was MI6 who passed it to them in the first place.

 

 

Exactly what MI6 were up to in Kenya with Adebolajo remains shrouded in mystery. However, the Committee were clearly unimpressed by what they were told: “SIS has told the Committee that they often take the operational lead when a British national is detained in a country such as Kenya on a terrorism-related matter.

 

They have also told the Committee that they have responsibility for disrupting the link between UK extremists and terrorist organisations overseas, and that in Kenya this is at the centre of their operational preoccupations. The Committee therefore finds SIS’s apparent lack of interest in Adebolajo’s arrest deeply unsatisfactory: on this occasion, SIS’s role in countering ‘jihadi tourism’ does not appear to have

extended to any practical action being taken.” What if, however, MI6’s work on the “link between UK extremists and terrorist organisations overseas” is not aimed at disruption after all? What if they have been charged with facilitating, rather than countering, “jihadi tourism”?

 

The SO15 (counter-terrorism) police officer who conducted an extensive interview with Adebolajo on his return to the UK from Kenya concluded that “It is… believed Adebolajo will attempt to travel again in the future…” At the time, MI5 was running an investigation into “individuals who were radicalising UK-based extremists and facilitating their travel overseas for extremist purposes”, referred to in the Committee’s report as Operation Holly. They wrote to an MI6 representative in East Africa to ask whether “one of Adebolajo’s contacts could have been a Kenya-based SoI known to MI5 and SIS” then under investigation, but MI6 never responded. The following year, “surveillance deployments indicated that Adebolajo had met an SoI investigated for radicalising UK-based individuals and facilitating their travel overseas.” This entry in the report’s timeline was preceded by four redacted items and followed by another.  

 

The report also contains reference to a number of occasions in which investigating officers’ requests and recommendations for action against Adebolajo and Adebowale were not implemented, for reasons that were not recorded. This raises the issue of whether these requests had been over-ruled, and if so by whom. Unfortunately, the committee seemed to accept at face value MI5’s explanations of such failures (new priorities taking away resources etc) – but their report did note, in somewhat exasperated tone, that “where actions were recommended, they should have been carried out. If the investigative team had good reason not to carry out a recommended action, then this should have been formally recorded, together with the basis for that decision”.

 

Adebolajo, then, had come up on the security services radar again and again as someone not just potentially involved in recruiting for overseas terrorism, but with prior form in actually doing so. And yet we are supposed to believe that MI6 – whose prime concern was supposedly to deal with such people – had no interest in him in Kenya, and that MI5 – who are supposed to disrupt the work of such figures – willfully passed up chance after chance to do so.

 

Fast forward to today, and we have an official figure of 800 – but with estimates of 1500 and more – British citizens who have gone to fight in Syria. We have evidence from Moazzam Begg’s collapsed trial that MI5 gave the ‘green light’ to his trips to train fighters in Syria; we have the collapse of Bherlin Gildo’s trial for terrorist activities in Syria due to the embarrassment it was feared it would cause British security; we have Abu Muntasir’s testimony that “I inspired and recruited, I raised funds and bought weapons, not just a one-off but for 15 to 20 years. Why I have never been arrested I don’t know”; we have the US Senate hearings into the murder of US ambassador Christopher Stevens revealing that MI6 was involved in running a ‘ratline’ of weapons from Libya to Syria; we have case after case of families angry at the British authorities for allowing their children to go and fight despite repeated warnings, and on it goes. Can we really still call it a conspiracy theory to believe that British intelligence has allowed this to happen? These fighters are, after all, going to fight against a government whose destruction has been openly egged on by the British Prime Minister for the past five years. A shoddy security system? Or a ruthlessly efficient one.

 

This article was originally published by RT.