Saturday, 13 September 2014

Obama’s volte-face on ISIS thrusts US into years of perpetual war

The United States has announced its intentions to counter the Islamic State group by sending 475 additional US troops to Iraq and intensifying airstrikes against ISIS targets in coordination with Baghdad. US President Barack Obama, during his televised national address, also endorsed a cross-border extension of the US bombing campaign into Syria.

Obama called on Congress to approve a massive $500 million program intended to bolster and equip militants seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian government officials have reiterated their opposition to US airstrikes, declaring that any strikes on their territory launched without the consent of Damascus would be considered an act of aggression.

Washington’s strategy implies launching airstrikes on a sovereign nation without UN authorization and openly arming non-state militants, which would constitute a major violation of international law. US officials have already conceded that the regional campaign could stretch beyond the end of Obama’s presidency.

Washington’s open-ended escalation of US military action in the region amounts to a unilateral declaration of war. It is important to note that the Obama administration has sidestepped its constitutional obligation to obtain congressional approval for its military campaign, legitimizing its authority from 2001 use-of-force authorization against al-Qaeda that the president himself endorsed repealing last year.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Six months after MH370, Boeing & Inmarsat need to explain themselves

Six months have passed since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in March, which took off from Kuala Lumpur carrying 239 people en route to Beijing. The aircraft veered wildly off course while flying over the South China Sea before turning back over the Malaysian peninsula toward the Indian Ocean, where it is presumed to have crashed.

Despite the largest multinational search and rescue effort ever conducted, not a trace of debris from the aircraft has been found, nor has the cause of the aircraft’s erratic change of trajectory and disappearance been established. The case of MH370 has proven to be the most baffling incident in commercial aviation history and one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.

Malaysia Airlines has suffered the two worst disasters in modern aviation less than five months apart, following the tragic demise of flight MH17 in July, forcing the company to slash its staff numbers by a third as part of a major restructuring effort. The state has announced plans to take full ownership of the national carrier following the collapse of its share price and its subsequent removal from the stock market.

After a fruitless search in the southern Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to have ditched, investigators established a new search area that has been mapped by Chinese and Australian ships since June. The next stage of the investigation has been given a provisional 12 months, and a Dutch contractor, Fugro Survey, will conduct an underwater search beginning this month.

It is hoped that once the wreckage is discovered, the aircraft’s black boxes, cockpit voice recordings and flight data will help investigators explain the incident, as well as give closure to the families of the victims. There is still little consensus among investigators and experts as to what actually happened on board the doomed flight.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Rejecting an alliance with Syria to counter the Islamic State is madness

The rapid military advances made in recent months by the Islamic State, the radical jihadist organization that declared a caliphate over territories belonging to Iraq and Syria in June, has yet again prompted US military engagement in Iraq. Pentagon officials have branded the Islamic State as ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘an imminent threat’.

Washington has redeployed some 800 troops to Iraq since June, and the Obama administration has since conducted dozens of airstrikes in support of Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iraqi Special Forces, who are fighting alongside Shiite militias once at the forefront of armed resistance to the US occupation.

Despite the prevailing war-weariness of the American public, Barack Obama has pledged a renewed commitment to long-term military involvement in Iraq to counter the Islamic State. Remarks made by administration officials suggest that the US is preparing for wider military involvement in the region.

Ethnic minorities in northern Iraq, such as the Christian, Turkmen and Yazidis, are considered infidels by the advancing jihadist militants and have been under siege by the Islamic State’s push into their historic lands. Washington has made its case for intervention in Iraq by coming to their defense.

The latest wave of US intervention in Iraq has produced some modest gains. Humanitarian aid has been delivered to embattled minorities; Kurdish and Iraqi fighters have retaken some areas – such as the Mosul dam – and the Islamic State’s advance toward the US-backed semi-autonomous Kurdish region has been averted for the moment.

Washington is widely expected to expand the scope of its military operation against the Islamic State into Syria, where the Obama administration has supported militias fighting since 2011 to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Pentagon has already begun reconnaissance flights over Syria as a precursor to potential airstrikes.

Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, said that his country would be willing to cooperate in fighting the Islamic State, but that any strike taken inside Syrian territory without coordination with Damascus would be considered an act of aggression and a violation of his country’s sovereignty.

The Obama administration then snubbed Damascus by stating it had no intention to coordinate its actions with the Syrian government. Washington also announced that it planned to ramp up support for ‘moderate’ rebel groups fighting Syrian security forces.

The rise and eminence of the Islamic State group, and other jihadist organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra, demonstrate the alarming extent to which policies undertaken by Western and Gulf States in Syria have spectacularly backfired, with staggering human costs.

The rebellion against Bashar al-Assad – who, despite undeniable heavy-handedness, has led a country once considered among the safest and most tolerant in the region – relies on heavily on foreign fighters and material assistance provided from abroad.

Sunni monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are known to have provided hundreds of millions to radical militias fighting inside Syria, in an attempt to roll back the regional influence of Shiite Iran, whose key allies are the government in Damascus and Hezbollah, the Lebanese paramilitary organization. Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait have been similarly involved in promoting anti-Assad militias.

The US, under the auspices of covert programs conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, provided weapons and training to Islamist fighters with anti-Western views (though Washington publically claims to only support so-called ‘moderates’), many of whom have now joined the ranks of the Islamic State, according to a recent exposé published in the Washington Post.

Though the existence of covert programs have been widely reported by investigative journalists and admitted by the Obama administration, the Washington Post’s report, which cites senior US and Arab intelligence figures and members of the Islamic State, is among the most critical assessments of US policy in Syria to appear in the mainstream American media.

Western and Gulf states knowingly trained militants with jihadist leanings to fight for ‘democracy’ in Libya, where they succeeded in toppling Muammar Gaddafi, and Syria, according to the report, which also claims that many fighters who now belong to the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra were previously trained by French, British, and American military and intelligence personnel.

The policy being pursued in Syria – grounded in the strategy that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ – has not only unnecessarily prolonged the Syrian civil war and intensified the humanitarian calamity facing the region. It is the primary factor that has given rise to the Islamic State and any potential Western military escalation due to follow.

The Islamic State controls an area larger than the UK and controls seven oil fields and two refineries in northern Iraq, and six out of 10 oil fields in eastern Syria. It is believed to be raising more than $2 million a day in revenue from extortion, taxes, smuggling, and oil sales, by selling crude at between $25 and $60 a barrel.

As Western officials concede, there has never been a more sophisticated, disciplined, and wealthy terrorist organization. It is a strategic mistake for the Obama administration to press ahead with its campaign of regime change against the government of Bashar al-Assad, who can prove to be a useful ally in the fight against the jihadist militants.

Western countries dismissed the results of Syria’s presidential elections in June, where some 73 percent of 15.8 million eligible voters took part in the vote, which saw Assad run against two challengers and win with 88 percent. Assad clearly commands the majority support of the Syrian public, and his government does not pose a military threat to the US.

The worst move the West could make would be launching unauthorized strikes in Syria while continuing to provide arms to anti-Assad militants; such a strategy would serve to undermine the entire region’s ability to respond to the jihadist threat and open the door to wider war if the Syrian government decides to respond to US provocations.

If the Obama administration proceeds with airstrikes in Syria without the explicit permission of Damascus or UN approval, it would be an unabashed violation of international law and the UN charter. Any intervention without the approval of Congress would also violate US law and could potentially pull Washington into yet another prolonged military quagmire.

The Islamic State is built on an ideological fallacy that betrays the values of the Muslim faith and the feats of Islamic civilization, which saw multiculturalism, scientific innovation, learning and culture thrive in pre-modern caliphates. The ahistorical caliphate envisioned by Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is grounded in absolutist violence and nihilistic fundamentalism.

The unfolding crisis demands a sober acceptance that, by attempting to replace unsavory regimes with more agreeable proxies, the policies of Washington and its allies have worked to fuel radicalism rather than contain it. Pushing aside political and sectarian differences is an absolute prerequisite for countering the threat posed by the Islamic State and its fellow travelers.

This article appeared in the September 03, 2014 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve newspaper. 

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com. 

Friday, 22 August 2014

Another wave of Western intervention threatens to pull Iraq apart

The Obama administration’s recent decision to intervene in Iraq has seen the first US air strikes since the end of the American occupation in 2011, in response to the sweeping territorial gains made by militants belonging to the Islamic State group.

Two and a half years after the US military withdrew from the country, Barack Obama has pledged a renewed commitment to long-term military involvement in Iraq to counter the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, which has swallowed large swathes of northwestern Iraq and northern Syria.

Washington defended its renewed involvement in Iraq as being necessary to prevent the slaughter of the minority Yazidi and Christian religious communities, who fled their homes en masse as ISIS advanced. US forces did indeed provide thousands of gallons of clean water and packaged meals.

The administration’s altruism, though helpful in this case, appears highly selective, considering the subdued US response to the entrenched persecution of minorities in the region throughout the Western-backed war to topple the Syrian government over the past three and a half years.

The Obama administration’s strategic interests in the current scenario are undoubtedly grounded in bolstering the pro-American Kurdish peshmerga forces defending the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, where US energy firms such as ExxonMobil and Chevron have significant investment interests.

The United States has redeployed some 800 troops to Iraq since June, and has since conducted dozens of airstrikes in support of Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iraqi Special Forces, who successfully retook a strategic dam near Mosul. The Iraqi army is now struggling to retake the town of Tikrit, some 130km north of Baghdad, where ISIS is firmly in control.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

​Western media neglect of Moscow’s MH17 evidence is shameful

Nearly one month has passed since Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over the skies of eastern Ukraine, taking the lives of 298 people. An international investigation is now underway, led by the Netherlands, with members from Ukraine, Malaysia, the United States, Russia and others.

Though the team of investigators examining the crash site have yet to publish their findings and assign culpability to the responsible party, prominent media outlets have obediently toed the line of several Western capitals with reports that all but categorically blame Russia for the aircraft’s demise.

Journalistic and analytical speculation cannot be avoided in such a tragic and geopolitically-charged situation. Media outlets have a responsibility to provide both critical commentary and impartial reporting to their readers, but in the case of MH17, the lack of balance is breathtaking.

Those parties who unreservedly pointed fingers at Moscow in the hours immediately following the disaster have yet to make public any forensic evidence that definitively implicates Russia with providing anti-Kiev militias with the training or hardware needed to take down a commercial airliner.

On the other hand, Russia’s Defense Ministry has made available compelling satellite images and military data that calls the Ukrainian government’s official narrative of events into question. Moscow’s findings have either been laxly underreported or dismissed as propaganda by the West.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Israel’s greatest security threat is itself

In the aftermath of successive Israeli military strikes on civilian homes, hospitals, mosques, television stations and refugee faculties, public antipathy towards Israel has reached fever pitch in many parts of the world as Tel Aviv pushes forward with its bloodiest military operation in Gaza to date.

Despite an extensive effort to harness social media to promote its slogans and talking points, mainstream opinion is increasingly viewing Israel’s ongoing campaign, referred to as Operation Protective Edge, as an indefensible demonstration of raw military force against a civilian population.

Images of maimed children, inconsolable families, and Gaza’s burning skyline have dominated global news coverage for much of the last four weeks. In the face of a ceaseless assault that has taken the lives of more than 1,700 and injured over 9,000 others, sympathy for the Palestinian cause has never been higher.

Amid continued calls for the cessation of violence, Israel has taken a defiant stance and vowed to push ahead with its stated objective of dismantling cross-border tunnels built by Hamas, which is being increasingly interpreted as a case of mission creep to legitimize a protracted military offensive.

Israel’s stated military objectives serve to obscure the unstated goal of its operation: preventing the newly formed Palestinian unity government – the product of a landmark reconciliation deal between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party – from carrying forward a Palestinian bid for statehood.

Israel’s latest offensive on Gaza cannot be seen in isolation; it is linked to the collapse of US-backed peace negotiations that began last July, aimed at establishing an outline for a final agreement intended lay the groundwork for Palestinian statehood by April 2014.

Tel Aviv refused to yield during negotiations, insisting on a long-term military occupation of the West Bank and refusing to freeze construction of Jewish settlements. The Obama administration proved unwilling to place any meaningful pressure on Israel to encourage it to make the kind of urgent concessions needed for the continued viability of the talks.

Washington’s deal failed to provide guarantees for an Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank, and failed to guarantee East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The conditions required Palestine to acknowledge Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” effectively renouncing any claim to their historic lands.

The disillusioned Palestinian leadership unanimously approved a decision to join fifteen UN conventions and international treaties, in addition to forming an alliance with Hamas, following Israel’s failure to release the final tranche of Palestinian prisoners that it agreed to as part of the framework for the discussions.

Israel condemned the reconciliation deal and called on the international community to boycott the new unity government due to Hamas’ participation; it also claimed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would now be held responsible for any rocket attacks launched from Gaza. Tel Aviv has since declared war on Hamas precisely in an attempt to impede the operations of the Palestinian unity government.

There are also notable economic considerations that may be influencing Israel’s position toward Gaza. 40 per cent of Israel’s electricity supply is dependent on natural gas, while rising energy prices threaten to undermine the country’s economic growth. Gas imports from neighboring Egypt have slowed due to instability in the Sinai Peninsula, while the near-depletion of Israel’s offshore Tethys Sea gas fields proves to be a major political obstacle.

An estimated 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was discovered off the coast of Gaza in 2000, with a projected market value of $4 billion. The fields have not been developed due to Israel’s fears that Hamas would reap the proceeds of any gas deal with the Palestinian Authority. Tel Aviv is also politically opposed to the Palestinians acquiring extensive economic resources that could be used to lay the foundations for statehood.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon was quoted discussing his opposition to Hamas receiving any gas royalties in 2007, stating, “It is clear that without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement.”

Tel Aviv has made major offshore oil and gas discoveries in 2009 and 2010, with the Tamar and Leviathan fields that combined hold an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. However, most of the Levant Basin lies in hotly disputed territorial waters between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Cyprus.

Gaza’s Marine-1 and Marine-2 gas wells are adjacent to other Israeli offshore installations, and Tel Aviv’s ability to develop the fields – at minimum to serve as a potential short-term supply to stave off future energy shortages – depends on thwarting Palestinian bids for statehood, allowing Israel to continue managing of all the natural resources nominally under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.

The ongoing offensive against Gaza represents Israel’s rejection of the two-state solution; on the other hand, it also opposes a bi-national one state solution. Tel Aviv has demonstrated that it is only interested in maintaining the status quo: a colonial settler state built on Jewish supremacy over land and resources by means of the violent repression and subjugation of ethnic Arabs.

Operation Protective Edge has done more than exhibit the grossly asymmetric military superiority of one side over the other: it has again exposed the willful bias of western capitals and various media outlets that favor Israel unconditionally, in the face of its deliberate attacks on civilians and violations of international law.

The United States provides $3 billion in annual military aid to Israel, and while strong language has been used to condemn Tel Aviv’s military transgressions, Washington’s foreign policy discourse has unflinchingly placed the primacy of Israel’s security above all else.

Israel acts with total impunity, without regard for any consequences, precisely because Washington has obediently provided Tel Aviv with diplomatic cover, shielding it from any form of accountability. The United States was also the only country that voted against launching a UN investigation into human rights violations committed by the Israeli military in Gaza.

The Obama administration did indeed condemn Israel’s recent shelling of a UN school, which killed at least 16 Palestinians, calling Tel Aviv’s actions "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible." In a brazen display of duplicity, Washington then confirmed it would provide Israeli forces with restocked supplies of ammunition, including mortar rounds and grenade launchers.

If Israel is genuinely interested in restoring security to its citizens, it should acknowledge that fewer rockets were fired into Israel in 2013 than at any point in the past decade, by virtue of a negotiated ceasefire mediated by Egypt that ended Israel’s eight-day campaign against Gaza in 2012. Hamas hadn't fired a single rocket until the current offensive began, and it established a special police force tasked with suppressing the rocket fire of splinter groups.

Indiscriminately targeting the men, women and children of Gaza provides Israel with no tactical military advantage; it only ensures that an entire generation of Palestinians will be radicalized in their opposition to Tel Aviv and bent on avenging their fallen compatriots by any means necessary, fueling the endless cycle of violence that has plagued the region for decades.

Tel Aviv could have long since brokered a compromise with the Palestinian Authority through the framework of the two state solution, but by continuing to enforce a punishing regime of apartheid and settler colonialism, backed by ultra-nationalism and militant Zionism, it is undermining its own legitimacy in the court of public opinion and exposing itself as deplorable rouge state.

This article appeared in the August 05, 2014 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve newspaper. 

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Israel always the victim… especially when it’s the executioner

A global outpouring of sympathy for the Palestinian cause has again arisen since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza earlier this month. And the only people who seem unmoved by scenes of indiscriminate bloodletting are Israelis themselves.

As the operation enters its fourth week, the death toll has reached almost 1,400, while over 7,000 have been injured. Cases of entire families being killed in airstrikes have become routine. Images depicting mangled and dismembered men, women and children showcase the appalling violence that the people of Gaza are forced to endure.

Gaza's only power plant, which supplies the territory with two-thirds of its energy needs, has recently been destroyed, which further impedes the work of overcrowded and under supplied medical facilities tasked with treating the thousands of injured civilians who have fallen victim to Israel’s strikes from air, land and sea.

Hospitals, schools, refugee camps, and mosques have been targeted by Israel, whose leadership has defied international calls for an unconditional ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled that the operation will continue in the long-term, appeasing hawkish ministers and media figures that have called for an expanded assault on Gaza.

Israel claims the ongoing operation is necessary to impede the military capabilities of Hamas, which it accuses of launching unprovoked rocket fire into Israel’s territory. Another precursor was the kidnapping and murder of three teenage Jewish settlers who were hitchhiking in the West Bank, whose bodies were discovered in late June.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.