By Asad Ismi
While withdrawing 39,000 troops from Iraq, the U.S. recently made clear that it was increasing its forces in the Persian Gulf. A New York Times article — U.S. Planning Troop Buildup in Gulf After Exit from Iraq – reported that “The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.
“In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait,” the Times article continued, “the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region. With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. According to Leon E. Panetta, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Washington has 40,000 troops in the region, 23,000 of them in Kuwait.
Iran’s “belligerence” is being used as an excuse for this U.S. military buildup, but its more likely target is the Middle East Revolution. How is Iran being “belligerent”? Did it invade Iraq and kill more than a million Iraqis?, No. Did it overthrow the Libyan government and kill about 50,000 people? No. The U.S. and its allies did both, so it is obvious who the belligerent is. The U.S. military buildup in the Gulf is another part of Washington’s Middle East counterrevolution that has lately intensified, with the U.S.-instigated overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya and Western-sponsored military attacks on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The brutal overthrow of Gaddafi, in which the Canadian military played a leading role, ended with his being sodomized with a knife. The NATO military attack on Libya killed up to 50,000 Libyans (mostly civilians) although NATO’s formal mandate was to protect civilians. A once relatively progressive country has been destroyed and handed over to the rule of Islamic fundamentalists and CIA agents, who have already started fighting among themselves for supremacy, thus killing even more civilians.
In the Libyan war, the U.S. appears to have attained its main objective of turning that country into a military base from which it can attack Egypt and Tunisia, where the Middle East Revolution began (Libya borders both countries).
In Syria, what began as a largely peaceful public protest against the Bashar al-Assad regime is being subverted by Western powers into a military attack led by Islamic fundamentalist forces that are supported by the U.S. and France. An insurgent group calling itself the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) recently first attacked an Air Force Intelligence compound near Damascus and then the Baath Party (the regime’s party) headquarters inside the capital city with rocket-propelled grenades. The FSA initially took credit for both attacks and then mysteriously reversed its claim about the second one.
The FSA has also ambushed and killed dozens of soldiers. According to Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security at the conservative International Institute for Strategic Studies, “It is clear that the Syrian uprising’s third phase will be not only more violent, but could be a decisive one. FSA commanders told me that they are gearing up for direct confrontation in coming months with the forces loyal to President Assad.”
Hokayem, who is reporting from Syria, adds that FSA members he talked to stressed the importance of establishing a no-fly zone, as the West did in Libya, to ensure the success of military action against the Assad regime. According to a November 24 article on the Russian Television (RT) web-site, “Arab states are reportedly set to impose a no-fly zone over Syria with U.S. logistical support… Turkish warplanes with U.S. logistical backing are reportedly set to implement the no-fly zone once the Arab League issues a decree calling for the protection of Syrian civilians in accordance with its charter. Senior European sources told Kuwait’s al-Rai daily that the plan is designed to cripple the country’s military forces ‘in less than 24 hours’.” The no-fly zone would prohibit movement of Syrian planes and military vehicles.
The Arab League, made up of 22 countries, is U.S.-dominated, and recently suspended Syria from the League over its suppression of protests. Turkey, which is also a U.S. client, has called for Assad to step down. Also on November 24, France called for a “secured zone to protect civilians” in Syria, thus publicly advocating a Western invasion of the country. Certainly, the U.S. and France appear set to destroy Syria and make it a puppet state, as they did with Libya.
Tony Cartalucci, who writes about the Middle East on the Global Research web-site, describes the Free Syria Army as “literally an army of militant extremists, many drawn not from Syria’s military ranks, but from the Muslim Brotherhood, carrying heavy weapons back and forth over the Turkish and Lebanese borders, funded, supported, and armed by the United States, Israel, and Turkey.”
Chris Marsden, writing on the World Socialist web-site, agrees with Cartalucci that in Syria “armed insurgents are operating under the protection of Turkey, the Gulf States, Lebanon, and, behind the scenes, the United States and France.” Certainly the FSA would be less progressive than Assad in power, as he combines a welfare state and strict secularism. Unfortunately, he also deploys his police and military to crush dissident protests, which gives Western powers the opportunity to attack and topple his regime.
Cartalucci points out that Syria has long been singled out for regime change by the U.S., which added the Arab country to its “Axis of Evil” in 2002. He cites an April 17, 2011 Washington Post article titled “U.S. Secretly Backed Syrian Opposition Groups,” which makes clear that Washington has been doing this since 2005. Such backing included $6 million to Barada TV, a satellite channel which has launched “a long-standing campaign” to overthrow Assad.
The U.S. is trying to reverse the Egyptian Revolution by backing a military crackdown that has killed 38 protesters since November 19, wounded 3,000, and brought 100,000 demonstrators out to Tahrir square in Cairo, who are demanding an immediate end to the U.S.-supported military junta ruling Egypt. For five days since November 19, police and protesters have been clashing at Tahrir square with the former, firing live ammunition and tear gas mixed with a nerve agent. On November 22, millions of Egyptian workers and youth held protests and strikes all over Egypt, calling for the military junta to relinquish power.
Since the revolution ousted the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, Egypt has been ruled by a military junta called the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) led by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. The SCAF has become increasingly repressive and is trying to attain extensive powers and shield itself from accountability to any civilian government that may take office following parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for November 26, 2011 and June 2012, respectively.
In addition to killing people, the SCAF has been torturing them, subjecting 12,000 civilians to military tribunals, and jailing bloggers. As the repression has increased, the U.S. has not only failed to criticize the Egyptian military, but its officials “have consistently and publicly expressed confidence in the ability and performance of the military council to handle the transition period.”
According to The Christian Science Monitor, “Many Egyptians, fed up with 30 years of what they perceived as Mubarak doing the bidding of the U.S. at the expense of the national interest, hoped their leaders would chart a more independent course after the uprising.” The newspaper quotes Mohamed Abdullah, a protester in Tahrir square, saying, “We reject any foreign intervention. We want America to leave us alone, stay out.”
In Bahrain, the U.S. has backed a Saudi Arabian invasion to crush a popular uprising against its dictatorial ruler, King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa. The invasion has killed scores of civilians, injured hundreds, and resulted in the jailing of 1,600 people, many of whom were tortured.
Elections for a constituent assembly held on October 25 in Tunisia, where the Middle East Revolution began, have put in power the right-wing Islamist Ennahda Party in a ruling coalition with the Congress for the Republic (CFR) which is liberal, and the left-of-centre Ettakatol Party. Ennahda won 90 legislative seats out of 217, with CFR taking 30 and Ettakol 20. No party won a majority. The coalition is an interim government, which will write a new constitution before elections are again held in 2013.
The election elicited scant public enthusiasm, with only half of the total of 7.5 million eligible voters casting ballots. As the World Socialist web-site explains, “The victory of Ennadha, which played no significant role in the revolutionary struggles in January, did not reflect deep popular support, but the absence of any organization speaking for the interests of the working class… Ahead of the poll, many workers expressed their distrust of the political parties, saying that none of them address their social demands and acknowledging that the January 14 revolution, which ousted Western-backed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had not yet resolved any of their basic social problems.”
In a significant triumph for the U.S. and France, which have long been the imperial masters of Tunisia, Ennahda and its political partners have pledged to continue the free-market policies of Ben Ali for the benefit of the Tunisian élite and international capital, and to the detriment of Tunisian workers and the poor who make up the country’s majority. On November 1, Hamadi Jbeli, Ennahda’s secretary-general, met with UTICA, the Tunisian business federation, and said, “Ennahdha views businessmen as partners in the decision-making process and in all economic and social files.”
The lesson for the Middle East Revolution from the Tunisian elections is that, in the absence of a strong left-wing revolutionary party to lead social change, a country will revert back to its neo-colonialist status. Leaderless revolutions do not accomplish much (beyond overthrowing a puppet government) in a world that the imperialist West is determined to dominate. Only when these Western powers are decisively fought, both politically and militarily, can they be defeated and true national independence attained by Middle Eastern countries.
The U.S.’s intensification of the counterrevolution in the Persian Gulf, Libya, Syria, Egypt and Bahrain shows that it is determined to suppress the Middle East Revolution and maintain its domination of this oil-rich region, at any cost. It is now up to the progressive people of the Middle East to answer this imperialist challenge by going to the next stage of the revolution and organizing effective political and military resistance at the national and regional levels. This will be a long, hard struggle, with many reverses, but, as we have seen during 2011, the brave people of the Middle East are full of surprises.
Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, December 2011/ January 2012
Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent. He has written extensively on U.S. imperialism and the Middle East.