12 December 2011

Wes Clark, Neocon plans and My Hypothesis: A Recap

When people discover your humble soap box on the Internet, they continue to read it from that moment onwards, but they rarely go back to see what points you might have covered before. That's understandable. And that's why, occasionally, you need go over previously made points to bring everybody up to speed.

The trick is to find an à propos moment to be able to do it without annoying your regular readers. So, when I spotted a post by Glenn Greenwald a couple of weeks ago, I thought that I could use it as a starting point to reiterate my working hypothesis on the Middle East.

Greenwald's piece was about a speech delivered by Wes Clark, the former commander of NATO forces in Europe. It entailed a remarkable claim.

You can watch the clip here.

General Clark tells the story of a chance encounter with a Pentagon employee several weeks after 9/11. This officer tells Clark that he had just found out that the US was going to attack Iraq. Clark runs into him again six weeks later:
Six weeks later, I saw the same officer, and asked: “Why haven’t we attacked Iraq? Are we still going to attack Iraq?”
He said: “Sir, it’s worse than that. He said – he pulled up a piece of paper off his desk – he said: “I just got this memo from the Secretary of Defense’s office. It says we’re going to attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years – we’re going to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.”[emphasis Greenwald]
Clark believes that this was a policy coup (I assume he means that it is like a coup d'etat that only takes over a policy area) and he is convinced that a half a dozen people, like Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney (and probably Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams etc), took control of American foreign policy and steered it to "to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control.”

The idea that there was an early list of countries to be turned upside down and placed under US control is intriguing. And it does not surprise me.

What bothers me about this and similar allegations (usually centered around the Project for the New American Century and the nefarious influence of the Prince of Darkness) is the fact that we are not given a causal framework to explain the neocons' desire to bomb every country to smithereens. Without such a framework, we are left with the image of tiny group of bloodthirsty characters out of Dr. Strangelove who outwitted everybody and hijacked American foreign policy without anyone ever noticing it.

Moreover, without a causal framework, you get an incoherent list of countries, as in Iran and Syria in column A and Somalia and Sudan in column B. With constant media vilification, we get the Syria and Iran obsession but why in the world would the US invade Somalia or Sudan?

As my regular readers know, there is no love lost between me and the neocons. So this is not an effort to defend them. I just want to contrast this fairly mainstream narrative with my causal framework and working hypothesis.

On their side is the mythology of a rogue group starting wars with impunity, spending trillions of dollars and getting thousands killed; and all of this against the wishes of the American national security establishment. That might not strain your credulity if you firmly believed in American exceptionalism and were convinced that the US is a beacon of hope and freedom, acting only to further lofty ideals enshrined in its glorious Constitution. Within that paradigm, it is understandable that anything that does not fit into this belief system must be the work of rogue elements.

As you can imagine I don't subscribe to that view.

What the Wes Clark testimony tells me is that the US government (and not just the neocons) had a plan to redraw the map of the Middle East for some time now and 9/11 provided the perfect justification to put that plan in action.

(As an aside, the primary reason why so many people outside the US believe that 9/11 was engineered by the American government is because 9/11 was incredibly fortuitous in providing the necessary justifications to undertake that grand project.)

I started blogging when I noticed that the Arab Spring was not a romantic reawakening of the masses, as everyone was telling me. To me those disparate events seemed to be part of an elaborate plan to reshape Middle Eastern politics. I suggested a hypothesis and a causal framework to explain that undertaking.

In my view, it is not the needs of the national security apparatus for a state of permanent war or the clever manipulations of a bloodthirsty group of neocons that is at the root of this project. Quite simply, the US has a very important and pressing reason to do everything it can to stabilize the Middle East: The region is a hub through which roughly 70 percent of world's oil and gas flow. It is a basic truism that the power that controls this hub will have a final say on the global distribution of oil and gas.

For a declining imperial power like the US, this control is critically important in its efforts to keep in check rising powers like China and India.

But I do not believe that the US is aspiring to invade the region and occupy several countries, including the ones on Wes Clark's list. Maybe they thought about it at the time as a "to do" list. But after the Iraq fiasco, even simple minded neocons knew that they would never have the resources to invade these countries and more importantly, they could never stay in those places as an occupying force.

That is why I became convinced that the plan was to bring about change internally with the help of a regional power gently nudging things in the right direction.  Change from within means a regime change in most cases. Arab Spring became a workable model to shake all these corrupt and authoritarian regimes. People go to a central place, yell and scream, get killed by the dozen and within a few weeks the previously implacable autocrat is gone. Very nice.

Except, the uprisings would not have amounted to much without the armies protecting the protesters (or refusing to suppress them). The idea is to give credit to the masses but have the whole thing controlled by the army. The armies are also important in ensuring that the post-revolutionary regime is not fully controlled by radical elements.

The change can further be guided if a regional power were to offer itself as an acceptable mentor, model and moderator. Enter Turkey and its moderate Islamist, Justice and Development Party, AKP. However, to be acceptable to the masses that regional power needed to have street cred, which meant its previously cozy relations with Israel had to be spiced up dramatically.

Using Turkey to moderate the growing influences of radical Islamists like Salafis or Wahhabis by providing an economically dynamic, affluent and relatively democratic Islamist system as a new model proved fairly successful. Every new Islamist player in the region claims that model now. From Ennahda in Tunisia to Morocco's, seemingly named after AKP, Justice and Development Party they all seem to use the same line. Apparently, they even coined a term for it in French, to be Akapiste.

The controlled regime change embedded in the Arab Spring provides another upside for regional stability and that is to force Israel's recalcitrant right wing government to negotiate in good faith for a two state solution. It is not an exaggeration to say that it would be impossible to bring stability to the region without solving the Palestinian issue. More than any other, that issue gives ammunition to extremists and provides them with endless supplies of militants and suicide bombers.

Given these parameters, my hypothesis is that the US will pressure Israel to bring a satisfactory resolution to the Palestinian statehood question. It will also extend the Arab Spring to Syria (euphemism for overthrowing the Bashar regime), mostly acting through Turkey. And eventually it will move to solve the second most important source of regional instability: the question of Kurdish statehood.

There is one additional element in all this. Tellingly, Turkey's new interest and active role in the region coincided with its moves to become the largest energy hub in the world. They routinely use the line (pdf slide 6) that Turkey's neighborhood has 73 percent of proven oil and 72 percent of gas reserves in the world. And the government signed pipeline deals with all its neighbors, including Iran and Russia.

Providing a secure outlet for the region's oil and gas and a stable source for Europe's energy needs will increase Turkey's regional and global importance significantly. It will also enable the country to leverage that importance in influencing regional politics.

To me, this last element constitutes a confirmation of my hypothesis about America's motivations (controlling oil and gas distribution), plans (bringing stability through regime change and resolution of long standing problems) and agent (using Turkey in achieving its goals).

This is what I see when I look at the Arab Spring and surrounding events. If you remain unconvinced, here is a more detailed version of that argument.

Needless to say, I could be wrong.

But at least my hypothesis is based on a rational analysis of what is at stake and a coherent interpretation of all the disparate (and at times contradictory) moves that accompanied recent events.

In that sense, I find it more convincing and explanatory than the alternative: a bunch of neocons hijacking US foreign policy and invading every Muslim country in the world.

We'll see soon enough.

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