Terrorism and Middle-East

The origins of terrorism lie in the dissolution of the nation-states of the Middle East, where the West is fighting the longest wars of the modern era. Meanwhile, the European Union, without compass, declares "war" to the migrants fleeing wars and poverty.

1.   After the tragic Brussels’ terrorist attacks the incompetence of the Belgian services has been unanimously  blamed. This is not surprising when you consider that the country’s national and linguistic differences between the Walloon and Flemish communities are enhanced by the unstable and ineffective governments.

There is no doubt that terrorism must be opposed with much more appropriate and incisive means in relation to the threatening level of the challenge. Italy, and Germany, at the time of Brigate rosse and Rote Armee have experienced the tragic harshness of this challenge. Yet, in the case of the dreadful events that are striking Europe, it’s not sufficient to blame the domestic security’s policies, without considering the deeper origins of the new terrorist wave.

The novelty is in the fact that terrorism has acquired a very international  scope, backed by a spurious state, implanted in a vast territory, supported by regional powers, and a state with a strong power of attraction and proselytizing to potential foreign militants.

In this new framework the terrorist militia have expanded their attacks in the heart of Europe as well as in the Middle East, North African and sub-Saharan countries. Thus, the West is confronted with a new kind of terrorism, based on a sort of liquid state, arising from territories belonging to Iraq and Syria, two failed states with no longer stable borders.

Proponents of waging war against this sui generis state forget, or pretend to forget, that Isis is the ominous outcome of wars that have disintegrated in the first place Iraq, and that the old Sunni military elite has laid the foundation of what at the beginning was, not coincidentally, named Islamic state of Iraq, becoming Isis - Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - in 2013 following the split of Syria, plagued by the civil war, backed by the main regional Sunni powers.

The anti-Isis war under way, principally waged by the Kurds and Assad’s army, supported by Russia, made it possible to liberate a part of the occupied territories, such as Kobane and, recently, Palmira. The fact that the military engagement is principally linked to the regional forces avoids the appalling feeling  in the Arab world that a new war is carried on by Americans and Europeans, considered the invaders and the main responsible of the Middle-eastern quandary.

Yet the military engagement is not sufficient, considering that Isis occupies a space that is calculated as large as Britain with ten million inhabitants, and with large urban centers as Mosul on the Iraqi side, and on the Syrian one, Raccah, elevated to the rank of de facto Isis’ capital. The military initiative alone risks to repeat the Iraq and Syrian model of huge destruction without acquiring the actual control of the territories and notably of the main cities, as  is the case of Baghdad still lacking, twelve years after the elimination of Saddam, an effective government and prey of the terrorist attacks.

The question is: how we got to this point?

Let’s  remember when on 2003 George Bush, with the enthusiastic support of Tony Blair, using the false theory of Iraq with weapons of mass destruction, ushered in the endless war in Iraq with the aim of eliminating Saddam and implanting democracy in Iraq. The result, as we know, has not been   democracy but the state’s disintegration;  that is one of the causes of the current middle-eastern chaos.

Following the war the sunni military and political elite, banished from Baghdad and from the sunni destroyed cities like Fallujah, built, in the mid of the past decade, the Islamic State of Iraq, first embryo of the current Isis which in the next years included territories from the ongoing disintegration of Syria. So, on 2013  the new Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was born, with Raccah as its de facto capital, while the new state was financed by South Arabia and the Golf emirates pointing out to the elimination of the alaouite power in Baghdad traditionally backed by Iran,

2.   It cannot be surprising that the center of the Middle-eastern mayhem now lies on Syria, where war produced a huge humanitarian disaster. During five years of war, starting in 2011, although no official figures exist*, 500,000 deaths have been calculated by the New York Times.*

Meanwhile, five million Syrians are scattered in the country as IDPs, their homes have been destroyed. While  almost five million have sought refuge in nearby countries: more than five hundred thousand in Jordan, over a million in Lebanon, two million and a half in Turkey. The towns that European TV reportages show us (indeed, rather rarely, given a decency scruples) tragically bear a resemblance to the skeletons  of German cities at the end of World War II.

In March, while the Middle East is still in flames, the EU, divided almost on every issue, has found a unholy unity in moving war  to the migrants and refugees, fleeing from the war, destruction and misery, coming from Syria (as well as from Afghanistan and Iraq). The deal between the EU-28 and Turkey states Turkey's commitment to take back the migrants who cross the Aegean strait to reach the Greek islands - a first step on the long journey toward different European countries, where they hope to find a place where to live until when the war will be stopped and the return to their countries will become possible.

In short, the civilized EU undertakes to pay six billion euro to Turkey - universally known for massacring  Kurds, persecuting the domestic opposition and closing its newspapers - in compensation for the commitment to build up new detention camps in which hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees are designed to be segregated. In other words, the EU hires a sort of mercenary state to block the "barbarians" who threaten its Fortress’ borders.

Indeed, a shameful deal that, on one hand, is judged illegal in terms of international treaties that establish the rights of migrants and refugees; on the other, is considered  by the humanitarian organizations unworthy of civilized countries. In any case, it is worth to presume that it is an ineffective deal in the presence of masses of men, women and children fleeing war and poverty, pushed to seek other routes through the Balkans and principally the Mediterranean,  more and more beset with graves.

3.   The only positive news, this time, comes from the US, where Barack Obama tries to close his second term by taking a number of initiatives - from Iran to Cuba – that for many aspects revolutionizing the US international diplomatic and political relationships. Obama arrived at the White House with the commitment to end the Bush's wars. But now, before actually putting an end to failed wars, he is on the edge of terminating the presidency ending up in the trap of new fronts of war in the Middle East. In other terms, Obama sees in Syria a likely remake of  Bush's decision to attack Iraq - choice that he had harshly criticized when he still was an Illinois senator.

The trap had already threatened to close in 2013, when Assad had been accused of using poison gas against the insurgents. Then, the Pentagon and an important part of the American security services were strongly in favor of an immediate armed intervention. David Cameron, repeating the Blair’s stance at the time of the Iraq war, was pushing for an immediate attack against the Damascus' government. And François Hollande – according to Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Obama on Atlantic - was "among the most enthusiastic European leader pushing for armed intervention". A hard to die attitude of the heirs of the old colonial empires.

Finally, Obama, mindful of the recent Libyan crazy adventure, did choose the non-intervention. In his quoted” Atlantic” interview he remembers, with a hint of self-criticism, the mistake made with the decision to attack Libya in 2011. A choice that had seen Nikolas Sarkozy and David Cameron (and even Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time) as the most ardent advocates.

It had been a choice, of which Obama felt co-responsible, intended to eliminate Gaddafi, but lacking any strategic prospect with regard to the future of the country. Thus, opening the way to a new failed state in the hands of irreconcilable factions, tribal communities and, ultimately. prey of Isis militants. For Obama it was a mistake not to be repeated with Syria, in spite of the domestic will and the pressures of the most confrontational European governments.

The turning point of US government became clear with the policy shift toward Iran: A move that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, and even more Israel, judged a betrayal. But for Obama, America could not remain imprisoned in the trap of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, "the priority is to defeat the Isis not topple Assad" *

The second Obama move was the accord with Putin's Russia in order to try to make up a solution in the Syrian war as a preliminary needed step to actually confront Isis. Surprised by this radical shift, Europe kept to fluctuate between disbelief and frustration..

In contrast to the stereotype that evokes the need for "more Europe", it can reasonably be said that the European Union is making self-destructive choices in all fields in which it is called upon to work collectively, as it is shown by the failures in the dealing with the economic crisis in the eurozone as well as the terrorist challenges arising from the middle-east mayhem.

The Geneva peace talks are the first actual opportunity to try stopping the civil war in Syria. A significant first step may be represented by the constitution of a Kurdish entity, which includes three Syrian northern provinces on the Turkish board, aimed to become a semi-autonomous region of a future Syrian federal  state.

An editorial column in the New York Times **, possibly reflecting an informal position at the top of the administration, wrote that the Kurdish choice could be taken as "a decentralized governance model as part of a federated Syria," adding that substantially “Russia has embraced this line".The re-establishment of the Syrian state, under a new constitutional framework, is deemed to enhance the fight against the Isis, offering a new prospect of self-government to the regions now submitted to the Isis’ control.

The time necessary to eradicate the weed of terrorism, which in other times we met in a different  but no less barbaric guise, could be long and painful.

But the solution is in the cutting of its roots. They have found fertile ground to grow in areas sorting out from failed states - from Afghanistan to Libya – areas where the western democracies just wanted to export democracy. Or where, under the banner of export of that rare and delicate commodity that is democracy, they tended to defend, or grab, spheres of political influence and economic interests through the hypocritical and tragic illusion of an exported democracy.

* Jeffrey Goldberg "The Obama Doctrine", Atlantic, April 2016 issue

** "The Kurds' Push for Self-Rule", International New York Times - 23/03/2016

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body, Member of the OECD's Trade Union Advisory Council and Advisor of Labor Minister for European Affairs.(a.lettieri@insightweb.it)- http://antoniolettieriinsight.blogspot.it/

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