Britain in Syria: a gift to ISIS


Britain in Syria: a gift to ISIS

Paul Rogers 3 December 2015 openDemocracy


The lower house of the British parliament voted late on 2 December to extend the country’s air war to Syria.  The United Kingdom will thus become the fourth western state to be involved along with France and Australia, though the United States remains the dominant force in the whole operation.  British aircraft will bring a little bit extra to the raids but the political significance of their deployment is much greater than the military one.  Now that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE have all stopped their own airstrikes on Syria, the anti-ISIS campaign has become almost entirely a western war.

Overall, this is an element largely missed by the western media.  But it will be used relentlessly by ISIS propagandists as they portray this as a “crusader war” against Islam.

That depiction includes Russia’s increasing role.  Until recently, Russian forces were operating airstrikes from a single airbase near Latakia on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, together with two smaller forward operating bases (FOBs) dependent partly on helicopter supply.  Russia is now in the process of a rapid expansion that will come close to doubling its involvement, including an enlarged airbase at Shayrat airport near Homs, and two more FOBs.

Moscow also seeks to ensure protection for its planes in light of Turkey’s destruction of one of its jets.  It has begun to install the long-range S-400 ground-launched anti-aircraft missile in Latakia, and there may well be deployments to Shayrat as well.  Most of this military activity is directed at supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and its planes and helicopters hardly face any threat from what remains of the Syria airforce.  Thus the new missile placement must be seen as a signal to states such as Turkey and Israel not to threaten Russian forces.  The risk of miscalculation on all sides is a recipe for increased tension.

This is the complex and disorganised theatre of war that the UK is now moving into.  But it is also a war that is accelerating in other directions.  All the indications from Washington are that the administration is intent on expanding the air war in both Syria and Iraq.  Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the United States military, says the US “will adjust its tactics and risk more civilian casualties when launching air strikes against high-value targets in Syria and Iraq as part of an effort to increase pressure on Islamic State militants.”  More civilians will be killed but, as the chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford, put it so plainly this week:  “Our threshold for collateral damage increases with the value of the target”.

A clear element of “mission creep” is revealed by the fact that US special forces will operate in greater numbers and at higher levels both in Syria and Iraq, engaging particularly in search-and-destroy operations against ISIS leadership elements.  Almost certainly, this reflects the Pentagon’s determination that – in the absence of progress elsewhere – it is time to relearnthe lessons of the JSOC’s activities in Iraq a decade ago, when Task Force 145 took the war to Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI).  The group was then directed by its Jordanian leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

This history is worth remembering, since so many of the paramilitary survivors of that bitter, brutal and largely unreported war have gone on to make up significant parts of the hard-core, middle-ranking ISIS paramilitaries that are ensuring the survival of the movement.

A growing network

There are two further developments to consider in a war that, it is often said, is going badly for ISIS.  The first is that ISIS in Syria, let alone Iraq, is proving far more robust and able to organise the towns and cities it now controls.  It is aided by an apparently unending supply of technocrats from the Iraqi Ba’athist era who are able to handle the details.

The ISIS-run areas are responsible for managing all routine matters such as water supplies, policing, sewage disposal, transport, schools, taxation, control of roads, street cleaning and commercial permits.  This is little reported in the west, yet though the ultimate rule may be brutal, routine living conditions can actually be safer in and around Raqqa than in chaotic and violent districts nearby that ISIS does not control.  So much so that there are actually some refugee flows into ISIS-controlled area since they are seen as safer than much of the rest of Syria.

The second, and again almost entirely missed, feature of ISIS behaviour is the considerable attention it is now paying to establishing a second proto-caliphate in the Libyan port city of Sirte.  There, it has a city and many miles of coast under its control, and is reported to be gaining access to oil resources as well.   A new United Nations report says that ISIS has moved 2,000-3,000 paramilitary fighters to join the existing ISIS-linked elements in Sirte.  This opens the possibility of direct links to the north across the Mediterranean towards Italy, and south across the Sahara towards countries in the Sahel such as Mali and Niger.

In short, ISIS may be under serious pressure, but it shows no signs of facing defeat in Syria and Iraq and is actually expanding in Libya.  The UK parliament’s decision to join the bombing of ISIS in Syria may have considerable political meaning in Britain, but in the wider scheme of things it is not much more than a sideshow.

A new front

Even so, it is likely to become progressively more controversial within the UK, an element that may well be highlighted by the nature of the very first attacks carried out within hours of the end of the parliamentary debate.  Four RAF Tornados flew from Akrotiri in Cyprus and attacked six targets in an oilfield in eastern Syria with Paveway IV bombs, an attack that was intended to damage ISIS oil production.

Yet it is highly unlikely that the people actually operating that oilfield would have been dedicated ISIS paramilitaries and far more likely that they would have been ordinary workers.  Two days ago the Pentagon announced that US warplanes had destroyed over a hundred oil tankers, but who was driving them?  Most likely they were ordinary contract drivers for transport companies, albeit under ISIS control.

In short, trying to destroy ISIS from the air will inevitably mean many civilian casualties, but the UK, French, US and other governments will hardly want to focus on that: as General Tommy Franks of the US army said early in the Iraq war, “we don’t do body counts”.

No indeed, “we” don’t, but “they” do.  Indeed it is certain that ISIS propagandists will already be at work publicising the backgrounds of people who got killed by the RAF attacks, probably with photos of their families and plenty of other personal details.  That is the nature of the war that the House of Commons has approved.


This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. If you have any queries about republishing please contact us.

Wealth Inequality in the UK


Following yesterday’s post on wealth inequality in the US –

Facts – On The Filthiest Rich

– it is only right to draw attention to some UK statistics.  Fortunately, Michael Meacher MP has just posted a useful guide:

According to the Sunday Times Rich List, published each year in April, the richest 1,000 Britons who constitute just 0.003% of the population have increased their wealth in the last year alone by £35bn, and by a stunning £190bn over the 4 years since the crash.   Within the top 2% of the population HMRC records that there were 4,000 persons paid more than £1 million a year in 1999, but this became 10,000 by 2010 and then a huge rise to 18,000 by 2013.

By contrast the latest figures show that average wages in Britain have fallen after the crash in real terms (i.e. taking account of inflation) by 9% and are still falling.   If current trends continue, and that is what Osborne intends, then by 2018 the average family will be £6,660 worse off than it was in mid 2007 just before the bankers brought the system down.   Even more disturbing, the Resolution Foundation has estimated that the economic downturn in the UK has pushed another 1.4 million employees below the living wage (£8.45 an hour in London and £7.55 elsewhere in the country) widely regarded as necessary for a basic standard of living in Britain.   Altogether the study ‘Low Pay Britain 2013′ found that no less than a fifth of all employees – 4.8 million Britons – now earn below this living wage.   So far from falling since the height of the recession in 2009, this number paid below this minimum has actually grown by this year by over 40%.

As Michael Meacher says the US, which is the most unequal country in the Western world, is now becoming even more so…  but a similar pattern is emerging in the UK.  The richest 400 Americans have a collective fortune which is greater than the collective wealth of the bottom 50% of ordinary Americans; a collective fortune slightly bigger than the Russian economy and valued at £1.4 trillion.  Note that is just 400 individuals!

The video clip ‘Wealth Inequality in America’ demonstrates the point… and where George Osborne intends the UK to head (NB warning of some dubious assertions about socialism):

Wealth Inequality In America

The UK is not broke and doesn’t need to borrow to reverse the cuts.


The UK is not broke and doesn’t need to borrow to reverse the cuts. The video clip explains this simple truth about the US economy, but it is also true for the UK and all other countries that issue their own currency. The Eurozone is different because each EZ country uses a foreign currency, the euro… and (whatever David Cameron says) Ed Balls and Gordon Brown prevented Tony Blair from signing the UK up to that particular disaster.

George Osborne’s economic policies and cuts are ideological choices which hit the most vulnerable for the advantage of the super-rich and the multi-national corporations which will/are benefiting from the privatisation of our public services. The cuts are not fair:

Picture 37

A fair society: How the cuts target disabled people.

And the cuts are not necessary:

MMT Movie: Economics for Dummiez

Created by @HaikuCharlatan Published on Jan 15, 2013
MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) Basic Intro:

Hat-tip New Economic Perspectives

There is a link to an good interview with Prof. Stephanie Kelton about the Fiscal Cliff and inflation, courtesy of the ‘From Alpha To Omega’ podcast…..

Picture 39

Hat-tip @mark5000910

The Bears explain how The Rich Get Richer


The Rich Get Richer Explained

Published on Oct 10, 2012 by 

An explanation of the growing disparity between the poor and the rich in America.
by Omid Malekan


In an attempt to break the now ubiquitous narrative that “its all about income tax rates”, and to challenge the ridiculous new support for QEternity; ‘The Bears’ that brought you ‘The Bernank’ are back. In this cartoon, they explain how the bailouts made people like Warren Buffett far wealthier than they should be and exposes who actually benefits from all this QE. The Bears, The Buff-ate, and The Bernank – simply perfect.

1988 Noam Chomsky Interview on How Dissident Movements drove Government Underground


Noam Chomsky Interview with Bill Moyers (Improved Quality) Part 1

Taken from Bill Moyers program “A World of Ideas” aired on PBS back in 1988.

Popular movements of the 1980s drove US government underground.  There was a cleavage between the institutions and the people.  Reagan’s government was start of ordinary people not feeling reflected by Government or the media.  Candidates for political positions only listened to the polls so that they could say what they needed to say to get elected.  After that, they would do what they wanted.  Democracy is more than just casting a vote every 4 years.


On Propaganda
Noam Chomsky interviewed by unidentified interviewer
WBAI, January, 1992
The logic is clear — propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state and that’s wise and good because … the common interests elude the bewildered herd, they can’t figure them out. The public relations industry not only took this ideology on very explicitly but also acted on it… and its commitment all along was to controlling the public mind…. in 1935, labor won its first major legislative victory, namely the right to organize with the Wagner act, and that raised two serious problems.  For one thing, democracy was misfunctioning, the bewildered herd was actually winning legislative victories, and it’s not supposed to work that way.  The other problem was, it was becoming possible for people to organize, and people have to be atomized and separated and alone.–.htm

Thom Hartmann describes Osborne’s vision for the UK


The Middle Class Decline – It all began with Reagan*


Published on Jul 19, 2012
Thom Hartmann rants about the decline of the US middle class and how he believes it all began under former President Ronald Reagan and his failed economic policies.

Contrary the usual assumption, the US is not the richest country. It is only 15th in the global ranking of median wages… but the combined wealth of the richest 400 Americans is greater than the combined wealth of the poorest 50%.

It is clear that the Tory/LD government’s intention is to take the UK as far down the road of emulating the US as they can.  Assessment of George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review (October 2010) indicated that if all his proposed cuts were implemented, spending in the UK would be less than that of the US by 2014/15.  See also  Soylent Green, George Osborne and Plutonomy.

*  It all began with Mrs Thatcher as far as we in the UK are concerned!  But the wider truth is that Regan and Thatcher were just the willing puppets, not the puppet-masters.

Is George Osborne the UK’s equivalent of tea-party hero Paul Ryan?


Mitt Romney today announced Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.  

The global dominance of the US means that the candidates for this year’s presidential elections are of great importance for the rest of the world .. but non-Americans are unfortunately disenfranchised.  So who is Paul Ryan and what is his platform?

The 42 year old is the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district, and he ranks among the Republican party’s most influential voices on economic policy and welfare reform.  ‘Ryan’s relative youth belies his influence within the congressional Republican party, as head of the influential Budget committee but also as the party’s policy-maker advocating once unthinkable ideas such as converting government-funded healthcare known as Medicaid into a voucher-like system to slash costs.’

‘One in seven Americans are now on food stamps, up 70% since 2007 –  45 million people in 2011 received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits’ (1).

Paul Krugman wrote about Ryan, in April of this year, that there are times  “when that lack of empathy just takes your breath away.”  The same lack of empathy that is only too reminiscent of George Osborne and his cuts to UK benefits, as the unemployed, low-waged and disabled can testify.


The empathy gap

In general, I’m a numbers and concepts guy, not a feelings guy; when I go after someone like Paul Ryan, I emphasize his irresponsibility and dishonesty, not his evident lack of empathy for the less fortunate.

Still, there are times — in Ryan’s case and more generally for much of his political tribe — when that lack of empathy just takes your breath away. Harold Pollack catches Ryan calling his proposed cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and more welfare reform round two, and suggests that our current suite of safety net programs is “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency”.

Oh. My. God.

First of all, if you think that welfare reform has been just great, read this extended Times report on the desperation of many poor Americans trying to survive in a depressed economy with a shredded safety net. It takes a monumental inability to imagine other peoples’ lives to blithely praise welfare reform’s results at a time like this.

And if you look at how desperate you have to be to qualify for food stamps and Medicaid, the notion that these programs encourage “complacency” is breathtaking.

Oh, and of course, being “able-bodied” in the current economy does not, remotely, ensure that you can actually find work no matter how hard you look.

Ryan, we’re told, is a nice guy. And maybe he is, to people he knows. But he evidently has no sense of or interest in the lives of those less fortunate.

Ryan said his welfare reform plans reclaim  “the opportunity society with a safety net, which we do believe must exist for people who cannot help themselves, for people who are down on their luck, so they can get back on their feet…  But we don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” (2)

Does that sound depressingly familiar?  Isn’t this exactly the same reframing rationale for the draconian cuts to the UK benefits system?  Furthermore, an assessment of George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review (October 2010) indicated that if all his proposed cuts were implemented, spending in the UK would be less than that of the US by 2014/15 (3)  Those spending cuts have barely begun but the UK economy has already tanked.  Government borrowing has increased, the economy is in a double-dip recession, the budget deficit is rising (4) and, as a percentage of world GDP, the UK lost 1.6 percentage points – easily the worst performance of any European economy (5).  What will another 5 years of cuts do?

Paul Ryan has established his reputation with the Republican base, by a Tea Party-infused plan for massive debt cuts.  He is committed to huge cuts in federal spending, especially welfare, and  ‘budget-busting tax cuts’ for the wealthy.  George Osborne’s plan is for massive debt cuts, huge cuts in public spending, especially welfare, tax cuts for the wealthy and easing access to tax havens.   So essentially, there seems to be no difference between George Osborne and Paul Ryan’s plutonomic world views, although the UK is clearly starting from a much higher base of public services than the US, and the necessity of first privatising.  However, there can be little doubt that the aim of the Tory/LD Coalition government is to create not just the current conditions of the US but the conditions of the US under an ultra-conservative Republican administration.

The good news is that the Romney-Ryan ticket may not win in November.  It appears that Democrats welcomed the prospect of Ryan because his $5.3tn plan to reduce debt over a decade gives them scope to win over the targets of those cuts: the elderly on Medicare, the poor on welfare programmes, students and others (6)

The bad news is that we may have a further two and a half years of damage from George Osborne’s economy-wrecking policies.  But like Ryan, we are told that Osborne is a nice guy with a great sense of humour.  And maybe he is, to people he knows.  But he evidently has no sense of or interest in the lives of those less fortunate.

The Coalition government far from abandoning this clearly disastrous and now discredited economic framework, have utilized the crisis to justify unnecessary cuts and a draconian process of dismantling and privatizing the Welfare State, the NHS and education.