The Media Misses the Point on ‘Proxy War’

Yemen is a Saudi war of aggression, while Syria and Libya are the result of a dangerous Gulf-led strategy of backing groups of sectarian fighters

By Gareth Porter

The term “proxy war” has experienced a new popularity in stories on the Middle East. Various news sources began using the term to describe the conflict in Yemen immediately, as if on cue, after Saudi Arabia launched its bombing campaign against Houthi targets in Yemen on 25 March. “The Yemen Conflict Devolves into Proxy War,” The Wall Street Journal headlined the following day. “Who’s fighting whom in Yemen’s proxy war?” a blogger for Reuters asked on 27 March.

And on the same day the Journal pronounced Yemen a proxy war, NBC News declared that the entire Middle East was now engulfed in a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

It is certainly time to discuss the problem of proxy war in the Middle East, because a series of such wars are the heart of the destabilisation and chaos engulfing the region. The problem with the recent stories featuring the term is that it is being used in a way that obscures some basic realities that some news media are apparently not comfortable acknowledging.

The real problem of proxy war must begin with the fact that the United States and its NATO allies opened the floodgates for regional proxy wars by the two major wars for regime change in Iraq and Libya. Those two profoundly destabilising wars provided obvious opportunities and motives for Sunni states across the Middle East to pursue their own sectarian and political power objectives through proxy war.

Is Yemen really a proxy war?

Prominent 20th century political scientist Karl Deutsch defined “proxy war” as “an international conflict between two foreign powers, fought out on the soil of a third country, disguised as a conflict over an internal issue of the country and using some of that country’s manpower, resources and territory as a means of achieving preponderantly foreign goals and foreign strategies”.

Deutsch’s definition makes it clear that proxy war involves the use of another country’s fighters rather than the direct use of force by the foreign power or powers. So it obvious that the Saudi bombing in Yemen, which has killed mostly civilians and used cluster bombs that have been outlawed by much of the world, is no proxy war but a straightforward external military aggression.

The fact that the news media began labelling Yemen a proxy war in response to the Saudi bombing strongly suggests that the term was a way of softening the harsh reality of Saudi aggression.

The assumption underlying that application of “proxy war” is, of course, that Iran had already turned Yemen into such a war by its support for the Houthis. But it ignores the crucial question of whether the Houthis had been carrying out “preponderantly foreign goals and foreign strategies”. Although Iran has certainly had ties with the Houthis, the Saudi propaganda line that the Houthis have long been Iranian proxies is not supported by the evidence. (more…)

Update on Gyrocopter-Flying Doug Hughes

By Virginia Choi

Doug Hughes, the campaign finance reformer who made headlines in April when he brilliantly landed a gyrocopter onto the U.S. Capitol lawn in order to draw attention to big money in politics, kindly sent us a photo of him with stamped money.

He told us over the phone: “My stunt was only a stunt. I’m only getting started in getting my message out to support the overall movement across the board,” adding, “Convincing people that there’s a problem isn’t hard, it’s convincing people there are solutions.”

Mr. Hughes expressed how — much like his tour de force gyrocopter flight — our campaign to stamp anti-corruption messages on money is a good way to awaken Americans who are disenchanted by the political corruption in this country to all the viable solutions out there. Hughes wants Americans to know that this people-powered fight to reclaim our democracy won’t be a quick fix but there are a number of creative solutions out there.

We agree and we’re thrilled to have him join the Stampede! Go Doug!

Late Night FDL: Believe

Mumford and Sons – Believe

Mumford and Sons performed on Letterman’s show recently…

Mumford & Sons returned to the stage at the historic Ed Sullivan Theater Tuesday night for a rousing nine-song set, which had David Letterman’s studio audience on their feet the entire time.

“Thank you so much for being here,” frontman Marcus Mumford told the audience. “This feels like an album launch party or something. It’s such a relief to finally have that f—ing out.”

Suffering from a bit of a cough, Mumford took a sip from a cup and joked, “I’m gonna need a lot more whiskey for this, actually,” as he launched into “Ditmas,” a track from the new album, Wilder Mind.

Throughout the performance Mumford juggled guitars several times, each specifically designed for a particular song. By the end of the set, Mumford looked as if he’d just finished a soccer game, winded and drenched in sweat.

Watch the full performance here.

Mumford’s audience was one of the final groups to watch Letterman in action before he says his final goodbye on May 20.

I’m back slinging hash…! What’s on your mind tonite…?

Late Night FDL: Catch The Rainbow

Rainbow – Catch the Rainbow

R.I.P. Craig Gruber…!

Original Rainbow bass player Craig Gruber has died of cancer at the age of 63. Gruber passed away in Florida on Tuesday while under the care of members of the Faith Tabernacle Church, who tell TeamRock they had been looking after him for the last six months of his life. He had been battling prostate cancer for some time.

Senior Pastor at the church, Steve Anderson, says: “Our friend and brother in Christ, Craig Gruber is now with Jesus. He passed away about 3.20pm. Thank you all for your prayers of faith.”

Gruber played on Rainbow’s first album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and was also a member of Elf alongside Ronnie James Dio. He later worked with Dio on the Black Sabbath album Heaven And Hell after Geezer Butler opted not to continue with the band following Ozzy Osbourne’s departure.

In other sad news, B.B. King suffered a stroke recently and is receiving hospice care at home…!

Meanwhile, as Joni Mitchell is expected to be released soon from the hospital, a Court intervened…!

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Late Night FDL: Soldier of Fortune

Whitesnake – Soldier of Fortune

Former Deep Purple frontman David Coverdale has resurrected some of his oldies on Whitesnake’s soon-to-be released The Purple Album…

Whitesnake have released a music video of the classic Deep Purple track, “Soldier Of Fortune”, as a preview of their upcoming May 19 release, “The Purple Album.”

It’s the fourth tune issued in advance of the record, following “Stormbringer”, “Burn” and “Lay Down Stay Down.” The group’s 12th album sees frontman David Coverdale re-recording classic songs from the Deep Purple Mark 3 and Mark 4 records he appeared on: “Burn” (1974), “Stormbringer” (1974) and “Come Taste The Band” (1975).

In addition to Coverdale, Whitesnake’s current lineup includes guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra, bassist Michael Devin, keyboardist Michele Luppi and drummer Tommy Aldridge.

And speaking of Deep Purple…

Deep Purple have topped a Rolling Stone magazine readers’ poll of the top 10 acts that should be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2016. Almost 50 years since they formed in Hertford, readers named Deep Purple as the act they most want to see honored by the Cleveland-based institution with close ties to the magazine.

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Too Big To Prosecute: Army Struggles To Cope With Rampant Fraud In The Military

Pakistani man walks by a truck carrying military vehicles at a terminal in Karachi, Pakistan. U.S. officials, are frustrated with growing fraud and corruption plaguing the U.S. Military. including the more than $1 billion the U.S. paid in additional fees to fly American military equipment back to the U.S. after trucks carrying the equipment through Pakistan were halted by Anti-American military protests. (AP Photo)

Despite over 100 successful prosecutions and hundreds more cases awaiting their day in court, U.S. Army officials warn that the problem of corruption is more than the system can handle and it’s set to get even worse.

By MintPress News Desk

America’s massive military-industrial complex is a huge profit-making enterprise for hundreds of corporations, with trillions of dollars spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, a new report on U.S. Army corruption shows that millions have been stolen through fraud and corruption in those countries. It also suggests the problem may be poised to become even worse.

The report, released Tuesday by the Center For Public Integrity and co-published by Slate, highlights crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Valued at an estimated $50 million, the crimes run the gamut from bribery and contract corruption to fuel theft. At least 115 enlisted Army personnel have been convicted since 2005, with hundreds more cases pending in military courts or under investigation.

Despite the prosecutions, the root causes of the corruption have not changed, according to the report. It states:

“Many of these crimes grew out of shortcomings in the military’s management of the deployments that experts say are still present: A heavy dependence on cash transactions, a hasty award process for high-value contracts, loose and harried oversight within the ranks, and a regional culture of corruption that proved seductive to the American troops transplanted there.”

Individual cases highlighted by the center show that theft and corruption were so widespread in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers often believed it was impossible to get caught. Poorly monitored fuel shipments, paid for in cash and badly tracked, allowed valuable resources to be diverted into the pockets of enlisted personnel and their allies.

In the largest conviction documented, Army Maj. John Cockerham received 17-and-a-half years in prison for a complex contract fraud scheme that grew to involve two other officers, who were also convicted. By the time the scheme was exposed, the group had received over $14 million in bribes in return for awarding military contracts for goods like bottled water. {more} (more…)

Late Night FDL: Sex

Lenny Kravitz – Sex

Lenny released this clip today from his new album Strut…

Lenny Kravitz unveils the new video for ‘Sex’. The track follows radio hit ‘The Chamber’ and ‘New York City’ as the third single to be released off Kravitz’s huge tenth studio album ‘Strut’, which hit the top ten album chart internationally in 12 countries including France, Germany and Italy.

Kravitz said of the new video ‘I love the Fellini-esque vibe of the video. When I heard the concept, I knew that Dikayl was out of his mind; and that was the attraction.’

The videos director Dikayl Rimmasch said ‘I couldn’t think of anything more surreal. It made me laugh. Lenny went for it. The shoot was chaotic.
The day after I walked to the beach with a hangover, laid in the sand, and thought -“what have I done?”‘

Regarded as one of the preeminent rock musicians of our time, Lenny Kravitz has transcended genre, style, race and class into a 20-year musical career, one which revels in the rich influences of ’60s and ’70s soul, rock and funk. Kravitz’s talents as a writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist have resonated now through ten studio albums into a timeless catalogue.

Dikayl Rimmasch is a filmmaker and photographer based in New York. He has collaborated with numerous musicians. Most recently he directed a 3 part film series starring Beyonce and Jay Z for the couple’s On the Run tour. Over the past 10 years Dikayl has also continuously collaborated with Ralph Lauren on the RRL label; Dikayl consults on the brand aesthetic, store design, labels, and directs and photographs their print and film campaigns.

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Israel Fuels The Syrian Crisis With Aid To Al-Qaida Rebels

Media reports hammer home the notion that Israel’s borders are under new threat from fighting from ISIS and al-Qaida, but rarely explain how Israel offers direct aid to al-Qaida.

By MintPress News Desk

Historically, Israel has denied most claims of direct involvement in the conflict, but army forces admitted to carrying out an attack last weekend on what they describe as a terrorist group approaching the Golan Heights.

Ruth Eglash, a Jerusalem-based reporter for The Washington Post, elaborated on the April 26 airstrikes based on the sparse details available from official sources:

“Arab news media have run stories on airstrikes allegedly carried out by Israel in the past few days against the Hezbollah militia, an Iran proxy, and Syrian army targets.

A statement from the Israeli army on Sunday said its forces had come across ‘a group of armed terrorists who had approached the border with an explosive device intended to be detonated against [Israeli] soldiers.’

Israel said its aircraft responded with strikes, but it did not confirm casualties or identify the group that allegedly attempted the border attack. Israeli media said four men were killed.

Writing for the Jewish Chronicle on Thursday, Anshel Pfeffer claims Israel is exerting extreme and “nuanced” control over media reports of its involvement in the Syrian conflict by denying involvement in most airstrikes while blaming Iran and Hezbollah for continued unrest.

“Without trying to work out the credibility of the various statements, what is clear is that Israel is trying to fine-tune its level of influence in Syria, keeping it somewhere between discreet (sic) deterrence and selective non-involvement,” writes Pfeffer.

According to Pfeffer, Israel seeks to keep Syrian chemical weapons out of Hezbollah’s hands, despite the fact that “even if Hizbollah obtained these capabilities, it is unlikely that they would use them any time soon … It is anxious to avoid another devastating blow against Lebanon.”

Instead of taking credit for airstrikes or ground attacks, Israel blames them on Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front), an al-Qaida-aligned group fighting in Syria. However, claims of “selective non-involvement” ring false in the face of multiple reports of Israel’s direct support of al-Nusra.

Arab news sources reported in December that Syrian rebels from the group were being treated in Israeli hospitals, and widely circulated video footage shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Syrian militants in the hospital.

The practice of treating wounded Syrian rebels has continued into this year, according to investigative journalist Asa Winstanley.

Winstanley highlights a little noticed Wall Street Journal report:

“We don’t ask who they are, we don’t do any screening,’ the unnamed Israeli military official told the paper of the hospital treatment of al-Qaeda fighters. ‘Once the treatment is done, we take them back to the border [sic – ceasefire line] and they go on their way [in Syria],’ he said.

An unnamed military official also said there is an ‘understanding’ between Israeli forces and al-Qaeda fighters there and that ‘there is a familiarity of the [al-Qaeda] forces on the ground.”

Winstanley estimates that Israel’s direct aid began two years ago, and goes beyond just medical care to supplying actual weapons. In December, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force accused Israel of direct collaboration with al-Nusra:

“UNDOF observed Israeli contact with armed rebels on the Syrian-controlled side of the ceasefire line on 59 occasions ‘particularly during periods of heavy engagement between the Syrian armed forces and members of the armed opposition’ between March and May.”

Further, the United Nations observers saw “Israeli soldiers ‘handing over two boxes to armed members of the opposition’ from the Israeli-occupied side to the Syrian-controlled side” on one occasion.

And Pfeffer admits that “the remnants of bombs with labels in Hebrew were found on the scene” of rebel-involved conflicts in Syria.

In January, the Telegraph reported that, according to Syria’s President Bashar Assad, the topic has even become a joke in his country. “’How can you say that al-Qaeda doesn’t have an air force? They have the Israeli air force.’” he said.

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© 2015 MintPress News

Late Night FDL: One Voice

Brian May & Kerry Ellis – One Voice

Ahead of this Thursday’s UK elections, Brian May, penned the song and this Op-Ed…

Why our Common Decency campaign might just fix British politics

More of us are disgusted by the behaviour of MPs and the growing inequality our political system creates. We think we can change that from the outside

Many people have asked me why I decided not to stand as an MP in the coming election. I am hoping to achieve something that could not be done by running. I treasure my “colourblindness” with regards to political parties. I believe there are good, decent MPs in every party. But too many – a majority – of the current MPs are sitting there, arrogantly ignoring our wishes, following party lines, and blurring the edges of what is decent behaviour in an elected representative.

So what is our Common Decency campaign all about? Well, it’s not a political party. It’s a plan to give us a Britain free of the corruption and inequality which is driving us all mad – a Britain in which our voice will truly be heard.

Over the past five years, through lobbying in Portcullis House and in parliament itself, we have seen close-up how the government really works. We have seen debates during which only a handful of MPs turn up, followed by a bell signifying a vote, upon which hordes of MPs swarm out of the bar and restaurant, or wherever they’ve been hanging out, with no idea of what they’re voting on, but obeying the party whips. And this is democracy? {more}

Sounds familiar eh…? Run, Bernie, run…!

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Obama’s Middle East policy might lead to Assad’s exit after all

Regional allies may be turning the tide in the Syrian civil war, which could force President Obama to intervene to prevent an extremist takeover

By Nicholas Noe

Throughout the last three and a half years, the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was routinely, and sometimes quite irresponsibly, proclaimed as being just around the corner.

The results of this widespread practise are well-known no matter which side of the policy debate you have been on: falsely raised expectations among activists, over-confidence and over-reach practised by many of Assad’s foes and a grinding slide into a devastating civil war that some policymakers wrongly believed could be significantly attenuated by a collapse-on-the-cheap.

Now, however, with reports of a series of major battlefield defeats, top-level infighting, the overall exhaustion of the Syrian Arab Army and an apparently well-coordinated military push arranged under the somewhat unlikely alliance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, Assad’s exit in the near or medium term has finally moved from being an exaggerated hope to a real possibility.

Despite all of the blame that US President Barack Obama has taken for the Syrian civil war, its exceptionally bloody prolongation and the many terrible consequences the war has spawned, not least of which is ISIS, he deserves some credit for his actions.

Two strategic decisions and recent rhetoric supporting regionally led military offensives have actually laid the foundation for this point – a point where Assad’s end isn’t likely to lead, as was previously the case, to a major regional war that very well could have involved weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, this will provide little consolation for the dead or their devastated kin, much less for those who called early on for a strong US-led military intervention; or, as I did, an early negotiated settlement with Assad that would have averted the current disaster in the heart of the Middle East and saved countless lives, at the cost of delaying the legitimate right of Syrians to be free of a ruthless dictator.

Be that as it may, Obama’s success in removing Assad’s extensive chemical weapons threat between 2013 and 2014 and his progressive engagement (and the possible nuclear accord this summer) with Iran, are both underwriting the current military offensive that America’s allies in the region are apparently leading against Assad.

Indeed, both of these policy decisions have turned the dangerous “fantasy” of intervention into a potentially reasonable option, precisely because Obama has manoeuvred Assad and his most important backer, Iran, into an exceedingly tight space. On the one hand, Assad no longer possesses the reasonable threat of using his strategic “Samson Option” – ie, in the event of an impending collapse he and/or his immediate circle could launch the plethora of chemical weapons he used to possess against Israel or any other regional enemies.

On the other hand, Iran (and by association Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is also fighting on the ground in Syria) finds itself in the final few months of negotiations over its nuclear programme, the success of which represents a vital Iranian national interest.

For Iran to initiate yet another dimension of conflict in the region, beyond those burning in Yemen, Iraq or Syria, much less one that involves its junior partner Hezbollah possibly provoking Israel, for example, would take a mighty dose of hubris and poor strategic thinking.

In fact, if the Iranians and Hezbollah (not to mention Russia) have done what they should have done during the last two years of their intervention on the ground in Syria – developing a trusted, robust network within the country’s political, intelligence and military elites – they may just find that a negotiated settlement is actually the only acceptable option left. This option could finally sees Assad’s inner circle replaced by an effective, reasonably pro-“Resistance Axis” Syrian leadership able to negotiate truces, fight ISIS and initiate a credible political process for unification, or a de facto partitioning of the country.

The most important issue, however, is not whether any of Assad’s backers will react to his military defeats with this kind of flexibility.

In fact, in meetings with publicly accessible Hezbollah officials here in Beirut at least, the rhetoric has only hardened that Assad alone can keep the Syrian army together and must be defended.

Sooner rather than later, Obama must decide what to do if a sustained Saudi-Turkish-Qatari backed military assault on Assad and his allies actually works, especially since many of the foot soldiers and leaders supported by this tripartite alliance are thought to be violent Sunni extremists?

With Assad’s strategic weapons gone and Iran’s retaliatory options receding, at least for the moment the main threat is that ISIS and other extremists will fill any breach, further destroy state institutions and possibly even commit genocide against Syrian minorities, especially the Alawites associated with Assad and his family.

Unfortunately, neither the Turks, the Saudis nor the Qataris have a particularly good track record of encouraging and then effectively containing the Sunni extremists they have unleashed and sustained over the decades.

All of which means that Obama’s hand might finally be forced in this next stage – whether he likes it or not – to take an active, possibly even interventionist, role in a collapsing Syria that could be rid of Assad but at the same time filled with triumphant, anti-Western militias which could be even worse for Syrians, regional states and, quite possibly, America itself.

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Nicholas Noe is the co-founder of the Beirut-based Mideastwire.com and author of the book Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.