Friday, April 22, 2011

A Tale of Two Hospitals: Kuwait 1991, Bahrain 2011

Scene: The Human Rights caucus of the U.S. Congress hears the testimony of a fifteen-year old girl, introduced by only her first name Nayira, in order, the audience is told, to protect the safety of her family. The young girl recounts how invading soldiers had stormed into the hospital where she says she had been working as a volunteer. Tearfully, she describes how rampaging soldiers had trashed the hospital, brutalized patients, gone “into rooms where fifteen babies were in incubators. They tore the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the floor to die.”
That story is flashed around the world by a horrified media. “I don’t believe that Adolph Hitler ever participated in anything of that nature,” declares the outraged American President.
If anything justified the U.S. going to war against Saddam in 1991 to a wavering Congress and American public, that performance was it.
The problem was that the story was not true. Kuwaiti medical authorities denied that the incubator incident had ever occurred. It was only after the end of the Gulf War, however, that the deception was finally revealed. It was a total fabrication, right out of the fertile, high-priced imagination of Hill and Nolton, the Kuwaiti ruling family’s Washington P.R. firm. Nayira, the tearful fifteen-year-old girl who had so convincingly recounted the atrocity, turned out to the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States; she had never been in Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion. By the time that was discovered, however, the U.S.-led coalition had charged in and the Kuwaiti royal family was securely back on its throne, and the folks at Hill and Knolton had earned their pay.
Scene two: Police swarm through the wards of another major Arab hospital. At least 32 doctors, including surgeons, physicians, pediatricians and obstetricians, are arrested and detained. Their apparent crimes, guaranteeing medical care to people wounded in a popular uprising against an aged, corrupt dictator.
According to emails received from a surgeon at the hospital and published by The Independent, “One doctor, an intensive care specialist, was held after she was photographed weeping over a dead protester. Another was arrested in the theatre room while operating on a patient...many of the doctors, aged from 33 to 65, have been ‘disappeared’ – held incommunicado or at undisclosed locations. Their families do not know where they are. Nurses, paramedics, and ambulance staff have also been detained. The emails provide a glimpse of the terror and exhaustion suffered by the doctors and medical staff.
‘The author of the emails, a senior surgeon, was taken in for questioning at the headquarters of the interior ministry. He never re-emerged. No reason has been given for his arrest, nor has there been any news of his condition.”

A hospital in Libya? In battered Misurata, perhaps? Where President Obama has  ordered a couple of Predator drones to join in the flailing struggle against the barbarous  Muammar Gadhafi, where Senator John McCain jetted in himself for a quick look-see and instantly declared the rebels—my heroes.  Libya, where France and England have dispatched an unknown number of military trainers to see if they can whip the hapless, squabbling rebels into shape?

No,that hospital is not in Libya but in Bahrain: the Salmaniya Medical Complex, the tiny state’s main civil hospital.  And, of course, the more than one thousand heavily armed invading troops who are backing the local police terrorizing the hospital, “disappearing” doctors, and brutally crushing the local uprising are Saudis.

The same Saudis who gave the U.S. and Nato the green light to intervene to save the largely Sunni rebels in Libya. In exchange for which America discretely turned its back as the Saudis invaded Bahrain to prevent a Shiite majority there from toppling  a repressive Sunni monarch. God only knows what the experience will do to radicalize tens perhaps hundreds of thousands of Shiites.

But true to its promise, America’s back remains turned.
A  footnote:  Such smarmy diplomatic trade-offs are not at all unique. In 1991, for instance, the U.S. and its coalition allies were also looking for Arab “cover” for their move into Kuwait. In exchange for agreeing to back the invasion, Syria was given—among other things--a free hand to take control of most of Lebanon. The European Community also lifted economic sanctions it had imposed against Syria, while Britain restored diplomatic relations. In the end it was all symbolic: none of the 18,000 Syrian troops who joined the coalition forces in Saudi Arabia ever fought. [See Barry Lando Web of Deceit, (Other Press, New York.2006) pp. 140-141]

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Secret History of the "Arab Spring" Chapter 7

Recruits for Al Qaeda
Since 9/11 the overriding concern of U.S. policy across the Middle East and Central Asia has been to defeat Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on that obsession. Yet when the secret history of the current “Arab Spring” is written, we may learn that one of the many unintended consequences of U.S. attempts to keep up with—and influence--the historic events, was to provide a flood of new recruits to radical Islam.
 The immediate cause: Saudi intervention in Bahrain.
While America and its allies have launched a military effort to protect the rebels in Libya, America has voiced only muted protests as its major Arab ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, crushes the rebels in Bahrain—with what could be ruinous reverberations for all concerned. 
The rebels in Bahrain are predominately Shiites—who have long chafed under minority Sunnite rule. Riding a mounting wave of popular protests, the Shiites seemed to be on the road to forcing the government in Manama to accept at least some of their demands.
With the Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain, U.S. officials have also been concerned about the unrest. But their attempts to encourage the government to meet some basic demands for change failed. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting Manama on 12 March, criticized the regime for its “baby steps” toward reform.
Meanwhile King Abdullah in neighboring Saudi Arabia looked on with horror as the Arab Spring came sweeping towards him. The Saudis (Sunnis) have their own restive Shiite minority. The King was also concerned that a Shiite breakthrough in Bahrain would strengthen Iran’s sway in the region.
Even more alarming for Abdullah--the alacrity with which Obama turned his back on one-time dictator allies. America’s unceremonious dumping of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was a shocking harbinger. Could Washington’s remaining key Arab ally be next?
Thus, on March 14th the Saudis (along with their Gulf allies ) finally acted--dispatching a thousand troops along with tanks and armored vehicles across the causeway that separates them from Bahrain-to help brutally stifle the revolt.
In the process, the Saudi king reportedly ignored a specific request from Obama to stay out. The Hell with the duplicitous Americans! He’d had enough of following Washington’s lead. The Americans were shocked and humiliated. Relations between the two governments are supposedly at a nadir. 
That’s the official version. But when the history of these events is written, I imagine the real facts will tell a more Machiavellian tale: that the U.S. in fact gave a tacit go ahead to the Saudis to act—with disastrous results.
There have been some unconfirmed reports to that effect, and they make sense. There was a trade off: Libya for Bahrain. Without the Saudis, the U.S. could never have convinced the Arab League to ask for the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And without that Arab League resolution, the intervention in Libya would never have occurred.  The Saudis and their Gulf partners are also taking part to some extent in that intervention, to provide at least a fa├žade of Arab participation.
In return, U.S. officials have been very muted in any criticism of the brutal crack-down in Bahrain—a country much more vital to Saudi interests, than is Libya.
And brutal it has been:  Backed up by the Saudis, Bahraini security forces and pro-regime thugs armed with swords and clubs attacked demonstrators throughout the kingdom. Human rights activists have reported that a total of 26 people have been killed, 300 have been imprisoned, and at least 35 people are missing in the three weeks since the crackdown began in earnest.
Yet scarcely a peep out of Washington.
O.K. you say, what’s wrong with the U.S. trading Bahrain for Libya. It’s realpolitik, right out of the Henry Kissinger playbook.
Except that the consequences of that Saudi intervention may prove much more disastrous to Western (and Saudi) interests than any possible positive fall-out from the adventure in Libya. 
That according to a study just issued by the International Crisis Group. What has happened, says the report, is that that from those hundreds of thousands of largely peaceful Shiite protestors in Bahrain, who had thought they could achieve change through peaceful protests--as the Americans have been advocating--that many of those thwarted, bloodied protestors may now turn to violence—exactly as Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups have been preaching.
 As the report puts it, “Manama’s crackdown and Saudi Arabia’s military intervention are dangerous moves that could stamp out hopes for peaceful transition in Bahrain and turn a mass movement for democratic reform into an armed conflict, while regionalizing an internal political struggle. They could also exacerbate sectarian tensions not only in Bahrain or the Gulf but across the region.
“Along with other member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia purportedly is responding to dual fears: that the takeover would be tantamount to an Iranian one. Both are largely unfounded. It also is concerned protests might inspire similar movements among its own Eastern Province Shiites, oblivious that its involvement is likelier to provoke than deter them.
“Bahrain’s brutal crackdown and Saudi interference fan flames both want to extinguish. The most effective response to the radical regime change threat or greater Iranian influence is not violent suppression of peaceful protests but political reform. Time is running short and trends are in the wrong direction.”
 “In short, the intervention likely achieved precisely the opposite of what it intended.”

Over the years, throughout the region, from Egypt to Yemen to Saudi Arabia, such repression and subsequent radicalization has been a vital source of recruits for Al Qaeda.  
Yet, on his latest visit to Saudi Arabia, Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense of what is still billed as the most powerful nation on the planet, Robert Gates reportedly didn’t even dare raise the issue of Bahrain issue King Abdullah.
Just imagine having to face the monarch’s wrath!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Secret History of the Libyan Uprising

The secret history of the Libyan Uprising (what you’re probably going to read some day)
U.N. resolution 1973 authorizes action to create a no-fly zone in Libya. It does not authorize the use of foreign troops on the ground.
President Obama seemed to accept that limitation when he made his famous “no U.S. boots on the ground” declaration--a statement that has been repeated by every U.S. spokesman since.
Since Obama’s declaration however, we have learned that, in fact, for several weeks CIA operatives have been active in Libya, supposedly to find targets for the missile and rocket attacks of the U.S. and its allies, as well as to get some idea of who the opposition is that Obama and Sarkozy et al have chosen to support. 
The joke was those CIA types are not wearing boots, but sneakers.
O.K. but now we learn, via Al Jazeera English, that there is a secret training site in Eastern Libya where U.S. and Egyptian Special Forces are giving basic weapons training to selected rebels. Those rebels are also now receiving more sophisticated weapons.
You can be sure those U.S. advisers are wearing boots. 0
That report was long expected. For when the secret history of this current struggle is written (there are already several books in the works), we will almost certainly learn that, despite Obama’s public protestations, he was advised prior to launching his Libyan adventure that U.S. “advisors” would more than likely also be needed.
Revelations will probably also make it clear that President Obama was also advised that those U.S. advisors could not just be limited to instructing the rebels how to fire their weapons, but would also have to train them, give them basic military skills. And it probably wouldn’t stop there.
Those advisors are likely also—behind the scenes—already filling key command roles: advising the rebels when and how to advance—either directly or in liaison with special forces from other countries with boots on the ground in Libya--everyone doing their best to maintain the fiction that those “advisors” aren’t there.  And that the rebels are calling their own shots.
For those American spooks and troops are not alone
According to other reports, special “Smash Squads” from Britain’s famed SAS have also been on the ground in Libya for several weeks now pursuing similar missions.
Perhaps they’re the same SAS teams who Britain supposedly dispatched to train Khadaffi’s  Special Forces a year or so back —part of the warming of relations between the two countries. 
And considering the determination of France’s President Sarkozy to push for the original attacks, reports that elite French troops are also on the ground in Libya are almost certainly true as well.
The above would mesh with an unconfirmed report from a Pakistani newspaper claiming that:

“According to an exclusive report confirmed by a Libyan diplomat in the region “the three Western states have landed their “special forces troops in Cyrinacia and are now setting up their bases and training centres” to reinforce the rebel forces who are resisting pro-Qaddafi forces in several adjoining areas.
A Libyan official who requested not to be identified said that the U.S. and British military gurus were sent on February 23 and 24 night through American and French warships and small naval boats off Libyan ports of Benghazi and Tobruk.”
Which brings us to the declaration of an American military official briefing the press.   When he was asked, whether the coalition forces communicate with the rebels in Libya, he said, no. “Regarding coordination with rebel forces, nothing. Our mission is to protect civilians,” said the official. “It’s not about the rebels, this is about protection of civilians,” he added.