Thursday, April 16, 2015

Where angels fear to tread

Fairly soon a small New Zealand contingent will be deployed to Iraq to assist it with training troops to meet the threat posed by ISIS. Exactly how this will make any difference to anything happening in the region is completely beyond me given the Americans spent billions doing exactly the same thing only to produce an army that either fled or changed sides as soon as ISIS were upon them.

Exactly who benefits from embroiling small, distant nations in the multi-millennial blood-bath of the middle east is something of a mystery. Naturally the defence force is full of people who hate training for something they never actually do so cannot be above the suspicion that they have effectively dictated foreign policy by leading politicians by the nose.

Whatever the reason our politicians seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that the whole region is a powder keg on the verge of war. Do they really want us to end up being mixed up in what could quite quickly become seriously nasty indeed?

For the battle for Aden currently being fought by the Shia Houthi's vs the Sunni 'government' and al qaeda is a crisis of terrifying significance. Obviously Aden is a vital strategic port as it commands access to the Red Sea and the Suez canal. The Houthi, who have until recently been fighting largely for survival against genocidal Sunni Yemenese army and Saudi air support, have suddenly reversed their position and captured the Yemenese capital S'ana.

Their success has been largely put down by Saudi Arabia to the intervention of Iran who have supplied the Houthi with moral support if not weapons. The sudden emergence of a new front in the Saudi war against Iran has shocked the entire Sunni Arab world which is rallying to Saudi's standard and pledging support to help drive back the Houthis. From Morocco to Pakistan Sunni leaders are pledging to support the Saudis, while all Shia backed regimes, including Iraq and Syria are supporting Iran.

This sudden drawing of battle lines has only brought into stark relief the size and strategic danger of the region. Turkey, which is rapidly becoming an industrialised police state under the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a member of the NATO alliance. Pakistan, whose ISI until recently hosted Osama Bin Laden, is a nuclear armed rogue state. And both have sharply criticised Iran which is economically suffering under Israeli inspired US led sanctions for intervening in the Yemen.

On this occasion Russia too has told Iran to pull its head in. But given that Russia is the state supplying nuclear technology to Iran and given that Russia and NATO are already in a tense stand-off over the Ukraine it is clear it would not take much of a shift in the direction of the wind to end up with a Russian-Iranian alliance.

As it happens, however, it appears that the real reason for the Houthis success has little to do with international geopolitics and much more to do with the complex and difficult politics of Yemen itself. It appears that the real reason for the "Houthis" success is actually former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who having been deposed by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is now teaming up with his former enemies to reverse his fortunes. Whether once his goals are achieved Saleh will attempt to rapproachment with his former buddies in the US, Saudi, Egypt and other governments currently bombarding his faction remains to be seen.

What it does, however, illustrate is that in the middle east politicians are still effectively warlords. A politician without armed clansmen isn't a politician but a noise. The rise of ISIS has come because the US did not exterminate the officer corps of Saddam's Revolutionary Guard. Still playing World War two they somehow thought that like the SS officers they turned a blind eye to, the Iraqi equivalents would fade away into history and go find jobs elsewhere. Instead the US put them in prisons. The same prisons as Al Qaeda and through that pressure cooked up the associations which became first a splinter group of Al Qaeda and now ISIS.

ISIS is not really a state. It is not a Caliphate. It is a mess. An anarchy of young men with guns and nothing much to lose.It is a symptom of the politics that surrounds it. The writhing and manouverings of Turkish factions, Kurdish factions, Iranian factions, the Assads, various Saudi and Arabian princes, and the factions within Israel. The whole place is a pit of vipers.

Into it, our defence boys have rushed, hoping to see some adventure, some action, to justify all their equipment and all their training. That they are helping one massive viper against another does not interest them. They have closed their minds to everything but 'doing our job'.

It was exactly the same idiocy that got us embroiled in World War One, A war which cost us 17,000 dead and 43,000 injured and lead to us importing Spanish flu that killed 8,500 New Zealand civilians and wiped out a third of Samoa. World War One was a pit of vipers as well, but as a young an naive nation wishing to prove our worth to the home country (Britain) our nation rushed in to assist. Our young men died because of a war waged by and for capitalist industrialists. In this case we have rushed in to assist to prove our value to "the international community" which effectively means a lot of middle aged men having lunch in expensive hotels.

One would have hoped that remembering sacrifice would rise above sentimentality and lead to questioning the way stupid decisions get made. It obviously doesn't.