The USA Doubles Down on its Saudi Allegiance 395


For the United States to abandon proxy warfare and directly kill one of Iran’s most senior political figures has changed international politics in a fundamental way. It is a massive error. Its ramifications are profound and complex.

There is also a lesson to be learned here in that this morning there will be excitement and satisfaction in the palaces of Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Tehran. All of the political elites will see prospects for gain from the new fluidity. While for ordinary people in all those countries there is only the certainty of more conflict, death and economic loss, for the political elite, the arms manufacturers, the military and security services and allied interests, the hedge funds, speculators and oil companies, there are the sweet smells of cash and power.

Tehran will be pleased because the USA has just definitively lost Iraq. Iraq has a Shia majority and so naturally tends to ally with Iran. The only thing preventing that was the Arab nationalism of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Socialist Party. Bush and Blair were certainly fully informed that by destroying the Ba’ath system they were creating an Iranian/Iraqi nexus, but they decided that was containable. The “containment” consisted of a deliberate and profound push across the Middle East to oppose Shia influence in proxy wars everywhere.

This is the root cause of the disastrous war in Yemen, where the Zaidi-Shia would have been victorious long ago but for the sustained brutal aerial warfare on civilians carried out by the Western powers through Saudi Arabia. This anti-Shia western policy included the unwavering support for the Sunni Bahraini autocracy in the brutal suppression of its overwhelmingly Shia population. And of course it included the sustained and disastrous attempt to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and replace it with pro-Saudi Sunni jihadists.

This switch in US foreign policy was known in the White House of 2007 as “the redirection”. It meant that Sunni jihadists like Al-Qaida and later al-Nusra were able to switch back to being valued allies of the United States. It redoubled the slavish tying of US foreign policy to Saudi interests. The axis was completed once Mohammad Bin Salman took control of Saudi Arabia. His predecessors had been coy about their de facto alliance with Israel. MBS felt no shyness about openly promoting Israeli interests, under the cloak of mutual alliance against Iran, calculating quite correctly that Arab street hatred of the Shia outweighed any solidarity with the Palestinians. Common enemies were easy for the USA/Saudi/Israeli alliance to identify; Iran, the Houthi, Assad and of course the Shia Hezbollah, the only military force to have given the Israelis a bloody nose. The Palestinians themselves are predominantly Sunni and their own Hamas was left friendless and isolated.

The principal difficulty of this policy for the USA of course is Iraq. Having imposed a rough democracy on Iraq, the governments were always likely to be Shia dominated and highly susceptible to Iranian influence. The USA had a continuing handle through dwindling occupying forces and through control of the process which produced the government. They also provided financial resources to partially restore the physical infrastructure the US and its allies had themselves destroyed, and of course to fund a near infinite pool of corruption.

That US influence was balanced by strong Iranian aligned militia forces who were an alternative source of strength to the government of Baghdad, and of course by the fact that the centre of Sunni tribal strength, the city of Falluja, had itself been obliterated by the United States, three times, in an act of genocide of Iraqi Sunni population.

Through all this the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi had until now tiptoed with great care. Pro-Iranian yet a long term American client, his government maintained a form of impartiality based on an open hand to accept massive bribes from anybody. That is now over. He is pro-Iranian now.

Such precarious balance as there ever was in Iraq was upset this last two months when the US and Israelis transported more of their ISIL Sunni jihadists into Iraq, to escape the pincer of the Turkish, Russian and Syrian government forces. The Iranians were naturally not going to stand for this and Iranian militias were successfully destroying the ISIL remnants, which is why General Qassem Suleimani was in Iraq, why a US mercenary assisting ISIL was killed in an Iranian militia rocket attack, and why Syrian military representatives were being welcomed at Baghdad airport.

It is five years since I was last in the Green Zone in Baghdad, but it is extraordinarily heavily fortified with military barriers and checks every hundred yards, and there is no way the crowd could have been allowed to attack the US Embassy without active Iraqi government collusion. That profound political movement will have been set in stone by the US assassination of Suleimani. Tehran will now have a grip on Iraq that could prove to be unshakable.

Nevertheless, Tel Aviv and Riyadh will also be celebrating today at the idea that their dream of the USA destroying their regional rival Iran, as Iraq and Libya were destroyed, is coming closer. The USA could do this. The impact of technology on modern warfare should not be underestimated. There is a great deal of wishful thinking that fantasises about US military defeat, but it is simply unrealistic if the USA actually opted for full scale invasion. Technology is a far greater factor in warfare than it was in the 1960s. The USA could destroy Iran, but the cost and the ramifications would be enormous, and not only the entire Middle East but much of South Asia would be destabilised, including of course Pakistan. My reading of Trump remains that he is not a crazed Clinton type war hawk and it will not happen. We all have to pray it does not.

There will also today be rejoicing in Washington. There is nothing like an apparently successful military attack in a US re-election campaign. The Benghazi Embassy disaster left a deep scar upon the psyche of Trump’s support base in particular, and the message that Trump knows how to show the foreigners not to attack America is going down extremely well where it counts, whatever wise people on CNN may say.

So what happens now? Consolidating power in Iraq and finishing the destruction of ISIL in Iraq will be the wise advance that Iranian statesman can practically gain from these events. But that is, of course, not enough to redeem national honour. Something quick and spectacular is required for that. It is hard not to believe there must be a very real chance of action being taken against shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, which Iran can do with little prior preparation. Missile attacks on Saudi Arabia or Israel are also well within Iran’s capability, but it seems more probable that Iran will wish to strike a US target rather than a proxy. An Ambassador may be assassinated. Further missile strikes against US outposts in Iraq are also possible. All of these scenarios could very quickly lead to disastrous escalation.

In the short term, Trump in this situation needs either to pull out troops from Iraq or massively to reinforce them. The UK does not have the latter option, having neither men nor money, and should remove its 1400 troops now. Whether the “triumph” of killing Suleimani gives Trump enough political cover for an early pullout – the wise move – I am unsure. 2020 is going to be a very dangerous year indeed.

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395 thoughts on “The USA Doubles Down on its Saudi Allegiance

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  • Alan James MacKinnon

    I think one of the actions Iran could take is to announce they will be leaving the Nuclear deal, as it is dead already, and all IEA inspectors that are part of the deal will need to leave by November 2020. The election in the USA might therefore hinge on the candidates response to the Iran action. War or Peace.

  • John Goss

    I was in despair at the start of the year. My desperation grows when I come across idiots like Mike Pence pushing an agenda more ridiculous than Saddam having WMDs.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iran-news-live-trump-war-soleimani-death-middle-east-us-attack-latest-a9270086.html

    You will have to scroll or search because this covers the developing pattern towards WWIII. WWI started with an assassination. Hopefully common sense will prevail as Craig Murray suggests. If not I don’t know what!

    • Buffalo_Ken

      @John Goss

      It is easy to despair. It is more exciting to talk about the impending doom and gloom than to consider other more likely possibilities. You see this everywhere in media. Who wants to consider the possibility that things have been gradually improving due to our intellectual ability to achieve Mutual Aid amongst local communities? Oh yeah we are capable if we put our collective minds towards a common goal.

      The thing about WWIII that many throw out there as a possibility is that if it occurs then it will be the end for all of us. There will be no winners in that hypothetical war. That is why I don’t think it will occur because there are those of us who know that it must not. But if it does, then no worries. It will be over quickly.

    • Bruce

      Hi John,

      I can remember being very concerned ww3 could start after the Douma “gas attack” in April 2018 in Syria. US, UK and french warships were heading to Syria and the russians were sending out warnings that any attacks on russian personnel would be answered. It was pretty scary stuff.

      Later on I thought: the people who control the world make massive profits from the (rest of the) human race, in a predictable, low risk operation. Most of their financial scams are enacted through legislation and enforced through the courts etc. The US military is just their current favoured armed component (previously the UK military). They are in total control. If a nuclear war were to break out, things become volatile and much less predictable. It’s probably not worth the risk to the “elite”.

      Therefore I think most of what we see is pressure, brinkmanship and other games to intimidate smaller countries and scare ordinary people.

      Just my two cents.

  • Denis Mollison

    Dear Craig

    Could you write some more on the campaign against ISIL? I note your para here about how the US/Israel were effectively helping ISIL. This is in flat contradiction to the MSM story that Iran were making the US’s fight against ISIL more difficult – see https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jan/04/mike-pompeo-european-response-to-suleimani-killing

    I suspect you’re right, but would welcome an up-to-date account of who currently stands where in trying to eliminate ISIL. Worth a separate blog piece.

  • David Chu

    “The impact of technology on modern warfare should not be underestimated. There is a great deal of wishful thinking that fantasises about US military defeat, but it is simply unrealistic IF THE USA ACTUALLY OPTED FOR FULL SCALE INVASION.”

    That’s the $64 trillion dollar question, isn’t? I bet they won’t. The Yankees are Monday morning quarterbacks. They will bomb, bomb, and bomb the shit out of their opponents. But to fight mano a mano in the rugged mountainous terrains of Iran . . . highly unlikely.

    I would also add that the impact of Yankee conventional warfare technology should NOT be OVERESTIMATED! It’s not like the USA has won any war since Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc., etc., etc., no? Unless you consider the abject destruction of countries their intended goal. In which case, they have been completely successful in their “mission accomplished” department, thanks to their wonderful modern technology!

    Great post by the way!

  • Jake

    Well at least Trump knows he had skin in the game. That may be a game changer. All politicians should. No appeasers.
    Do you think he made this decision while forgetting he has a few pieces of real estate here and there?

  • SleeperCatcher78

    The Iraqi government aligning with Iran is fruitless. There is no future in it because there is no future for Iran that has any substance as long as the current regime remains in power.

    Soleiemi should have been taken out years ago. Iran has been actively and passively targeting our forces for more than two decades. Enough.

    • Ken Kenn

      As far as I know Iran is in The Middle East and the USA is not in the Middle East.

      The person ” taken out ” does live in the area.

      So what is the US doing there?

      Iran is not wandering armed to the teeth around Texas telling the Yanks how they should live their lives.

      Come to think of it: when Cuba was offered nukes the US had quite a hissy fit.

      Nearly starting WW111 early.

      The US has not disarmed Iran like Iraq and I read that this scenario of invasion has been War gamed.

      Short of Nuking – it’s a no go which is why the assassination of the Iranian general is seen as crazy.

  • BillyR

    Wise and CNN cannot be used in the same sentence by anyone wanting to be taken seriously. You don’t know any more than anyone else as to what is going to happen. Put a chart on the wall with possible outcomes and have a monkey throw his crap at it for another prognostication with just as much insight.

  • Yonatan

    The Iraqi PM has revealed that Suleimani was carrying a letter from the Iranian leadership to representatives of Saudia, with whom he was negotiating a regional reconciliation.

    https://www.fort-russ.com/2020/01/kusa-the-u-s-occupation-of-iraq-is-over-whether-they-want-it-or-not/

    It looks like a Saudi-Iran rapprochement was in the works and possibly close to fruition. Such a deal would negate Israel’s intention to use the US to destroy or disable Iranian capabilites, necessary for Israel to take out Hezbollah in Lebanon to install an Israel-friendly puppet regime that would give it favorable access to Lebanon’s part of the Leviathan field in the east Med. The link to Europe via Cyprus and Greece has just been announced.

  • RP

    “calculating quite correctly that Arab street hatred of the Shia outweighed any solidarity with the Palestinians.”

    I don’t think there is any solid underlying “Arab street” hatred of the Shia, certainly not one that outweighs support for pro-Palestinian and related causes. I was in Morocco shortly after the 2006 Lebanon war and street vendors were selling Hizbullah flags, pictures of Nasrallah and so on – to the extent that there is a “Moroccan street”, its sympathies were clearly with (Shia) Hizbullah, not Israel. Maybe regional media etc have managed to whip up more anti-Shia/anti-Iranian hostility since then, but it’s not some unchanging eternal sectarian hostility.

    More broadly, are we not past generalisations about the “Arab street” – in particular ones ascribing irrational hatreds to all Arabs?

  • Jim Kavanagh

    I greatly respect your work, but I will take issue here with the notion that the primary driving factor here is US allegiance to *Saudi Arabia*.

    Sorry, but no, The US foreign policy and national security establishment has nothing remotely approaching the “allegiance” to Saudi Arabie that it has to Israel. The war against Iran–the latest in the series of such wars–is to remove Iran as the remaining serious power of the Axis of Resistance to Israel, The Trump administration’s complaints about Iran’s “bad behavior” in the region, its threat to US “allies and interests” reprise Hillary Clinton’s definition of Iran as an “existential threat to Israel”—which means, precisely, that its very existence as the main power that can materially and militarily resist Israel’s hyper-dominance of the region is unacceptable.

    The objective is that Iran must cease its support of Hezbollah, the most effective frontline fighting force, which prevented the Israeli seizure of South Lebanon. It must abandon the Palestinians, the Syrians, and the Lebanese, and neuter itself militarily, giving up any strategic weapons. Iran must agree to become a country that can be bombed at will by Israel and the US, as Syria is (for the moment).

    That’s what this is about, as Iran knows well. The rest, including Iranian nuclear weapons, is diversionary bullshit.

    Yes, the US also wants to prevent Iran from having any power to resist Saudi Arabia’s dominance as the oil power and as the guarantor of reactionary Sunni rule against secular nationalism and socialism throughout the Muslim world. But the US’s full embrace of Saudi Arabia depends on the latter’s alliance with Israel. The US political and media establishment would turn on a dime against Saudi Arabia if Israel deemed that to be in its essential national interest. There is no possibility that that establishment would turn against Israel because Saudi Arabia wanted it. The US political and media establishment is thoroughly committed to Zionism; they will never be committed to Wahhabism. The interest and demands of Israel and Zionism are determinative of US policy in a way that Saudi interests and demands will never be.

    No US pol will say “I’m a Wahhabi” as Joe Biden (and so many others) say “I’m a Zionist.” No US president will appoint a Saudi military intelligence officer as Chief of Staff—without even causing notice—as Obama did with Israeli veteran Rahm Emanuel. No US president, who had been excoriated for dodging the draft, would dare say—again without causing the slightest notice from *anywhere* in the political spectrum–“I would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch, and fight and die” for Saudi Arabia, as Bill Clinton said for Israel. (Indicating that the vast majority of Zionists in the US are NOT Jewish.) To pretend that US political establishment is not, overwhelmingly, ideologically committed to Zionist policy imperatives—as a matter, they think, of virtue—and that this isn’t a more primary driving factor in US actions in the ME than anything coming from Saudi Arabia is to perpetuate the kind avoidance that has keeps people from understanding and confronting it the powerful and pernicious hold of Zionism within the US imperialist ideology and agenda. The war with Iran is the culmination of all this. Time’s up for ignoring it.

  • Walter Cairns

    Isn’t it the ultimate irony that the brutal assassination of a foreign military leader on non-American soil provides much more solid grounds for impeachment than a legitimate inquiry into the disreputable dealings by Biden, Father and Son, in the Ukraine?

  • Christian W

    “My reading of Trump remains that he is not a crazed Clinton type war hawk and it will not happen. We all have to pray it does not.”

    No, he is not a Clinton type war hawk. But the murder of Soleimani was a crazy act in it’s own right. Trump is his own type of crazy. He now has backed Iran into a corner from where it can only come out fighting and kill American soldiers. Once this ball gets rolling it will inevitably escalate. Once the US bombs Iran directly, which will happen, in his own fashion Trump never lies, Iran will attack all US allies in the region. And again, from there things will escalate.

    I’m afraid Trump has pushed us to the very point assymetric warfare is no longer possible but direct warfare, by military logic, will take over. As part of Trump’s own brand of crazy, I believe he truly does not care if all of the Middle East (including Israel) burns.

    Moreover, backing Iran, and Iraq, into a corner is also an attack on China’s global interests and energy security. Iran is obviously also a Russian ally in the region. Putin cannot let the US attack and destroy such an important ally without acting. By the same logic that Iran now must kill American soldiers, Russia cannot stand by when an ally is destroyed, or all allies of Russia will be destroyed piece meal. Putin said in 2018 that if an ally of Russia is attacked by ANY kind of nuclear weapon, Russia will see that as a nuclear attack on Russia itself.

    If Iran is gone, Syria will be strangled strategically and Russia loses the war against the Jihadis. America’s Jihadi proxies would be free to grow and to attack Russia from the South. Exactly the scenario Russia stepped into Syria to avoid.

    Iraq, again, will not accept a new US military occupation. The US will try to create a civil war to exploit, but Sadr has already ordered his brigades to get battle ready, the very brigades that drove the US crazy and forced the US out once already. It will be a new Vietnam scenario, a potential bog of endless American blood the US military will want to avoid at all costs. This means the US will try to bomb it’s way out of trouble with the latest generation of super bombs. Whether these bombs are nuclear or not remains to be seen, but I think Russia knows they will be nuclear, hence Putin’s comments.

    Too many psychopaths, religious nutters and political fanatics in the White House, the Pentagon, US Congress, Israeli fanatics (Netanyahu) and Saudi fanatics want this war and they are giving Iran + allies no choice in the matter. European ‘leaders’ have been selected (such as Jens Stoltenberg, Boris Johnson, Macron, Merkel) to be spineless, ineffective, compliant and utterly unable to put up any resistance to US/Israeli war plans.

    We truly are on the brink of a total catastrophe.

    • john hartley

      I read recently a view that Trump may have been influenced additionally by domestic considerations (requiring the buy off of neo-con Republican votes given the impeachment circus) and the complicity and agreement of Congress in this. As well of course the external factors already repeated elsewhere.

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