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Belmont Club

Proxy War

August 3rd, 2014 - 2:01 pm

News that ISIS has seized Iraq’s biggest water impoundment facility, the Mosul dam, and taken 3 towns despite nominal Kurdish opposition will come as no surprise to readers of the Belmont Club. DW reports:

“Islamic State” fighters have seized Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns. ISIS also scored its first major defeat of Kurdish forces since sweeping through northern Iraq in June.

The capture of the Mosul Dam could give the group a base from which to attack major cities and aid its bid to topple Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. ISIS’s capture of the northern town of Sinjar has already forced up to 200,000 people to flee, the United Nations announced on Sunday.

“A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar,” UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov said Sunday after ISIS, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, captured the town near the Syrian border, which had served as a refuge for thousands of families displaced from elsewhere in previous fighting. …

In July, the Kurdish political bloc ended participation in Iraq’s national government in protest over Prime Minister’s Maliki’s accusation that the ethnic group had allowed “terrorists” to stay in Arbil, the capital of the minority’s semiautonomous region.

ISIS also raided Lebanon, with the NYT reporting the group kidnapping 17 cops in the town of Arsal, perhaps to trade as hostages for some of their own men held in jails.  It’s almost like they are creating access along various neighboring border points, like a doctor preparing to insert a drug, through which they can inject their militants into other countries. It’s an epidemic vector, with ISIS playing the role of Ebola.

Robert Scales, a former Army Major General and Douglas Ollivant write in the Washington Post that ISIS has become ‘militarily transformed’, something already noted on this site.  As I put it, “Maliki and Assad are no longer fighting the Viet Cong. They are fighting the NVA”.   Scales and Ollivant say that the new terrorists can shoot straight:

When terrorists were stupid enough to come out of the shadows, they fought as a mob of individuals. One rip of a Kalashnikov or a single launch of a rocket-propelled grenade was enough. If they stood to reload, they risked annihilation at the hands of their disciplined, well-trained and heavily armed American opponents.

Today, it’s different. We see Islamist fighters becoming skilled soldiers. The thrust of the Islamic State down the Euphrates River illustrates a style of warfare that melds old and new. U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq used to say: “Thank God they can’t shoot.” Well, now they can. They maneuver in reasonably disciplined formations, often aboard pickup trucks and captured Iraqi Humvees. They employ mortars and rockets in deadly barrages. To be sure, parts of the old terrorist playbook remain: They butcher and execute prisoners to make unambiguously clear the terrible consequences of resistance. They continue to display an eager willingness for death and the media savvy of the “propaganda of the deed.”

The Business Insider’s Paul Sodra writes that Saudi Officials Think ISIS Fighters May Hit Them Next. “Saudi Arabia is calling on its allies, Egypt and Pakistan, to provide military assistance in keeping its border closed to militants that have already taken over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria.” The London Times writes:

Saudi Arabia has deployed thousands of troops from Egypt and Pakistan along its frontier with Iraq, amid fears of invasion by the al-Qaeda splinter group that has declared a radical Islamic state across the border.

Panicked by the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis), Riyadh has taken the drastic step of calling in military assistance from its close allies to shore up the porous 500-mile border, Gulf security sources said.

It’s not obvious that Pakistan’s army can shoot straighter than ISIS. There is one army that undoubtedly can. But fans of Sherlock Holmes will remember the story of the dog that did not bark in the night-time. The big dog in the Middle East used to be the United States and Saudi Arabia’s not counting on it to bark. Why?

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

To understand the behavior of the dog, one might refer to the remarkable New York Times info-graphic detailing the bewildering alliances ranged for and against ISIS. The United States is listed as being allied with the following and opposed in some respects with the following:

  • Iran
  • the Gulf Monarchies, including Saudi Arabia
  • Turkey and the Iraq Kurds
  • the Kurds and the Maliki government
  • the Gulf Monarchies and the Sunni insurgents

In what must be the understatement of the year, the NYT says: “the major players in the Iraq and Syria crisis are often both allies and antagonists, working together on one front on one day and at cross-purposes the next.” This may also be known as “leading from behind”, since the one entity the US is not listed as supporting is itself.

The name of the game is proxy war.

The Business Insider notes that despite appearances to the contrary, the Gaza strip conflict is actually a proxy war between one Arab/Muslim faction and the another.

The war between Israel and Hamas is one of the more puzzling events in the recent annals of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A ceasefire had held between the two parties for nearly a year and a half; the strategic payoff of the latest conflict is vague for both sides, and neither side seemed to have an obvious interest in going to war. Even if it’s clear that both Israel and Hamas had been preparing for a major conflict, with Hamas spending 40% of its budget on its tunnel network and booby-trapping UN infrastructure and the Israelis looking increasingly committed to a long and already costly ground operation inside of a hostile Gaza Strip, it’s uncertain why the worst conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in well over a decade is happening now.

The truth is that rival diplomatic, sectarian, and ideological blocs that have been on a steady collision course are colliding. Here are some such conflicts, apart from the ever-festering over-sixty-year-old one between Israelis and Palestinians, that are playing out in Gaza right now.

Business Insider has its own version of the NYT fight card. What’s going on in Gaza is:

  • Sisi vs. the Muslim Brotherhood
  • Muslim Brotherhood supporters vs. the old regimes
  • Iran vs. the Sunni states (and Israel and the U.S.)
  • Fatah vs. Hamas
  • various and sundry score-settlings and revenge killings.

Yee-haw. And the Western left thought it was about the downtrodden Third World versus the Jews when in fact it is about the oil rich Middle East versus everybody.

Bonus question: whose side is Obama on?

  1. He’s still figuring it out.
  2. He hasn’t thought about it.
  3. On one side, but it’s not clear which.
  4. On more than one side, but it’s not clear which.
  5. On America’s side which is why he opposes domestic energy production so much.


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Top Rated Comments   


Muslim ferocity is coming to a head. In the Middle East the guns and the beheadings and the screams of the murdered children are never silent. We smile indulgently at the notion that a seventh century religion is again set upon conquering the world, and yet they believe their time has come, that Allah is with them, and that they shall prevail and put to the sword all who do not accept their rule. To read the blogs and watch the news one would think the world is coming to an end, and in a sense it is, at least in the northern hemisphere, for August is upon us, and summer is almost gone. But while it lasts summer makes us forget, at least for a time, that the wider world, the Islamic world, with its ferocity and undying hatred of all that we stand for, awaits. The murderous actions of ISIS, the latest iteration of murderous Islam, tells us that summer is over.

The fishing boats, outriggers high
That seem to touch the fragile sky
Small children just released from school
Play in the tepid swimming pool
The fishermen on boat or beach
Content if fish stay out of reach
Young women in their summer best
A sure sign that our lives are blest
The beaches cool with summer breeze
The wonder is that such as these
Are lent to us by gracious God
To whom we give a passing nod
Yes summer’s gone, it’s almost spent
So quick I don’t know where it went
And yet the August heat remains
As in the mountains and the plains
The guns of August gain their voice
And free men have a simple choice
To kill the vermin, kill them all
As August summer turns to Fall

30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Unrelated at first look but indicative of how fragile things are, and events can have repercussions, are two disasters in Asia. In Taiwan the sewers blew up and in China there was another earthquake. In both cases shoddy construction, substandard maintenance, and corruption probably contributed to the death toll. One consequence of these events on the heels of the Gaza campaign in the news is that a hostile could look at them and think "sewers? hmm." Civilization, the product of the civitas, depends on a complex and fragile urban structure. If disasters align with political crisis then an event can spin into a conflagration.

What if Taiwan thought that China was launching an attack? What if in China a general looked at the report of exploding sewers and wondered if he could arrange that? What if another general heard of reports of an earthquake or terrorism in Urumqi and thought it was retaliation from Taiwan?

New York City has a separate police force, older than Homeland Security, to protect the upstate watershed. Without fresh water in and waste water out populations would decline as fast as did late Imperial to early Medieval Rome. According to the wiki it dropped from 1.1 million under Diocletion to 100,000 when the Empire ended, and then slipped to less than 50,000. It did not grow again for 8 centuries. The biggest fear in NY used to be alligators in the sewers. We may now want to import some as guardians.

Everyone got used to being lazy and playing all sides in the expectation that eventually Uncle Sugar would buy the game and order a restart. Now actions have consequences and local grifters aren't trained to play on the big stage. Erdogan of Turkey for example has based his power on feeding the least educated voters a diet of hate directed at Jews Kurds Shi'a Christians and Americans. Now he is discovering that he has to choose sides. Will he betray the Kurds or the ISIS or the Saudis? Is he with the Iranians or their enemies? He can't choose to be both for and against everyone anymore.

The mutually conflicting and entangled alliance model, as if Italy had remained on both sides in WW-I, can only work when the alliances are just paper posturing and a larger power is in charge. With Obama's America that no longer applies. Give ISIS credit. They show more clarity in their execution than the other Muslim players still mired in models of oriental duplicity. If the system really collapsed and America was no longer a player then a new power would move in. It would not be a Caliphate. Despite their gains in this campaign Islam does not provide a base for a modern nation state. Absent America we could see China move in. They would deal with rivals without confusion or concerns about contradictory alliances.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
If I were the Saudis, I'd be afraid that the Pakistani and Egyptian mercenaries would join the other side. Especially the Pakistani ones.

There are only two militaries and one country that the Saudis (and eventually the Gulf sheikhdoms since once ISIS gets through the Saudis, their lifetimes would be measured in days) can trust.

If I were the house of Saud, I'd be offering the Israelis the right of return, right about now. (Cairo, Alexandria, Baghdad, Fallujah, Tripoli... need I go on?)
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (108)
All Comments   (108)
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Once it was spring, then it was summer… now comes the Arab Winter.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Saw a recent copy of Time magazine today in the doctor's office.

It seems that in Burma the majority Buddhists have caused 14,000 Muslims to herd into refugee camps. One wonders what the Muslims were doing to P.O. the Buddhists. Admittedly, Muslim destruction of Buddhist shrines could not have exactly enhanced the relations between the two groups, but I have been inclined to view Muslims as the only group that tends to get upset about things occurring to their religion in another country. Maybe Buddhists also do this?

Also, saw an interview today on Fox News about the US Relief Organization in Palestine. It seems that the only thing they do is "help" the Palestinians, having failed to find them permanent homes elsewhere and thus have become a self-licking ice cream cone. And most of the employees of UNRA are members of Hamas.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment

You meant I believe the UN Relief and Works Agency and not "the US Relief Organization." UNRWA exists solely to help the Palestinians. All other refugees in the world are handled by the separate office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR. Most Palestinians would not meet the criteria to receive assistance established by the UNHCR.

Muslims in Southern Thailand, down the below the Isthmus of Kra near Malaysia, have been spreading peace and love in the usual ways. See
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yep, I meant UNRWA.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Trying to determine whose side Obama is on is a false dilemma. It is like asking Soros who he backed in the 2008 Democratic primaries and the General election. He backed each major player.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
We should probably concede that a guy like Obama and his immediate advisers are too hopelessly provincial to ever understand the historic shifting currents and rivalries that criss-cross the Middle East. Obama's world sees the entire area as non-white and the victims of colonialism, though they are surely the most successful colonialist project in the history of the world, both in terms of time and land. That gap between reality and perception is too large to ever cross.

And why should he care: power is its own explanation. The problem there is that were the whites he conceives of as so corrupt thought like that, there never would've been a Civil War, just slavery for good. The Dem Party will wreck America, and by extension, the world, as sure as I'm sitting here. That's because brutal stupidity is its own explanation as well.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I enjoy your style of written analysis. Because you are bright you are able to inform with concision. Well done!

Mr. Obama et al are dangerous not just because of the limitations of their parochialism (social and educational). No, they are most dangerous because they think their advancement earned rather than the misguided product of affirmative action (e.g. it was their turn). There is no other explanation for the putatively brilliant Ms. Jarrett's irrational, illogical, hysterically vulgar pronouncement concerning Israel's right to self-defense as long as it was exercised ineffectually or, better, suicidally.

On second thought, she also could be another of those determined to flog Israel publicly for drawing attention to Mr. Kerry's gross incompetence. Her's is a fools errand, despite both the Brits and French having jumped on the bandwagon, today. Notably absent from the anti-Semitic chorus was Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, and Egypt, and Pakistan. The world has been turned on its head, indeed, when the closest fascists of Europe have to do the heavy lifting of the "Arab Street".
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Since we were never really in Iraq to win, given that it would have taken a generation or more, of civil rule, on a democratic republic model, enforced by bases in country, as in Germany, Japan, the PI and SKorea, the only outcome was a return to the Sunni v Shia struggle that has been going on since the 7th century. Or, more properly, the various dictators and Kings and theocracies and other organized criminals vying for control using that mkral justification for their crimes.

And, so now, having exploded both Republicans and then Democrats delusions of understanding these sociopathic tribes, and their even more pathetic promises to do something, what shall we do?

Why, take the money, get yours while the getting is good, and in the end, apply Jonah's Rule.

As the basketball Fan in Chief might say, in true Chicago Thugz Way;
"Don' blame tha playa, blame tha game..."
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bf, think there’s more 2 the ISIS/ISIL, they are simple doing what the original Mohammedan did, but this time there seems to be a lot more “Professional” military coordination, maybe some other country (more first world type) helping with the strategy/Intel… I would get a lot more worried if they started going Genghis Khan… Of course once they get into the Shiite cities they just might start pile’n the skulls up in the city centers (Men, Women and Children), when that happens watch the exodus, there will be a major cry for First World intervention, look to Russia to be called upon.
Mr. Blank Slate strings are pulled by those much smarter than him (the “0ne” can’t complete a whole sentence on subject without his Teleprompter)… but I do think they (inner kabala of Demoncrat puppet masters) only care about internal body politics and as for foreign politics they vote “other”. I agree they want to kick the can down the road but they only want Demoncrats to continue the kick’n once they leave (if they ever do)…
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
What side is Obama on? I'm sure the Khalidi tapes would tell. Thanks LATimes.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is not whose side Obama [or his controllers] are on. It is who they are against. US.

We frequently cite "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" here. I myself do not dare commit Poetry; for which fact the literate world is profoundly grateful. But I can appreciate the works of those superior in such matters [looking at you Walt] present and past.

I just found another by Kipling that seems to be landing far too close for comfort to what remains of our poor country.

Macdonough's Song by Rudyard Kipling

"As easy as A B C"--A Diversity of Creatures"
Whether the State can loose and bind
In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
Before or after the birth--
These are matters of high concern
Where State-kept schoolmen are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
Endeth in Holy War.

Whether The People be led by The Lord,
Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote--
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King--
Or Holy People's Will--
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!
Saying --after--me:--

Once there was The People--Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, 0 ye slain!
Once there was The People--it shall never be again!

Subotai Bahadur
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Option 6: There are no sides. It's about him.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
If this isn't it, what would the beginning of WW3 look like? Don't forget to include the Ukraine and the southern US border.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama's not on any side. He's on a fund raising drive.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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