Well, that didn’t take long, did it? In northern Syria, American airstrikes were made against the Khorasan network — apparently a rebranding of what is really a section of al-Qaeda. The White House has been coy about it, but Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari was happy to tell the world that the United States had notified President Bashar al-Assad’s government of the operation, and explicitly confirmed that the raid was only directed at Islamist forces.
That was obviously an operational necessity, but it also marks the beginning of explicit co-ordination with the Assad regime, the state whose rebels the US has been actively supporting for several years. Notification of a US mission obviously gives the Assad regime scope to mount its own operations elsewhere, quite possibly against the “Free Syrian Army”, or what remains of it.
Yet at the same time as this is happening, there is ample evidence that the Turkish government has continued to give strategic aid to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) — our Turkish NATO allies helped establish the group as a bulwark against Shia and Kurdish forces in the region. Now they appear to have prevented Kurdish fighters based in Turkey from crossing the border to defend the Kobani autonomous zone — a de facto Syrian Kurdish republic established adjacent to the Turkish border. And just to add to the fun, Israel shot down a Syrian jet yesterday.
Meanwhile in Yemen, the government has fallen to a rebel group known as the Houthis, an Iran-backed Shia outfit, who either represented or used a series of grievances (depending on your point of view) to force the existing regime to share power. The capital, Sanaa, has been under siege by them for a week. Who knew? No one who relies on the mainstream press for their information on what is going on there.
Meanwhile, all attention has drained away from Pakistan, a state both decrepit and nuclear, with a healthy insurgency movement. Pakistan is a mess, the state that helped foster the Taliban in order to enforce its interests in Afghanistan, with radical Islamist forces embedded deep in ISI, its security agency, and part of its deep state. That support continued from factions within ISI even when it was clear that the Taliban insurgency had completely destabilised Pakistan itself — both in the border areas (which retained a political autonomy ever since the state was founded) and lately coming further into the heartland. On September 13, there was an attack on the naval dockyards in Karachi, with al-Qaeda militants commandeering a frigate, and making some attacks towards US vessels. The US still hasn’t sorted out its attitude to Pakistan, turning a blind eye to its deep state activities out of fear that the country will otherwise get closer to China. It is in effect subsidising the next crisis.
The attack was undertaken by a group called AQIS — al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent — whose formation had been announced only 10 days ago. This and other renewed al-Qaeda activity suggests that one effect of the rise of IS has been to galvanise forces still loyal to the al-Qaeda brand to renew their efforts. Market forces at work. Had there been less going on, the Karachi naval yard attack would have been front page. So too would have been the Yemen coup.
These incidents have propelled the US to affirm its support for a coalition of Islamist Arab monarchies and dictatorships — including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain — with President Barack Obama saying that the US is “proud” to be in alliance with these nations. Simultaneously, there is no doubt that sections of the sprawling Saudi royal “family” — thousands of princelings — continue to provide funds and support for al-Qaeda and IS, the latter representing its strategic interests against Iran. Can a more formal US-Iran alliance be far away?
The situation is thus one of incoherence, something that will only increase with the passage of time. But there aren’t a lot of options, realpolitik-speaking, in any of this. What was optional was the manner in which our government committed to involvement in this mess, as a total and open-ended commitment, yoked to a renewed attack on what remains of an open society in Australia. Politically, this smacks of desperation — and appears to be aimed at the Victorian and Queensland state elections as anything, a go-around of the old “voting against the government is disloyal” pitch. This is a last-ditch attempt to give the Premier Denis Napthine’s Victorian government a fighting chance and stop the rot in Queensland. It also crowds the budget out of the Senate schedule and allows it to quietly die.
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But of course, it switches the volume up to 11 right from the start, leaving the government with little place to go. We can’t know the degree to which actual policing is now being affected by political considerations, but we can know that it is. Nothing turns would-be jihadis into a legitimised political force faster than an 800-police-officer raid — where strategic policing always says that purported political actors should always be treated like criminals in order to delegitimise them. The suspicion remains that the Abbott government is consciencelessly raising the political temperature to save its own skin in the short term, with no plan for the better interests of the country, or even its own long-term prospects. Incoherence here, incoherence there, the double incoherence of this decade-long disaster.