By Randall Stevens
July 27th, 2013
Obama: Leading from Behind, or Friends with Benefits?
On January 24, Senator John Kerry testified before the Senate in his confirmation hearings after being nominated by President Obama to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. In his opening statement, Senator Kerry delivered what was considered by several in the media a curious line: “It is also imperative that in implementing President Obama’s vision for the world as he ends more than a decade of war, we join together to augment our message to the world.” To date, the refrain in journalistic and political circles is that the Obama foreign policy is leading from behind, whatever that means.
Vice President Joe Biden, in response to Republican criticism during the 2012 Presidential race aimed at the administration’s foreign policy modus operandi of leading from behind, said “I know a lot about foreign policy and I know one thing: loose talk is dangerous. The last thing we need is another land war tying us down.” Examined in the context of international events that have had as their impetus American involvement, the Vice President’s statement does seem to accurately convey the style that the administration chooses to exert power. Rather than emulating the Bush era method of full frontal assault on “evildoers,” President Obama has chosen the operational antipode: conduct covert wars through proxies, discreet arms and financing, with the only visible aspect of American policy being conventional diplomatic gestures.
The ongoing scandal of related to the administration’s arming of drug cartels, dubbed Fast and Furious, can be viewed this way. According to a “high ranking member of the Sinaloa drug cartel,” Fast and Furious was to provide arms to the cartel in exchange for information on other cartels. Presumably, the administration was also cognizant of Sinaloa’s rival cartels, namely Los Zetas. In a speech delivered in February 2011, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted that DHS considered cooperation between al-Qaeda and Los Zetas a concern of the agency responsible for preventing future terrorist attacks on American soil. Since 2009, the administration had been providing military grade weapons to the Sinaloa cartel, whose leader is the infamous “El Chapo” Guzmán, including grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, and .50 caliber rifles. While the majority of Americans would undoubtedly support fighting al-Qaeda on our own continent, doing so by arming a cartel headed by the World’s Most Wanted Man may prove less popular in the court of public opinion.
In one of his first major speeches delivered as President, Barack Obama addressed the people of Cairo. Entitled, “A New Beginning,” in the speech Obama praised the historical accomplishments of Islamic culture, and declared that “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.” The speech was seen as a call for more democracy in Arab countries traditionally governed by secular strongmen. Less than two years later in February 2011, President Hosni Mubarak, for decades an American ally in the region, resigned following the abandonment of support by the Obama administration. In the two years since his resignation, the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization which Mubarak suppressed since his election to office in 1981, now govern a new, democratic Egypt.
In Libya, the administration put its money (and fighter jets) where its mouth was. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Muammar Gaddafi, whom Reagan had called the “Mad Dog of the Middle East,” renounced Libya’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, leading to a warming of American-Libyan relations. However, in early 2011, the fever of the Arab Spring reached Libya, leading to mass protests against the eccentric, tent-dwelling dictator. In March, the United Nations Security Council, in a reaction to the killing of unarmed civilians, announced a no-fly zone over Libya; a week later, NATO began enforcing it. Soon, NATO air power began assisting the rebels in crippling the Libyan military and pro-Gaddafi forces. Then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that NATO was “not targeting Gaddafi specifically,” instead focusing on military and logistical sites. On October 20, 2011, Gaddafi was killed by a mob after being anally raped with a bayonet. The Economist reported in January that the Muslim Brotherhood was likely to make further electoral gains, following months of chaos and anarchy.
A similar scenario is playing out today in Syria. To say nothing of the concrete connections to narcotics trafficking, it is just the latest in a pattern that is becoming too obvious to ignore. It may be that the administration does not want public association with neither dictators, nor the Islamist totalitarians and narcotics merchants who replace them through the democratic process.
Still, there was a time when a sitting president, in a grand duel against global Communism, was scandalized after it was revealed that his administration was arming rebels in Latin America with demonstrable links to the cocaine trade. That president had made it plain to the world that he stood with those who opposed the Kremlin, and committed himself to that cause. To use the parlance of the day, could it be that the current administration’s foreign policy “vision” is no more complicated than: Why get “tied down” with diplomatic commitments when you can have revolutionary friends with benefits?
Bienvenue, Madames et Monsieurs. Vous aimez l’héroïne? Da!
The notion that Qatar and Turkey have twin political agendas in the region is nearly banal. Both countries have steadfastly backed Islamic revolution in Africa and the Middle East (aka the Arab Spring), both were against Gaddafi, and both now demand Assad step down in Syria. Call it fanatical religious piety; call it the desire for political hegemony. On a more prosaic level, they may just be allies in a turf war.
Which brings us back to Paris. The PKK, being part of a broader Kurdish diaspora, has long established itself in European capitals, especially Paris. For decades, they have enjoyed the lion’s share of the heroin market. Yet, in recent years, there’s more competition. Matter of fact, it’s the same competition they face in Russia – the jihad brigade of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Viewed through the framework outlined above, it is only logical that, like the PKK, the competition start acquiring local property. Qatar did just that back in September. Let the real estate flipping begin. After all, is there a better laundromat?
The ethnic Kurd mafia boss Khasan was based out of Moscow. A drug merchant of the same ethnicity as the PKK, Khasan was surely an associate – and competition for IMU.
Moscow Strikes Back?
On January 19, perhaps in response to these assassinations, a would-be assassin aimed a gun at the leader of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish minority party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms while he was delivering a speech on live television. The gun apparently misfired, and the party leader, Ahmed Dogan, pushed it aside while his bodyguards rushed the stage. The gunman, Oktai Enimehmedov, was also identified as an ethnic Turk. Dressed in all black, jack boots, and a sporting a close crew cut, his optics were flamboyantly mobster or neo-Nazi, of the Russian variety.
In the days since the incident, reports emerged that cast doubt on the sincerity of the attack. The gun, for example, was a gas pistol loaded with pepper spray. Because the event was being televised, it is possible to observe in the video that 58 year old Dogan appears to overpower the significantly larger Enimehmedov, allowing for the press present to snap several heroic pictures. Bloodied and beaten, Enimehmedov can be seen hurried from the room by security.
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms Party, as noted above, represents the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. Consistent with its ethnic constituency, it hews closely to the official position of the Turkish State. Why would an ethnic Turk dressed like a Russian mobster attempt to assassinate a Turkish leader in Bulgaria, only to use a non-lethal weapon and fail on live television? The odd array of circumstances calls into question the wisdom of judging this spectacle on a purely superficial level.
The Narco Curtain
Four recent assassinations, four dead Kurds in the drug business. Three in Paris, one in Moscow. Four shadows on the cave wall. A fifth, now in Bulgarian custody, the apparent victim of a setup: shooting a man in temple with an air pistol sans bullets. Turkey’s Foreign Minister maintains that there is evidence, yet to come to light, linking the murders in Paris to an internal PKK feud. There is speculation that, as Turkey negotiates with the imprisoned Öcalan, there are those who would sabotage this reconciliation by violence.
A recent article in Al-Monitor reads “It is not a secret that since Öcalan was jailed in 1999 at Imrali Prison, Ankara has been tried to split the PKK by using Ocalan and breaching PKK ranks… I wish the old game of each side exploiting the other was over.” Would PKK agents really assassinate a celebrated founder of their movement to derail talks that they must consider a fan dance with a mortal enemy?
Could it be mere coincidence that days later, another prominent Kurd in the same business is murdered in Russia, a country diametrically opposed to Turkey’s ambitions in Syria?
Or may it just be that Ankara had enough of the Kurds foiling their grandiose plans to expand the dominion of the Muslim Brotherhood and the turf of their heroin pushing benefactors?
The Syrian Snow Globe
Syria today presents a neat microcosm of global affairs; the stark parallels of organized crime and geopolitics are as striking as they are rare. In a country barely larger than North Dakota, a secular dictator backed by the Russian bloc and North Korea battle an ascendant Islamist caliphate, funded by the global narcotics trade, comfortable with terrorism, and supported diplomatically, financially, and militarily by European powers and the Obama administration.
This raises a number of questions related to American interests and the priorities of the Obama administration:
- Why is the US, with France and the UK, systematically installing Islamist/Muslim Brotherhood regimes across the Middle East and North Africa?
- Why is the United States seeking a direct conflict with Russia in the region, when it appears as if the aspirations of the Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, are counter to both American and Russian geopolitical agendas? How does it benefit the United States to be on the opposite side of events as a diverse set of nations including Russia, Israel, Jordan, and Hizbollah?
- What is the Obama administration doing arming al-Qaeda and Taliban affiliates? A pattern emerges when linked to Fast and Furious: arming dangerous criminal and drug interests with no apparent strategic goal.
- With American light and heavy arms going to Mexican drug cartels, al-Qaeda jihadis, and the Taliban, how does the Obama administration in good conscience seek to limit access to firearms by law abiding American citizens?