Policy Tensor

After ISIS: A Sunni Arab Nation-State

In Middle East on May 23, 2015 at 3:52 am

Sunni Arab Nation-StateSunni Arab Nation-State

The boundaries of the Islamic State couldn’t be clearer. They are based on a strictly Sunni Arab ethnoreligious identity. The Shia, the Kurds, the Alawi, and others are all enemies in the eyes of the populace of the territory under ISIS’ boot. This region is at the very center of the cauldron of ethnic conflict in the heart of the Middle East, so this is not entirely surprising. The tiger that ISIS is riding is, after all, the deeply-felt opposition among the Sunni Arabs of Syria and Iraq to being ruled from Baghdad and Damascus.

What ISIS has articulated is a Sunni Arab nation in the Syro-Mesopotamian region. The Islamic State is just superstructure: the ship itself is Sunni Arab nationalism. I will argue that the Sunni Arab heartland will not see stability until ISIS is replaced by a nascent nation-state that articulates Sunni-Arab nationalism with some degree of domestic and international legitimacy. Further, I will argue that this can be accomplished by the United States.

The solution to the ISIS crisis that I had in mind until recently was that the US could coordinate with Damascus, Erbil, Baghdad and Tehran on the ground to conquer the Islamic State and return the territories to the status quo ante circa 2011. By now it is clear that these regional actors are both incapable and unwilling to conquer the Islamic State. The inability comes from a paucity of military wherewithal and the unwillingness from the growing awareness in Tehran, Baghdad, Erbil, and Damascus that even with their combined resources they are simply incapable of pacifying the Sunni Arab region.

The United States cannot defeat the Islamic State without landing an army; as I predicted and has now become clear. A ground invasion could push ISIS back to being a fugitive terrorist group. In the aftermath of a successful military campaign against ISIS, the US could not simply give the pieces back to Damascus and Baghdad. The region would simply revert back to insurrection; perhaps led by a resurgent Islamic State. This in turn means that the United States itself would get sucked into a semi-permanent pacification campaign; in a region where it is deeply hated. Not an attractive proposition.

Clearly, the reason that both regional and world powers are reluctant to take up pacification of the Sunni Arab heartland of Syro-Mesopotamia is Sunni Arab nationalism. It is quite simply the most potent force in the ‘arc of weakness’ that no one wants to talk about. But this pretense is unhelpful. Once it is recognized that a Sunni Arab nation exists inside the Islamic State, more promising strategies of dealing with the problem posed by the Islamic State become available.

Allowing the Islamic State to exist in the heart of the Middle East is not an option. Not only is it a Salafist-Jihadist State, it is a serious long-term threat to the balance of power in the region. There is always the possibility of a repeat of the original Jihad-State’s achievement of conquering the entire Middle East in a generation. The Islamic State ought to dispatched right quick, before it becomes a serious threat to the gulf. Which brings us to the extant Sunni Arab states in the region.

Regional Sunni Arab states, like their Shia counterparts, cannot conquer the Islamic State. One can imagine a US-approved, Saudi-funded, Egyptian army that could conceivably displace the Islamic State. It might be more appetizing to the Sunni Arab populace than an American or Shia force. Yet, the Egyptian army is in no state for such a large-scale operation: Mosul controls a territory larger than that controlled by Damascus and Baghdad. The Saudis, of course, have an incompetent army.

Since regional powers cannot be expected to pull it off and the United States does not allow other world powers military access to the Middle East, it is the United States’ responsibility to figure out how to dispatch the Islamic State.

The ideal solution would be for the United States to move the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Dispatching ISIS is in the interests of all members of the UNSC. A UNSC ground force would then work to establish a new state for the Sunni Arab people of the territory now under the boot of ISIS.

The restriction of the new State to the territory now under the control of the Islamic State is necessary. The Syrian war is intractable: Trying to solve it opens up a Pandora’s box. The United States cannot wait till the Syrian conflict reaches a decision to destroy the Islamic State. Any attempt to mobilize the UNSC to remove Assad would be vetoed by Russia and opposed on the sidelines by Iran. Assad can keep his rump state but he cannot recover Northern Syria. The Iranians, the Russians, and the UNSC can therefore be persuaded to sign onto a partition of Syria along the Islamic State’s borders.

A unilateral US invasion to dispatch ISIS is not attractive due to political realities in America, Iraq, and Syria. There should thus be no push to extend the new state deeper into Syria. Obviously, if and when a stable polity emerges in Syria, it could be allowed to join the Sunni Arab nation-state if it so desires. Just because Syria cannot be solved does not mean that we have to tolerate the Islamic State.

The strategy outlined here would require some serious diplomacy by the United States. But if successful, it would reestablish US prestige which has been so damaged by recent debacles. And while the strategy proposed here may seem radical, the rationale is already obvious to all capitals.

To recap: The Sunni Arabs in Syro-Mesopotamia will not submit to Damascus, Baghdad, or foreign powers. Therefore, anyone who dares to destroy the Islamic State had better come up with a solution to this problem beforehand. There is, indeed, only one solution to this problem: Recognizing the Sunnistan hiding inside the Islamic State.

An Open Letter to the Public Editor of the New York Times

In Thinking on May 14, 2015 at 2:52 pm

This is an open letter to the Public Editor of the New York Times; to be published online at policytensor.com

Dear Ms. Sullivan, 

The silence of the New York Times in the aftermath of the publication of Seymour Hersh’s piece in the London Review of Books is quite extraordinary. 

The New York Times Magazine has an opinion piece by Carlotta Gall, wherein she says her independent sources in Pakistan corroborate a number of key claims made by Hersh’s sources: (1) Bin Laden was being held by the ISI. (2) That it was a “walk-in”, someone from inside the ISI, who alerted American intelligence about the Abbottabad compound. (3) That the Seals team went in with the knowledge of the ISI, with the result that Pakistani security forces made themselves scarce in the neighborhood while the operation was underway for three-quarters of an hour. 

NBC News reported that it’s independent sources also corroborate the meat of Hersh’s story. “The NBC News sources who confirm that a former Pakistani military intelligence official became a U.S. intelligence asset include a special operations officer and a CIA officer who had served in Pakistan. These two sources and a third source, a very senior former U.S. intelligence official, also say that elements of the ISI were aware of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The former official was emphatic about the ISI’s awareness, saying twice, ‘They knew.’” 

Meanwhile, the Pakistani press reported that ISI officials have outed the walk-in as being Brigadier Usman Khalid, who has since moved with his entire family to the United States. 

The only report in the Grey Lady so far is Matthew Rosenberg’s piece on May 11, 2015. Rosenberg tries to discredit Hersh’s report from the get-go. Indeed, in the very first paragraph: “…alleging a vast cover-up that involves hundreds, possibly thousands, of people and goes all the way to President Obama himself.” This is inaccurate. As Hersh pointed out in an interview on Democracy Now, the operation did not involve hundreds, let alone thousands of people. Rosenberg is clearly unfamiliar with the domain of international espionage. Nor does Hersh claim anywhere that the president knew the sordid details.  

Rosenberg nevertheless gets the meat of the LRB article right: “The gist of Mr. Hersh’s report is that Pakistan harbored Bin Laden for years with money paid by Saudi Arabia. Once the United States found out the Pakistanis had Bin Laden, Mr. Hersh writes, it offered Pakistan’s generals a choice: Help the United States kill him or watch billions of dollars in American aid disappear. The Americans and the Pakistanis then worked together to plot the raid, Mr. Hersh writes.” He then proceeds to pick holes is a minor part of Hersh’s story that there was no treasure-trove of information recovered from the Abbottabad compound. This is similar to Max Fisher’s ad hominem attack on Seymour Hersh, who fraudulently claims that Hersh has become a loony conspiracy theorist, based on evidence that does not hold up to scrutiny.  

My question to you is this: Given that the New York Times is the paper of record, does it not have the responsibility to inform its reader about the killing of bin Laden? Does the absence of fair reporting not amount to self censorship? When is the newspaper going to provide its readership with an update on what we now know about the killing of Osama bin Laden? 

Yours truly, 

Anusar Farooqui

Montreal, QC

In Defense of Seymour Hersh

In Thinking on May 12, 2015 at 4:26 am


“Seymour Hersh is one of the most outstanding investigative reporters of this generation. He has compiled a remarkable record. Anything he does has to be taken very seriously.” – Noam Chomsky, private correspondence with the author. Quoted with permission.

In the aftermath of the publication of Seymour Hersh’s ground-breaking piece on bin Laden’s execution, the flak organizations are out in force to damage Hersh’s standing as a reporter. The Policy Tensor stakes his own credibility to attest both to Seymour Hersh’s integrity, and to the unwavering reliability and high-quality of his reporting.

I have read almost all of Hersh’s impressive body of work. If you can find a single piece penned by Seymour Hersh wherein he argues for something loony, bring it to my attention. Such a claim is strictly speaking ludicrous; it can only be credible to someone who has not read Seymour Hersh. Unfortunately, public opinion is not shaped by people who actually read. It is a domain especially susceptible to the tyranny of the ignorant. 

Since he has been the premier reporter on international espionage, his stories necessarily involve facts that are shrouded in secrecy. But at absolutely no point does his reporting stretch the credibility of anyone even remotely familiar with world affairs. Apart from breaking the My Lai, Watergate, and Abu-Ghraib stories, Seymour Hersh has also done stellar work on nuclear proliferation. His book on secret French and Israeli nuclear cooperation, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, is the last word on the matter. His long-form pieces over the years in the New Yorker and the London Review of Books, two of the most reliable periodicals in the English-speaking world, are some of the best works of investigative journalism ever penned.

Much of what Hersh exposed was covered up in spin. For instance, in the public perception, the My Lai massacre was an isolated event. What Hersh showed was something considerably more damning. My Lai was just one many massacres that US forces carried out in Indochina. A similar spin was put on Abu Ghraib; which was again seen as an isolated phenomena in the public eye. The truth, which Hersh exposed to anyone who cares to read, is that it was just the tip of a very sordid iceberg. Indeed, the full extent of prisoner abuse carried out by US forces in Iraq is still to be reckoned with in the public sphere.

None of these propaganda achievements are surprising in light of the political economy of US mass media. This is standard fare: Intrepid reporter breaks an embarrassing story; the crime is conceded and then immediately covered up in spin; usually the along the lines of it being one bad apple; when the truth of the matter is that it was the entire basket all along. 


Let me debunk a specific piece attacking Hersh’s credibility. 

Max Fisher launches a lengthy ad hominem attack on Hersh; basically saying that Hersh has recently become a conspiracy theorist (boo hoo). In support of this ludicrous claim, Fisher offers these bits of evidence that I will debunk in turn:

…the Opus Dei special forces cabal, the terrorist training in Nevada, the American plan to nuke Iran, the Turkish false flag in Syria, even the American-Pakistani bin Laden ruse.

The Opus Dei special forces cabal

This is a soundbite taken out of context from a speech that Hersh gave at Georgetown’s Qatar campus. You can see what he was talking about here. Go find out if it looks unreasonable.

The American plan to “nuke Iran”

This was Seymour Hersh’s excellent reporting on the neocons’ hardly-secret plan to bomb Iran. The question of the use of nuclear weapons is hardly surprising in light of the United States’ war aims. An important mission in any American military action against Iran would involve an attempt to destroy Iran’s hardened and deeply buried nuclear enrichment site at Fordow. The only way of ensuring Fordow’s destruction is to conduct precision strikes using cruise missiles tipped with tactical nuclear warheads. Conventional warheads require multiple strikes that may or may not be effective in a contested airspace.

The use of nuclear weapons, even if only tactical ones, cannot be undertaken lightly. But the other option, gaining air supremacy deep inside Iran, required significant air combat. It is hard to see how Iran could be defanged with (conventional) surgical strikes alone. But an air invasion of Iran demanded domestic and international mobilization; a prospect that became more and more unlikely as the US got bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire. This is why the neocons never managed to carry out their nefarious plans.

Terrorist training in Nevada

Go read the excellent New Yorker piece from which this bit is taken and find out for yourself if it is unreasonable.

The Turkish false-flag operation

Contrary to Fisher’s claims, no one has debunked Hersh’s report in the London Review of Books. Moreover, what he said is not unreasonable at all. It is now well documented that Turkey actively supported Jabhat al-Nusra and friends. The question is not whether Turkey has been arming and supporting odorous Salafist-Jihadist groups in Syria. That is common knowledge among informed observers. The question is also not whether Assad used chemical weapons. He did; often; but in small quantities so as not to trigger Obama’s red line. The only question is whether the weight of evidence shows that that specific attack was a Turkish false-flag operation or not.

The nature of evidence and the burden of proof: Due to the nature of the business, there is unlikely to ever be sufficient “proof” of the theory. More generally, theories cannot be proven by evidence. What evidence can do is debunk theories. Seymour Hersh has done a good job of showing the holes in the standard (official) narrative. No one has debunked Hersh’s theory. The authors that Fisher cites are others in the flak-echo chamber; all of them pulling a Fisher themselves.

To the Policy Tensor the story makes sense. The theory explains why the administration backed out of the promised barrage of cruise missile strikes intended to punish Assad’s insubordination. There was always something fishy about the White House’s shenanigans (the sudden, inexplicable turn to Congress; Kerry’s “gaffe” which was clearly intended to elicit the Russian proposal). That Assad would so blatantly cross the red line so explicitly marked out by a sitting US president was always difficult to reconcile with the facts.

The operation, an attack on civilians, had very limited military-strategic value to the Assad regime. Moreover, Assad understood that a large-scale use of chemical weapons was the one thing that could trigger the wrath of the Boss. To Assad’s adversaries on the other hand, engineering a US military assault on Damascus made imminent sense. Whether or not the false-flag theory is right, it is not unreasonable at all. 

Fisher makes much of Hersh’s “preoccupation” with false-flag operations. Well, duh. States conduct plenty of false-flag operations. Global Research lists fifty-three where government officials admitted to carrying them out. If you don’t think false-flag operations are common in the murky world of international espionage, your picture of the world around you is distorted.

The American-Pakistani bin Laden ruse

Including the story under consideration in the case against Seymour Hersh’s credibility on the story itself is Fisher’s way of spuriously beefing up his case. If you shouldn’t believe story because Seymour Hersh is a conspiracy theorist, only the looniness of stories 1,2,…,n-1 can be presented as evidence. Only a weak mind would allow the inclusion of story n itself in the chain of evidence.

Fisher’s claim that Seymour Hersh has become a loony is baseless.


At one point, Fisher claims that Hersh suggests that the Seals carried out a macabre dismemberment of bin Laden’s body. This is nonsense. The previous ten paragraphs of Hersh’s report are dedicated to the question of bin Laden’s body. Hersh makes it very clear that he does not know what precisely happened to bin Laden’s body. Since bin Laden was likely executed with machine guns, Hersh was merely talking about the possibility of there being lopped-off parts of the body as the Seals stuffed the remains into a duffel bag; an event that is not unlikely when a bunch of machine-gun magazines are emptied at a man’s body, whether he is 6-4 or 5-3. It is enough to make your stomach churn. But then again, this is the nature of the business. 

You know how the Policy Tensor keeps mentioning Chomsky’s remark on the need for intellectual self-defence? Now would be a good time to exercise independent judgement: The flak machine is in high gear trying to discredit an honest reporter; a man of impeccable integrity.


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