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The Demonstrations in Lebanon, Iraq, and now Iran… to What Degree Foreign Interference?

November 19, 2019

Units of the Syrian Arab Army (Damascus based) liberating parts of Idlib Province in northwestern Syria last year. The offensive continues today

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On some fundamental coordinating level, it is hard to see this as anything other than the hand of Washington behind all of this … Nothing innocent or spontaneous about these protests. Later we’ll find out how the usual suspects – Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Emirates are involved… what role they have played.

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Yesterday I wrote a brief piece about the publication of a trove of Iranian classified documents in the NY Times and at the Intercept, arguing that it was a form of ideological warfare in which Washington is engaging. The key paragraph noted,

This comes at a time when US influence in Iraq – where Washington maintains one of its largest embassies along with a slew of important US military bases in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion – is wobbling and where massive demonstrations are, to a certain degree, yes, targeting Iranian influence but more importantly calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops and the closing of U.S. bases in Iran. More generally, it comes at a moment where US influence and credibility in the Middle East region as a whole and that of its chief allies – Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia is weakening and seriously so. 
Along similar lines, today CNN reports that facing the spread of nationwide protests in Iran which began last Friday, that the government there has engaged in “the largest internet shutdown ever engaged in Iran.” The article goes on to note “In other countries where nationwide protests have rattled the political elite — such as Iraq and Lebanon — social media has played a key role in mobilizing protesters. It is unclear if Iranian authorities will succeed in quelling the demonstrations by depriving them of this crucial protest tool.”
A Facebook page, the distribution of several thousand cell phones programmed to respond to “advice” from a foreign embassy or so-called “human rights” group or individual with funding from a foreign power. It’s becoming a well-worn pattern – from Hong Kong to Syria to Iran to Bolivia, even signs of it now in Ethiopia. They often start with the airing of legitimate grievances, a social movement which is then co-opted, taken over by the likes of ISIS, al Nusra, themselves manipulated and in the surface of this or that outside power. When State Department types like Robert Ford and Jeffery Feldman make their appearance trouble is bound to follow.

It has to be more than a coincidence that in short order protest demonstrations have broken out in Lebanon, Iraq and now Iran. While of course, in these countries legitimate issues exist that the governments need to address, these demonstrations are far from simple domestic protests. Protests coordinated by cell phones and the internet and coordinated from the embassy of a foreign power supported by this or that NGO are the signature of foreign interference.
Not only did such patterns exist in the early stages of the foreign military interference in Syria in 2011, but have reappeared in many other places and are part and parcel of destabilization programs worldwide.
Recently the ghastly beheadings of Christian priests in far away (from the Middle East) Ethiopia suggest a similar divisive pattern. A Facebook page, the distribution of several thousand cell phones programmed to respond to “advice” from a foreign embassy or so-called “human rights” group or individual with funding from a foreign power. In Ethiopia’s case, a finger has been pointed – and rather publicly here in the USA – at “certain Gulf states” manipulating the unrest behind the scenes. An ISIS-like attack in the Oromo region of Ethiopia just at the same time when Islamic mercenaries (ISIS, al Nusra, Al Qaeda, etc) are being re-deployed from Syria from whence they are being expelled in the tens of thousands to Afghanistan, Libya, Kashmir and even Ethiopia?
Concerning the new outbreak of protests in Iran – the logic goes something like this – yet another effort on the part of Washington to weaken what has come to be called “the Axis of Resistance” (the alliance between Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon) to turn back the gains made by stopping ISIS et al from partitioning Syria.
The setback for the US in Syria is its biggest military defeat (that is the correct word) since the Vietnam War, nothing less. The regional power balance continues to shift. Tel Aviv and Riyadh are more nervous than they have been in decades, their ability to diktat regional policy evaporating with every military set back they have suffered in Syria at the hands of the Syrian Army backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
Unable to put the breaks on the shift in the balance of power, Washington has taken a whole number of defensive actions, some military, some political destabilization (green light to Turkey to invade ne Syria, the seizure and consolidation of the Syrian oil fields in the eastern region, the reassignment of US troops from ne Syria to bases elsewhere in the country and now fanning the flames of domestic destabilization in Lebanon, Iraq and now Iran).
On some fundamental coordinating level, it is hard to see this as anything other than the hand of Washington behind all of this … Nothing innocent or spontaneous about these protests. Domestic unrest manipulated on some level for geo-political ends. Later we’ll find out how the usual suspects – Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Emirates are involved… what role they have played.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2019 4:51 pm

    Rob, I need to know more. The US is clearly, always, involved. Even when we have military power and influence. But you pass over the “legitimate” grievances of so many of the people. Grievances I suspect I’d support. That such protesting is “suddenly” widespread does support your claim about US involvement, but it is also supported by ways that repressors and dictators learn from and support each other. Russia especially as an outside resource. You blame the US, correctly, and with us the detestable Saudis and Israelis. But you should also be blaming Russia and its strongman allies in all those places. AND I really want to hear more about your sense (? I realize we can’t know) of where all this may be heading. John

    • November 19, 2019 5:16 pm

      Of course the grievances – or at least many of them – are legitimate. It’s a question of how they are “resolved” and they can be and are, in many cases manipulated. Let me give you one example – the one that stands out in my mind the clearest – that of Syria in 2011-12. The first protests against the Assad government were – as far as I can tell – legitimate, criticisms of nepotism, the oppressive and pervasive presence of the Syrian secret police, etc. The calls for reform, if not more radical change resonated.

      But the opposition – legitimate as it was – had a narrow social base and was poorly organized. It was taken over – and then unceremoniously pushed aside but the jihadist elements, overwhelmingly non-Syrians trained wherever (Saudi, Qatar, Jordan, Israel) who isolated the legitimate Syrian opposition and then spoke in their name. This hasn’t been a civil war at all – but a foreign invasion of paid mercenaries… and orchestrating the whole thing Washington and the (Western) Europeans. And the agenda of these jihadist elements was/is quite different from that of the original government opponents.

      What is the goal – partition of the country, balkanizing it to such a degree that it becomes politically irrelevant and unable to withstand the dictates of multi-national corporations and the government behind them.

      What role did Russia play, John, in Syria? It opposed the country’s balkanization and along with other elements that are vilified in our media (Hezbollah, the Iranians, etc) and the Syrian army, it is they that have defeated and continued to defeat ISIS et al. Without Russian support for Damascus, Syria would have collapsed. There is more to it but this explains, at least as best I can, how I see the situation…

      Best, Rob

      What is usually missing from the analyses presented in our media – from left to right by the way – is the geo-politics of it all. It might be difficult to believe that

      • November 22, 2019 3:03 pm

        Thought I’d replied to this previously. Thanks, very helpful. John

  2. beautype permalink
    November 27, 2019 9:56 am

    This is surely wrong: “On some fundamental coordinating level, it is hard to see this as anything other than the hand of Washington behind all of this … Nothing innocent or spontaneous about these protests.”

    The protests are mostly spontaneous and we should support them to the extent to which they oppose authoritarian regimes. They are an exciting development, actually. I’m not sure why you are jumping to conclusions about the US being “behind” the protests, or why you are claiming that they are not “spontaneous.” Unless there is public evidence to support these claims, they should be withdrawn in favor of claims that can actually be substantiated.

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