Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Details on the Georgia-Hosted Jihadi Conference Emerge

by Julia Gorin

An analysis published last Monday by Defense & Foreign Affairs offers some corroboration for the Georgia-hosted, U.S.-approved jihadi confab in December,the mention of which seemed to upset some readers.

Here are the relevant excerpts from the 16-page analysis, which is subscription-only and therefore not linkable:

Meanwhile, Georgia is actively seeking to exploit the spread ofjamaats [jihadist mini-societies] in the North Caucasus in order to go after the Russian pipelines in hope of ensnaring the US into actively supporting a new confrontation with Russia. In early December 2009, Tbilisi organized a high-level meeting of jihadists groups from the Middle East and Western Europe in order “to coordinate activities on Russia’s southern flank.” The Georgian Embassy in Kuwait, for example, arranged for travel documents for jihadists from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. (There is a large and very active Chechen/Circassian community in Jordan since the 19th Century that is heavily represented in the intelligence services and the military.) In Tbilisi, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Lordkipanadze was the host and coordinator. The meeting was attended by several Georgian senior officials who stressed that Saakashvili himself knew and approved of the undertaking. The meeting addressed the launch of both “military operations” in southern Russia and ideological warfare. One of the first results of the meeting was the launch, soon afterwards of the Russian-language TV station First Caucasian.

The jihadists of the North Caucasus — including the Arab commanders in their midst — came out of the early December 2009 meeting convinced that Tbilisi is most interested in the spread of terrorism. The meeting was attended by, among others, Mohmad Muhammad Shabaan, an Egyptian senior commander who is also known as Seif al-Islam and who has been involved in Caucasus affairs since 1992. He took copious notes. According to Shabaan’s notes, the Georgian government wants the jihadists to conduct “acts of sabotage to blow up railway tracks, electricity lines and energy pipelines” in southern Russia in order to divert construction back to Georgian territory.

Georgian intelligence promised to facilitate the arrival in the Caucasus of numerous senior jihadists by providing Georgian passports, and to provide logistical support including the reopening of bases in northern Georgia. Russian intelligence was not oblivious of the meeting. Seif al-Islam and two senior aides were assassinated on February 4, 2010. The Russians retrieved a lot of documents in the process. Moscow signaled its displeasure shortly afterwards when the presidents of Russia and Abkhazia signed a 50-year agreement on a Russian military base in order to “protect Abkhazia’s sovereignty and security, including against international terrorist groups”.

A major issue still to be resolved is the extent of the US culpability.

The same analysis recalls when this misguided approach was used in the Balkans, and outlines how, in order to not alienate Muslims while we tried to contain terror from the Middle East, we fortified terror in the Balkans and jump-started the global jihad:

Initially, the US-led Western intervention in the former Yugoslavia was aimed first and foremost to salvage NATO (and with it US dominance over post-Cold War Western Europe) from irrelevance and collapse. As well, the support for the Muslims of Bosnia became the counter-balance of the US confrontation with jihadism in the Middle East. Anthony Lake, US President Bill Clinton’s National Security Adviser, formulated the logic for the US-led intervention on behalf of the Muslims. The US national interest “requires our working to contain Muslim extremism, and we have to find a way of being firm in our opposition to Muslim extremism while making it clear we’re not opposed to Islam. If we are seen as anti-Muslim, it’s harder for us to contain Muslim extremism. And if we stand by while Muslims are killed and raped in Bosnia, it makes it harder to continue our policy,” Lakeargued. That in the process the US would end up partnering with, supporting and arming, the very same jihadist forces Clinton was seeking to contain meant nothing to Washington. The only thing Washington cared about was the image of a US rallying to the rescue of a Muslim cause.

Note that in the 90s the U.S., like Britain, permitted and facilitated terrorist networks to operate in Bosnia and Kosovo for the purpose of Serb-killing, and along with Germany we trained Albanian and Middle Eastern terrorists in Albania. Sure enough, the same decade saw U.S. officials participating in a December 1999 meeting in Azerbaijan very similar to the December 2009 meeting in Tbilisi, where “programs for the training and equipping of mujahedin from the Caucasus, Central and South Asia, and the Arab world were discussed and agreed upon.” The mention of this meeting comes in as the analysis gives background on how we decided to support terrorism against Russia:

By 1999, the US had given up on reconciling Azerbaijan and Armenia in order to construct pipelines to Turkey, and instead Washington started focusing on building pipelines via Georgia.

For such a project to be economically viable, the Russian pipelines would have to be shut down. Hence, in early October 1999, senior officials of US oil companies and US officials offered representatives of Russian “oligarchs” in Europe huge dividends from the proposed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline if the “oligarchs” convinced Moscow to withdraw from the Caucasus, permit the establishment of an Islamic state, and close down the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline. Consequently, there would be no competition to the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. The “oligarchs” were convinced that the highest levels of the Clinton White House endorsed this initiative. The meeting failed because the Russians would hear nothing of the US proposal.

Consequently, the US determined to deprive Russia of an alternate pipeline route by supporting a spiraling violence and terrorism in Chechnya….The Clinton White House sought to actively involve the US in yet another anti-Russian jihad as if reliving the “good ol’ days” of Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, seeking to support and empower the most virulent anti-Western Islamist forces in yet another strategic region.

In mid-December 1999, US officials participated in a formal meeting in Azerbaijan in which specific programs for the training and equipping of mujahedin from the Caucasus, Central and South Asia, and the Arab world were discussed and agreed upon. This meeting led to Washington’s tacit encouragement of both Muslim allies (mainly the intelligence services of Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) and US “private security companies” (of the type that did Washington’s dirty job in the Balkans while skirting and violating the international embargo the US formally supported) to assist the Chechens and their Islamist allies to surge in spring 2000. Citing security concerns vis-à-vis Armenia and Russia, Azerbaijan adamantly refused to permit training camps on its soil.

Now, just to keep our — including my — heads straight, let’s remind ourselves that this exercise was not a defense of Russia; it was not meant to start an argument about how bad or how not-that-bad Russia is. The point is that foreign relations in a mad world require finding enough common ground with not-so-great states so that we can work together where we can work together. It’s to minimize the messiness of things. Why, when we had Russia in its historically most maleable form, did we insist on provoking and provoking and provoking? Why did we make a bad situation like Russia worse when we had an opportunity to make it better? As with all problematic countries that we nonetheless find areas of cooperation with, we narrowed even those areas by dealing with the Russians in the bad faith that had been their trademark. Simultaneously, we moved away from picking the lesser evil in a given conflict, and started siding with the greater.

It’s a surreal situation indeed when the actions of my savior country put me in the position of having to “defend” Russia, whose people my parents thank their lucky stars to not have to live among anymore. I myself am a self-proclaimed Russophobe; I just had no idea how much more pathological America’s Russophobia is. So for someone who is loath to visit even Brighton Beach, I find myself in a surprising position here, pointing out where we went wrong and shoved Russia back into old behaviors.

Infuriatingly predictably, some comment posters suggested that the line I’m taking here is one that’s paid for by Russia. The same “tip” was offered to Robert by a fellow blogger — in that tone of providing “some friendly, professional, and cautionary advice.” The likes of which I’m all too familiar with by now. (One Wall St. Journal fixture advised me, “Your views on this [the Balkans] are deeply misjudged…You’re not doing your career any favors.” Thanks. Good thing I don’t have a career, then.) It certainly would be nice if anyone paid me for anything I do, but it wasn’t to be in this lifetime.

Regardless, it shouldn’t seem strange for someone to be pointing out that our foreign policy is being guided by people with a stronger anti-Russian agenda than anti-jihad agenda. And notice where this kind of thinking has gotten us. Take the past two decades of Western policy and media coverage in the Balkans, which were based on information that made its way into reporters’ notebooks directly from the Ministry of Information of the Bosnian Government run by the fundamentalist Muslim wartime president Alija Izetbegovic. The template was used again when politicians, reporters, NGOs and human rights organizations dutifully repeated what was coming out of the KLA-run newspapers and other propaganda organs of the Kosovo separatists. And so in service to consistency, having gotten into this hole, we’ve kept digging. With our Yugoslavia intervention, as the Defense & Foreign Affairs analysis points out, we’ve ended up “demonizing the Serbs and the world of Eastern Christianity as a whole.” Such that we’ve arrived at a place where the word “Byzantine” is now used to mean primitive or uncivilized. While the Muslim world and Islamic heritage represent the height of culture, tradition, heritage and civilization.

One interesting thing about the reactions to calling the U.S. on its aggressive alienation of Russia via, for example, the use of jihadists is the sense of outrage and shock at the suggestion that America would support these violent groups, followed immediately by a defense or justification of such tactics (e.g. “we *should* help the Chechens against the Russians”). Meanwhile, these oh-so-incendiary allegations happen to coincide with overtly stated intentions and policies. (See the late Senator Tom Lantos and his ilk applauding the creation of a U.S.-made Muslim state in Europe, which the jihadists should “take note of,” Lantos hoped.)