Is US ‘importing’ terrorism to Middle East as claimed by Philippine president?

US policy of supporting “moderate” jihadists and “legitimate” dictators by ignoring their war crimes and arming them and selectively overthrowing governments elsewhere seems to lend credence to President Duerte’s assertion that US “imported” terrorism to the Mideast — even if unintentionally. No wonder, the US is being viewed as a “half democratic” country with a democratic system at home and a hegemonic and autocratic power abroad. 

During Eid al-Fitr celebration in July, the new Philippine President Rodrigo Duerte blamed the US for the bloody conflicts in Iraq and other Mideast countries.

President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his inaugural speech as the President of the Philippines at the Malacanang Palace in Manila

President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his inaugural speech as the President of the Philippines at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines June 30, 2016. Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters

“It’s not that the Middle East is exporting terrorism (to) America.  America imported terrorism [to the Mideast].” Duerte said.[1]

“They forced their way to Iraq … look at Iraq now, look what happened to Libya, look what happened to Syria… people are being annihilated there including children,” he told the Muslim community in southern Davao City.

Indeed, recent reports of so called “moderate rebels” on CIA/US taxpayer payroll beheading a 13-year old child in Syria seems to support this view.[2]

It is also stirring up a growing chorus of revulsion especially in the twitter sphere toward the US conduct in the Mideast, with Singapore blogger Haykal Bafana condemning America for its shameful policies. Bafana currently resides in Yemen and was featured in Singapore’s Strait Times back in 2015 regarding life under US-backed Saudi aerial bombardment.[3]

 bafna quote

US arms to al-Qaeda affiliates

 According to a 2015 Business Insider report, the beheading culprit, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement (Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki), is one of various extremist groups under the Free Syrian Army umbrella receiving advanced US weaponry such as anti-tank TOW missiles.[4]

Syrian observer Hasan Mustafa said these groups received TOWs from a Saudi supply provided by the US, and funneled into Syria through the Military Operations Command (MOC) posts in Turkey and Jordan co-operated by Western and local intelligence agencies.

TOWs are guided missiles that are capable of thoroughly damaging or destroying tanks, armored carriers, and other vehicles, and unlike RPGs they can be used from a considerable distance.

The list names various groups that are known to have aligned with al-Qaeda including the Al Furqan Brigades.

In fact, in 2013, China’s COSCO Asia came under attack in the Suez Canal when Al Furqan Brigades fired RPGs at the large 10,062-TEU container ship en route to its largest export market in Europe.[5]

It is not clear whether this is the same listed group or a different group using the same name, but the fact that al-Qaeda affiliates in the Levant share weapons means in the future they would be able to inflict serious damage to Chinese shipping in the Suez Canal and Eastern Mediterranean, a key segment of China’s Maritime Silk Road.[6]

This is a concern to not just China, but also India, South Korea and Japan that are increasingly dependent on Mideast energy supplies and market access.  The fact that US is mulling arming al-Qaeda affiliates with anti-aircraft missiles increases this threat to Asian states, especially in face of reports that Jordanian intelligence officers stole CIA weapons intended for Syrian “rebels” and sold them on the black market to anyone for the right price.[7]

Even if US no longer needs Mideast oil and is pivoting to Asia, energy-importing Asian states are pivoting to the Mideast and will suffer the consequences of increasing instability in this region.

Moreover, this policy of supporting “moderate” jihadists, ignoring their war crimes, proliferating arms to various terrorist groups, and overthrowing foreign governments in Iraq, Libya and Syria that spawned Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda, seems to lend credence to President Duerte’s assertion US imported terrorism to the Mideast — even if unintentionally.

Now, he is concerned Asia will be the next victim of US Mideast policy as Philippines Abu Sayyaf and other Asian Islamist groups are merging with IS.[8]

US as a partial democracy?

Americans are also increasingly condemning this militant interventionist policy.

“We have never done anything more loathsome or despicable than what we’re doing in Syria,” decried Virginia State Senator Richard Black on US support for these al-Qaeda-laced jihadists and their war crimes.[9]

Leslie Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, retired Lieutenant General Robert Gard, chairman emeritus of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, and retired Brigadier General John H. Johns, professor emeritus from US National Defense University likewise penned a December 2015 Foreign Policy article calling for a halt to US obsession with regime change and democracy promotion that resulted in failing states in the terrorist-infested Mideast.

Before and after images

They criticized that “In the past, Washington has tried to sideline dictators like Assad, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  We have advocated democratic norms and human rights in those countries.  The results:  increased chaos and destruction, rather than a shift to the norms and aspirations for a democratic revolution.”

Ironically, these destabilizing regime change policies also prompted retired PLA Colonel Liu Mingfu from China — an autocratic government — to call US a partial democracy: a democratic system at home, but a hegemonic and autocratic power abroad.

Liu chastised US for its double standard and argued that “the substantive characteristic of a democratic country has two aspects: The first, democratic domestic policies without totalitarianism in domestic society and the second, democratic international policies without hegemony in the international community.”

Observing US often bypasses international consensus, and uses military power to overthrow “non-democratic” and “illegitimate” dictators it dislikes (e.g., in Iraq, Libya, Syria) while supporting US-friendly “legitimate” dictators (e.g., in Qatar, Saudi Arabia), Liu states that US failed the test of a true “democratic” power.  That is, “whether a country is democratic one needs to see whether it adopts democratic systems at home and in international diplomacy.”

Because US failed the “democratic” litmus test in the international system, Liu views US is only a “half democratic” country. As such, perhaps it may be prudent for the next US administration to put a stop to these destructive regime change foreign policies that are fueling international terrorism, lest one day other countries decide US is the one that needs a regime change to become a “full democratic” country.

[1] “President of the Philippines: “It is the US that Imported Terrorism into the Middle East!”, Middle East News Agency, 9 July 2016, http://www.asia-pacificresearch.com/president-of-the-philippines-it-is-the-us-that-imported-terrorism-into-the-middle-east/5535055; Mikhail Flores, “Duerte accuses US of ‘importing’ terrorism, Nikkei Asian Review, 9 July 2016, http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/Duterte-accuses-US-of-importing-terrorism; http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4825965,00.html

[2] Katie Zavadski, “U.S.-Backed ‘Moderate’ Rebels Behead a Child Near Aleppo”, The Daily Beast, 19 July 2016, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/19/u-s-backed-moderate-rebels-behead-a-child-near-aleppo.html; https://twitter.com/theLemniscat/status/756219180114862080; https://twitter.com/Souria4Syrians/status/756096504499240960

[3] Pearl Lee, “Singapore family stays put in Yemen”, The Straits Times, 13 April 2015, http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/singapore-family-stays-put-yemen; http://blog.haykal.sg; https://twitter.com/Galloway2016/status/755923293039955968

[4] Jeremy Bender, “There are a lot of CIA-vetted Syrian rebel groups taking it to Assad”, Business Insider, 20 October, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/cia-vetted-syrian-rebels-fighting-assad-2015-10

[5] David Barnett, “Al Furqan Brigades claim 2 attacks on ships in Suez Canal, threaten more”, The Long War Journal, 7 September 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/09/al_furqan_brigades_claim_two_a.php; “Cosco Container Ship Attacked in Suez Canal”, IHS Journal of Commerce, 1 September 2013, http://www.joc.com/maritime-news/container-lines/cosco/cosco-container-ship-attacked-suez-canal_20130901.html

[6] Another al Qaeda affiliate of Chinese concern is the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) that has also acquired TOW missiles. Caleb Weiss, “Turkistan Islamic Party claims using US-made anti-tank missile in northwest Syria”, The Long War Journal, 23 December 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/12/turkistan-islamic-party-claims-using-us-made-anti-tank-missile-in-northwest-syria.php. In July Britain listed TIP as a terrorist organization. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-britain-security-idUSKCN1000PT

[7] Ali Younes and Mark Mazzewtti, “Weapons for Syrian rebels sold on Jordan’s black market”, Al Jazeera, 26 June 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/cia-weapons-syrian-rebels-jordan-black-market-160626141335170.html

[8] Calib Weiss, “Abu Sayyaf Group battalion defects to Islamic State”, The Long War Journal, 22 March 2016, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/03/abu-sayyaf-group-battalion-defects-to-islamic-state.php; Maria A. Ressa, “Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS”, Rappler, 15 October 2014, http://www.rappler.com/nation/65199-abu-sayyaf-leader-oath-isis

[9] Senator Black was specifically referencing the Free Syrian Army massacre of more than 40 people in a village, where after watching the slaughter of their mothers the children were hung and burned alive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4RzlWCe4dA&feature=youtu.be; http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/24268/Default.aspx.

Dr. Christina Lin is a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University where she specializes in China-Middle East/Mediterranean relations, and a research consultant for Jane’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Intelligence Centre at IHS Jane’s.

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