“When a wise man points at the moon the imbecile examines the finger” (Confucius)
All of us are familiar with this old saying, old as history gets, old as our civilisations are. But we actually learn something from it? Are we sure it is applied correctly to our modern life? Especially when it comes to politics, international relations and facts, it assumes extraordinary importance to question whether the news and the information provided are actually real.
Surely the best example is the Islamic State representation and news feeds on our media. We are constantly bombarded by news (fake and real) about IS, its strength, its role, expansion, and activity. However, are we analysing correctly the information provided or are we missing the moon?
We know about IS enough not to waste more time in pointless and unproductive debates about their religious views (if any) and their political agenda (confused and contradictory to say the least). Nevertheless, one fact is clear if you look at the moon: IS is an instrument for regime change, to create instability to enemies, an economic tool, and a lever to tilt the world order from the remnants of Yalta’s pin.
Leaving aside IS incredible rise in Syria and Iraq, this theory found its latest showcase in two recent episodes: the attack at the Iranian Parliament and the Philippines insurgency. In both cases we are talking about countries that fall far away from the grace of the US and Europe in general, due to their political views and allegiances. However, there are differences in both cases.
Iran is, as we know, the Satan of the West and it is the West for Iran, a complete distaste and desire to undermine each other, is a long story with roots in the post WWII and culminating with the Islamic Revolution and the bloody Iran-Iraq War. Western powers meddling in Iran is exemplified by Mossadeq’s overthrow by CIA sponsored coup in 1953, as well as the insane assistance given by the US in 1980 to Saddam Hussein to destroy the young Islamic Revolution. However, Iran resisted all attempts becoming with the time a pariah in international diplomacy, where different elements shaped its figure as enemy: the military and friendly relations with the USSR and Russia (after 1991), the US desire to get the hand on the huge oil resources, Iran’s Shia belief made it an easy target for the regional powers, in primis Saudi Arabia.
Iran did not make the mistake of Saddam Hussein pursuing expansion, and falling from US grace, nor looking for a redemption as Muhammar Gaddafi before being overthorwn. Iran, as North Korea, understood the dangers of a unipolar world after USSR collapse and armed itself, increased its defences and is on the road (or already there) to achieve nuclear capabilities. Its relations with Russia, the support of Hamas in Palestine, of Hezbollah in Lebanon, of the Assad regime in Syria are enough justifications for Washington to pursue a change of regime policy. Since Iran was included by former US President George W. Bush into the Axis of Evil, several attempts have been made to create a situation for unrest in the region to justify an internal turmoil. The so-called Arab Spring was the Troy Horse with which the US brought down several regimes: Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. However, the plan failed to reach the two most important targets: Syria and Iran. The change of regime policy backfired in Egypt where, after the deposition of the strong man Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood of Morsi had to be overthrown by a military coup sponsored by the US.
Therefore, to bring down the last two was necessary something else, and magically we assisted to the rise of IS. Syria has been targeted as well as the Iraqi’s Shia government, both allies of Tehran, but failed to spill into Iran itself. The latest attack at the parliament has everything but the IS trademark, although western propaganda wants us to look at the finger. In a country overwhelmingly Shia and far from the contradictions of Syria or Saddam’s Iraq, where you had a minority regime, it a suicide for any terrorist group (Sunni) to think about getting support and ability to overthrow a government that despite internal opposition would still get popular support to fight external infiltration. In a country where control, intelligence, repression and firepower is at the hands of the government, it is very unlikely that IS would have been able to carry out such operation, and at a key location.
This open therefore at the only possibility that the Iranian claims of Saudis or US agents infiltration are not fantasies or drunken stories. Saudi Arabia is engaged in a regional struggle with Iran not only under a religious point of view, but also on economic level (Saudi Arabia is struggling while Iran has still enough reserves), and strategic plans. The Yemen civil war, so forgotten in the West because their ally is involved, is a proxy conflict between Riyadh and Tehran. The successes achieved by Assad in Syria and in Iraq by the government forces are the direct results of the Russian and Iranian involvement, which put the US on a difficult position of seeing its “toy” annihilated before they could discharge it after use.The attack at the parliament was not an IS attack per se, but a warning to Tehran that it could be targeted and dragged into an internal unrest.
The second episode is even more enlightening than Iran: the Philippines. Where not the Philippines a US ally? An important ring of the chain being built by the US in the Pacific to isolate the Chinese threat? Yes and Yes, but this was until last year, when the new president Rodrigo Duterte arrived making important changes. “Dirty Duterte” as many call the president, in a parallel to Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movies, is a hard man, populist and nationalist politician, who made headlines for using draconian laws and repression as the tools to fight crime. More than 5,000 drug dealers have been reportedly killed by police and the army in the war against crime, putting hin in the spotlight as the new Attila, Hitler, Stalin, etc., pick one. However, is not this that made him fall from US grace, after all the human rights issue have always been sacrified by US in name of realpolitik, but for his diplomatic offensive.
Now, calling diplomatic Duterte is a big word, as he made even the Turkish president Erdogan looking like a well-mannered diplomat in comparison. Duterte attacked Obama, calling him “son of a b…”, and attacked the US for their imperialistic and neocolonial approach to the Philippines. Duterte even declared that he wants to realign the country foreign policy with Russia and China, in a double threat to US interests. Russia relations with US are at their lowest and to have a new friend in the Pacific is surely a nightmare for Washington, but even more dangerous is the desire of Duterte to seek good relations with China. What about the Pacific strategy to isolate the Chinese expansion in the South China Sea? What about the need to build a series of military outposts to contain future Chinese engagements? What about the traditional US control of the Philippines, could this be lost forever?
The response has been the IS unrest in the city of Marawi, Mindanao Island. Honestly we need to admit that Marawi hosts a large Muslim population and that insurgency in the Philippines is not new, but that this insurgency is planned by IS is pure fantasy. In a country dominated by a hard man and where his populist agenda made him a hero, this insurrection was a blow to his promise of safety and control. It also highlighted the limits of the armed forces and police in controlling unrest. However, we need to remember that the Philippines host several US Army bases, on which one including intelligence is situated right near Marawi. Now we should ask ourselves, is it possible that in a moment of global high alert for terrorism these American forces were unable to spot any movement in Mindanao? Is it incompetence, overlooking or plain support?
By engaging Duterte in an internal struggle, undermining his figure as strict and ruthless man, the US are clearly planting the seeds for his removal. Duterte’s declaration that the unrest was to be resolved in few days did not materialise, as we are now entering over a month of fighting. Are the US giving assistance to the Philippine Army? Yes, but very limited as the impression is that if the US would like to really stop IS, this insurgency would have not even probably happened.
While both examples now shifted away from our media, due to embarrassment and questioning of people who started to look at the moon and not at the finger, new plans are made for the next action. Where? We cannot say, but we should learn from the Iranian-Philippine cases that the IS threat is multifaceted dice, whose hands throwing at the gambling table are not sitting in Raqqa but in the comfortable chairs of international diplomatic offices.