Gordon Campbell on the shutdown of the US government by Tea Party terrorists

Surely, isn’t it time for the Republican Party to be designated as a terrorist organisation? Their current shutdown of the federal government has been bad enough, but the jihad these fanatics have chosen to wage against the Obama administration will shortly spill over into a conflict over the debt ceiling that threatens serious damage to the entire global economy. Organisations have seen their assets frozen and had travel bans imposed on their leadership for doing far less than what the Republican Party is currently doing on Capitol Hill.

The ransom that the militant Tea Party faction of the Republicans in Congress were demanding (pre-shutdown) was that President Barack Obama had to postpone the enactment of his health care plan – a health plan which had already become the law of the land. In essence, the die-hards were trying to extort a fresh set of demands to negate a law already in place. Given the precedent this would set, Obama could not, and cannot negotiate with that sort of ultimatum. On second thoughts, maybe the Republicans shouldn’t be being pursued under the Homeland Security measures against terrorist threats – maybe racketeering and willful extortion charges under the RICO statutes would be more appropriate. Because the techniques being used here are less al-Qaeda, and more Al Capone. Either way, its time to freeze the assets of the Republican Party, because they have rejected the basic tenets of democratic process – namely, that if your side loses an election and a law is passed, you have to recognise that democracy has spoken, and accept the outcome. Not this bunch, though. They would rather destroy America in order to save it.

In the meantime, it has been fascinating to see what has been designated as an “essential” arm of the federal; government and keeps functioning, and what doesn’t. The propaganda arms of the US government such as Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (aka Radio Marti) are being kept going. They have been designated as “foreign relations essential to national security.” That will include spending further tens of millions on the US plane that has been beaming radio propaganda down on Cuba for decades, even though no Cubans can actually hear it.

That sort of thing seems a very weird priority, when 400,000 civilian employees at the Department of Defense have been laid off on unpaid leave, , including the entire Middle East team charged with U.S. policy toward Syria, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Jordan. To no-one’s surprise though, the Pentagon has generally been really, really good at guarding its turf. On the eve of the federal shut-down, the Pentagon spent a colossal amount of money to ensure most of its pet projects were protected, and the money wasn’t used to keep the rest of the country going. To that end, it reportedly funnelled billions of dollars into contractors’ bank accounts, rather than – say, for example – diverting the same money into a fund to ensure that those 400,000 of its own employees could still have a job, and get paid.

So…what did the Pentagon spend up large on, right on the eve of fiscal Armageddon? Well, according to Foreign Policy’s tabulation, the shopping spree included spending five billion dollars on everything from robot submarines to Finnish hand grenades to a radar base mounted on an offshore oil platform. Some $65 million went on military helmets, $24 million for “traveling wave tubes” to amplify radio signals, and $19 million was spent on cots. Repeat: on cots. My favourite example of this last minute burst of spending was the $18 million for the operational needs of a robot submarine that can save people from disabled subs that are sitting up to 2,000 feet underwater. If that should happen to anyone in the next two weeks before the action required on Capitol Hill to avert the debt ceiling crisis, we’ll all be grateful we had that scenario covered.

Oh, I also liked the $9 million that went on maintenance work on the Air National Guard’s fleet of RC-26B spy planes that help domestic law enforcement agencies catch drug dealers, the $7 million awarded to Johns Hopkins University to develop software that can monitor raw communications signals/images from around the world to detect significant “events” in real time, the $8 million to a company that analyses “particles” to ensure compliance with the international ban on nuclear weapons tests. And the $6 million spent to develop telescope mirrors immune to changes in temperature. And maybe best of all – when federal money was about to vanish indefinitely – the Air Force spent $9 million on a new gym at its Air Force Academy that includes areas for CrossFit training, space for the academy’s Triathlon Club and a “television studio.” Hope all those laid-off employees all agree that the money didn’t really need to go towards their weekly pay cheques so they could pay the rent, and put food on the table.

Syria: Rebel Meltdown
In Syria, the strategy of Western nations – to support and encourage the relatively secularist, Western friendly Free Syria Army in order to isolate and contain the al-Qaeda and Salafist extremists in the rebel ranks has now seriously back-fired. Instead, it is the FSA that is being isolated, and – no news in this – the rebels themselves are fragmented and fighting fiercely among themselves. Syrian expert Joshua Landis describes the latest example of factional splitting within the rebel ranks as being especially important:

…It is a very big deal. It represents the rebellion of a large part of the “mainstream FSA” against its purported political leadership, and openly aligns these factions with more hardline Islamist forces. That means that all of these groups now formally state that they do not recognize the opposition leadership that has been molded and promoted by the USA, Turkey, France, Great Britain, other EU countries, Qatar, and – especially, as of late – Saudi Arabia.

The Guardian has picked up on the same development. So has Foreign Policy in an article headlined “The Army of Islam is Winning In Syria.” In an telling indication of just how far US hopes in Syria have sunk, Foreign Policy appears to find cause for optimism in.. well, at least the factions of the hardline Salafist fundamentalists may be winning out over the factions led by the foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda. And that’s a good thing, right? Right?

Syria’s “southern front” has long been perceived as FSA turf. The opposition has for months worked hard to consolidate the insurgent groups in Damascus and the southern governorate of Daraa under FSA divisions that follow a clear command-and-control structure. They have been aided by the United States and Persian Gulf countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, which have provided them with valuable training and arms in the hopes that they can be a bulwark against extremism near the capital.

But today, Salafi-leaning insurgents are the single most dominant force in liberated areas…. These developments, however, are not all bad news. The rise of Salafi-leaning rebel groups offers an opportunity to combat the real extremists — al Qaeda-linked groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which have recently started wreaking havoc in Syria’s north and east by fighting among themselves and against more moderate groups. Syria is no longer witnessing a struggle of moderates versus extremists, but of extremists versus both moderates and religious moderates. While recent developments are a setback for the FSA, they also have marginalized the truly radical factions.

Yeah, that’s really great. Those Salafist Sunni hardliners have been such a blessing for the people of Iraq.