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What is the role of the West in the Middle East? Christopher Davidson interview

What is the role of the West in the Middle East? Christopher Davidson interview
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
18 January 2017

A Reader in Middle East Politics at Durham University, in 2012 Dr Christopher Davidson published the best-seller After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies.

Endorsed by John Pilger and Ilan Pappe, in his new book Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East, Davidson turns his attention to the West’s often covert counter-revolutionary activities in the region.

Ian Sinclair: What have been the US and UK’s broad aims in the Middle East since World War Two?

Christopher Davidson: Although limping through World War Two as a technical victor, Britain’s surviving global empire was nonetheless in retreat.  With repeated uprisings and national liberation movements chipping away at overseas possessions, Whitehall officials and planners were already expert in devising strategies aimed at blocking or reversing indigenous challenges. But with increasingly resource-intensive heavy industries requiring vast imports of basic materials at a cheap and stable price from their remaining colonies and protectorates, such counter-revolutionary efforts had to become much more focused on what was now the greatest threat of all: economic nationalism. Certainly the enemy insurgents Britain was facing by the mid-twentieth century were no longer being measured by their ideology, religion, or barbarity, but quite clearly by their capacity to nationalize resources and industries or, at the very least, build states capable of demanding greater stakes in the local production of wealth.

Since its secret Sykes-Picot agreement with France that effectively carved up the territories of the crumbling Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War One, Britain’s grip over much of the Middle East had been more or less uncontested. But by the 1950s a potent pan-Arab movement was threatening to unseat remaining British client rulers in the region and jeopardize lucrative trade arrangements and control over valuable resources. With ‘classic nationalism [having become] impotent’ in the Middle East, as veteran correspondent Patrick Seale once described, many of the new ‘Arab nationalist’ revolts were effectively military operations, often led by army officers intent on forcibly removing foreign influences from their countries.

Despite some muted discomfort over Britain’s stance on Arab nationalism, the United States of the mid-twentieth century was nonetheless rapidly waking up to the demands of its own resource-hungry industries and the realities of its Cold War stalemate with the Soviet Union.  Ensuring vacuums left in the wake of the retrenching European empires were not filled by such antagonistic forces bent on nationalizing assets or – equally dangerously – liberation movements likely to align themselves with Soviet-sponsored international communism, the US government and its intelligence agencies soon found themselves at the very forefront of counter-revolutionary action, even surpassing the British. As Karl Korsch put it, the US may have been based on the ideals of revolutionary France, but by this stage it was fast losing its ‘capitalist infancy’.

Advancing into the void left by Britain’s retreat, and quickly overcoming their initial fence-sitting on Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, by the mid-1950s US planners acknowledged that securing the Middle East, and especially the Persian Gulf region, was going to be vital to the future prosperity of Western industries and, in turn, for holding the Soviet Union in check.  As it was in the rest of the world, the extraction of natural resources was an obvious priority, so all indigenous attempts to nationalize economic assets – regardless of any progressive, liberal, or even democratic agendas – needed to be intimidated or destroyed by the US. In 1955, according to secret correspondence between British officials, President Dwight Eisenhower had even called for a ‘high class Machiavellian plan to achieve a situation in the Middle East favourable to our interests which could split the Arabs and defeat the aims of our enemies’.

Just two years later the region got its own ‘Eisenhower Doctrine’; an evolution of the earlier Truman and Monroe doctrines that had sought to secure US interests against international communism and foreign encroachment on the American continents. Stating that ‘the US regards as vital to the national interest and world peace the preservation of the independence and integrity of the nations of the Middle East…’, Eisenhower effectively made the Middle East a special zone of US control. Moreover, as with Truman’s more global declaration, Eisenhower sought to tie the Cold War to all threats to the Middle Eastern status quo by claiming he was ‘prepared to use armed forces to assist [any Middle Eastern country] requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism’. He also proclaimed that ‘the existing vacuum in the Middle East must be filled by the US before it is filled by Russia’.

The sudden special treatment of the Middle East at this time was, for the most part, due to the simultaneous deepening of US dependency on crude oil imports. Although still a net exporter at the end of World War Two, by 1950 the US was importing a million barrels per day, and by the 1960s more than a third of the US energy demands were being met by such imports, mostly from the Shah’s Iran and the Gulf monarchies. US oil companies had already arrived on the Arabian Peninsula in 1933, eventually founding the American-Arabian Oil Company – Aramco – in Saudi Arabia, and with President Franklin Roosevelt proclaiming in 1943 that ‘the defence of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defence of the US.

IS: Though most accounts of Western involvement in the Middle East focus on the large scale interventions such as the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, with Shadow Wars you’ve decided to look at the West’s often covert actions in the region. What are some of the common strategies and tactics the West has used to achieve their aims in the Middle East?

CD: Since the 1950s a variety of different strategies and tactics have been employed, mostly determined by the scale and urgency of the perceived threat to Western interests. The first ‘wave’ of activity, led by the US and Britain’s fast-growing intelligence agencies, mostly comprised of assassination attempts, false flag operations, and efforts to destabilize uncooperative governments by sponsoring street protests and public political violence. Our best case studies from this period of course include the multiple attempts to kill off Gamal Abdel Nasser, the efforts to unseat Iran’s Mohammed Mosaddegh, who sought to part-nationalize his country’s oil industry, and the steps taken to undermine various Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian administrations.

With other, more paramilitary threats, such as the challenges to Britain’s control over Yemen and then the Dhofar rebellion against the British-backed Omani sultan, such strategies needed to be supplemented by ‘shadow wars’ in which British forces were secretly deployed to assist the troops of their local clients or ‘proxy’ regional allies. In Yemen, for example, Saudi Arabia was conducting airstrikes with considerable British assistance and was sponsoring ‘tribal irregulars’ to fight against a new nationalist regime that had unseated a British-backed imam who had been ruling autocratically over the northern part of the country. In Oman, as well as British intelligence helping to wage a propaganda war against the rebels, the SAS was being deployed without the British parliament’s knowledge, while forces from several other pro-British states including Iran and Jordan arrived to buttress the sultan’s beleaguered army.

By the latter part of the twentieth century, with the West’s demand for Middle Eastern resources intensifying and with the Soviet Union still undefeated, a much darker strategy started to form in which US and British officials sought to cultivate an ultra-conservative pan-Islamic movement capable of countering secular, progressive or potentially Soviet-aligned national liberation movements, or even simply nationalist governments. Gestating since the 1960s, by the 1980s the strategy was bearing great fruit as a CIA and Saudi-funded international jihad had already facilitated the arrival of thousands of foreign fighters in Afghanistan and helped forge a hardline Islamic state along the vulnerable Muslim-majority southern underbelly of the Soviet Union. By the end of the decade Al-Qaeda had emerged in the jihad’s wake, and since then its leaders and various splinter organizations proved themselves more than capable of sustaining the same sort of financial networks originally put in place for the Afghan campaign.

In the 1990s such Islamic fighting forces remained a strategic, but volatile asset for the US and British intelligence agencies, with Al-Qaeda veterans helping form a jihadist ‘foreign legion’ in the Balkans to assist the Bosnian and Kosovan forces against Serbia, and with the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’ – whose leaders were living in Britain – being protected and paid by MI6 as part of a plot to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power. Al-Qaeda blowback to the West by the end of the decade, including the bombings of US embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen was largely contained. Even the massive disaster of 9/11 – which briefly threatened to expose and undo the US’s historically useful relationships with Saudi Arabia and other ultraconservative allies in the region – was successfully repackaged as a casus belli for a fresh round of US military interventions against other problematic regimes, and was carefully refocused on the immediate symptoms rather than the root causes of Al-Qaeda terror.

More recently, the nationwide revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt led to the discomforting overthrow of dictators who had opened up their economies to Western investment and had satisfactorily played the game of the post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’. Their overthrow certainly wrong-footed the Western powers, but very rapidly a series of counter-revolutions began as the West again began to call on key regional allies to either sponsor Islamist parties that could continue to uphold capitalistic structures and prevent the formation of inclusive, democratic, and secular societies, or could sponsor hard-man ‘deep state’ military dictatorships if Islamist parties proved incapable of keeping the crowds off the streets. By March 2011 a parallel campaign had also been launched to help re-direct the ‘Arab Spring’ to states such as Libya and Syria that remained antagonistic to Western interests. Wilfully fostering, funding, and weaponizing localized uprisings in an effort to create fresh nationwide revolutions, key US and British allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE all played major roles in destabilizing these long targeted Arab states, under the banner of the Arab Spring.

IS: Your book includes several sections on the ongoing Syrian war. The media and think-tank commentary around the conflict seems to be increasingly dominated by analysts who are pro-US intervention, or at least sympathetic to Western governments’ broad framing of the conflict. What do you make of the common arguments being put forward about the war?

CD: Despite the Central Intelligence Agency’s [CIA] bungled efforts in the twentieth century, the Western powers have still repeatedly sought to interfere in Syria’s affairs, with even Britain having had fairly well developed plans prior to 2011 to use the terrorist-designated Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and ‘armed men’ to destabilize the Al-Assad regime should it fail to prove more cooperative.  Given this, many seasoned commentators, and not just ardent anti-imperialists or pro-Iran/pro-Kremlin partisans, have correctly understood the dynamics behind the current, post-2011 Syrian conflict, seeing close parallels with the 1980s Afghanistan war, and understanding it as a function of covert Western assistance to Syrian opposition factions combined with more extensive support provided by the West’s regional allies to groups that have included Al-Qaeda franchises and other terrorist-designated organizations.

Nevertheless, as with the very vocal Western supporters of the Afghan ‘freedom fighters’ in the 1980s, most of whom were oblivious to the CIA’s ongoing ‘Operation Cyclone’ and the other efforts to wilfully create a hardline central Asian Islamic state, a significant proportion of the Western commentariat today continues to call for even greater Western intervention in Syria, either on some sort of selective humanitarian basis, or because Western allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been lobbying strongly for more extensive efforts to remove the Damascus administration from power once and for all, even if this would likely entail the disintegration of the Syrian nation state and the rise of yet another reactionary, conservative religious regime in the region. Indeed, most of the major think tanks and policy institutes in the United States and Britain that focus on Syria either receive substantial donations from such allied governments or, at minimum, have interests that are now incredibly closely intertwined with the political elites of the Gulf monarchies.

IS: What is the role of the Western mainstream media in the West’s ongoing shadow wars in the Middle East?

CD: In general, the Western ‘mainstream’ media seems to be suffering from something of a crisis, perhaps best exemplified by its relentlessly one-sided coverage of the British ‘Brexit’ referendum and the recent US presidential campaign, which has done little to contribute to informed debate and, as far as I can see, has helped to polarize Western society. Its coverage of international events is certainly in trouble too, as although there are still some outstanding foreign correspondents, severe cuts have drastically reduced the number able to provide high quality coalface reporting. I believe this is particularly evident when it comes to writing on the Middle East, as there are now only a handful of journalists left to cover several parallel conflicts all at once. Understandably unable to visit warzones populated by groups known to kidnap for ransom, this means that most have had to rely on difficult-to-vet intermediaries and an increasing army of organized ‘information entrepreneurs’.

Easily able to manipulate this situation, a number of bespoke media outlets and ‘atrocity propaganda’ operations either directly funded by Western governments or Western regional allies, and managed by leading PR firms, have been able to create believable, seemingly credible on-the-ground sources in countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya that the Western media has largely had to rely upon. Usually identifiable by their catchy logos, high definition videos, slick websites, and bilingual twitter feeds, they are often ostensibly humanitarian, civil defence, or ‘citizen journalist’ non-governmental organizations, but yet they consistently produce a highly-politicized, and often very emotive narrative that almost always seeks to undermine the adversaries of the Western powers and their regional allies.  For those who remember the ‘Nayirah testimony’ of ‘babies in incubators’ in the build-up to Operation Desert Storm, or perhaps the story of Soviet soldiers burning babies alive in Afghanistan, there is an eerie sense of familiarity.

IS: Other than your book, which other writers and books would you recommend to someone trying to understand the West’s real role in the Middle East?

CD: Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game. William Blum, Killing Hope. Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs and Web of Deceit. Stephen Dorril, MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations.

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Spotlight on Saudi: interview with Medea Benjamin

Spotlight on Saudi: interview with Medea Benjamin
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
December 2016-January 2017

Having become one of the most prominent US anti-war activists protesting against the US-led ‘war on terror’, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the group CODEPINK, has now turned her attention to her nation’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia.

‘I’ve been doing a lot of work around the Middle East conflicts since the 9/11 attacks’, Benjamin, 64, tells me when we met in London during her recent speaking tour of Europe. ‘I realised as the years went by that there was this elephant in the room and it was kind of crazy that the anti-war movement, at least in the United States, was not doing anything on Saudi Arabia’, she says. ‘I just thought how ironic it is that the US is spending at this point trillions of dollars fighting a “war on terrorism”, and yet is arming the country that is the most responsible for the spread of terrorism.’

The outcome is Benjamin’s new book Kingdom of The Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection, which charts the history of US ties to the absolute monarchy. A key moment was the 1945 meeting between US president Franklin D Roosevelt and Saudi king Abdul Aziz ibn Saud to agree US access to the kingdom’s vast oil supplies in return for military support. Since then, ‘one by one, US presidents promised to keep Saudi Islamist theocracy in power’, Benjamin notes in the book.

Buying silence

‘Oil is the foundation of the relationship, but it’s become much more complicated today’, she says, highlighting the ‘mindboggling’ $110bn of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the Obama administration. In addition, she notes, the Saudis ‘have invested in the US economy buying hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of US treasury bonds, and investing in Wall Street, investing in real estate’ and have ‘bought silence or complicity by giving millions of dollars to US universities and think-tanks and paid lobbyists’.

‘There is so much intertwining of this relationship that to start peeling away the layers is very important to do’, she believes.

Fearful of growing Iranian influence following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and buoyed by high oil prices, Saudi Arabia has spent huge sums of money exporting Wahhabism, their extremist version of Islam, across the Middle East. Madrassas (religious schools) and mosques were built and imams and teachers brought to the kingdom to be indoctrinated. ‘It has become such a potent mix and has corrupted the minds of a lot of young people who live in poor countries, who don’t have job opportunities, who are looking for some kind of outlet, something to believe in.’

As part of this mission, the Saudis – collaborating with the US central intelligence agency (CIA) – funnelled weapons to the armed resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, strengthening the most extreme jihadis, out of which came the Taliban and al-Qa’eda.

Benjamin personally experienced the consequences of this policy after the October 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan. ‘I was at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and I was told there was a rally against the Western invasion of Afghanistan’, she notes. ‘We were two Western women and when we got there we were attacked by the guys there and we had to get out for our lives because they were after us. I had never been in such a situation. I had always been able to talk to people and say: “Hey, I’m an anti-war activist in the US, I don’t like the invasion either.” And people said: “No, you can’t do that here because these are the Saudi-funded madrassas and they are really taught to hate people from the West.”’

The CIA’s role in arming the jihadis in Afghanistan in the 1980s was a covert operation – a cornerstone of the US-Saudi relationship, Benjamin says. ‘When the CIA has wanted to do illegal activities around the world and doesn’t want to go to the US congress, because they want these to be unseen and unheard by the American people, they go to the Saudis to get the funding.’

According to a January 2016 New York Times article, the CIA and Saudi Arabia continue to work closely together, arming the insurgency in Syria since 2013. ‘The US is selling all these weapons to Saudi Arabia; where do these weapons end up?’, she asks. ‘They are being channelled into groups that the Saudis are supporting in Syria, including the al-Qa’eda affiliate in Syria’.

Divest Saudi money

Turning to Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen, Benjamin quotes the Yemen Data Project, noting that one-third of Saudi airstrikes have struck civilian sites, including hospitals, schools, markets and weddings. ‘They are getting munitions from the West, they are getting the logistical support. The US is even refuelling their planes in the air’, she explains. With the Saudis unable to continue their air campaign without US and UK support, Benjamin believes the peace movements in the US and UK have a great opportunity to exert pressure on the kingdom. How? ‘The number one thing is weapons. Look and see who is providing the weapons, what weapons are they providing, starting to do protests at the headquarters and the production facilities. We are even looking to see where the shipments are going out of and seeing if we could block the shipments.’

She also suggests ‘shaming the political figures who are supporting the weapons sales… doing a divestment campaign to get universities and pension funds to take their money out of the weapons industries that are profiting from Saudi sales’ and ‘looking at the places that received Saudi money, like universities, and asking them to renounce taking Saudi money.’

During our interview in September, Benjamin mistakenly predicted a Hillary Clinton victory in the US presidential election. However, though she says Donald Trump in the White House would be ‘a wild card’, she expects ‘there will be a continuity of the present relationship’ between the US and Saudi Arabia. ‘There is a certain momentum that the military-industrial complex keeps in motion no matter who is in the White House… it’s bigger than one individual.’ She is also hopeful there will ‘be much more of a possibility of building up an anti-war movement like we had under the Bush years’. Presuming a president Clinton, she argued that nobody had any illusions about her ‘being a peace candidate or a peace president, so I don’t think it is going to be so hard to get people to protest her policies.’ This, of course, applies even more so to Trump.

Medea Benjamin is the author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection, OR Books 2016, 246pp, £13.

 

How to counter those who say “9/11 happened before Iraq!” to dismiss UK foreign policy as an explanation for terrorism

How to counter those who say “9/11 happened before Iraq!” to dismiss UK foreign policy as an explanation for terrorism
by Ian Sinclair
3 July 2015

The first question on BBC Question Time last night was about the recent terrorist atrocity in Tunisia. There was a long discussion involving all the panellists, but here are the key quotes:

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour leadership candidate: “You’ve got to think through the policies we’ve been following for the past 15 years in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Are they not a contributory factor in the collapse of so much all across the whole region?”

Presenter David Dimbleby then asked Corbyn what he would do about the threat from terrorist groups such as Islamic State.

Jeremy Corbyn: “You recognise that we’ve made some catastrophic mistakes in the bombing that we’ve done in so many other places, and that we’ve encouraged the growth of some of these groups – not intentionally but they’ve been a factor within that. And you develop a foreign policy that supports people and tries to attract them away from the purposes of ISIL.”

Jeremy Hunt MP, Health Secretary: “I have great respect for the integrity that Jeremy – the other Jeremy [Corbyn] – expresses his views, but I disagree with him that this is about foreign policy. 9/11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan. Foreign policy is an excuse.”

Jeremy Hunt is, of course, right that “9/11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan.” However, by making this argument Hunt is either incredibly ignorant or being incredibly disingenuous.

Western foreign policy and Western intervention in the Middle East didn’t begin on the morning of 11 September 2001. 9/11 didn’t happen in a social, historical and political vacuum. Al-Qaeda and the 19 hijackers didn’t randomly choose the World Trade Center and Pentagon out of all the famous landmarks across the globe. They targeted these symbols of US power for very specific reasons.

Speaking to me about Al-Qaeda in 2011, Michael Scheuer, the head of the CIA unit tracking Osama bin Laden from 1996-1999, explained that not since Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh has the US had an enemy who has been so frank about their motivation for fighting. For Scheuer Islamic terrorist attacks on the US have nothing “to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy, but everything to do with US policies and actions in the Muslim world.”

So what reasons did Al-Qaeda give for targeting the United States in 2001? In public statements made in 1996, 1998 and 2002 Al-Qaeda repeat a number of grievances:

  • The US military presence in Saudi Arabia
  • US support for dictatorships in the Middle East
  • US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine
  • The effects of the US-led United Nations sanctions on Iraq

So, very obviously, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a direct response to US foreign policy in the Middle East. A foreign policy, it’s important to remember, that was strongly supported by the UK. Those people, such as Hunt, who dismiss attempts to look at Western foreign policy as a reason for why the US and UK are being targeted, thus shutting down debate on the topic, are likely helping to make future terrorist attacks on the US and UK more, not less, likely.

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 June 2015

Reading radical alternative news and commentary about Western foreign policy often leads to intense self-doubt and to questions like “Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?” Or “Am I reading this right?” And even “Perhaps I am losing my mind?”

Two recent news reports about the US involvement in Syria have triggered these exact questions for me.

Last month a formerly classified August 2012 Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report was published by the right-wing watchdog Judicial Watch. In the heavily redacted document the DIA – the intelligence arm of the US Department of Defense – notes “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence in the report is this: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the [Assad] regime.” Later, the DIA makes another extraordinary statement: “There is the possibility of [the opposition] establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Charles Lister, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and arguably the leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, provided the second jaw-dropping reading experience in May 2015. “The US-led operations room in southern Turkey, which coordinates the provision of lethal and non-lethal support to vetted opposition groups… specifically encouraged a closer cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations”, including official al-Qaeda branch Jabhat al-Nusra, Lister explained in Foreign Policy.

So, to summarise, the West – the US and likely the UK too – were supporting the Syrian armed insurgency in 2012 in the full knowledge it was dominated by Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Three years later the US is encouraging rebel groups to cooperate with al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

What happened, you might well ask, to the epic, generational struggle against al-Qaeda and radical jihadists that we have been fighting since 2001 to save Western civilisation? A war and evil enemy, least we forget, that has been repeatedly hyped by a pliant media and supported by all the main political parties in the US and UK.

Except for Seumas Milne in the Guardian, the mainstream media have ignored the extraordinary revelations of the DIA and Lister. The BBC has, as far as I’m aware, not mentioned either on any of its many news platforms. Incredibly the highly respected Middle East specialist Shadi Hamid describes the Obama Administration as “opting to remain disengaged in Syria”.

In addition to this explosive new evidence of Western support for jihadists, the West’s key allies in the region have also been supporting the more extreme elements of the resistance to the Syrian government.

In August 2014 the Washington Post reported that before their blitz in Iraq “Turkey rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State, eager to aid any enemy of the Assad government. “Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front… were treated at Turkish hospitals”, the Post noted. “Most important, the Turks winked as… Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.”

The Wall Street Journal carried a similar report in March this year, except this time it concerned Israel and how some of the al-Nusra Front’s “severely wounded fighters are regularly taken across the frontier fence to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.”

Unsurprisingly, on this issue the Western media invariably report the official US Government line – that the US is opposed to these actions and is pressuring Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop supporting jihadists in Syria.

However, a close reading of mainstream news reports suggests that far from being opposed, the US is deeply involved in these nefarious networks. For example, earlier this year the Wall Street Journal published a story titled ‘Saudis Agree to Provide Syrian Rebels With Mobile Antiaircraft Missiles’. According to the report “Rebel leaders say they met with US and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30… That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons [snit-aircraft missiles].”

Writing about the increased coordinated support to the Syrian rebels provided by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov recently noted the Saudi king told allies “the US would not stand in the way.” And in June 2013 the Los Angeles Times noted the arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries” to Syrian rebels were “provided with assent from the Americans.”

Public denials at odds with covert actions are, of course, meat and potatoes when it comes to outsourcing foreign policy to regional proxies. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” the US-supported Yemeni President told US General David Petraeus in January 2010 about the US drone strikes in his country. According to the Washington Post, a similar deception has long been in effect between the US and Pakistan with the Pakistani Government publicly condemning US drone strikes, while at the same time secretly cooperating with the US.

And of course, if the US really felt as strongly about the destructive policies of their Middle East allies as they publicly claim to, then a simple way to pressure them to stop supporting jihadis in Syria would be for the US to threaten to stop selling their allies arms. In reality, the US continues to arm countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia despite – or perhaps because of – their support for the Syrian insurgency. In March 2015 the Stockholm Peace Research Institute noted that the GCC states and Turkey are “scheduled to receive further large order of major arms in the coming years” – mainly from the US and Europe.

It’s certainly possible I’m not reading the evidence correctly. I may be taking it out of context. There may well be good reasons the media has chosen not to cover the story. And I could well have lost my mind. But what if the reports point to a far more frightening conclusion – it’s not me that is mad and delusion but the entire media and political elite in the West?

‘Fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist’: Michael Scheuer interview

‘Fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist’: Michael Scheuer interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
June 2011

A CIA operative for 22 years, including three as the head of the Agency’s Osama bin Laden unit from 1996-9, Michael Scheuer is no stranger to controversy.

His first book, written anonymously as he was still a serving CIA officer, compared bin Laden’s public statements to those made by US revolutionary giants such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Published in 2004, the 58-year-old American’s second book Imperial Hubris was a bestselling full-frontal assault on the US government’s “war on terror.”
It was endorsed by none other than bin Laden himself.  “If you want to understand what’s going on … then read the book of Michael Scheuer,” said the most wanted man in the world in 2007.

Scheuer was in Britain last month to promote his new biography of bin Laden and I caught up with him at his hotel in central London before he gave a public lecture at the London School of Economics.

“We’ve had three presidents, you’ve had two or three prime ministers, who have told the British and American people we are at war because Muslims hate freedom, they hate gender equality, they hate elections,” he says. “But if we were facing the people who were willing to blow themselves up because our daughters go to university it wouldn’t even rise to a level of a nuisance.” So why are the US and Britain primary targets for al-Qaida? “I think it’s pretty clear,” he says. “They don’t like what we do in their world – whether it is support for the Saudi police state or support for Israel or our presence on the Arab peninsula.” Not since Ho Chi Minh has the US had an enemy who has been so frank about their motivation for fighting and how they intend to win, Scheuer says.

“It’s kind of a racist idea that somehow Muslims are so stupid that they are willing to kill themselves because we have McDonald’s or because I have a beer after work.” As a result of this self-imposed ignorance, Scheuer believes the West has underestimated al-Qaida and is “fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist.”

The US Establishment – Democrats and Republicans – “are, quite simply, lying to Americans,” Scheuer argued in his first book. With his election to president in 2008, Barack Obama can be added to this rogues’ gallery. “Obama gave a speech on May 19 in which he called for regime change in six Muslim countries,” Scheuer says. “Had Bush made that speech and come to London I don’t think Bush would have gotten the reception that Obama got.”

Scheuer maintains that this top-level deceit continues because the US is unable to extract itself from the Middle East, after failing to act following the 1973 oil embargo. “No politician wants to go to the electorate and say: ‘We’ve been stupid and derelict and criminally negligent in not doing anything about energy’,” he says. “So what’s easier to do than scaring people and avoiding any kind of discussion about whether a policy change could help remove the motivation from much of al-Qaida and also slow the process of the attraction of its ideas to the coming generation?”

While Morning Star readers will likely broadly agree with much of Scheuer’s analysis, he is no dove, and he certainly not sympathetic to progressive politics in general. On several occasions during the interview he disparagingly refers to Amnesty International, “the left” and the American Civil Liberties Union. He argues this is “a substantive war” with an enemy that has to be defeated. The killing of bin Laden by US special forces was “a great operation,” he says, although the political aftermath was badly botched.

The impact of bin Laden’s death on al-Qaida is significant but not fatal, Scheuer believes.
“The key to the whole situation is how the succession works out.” Although this is being presented in the West as a power struggle, Scheuer maintains that “the reason it is taking so long is that, in an odd way, al-Qaida is a small ‘d’ democratic organisation. “There is a shura council who will pick the next leader and they obviously haven’t settled on anyone yet.”

Scheuer is highly critical of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, although his analysis might best be termed ‘the fight-the-war-better school of criticism.’ “I think the only way to have addressed Afghanistan was with a very much larger military operation that lasted 12-15 months,” he says. With a doctorate in history, Scheuer is a keen student of past military campaigns. “You would certainly be able to do what the British did in Afghanistan in 1878, which was to make it quiet for 20 years.” How? “By conducting what the British used to call ‘a punitive expedition’’”. That is, “break as much of al-Qaida and the Taliban as you could and then leave with the full knowledge you might have to do it again. But leaving them with the impression there really is a cost to playing around with American security.”

If this sounds like a bloodbath, that’s probably because it would be. “Bush had a window for savagery after 9/11,” Scheuer says, which although I’m not totally sure, seems to be an endorsement of this course of action.

“I think the only way to fight it is by telling the truth,” he says when I ask him what he would like to see done. “For example, Israel is an enormous burden on the United States and people pick up guns to fight us because of our support for Israelis. That’s a fact. “It’s not an opinion and you don’t have to agree or disagree with it, because it’s a fact. “Whether you choose to support Israel or not is a different matter. But – and I’ll sound like your father but I don’t mean to – everything in life has a consequence. And to imagine we can do what we’ve done with the Israelis and not have consequences is adolescent.”

How does Scheuer deal with the considerable flak he continues to attract? “The biggest problem I have is abuse and threats indirectly from the people who support Israel,” he replies.
In 2009 Scheuer was sacked from his position as a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, after several donors threatened to withdraw funding after he described Obama as “dancing the Tel Aviv two-step.”

“That’s part of the game,” he says. “If you are an American and you question the worth of the relationship with Israel you are going to be labelled as an anti-semite and anti-American.”
During the Q&A session at the LSE lecture later that day, Scheuer is back to his old tricks, stunning the audience with his answer to a question about al-Qaida’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians. “I’ve not yet seen al-Qaida endorse indiscriminate attacks on civilians … the 9/11 targets were perfectly legitimate military targets as defined by the United States and its allies in World War II.”

While some of his positions may jar uneasily with progressives, undoubtedly the plain-spoken and direct Scheuer continues to be an important voice of reason on this emotive issue.
As the LSE professor noted in his introduction to the lecture, “there is no-one better to speak about Osama bin Laden than Michael Scheuer.”

Michael Scheuer’s Osama bin Laden is published by Oxford University Press (£14.99). Scheuer blogs at www.non-intervention.com

Why do they hate us?

Why do they hate us?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
January 2010

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow himself up on Northwest Airlines 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day has generated a stupendous amount of column inches and airtime in the US and British media. While the saturation-level coverage has focused on questions of “who,” “what,” “when,” “where” and “how,” it has categorically failed to ask the most important question of all – why?

Those hoping that the new messiah of the United States would enlighten the ignorant masses were sorely disappointed when the Democratic president could only offer to “communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that … the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress.” Barack Obama then turned the floor over to his top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, who made the blindingly obvious and technically true statement that “al-Qaida is an organisation that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents.”

As with much of Obama’s foreign policy, his inability or unwillingness to articulate why the US is the target of so much terrorism has more in common with his universally reviled predecessor than many of his supporters would like to admit. Of course Bush was always far more crass and simplistic than the smooth Harvard graduate. “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world,” the then commander-in-chief told the US on September 11 2001.

Just in case anyone is turning their noses up at “those stupid Americans,” we shouldn’t forget that immediately after the July 7 2005 terrorist attacks in London, the BBC reported then home secretary Charles Clarke as saying that “those responsible for such attacks simply wanted to destroy democracy.”

In contrast Michael Scheuer, the man who headed the CIA unit monitoring Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, argues Islamic terrorist attacks on the US have nothing “to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy, but everything to do with US policies and actions in the Muslim world.”

So who should we believe? To begin to answer this question, it seems pertinent to look at the reasons those actually carrying out the terrorism give for their actions.

Although it has since disappeared down the memory hole, in 2004 bin Laden himself directly addressed Bush’s claim that al-Qaida is motivated by a hatred of US freedom and democracy. “Let him tell us why we did not strike Sweden,” the al-Qaida figurehead quipped before stating: “We fought you because we are free and do not accept injustice. We want to restore freedom to our nation.”

What about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind September 11 2001 and the man with the dubious honour of holding the world record for the number of times to undergo waterboarding – 183 times according to the US Justice Department. “By his own account KSM’s [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with US foreign policy favouring Israel,” noted the official 9/11 Commission report.

Back to Britain. Last September, the International Herald Tribune reported that the jury at the trial of the 2006 plot to blow up 10 transatlantic airliners were shown martyrdom videos prepared by several of the plotters. “A common theme was that they planned to wreak revenge on Britain and the United States for their interference in Muslim countries, especially the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” reported the newspaper.

No doubt some readers will be uncomfortable with taking mass-murdering terrorists at their word. But what about testimony from the US government itself?

In 2004 the Pentagon-appointed US Defence Science Board explained: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies.” The board elaborated: “The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.”

As someone paralysed in a 2004 attack by Saudi extremists, one presumes BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner has thought a little bit about this topic. In 2005 he told the Commons foreign affairs committee that “al-Qaida could not give a stuff about what Americans do in America. What they object to is Western military adventures in their heartland, whether it be Afghanistan, Iraq, wherever.”

Robert A Pape, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, has written a whole book addressing this question. He concludes that “suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than the product of Islamic fundamentalism.”

Returning to the case of Abdulmutallab, a recent Associated Press story noted he was “not overtly extremist,” however he “was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza.” In addition Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula released a video after the attempted attack stating that it was in revenge for two joint US-Yemeni air raids on December 17, supposedly targeting al-Qaida operatives. Yes that’s right, the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize personally ordered US air strikes in Yemen, killing 23 children and 17 women, according to local officials.

The enigmatic US novelist Thomas Pynchon once wrote: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

So far the “wrong questions” asked by politicians and the mainstream media have led to the implementation of “the most significant changes to airport security since 2006,” according to the Guardian. “Increased pat-down searches, more sniffer dogs in terminals and a step-up in hand luggage inspections” along with “the introduction of body scanners” has been the British government’s knee-jerk response to Abdulmutallab’s attempted attack.

The problem is that these are technical answers to something that desperately requires a political solution. In fact, by ignoring the inconvenient question of “why,” the chances are that we are actually making future terrorist attacks on the US and Britain more likely.

This is not to suggest that British foreign policy should be decided by the actions of a small group of murderous Islamic extremists. Rather it should radically change because it is immoral, hypocritical and has directly caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, many of them in the Islamic world. Put simply, reversing US and British backing for Israel, withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan and ending our Machiavellian support for undemocratic Arab regimes is the right and moral thing to do. A welcome by-product of implementing these sane and humane policies would be a decrease in the hatred directed against the US and British in the Islamic world – and therefore a significantly reduced terrorist threat