Tag Archives: CIA

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.

 

Hollywood at war: interview with Matthew Alford

Hollywood at war: interview with Matthew Alford
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
November 2011

Last year Matthew Alford published Reel Power: Hollywood cinema and American supremacy (Pluto Press), an analysis of mainstream US cinema’s representation of US foreign policy since 9/11. He discussed his book with Ian Sinclair for Peace News at the Rebellious Media Conference.


PN: What is the main argument of Reel Power?

MA: That Hollywood films which depict American foreign policy have a very strong tendency to support notions of American “exceptionalism” and almost never criticise it at a serious level.

PN: Why do the vast majority of Hollywood films routinely promote the United States as a benevolent force in world affairs and support the foreign policy of the US government?

MA: Hollywood is a corporate media system akin to the news in that it is ostensibly free but nevertheless directed by strong factors that determine a pro-establishment line. These factors are: the concentrated ownership within Hollywood, which is owned by the same parent companies that own the news media; the prevalence of product placement and the general commercialised feel; the influence of the department of defence and the CIA, and the fact that if filmmakers do push radical political positions they tend to cause themselves a lot of problems (the Jane Fonda effect). Then there is the pervading ideology which says there is an “us” and “them”, that America is good and benevolent, with enemies throughout the world.

PN: How do you respond to the argument that Hollywood is simply giving audiences what they want?

MA: Hollywood corporations provide what they think audiences will accept. But would audiences feel the same way if they were to see at the beginning of the credits for Transformers (2007-11) or Terminator Salvation (2009) or Battle: Los Angeles (2011) “This film was made with the cooperation of the department of defense”? I suspect not.

PN: In Reel Power you highlight some films such as Redacted (2007), Syriana (2005) and Avatar (2009) that are, to a degree, critical of US foreign policy. How do you explain these films being made within corporate Hollywood? What makes them different?

MA: There are special cases which do come up and that’s because Hollywood is a free system. There is no one censorship body saying you must not produce political films which attack American exceptionalism. So a film like Avatar did get through, largely because of the enormous power that [Avatar director] James Cameron wielded through his reputation for making very profitable movies. Typically, though, such ideas slip through in films like Redacted and War, Inc (2008), which are made on low budgets and tend to be distributed very poorly. To take another case, Disney was very unhappy about the political content of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). We don’t quite know why. It might have been due to the general political edginess of it. Others suggest it was because it looked at the relationship between the US and the Saudis. Disney prevented their subsidiary from distributing the film, which was a big move to make for one $10 million documentary movie.

PN: Are there any historical periods in which more critical and questioning Hollywood films have been produced?

MA: Yes, in the immediate aftermath of World War One, there was a general feeling of anti-militarism which was reflected in Hollywood. Perhaps most famous was All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), which provoked the Nazis in Germany to release rats in cinemas. Also to some degree in the 1970s there was an opening up of creativity prior to the big parent companies coming in and buying up Hollywood. This was the era of Apocalypse Now (1979), The Deer Hunter (1978) and Taxi Driver (1976). But even these films have to come with an asterisk attached. The Deer Hunter is widely seen as a great anti-war film but it still has really vicious representations of the Vietnamese. Do you remember the Russian roulette scene? Well the filmmakers just made that up. And although war was depicted negatively it was the American invaders who were suffering.

PN: Reel Power focuses on American movies and American foreign policy. Could your analysis be applied to British cinema and British foreign policy?

MA: When it matters to the powers that be, yes. So Peter Watkins’ The War Game (1965) docudrama, that “recreated” a nuclear war, was banned by the BBC for twenty years. Or go back to the early days of cinema and consider the film biopic The Life of David Lloyd George (1918), which was bought and suppressed by someone in the Liberal Party and found in mint condition eighty years later (Lloyd George was the wartime British prime minister). However, it’s worth pointing out that Hollywood is uniquely open to military influence because its filmmakers frequently need the assistance of the armed forces, due to the traditional emphasis on high-budget, action-packed blockbusters.

PN: What can concerned citizens and activists do to encourage films that are critical of US foreign policy?

MA: I think we should be primarily concerned about criticising films that encourage US foreign policy, rather than the other way around. We should actively oppose the most egregious, corporate-led, CIA/department of defense-backed movies through protest, boycott and criticism. If people also want to encourage anti-war films, then yes, that’s fine – they can make them and they can distribute them fairly easily through the web. One of the things that came out of the session [at the Rebellious Media Conference] was a whole range of activist ideas from the audience. For example, people were talking about calling up their local cinema to encourage certain films to be put on there. And, yes, I think if people are actively engaged in film rather than being passive consumers that will usually result in better products.

Benghazi: the real story

Benghazi: the real story
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 March 2016

Hollywood, as lecturer Matthew Alford explains in his 2010 book Reel Power, “routinely promotes the dubious notion that the United States is a benevolent force in world affairs.”

Thus Michael Bay’s $50 million recent film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi tells the story of the September 11 2012 attack on the US consulate in Libya, which killed the US ambassador and three of his colleagues.

As with movies such as Black Hawk Down (2001) and Lone Survivor (2013) the audience watches as a small band of brave US servicemen heroically fight back against hundreds of faceless Arabs, with no apparent motive other than a hatred of Westerners.

13 Hours is clear about the benevolent intent of the US in Libya, with the initial credits explaining the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had an annex close to the US consulate, where operatives gathered intelligence to try their best to get weapons taken off the black market.

In an extensive February 2016 investigation into the US intervention in Libya, the New York Times repeats this official narrative, explaining the US “struggled against weapons proliferation” after Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi had been overthrown and killed.

However, a number of reports show there is far more to the story than the US government, 13 Hours and the New York Times would have us believe.

In August 2013 CNN reported that dozens of CIA operatives had been on the ground in Benghazi and that “the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing remains a secret.”

According to one source quoted by CNN, the CIA has been involved in an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out. All of which begs an obvious question: if the CIA were simply attempting to stop weapons proliferation in Libya, why would this need to be covered up?

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s reporting on US actions in Libya may provide the answer. According to an article he published in the London Review of Books in April 2014, the CIA, with the assistance of Britain’s MI6, set up a “rat line” to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya to Syria via southern Turkey. “The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,” says a former intelligence official quoted by Hersh.

Citing a classified annex to a US Senate intelligence committee report, Hersh notes the funding for the weapons transfers came from US allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

A formerly classified October 2012 US Defence Intelligence Agency report echoes Hersh’s discovery, noting that “during the immediate aftermath of … the downfall of the [Gadaffi] regime in October 2011 … weapons from the former Libyan military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya, were shipped” to Syria. Importantly, the report explains the shipments ended in early September 2012 — the date the US consulate was attacked and when Hersh also says the shipments ended.

Michael Morrell, the former deputy director of the CIA, confirmed the existence of the weapons shipments in testimony to the US House intelligence committee in November 2012. However, the part of the transcript showing Morrell’s response to a question asking whether the CIA was involved in co-ordinating the weapons transfers is redacted. “Long story short: the CIA was watching closely as our allies transferred weapons to Syrian rebels,” explained the independent journalist Marcy Wheeler, summarising Morrell’s testimony and the CIA report.

So, while many of the details are fuzzy, it seems clear the US was transferring weapons from Libya to Syria or, at the very least, was fully aware its allies were doing this and did nothing. Weapons, it should be noted, that a plethora of experts and observers — from former Nato secretary-generals to the United Nations — have warned will only escalate and deepen the war in Syria.

In addition to contradicting the Establishment-promoted image of US-British power as benevolent and positive, the real story of Benghazi fatally undermines the dominant narrative that, as BBC Today programme presenter Nick Robinson recently noted, the Obama administration has had a “deep unwillingness to get engaged in” the Syrian war. Or, as well-respected think-tanker Shadi Hamid argues, US policy in Syria has been one of “defensive minimalism.” Furthermore, the Libyan-Syrian “rat line” story also highlights another inconvenient truth: Hersh notes that “many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.”

If, as the independent media icon Amy Goodman has said, “the role of journalism is to go where the silences are,” then the CIA and MI6 role in Benghazi should be the first port of call for anyone looking to shine a light on the nefarious machinations of the Western powers in the Middle East.

The West and Syria: the corporate media vs. reality

The West and Syria: the corporate media vs. reality
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
4 March 2016

“The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary”, George Orwell noted in his censored preface to his 1945 book Animal Farm. “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban”. Orwell went onto explain that “at any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it”.

The corporate media’s ‘coverage’ of Syria adds a twist to Orwell’s dictum – inconvenient reports and facts do occasionally appear in respected newspapers and on popular news programmes but they are invariably ignored, decontextualised or not followed up on. Rather than informing the historical record, public opinion and government policy these snippets of essential information are effectively thrown down the memory hole.

Instead the public is fed a steady diet of simplistic, Western-friendly propaganda, a key strand of which is that the US has, as Channel 4 News’s Paul Mason blindly asserted in January 2016, “stood aloof from the Syrian conflict”. This deeply ingrained ignorance was taken to comical lengths when Mason’s Channel 4 News colleague Cathy Newman interviewed the former senior US State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, with both women agreeing the US had not armed the insurgency in Syria.

In the real world the US has been helping to arm the insurgency since 2012, with US officials telling the Washington Post in last year that the CIA’s $1bn programme had trained and equipped 10,000 rebel fighters. “From the moment the CIA operation was started, Saudi money supported it”, notes the New York Times. According to the former American Ambassador to Syria, the US “has looked the other way” while fighters it has backed have “coordinated in military operations” with the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria. The UK, of course, has obediently followed its master into the gates of hell, with the former UK Ambassador to Syria recently explaining the UK has made things worse by fuelling the conflict in Syria.

And if they are not playing down the West’s interference in Syria, journalists and their political masters are presenting Western actions as having benign, peaceful motives. For example, in his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron argued “since the start of the crisis the UK has worked for a political solution in Syria”. The Guardian’s foreign affairs specialist Simon Tisdall echoed this idea of the West’s “basic benevolence” in 2013 when henoted in passing that President Obama “cannot count on Russian support to fix Syria”.

Compare, this propagandistic framing with what Andrew Mitchell, the former British Secretary of State for International Development, had to say about the West’s role in the 2012 United Nations peace plans on the BBC Today Programme earlier this month:

“Kofi Annan, the very distinguished former General Secretary of the United Nations, came forward with his plan, asked by the UN General-Secretary to do so. Part of that plan was to say that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is part of the problem here and, therefore, by definition, is part of the solution, and therefore he must be included in negotiations. And that was vetoed by the Americans and, alas, by the British Government too.”

Mitchell’s astonishing revelation is backed up by two highly respected Middle East experts. In September 2015 Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Oxford University, noted that Western insistence that Assad must step down sabotaged Annan’s efforts to set up a peace deal and forced his resignation. Professor Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, concurs, writing “the Western powers… sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting”. Indeed, the US Secretary of State himself conceded this reality when he recently noted that demanding Assad’s departure up front in the peace process was “in fact, prolonging the war.”

A quick survey of recent history shows this warmongering isn’t an unfortunate one-off but a longstanding US policy of blocking peace initiatives in times of conflict.

In 1999 the US used Serbia’s rejection of the Rambouillet Agreement to justify its 78-day bombing campaign. However, the proposed agreement included the military occupation and political control of Kosovo by NATO, and gave NATO the right to occupy of the rest of Yugoslavia. It was a document “that no sovereign country on earth would have signed”, reporter Jeremy Scahill noted.

Two years later as the US geared up to bomb and invade Afghanistan, the Taliban raised the idea of handing over Osama bin Laden if the US produced evidence of his involvement in the attack on 9/11. According to the New York Times “the White House quickly rejected the move” because “it did not ‘meet American requirements’ that Afghanistan immediately hand over the prime suspect in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon”

Several months into the 2003 Iraq War, the Guardian reported that “in the few weeks before its fall, Iraq’s Ba’athist regime made a series of increasingly desperate peace offers to Washington, promising to hold elections and even to allow US troops to search for banned weapons.” Like Afghanistan, the Guardian noted “the advances were all rejected by the Bush administration, according to intermediaries involved in the talks.”

And finally, in January 2015 the Washington Times highlighted the various attempts made by the Libyan government to push for a negotiated settlement during the 2011 NATO intervention. Citing secret audio recordings between an intermediary working for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Libyan government, the newspaper noted the head of the US African Command attempted to negotiate a truce but was ordered to stand down by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s State Department. This account resonates with other reports that show how NATO ignored peace initiatives coming from the Libyan Government and the African Union.

Of course, some or perhaps all of these peace overtures may have been disingenuous and/or unworkable. However, we will never know because they were never seriously considered or explored by the West in its rush to war.

Turning back to Syria, the facts clearly show the West, by blocking the UN’s peace initiative while continuing to arm the insurgency, played a key role in prolonging and escalating a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to a staggering 11 million refugees.

Of course, Russia and Iran, by backing the Assad Government, have also played a central role in prolonging and escalating the war but as a British citizen whose taxes fund the British government my primary concern is the actions of the UK and its allies. As Noam Chomsky has noted “You’re responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions. You’re not responsible for the predictable consequences of somebody else’s actions.”

Roberts clearly understands what the predictable consequences of the US and UK actions in Syria have been: “Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain’s contribution to it should be a matter of national shame.”

As always, the government prefers to treat the public like mushrooms – keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit. And with our supposedly crusading, disputatious, stroppy and difficult fourth estate unable or unwilling to report basic facts and to connect some very simple dots, what chance does the general public have of ever gaining even a basic understanding of what the West is doing in Syria?

Has the West and its allies “failed to seriously arm the revolution” in Syria?

Has the West and its allies “failed to seriously arm the revolution” in Syria?
by Ian Sinclair
5 February 2016

Here is my (unpublished) letter to the Guardian Review:

Dear Sir/Madam

Robin Yassin-Kassab argues “The Syrian people’s supposed ‘friends’ failed to seriously arm the revolution” (Guardian Review, 23 January).

In reality, the Financial Times reported in 2013 that Qatar had given $3 billion to the Syrian insurgency, while the New York Times recently noted estimates put Saudi Arabia’s support for the rebels “at several billion dollars.” In addition, the CIA’s $1 billion programme has trained and equipped 10,000 rebel fighters, according to US officials cited by the Washington Post

Yassin-Kassab’s implicit support for more arms to the rebels will likely escalate the conflict. As Oxfam America noted in 2013, “Providing more weapons will mean prolonged fighting and more civilian deaths, more long-term damage to infrastructure and the economy, and greater poverty in Syria.”

Kind regards

Ian Sinclair

Is Noam Chomsky right that the US doesn’t want regime change in Syria?

Is Noam Chomsky right that the US doesn’t want regime change in Syria?
by Ian Sinclair
Huffington Post
12 March 2014

Noam Chomsky is probably the most influential leftist on the planet right now. So when he argues the US “has shown no indication it wants the rebels to win in Syria”, as he did recently in an interview with the Voice of Russia, his opinion carries a lot of weight amongst progressives. But while I consider Chomsky one of the most intelligent analysts of US foreign policy, the facts strongly suggest the US is trying to overthrow the President Bashar al-Assad.

First, the Obama Administration’s public statements on the future of the Syrian president are quite clear. “Assad must go – and I believe he will go”, Obama stated in March 2013. Six months later US Secretary of State John Kerry reconfirmed “President Obama’s policy is that Assad must go.” While one should always be wary of taking the public utterances of those in power at face value, it is important to consider the enabling effect these statements of intent have on Syrian rebels and those who support them. Furthermore, US actions broadly match the US Government’s wish to see Assad overthrow. The New York Times certainly thinks so, reporting in July 2012 that the Obama administration has “abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad”.

From the early stages of the war the US has been “acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates”, according to the Wall Street Journal. By May 2013 the Financial Times estimated Qatar had provided $3 billion worth of arms to the rebels. Not content to leave the dirty work to its autocratic Gulf allies, the US has been playing a coordinating role in arming the rebels since before May 2012. Reporting on this deadly arms race in March 2013 the New York Times quoted an expert who estimated 3,500 tons of military equipment had been sent to the rebels by Arab Governments and Turkey with assistance from the CIA.

The US role goes beyond coordination. The CIA has been training and arming hundreds of rebels in Jordan and then sending them back to the killing fields in Syria. This is on top of significant amounts of non-lethal assistance the US has given to the rebels – vehicles, communications equipment, combat medical kits and 350,000 military food packets. In recent weeks the US has been increasing its financial assistance to rebels in southern Syria, giving millions of dollars to pay the monthly salaries of tens of thousands of insurgents.

The White House has repeatedly claimed it opposes sending in anti-aircraft missiles in case they got into the hands of extremists. However, last month the Wall Street Journal reported the US is complicit in doing exactly this. “Rebel leaders say they met with U.S. and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30 as the first round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva came to a close”, noted the story. “That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons [the anti-aircraft missiles].” The meeting likely took place in the military operations room in Amman which hosts intelligence agencies from 11 countries including the US, Saudi Arabia, France and the UK.

If the US doesn’t want to overthrow Assad, as Chomsky claims, why is it making it more likely by arming and training the rebels and giving a wink and a nod to their allies in the region to do the same? A common retort is the US is providing just enough assistance to pressure Assad but not for the rebels to win. If so, this is a very dangerous game to play – and one the US is unlikely to be able to control. Wars are unpredictable and US interference will only increase the conflict’s volatility. In addition, the anti-aircraft missiles Saudi Arabia plans to give to rebels with the tacit agreement of the US could tip the balance in the stalemated war in favour of the opposition, according to rebels.

The argument that the US doesn’t want to overthrow Assad assumes the US could easily do so if it wanted. But while the US certainly has the military might to quickly depose Assad it is constrained by realpolitik geopolitical considerations and, most importantly for anti-war and peace activists, public opinion. Take the Vietnam War, for example. In 1966 specialists at the Pentagon presented a plan, based on a computer model, to US President Lyndon Johnson to end the war and save lives – by nuking the country. On hearing this Johnson reportedly pointed out the window towards a crowd of protestors and said “I have one more problem for your computer. Will you feed into it how long it will take 500,000 angry Americans to climb the White House wall out there and lynch their President?” In short, while the US has always been able to technically destroy whichever enemy it has been fighting it has always been inhibited by what is politically possible.

On Syria the constraints on the Obama Administration are clear: US public opinion is firmly against military strikes and arming the rebels. This opposition is probably the main reason it is very difficult to get a clear understanding of the US’s (often covert) actions in Syria. However, what information that does exist in the public domain clearly points to the US providing substantial support to the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian Government.

‘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