By Scott Horton Future of Freedom Foundation
Are America’s disasters abroad a result of stupidity or some elaborate plan?Â An observer of modern U.S. foreign policy can be torn on that one.
It makes sense that generals, contractors, and other national-security state types will invent and follow a deliberate policy of divide and rule, as well as to create crises to move on to the next big job. But if one looks closely, it does begin to seem that perhaps narrow-minded, shortsighted stupidity is a better overall explanation of the causes and results of the U.S. government’s recent behavior in other people’s countries.
George W. Bush’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003 destabilized the entire region and created plenty of new problems for his successor to deal with, but Barack Obama has taken every opportunity to only make matters worse.
For example, in Libya it appears the main reason the Obama administration took America to war on the side of Islamist rebels against Qaddafi in 2011 was that the empire simply had a bad public-relations problem after the successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
Uncle Sam and the 40 thieves
When the ‘Arab Spring’ began ”” mostly as a consequence of the global currency devaluation and price inflation precipitated by the Federal Reserve and Bush administration to disguise the upfront costs of the war on terrorism ”” there was no escaping the fact, even in the American media, that as protesters gathered by the millions in capitals across the Middle East, seeking a modicum of self-government for a change, the United States was the bad guy behind every dictator in the region: in Morocco, Algeria, Libya (where one-time top enemy Muammar Qaddafi had been the United States’s friend since 2003), Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, and Jordan. The only governments in the region the United States was not backing in 2011 were Syria, even though for many years its regime tortured prisoners for the American administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Iran, at least since its revolution and declaration of independence in 1979 (or when Ronald Reagan sold arms to both sides of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, if you want to count that).
Otherwise, if there was a tyranny anywhere between Morocco and India, America was behind the regime. And through the tear gas delivered by canisters labeled ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’ everyone could see it. It had never been more clear.
Even though the Middle Eastern protesters in 2011 were largely focused on challenging their own individual despots, they were also, at least in effect, challenging U.S. dominance in the region.
In the case of Egypt the U.S. government did everything it could to keep 30-year U.S. sock-puppet dictator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ‘family friend’ Hosni Mubarak in power until the bitter end. The administration was so clumsy in its panic, it actually urged the peaceful protesters whose skulls were being cracked open by interior-ministry truncheons to restrain themselves and blurted right on the front page of the New York Times its determination to keep Mubarak in power;Â failing that, the administration would settle for Omar Suleiman, the loyal head of Egypt’s secret torture police, to be pharaoh-puppet runner-up.
After Mubarak was overthrown by the popular uprising, the U.S. government failed to get either Suleiman the torturer the job as fill-in dictator or their favored liberal groups a majority in parliament. Instead American meddlers were unceremoniously arrested and deported, and an independent Egyptian political process with fair elections took root, starting with votes for a new parliament and president and major victories for the conservative-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in both cases.
This was earthshattering. Clinton may have been pushing for ‘democratic reform’ in some parts of the Middle East, but only in the context of staving off real revolution and the threat of diminished influence for the United States. What the empire got instead was ‘The World Turned Upside-Down’ in Arabic. The rest of the region sat up and took notice. ‘Day of Rage’ protests broke out across the Muslim world.*
Regime change in Libya
When the demonstrations started soon after in Libya, it was Clinton’s idea of a chance to at least confuse the issue by trying to sell the notion that America was the comic-book Superman that liberated France from the Nazis back in the olden days and always supports underdog popular ‘democratic’ protesters against their mean old dictators. Michael Hastings reported in Rolling Stone that after the revolution in Egypt, Clinton was desperate for another chance to try to shape the narrative of the ‘Arab Spring’ in that way. That is why she pushed Obama to overrule Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s advice and take the side of the rebels against Qaddafi.
The Libyan dictator had been invited in from the cold by Bush in 2003 but was still a bit erratic. He was asking for a bit more than the usual cut for his country’s oil sales and hadn’t come through on buying all the armored personnel carriers and other equipment the U.S. government and its friends had been trying to sell him. And so to the empire he was expendable for the sake of political spin.
The casus belli invoked ”” that Qaddafi’s men were certain to murder every last man, woman, and child in the city of Benghazi if the United States and NATO did not immediately intervene ”” was notable for being completely laughable on its face, and perhaps even for being unnecessary, since by then the American people didn’t seem to really care whom their government bombed anymore.
But who was to replace Qaddafi? The war was not fought in behalf of ‘the people of Libya,’ but for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and the Libyan veterans of al-Qaeda in Iraq, predominant in the east of the country, whom Qaddafi had specialized in suppressing. Those fighters, just as the wacky colonel had been claiming, were now being backed and led by American and European special forces on the ground and supported by American-bought and -armed NATO planes from the air. When the mujahideen finally caught Qaddafi and tortured and murdered him on the side of the road, Clinton only laughed, ‘We came, we saw, he died.’
Today, virtually all the conservative criticism of the Obama administration about the jihadist attack on the makeshift U.S. consulate in Benghazi in eastern Libya on September 11, 2012, has focused only on the lousy security and poor immediate response to the attack. It has entirely missed the point that the war itself, with the full support of the leadership of the Republican Party, had been fought for America’s enemies. As Rachel Maddow explained on her MSNBC show, only days before the attack al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had put out an audio message calling for the Libyan mujahideen to avenge the death of an al-Qaeda operative named Sheik Yaya al-Libi, killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan the previous June. (Apparently this al-Libi was the brother of the man the Bush administration tortured into implicating Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the training of al-Qaeda in chemical weapons and airliner hijacking; he later ‘committed suicide’ in one of CIA partner Qaddafi’s prisons.) Zawahiri’s call to the mujahideen in Libya to avenge the attack against their comrade was a call to Americas’ ‘allies’ who had Ambassador Stevens and his men surrounded.
It’s as though American foreign policy is being made around the reality depicted in the propaganda rather than the truth the spin is meant to conceal.
The 2011 war has led to chaos in Libya to this day, with ongoing racial pograms and mass rapes of black sub-Saharan Africans, and different militias and tribal and criminal groups fighting against one another for power. The conflict has also spread beyond Libya’s borders, both to Mali and Syria so far.
Palling around with terrorists in Syria
Libyan arms and fighters have been turning up in Syria, where the United States is also backing the jihadists, in that case against the Shi’ite-backed Ba’athist dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. One can confidently predict continued disaster at the hands of American intervention there as well, especially since the policy makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to begin with.
Seizing on the protests that brought down the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, a massive protest movement was launched by the Syrian people demanding major reforms from the Ba’athist tyranny. But that was very quickly co-opted by ruthless jihadist suicide bombers, civilian-slaughterers, and prisoner-beheaders from al-Qaeda in Iraq and other mujahideen from Saudi Arabia and around the Middle East and Central Asia, reportedly even Chechnya and Afghanistan.
Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn of the Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom fears the worst: a Lebanese civil war-style, 15-year multi-ethnic, multi-faction, multi-militia tribal conflict of death, pain, and foreign intervention. The grief and fatalities so far ”” in the tens of thousands ”” could be just the beginning.
But instead of staying out of this hornets’ nest, the U.S. government has, since at least the end of 2011, worked with the governments of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar in coordinating money, weapons, intelligence sharing, and training for the rebels. It has also encouraged them to refuse negotiations with the Syrian government until Assad agrees to leave power first, thus helping to perpetuate a long-term, no-win grind.
For now at least, it is not altogether clear the Assad regime is going to fall without an escalation by outside powers. The major cities are still under his government’s control.
The al-Nusra Front jihadist rebels do control parts of the countryside and a few small towns, but they don’t control Damascus, Aleppo, or the other population centers. The Assad regime has majority support of the population of the country, and they have very motivated backers in virtually every faction except the Sunni Arabs. Even many Sunnis have kept the peace they’ve made with the Shi’ites and have stayed out of the fight, if they are not outright loyal to the regime.
Syrian Kurds and Druze factions are reported to be split for and against the regime. But otherwise all the Shi’ites, Alawi, and different factions of Christians are backing the regime because they fear a nightmare future if it falls.
The rebels have made it clear that the only thing standing between members of those minority groups and beheadings is the Assad tyranny. But they ”” the beheaders ”” are the guys that the CIA is organizing the whole war for. (Unlike matters in the recent Iraq war, al-Qaeda makes up the supermajority of the entire Sunni-based insurgency in Syria, according to McClatchy’s David Enders.)
In Iraq the U.S. government fought against Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-based Ba’ath Party government, and later Sunni-based ‘insurgents,’ which included ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq,’ in favor of the Iranian-backed Shi’ites. Now in Syria it’s backing the ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’-type Sunnis against the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Ba’athists.
In other words, America has created a ‘Shi’ite Crescent’ ”” an Iraq-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance that they feared so much ”” by invading Iraq and turning it over to Iran’s best friends in the Da’wa Party and Supreme Islamic Council. Since they can’t reinvade Iraq and install a Saudi-allied Sunni regime there, the U.S. government figures it can at least try to take out Syria’s Assad as a consolation prize.
The Obama administration swears up and down this intervention is meant to isolate and prevent the jihadists from taking the lead and reaping the gains of the war. Indeed, in 2011 and 2012 Clinton tried repeatedly to set up ‘ruling councils’ of ‘moderate’ puppets, mostly Syrian expatriates living in the West, to try to assume some level of power over the fighters and prepare for the next regime.
But those ‘moderates’ have had to turn right around and declare their loyalty to the jihadists in their own desperate bids at credibility, underscoring the fact that moderates are not fighting in the insurgency in Syria. U.S. and allied money and weapons have continued to show up in the hands of the al-Nusra Front jihadists.
In effect, all the talk of support for and training of ‘moderates’ simply amounts to a small bit of not-very-plausible deniability for the U.S. government’s aiding of the ideological cousins of the 9/11 attackers and the worst of those who fought against the American occupation of Iraq (for example Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s civilian-butchering monsters, as opposed to regular Iraqi ‘insurgents’).
This isn’t how it was supposed to be. The governments of America, Israel, and Turkey apparently thought they could secure a quick victory against Assad and would be able to work well with his replacements, but instead have found him much more difficult to dislodge from power than Qaddafi, and his opponents more frightening and uncontrollable. Thus far the United States and its allies have refrained from sending more than light weapons, money, and ‘humanitarian aid’ to the rebels, and there are indications that Turkish public opinion, which is decidedly against intervention in Syria, is preventing the Erdogan government from escalating further.
However, once the president of the United States issues a declaration that the president of another country must leave power, it becomes nearly impossible to retract it. So even though Obama and others of his highest-level officials have complained publicly about the danger of moving too hard and fast in Syria and inadvertently helping the bin Ladenites, the U.S. government’s slow-motion, half-hearted support has still only aided their war against Assad, even if it has not succeeded in overthrowing him.
Recent media reports that the U.S. government is considering CIA drone strikes against the al-Nusra fighters in Syria and that federal prosecutors are hypocritically indicting Americans for joining up with them should not, even if true, be allowed to obscure the role the United States has been playing thus far in helping the Syrian mujahideen in their insurgency against the Ba’athist regime.
Perhaps this is the end of the Obamaites’ magnificent ploy to use Assad and the old al-Qaeda in Iraq brigade to weaken each other. Maybe they’ve even changed their minds about losing the old stable Ba’athist regime in Syria and now truly mean to leave their jihadi friends high and dry in another new Bay of Pigs-style backstab. They may not have even decided what to do next at all.**
The war has certainly weakened Assad, but the blowback is already being felt in Iraq, as the Syrian rebellion has ‘energized’ the old Sunni-based insurgency and al-Qaeda in Iraq’s war against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the U.S.- and Iranian-installed government in Baghdad.
(It has been reported that there are enough CIA agents still in Iraq to try to help Maliki’s forces chase the jihadis back across the line into Syria, where they can be useful again.)
Will Syria even exist when all is said and done in Obama’s war? In early April the al-Nusra fighters of Syria formally declared their allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri in Pakistan and their alliance with Iraqi al-Qaeda, naming their new group ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.’
Ever since the summer of 2012 there has been some talk among the rebels of resorting to secession and alliance ”” perhaps even merger ”” with the predominately Sunni areas of Iraq if they cannot succeed in toppling the power in Damascus ”” the beginning of Bush’s and Osama bin Laden’s ridiculous Islamofascist caliphate in real life!
What in the world?
For at least the past year the Democrats have publicly warned of the dangers of arming the rebels in Syria and then have continued to do exactly that. But if they know better, why do they persist?
In March 2012 Obama gave an interview to Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic in which he explained that the policy of regime change in Syria is all about weakening and isolating its ally Iran. He never even pretended for a moment to invoke the hardships of the poor unfortunate civilian masses of Syria who need rescuing from dictatorship. And why would he be so determined to weaken Iran, right after the U.S. government finished fighting a war in Iraq that only empowered the ayatollahs and their allies, that he would go to such lengths as to back bin Ladenite madmen in Syria?
Because in 1979 Iran had the audacity to declare independence from the U.S. empire after 26 years of dictatorship under the U.S. stooge-dictator Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and it maintains a ‘safeguarded’ civilian nuclear program, which apparently is considered the vaguest of ‘existential threats’ by Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel.
So is this stupidity or plan? Perhaps the question should be, Whose stupid plan?
* In July of 2013 the U.S. and Saudi Arabia’s friends in the Egyptian military deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, freed Murbarak from prison, and restored the old order.
** In August, 2013, President Obama nearly initiated a campaign of airstrikes against Syria over their regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against rebel forces and nearby civilians, but was stopped by super-majority opposition among the American people and the U.S. congress. A UN mission to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is ongoing.
This article was originally published in the July 2013 edition of Future of Freedom.
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