by David Stockman – December 25, 2015
After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the red army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end.
The world had descended into what had been a 77-year global war, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations which germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into the world war and cold war which followed inexorably thereupon.
To wit, upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped-out during that span. The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam.
I have elaborated more fully on this proposition in “The Epochal Consequences Of Woodrow Wilson’s War“, but the seminal point cannot be gainsaid. The end of the cold war meant world peace was finally at hand, yet 25 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it.
In fact, the War Party entrenched in the nation’s capital is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war; they ensure endless waste on armaments and the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st century high tech warfare and the terrorist blowback it inherently generates among those upon which the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony.
So there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-year war ended. The great general and president, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, but that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch.
So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of beltway busybodies that constituted the civilian branches of the cold war armada (CIA, State, AID etc.) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world.
In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1990 was that Pax Americana would not go away quietly in the night.
In fact, during the past 25 years Imperial Washington has lost all memory that peace was ever possible at the end of the cold war. Today it is as feckless, misguided and bloodthirsty as were Berlin, Paris, St. Petersburg, Vienna and London in August 1914.
Back then a few months after the slaughter had been unleashed, soldiers along the western front broke into spontaneous truces of Christmas celebration, singing and even exchange of gifts. For a brief moment they wondered why they were juxtaposed in lethal combat along the jaws of hell.
The truthful answer is that there was no good reason. The world had stumbled into war based on false narratives and the institutional imperatives of military mobilization plans, alliances and treaties arrayed into a doomsday machine and petty short-term diplomatic maneuvers and political calculus. Yet it took more than three-quarters of a century for all the consequential impacts and evils to be purged from the life of the planet.
The peace that was lost last time has not been regained this time for the same reasons. Historians can readily name the culprits from 100 years ago, such as the German general staff’s plan for a lightening mobilization and strike on the western front called the Schlieffen Plan or Britain’s secret commitments to France to guard the North Sea while the latter covered the Mediterranean.
Since these casus belli of 1914 were criminally trivial in light of all that metastisized thereafter, it might do well to name the institutions and false narratives that block the return of peace today. The fact is, these impediments are even more contemptible than the forces that crushed the Christmas truces one century ago.
Imperial Washington——–Global Menace
There is no peace on earth today for reasons mainly rooted in Imperial Washington—— not Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Damascus, Mosul or Raqqah. The former has become a global menace owing to what didn’t happen in 1991.
What should have happened is that Bush the elder should have declared “mission accomplished” and slashed the Pentagon budget from $600 billion to $200 billion; demobilized the military-industrial complex by putting a moratorium on all new weapons development, procurement and export sales; dissolved NATO and dismantled the far-flung network of US military bases; slashed the US standing armed forces from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand; and organized and led a world disarmement and peace campaign, as did his Republican predecessors during the 1920s.
Unfortunately, George H.W. Bush was not a man of peace, vision or even mediocre intelligence. He was the malleable tool of the War Party, and it was he who single-handedly blew the peace when he plunged America into a petty arguement between the impetuous dictator of Iraq and the gluttonous Emir of Kuwait that was none of our business.
By contrast, even though liberal historians have reviled Warren G. Harding as some kind of dumbkopf politician, he well understood that the Great War had been for naught, and that to insure it never happened again the nations of the world needed to rid themselves of their huge navies and standing armies.
To that end, he achieved the largest global disarmament agreement ever during the Washington Naval conference of 1921, which halted the construction of new battleships for more than a decade.
And while he was at it, President Harding also pardoned Eugene Debs. So doing, he gave witness to the truth that the intrepid socialist candidate for president and vehement anti-war protestor, who Wilson had thrown in prison for exercising his first amendment right to speak against US entry into a pointless European war, had been right all along.
In short, Warren G. Harding knew the war was over, and the folly of Wilson’s 1917 plunge into Europe’s bloodbath should not be repeated at all hazards.
Not George H.W. Bush. The man should never be forgiven for enabling the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Gates and their neocon pack of jackals to come to power—-even if he has denounced them in his bumbling old age.
Even more to the point, by opting not for peace but for war and oil in the Persian Gulf in 1991 he opened the gates to an unnecessary confrontation with Islam and nurtured the rise of jihadist terrorism that would not haunt the world today save for forces unleashed by George Bush’s petulant quarrel with Saddam Hussein.
We will momentarily get to the 45-year old error that holds the Persian Gulf is an American Lake and that the answer to high old prices and energy security is the Fifth Fleet. Actually, the answer to high oil prices everywhere and always is high oil prices—–a truth driven home in spades again this week when the Brent oil price plunged below $35 per barrel.
But first it is well to remember that there was no plausible threat anywhere on the planet to the safety and security of the citizens of Springfield MA, Lincoln NE or Spokane WA when the cold war ended.
The Warsaw Pact had dissolved into more than a dozen woebegone sovereign statelets; the Soviet Union was now unscrambled into 15 independent and far-flung Republics from Belarus to Tajikistan; and the Russian motherland would soon plunge into an economic depression that would leave it with a GDP about the size of the Philadelphia SMSA.
Likewise, China’s GDP was even smaller and more primitive than Russia’s. Even as Mr. Deng was discovering the PBOC printing press that would enable it to become a great mercantilist exporter, an incipient threat to national security was never in the cards. After all, it was 4,000 Wal-Marts in America upon which the prosperity of the new red capitalism inextricably depended and upon which the rule of the communist oligarchs in Beijing was ultimately anchored.
No Islamic Or Jihadi Terrorist Threat Circa 1990
In 1990 there was no global Islamic threat or jihadi terrorist menace at all. What existed under those headings were sundry fragments and deposits of middle eastern religious, ethnic and tribal history that were of moment in their immediate region, but no threat to America whatsoever.
The Shiite/Sunni divide had co-existed since 671AD, but its episodic eruptions into battles and wars over the centuries had rarely extended beyond the region, and certainly had no reason to fester into open conflict in 1990.
Inside the artificial state of Iraq, which had been drawn on a map by historically ignorant European diplomats in 1916, for instance, the Shiite and Sunni got along tolerably well. That’s because the nation was ruled by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist brand of secular Arab nationalism.
The latter championed law and order, state driven economic development and politically apportioned distribution from the spoils of the extensive government controlled oil sector. To be sure, Baathist socialism didn’t bring much prosperity to the well-endowed lands of Mesopotamia, but Hussein did have a Christian foreign minister and no sympathy for religious extremism or violent pursuit of sectarian causes.
As it happened, the bloody Shiite/Sunni strife that plagues Iraq today and functions as a hatchery for angry young jihadi terrorists in their thousands was unleashed only after Hussein had been driven from Kuwait and the CIA had instigated an armed uprising in the Shiite heartland around Basra. That revolt was brutally suppressed by Hussein’s republican guards, but it left an undertow of resentment and revenge boiling below the surface.
Needless to say, the younger Bush and his cabal of neocon warmongers could not leave well enough alone. When they foolishly destroyed Saddam Hussein and his entire regime in the pursuit of nonexistent WMDs and ties with al-Qaeda, they literally opened the gates of hell, leaving Iraq as a lawless failed state where both recent and ancient religious and tribal animosities are given unlimited violent vent.
Likewise, the Shiite theocracy ensconced in Tehran was an unfortunate albatross on the Persian people, but it was no threat to America’s safety and security. The very idea that Tehran is an expansionist power bent on exporting terrorism to the rest of the world is a giant fiction and tissue of lies invented by the Washington War Party and its Bibi Netanyahu branch in order to win political support for their confrontationist policies.
Indeed, the three decade long demonization of Iran has served one over-arching purpose. Namely, it enabled both branches of the War Party to conjure up a fearsome enemy, thereby justifying aggressive policies that call for a constant state of war and military mobilization.
When the cold-war officially ended in 1991, the Cheney/neocon cabal feared the kind of drastic demobilization of the US military-industrial complex that was warranted by the suddenly more pacific strategic environment. In response, they developed an anti-Iranian doctrine that was explicitly described as a way of keeping defense spending at high cold war levels.
And the narrative they developed to this end is one of the more egregious Big Lies ever to come out of the beltway. It puts you in mind of the young boy who killed his parents, and then threw himself on the mercy of the courts on the grounds that he was an orphan!
To wit, during the 1980s the neocons in the Reagan Administration issued their own fatwa again the Islamic Republic based on its rhetorical hostility to America. Yet that enmity was grounded in Washington’s 25-year support for the tyrannical and illegitimate regime of the Shah, and constituted a founding narrative of the Islamic Republic that was not much different than America’s revolutionary castigation of King George.
That the Iranians had a case is beyond doubt. The open US archives now prove that the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953 and put the utterly unsuited and megalomaniacal Mohammad Reza Shah on the peacock throne to rule as a puppet in behalf of US security and oil interests.
During the subsequent decades the Shah not only massively and baldly plundered the wealth of the Persian nation; with the help of the CIA and US military, he also created a brutal secret police force known as the Savak. The latter made the East German Stasi look civilized by comparison.
All elements of Iranian society including universities, labor unions, businesses, civic organizations, peasant farmers and many more were subjected to intense surveillance by the Savak agents and paid informants. As one critic described it:
Over the years, Savak became a law unto itself, having legal authority to arrest, detain, brutally interrogate and torture suspected people indefinitely. Savak operated its own prisons in Tehran, such as Qezel-Qalaeh and Evin facilities and many suspected places throughout the country as well. Many of those activities were carried out without any institutional checks.
Ironically, among his many grandiose follies, the Shah embarked on a massive civilian nuclear power campaign in the 1970s, which envisioned literally paving the Iranian landscape with dozens of nuclear power plants.
He would use Iran’s surging oil revenues after 1973 to buy all the equipment required from Western companies—– and also fuel cycle support services such as uranium enrichment——in order to provide his kingdom with cheap power for centuries.
At the time of the Revolution, the first of these plants at Bushehr was nearly complete, but the whole grandiose project was put on hold amidst the turmoil of the new regime and the onset of Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran in September 1980. As a consequence, a $2 billion deposit languished at the French nuclear agency that had originally obtained it from the Shah to fund a ramp-up of its enrichment capacity to supply his planned battery of reactors.
Indeed, in this very context the new Iranian regime proved quite dramatically that it was not hell bent on obtaining nuclear bombs or any other weapons of mass destruction. In the midst of Iraq’s unprovoked invasion of Iran in the early 1980s the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against biological and chemical weapons.
Yet at that very time, Saddam was dropping these horrific weapons on Iranian battle forces—-some of them barely armed teenage boys—- with the spotting help of CIA tracking satellites and the concurrence of Washington. So from the very beginning, the Iranian posture was wholly contrary to the War Party’s endless blizzard of false charges about its quest for nukes.
However benighted and medieval its religious views, the theocracy which rules Iran does not consist of demented war mongers. In the heat of battle they were willing to sacrifice their own forces rather than violate their religious scruples to counter Saddam’s WMDs.
Then in 1983 the new Iranian regime decided to complete the Bushehr power plant and some additional elements of the Shah’s grand plan. But when they attempted to reactivate the French enrichment services contract and buy necessary power plant equipment from the original German suppliers they were stopped cold by Washington. And when the tried to get their $2 billion deposit back, they were curtly denied that, too.
To make a long story short, the entire subsequent history of off again/on again efforts by the Iranians to purchase dual use equipment and components on the international market, often from black market sources like Pakistan, was in response to Washington’s relentless efforts to block its legitimate rights as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to complete some parts of the Shah’s civilian nuclear project.
Needless to say, it did not take much effort by the neocon “regime change” fanatics which inhabited the national security machinery, especially after the 2000 election, to spin every attempt by Iran to purchase even a lowly pump or pipe fitting as evidence of a secret campaign to get the bomb.
The exaggerations, lies, distortions and fear-mongering which came out of this neocon campaign are truly disgusting. Yet they incepted way back in the early 1990s when George H.W. Bush actually did reach out to the newly elected government of Hashemi Rafsanjani to bury the hatchet after it had cooperated in obtaining the release of American prisoners being held in Lebanon in 1989.
The latter was self-evidently a pragmatist who did not want conflict with the United States and the West; and after the devastation of the eight year war with Iraq was wholly focused on economic reconstruction and even free market reforms of Iran’s faltering economy.
It is one of the great tragedies of history that the neocons managed to squelch even George Bush’s better instincts with respect to rapprochement with Tehran.
So the prisoner release opening was short-lived—especially after the top post at the CIA was assumed in 1991 by Robert Gates. He was one of the very worst of the unreconstructed cold war apparatchiks who looked peace in the eye, and elected, instead, to pervert John Quincy Adams’ wise maxim by searching the globe for monsters to fabricate.
In this case the motivation was especially loathsome. Gates had been Bill Casey’s right hand man during the latter’s rogue tenure at the CIA in the Reagan administration. Among the many untoward projects that Gates shepherded was the Iran-Contra affair that nearly destroyed his career when it blew-up, and for which he blamed the Iranian’s for its public disclosure.
From his post as deputy national security director in 1989 and then as CIA head Gates pulled out all the stops to get even. Almost single-handedly he killed-off the White House goodwill from the prisoner release, and launched the blatant myth that Iran was both sponsoring terrorism and seeking to obtain nuclear weapons.
Indeed, it was Gates who was the architect of the demonization of Iran that became a staple of War Party propaganda after the 1991. In time that morphed into the utterly false claim that Iran is an aggressive would be hegemon that is a fount of terrorism and is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel, among other treacherous purposes.
That giant lie was almost single-handedly fashioned by the neocons and Bibi Netanyahu’s coterie of power-hungry henchman after the mid-1990s. Indeed, the false claim that Iran posses an “existential threat” to Israel is a product of the pure red meat domestic Israeli politics that have kept Bibi in power for much of the last two decades.
But the truth is Iran has only a tiny fraction of Israel’s conventional military capability. And compared to the latter’s 200 odd nukes, Iran has never had a nuclear weaponization program after a small scale research program was ended in 2003.
That is not my opinion. It’s been the sober assessment of the nation’s top 16 intelligence agencies in the official National Intelligence Estimates ever since 2007. And now in conjunction with a further study in conjunction with the nuclear accord that will straight-jacket even Iran’s civilian program and eliminate most of its enriched uranium stock piles and spinning capacity, the IAEA has concluded the Iran had no secret program after 2003, neither.
On the political and foreign policy front, Iran is no better or worse than any of the other major powers in the Middle East. In many ways it is far less of a threat to regional peace and stability than the military butchers who now run Egypt on $1.5 billion per year of US aid.
And it is surely no worse than the corpulent tyrants who squander the massive oil resources of Saudi Arabia in pursuit of unspeakable opulence and decadence to the detriment of the 30 million citizens which are not part of the regime, and who one day may well reach the point of revolt.
When it comes to the support of terrorism, the Saudis have funded more jihadists and terrorists throughout the region than Iran ever even imagined.
Myth Of The Shiite Crescent
In this context, the War Party’s bloviation about Iran’s leadership of the so-called Shiite Crescent is another component of Imperial Washington’s 25-year long roadblock to peace. Iran wasn’t a threat to American security in 1991, and it has never since then organized a hostile coalition of terrorists that require Washington’s intervention.
Start with Iran’s long-standing support of Bashir Assad’s government in Syria. That alliance that goes back to his father’s era and is rooted in the historic confessional politics of the Islamic world.
The Assad regime is Alawite, a branch of the Shiite, and despite the regime’s brutality, it has been a bulwark of protection for all of Syria’s minority sects, including Christians, against a majority-Sunni ethnic cleansing. The latter would surely occur if the Saudi supported rebels, led by the Nusra Front and ISIS, were ever to take power.
Likewise, the fact that the Bagdhad government of the broken state of Iraq——that is, the artificial 1916 concoction of two stripped pants European diplomats (Messrs. Sykes and Picot of the British and French foreign offices, respectively)——–is now aligned with Iran is also a result of confessional politics and geo-economic propinquity.
For all practical purposes, the Kurds of the northeast have declared their independence and the western Sunni lands of the upper Euphrates have been conquered by ISIS with American weapons dropped in place by the hapless $25 billion Iraqi army minted by Washington’s departing proconsuls.
Accordingly, what is left of Iraq is a population that is overwhelmingly Shiite, and which nurses bitter resentments after two decades of violent conflict with the Sunni forces. Why in the world, therefore, wouldn’t they ally with their Shiite neighbor?
Likewise, the claim that Iran is now trying to annex Yemen is pure claptrap. The ancient territory of Yemen has been racked by civil war off and on since the early 1970s. And a major driving force of that conflict has been confessional differences between the Sunni south and the Shiite north.
In more recent times, Washington’s blatant drone war inside Yemen against alleged terrorists and its domination and financing of Yemen’s governments eventually produced the same old outcome. That is, another failed state and an illegitimate government which fled at the 11th hour, leaving another vast cache of American arms and equipment behind.
Accordingly, the Houthis forces now in control of substantial parts of the country are not some kind of advanced guard sent in by Tehran. They are indigenous partisans who share a confessional tie with Iran, but which have actually been armed by the US.
And the real invaders in this destructive civil war are the Saudis, whose vicious bombing campaign against civilian populations controlled by the Houthis are outright war crimes if the word has any meaning at all.
Finally, there is the fourth element of the purported Iranian axis—–the Hezbollah controlled Shiite communities of southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. Like everything else in the Middle East, Hezbollah is a product of historical European imperialism, Islamic confessional politics and the frequently misguided and counterproductive security policies of Israel.
In the first place, Lebanon was not any more a real country than Iraq was when Sykes and Picot laid their straight-edged rulers on a map. The result was a stew of religious and ethnic divisions—-Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Copts, Druse, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds, Armenians, Jews and countless more—– that made the fashioning of a viable state virtually impossible.
At length, an alliance of Christians and Sunnis gained control of the country, leaving the 40% Shiite population disenfranchised and economically disadvantaged, as well. But it was the inflow of Palestinian refugees in the 1960s and 1970s that eventually upset the balance of sectarian forces and triggered a civil war that essentially lasted from 1975 until the turn of the century.
It also triggered a catastrophically wrong-headed Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982, and a subsequent repressive occupation of mostly Shiite territories for the next eighteen years. The alleged purpose of this invasion was to chase the PLO and Yassir Arafat out of the enclave in southern Lebanon that they had established after being driven out of Jordan in 1970.
Eventually Israel succeeded in sending Arafat packing to north Africa, but in the process created a militant, Shiite-based resistance movement that did not even exist in 1982, and which in due course became the strongest single force in Lebanon’s fractured domestic political arrangements.
After Israel withdrew in 2000, the then Christian President of the county made abundantly clear that Hezbollah had become a legitimate and respected force within the Lebanese polity, not merely some subversive agent of Tehran:
“For us Lebanese, and I can tell you the majority of Lebanese, Hezbollah is a national resistance movement. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t have liberated our land. And because of that, we have big esteem for the Hezbollah movement.”[
So, yes, Hezbollah is an integral component of the so-called Shiite Crescent and its confessional and political alignment with Tehran is entirely plausible. But that arrangement—-however uncomfortable for Israel—–does not represent unprovoked Iranian aggression on Israel’s northern border.
Instead, it’s actually the blowback from the stubborn refusal of Israeli governments—–especially the rightwing Likud governments of modern times—–to deal constructively with the Palestinian question.
In lieu of a two-state solution in the territory of Palestine, therefore, Israeli policy has produced a chronic state of war with nearly half the Lebanese population represented by Hezbollah.
The latter is surely no agency of peaceful governance and has committed its share of atrocities. But the point at hand is that given the last 35 years of history and Israeli policy, Hezbollah would exist as a menacing force on its northern border even if the theocracy didn’t exist and the Shah or his heir was still on the Peacock Throne.
In short, there is no alliance of terrorism in the Shiite Crescent that threatens American security. That proposition is simply one of the Big Lies that was promulgated by the War Party after 1991; and which has been happily embraced by Imperial Washington since then in order to keep the military/industrial/security complex alive, and justify its self-appointed role as policeman of the world.
Washington’s Erroneous View That The Persian Gulf Should Be An American Lake———The Root Of Sunni Jihaddism
Likewise, the terrorist threat that has arisen from the Sunni side of the Islamic divide is largely of Washington’s own making; and it is being nurtured by endless US meddling in the region’s politics and by the bombing and droning campaigns against Washington’s self-created enemies.
At the root of Sunni based terrorism is the long-standing Washington error that America’s security and economic well-being depends upon keeping an armada in the Persian Gulf in order to protect the surrounding oilfields and the flow of tankers through the straits of Hormuz.
That doctrine has been wrong from the day it was officially enunciated by one of America’s great economic ignoramuses, Henry Kissinger, at the time of the original oil crisis in 1973. The 42 years since then have proven in spades that its doesn’t matter who controls the oilfields, and that the only effective cure for high oil prices is the free market.
Every tin pot dictatorship from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to Saddam Hussein, to the bloody-minded chieftains of Nigeria, to the purportedly medieval Mullahs and fanatical Revolutionary Guards of Iran has produced oil—-and all they could because they desperately needed the revenue.
For crying out loud, even the barbaric thugs of ISIS milk every possible drop of petroleum from the tiny, wheezing oilfields scattered around their backwater domain. So there is no economic case whatsoever for Imperial Washington’s massive military presence in the middle east, and most especially for its long-time alliance with the despicable regime of Saudi Arabia.
The truth is, there is no such thing as an OPEC cartel——virtually every member produces all they can and cheats whenever possible. The only thing that resembles production control in the global oil market is the fact that the Saudi princes treat their oil reserves not much differently than Exxon.
That is, they attempt to maximize the present value of their 270 billion barrels of reserves, but ultimately are no more clairvoyant at calibrating the best oil price to accomplish that than are the economists at Exxon or the IEA.
The Saudis over-estimated the staying power of China’s temporarily surging call on global supply; and under-estimated how rapidly and extensively the $100 per barrel marker reached in early 2008 would trigger a flow of investment, technology and cheap debt into the US shale patch, the Canadian tar sands, the tired petroleum provinces of Russia, the deep offshore of Brazil etc. And that’s to say nothing of solar, wind and all the other government subsidized alternative source of BTUs.
Way back when Jimmy Carter was telling us to turn down the thermostats and put on our cardigan sweaters, those of us on the free market side of the so-called energy shortage debate said the best cure for high oil prices is high prices. Now we know.
So the Fifth Fleet and its overt and covert auxiliaries should never have been there—–going all the way back to the CIA’s coup against Iranian democracy in 1953.
But having turned Iran into an enemy, Imperial Washington was just getting started when 1990 rolled around. Once again in the name of “oil security” it plunged the American war machine into the politics and religious fissures of the Persian Gulf; and did so on account of a local small potatoes conflict that had no bearing whatsoever on the safety and security of American citizens.
As US ambassador Glaspie rightly told Saddam Hussein on the eve of his Kuwait invasion, America had no dog in that hunt.
Kuwait wasn’t even a country; it was a bank account sitting on a swath of oilfields surrounding an ancient trading city that had been abandoned by Ibn Saud in the early 20th century.
That’s because he didn’t know what oil was or that it was there; and, in any event, it had been made a separate protectorate by the British in 1913 for reasons that are lost in the fog of diplomatic history.
Likewise, Iraq’s contentious dispute with Kuwait had been over its claim that the Emir of Kuwait was “slant drilling” across his border into Iraq’s Rumaila field. Yet it was a wholly elastic boundary of no significance whatsoever.
In fact, the dispute over the Rumaila field started in 1960 when an Arab League declaration arbitrarily marked the Iraq–Kuwait border two miles north of the southernmost tip of the Rumaila field.
And that newly defined boundary, in turn, had come only 44 years after a pair of English and French diplomats had carved up their winnings from the Ottoman Empire’s demise by laying a straight edged ruler on the map. So doing, they thereby confected the artificial country of Iraq from the historically independent and hostile Mesopotamian provinces of the Shiite in the south, the Sunni in the west and the Kurds in the north.
In short, it did not matter who controlled the southern tip of the Rumaila field—–the brutal dictator of Baghdad or the opulent Emir of Kuwait. Not the price of oil, nor the peace of America nor the security of Europe nor the future of Asia depended upon it.
The First Gulf War——-A Catastrophic Error
But once again Bush the Elder got persuaded to take the path of war. This time it was by Henry Kissinger’s economically illiterate protégés at the national security council and his Texas oilman Secretary of State. They falsely claimed that the will-o-wisp of “oil security” was at stake, and that 500,000 American troops needed to be planted in the sands of Arabia.
That was a catastrophic error, and not only because the presence of crusader boots on the purportedly sacred soil of Arabia offended the CIA-trained Mujahedeen of Afghanistan, who had become unemployed when the Soviet Union collapsed.
The 1991 CNN glorified war games in the Gulf also further empowered another group of unemployed crusaders. Namely, the neocon national security fanatics who had mislead Ronald Reagan into a massive military build-up to thwart what they claimed to be an ascendant Soviet Union bent on nuclear war winning capabilities and global conquest.
All things being equal, the sight of Boris Yeltsin, Vodka flask in hand, facing down the Red Army a few months later should have sent them into the permanent repudiation and obscurity they so richly deserved. But Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz managed to extract from Washington’s pyric victory in Kuwait a whole new lease on life for Imperial Washington.
Right then and there came the second erroneous predicate. To wit, that “regime change” among the assorted tyrannies of the middle east was in America’s national interest.
More fatally, the neocons now insisted that the Gulf War proved it could be achieved through a sweeping interventionist menu of coalition diplomacy, security assistance, arms shipments, covert action and open military attack and occupation.
What the neocon doctrine of regime change actually did, of course, was to foster the Frankenstein that utlimately became ISIS. In fact, the only real terrorists in the world which threaten normal civilian life in the West are the rogue offspring of Imperial Washington’s post-1990 machinations in the middle east.
The CIA trained and armed Mujahedeen mutated into al-Qaeda not because Bin Laden suddenly had a religious epiphany that his Washington benefactors were actually the Great Satan owing to America’s freedom and liberty.
His murderous crusade was inspired by the Wahhabi fundamentalism loose in Saudi Arabia. This benighted religious fanaticism became agitated to a fever pitch by Imperial Washington’s violent plunge into Persian Gulf political and religious quarrels, the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia, and the decade long barrage of sanctions, embargoes, no fly zones, covert actions and open hostility against the Sunni regime in Bagdad after 1991.
Yes, Bin Laden would have amputated Saddam’s secularist head if Washington hadn’t done it first, but that’s just the point. The attempt at regime change in March 2003 was one of the most foolish acts of state in American history.
The younger Bush’s neocon advisers had no clue about the sectarian animosities and historical grievances that Hussein had bottled-up by parsing the oil loot and wielding the sword under the banner of Baathist nationalism. But Shock and Awe blew the lid and the de-baathification campaign unleashed the furies.
Indeed, no sooner had George Bush pranced around on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln declaring “mission accomplished” than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a CIA recruit to the Afghan war a decade earlier and small-time specialist in hostage-taking and poisons, fled his no count redoubt in Kurdistan to emerge as a flamboyant agitator in the now disposed Sunni heartland.
The founder of ISIS succeeded in Fallujah and Anbar province just like the long list of other terrorist leaders Washington claims to have exterminated. That is, Zarqawi gained his following and notoriety among the region’s population of deprived, brutalized and humiliated young men by dint of being more brutal than their occupiers.
Indeed, even as Washington was crowing about the demise of Zarqawi, the remnants of the Baathist regime and the hundreds of thousands of demobilized Republican Guards were coalescing into al-Qaeda in Iraq, and their future leaders were being incubated in a monstrous nearby detention center called Camp Bucca that contained more than 26,000 prisoners.
As one former US Army officer, Mitchell Gray, later described it,
You never see hatred like you saw on the faces of these detainees,” Gray remembers of his 2008 tour. “When I say they hated us, I mean they looked like they would have killed us in a heartbeat if given the chance. I turned to the warrant officer I was with and I said, ‘If they could, they would rip our heads off and drink our blood.’ ”
What Gray didn’t know — but might have expected — was that he was not merely looking at the United States’ former enemies, but its future ones as well. According to intelligence experts and Department of Defense records, the vast majority of the leadership of what is today known as ISIS, including its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, did time at Camp Bucca.
And not only did the US feed, clothe and house these jihadists, it also played a vital, if unwitting, role in facilitating their transformation into the most formidable terrorist force in modern history.
Early in Bucca’s existence, the most extreme inmates were congregated in Compound 6. There were not enough Americans guards to safely enter the compound — and, in any event, the guards didn’t speak Arabic. So the detainees were left alone to preach to one another and share deadly vocational advice.
…….Bucca also housed Haji Bakr, a former colonel in Saddam Hussein’s air-defense force. Bakr was no religious zealot. He was just a guy who lost his job when the Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded the Iraqi military and instituted de-Baathification, a policy of banning Saddam’s past supporters from government work.
According to documents recently obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel, Bakr was the real mastermind behind ISIS’s organizational structure and also mapped out the strategies that fueled its early successes. Bakr, who died in fighting in 2014, was incarcerated at Bucca from 2006-’08, along with a dozen or more of ISIS’s top lieutenants.
The point is, regime change and nation building can never be accomplished by the lethal violence of 21st century armed forces; and they were an especially preposterous assignment in the context of a land rent with 13 century-old religious fissures and animosities.
In fact, the wobbly, synthetic state of Iraq was doomed the minute Cheney and his bloody gang decided to liberate it from the brutal, but serviceable and secular tyranny of Saddam’s Baathist regime. That’s because the process of elections and majority rule necessarily imposed by Washington was guaranteed to elect a government beholden to the Shiite majority.
After decades of mistreatment and Saddam’s brutal suppression of their 1991 uprising, did the latter have revenge on their minds and in their communal DNA? Did the Kurds have dreams of an independent Kurdistan that had been denied their 30 million strong tribe way back at Versailles and ever since?
Yes, they did. So the $25 billion spent on training and equipping the putative armed forces of post-liberation Iraq was bound to end up in the hands of sectarian militias, not a national army.
In fact, when the Shiite commanders fled Sunni-dominated Mosul in June 2014 they transformed the ISIS uprising against the government in Baghdad into a vicious fledgling state in one fell swoop. It wasn’t by beheadings and fiery jihadist sermons that it quickly enslaved dozens of towns and several million people in western Iraq and the Euphrates Valley of Syria.
ISIS Is Washington’s Frankenstein
Its instruments of terror and occupation were the best weapons that the American taxpayers could buy. That included 2,300 Humvees and tens of thousands of automatic weapons, as well as vast stores of ammunition, trucks, rockets, artillery pieces and even tanks and helicopters.
And that wasn’t the half of it. The newly proclaimed Islamic State also filled the power vacuum in Syria created by its so-called civil war. But in truth that was another exercise in Washington inspired and financed regime change undertaken in connivance with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The latter were surely not interested in expelling the tyranny next door; they are the living embodiment of it. Instead, the rebellion was about removing Iran’s Alawite/Shiite ally from power in Damascus and laying gas pipelines to Europe across the upper Euphrates Valley.
In any event, ISIS soon had troves of additional American weapons. Some of them were supplied to Sunni radicals by way of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. More came up the so-called “ratline” from Gaddafi’s former arsenals in Benghazi through Turkey. And still more came through Jordan from the “moderate” opposition trained there by the CIA, which more often than not sold them or defected to the other side.
So that the Islamic State was Washington’s Frankenstein monster became evident from the moment it rushed upon the scene 18 months ago. But even then the Washington war party could not resist adding fuel to the fire, whooping up another round of Islamophobia among the American public and forcing the Obama White House into a futile bombing campaign for the third time in a quarter century.
But if bombing really worked, the Islamic State would be sand and gravel by now. Indeed, as shown by the map below, it is really not much more than that anyway.
The dusty, broken, impoverished towns and villages along the margins of the Euphrates River and in the bombed out precincts of Anbar province do not attract thousands of wannabe jihadists from the failed states of the middle east and the alienated Muslim townships of Europe because the caliphate offers prosperity, salvation or any future at all.
What recruits them is outrage at the bombs and drones being dropped on Sunni communities by the US air force; and by the cruise missiles launched from the bowels of the Mediterranean which rip apart homes, shops, offices and mosques containing as many innocent civilians as ISIS terrorists.
The truth is, the Islamic State was destined for a short half-life anyway. It was contained by the Kurds in the north and east and by Turkey with NATO’s second largest army and air force in the northwest. And it was surrounded by the Shiite crescent in the populated, economically viable regions of lower Syria and Iraq.
So absent Washington’s misbegotten campaign to unseat Assad in Damascus and demonize his confession-based Iranian ally, there would have been nowhere for the murderous fanatics who pitched a makeshift capital in Raqqa to go. They would have run out of money, recruits, momentum and public acquiesce in their horrific rule in due course.
But with the US Air Force functioning as their recruiting arm and France’s anti-Assad foreign policy helping to foment a final spasm of anarchy in Syria, the gates of hell have been opened wide. What has been puked out is not an organized war on Western civilization as Hollande so hysterically proclaimed in response to the mayhem in Paris.
It was just blowback carried out by that infinitesimally small salient of mentally deformed young men who can be persuaded to strap on a suicide belt.
Needless to say, bombing wont stop them; it will just make more of them.
Ironically, what can stop them is the Assad government and the ground forces of its Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard allies. Its time to let them settle an ancient quarrel that has never been any of America’s business anyway.
But Imperial Washington is so caught up in its myths, lies and hegemonic stupidity that it can not see the obvious.
And that is why a quarter century after the cold war ended peace still hasn’t been given a chance and the reason that horrific events like November’s barbarism in Paris still keep happening.
Even the so-called “inspired” terrorists like the pair who attacked San Bernardino emerge episodically because the terror that the American military visits upon Muslim lands is actually what inspires them. After all, whatever the Koran has to say about purging the infidel, it inspired no attacks on American soil until Imperial Washington went into the regime change and military intervention business in the middle east.
Another False Demon—–Putin’s Russia
At the end of the day there now exists a huge irony. The only force that can effectively contain and eventually eliminate the Islamic State is the so-called Shiite Crescent———–the alliance of Iran, Baghdad, Assad and Hezbollah. But since they are allied with Putin’s Russia, still another unnecessary barrier to peace on earth comes into play.
The fact is, there is no basis whatsoever for Imperial Washington’s relentless campaign against Putin, and Washington-NATO’s blatant intervention in Ukraine.
Contrary to the bombast, jingoism, and shrill moralizing flowing from Washington and the mainstream media, America has no interest in the current spat between Putin and the coup that unconstitutionally took over Kiev in February 2014.
For several centuries the Crimea has been Russian; for even longer, the Ukraine has been a cauldron of ethnic and tribal conflict, rarely an organized, independent state, and always a meandering set of borders looking for a redrawn map.
Like everything reviewed above, the source of the current calamity-howling about Russia is the Warfare State–that is, the existence of vast machinery of military, diplomatic and economic maneuver that is ever on the prowl for missions and mandates and that can mobilize a massive propaganda campaign on the slightest excitement.
The post-1991 absurdity of bolstering NATO and extending it into eastern Europe, rather than liquidating it after attaining “mission accomplished”, is just another manifestation of its baleful impact. In truth, the expansion of NATO is one of the underlying causes of America’s needless tension with Russia and Putin’s paranoia about his borders and neighbors. Indeed, what juvenile minds actually determined that America needs a military alliance with Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, and now Montenegro!
So the resounding clatter for action against Russia emanating from Washington and its house-trained media is not even a semi-rational response to the facts at hand; its just another destructive spasm of the nation’s Warfare State and its beltway machinery of diplomatic meddling, economic warfare and military intervention.
Memo To Obama: It’s Their Red Line
Not only does Washington’s relentless meddling in the current Russian- Ukrainian food fight have nothing to do with the safety and security of the American people, it also betrays woeful disregard for the elementary facts of that region’s turbulent and often bloody history.
In fact, the allegedly “occupied” territory of Crimea was actually annexed by Catherine the Great in 1783, thereby satisfying the longstanding quest of the Russian Czars for a warm-water port. Over the ages Sevastopol then emerged as a great naval base at the strategic tip of the Crimean peninsula, where it became home to the mighty Black Sea Fleet of the Czars and then the commissars.
For the next 171 years Crimea was an integral part of Russia—a span that exceeds the 166 years that have elapsed since California was annexed by a similar thrust of “Manifest Destiny” on this continent, thereby providing, incidentally, the United States Navy with its own warm-water port in San Diego.
While no foreign forces subsequently invaded the California coasts, it was most definitely not Ukrainian and Polish rifles, artillery and blood which famously annihilated The Charge Of The Light Brigade at the Crimean city of Balaclava in 1854; they were Russians defending the homeland from Turks, Europeans and Brits.
And the portrait of the Russian “hero” hanging in Putin’s office is that of Czar Nicholas I—whose brutal 30-year reign brought the Russian Empire to its historical zenith, and who was revered in Russian hagiography as the defender of Crimea, even as he lost the 1850s war to the Ottomans and Europeans.
At the end of the day, it’s their Red Line. When the enfeebled Franklin Roosevelt made port in the Crimean city of Yalta in February 1945 he did at least know that he was in Soviet Russia.
Maneuvering to cement his control of the Kremlin in the intrigue-ridden struggle for succession after Stalin’s death a few years later, Nikita Khrushchev allegedly spent 15 minutes reviewing his “gift” of Crimea to his subalterns in Kiev in honor of the decision by their ancestors 300 years earlier to accept the inevitable and become a vassal of Russia.
Self-evidently, during the long decades of the Cold War, the West did nothing to liberate the “captive nation” of the Ukraine—with or without the Crimean appendage bestowed upon it in 1954. Nor did it draw any red lines in the mid-1990’s when a financially desperate Ukraine rented back Sevastopol and the strategic redoubts of the Crimea to an equally pauperized Russia.
In short, in the era before we got our Pacific port in 1848 and in the 166-year interval since then, our national security has depended not one wit on the status of the Russian-speaking Crimea.
That the local population has now chosen fealty to the Grand Thief in Moscow over the ruffians and rabble who have seized Kiev is their business, not ours.
The real threat to peace is not Putin, but the screeching sanctimony and mindless meddling of Susan Rice and Samantha Power. Obama should have sent them back to geography class long ago——-and before they could draw anymore new Red Lines.
The one in the Ukraine has been morphing for centuries among the quarreling tribes, peoples, potentates, Patriarchs and pretenders of a small region that is none of our damn business.
The current Ukrainian policy farce emanating from Washington is not only a reminder that the military-industrial-beltway complex is still alive and well, but also demonstrates why the forces of crony capitalism and money politics which sustain it are so lamentable. The fact is, the modern Warfare State has been the incubator of American imperialism since the Cold War, and is now proving itself utterly invulnerable to fiscal containment, even in the face of a $19 trillion national debt.
So 101 years after the Christmas truces along the Western Front there is still no peace on earth. And the long suffering American taxpayers, who foot the massive bills generated by the War Party’s demented and destructive policies, have no clue that Imperial Washington is the principal reason.
"This is the kind of investigatory history Hochschild pulls off like no one else . . . Hochschild is a master at chronicling how prevailing cultura... Read More >
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