Blowback: The Washington War Party's Folly Comes Home to Roost
Exactly 26 years ago last week, peace was breaking out in a manner that the world had not experienced since June 1914. The Berlin Wall—the symbol of a century of state tyranny, grotesque mass warfare, and the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the planet—had come tumbling down on November 9, 1989.
It was only a matter of time before the economically decrepit Soviet regime would be no more, and that the world’s vast arsenal of weapons and nuclear bombs could be dismantled.
Indeed, shortly thereafter according to Gorbachev, President George H.W. Bush, and Secretary Baker promised that NATO would not be expanded by “as much as a thumb’s width further to the East” in return for acquiescing to the reunification of Germany.
So with its “mission accomplished” there was no logical reason why NATO should not have been disbanded in parallel with the Warsaw Pact’s demise, and for an obvious and overpowering reason: On November 9, 1989 there were no material military threats to US security anywhere on the planet outside of the suddenly vanishing front line of the Cold War.
As it turned out, however, there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac. 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 speech writers, 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.
Ronald Reagan had called the dying Soviet Union an Evil Empire, but it was actually a passing freak of history. It had arisen by a fluke 72 years earlier—almost to the day of the Berlin Wall’s fall—only because Imperial Russia had been reduced to anarchy by the carnage of the Great War, enabling Lenin to storm the Winter Palace and install his own special Bolshevik brand of hell on earth.
So the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant the world could have reverted to the status quo ante. That is, to a normalcy of peace, liberal commerce, and a minimum of armaments that had prevailed in the late nineteenth century. The twentieth century curse of militarism, totalitarianism, and global warfare was over.
Needless to say, the sudden end to twentieth century history posed an existential threat to Imperial Washington. A trillion dollar complex of weapons suppliers, warfare state bureaucracies, intelligence and security contractors, arms exporters, foreign aid vendors, military bases, grand poobahs and porkers of the Congressional defense committees, think tanks, research grants and much more—were all suddenly without an enemy and raison d’etre.
As it has happened, Imperial Washington did find its necessary enemy in the rise of so-called “global terrorism.”
But the everlasting truth is that the relative handful of suicidal jihadi who have perpetrated murderous episodes of terror like 9/11 and this weekend’s carnage in Paris did not exist in November 1989; and they would not be marauding the West today save for the unrelenting arrogance, stupidity, duplicity, and mendacity of Imperial Washington.
That is, the gates of hell have been opened by Washington’s senseless destruction of regimes in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere that refused to do its bidding. Yet not one of these backwaters of tyranny and economic and military insignificance posed any threat whatsoever to the safety and security of American citizens in Lincoln, Nebraska or Manchester, New Hampshire.
That the Middle East and the Arab/Islamic world in particular is now a burned out zone of failed states and an incubator of barbaric religious and sectarian fanaticism is because Imperial Washington made it that way.
So what has metastasized from the ruins left by American intervention is not an organized military threat or a tide of state sponsored attacks on the civilian life of the West; it is random blowback of the suicidal flotsam and jetsam that have been puked from the very same jaws of hell which Washington so foolishly opened.
It did so under the banner of two stunningly false predicates. One of these was 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 oil fields 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 it doesn’t matter who controls the oil fields, and that the only effective cure for high oil prices is the free market, not the Fifth Fleet.
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 Republican 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 oil fields 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, and the deep offshore of Brazil, etc. And that’s to say nothing of solar, wind, and all the other government subsidized alternative sources 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. It was in the name of protecting the oil fields that the Washington war machine installed the monstrous Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne and thereby inaugurated 25 years of plunder and Savak terror.
Likewise, it was the Washington war machine that decided upon the “tilt to Saddam” in his 1980s war on the Islamic Republic, and which provided him with satellite-based tracking and targeting services when he rained chemical weapons on barely armed Iranian forces.
The truth is, there never were any Iranian “terrorists” at time the Berlin Wall fell. What existed was the smoldering hostility and nationalism that had arisen among the Iranian people after four decades of Washington intervention in their internal affairs, and a theocratic Shiite regime that had come to power owing to Washington’s foolish embrace of a brutal megalomaniacal tyrant.
Even then, the rulers of Tehran had been ratified twice in honest elections. And they were far more civilized, constitutionally-minded, and economically egalitarian than the absolute monarchs of the House of Saud, whose gluttonous opulence was unspeakable and whose medievalist Wahhabi regime of social repression and religious intolerance was (and is) deeply offensive to every value America represents.
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 oil fields surrounding an ancient trading city that had been abandoned by Ibn Saud in the early twentieth 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.
But Bush the Elder got persuaded by Henry Kissinger’s economically illiterate protégés at the national security council and his Texas oilman Secretary of State 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 revived 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 pyrrhic 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, and 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 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 American 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 twenty-first-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.
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 acquiescence to 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 of last weekend.
It was just blowback carried out by that infinitesimally small number of mentally deformed young men who can be persuaded to strap on a suicide belt.
Needless to say, bombing won’t 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 Republican Guard allies. It's 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 cannot 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 last week’s barbarism in Paris still keep happening.
[Reprinted with permission from David Stockman's Contra Corner.]