Patrick Cockburn: Why Washington’s War on Terror Failed – The Underrated Saudi Connection

Yves here. While this is an informative piece, quite a few readers are likely to take issue with the notion that the war on terror is as failure. US foreign policy appears to be run by Saudi Prince Bandar and the military-survelllance complex, and the war on terror caper looks to be working out just fine for them. And the super wealthy and the domestic policy elites get the added bennies of having a political justification for full-spectrum-coverage of ordinary citizens’ activities and authoritarian policing.

By Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for the Independent who worked previously for the Financial Times. He has written three books on Iraq’s recent history as well as a memoir,The Broken Boy, and, with his son, a book on schizophrenia,Henry’s Demons. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006, and the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009. His forthcoming book,The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, is now available exclusively from OR Books. Cross posted from TomDispatch

[This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprisingwith special thanks to his publisher, OR Books.  The first section is a new introduction written for TomDispatch.]

There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.

But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis.  It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.

The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well.  This has now happened.

By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.

Using the al-Qa’ida Label

The sharp increase in the strength and reach of jihadist organizations in Syria and Iraq has generally been unacknowledged until recently by politicians and media in the West. A primary reason for this is that Western governments and their security forces narrowly define the jihadist threat as those forces directly controlled by al-Qa‘ida central or “core” al-Qa‘ida. This enables them to present a much more cheerful picture of their successes in the so-called war on terror than the situation on the ground warrants.

In fact, the idea that the only jihadis to be worried about are those with the official blessing of al-Qa‘ida is naïve and self-deceiving. It ignores the fact, for instance, that ISIS has been criticized by the al-Qa‘ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for its excessive violence and sectarianism. After talking to a range of Syrian jihadi rebels not directly affiliated with al-Qa‘ida in southeast Turkey earlier this year, a source told me that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the U.S.”

Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qa‘ida have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of U.S. policy aims. In Syria, the Americans backed a plan by Saudi Arabia to build up a “Southern Front” based in Jordan that would be hostile to the Assad government in Damascus, and simultaneously hostile to al-Qa‘ida-type rebels in the north and east. The powerful but supposedly moderate Yarmouk Brigade, reportedly the planned recipient of anti-aircraft missiles from Saudi Arabia, was intended to be the leading element in this new formation. But numerous videos show that the Yarmouk Brigade has frequently fought in collaboration with JAN, the official al-Qa‘ida affiliate. Since it was likely that, in the midst of battle, these two groups would share their munitions, Washington was effectively allowing advanced weaponry to be handed over to its deadliest enemy. Iraqi officials confirm that they have captured sophisticated arms from ISIS fighters in Iraq that were originally supplied by outside powers to forces considered to be anti-al-Qa‘ida in Syria.

The name al-Qa‘ida has always been applied flexibly when identifying an enemy. In 2003 and 2004 in Iraq, as armed Iraqi opposition to the American and British-led occupation mounted, U.S. officials attributed most attacks to al-Qa‘ida, though many were carried out by nationalist and Baathist groups. Propaganda like this helped to persuade nearly 60% of U.S. voters prior to the Iraq invasion that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and those responsible for 9/11, despite the absence of any evidence for this. In Iraq itself, indeed throughout the entire Muslim world, these accusations have benefited al-Qa‘ida by exaggerating its role in the resistance to the U.S. and British occupation.

Precisely the opposite PR tactics were employed by Western governments in 2011 in Libya, where any similarity between al-Qa‘ida and the NATO-backed rebels fighting to overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was played down. Only those jihadis who had a direct operational link to the al-Qa‘ida “core” of Osama bin Laden were deemed to be dangerous. The falsity of the pretense that the anti-Gaddafi jihadis in Libya were less threatening than those in direct contact with al-Qa‘ida was forcefully, if tragically, exposed when U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by jihadi fighters in Benghazi in September 2012. These were the same fighters lauded by Western governments and media for their role in the anti-Gaddafi uprising.

Imagining al-Qa’ida as the Mafia

Al-Qa‘ida is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been the case. For a five-year period after 1996, it did have cadres, resources, and camps in Afghanistan, but these were eliminated after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Subsequently, al-Qa‘ida’s name became primarily a rallying cry, a set of Islamic beliefs, centering on the creation of an Islamic state, the imposition of sharia, a return to Islamic customs, the subjugation of women, and the waging of holy war against other Muslims, notably the Shia, who are considered heretics worthy of death. At the center of this doctrine for making war is an emphasis on self-sacrifice and martyrdom as a symbol of religious faith and commitment. This has resulted in using untrained but fanatical believers as suicide bombers, to devastating effect.

It has always been in the interest of the U.S. and other governments that al-Qa‘ida be viewed as having a command-and-control structure like a mini-Pentagon, or like the mafia in America. This is a comforting image for the public because organized groups, however demonic, can be tracked down and eliminated through imprisonment or death. More alarming is the reality of a movement whose adherents are self-recruited and can spring up anywhere.

Osama bin Laden’s gathering of militants, which he did not call al-Qa‘ida until after 9/11, was just one of many jihadi groups 12 years ago. But today its ideas and methods are predominant among jihadis because of the prestige and publicity it gained through the destruction of the Twin Towers, the war in Iraq, and its demonization by Washington as the source of all anti-American evil. These days, there is a narrowing of differences in the beliefs of jihadis, regardless of whether or not they are formally linked to al-Qa‘ida central.

Unsurprisingly, governments prefer the fantasy picture of al-Qa‘ida because it enables them to claim victories when it succeeds in killing its better known members and allies. Often, those eliminated are given quasi-military ranks, such as “head of operations,” to enhance the significance of their demise. The culmination of this heavily publicized but largely irrelevant aspect of the “war on terror” was the killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011. This enabled President Obama to grandstand before the American public as the man who had presided over the hunting down of al-Qa‘ida’s leader. In practical terms, however, his death had little impact on al-Qa‘ida-type jihadi groups, whose greatest expansion has occurred subsequently.

Ignoring the Roles of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

The key decisions that enabled al-Qa‘ida to survive, and later to expand, were made in the hours immediately after 9/11. Almost every significant element in the project to crash planes into the Twin Towers and other iconic American buildings led back to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was a member of the Saudi elite, and his father had been a close associate of the Saudi monarch. Citing a CIA report from 2002, the official 9/11 report says that al-Qa‘ida relied for its financing on “a variety of donors and fundraisers, primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia.”

The report’s investigators repeatedly found their access limited or denied when seeking information in Saudi Arabia. Yet President George W. Bush apparently never even considered holding the Saudis responsible for what happened. An exit of senior Saudis, including bin Laden relatives, from the U.S. was facilitated by the U.S. government in the days after 9/11. Most significant, 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report about the relationship between the attackers and Saudi Arabia were cut and never published, despite a promise by President Obama to do so, on the grounds of national security.

In 2009, eight years after 9/11, a cable from the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, revealed by WikiLeaks, complained that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. But despite this private admission, the U.S. and Western Europeans continued to remain indifferent to Saudi preachers whose message, spread to millions by satellite TV, YouTube, and Twitter, called for the killing of the Shia as heretics. These calls came as al-Qa‘ida bombs were slaughtering people in Shia neighborhoods in Iraq. A sub-headline in another State Department cable in the same year reads: “Saudi Arabia: Anti-Shi’ism as Foreign Policy?” Now, five years later, Saudi-supported groups have a record of extreme sectarianism against non-Sunni Muslims.

Pakistan, or rather Pakistani military intelligence in the shape of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was the other parent of al-Qa‘ida, the Taliban, and jihadi movements in general. When the Taliban was disintegrating under the weight of U.S. bombing in 2001, its forces in northern Afghanistan were trapped by anti-Taliban forces. Before they surrendered, hundreds of ISI members, military trainers, and advisers were hastily evacuated by air. Despite the clearest evidence of ISI’s sponsorship of the Taliban and jihadis in general, Washington refused to confront Pakistan, and thereby opened the way for the resurgence of the Taliban after 2003, which neither the U.S. nor NATO has been able to reverse.

The “war on terror” has failed because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement. The U.S. did not do so because these countries were important American allies whom it did not want to offend. Saudi Arabia is an enormous market for American arms, and the Saudis have cultivated, and on occasion purchased, influential members of the American political establishment. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a population of 180 million and a military with close links to the Pentagon.

The spectacular resurgence of al-Qa‘ida and its offshoots has happened despite the huge expansion of American and British intelligence services and their budgets after 9/11. Since then, the U.S., closely followed by Britain, has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and adopted procedures normally associated with police states, such as imprisonment without trial, rendition, torture, and domestic espionage. Governments wage the “war on terror” claiming that the rights of individual citizens must be sacrificed to secure the safety of all.

In the face of these controversial security measures, the movements against which they are aimed have not been defeated but rather have grown stronger. At the time of 9/11, al-Qa‘ida was a small, generally ineffectual organization; by 2014 al-Qa‘ida-type groups were numerous and powerful.

In other words, the “war on terror,” the waging of which has shaped the political landscape for so much of the world since 2001, has demonstrably failed. Until the fall of Mosul, nobody paid much attention.

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  1. John

    The author needs to reach back further in history to when the UK and the French carved up the Middle East after their failed attempts at empire. One thing should have been clear then and is clear now, occupation is a losing situation for the occupier. Setting those political boundaries after the collapse of the empire led to a political vacuum that was soon filled by monstrous dictators that lasted for decades. Like the folks in Ferguson people get tired of oppression and have a lot scores to settle that last.

    The author failed to mention “other” sources of funding situation terrorists get. It is now being reported when Europeans are held hostage by these thugs they ask for ransom money. Our European governments have been paying up to free our citizens. This source of funding has undoubtedly led to emboldening these terror organizations to create more mayhem.

    Besides, the UK needs to get a grip on their Islamofacists.

    1. McMike

      “One thing should have been clear then and is clear now, occupation is a losing situation for the occupier.”

      Perhaps, but only In the Long Run.

      When you operate in a IBGYBG ethos, the Long Run doesn’t matter.

    2. Synopticist

      The Guardian newspaper has been the single most propagandistic outlet in the MSM when it comes to the war in Syria. The depth of their bias and onesidedness is a sight to behold. They love jihadis. They’ve been making excuses for them and lying on their behalf to a trully disgusting degree for years.

      Here’s cuddly George Monbiot, comparing jihadi suicide truck bombers to Spanish civil war volunteers AND British Victoria Cross winners…
      That was in February of this year. The guy was an al qeada member with a history of association with terrorists and jihadi activists.

      1. Glen

        I think the Guardian is simply reporting the facts. You have no point other than to opine that the Guardian is ‘propagandistic’. Opinions are not facts.

        1. Fiver

          Whose ‘facts’? Like ‘facts’ from the 1-man London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights? Or the ‘fact’ that Assad most assuredly did gas his own people – there’s just no evidence to prove it? How about ole Brown Moses? What was the f-in’ fact about that fraud? Same deal in Libya. The threat of crimes against humanity and ‘genocide’ were almost entirely a fiction for US and Western respectable types who’ve not put much time into these issues.

    3. myshkin

      “The author needs to reach back further in history ”
      Do I misunderstand or is this meant to be ironical?
      This is only an excerpt from a book, the author has often recalled the history while reporting comprehensively on the region for some decades, his work generally puts to shame the careless slop served up by the usual suspects. He often sites the importance of the historical context of the breakup of the Ottoman hold over the region and the British and French entry into the vacuum and the artificial national borders that were drawn to more easily divvy up resources.

      As to your point regarding ‘other sources’ of funding derived from kidnapping and extortion. NPR did an inane treatment of the issue yesterday; one only wonders when the coverage of such fatuous controversies will be replaced with germane coverage of the greater, more pertinent, international criminal actions of the West in destabilizing and inflaming the region and drawing the enforcement arm of the advanced, post industrial corporatist powers in to the conflagration, creating the conditions for the mayhem you comment on.

      1. bruno marr

        If you think NPR’s discussion of jihadis was inane, wait till you hear today’s discussion (Morning Edition) of the Ukraine and the “evil” Putin.

    4. FederalismForever

      @John. When did the US “occupy” Saudi Arabia? Your analysis seems to conflate the US with the UK and France. US oil companies were welcomed into Saudi Arabia, and Standard Oil built most of the infrastructure there. The Saudi rulers became immensely profitable as a result, including Bin Laden and his extended family. This is far from the usual scenario of colonial oppression and exploitation.

      But things get even stranger. When Bin Laden went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, the US spent literally billions of dollars in support of his efforts. One might think this would result in a bit of gratitude from Bin Laden to his US backers. After all, the US revolutionaries were quite grateful to France for all the support it provided to the US during the Revolutionary War. But Bin Laden only grew angrier at the US, and would even object to any US military presence stationed in Saudi Arabia during Gulf War I – even when that presence was helping to secure the source of his family’s immense wealth. Some occupation!

  2. mmckinl

    Worth repeating …

    “Yves here. While this is an informative piece, quite a few readers are likely to take issue with the notion that the war on terror is as failure. US foreign policy appears to be run by Saudi Prince Bandar and the military-survelllance complex, and the war on terror caper looks to be working out just fine for them. And the super wealthy and the domestic policy elites get the added bennies of having a political justification for full-spectrum-coverage of ordinary citizens’ activities and authoritarian policing.”

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Yup, it’s a highly profitable breeder reactor — the GWOT, a perpetual-motion Orwellian war machine — change we can’t quite believe in.

      1. Jim Haygood

        ‘The spectacular resurgence of al-Qa‘ida and its offshoots has happened despite the huge expansion of American and British intelligence services and their budgets after 9/11.’

        ‘Despite’ … LOL, that’s rich!

        As ol’ Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘I paid for that microphone.’

        1. susan the other

          The Saudis are walking a fine line. Playing with matches too. Islamic fundamentalists are against them with a long-term dedication and hate them for their ties with the West; they especially hate us. So the Saudis benefit from the impression that they are undermining us. That maybe they instigated 9/11 and etc. The World Trade Center was layered propaganda. First it gave us an enemy and a cause for war – OBL and AlQaeda did it! (partly so we could go in to the Middle East and shore-up Saudi rule), and second it gave the Saudis a better bargaining position with its domestic enemies. Neat, right? The Bush administration was so obvious during the whole thing. They carefully evacuated the Saudi royals AFTER the Twin Towers were brought down. Because if they had evacuated them before it would have looked like they knew ’twas gonna happen.

    1. Steve H.

      Extrapolating from Egypt, I’d guess there almost always is. During the Arab Spring, they seemed to be about 10-to-20% of the population that formed an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow the entrenched interests. Once the Brotherhood was in power, they turned on the intelligentsia (‘why are you giving me this hijab?..’) That alliance was broken, which allowed the entrenched interests to leverage themselves back into power, oppressing the MB and now able to utterly ignore the moderates.

      To coin a phrase: the Ineffectual Intellectual.

      1. Steve H.

        “Their recommendation—and I think this is the real criterion for evaluating the analyses of “leftists”—is not that secular Syrians like us distance ourselves from the struggle, but worse: it is effectively to side closer to the regime.”

        1. Vatch

          I may have misunderstood something, but I think that quote from Saleh is about Slavoj Žižek and others who agree with Žižek, and is not about the secular Syrians.

      2. Synopticist

        He sound clever, but his analysis is way off. This ” My main conclusion is that sects are politically manufactured entities, and sectarianism is a political tool for controlling people, a strategy for political domination. It certainly is not a matter of social “differences” but rather a method for guarding social privileges and transforming a struggle against tyranny and manipulation into sectarian strife,..” is completely delusional.

        He’s trying to blame the Baathist regime for sectarianism, and that’s totall BS. You can blame assad and his father for many things, but not for the existence of Sunni extremism and sectarianism. The idea that with a bit of marxian dialectic the free people of Syria will unite and defeat religious extremists after the regime falls is unicorn stuff.

        1. Vatch

          You are quite correct that Sunni extremism would exist whether or not the Baathists were in power in Syria. But I think there’s truth in his assertion that sectarianism is a tool for controlling people. It can be used to divert attention from the actions of the political regime, and it’s an important tool for the “divide and conquer” strategy widely used by oppressive governments. The Assads didn’t create Sunni extremism, but it certainly has been useful to them. The specter of extremist Sunnis prevents many Shia Muslims, Christians, and secularists from daring to oppose Assad, because the alternative could easily be worse.

          Throughout history, one of the primary uses of religion has been to control people. Among the most obvious examples are the Spanish and other Inquisitions. On a wider and more fundamental level, religion has long been used to keep women and other subordinate classes “in their place”.

          1. Synopticist

            It’s a tool for sure, a useful fear factor for a dictator. But it exists non-the-less. And it would exist if the Sunnis were in charge, and lead to war and oppression and all those things.
            I find there’s a tendency among arab intellectuals who look to the enlightenment for their models to blank out the realities of their own societies-they forget that the decline of organised, politicised religious sectarianism took centuries in Europe to achieve.

    2. Synopticist

      There was never a ARMED moderate opposition. They were content to pretend to be moderate when it looked like intervention was on it’s way, but the core of the fighting opposition was always sectarian, reactionary, Islamist and jihadist.
      The people marching in the streets during the spring of 2011 shouting “peaceful” and”the people demand the end of the regime” didn’t take up arms. They were mostly middle class, urban secularists. The overwhelming majority now reluctantly support the government.

      By contrast, the people chanting ” Christians to Beirut, Allawaites to the grave” and “we demand an Islamic stare” were arming themselves before the protests even started, and were happy killing soldiers and policemen while the protest were still going on. These people were mostly poor, often rural farmers, and entirely Sunni. They now support hardcore jihadi groups including ISIS and al Nusra.

      Of these two groups, the first was much smaller but got all the media attention, the second, larger group was entirely ignored by the MSM, but represents the whole armed opposition.

      1. Fiver

        Yes these people were poor, but they were not extreme Islamists or ‘jihadist’ until after they were contacted, scoped out, recruited, trained, armed and pointed at the enemy of the day. No follower of Islam with any idea what he/she is talking about re Islam was about to become a suicide bomber or atrocity expert. It takes either deeply sick or deeply trained and essentially brainwashed people to do this kind of stuff. It’s only purpose is to scare the American people into another media-whipped ‘security’ frenzy to justify a continued orgy of military/security spending.

  3. trish

    the Saudis and the U.S. have been mutually useful to each other.
    Redirection of internal dissent into anti-Americanism for the saudis, War on Terror as Shock Doctrine for the US, implementation of the Neocon dream (Glen Greenwald – Iraq was a “policy coup” plotted and engineered by neocons Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others in the wake of 9/11. 7 countries in five years – Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran., gradual erosion of our civil liberties, implementation of various odious domestic policies to enrich the elite.

    “The spectacular resurgence of al-Qa‘ida and its offshoots has happened despite the huge expansion of American and British intelligence services and their budgets after 9/11.” Despite?? Allowed.
    Our actions in various parts of the world since have been fundamentalist recruitment drives. Perfect for keeping the War on Terror going.

  4. McMike

    Do you think we’ve still got a neutron bomb lying around?

    I am sure Reagan left it around here somewhere….

  5. Banger

    It is crystal clear that the Jihadi movement has been funded by U.S. allies in the Muslim world. Why does the U.S. tolerate this unassailable reality? Could it be (cue up Church Lady here) the ……. CIA?

    British and U.S. intelligence has been since the beginning of the Cold War intimately involved in degrading all Muslim states in the region, not that many of them needed that much help–they could have managed on their own. What do I mean by that? The main threat to the hegemony of the Western powers in the ME were nationalist regimes like that of Nasser in Egypt who believed that countries in the region should and could have policies that would benefit their own people. Much of the cadre of these states that gradually emerged out of the rubble of the Ottoman Empire were peopled by intellectuals with socialist tendencies educated in Paris, Moscow and other places. These people wanted to adopt socialist/democratic socialist ideas to their countries. This was, for the CIA in the fifties, a red-flag and the CIA began destabilizing and attempting regime changes where it could. It’s first major target was Iran which had established a liberal democracy and “voila” the task was easily accomplished, largely, through propaganda and false flag events portraying the government of Mossadegh as anti-Islamic. Washington (this policy was not limited to the CIA) figured out that encouraging ethnic and religious hatreds would be the surest way to guarantee that Western influence in Muslim capitals would dominate thus keeping the Soviets or the Nasserites at bay. The policy has been maintained to this day.

    It’s interesting that the most advanced societies in terms of women’s rights, education, and economic progress were Iraq and Afghanistan after the West got through with these countries they became rubble. The Afghan War cemented the cooperation between U.S., Saudia Arabia and, above all, Pakistan in funding, training and supplying Jihadis there–unlike what the mainstream and the orthodox leftists like Cockburn, the evidence is obvious that the 9/11 attacks were engineered by this condominium—who did what is hard to say because no real investigation of the 9/11 attacks has ever been made–the actual Commission was even more of a “show” investigation than the laughable Warren Commission because they never dealt with the actual forensic evidence and barely touched on the operations planning of the event.

    If what Cockburn writes about were generally known and part of the mainstream narrative it would have a dramatic effect on U.S. policy. It would also provide some kind of “cover” to go deeper into the politics of how the Jihadi movement got so large and so well-funded and equipped. Is it an accident that ISIL was able to grab so much U.S. equipment–I don’t believe it was. Why do I think that, at the end of the day, it is U.S. policy to encourage the growth of Jihadis? After all, the Soviet threat is long gone–why would Cold Warriors continue to work-it? Obviously, the National Security State needs enemies—the more ominous and “other” that enemy is the better. ISIL appear to be a Hollywood-made movement of warriors from ancient times–bent on slaughter, rape, plunder and so on. So let’s ask the question–where did these, largely, professional soldiers come from? Who trained them and where? How did a gaggle of fanatics become so good even though they have been outnumbered? At the very least we need to ask, again to investigate where the money, supplies and training come from and who benefits from the Jihadi movements. Note that these events are not isolated from the internal war between the oligarchs in the West and their own subject populations–it should be obvious here at NC that the governments of the West are mainly interested in providing a way for oligarchs to achieve direct rather than indirect rule, i.e., neo-feudalism.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘ISIL appear to be a Hollywood-made movement of warriors from ancient times–bent on slaughter, rape, plunder and so on.’

      Randomly gunning down motorists and pedestrians — as shown in Isis videos released a couple of months ago — is no way to win hearts and minds. Mao and Castro, violent as they were, wouldn’t have foolishly slaughtered innocents in their drive to revolution. They needed the support of the countryside.

      This sort of nihilistic violence, theatrically staged to provoke pure fear, seems to have a uniquely yankee flavor. Sorta like 9/11 did, come to think of it …

      1. MtnLife

        People dressed as Arabs randomly gunning people down? Who knows, maybe they were British? “The fighting broke out after two British soldiers, allegedly dressed as Arabs, opened fire on a police patrol killing one officer and wounding another.

    2. RUKidding

      **”So let’s ask the question–where did these, largely, professional soldiers come from? Who trained them and where? How did a gaggle of fanatics become so good even though they have been outnumbered? At the very least we need to ask, again to investigate where the money, supplies and training come from and who benefits from the Jihadi movements.”**

      Indeed. I’ve been chastised on another blog for my “conspiracy theories” as yet unsubstantiated. But we’ve all seen this movie before and know how it ends.

      Indeed, it appears to me that the NeoCon faction of the 1% (possibly those who wanted RMoney to win in 2012) couldn’t abide the thought of not waging full-scale War on Syria, so they took another route to get the next dirty little War that they so fondly desired. These .001% creeps never have enough money, never met a War they didn’t love, and cannot wait for the useless eaters to die nasty gory deaths. All in the name of capturing more of the 99s tax dollar$ for their over-stuffed coffers.

      Neo-feudalism it is.

      1. Banger

        I find the whole “conspiracy theory” discourse to be an amazing phenomenum. How is it that evidence is ignored if it leads to complicity by powerful people in committing criminal acts? I understand how the USG must deny everything of the sort in order to free itself to perform massive crimes in the future–and I understand how the media would circle the wagons since I know that the mainstream media both in the news and entertainment divisions is now anything but and “objective” press and this is obvious and needs, at this point, no further comment.

        But what really strikes me is how the “left” or what alleges to be the left including more radical elements (with some heroic exceptions) has been even more critical of CT than the mainstream! Despite the fact the evidence for JFK/RFK/MLK and 9/11 conspiracies is if not conclusive (JFK and RFK in particular) at least pretty compelling if you actually look at the evidence. So what is going on here? Why was there a wholesale purge of Daily Kos which banned all posts that deviated even in the slightest with the official narrative of 9/11? I think it’s important to face the fact that most of the radical left has something radically wrong with it.

        1. Crazy Horse

          Now if you really want to observe a conspiracy theory read the 911 commission report. For it to have even a grain of truth requires a chain of events so unbelievable that their combined probabilities are about the same as that of the moon being made of green cheese. Not to mention that the official conspiracy theory requires that the law of gravity and the melting point of steel be temporarily suspended.

          1. Crazy Horse

            Then if you are in the mood for humor, study the official account of the death of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted criminal, and the official reasons why his body had to be spirited away and sunk in the deepest available ocean with no actual witnesses. And study the account of next door neighbor Bashir that was on Pakistani television for a couple of days before the CIA discovered it and suppressed it. Seem this eye witness saw no body removed and loaded onto any helicopter—-. Stands to reason, since according to a former prime minister of Pakistan, bin Laden died of kidney failure in December of 2001.

    3. JerseyJeffersonian

      The physical forensic evidence from 9/11 was hastily cleaned up under the excuse of rapid recovery of the remains of those killed, as well as “Showin’ Those Terrists They Ain’t Won” by restoring order to the site in jig time. It’s not as if this were the site of an airliner crash, or something, where nobody touches nothin’ until the experts have had a chance to document everything, and have had an opportunity to develop an understanding of the physics involved at the scene. Uh, hmm…

      Funny that. Kinda like if the chief of police were to tell the detectives and the CSI teams to hurry it up, slam the bodies into the coroner’s wagon, and get on with cleaning up the crime scene, and getting the contractors in to patch up the bullet holes ‘cuz there’s no time for all o’ that analysis and forensics crap.

      I mean, everybody already should know what happened, maybe because The Elites were poised and ready to tell them what had just happened and why (They hate us for our Freedumb!) immediately thereafter, and anything that didn’t seem to fit the narrative being advanced would just assure that the terrorists win. So there, Mr. Smartie Pants Communist, Mr. Beatnik, Mr. Hippy!

    4. Fiver

      Cockburn is either a poseur whose job it is to deflect responsibility away from the US/UK secret security apparatus, or one of many old liberal/leftish commentators whose vision is one of self-censoring denial concerning the limits to which the real policy-makers in the US/UK/Israel etc., are prepared to go.

      He was, for instance so far behind the real story on Libya and Syria in terms of which outside powers were doing what right up to the bogus chemical weapons charges against Assad I’ve long since written him – and the Guardian – off. His appearance now, pointing at the Saudis only after the US/UK/Israel/Saudi/Turkey/Qatar policy debacle was off the rails entirely is instructive. He in effect provides cover for an horrifically cold and calculated serial regime change policy that originated in the US and taken up with enthusiasm by the UK and NATO.

      While much of what he says here is true, or tru-ish, this account effectively blots out real responsibility, replacing it with the usual ‘they are stupid’ rather than ‘they are evil’. The only thing that has not gone the way the US wanted was the intervention of Putin to save Syria from a trumped-up charge of chemical war crimes – otherwise, these ‘jihadists’ are still very much in the control of the same forces that created bin Laden and 9/11, forces deep inside the military/security establishments of the US and its principal partners.

  6. vidimi

    if you accept that a) saudi arabia is a u.s. client state and b) saudi arabia was behind the 9/11 attacks, then it becomes impossible not to conclude that it was the united states behind the attacks on themselves. the alternative is to claim that a vassal attacked its suzerain with impunity and, therefore, can probably get away with it again.

    if you think about it, if you were a psychopathic government that wanted to hijcack the country’s laws and needed a false flag to enable it, you wouldn’t want your fingerprints all over it so you would get a loyal vassal with the most credible terrorist network to do it for you. that would explain why there has not been so much as a formal investigation of saudi involvement.

    1. AlmostGhetto

      Your comment nailed it. Until people full wrap their heads around this on a large scale, the elites will still continue in their mass murder sprees unmolested. I don’t blame people for not wanting to make this connection as it is painful and forces you to drastically revise your world view.

      1. Jim Haygood

        Rep. Thomas Massie gets his worldview revised:

        U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie said there will be “anger, frustration and embarrassment” if 28 classified pages of an intelligence report on the 9/11 terrorist attacks are released to the public.

        “It is sort of shocking when you read it,” Massie said in the press conference. “I had to stop every couple of pages and absorb and try to rearrange my understanding of history for the past 13 years and the years leading up to that. It challenges you to rethink everything.”

    2. Synopticist

      Saudi isn’t a US client state any longer. It’s almost the other way around. Especially here the UK, our establishment here has become thoroughly corrupted by Arab oil money, smartly spent by people who know how to buy loyalty, as arab aristocrats have always done. There’s barely a talking head “middle east expert” or think tanker who hasn’t been the beneficiary of gulf arab largesse at some point.
      Every middle eastern studies university is funded by saudi or qatari money. Groups like Chatham House or the Royal united services institute, long established FP establishment institutions, mare now headquartered in Qatar.

      Saudi got away with 9-11 because of money sloshing around powerful people..

      1. vidimi

        let’s not kid ourselves; america has all the guns. saudi has oil, but that has never protected anyone. when a saudi king last tried to defy america it didn’t go very well for him so now they all take their orders happily.

      2. Fiver

        I must object – the US is far, far more influenced by Israel than by the Saudis, for whom this re-draw the regional map gambit in league with the other 2 legs of the stool just referenced is very probably a policy disaster that rocks the Kingdom to its foundation. The US/Saudi effort to control the price of oil globally while delivering to Israeli Zionists all of their treasured Biblical ‘homeland’ has since Putin drew his line in Syria ballooned into a serious global crisis which, if not contained/reversed, will end in a pivotal re-balancing of global forces. The US seeks dominion and the world has balked. Never has it been more important for the leadership class in the US to chow down some crow and relent.

        1. Lambert Strether

          The US is trying to retain dominion, not seek it. This is difficult, given that the political class squandered our soft power after 9/11, and then proceeded to wreck the Army in the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. So hard power is a problem too; if it were not, we wouldn’t be chasing after mythical Syrian moderates to do our work on the ground. Not to mention the mercs.

          1. Fiver

            Good morning, Lambert. We’re both right. What I was thinking of was the clearly US-based project to create what amounts to a Global State/Empire. The States can still clobber any 2 or 3 ‘enemies’ (say, Russia, China and Iran) but that’s precisely the problem – it can beat up anyone on the block, pull off huge crimes, dominate its own citizenry, etc., but it is every day delivering the exact opposite of what is required if it ever intends to do more than dominate – as opposed to run, to manage, to operate, to own, to fritter away or ruin entirely on a whim as Lords of Earth. In a way what we’re seeing are features of a global civil war and uprising rolled into one.

    3. Banger

      I don’t agree. The fact is that the mainstream discourse explicitly forbids any speculation on the 60’s assassinations where the evidence against the official position is not just obvious but there is a prima facie case that, at the very least, the government was involved in a conspiracy to cover up major crimes.

      With that in mind, getting the Saudis and Pakistanis involved in 9/11 is easy–the government only has to say that Al-quaida did it and the controlled media, like the USSR or Nazi media, this controlled media will simply assert the lie that a few handfuls of operatives from a vague network of terrorists, formerly allied with the CIA were able to pull of this attack starting a war against the Muslim world (Clash of Civilizations). And it worked–no one, even now, is connecting the dots between the Gulf States and Turkey in the growth and support that they give to ISIL and Hamas. Their story repeated by all “reporters” is that ISIL was able to us oil money, bank holdups and ransom money in order to defeat the Iraqi in the field–as well as the even more able Pesh Merga fighters.

      Planners of the 9/11 attack knew precisely that no matter how bumbling the execution of that operation or how many smoking guns there are the “terrorists” did it all by their lonesome and they will stick to that story like they stick to the JFK story for a long as the current Deep State stays in power. Today the mainstream would have us believe that hundreds of British citizens fighting for ISIL today are a complete surprise to the UK government whose people are the most observed and spied upon in the world perhaps. I believe that the USG could send American bombers over DC. bomb the crap out of it and blame the Venezuelans simply by asserting it–no evidence needed–just like everyone assumes Assad gassed his own people and the MH-17 was shot down by the Ruskies. It’s that simple–that is how, well,after a century of mind-control, the American people respond like Pavlov’s dog to the ringing bell. They don’t even have to believe any of the USG/Media stories they just salivate when the bell rings.

  7. Nat Scientist

    Not a lot of difference in themes between the Third Reich dream of World Order that requires constant Occupation behavior by the superior tribe projecting precision violence as its moral tenor. After the armaments are removed, nothing useful was created.

  8. washuante

    “… quite a few readers are likely to take issue with the notion that the war on terror is as failure.”

    Well said. The assault on Constitutional governance was well underway before GWOT.

    Far from a failure, GWOT has been a raging success in getting educated ‘liberals’ to jump on board the authoritarian bandwagon. Not that they needed a lot of motivation, but what they did need was cover.

    1. RUKidding

      Agree. The liberal elite/intellectuals are now fully captured and even better little dittoheaded authoritarians than Rush’s fawning slavish devotees. On many a liberal blog (such that do truly exist), I see quite a few (no doubt sincere) commenters claiming that this time, SURELY, Team USA simply MUST ride in the Cavalry to SAVE the Iraqis from the horror that is ISIS – or something similar. Very akin to how liberals slavishly intoned that Team USA simply “had to” attack Libya & kill Ghaddafi for the “good” of the oppressed Libyans.

      Blah blah blah, lather rinse repeat.

  9. Gareth

    In my opinion, U.S. support, through training and equipment, of Jihadis in Libya and Syria demonstrates that the GWOT has been fraudulent in it’s entirety. Where Jihadis can be used for regime change to further U.S. policy they are declared to be freedom fighters which the American media fawns over. Where they fight against regimes the U.S. supports they are declared terrorists. The truth is that the U.S. government has been training and equipping terrorist organizations since the 1980’s in Afghanistan and closer to home, in Central America. Terrorism is a deeply embedded strategy of the Empire.

  10. Chauncey Gardiner

    “Oh, the tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” —Sir Walter Scott (1808)

    Why neither GWB and his administration nor his successor have ever even considered holding the Saudis accountable is one of the great untold stories of our time. When I see efforts such as this to unravel the strands in this carefully engineered Gordion knot, many of which are invisible, I am reminded of the words of a former adversary: “We are going to do a terrible thing to you. We are going to deprive you of an enemy.” —Georgi Arbatov, a Soviet expert on the United States, at the end of the Cold War

    Clearly those who have been in control, both here and in Israel, heeded his words.

    But the central question remains: “Why is U.S. involvement in any of this of overriding national interest for the U.S.?” Would really like to see that Cost-Benefit analysis, with numbahs.

    And why aren’t the Iranians and China our NBF’s in addressing this particular issue, or at least BFFN’s? See:

    1. Banger

      CG, this has nothing to do with “national interest” and everything to do with the power of various cliques within the oligarchy. As someone very powerful said last decade:

      We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

      In fact, Rove was giving journalists too much credit–they don’t even bother to study the new realities the oligarchs create–if they try they are instantly silenced and have no careers.

      Again, we return to the interesting discussion we have here, on occasion, about whether the various catastrophes (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and so on) are really “mistakes” or clear policies. I, obviously, come down on the side of clear policy because I see it as the logical consequence of decades of policies over all administrations. To put it simply–this is about enriching the MIC and its allies–more conflict and chaos more business. Now, is there internal opposition to this within the State? Yes there is and has been over the decades but, generally, money talks….and the people with guns are all followers of Mao’s dictum.

      1. Chauncey Gardiner

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Banger. I appreciate your realpolitik analyses, both with respect to this matter and others. You clearly have direct, first-hand experiences in time and place which I will never have.

        However the central question is really about values, and it remains. I will continue to ask that question, and hope that you will join me in doing so.

        1. Banger

          Indeed–values are what must guide us. It’s interesting that so many people make the assumption that we all share basic humanist values–large segments of society do not–particularly but not exclusively in the ruling elites.

  11. steelhead23

    U.S. foreign policy is insane. To maintain support for the petrodollar, the U.S. enthusiastically protects the Saudi kings and princes, while these same royals openly support Wahhabi-ism and its preaching of individual salvation through jihad and identifying the U.S. as satan. Then it supports Israel while it commits genocide against what were moderate Muslims, driving them into the extremist camps.

    I find it laughable (and a tad frightening) that HRC is widely viewed as more experienced in foreign affairs than is my favorite, Elizabeth Warren. This is somewhat like saying Charlie Manson would make a great AG for California due to the breadth of his experience with criminal law. It is time for the U.S. to be led by folks who don’t take marching orders from the CFR. Until Israel relinquishes its claims on Palestinian territory including resources like water and respects the rights of Muslims citizens as equals, and the U.S. stops propping up the Saudi kings, the U.S. and its citizens (you and I) will continue to be seen as the blood enemy of Muslims, Sunni and Shiite. Frankly, Patrick Cockburn would be a better Sec. State than was Her Royal Highness.

    1. susan the other

      Funny. And true. Just this morning Chuckie Hagel is quoted at ZH saying that ISIS is an extremely dangerous adversary and we must do everything to stop them from terrorizing us on US soil. They might already have crossed the border from Mexico. Oh dear god, pass the ammunition. And none other than Rick Perry, that clown, is preaching to various right-wing choirs about how ISIS must be stopped, “eliminated”, at all costs. ISIS is rapidly becoming a very useful double-double agent.

  12. steve dean

    Oil is responsible. Or rather, our dependence on oil.

    Energy independence would remove the wealth from the Saudis and they would be unable to contain the factions within their own country, much less support those outside.

  13. Jim Shannon

    Consumers create all jobs and are the source of ALL wealth! Period! Invading a shit hole with nothing but OIL and no one’s working and consumers have no money can only lead to failure!
    War on terror was a jobs program, it was destined to fail because it and Wall Streets War on America destroyed Trillion$ in consumer spending and wealth!
    Always and everywhere it is about the money and always and everywhere it is the 1% finding new ways to abuse the consumer, the 99% who created ALL the wealth in the first place!
    Nothing happens without labor, a fact even labor now ignores, as Americans act like children and buy into a culture driven by and for the benefit the the few!

  14. Jess

    Is it just me and my computer, or is this entire piece and the comments in italics?

    Very hard to read.

    1. downunderer

      Before I save this page and the many save-worthy comments, I’m going to try the experiment of including an end-italics here, , while noting that the type in the comment box is normal, and that in the preview below is still all italics as it has been since the start of the Cockburn article, despite the invisible “” between the commas above.

  15. KFritz

    There’s another conflicted player in this Fertile Crescent mishegas–Iran. The Islamic Republic insisted on propping up a minority Shia government in Syria–which gave ISIS the opportunity to co-opt the more secular beginnings of the revolt against Assad. And now they’re forced to work with the US to maintain a Shia-tilted government in Iraq. Iran’s continued support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad has robbed them of influence with Hamas or any other Palestinians. The (seemingly) rational player is Russia. They support Assad to retain control of their naval base in Syria, which they would lose one heartbeat after a Sunni takeover in Damascus. They maintain an alliance of sorts with Iran, while keeping the Islamic Republic involved in conflicts which weaken it–exactly the condition Russia wants from an Islamic theocracy on its southern frontier.

    1. Banger

      In fact it is Turkey and the Gulf States that are chiefly responsible for funding Hamas and ISIL. As for the secular Syrian opposition I believe some of that was encouraged and funded by Western operatives trying for a color revolution. There was no real issue in Syria other than the fact Assad was an authoritarian ruler like most rulers are even ours. I don’t buy the mainstream narrative that there was this magical swelling of interests in overthrowing Assad who, like Tito, Saddam, Qaddafi were rigid rulers of states with exploitable internal divisions. Assad kept the peace and most Syrians were fairly content with their lot though the pressure of refugees from Iraq I’m sure contributed to tensions. Before all this I had read a long piece in the New Yorker about how well Syria was doing and the same sorts of reports were coming out of Libya as well. I suggest you hesitate before adopting the NYT or NPR view of the world which, in my view, is made up of pure propaganda.

      1. KFritz

        Unlike Hafiz, Bashar Al Assad neglected Syria outside of Damascus. As I recall (and someone correct me if I’m wrong), the largest demonstrations weren’t in Damascus. And Damascus is where the pundits writing about Syria tended to live and observe, so their view of Syria was limited. (A music programmer on a local public radio station to whom I listen and who visits Turkey yearly recently told listeners that it’s an essentially easy going non-sectarian nation. He’s not stupid, but he doesn’t interact with the Turkish lumpenproletariat–like the pundits formerly domiciled in Damascus.) Again as I understand it, there has always been plenty of resentment toward Alawi/Shia from Sunnis, who felt neglected, along with a certain sectarian grievance toward the Alawi. So however much outside influence helped to start the unrest, it was still an extension of the “Arab Spring” waiting to happen. Hamas had a cordial (and financial) relationship with Iran until they were at loggerheads over the revolt against Assad.

        I don’t reflexively accept the NYT/NPR weltanschauung at all.

        1. Banger

          Good reply! Point taken. However, and let me be clear, the background noise of our society comes from the mainstream and we, if nothing else, unconsciously assimilate it–I know I did for most of my life.

          Also, the problem with the way national boundaries were drawn after the Ottomans fell was a disaster engineered by the British and French. The only way to keep societies like Syria or Iraq together was through authoritarian rule. When that sort of rule is largely benevolent I have no objection–countries have been usually ruled in an authoritarian manner for most of civilized history and we are, particularly in the West returning to it quite enthusiastically.

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