Matt Stoller: The Solution to ISIS Is the First Amendment

Yves here. This post focuses on ISIS as a symptom of what is wrong with US policy-making. One way of reading it is as an introduction to the role of Saudi Prince Bandar and the sway that the Saudis have had over US policy for decades. This obvious fact is curiously airbushed out of most American coverage of Middle Eastern politics. Israel is depicted as having a lock over US policy, when in fact the US is capable of pulling Israel’s choke chain. For instance, a key development mentioned in passing in a new Real News Network story is that the US has clearly signaled its unwillingness to support continued US hyperaggression against the Palestinians, which appears to have been a gambit to secure domestic support for continued high defense spending. Obama disallowed a shipment of antitank missiles to Israel. As we’ve said for years, the way for the US to rein Israel in would be to halt or delay the supply of critical military parts. This is a more frontal version of precisely that sort of approach.

As Kissinger said, the US does not have an ideology, only interests. Our most important geopolitical interest has been and continues to be oil. US corporations simply could not function if they did not have access to cheap oil. Saudi light crude is and remains the largest, most readily accessible pool of the most valuable crude. Oh, and the country with the second biggest proven reserves of light sweet crude is Iraq.

If you want to get a handle on the politics of the Middle East, the linchpin is the US-Saudi relationship. The long-standing deal is simple: Saudi princes keeps oil prices in check in return for US support for being kept in power. The de facto discount against what the Saudis could make if they choked supply back to get better prices is protection money.

However, this relationship currently looks like a dysfunctional marriage where it’s clear there will be no divorce because there is no prenup in place, making the cost and uncertainty of a break-up too high for the partners. The Saudis are upset with the US because we haven’t attacked Iran. In fact, we have done the Saudis a great favor by not going beyond sanctions, since Iran would retaliate rapidly, in force, against Saudi refineries and other oil infrastructure and would close the Strait of Hormuz. The Saudis are also mightily aggrieved that the US has not gone into Syria…yet.

As Stoller explains, ISIS started out as and arguably still is Prince Bandar’s private army, which explains how well financed and professional they have proven to be. This sort of barely-one-step-removed operation is hardly uncommon in the Middle East. For instance, Qatar funds the Muslim Brotherhood. So one way to read Stoller’s post is as an introduction to Prince Bandar. And as much as he calls for more open discussion of the US foreign policy and the ever-rising cost and increased difficulty of maintaining our empire. Unfortunately, that also means looking at the implications of life with more costly oil. There are far too many powerful people who stand to lose if that were to come into play faster than it absolutely has to, which means propaganda and dissimulation are likely to continue to be the order of the day.

By Matt Stoller, who writes for Salon and has contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters. You can reach him at stoller (at) or follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller. Originally published at Medium

As the elite panic about ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant — continues apace, it’s worth looking at how violations of the First Amendment have allowed this group to flourish, and just generally screw up US policy-making. The gist of the problem is that Americans have been lied to for years about our foreign policy, and these lies have now created binding policy constraints on our leaders which make it impossible to eliminate groups like ISIS.

Let’s start by understanding what ISIS actually is. First, ISIS is a brutal fascistic movement of radical Sunni militants, well-armed and well-trained, and bent on the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate throughout the Middle East. Second, it may also be and almost certainly was an arm of a wealthy Gulf state allied with the United States. This contradiction probably doesn’t surprise you, but if it does, that’s only because it cuts against a standard narrative of good guys and bad guys peddled by various foreign policy interests. The reality is that ally and enemy in post-colonial lands is often a meaningless term —it’s better to describe interests. A good if overly romanticized Hollywood illustration of this dynamic is the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, about the secret collaboration between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan Israel and the CIA to undermine the Soviets in Afghanistan. This foreign policy apparatus is usually hidden in plain sight, known to most financial, political, military, and corporate elites but not told to the American public.

ISIS, like Al Qaeda, is an armed and trained military group. Guns and training cost money, and this money came from somewhere. There are two Gulf states that finance Sunni militants — Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Both states use financial power derived from oil to build armed terrorist groups which then accomplish aims that their states cannot pursue openly. This occasionally slips out into the open. German Development Minister Gerd Mueller recently blamed Qatar, for instance, for financing ISIS. Qatar itself swiftly denied the charges and claimed it only funds Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Nusra is the other radical Al Qaeda offshoot militant group fighting in Syria. In other words, Qatar denied funding ISIS by saying it funds Al-Qaeda. It’s a sort of ‘we fund the bad guys who want to kill Americans but not the really bad guys who behead them on social media,’ a non-denial denial by geopolitical psychopaths.

Steve Clemons, one of the few members of Washington’s foreign policy establishment who sometimes speaks clearly about what is actually going on with the American empire, believes Qatar. According to his sources, while the Qataris funded the radical group Al-Nusra in Syria, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.” Clemons goes further, and discusses a very important American and Saudi figure, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services and a former ambassador to the United States (as well as a Washington, DC socialite). Clemons writes, “ISIS, in fact, may have been a major part of Bandar’s covert-ops strategy in Syria.”

In other words, ISIS got its start in Syria as part of the Arab Spring uprising, and it was financed by Saudi Arabia to go up against Assad. The Gulf states were using Syria to fight a proxy war against Iran, and the precursor of ISIS was one of their proxies in that war. It’s hard to imagine that today ISIS isn’t at least tacitly tolerated by a host of countries in the region, though its goodwill from neighboring countries may be running out. Today, ISIS may be self-sustaining, though it’s quite possible that money is still coming from conservative wealthy individuals in the Gulf states, money which originally comes from the West in the form of oil purchases.

In other words, Middle Eastern politics, and much of Western politics, is organized around oil money. In its economic consequences, the oil gusher of Saudi Arabia was similar to the Chinese trade in the 19th century that led to the opium wars. In the that episode, the British bought tea from China, but China didn’t want anything but precious metals from England, leading to a drain of what was then reserve currency to China. This wasn’t sustainable, so England attacked China in what was known as ‘the opium wars’ and forced the government to allow them to trade opium, which addicted large segments of the Chinese population (and eventually led to today’s drug war). Revenue from opium then balanced the cost of tea. The money that went from England to China was ‘recycled’ back to England by the opium trade. International monetary arrangements require such recycling, though it does not have to be so brutal.

In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had something the West wanted — oil — but it didn’t want that much from the West. So we used a different kind of recycling arrangement (detailed by Tim Mitchell in his exquisite book Carbon Democracy). Saudi Arabia got dollars, and those dollars piled up in Western banks like Citigroup, which started lending that money out to South American countries in the early 1980s. There were several other mechanisms to recycle what was called “petrodollars”. The arms trade really picked up in the 1970s, and continues today. Gulf states buy a lot of fancy weapons, which moves some of the dollars back to the West. They also have huge sovereign wealth funds, and buy Western corporations, banks, real estate, and assets, as well as the politicians that come with all of that. This ‘recycles’ dollars back out of the Middle East — Saudi Arabia returns some dollars, and in return it gets power and influence in the US.

ISIS Alwaleed and Buffett

Foreign policy in the Gulf states is also organized around petrodollars. The Saudis don’t have to fight externally, they can simply fund terrorism against those they dislike. The Saudi state, like all states, isn’t a coherent whole, but a set of elites that interact with each other. There are thousands of ‘princes’ who basically just get oil income, but any of them can act independently and many of them do. It’s a bit like the CIA doing things without the President’s explicit permission; there’s a reason it was the CIA, the Saudis, and the Israelis financing the Taliban jointly in the 1980s. This has benefits, because then the Saudi state can have constructive ambiguity around its own role in financing terrorism. It also risks blowback, in that groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda can decide to take on the Saudi establishment itself.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States is the most important diplomatic and military relationship that we have. The Saudis are the slush fund for whatever the US wants to do when it doesn’t want that activity on the books. It also fulfills an important role in the oil markets akin to that of the IMF in the international financial markets, by managing its oil surplus to ensure financial and economic stability. This means shifts in a mercurial theocratic kingdom where the Saudi monarch is in his 80s, and most of the population is young, poor, and extremely religious conservatives, can turn world politics on a dime.

Right now, the Saudi government is still attempting to manage fallout from the war in Iraq and the Arab Spring uprisings, as well as the vacuum of power left when the United States withdrew from Iraq. It’s likely that at certain points it funded ISIS as one part of that strategy. Now you might think that the Saudi government financing a terrorist group with stated aims to attack the United States is a one-off, an accident. I mean the United States funded the Taliban in Afghanistan in the USSR in the 1980s. But you would be wrong.

For some reason, attacking the United States seems to be a goal of certain elements of the Saudi Arabian government and financial establishment. Parts of the Saudi government helped organize the attacks on the United States on 9/11 (or least that’s what Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker alleges). That, at least, was apparently one conclusion of the “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001″, better known as the 9/11 Commission Report. Why wasn’t this front-page news? Because this particularly portion of the report, these 28 pages, were classified. Periodically members of Congress gripe about this. As early as 2003, Senators were demanding the Bush administration declassify this section of the report — Chuck Schumer, who has a security clearance and can read the report, pretty much said outright that Saudi Arabia was behind the attacks.

Former Senator Bob Graham continues to complain about the public being kept in the dark. Who in particular in the Saudi government? I don’t know precisely who, but people in the United States government certainly do. It probably has something to do with the Saudi Arabian prince who associated with the hijackers being ‘spirited’ out of the US days after the attacks, even as all planes were grounded. Somehow, the FBI ‘mishandled’ the investigation of this prince and his companions.

The Saudi Ambassador to the US at this point was that same geopolitical sage we are already familiar with through his covert strategy with ISIS: Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Bandar, a colorful Talleyrand-like arms dealer and diplomat who deals with terrorist groups and DC power player alike, is so close to the Bush family that his nickname is ‘Bandar Bush’. The rumors I’ve heard in DC is that his house was a weird fanciful scene where food was served on gold plates. DC journalist Mark Leibovich wrote about the importance of Bandar to the Washington scene, “a most sacred of Official Washington shrines”.

At the memorial service, Barbara sat over near Ken Duberstein, a vintage Washington character in his own right, who did a brief stint as the White House chief of staff during the checked-out final months of Ronald Reagan’s second term. Duberstein and Mitchell are old friends. Jews by religion and local royalty by acclamation, they once shared a memorable erev Yom Kippur — the holiest night on the Jewish calendar — at a most sacred of Official Washington shrines: the McLean, Virginia, mansion of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Haifa.

Yup, the Saudi who funded radical Sunni Muslim group ISIS once hosted Reagan’s former Chief of Staff to erev Yom Kippur festivities.

Prince Bandar’s dazzling hosting abilities in the DC social scene were an important part of his geopolitical arsenal. But just because he painted his private jet in Dallas Cowboys colors, and just because his son was a guest of Jerry Jones for the NFL draft, doesn’t mean he abandoned the other more traditional Saudi tools for geopolitical statecraft, such as supporting Muslim extremists that would engage in violent attacks on Westerners. It turns out that money for the 9/11 hijackers may have flowed through Bandar’s wife’s account at Riggs bank. Riggs was a haven for money launderers and dictators, and was controlled by the Allbritton family, “dear friends” of Ronald Reagan. It was also an instrument of CIA policy, “which included top current and former Riggs executives receiving U.S. government security clearances.” This relationship “could complicate any prosecution of the bank’s officials, according to private lawyers and former prosecutors.” The Albritton family later created Politico, which was arguably the most influential political publication in DC from 2008–2010.

In other words, the Saudi ambassador, who may have funneled money to 9/11 hijackers, also advised the Bush administration on U.S. foreign policy, and had deep and profitable relationships with U.S. media, banking, and political elites. He was also a social luminary in DC. This helped lay the foundation for the American foreign policy establishment consensus position, often forged at think tanks funded by foreign governments. From there, this consensus emanated outward into Politico-like publications, and then outward onto the television networks and into the homes of the remaining Americans will to pay attention to an infantilized deceptive version of American foreign policy.

And so, almost immediately after the attacks, Saddam Hussein became the designated bad guy and the Bush administration, supported by the entire Republican Party, foreign policy establishment, and a substantial chunk of Democrats (Bill and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, for starters), prepared for war in Iraq. The Bush administration alluded many times to a supposed link between 9/11 and Hussein, which was a ludicrous conspiracy theory, but an acceptable one because it served the interests of the Bush administration and a coddled foreign policy elite. But rather than expose the entire secret deal by which elites conducted a shadow foreign policy through Saudi petrodollars, most journalists told Americans that Saddam Hussein had to go. Those journalists who didn’t subscribe to this, especially on TV, were fired.

As we’ve by now noticed, America has been on a glide path of dishonest policy-making since 9/11. One can imagine a different way of doing this. Imagine if the public had known that it was elements of the Saudi government who actually supported this attack. Imagine if they knew of the incredibly tight intertwining of Saudi elites with US elites, the Saudi extra-constitutional slush fund, petrodollar terrorism diplomacy, the long alliance with theocracy, and so forth. There would have had to be a reckoning for this mess of contradictions. Perhaps the public would have endorsed this deal. Perhaps the public would have accepted cheap gasoline in return for, as Ken Silverstein calls it, “The Secret World of Oil.” Rick Perlstein, in the book The Invisible Bridge, showed how the public tried to reckon with Vietnam, but then decided to turn away from truth in the 1970s, and to Ronald Reagan’s narrative of an America without flaws or limits. Perhaps that’s what would have happened, again, after 9/11.

But the public never got the chance for a reckoning. As in the 1970s, we never got a chance to understand the real costs of our geopolitical arrangements, and to examine alternatives. That was left to the fringes, for another ten years or so.Instead, what happened was a mixture of propaganda and censorship.

The propaganda was the organization of the culture for war with Iraq, perhaps the least popular introduction of a war since World War I. This included not only the social salons of Bandar Bush, but also Colin Powell’s show at the UN, false claims of evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction by the Intelligence Community, and a shifting rationale for the invasion of Iraq.

It also included the explicit destruction of the reputation of anyone who attempting to understand 9/11 in the context of ‘blowback’, or what the CIA calls the consequence of secret foreign policy moves. Andrew Sullivan, for example, led the way on Sept. 16, 2001. He wrote:

The middle part of the country — the great red zone that voted for Bush — is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead -and may well mount a fifth column.

A whole series of neoconservative leaning pundits — Mickey Kaus, Tom Friedman, Bill Kristol, Jeff Jarvis, Glenn Reynolds — bathed in this slur-fest. Anyone casting doubt on the official version of 9/11, some variant of ‘they hate us for our freedom’, was dubbed a conspiracy theorist and subjected to McCartyite smears. Even as late as 2009, Van Jones resigned under pressure from the Obama White House ostensibly because he lent credibility to one of their theories by signing a petition about 9/11 he says he didn’t understand. Clearly the theory the Bush administration orchestrated 9/11 is ridiculous, but the campaign to elevate having stupid opinions or even associating with someone with stupid opinions into something closer to treason was just that — a campaign.

But the other part of the 9/11 narrative, aside from propaganda, was censorship. In America it’s not popular to talk about censorship, because it’s presumed that we don’t have it, as such. There are no rooms full of censors who choose what goes into newspapers, and what doesn’t. Our press is free. It’s right there in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..”

Somehow, though, Senators, Congressmen, and intelligence officials are not supposed to talk about those 28 pages in the 9/11 Commission report which are classified. And why not? Well because according to President Bush (and now President Obama), doing so would compromise “national security”. But what, exactly, is censorship, if it’s not a prohibition on individuals to speak about certain topics? Traditionally, First Amendment law gives the highest protection to political speech, allowing for certain restrictions on commercial speech (like false advertising). But there is no higher form of speech than political speech, and there is more important form of political speech than the exposition of wrongdoing by the government. So how is this not censorship?

It clearly is. In other words, explicit government censorship combined with propaganda helped prevent the public from having a full discussion of what 9/11 meant, and what this event implied for our government’s policies. Explicit censorship, under the guise of national security, continues today. While there are people in the U.S. government who know which Saudis financed and organized 9/11, the public at large does not. No government official can say ‘this person funded Al Qaeda in 2001, he might be funding ISIS now’, because that would reveal classified information. He or she can’t even say that to the wrong Congressman or bureaucrat that has classified clearance, because that could annoy his or her superior and cause him to lose his job. Being thrown out of the national security state, a state of 5 million people with special clearances, is painful and can, as Edward Snowden recognized, lead to banishment or lifelong imprisonment.

This is by design. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it in a commission about the classification system in 1997, “It is now almost routine for American officials of unquestioned loyalty to reveal classified information as part of ongoing policy disputes—with one camp “leaking” information in support of a particular view, or to the detriment of another—or in support of settled administration policy. In the process, this degrades public service by giving a huge advantage to the least scrupulous players.” He continued, “Excessive secrecy has significant consequences for the national interest when, as a result, policymakers are not fully informed, government is not held accountable for its actions, and the public cannot engage in informed debate.”

What all this means that the reality of ISIS and what this group seeks is opaque to the public, and to policymakers not clued into the private salons where the details of secrets can be discussed. Even among those policymakers, the compartmentalized national security establishment means that no one really grasps the whole picture. The attempt to get the US into a war in Syria a year ago was similarly opaque. The public cannot make well-informed decisions about national security choices because information critical to such choices is withheld from them. It is withheld from them at the source, through the classification-censorship process, then by obfuscations in the salons and think tanks of DC and New York, and then finally through the bottleneck of the mass media itself.

This is what happened after 9/11, a lack of an informed debate due to propaganda, media control, and a special kind of censorship. Our policy on ISIS is the price for such ignorance. Polling shows Americans want something done on ISIS, but they have no confidence that what is being done will work. This is a remarkably astute way to see the situation, because foreign policy since 9/11 has been a series of geopolitical duct tape and costly disasters. Despite the layers of gauze and grime pulled over our foreign policy viewfinder, the public itself is aware that whatever we’re doing ain’t working.

Adopting a realistic policy on ISIS means a mass understanding who our allies actually are and what they want, as well as their leverage points against us and our leverage points on them. I believe Americans are ready for an adult conversation about our role in the world and the nature of the fraying American order, rather than more absurd and hollow bromides about American exceptionalism.

Until that happens, Americans will not be willing to pay any price for a foreign policy, and rightfully so. Fool me once, shame on you. And so forth.

Unwinding the classified state, and beginning the adult conversation put off for seventy years about the nature of American power, is the predicate for building a global order that can drain the swampy brutal corners of the world that allow groups like ISIS to grow and thrive. To make that unwinding happen, we need to start demanding the truth, not what ‘national security’ tells us we need to know. The Constitution does not mention the words ‘national security’, it says ‘common defense.’ And that means that Americans should be getting accurate information about what exactly we are defending.

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    1. Carla

      Let’s be more specific: Howie Hawkins is running for Governor of New York, and Anita Rios is running for Governor of Ohio, both on the Green Party ticket. Both are running in races where a vote for the Democrat is utterly wasted, even if you ARE a Democrat, because without question incumbents Cuomo will win in NY and Kasich in Ohio. By voting Green in New York, you can give national visibility and an opportunity for the Greens to actually start acting like a political party (as Lambert has pointed out). By voting Green in Ohio, you will help to assure ballot access for the party in the future.

      In the race for Ohio governor, there are only three candidates: Republican Kasich has by some counts a 30-point lead over Democrat Ed FitzGerald. Nothing can further hurt FitzGerald’s campaign. Don’t waste your vote: cast it for Green Anita Rios!

      1. Oregoncharles

        Thank you.
        And then there is Oregon, where Green Jason Levin is running against incumbent Governor Kitzhaber, who on many counts does not deserve re-election (but probably will be anyway – I don’t even remember the Republican’s name).
        Again, Green votes help keep a real alternative on the ballot. Also vote against Measure 90, the top-two runoff/”Open Primary”, which would neatly excise all minor parties from the November ballot.

  1. John

    In short, overseas engagements lets the Washington crowd avoid focusing on domestic problems. Keep priming the Islamic beast and voila, the military industrial complex stays in business while food stamp programs are starved of funds. This phenomena has been well rehearsed and well visited by established folks for generations.

    What was remarkable was the release of the Census data on poverty in the USA yesterday. The US has as many people in poverty as in Kenya — which is ranked 25th in the world for population size. Over 45M Americans are in poverty. Not much shock and awe from the media on this dire revelation. Their concern is ISIS 24 X 7.

    1. pgrommit

      “food stamp programs starved of funds”
      I’m not too sure about that. After all, the entire transfer-payment-to-the-peasants programs serve necessary purposes:
      1) good for business–see Walmart
      2) those payments, along with Dancing With the Stars and legalized gambling (aka fantasy football) keep the peasants in line. They could not care less what TPTB do as long as their status quo is maintained.

  2. proximity1

    I think your major thesis is quite unassailable: government conducted almost entirely in the dark will routinely produce disastrous results. But you may be overstating things a bit in writing,

    “What all this means [is] that the reality of ISIS and what this group seeks [are] opaque to the [U.S.] public, and to policymakers not clued-in to the private salons where the details of secrets can be discussed. Even among those policymakers, the compartmentalized national security establishment means that no one really grasps the whole picture.”

    Through reading a variety of books, journals and newspaper coverage, a reasonably astute outsider could, by putting the pieces togeher and doing some reading between the lines, have come to these conclusions about Saudi Arabia’s role in funding various armed groups, and the consequences for usual U.S. foreign policy interests–over much of the time since the 1980s and 1990s, while, for some, the insight could have arrived even earlier.

    I’d cite these as some of the people who’ve been writing for some time about these connections and who’ve apparently been able to draw the supposedly correct conclusions about the various conflicting interests:
    Most notably of all, Craig Unger and Gilles Kepel but also Seymour Hersh, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, William Greider, Gordon Thomas, Amira Hass, Tim Weiner, and last but far from least, Georges Corm. The list is hardly to be thought exhaustive. And it should be understood that these writers have divergent views in many respects and not supposed that, even on a particular point, they should all agree on political motives and intentions of various actors concerned. The whole point, rather, is to draw from a variety of views which, even as they differ in some respects, offer insight into a wider, richer picture of current and historical events and actors in them.

    1. Matt Stoller

      Through reading a variety of books, journals and newspaper coverage, a reasonably astute outsider could, by putting the pieces togeher and doing some reading between the lines, have come to these conclusions about Saudi Arabia’s role in funding various armed groups, and the consequences for usual U.S. foreign policy interests–over much of the time since the 1980s and 1990s, while, for some, the insight could have arrived even earlier.

      I agree with this. It’s not just a problem of classified information, you can get an accurate if not precise view by looking around. The DC salon problem and media megaphone problem are then the issue.

      1. Jim Haygood

        One might call it meta-analysis of commentary by authors with good sources and good instincts, followed by judicious application of Occam’s razor. Your essay above is a fine example.

        Too bad most members of Congress are too busy campaigning right now, and most aren’t capable of such ratiocinative feats even on their brightest days. So their institutional prerogatives have been taken away from them by the executive branch.

      2. grizziz

        “The public cannot make well-informed decisions about national security choices because information critical to such choices is withheld from them. It is withheld from them at the source, through the classification-censorship process, then by obfuscations in the salons and think tanks of DC and New York, and then finally through the bottleneck of the mass media itself.”
        Why does this sound so much like Churchill’s quote about the Soviets in 1939, ‘A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma’

        Great stuff, thanks!

      3. susan the other

        This was pretty stunning. I’m only sorry you weren’t a bit more cynical. I’m thinking lately that the US secrecy policy has been recognized to have backfired. Even the MSM has tried to get real (but failed which only makes the distrust worse). Enough people are fed up completely. And it is now just a short step from wide spread distrust and disgust to all sorts of social breakdown. The worst form of social breakdown for such an “exceptional” country would people just ignoring everything that comes out of the government propagandists. No matter how much truth might actually be involved. Why should we believe a word they say? We shouldn’t because they have squandered the truth. The sentence you included at the top of your essay that says it all for me is, “The Saudis are the slush fund for whatever the US wants to do…” secretly. Indeed ISIS is an enemy made in heaven for our purposes. While maintaining the social order in Saudi Arabia – based on the fantasy that Islam is all powerful – we brave Americans and our allies get to chase “ISIS” around the Middle East and northern Africa “protecting” western interests. For the next 50 years.

    2. James Levy

      The average American does not have the time or the education to seek out and then parse these various sources and infer the “real” meaning behind the opaque and at times misleading text (if they read a newspaper or online source at all). Most people get their news from television or when they check in to Aol, i.e. from Huffington Post. Stoller is correct to point out that given this diet, they have almost no chance of knowing what is really going on and why. And this happens because we allow foreign agents from Murdock to Bandar, and the national security apparatus, to buy, suborn, plant, and distort the news under the rubric that a capitalist press is ipso facto a “free” one.

      What bothers me about Stoller’s essay is his reference to “a non-denial denial by geopolitical psychopaths” in reference to Qatar and ISIS. This may be true of Qatar (I’m sure it is), but what Stoller really doesn’t want to say is that it is even more true of the USA. What is really standing in the way of a public dialogue on US foreign policy is the murderous mendacity of that policy, the number of people complicit in that policy, and the unwillingness of the American people to stare reality in the face. If the average football fan believed that the information he was using to bet his money or choose his Fantasy Football Team every Friday was as fabricated and distorted as what he reads about ISIS and Ukraine, he’d demand a criminal investigation and that heads should roll. But he’ll accept any self-serving crap the Administration and the Republicans care to feed him (although he’s lost his taste for the costs of their adventures). As Chomsky says, we still live in a fairly free country where most of the time you’re not going to be disappeared for printing the truth. But we lack the collective will to demand the truth and act accordingly. The same guy who has had it up to here with these foreign adventures will go to the polls in November and pull the lever for a Republican Senate that will be even more bellicose than the one we’ve got. It is this fugue-like passivity that is keeping us from having the debate we need–the politicians and the foreign policy elite will never give it to us, we will have to have it over their heads.

      1. proximity1

        That’s largely the hard truth of it. It’s little or no consolation, of course, but the fact is also that the same is true of the general distracted, ill-informed public in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and all the major European countries. This is a standard feature of the contemporary Western world and you are right to deplore it–we have to deplore it and we have to demand better. But I’m afraid we can’t seriously expect much better anytime soon. It’s digusting, indeed it is. But, in seeing what you see, in writing about it and discussing, in sharing your views here and elsewhere, you’re doing more than simply “nothing at all”–which is what most people are doing about it. Stoller’s effort is also a step in the process and a step in a forward direction.

        Let me assure you–if I had a regular job, regular responsibilities, there is no way in the world I’d have had time to read and think about this stuff to the extent that I’ve been able to do. The fact that I do, that I can–that’s my “luxury” in life. I’ve sacrificed for it because it matters to me. To expect it to matter to very many others, let alone to most others is simply to expect things which, at this point, we have no sane right to expect under the circumstances. We’re all about trying to remedy those circumstances but they aren’t going to advance greatly in my lifetime.

  3. TarheelDem

    US corporations simply could not function if they did not have access to cheap oil. Saudi light crude is and remains the largest, most readily accessible pool of the most valuable crude.

    All US corporations?
    A list of US corporations falling into this category would be very instructive.
    And this is true 40 years after the OPEC countries used constriction of oil supplies as a weapon to support Palestine. Isn’t that very interesting. US corporations have had 40 years to develop alternatives but have insisted on staying vulnerable to Saudi Arabian blackmail.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Start with US multinationals.

      Add companies that depend on the current US suburban/exurban footprint.

      Do a thought experiment: how much discretionary US consumer spending would there be if Americans paid European prices for gas? For starters, it would severely impact online businesses that depend on cheap shipping.

      The ramifications are far and wide. I find it hard to think of a business that would not suffer first or second order damage. The sentence I wrote may seem broad brush but work through the implications of a sudden shift to much more costly gasoline. For instance, tell me how a lot of people afford their Obamacare premiums if they are suddenly paying a ton more for gas. Oh, and what happens to debt service and therefore the financial markets and banks? The oil shock was a big nasty to the financial services industry back in the day.

      Squeeze the US consumer hard and in an economy that is 70% consumption (which is a higher portion than it was in the 1970s), a lot falls by the wayside.

    2. Snake Arbusto

      “US corporations have had 40 years to develop alternatives but have insisted on staying vulnerable to Saudi Arabian blackmail.” I think it’s because they – notably the oil and arms industries and all the ones that depend thereon – have an interest in maintaining that status quo. Whether the average citizen has an interest is another question.

  4. Banger

    Well this article certainly made my morning. Thank you Yves and Matt.

    My own view is that while I agree that segments of the Saudi power structure were involved in 9/11 I believe it went way beyond that–Pakistani intel worked closely with the Saudis and the CIA in the Afghan war (another much murkier story than we like to think about). But I don’t want to split hairs here–I believe this was a joint operation by segments of the three organizations I described and perhaps, there is some circumstantial evidence for this, including Israeli and Turkish intel. But who cares? The point is that the cat is out of the bag here–the official 9/11 story is inaccurate and those of us who have asked for a real investigation using forensic evidence and rules of evidence rather than assertions of the USG may get a boost in the arm for, finally, after all these years at least a segment of the left breaking the conspiracy of silence that the media has had since the first day of 9/11 when some gov’t official announced it was Osama from a cave.

    The “path” of ISIS is actually hiding in plain sight and there are numerous actors that brought it into being. The Western powers that attacked Qaddafi, the Turks who allowed Libyan war equipment and military men to pass through Turkey, the U.S. which profits from all conflicts and wanted to destroy Assad as a way to increase the chaos in the region, the Saudis who funded and probably coordinated the whole operation. But in the end the chief actors have got to be acknowledged and that is the U.S. intel services or segments of them (there is a huge “contracting” community that performs illegal black ops and has for a long time).

    In the end we have to analyze who profits from all this crazy stuff and it still comes out that it is mainly the U.S. There are several goals here by these “crazies” that still dominate U.S. foreign policy: 1) assert “full-spectrum dominance over as many parts of the globe as possible; 2) create chaotic situation in vulnerable and unstable areas of the world particularly where there are energy resources using the divide and conquer colonial strategy of the British in India; and perhaps most important 3) make a sh*tload of money for the military-congressional-industrial complex thereby increasing the power of the war-mongers in perpetuity. The military contractors fund the politicians who fund the wars which funds the contractors which fund the politicians which fund the wars and so on and so on.

    I submit to you that there would be virtually no security threats to the people of the United States if we shut down the covert operatives and let the Saudis sink into their own abyss. Key to that is to move away from an oil economy that the American state is wedded to as it is wedded to the military and its unnecessary and Orwelian wars. Key to this is to undermine and subvert the American mainstream media which acts as an arm of that very government that is the chief threat to each of us.

    1. susan the other

      The really ingenious thing about ISIS is that it is “stateless” altho’ it calls itself the Islamic State. It can be a state simply because it has a state of mind. And it is footloose and fancy free to create havoc. Everywhere we want havoc. And if we “go to war” against ISIS we are not attacking any country, not destroying the social order like we did in Iraq, like we will do in Syria or Ukraine. I keep thinking about what that book review on Galbraith’s latest which summarized his criticism of war – war doesn’t work, it fails every time because we destroy a society with some sort of functioning economy and cannot adequately replace it. So war is never a solution to our problems. But just as this awareness is dawning on us, up pops the ultimate terrorist organization – a stateless state.

  5. ambrit

    The author has described a ‘culture of secrecy’ very well. Accepting that, the question becomes, “What ever happened to the multi cultural concept of America?”
    It’s not an easy question to ponder. To come to some reasonable idea of our shared existence, one first needs a solid personal idea of the world and ones place in it. I’m thinking that this is why religious affiliation has generally shaped the publics behavior. Abolition started out as a liberal religious movement. ISIS acts under the Aegis of Fundamentalist Islam. Hindu Fundamentalists are trying to remake India. All this while Western Individualism degenerates into Bread and Circuses. The present Western elites have everything backwards. You are first supposed to have the Religious Revival, then the Crusade. Absent the Revival, a Crusade becomes merely another Adventure.

    1. Banger

      One could say that the current criminal state is a result of both a failure of Christianity and a failure of the 18th century Enlightenment out which the U.S. state grew, prospered, declined and fell into tyranny as many of the Founders worried about. It was a good run and its over and we have our current situation which will go from bad to worse to worse to worse until people fully assimilate that the idea of a rational and moral state representing the best interests of the people is over.

      Now, are there remnants and bits and pieces that we can build on or build with–certainly even in certain segments of the federal bureaucracy but these little fragments are unlikely to last very long in today’s political climate. It’s very liberating to just throw your hands up and give up–it frees up your energy to work for change where you can and at a more grass-roots level.

      1. ambrit

        The hidden tragedy in this is the extent to which geographical location determines ones opportunities for association. We can’t all have the good fortune to live in “Stars End.” As Neil Young put it, “Rust Never Sleeps.”

      2. DJG

        Banger: I wouldn’t write off the Enlightenment. One of the main goals of American religion for any number of years has been to wipe out the Enlightenment. Imagine a country that still can’t accept the theory of evolution, and moreover, theology that can’t even accept basic geological dating. So now we see the anti-vaccination crowd (vaccination came out of the Enlightenment). Throw in mystical ideas about the market (all magical thinking). Add in American ideas of redemption (and rapture). That’s the diagnosis. So let’s return to the Enlightenment–with the insight of Voltaire.

        1. Banger

          Well, I’m not as bullish on the Enlightenment as you but I do believe it is the foundation of a rational political state and we have to start our intellectual frameworks on that project. However, the Enlightenment was a reaction to religious wars and threw out the baby (spirituality) with the bathwater (religion). There is a rational basis for spirituality and the language of the heart–but those of us who are committed to that particular project need to make a rational case rather one that is made on the authority of scriptures or tradition.

          1. Snake Arbusto

            Excellent. Also, the spiritual needs to return to its origins in nature and the environment. Without the sky, would there be a god?

    1. Banger

      I don’t buy that argument at least not in the short and medium term. The aim of this conflict is to fight Syria, Iran, Russia. ISIS operates, in my view, in the interest of the U.S./NATO to be the new monster we must all fight. The charade is one of the most obvious because the public in the West is, at this point in history, a public that is easily fooled (because they want to be fooled). ISIS is a U.S./NATO/Saudi entity. Look at the ease in which British terrorists joined ISIS from the most watched population on Earth and the center of world intelligence activities. Look at how easily arms went from Libya to Turkey to Syria. Look how officers ordered the Iraqi Army to drop their advanced weapons and give them to ISIS before running away despite the fact they outgunned and outmanned ISIS and could not possible be THAT badly trained by U.S. trainers. This ploy is ingenious–go to Saker’s site for more on this.

      1. Rosario

        But you can’t say that, it’s…a…conspiracy. You will attract the ire of the political “pragmatists” ;)

        1. grizziz

          It does not have to be a conspiracy. It can be entirely a confluence of narrow interests. This battle can be couched as ideological, economic, raw power politics, thermodynamic or genealogical and be properly analyzed with in the bounds of the category. Then, it is possible discover a few principles which exhibit a deterministic flavor. Unfortunately, this battle/conspiracy is a chaotic system to which the future effect is entirely unknown, even when the causal agents believe that they can control events.

          Prince Bandar may have started ISIS for his own interest. The actions we acknowledge at many times removed from observation are in a ex post fashion attributed to his intentions. Now, we come to know that ISIS is planning to topple the Saudi regime. One possible outcome for conspiratists to ponder is Prince Bandar might come to rule the new Isalmic state. Has Prince Bandar left a note somewhere that might confirm that this was his intention. This could be proof of a very powerful figure and still not be evidence that history is not path dependent.

          I do think Prince Bandar abuses his power and that conspiracies are regularly occurring. Yet, some understanding of altruistic behavior reveals that conscious quid pro quos are not necessary for public or private gains to accrue to parties that wish to maintain their power relations over long periods of time. It is not a conspiracy when small common interests overlap without conscious intentions to produce large historical events.

          1. Banger

            This prejudice against conspiracies has always puzzled me. Don’t Americans ever read history? Conspiracy has always been at the heart of politics particularly when instability is afoot and the stakes are high. I lived and worked in Washington and saw numerous conspiracies around me–one, Hilary’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” I saw up close because I happened to have had friends in the GOP activist crowd (don’t ask).

            Bandar and intel types are tight and have been for decades. The Saudis depend on the U.S. to provide them with signal intel and provide training for their palace guards and security details around the world–please, don’t be naive–almost everything you see is a conspiracy from insider trading (much more prevalent than anybody seems to believe) to major foreign policy issues and to companies spying on each other and sabotaging their operations.

            The prejudice against conspiracy has been fostered by the media and Operation Mockingbird and its spawn. It has been a blessing to left-wing intellectuals in particular so that they don’t have to confront the obvious and continue in their American Exceptionalist prejudice that well, “mistakes were made” and no American would ever stoop to the sort of thing Greeks, Romans, or any other political entity since then has done.

            1. Oregoncharles

              Correct, and important. “Conspiracy theory” is always very intellectually dishonest – a way of saying “not plausible” without having to make a case, and particularly a way of saying “not the official story.” Which if they said that, everybody would know they’re lying or implausibly naive.

            2. grizziz

              Your reliance on an overly broad description of conspiracy renders much of any private negotiation and planning into the purview of a crime. If that is the appearance of your world, who am I to deny your reality.
              If instead, you are trying to argue a position in order to rally a coalition in order to disrupt the status quo, would you not be as culpable of the same crimes of conspiracy that you appear to find objectionable?

              1. Gaianne


                A conspiracy need not be illegal.

                The moral line gets crossed when a conspiracy commits crimes or engages in gross deception rather than mere discretion.

                The line is not always sharp.

                The great failure of the left is to pretend–out of psychological weakness–it is not happening.


                1. Gene Poole

                  “The great failure of the left”
                  Just what is ‘the Left’? Am I to assume that the drivers of this discussion see themselves as being on the Right? At the Center? or in some other position? Or are you referring to the “failure” of a very specific Left? You’ll need to qualify it if readers outside your apparent consensus are to understand.

      2. Carolinian

        All you say may be true but that still doesn’t mean that the people running ISIS don’t have higher ambitions for their “caliphate.” And I say “may be true” because there’s no hard knowledge that the US or even the Saudis willed the current situation into existence. Clearly they have been giving arms to Syrian rebels but that takes in various groups, some of whom are fighting each other.

        1. Banger

          I think the abandonment of sophisticated US equipment and the overthrow of the Maliki government seems a pretty obvious smoking gun. One source, a member of a covert op combat team, told me that what I say is true but ISIS got “out of hand” and is now running its own agenda as you say. My own view is that this ISIS force seems too much like exactly the cartoon villain that assures US combat operations in the region for some time to come.

          1. Paul Niemi

            I thought I’d toss you a chew. I recently read, possibly on a website devoted to the royals, that Prince Bandar bin Sultan has been busy setting up offices in the U.S. Green Zone in Iraq. All I can predict is that King Abdullah is 90, and there will be funeral games.

  6. Jim Haygood

    ‘The US has clearly signaled its unwillingness to support continued US hyperaggression against the Palestinians.”

    Really? With a 395-8 slam-dunk vote in the House last month for an extra $225 million for Iron Dome?

    As Senator Elizabeth Warren said when asked whether Israel should be prevented from building any more settlements as a condition of future U.S. funding, ‘I think there’s a question of whether we should go that far.’

    Nice work by Matt Stoller in outing our other false ally, Saudi Arabia.

    1. ambrit

      I’d like to shake the hands of those brave eight representatives.
      False ally clouds the issue. Better to just admit that all state actors have “interests,” not just the US.

    2. Banger

      I had a lot of trouble with that statement–I see no evidence of it. However, I do know that American non-Zionist FP professionals harbor a deep dislike of the Israeli state and its heavy-handed methods as well as its infiltration by the Mossad in all areas of the U.S. National Security State.

    3. Vatch

      Can you tell us the bill number? Is it H.R.4870? There’s a huge amount of information at, and I can’t find the specific vote to which you referred. I believe you, but I want to find more information.

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      You are ignoring new information. Go watch the Real News Network segment. As Keynes said, ‘When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?’

      The interviewee makes clear the US has not sent a shot across Israel’s bow about its conduct like that before, and the Isrealis got the message. The insiders are freaked out.

  7. John Jones

    Great post.
    This made me think of some questions if anyone can answer any it will be appreciated.

    This might be a stretch but if Bandar is close to the Bush’s. So is it not possible they and others would of known about what Bandar was up to before hand or possibly been complicit to begin with. After all it did work in their and others favor allowing them to launch wars they wanted to. Does America use Saudi Arabia to do there dirty work as well?

    If oil and gas was sold at prices by the countries with it in their ground wanted to sell it at. Wouldn’t America and the world be able to adjust to this?

    Why does Saudi Arabia want to fight a proxy war against Iran or to confront them at all? Do they want access to Iranian oil and gas? Do Saudi and U.S interests aline on Iran so the U.S or their corporations can get access to cheap oil and gas?

    1. ambrit

      The House of Saud vs. Iran conflict goes back to the Shia Sunni split in 632 and the war over the succession of the Prophet. Needless to say, religious wars are a b—-! Especially when both sides are varieties of the same dispensation. Plus, Iranians aren’t Arabs. Farsi is distinct from Arabic. The list goes on.
      As for complicity, as Feynmans appendix to the Challenger Report showed, on need not be explicit to obtain a result.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Farsi and Arabic are unrelated – Farsi is Indo-european, Arabic is Semitic. Of course, there must be a legion of loan words by now.
        More important than the languages is the long-time rivalry for power – both have had widespread empires including the other, in the past.

    2. EoinW

      Good questions. Yes we can blame foreigners for 9/11 but how could foreigners have done the following: stand down US air defences that day? Make 4 black boxes disappear? Bring down three towers – one not even hit – with clearly controlled explosions? Or turn the following investigation into a cover up? The next questions are: who in the US government and military were behind it and how many it would take to pull something like this off?

      Updating, Ebola appears in west Africa for the first time ever. Then you have the mysterious doctor infected, flown to Atlanta and saved. Meanwhile the epidemic rages but no one considers closing borders. Business before human lives naturally but does anyone in power want Ebola to come to North America? Considering the militarization of America’s police and how much the 1% fear the general public, is it far fetched to think they may feel so threatened that a pandemic looks like a good way to diffuse revolution? I’m not suggesting all the elites feel this way. However how many people in power subscribing to such wacko thinking would it take to make it happen? Didn’t Dick Cheny make a fortune on Tamuflu some years ago?

  8. Rosario

    This post really illuminates the importance of the Scotland independence vote tomorrow. The farther we get from monolithic societies the less chance there is for empire. Today it should be possible to regionalize politics and economies without the negative characteristics found in past statelets: tribalism, xenophobia, slavery, etc. and at this point we might as well give it a shot even if it fails. Regionalizing can’t be much worse than what we are doing currently.

  9. Nat Scientist

    The critical flaw in humanity is the continuing desire for servants. The Original Sin is simply taking advantage of the arbitrage-able brother or sister rather than educating them as partners. From this one disease, a living hell is constructed. There is nothing new in these tears of today.

  10. diptherio

    Pardon me while I wax a bit pessimistic.

    So far as I can tell, most Americans do not want to have adult conversations about foreign policy, or much of anything else. Why? Because speaking and seeking the truth is uncomfortable, and may lead to “blowback” of its own, and of a personal nature. As the Turks say, “if you speak the truth, keep a foot in the stirrup.”

    No, the cynic in me sees people who are more concerned with feathering their own individual nests than with something so abstract as “the truth.” The justification goes something like this, “everything is spin and opinion anyway–if there is a “truth” we’ll never know it–and besides, this stuff is complicated and best left to the experts and Modern Family is coming on the tube in a few minutes…”

    I’ve witnessed situations in which people I respect and love have had the opportunity to stand up and speak for the truth, when they were particularly well-positioned to know it, and decided to keep their mouth shut instead because they didn’t want to get in trouble with the boss, or have anything happen to their pension.

    The majority of our citizens, from what I can tell, have been brainwashed by our media to such an extent that most base their lives around greed and fear. Greed for all the material goods the advertisers are constantly shoving in our faces, and fear that we might not get to have those things. We’ve become a nation of children, making our decisions and acting on the same basis that children do. If we’re content to act like children, letting the big strong authority make our decisions and tell us what’s what, then we deserve to be treated like children. We’ve gotten what we deserve–let’s be honest.

    1. Banger

      100%+ for you. This is indeed the case. You and I have been beating that drum for sometime and your comment here is muy articulate.

      1. diptherio

        Adding: As an adult, I’ve determined that helping to fund muderers, liars and con-artists is abhorrent to my ethical sense and I refuse to do it. I can see what’s going on, thank you very much, and I want no part of it. And if that means my life has to be a little uncomfortable as a result, then so be it. It can’t be nearly so uncomfortable as being blown up by a drone or having your country turned into a war zone, so I’ll deal.

        Of course, it might not be so clearcut for others, myself being single and childless and poor as sh*t anyway…but you gotta admit that aiding and abetting torture, terrorism, illegal war, etc. is a pretty serious thing. I’m surprised it doesn’t bug more people….

        1. Banger

          This is why most people pursue willful ignorance and try to pull the wool over their own eyes. The gov’t just needs to prod a little and they’ll believe anything that avoids having to stare the truth in the face. Actually, it’s never as bad as people think–I live perfectly well and feel more not less empowered in my life.

        2. tim s

          It bugs me a great deal. I admit to still living within the system, largely due to having kids, wife, etc. Eyes wide open though (as far as I can tell….). I’m not so sure that it is tax money of those within the system that funds all of these activities. There’s no way that covert operations are funded with tax money, and most of these operations are covert. These deep state activities need our tax money like the financial institutions in 2008 needed them – not at all. They will get “funding” regardless, as long as they serve their hidden purpose.

          I respect your choice.

          1. Gaianne

            Taxpayer support of covert operations is not small. Take a look at the black budget items in the Federal budget–where Congress appropriates the money but agrees not to ask how it was spent.

            At this point, though, off-the-books funding through drug dealing is surely larger.


            1. tim s

              poor wording on my part. I should have written “There’s no way that ALL OF THE covert operations are funded with tax money”

              I admit, how would I know, really. But I’m of the same mind as you that most of the black budget must come from the black market. The 30, 50, or whatever billion $$ that is in our official black budget amounts to change in the deep state’s couch.

        1. TedWa

          Sorry, can’t seem to get the link to work. If you have duckduckgo search : ibuprofen and mood altering medications. It’s the first link to a PDF that pops up. Looking at the list was really eye opening.

        2. TedWa

          Sorry, can’t seem to get the link to work. If you have the duckduckgo search engine look up ” ibuprofen and mood altering medications ” . It’s a real eye opener.

        3. TedWa

          Sorry, can’t seem to get the link to work. If you have the duck duck go search engine look up ” ibuprofen and mood altering medications ” . It’s a real eye opener.

    2. nony mouse

      I agree with the overall statement you’re making, but the second paragraph seems like the big key that unlocks things.”No, the cynic in me sees people who are more concerned with feathering their own individual nests than with something so abstract as “the truth.” The justification goes something like this, “everything is spin and opinion anyway–if there is a “truth” we’ll never know it–and besides, this stuff is complicated and best left to the experts and Modern Family is coming on the tube in a few minutes…”

      it is a more rational response to focus on the things that you can actually have an impact on, and not spend endless energy worried about things that you can’t really impact on (except by being ‘aware’ somehow and speaking the truth, because in politics all of our hands have been tied).

      I would say that the economic devolution, to a scrap-and-scrabble (for) existence daily, serves this end as well. who has time for this shit, when there are bills to pay? also, Modern Family may be the only thing you have energy for after that daily struggle to survive. I think a lot of the crapping on people who would rather watch TV is misplaced. they have no energy, physical or mental, for anything else after dealing with the hassles of work, commute, shopping (for groceries–for ‘deals’ and to eat properly and healthily), trying to figure out the subclauses of the insurance agreement, and scheduling one’s life around having to take the car in for service due to a stack of recall notices in the mail. life itself has become more mindless on many fronts, while also becoming so much more complicated on all of the others that it is a surprise that a person can snatch away a couple of hours for mindless entertainment at all. I find the desire to do so is simply because your brain and your body, and the constant worry over making the wrong choices and the worry over losing one’s job and all that will happen to your entire life as you know if it you just sign (or fail to sign) the wrong piece of paper or ingest the wrong substance is simply too much too handle after awhile. we are exhausted. we need ‘better’ ways to spend a productive leisure, but instead we have mere recuperation to fight the battle all over again tomorrow.

      I think this is all by design, but that is a conspiracy theory for another day.

      1. Gaianne

        To have empathy for those so exhausted that they turn to TV is all right, but true love speaks truth, gently. And the truth is TV is a drug that seems to offer relaxation and release, but just drains you further. So the first step is to recognize it, and go clean and sober.

        How to help people? A hard and very individual question. Sometimes you can see the answer. But it does no good to accept excuses. At the point you are accepting excuses you are just enabling–like helping an alcoholic to buy liquor. A waste of your own energy that you cannot afford.

        Seek out the people who you can work with, who will work with you. The others do not need your help to go to their fate.


  11. Brindle

    These “costly disasters” are features not bugs. What we are doing is working for a certain strata of elites. The duct tape was designed to break.

    ? ….because foreign policy since 9/11 has been a series of geopolitical duct tape and costly disasters. Despite the layers of gauze and grime pulled over our foreign policy viewfinder, the public itself is aware that whatever we’re doing ain’t working.”

    1. Banger

      Indeed–and the public, even if it smells something rotten in Denmark will go along if the con is clever and complicated enough so that it allows misdirection and smoke and mirrors to be in play. The last major attempt at a major con in the region was the false-flag gas attacks in Syria but the Ministry of Truth found out that nobody cares if a bunch of A-rabs die. But behead one American and everyone is ready to bomb the crap out of the enemy.

  12. JEHR

    Just as the banks operate within a huge shadow banking system which is hidden from public view, so the US military/industrial complex operates in a huge shadowy covert network and neither of these shadowy systems is known fully by any one person. Both are corruptions of the first order.

  13. Lambert Strether

    At least now we have an explanation for why ISIS and the Saudis are both such big fans of beheading. They seem the same because they are (yes, “the same” is a gross mis-statement of Stoller’s more subtle thesis. But this is more fun…)

  14. Tony

    “The Constitution says ‘common defense,’ not ‘national security.'”

    Somebody, please, put this on a t-shirt or bumper sticker or something.

  15. Yee-haw, open that kimono

    And lest we make the mistake of thinking that Saudis only own the Bush Republicans, let’s not forget who greased Obama into Harvard: Awaleed! Khalid Al-Mansour, AlWaleed’s majordomo, asked black saint Percy Sutton to give Obama a nice recommendation to get him into Harvard. Remember when Sutton spilled the beans, and Albritton’s Politico called Sutton senile and demented, and Media Matters chimed in? Well, Al-Mansour confirmed Sutton’s story publicly in 2012.

    So Saudi princelings own the Democrats too – even the putative insurgents meant to give us poignant hope. Keep that in mind when you read, “Clearly the theory the Bush administration orchestrated 9/11 is ridiculous.”

    Monsieur Stoller will not deign to rebut the ridiculous parts of points PENT-1, PENT-2, ME-1, ME-2, and MC-Intro through MC-8 in this ridiculous précis of ridiculous peer-reviewed fact. Stoller’s dictum, which sticks out in an otherwise closely-reasoned and well-supported piece, is straw-manning. It diverts attention from related evidence of treasonous proliferation presented by Sibel Edmonds and Jim Dean. Clearly, witting cadres in the Bush administration played crucial roles in effecting 9/11 through Saudi and Israeli cutouts. 9/11 was coordinated at the highest levels, specifically through ‘Safari Club’ type arrangements for international intelligence collusion, as described by Russ Baker. So the assertoric creed that Stoller hands down happens to be modified limited hangout.

    Anent ISIS, Saudi and Israeli tag teams are again helping the US government subvert universal-jurisdiction law, this time to attack Syria. In a mass-destruction version of a Three Stooges pie fight, ISIS shells Israel, then ducks, and Israel responds by shelling the Syrian army.

    So yes, let’s talk turkey. But the revoked First Amendment won’t do shit. What you need is Article 19 and international review.

  16. Eureka Springs

    War is failure. Killing people is wrong. Arming all these people is wrong. Those who operate in the certain comfort of complete secrecy, under secret law with secret courts, secret police, unlimited weapons and funding will do the most outrageous things. A black line of redaction on any Government report/document/budget/law etc., is a black eye on all our faces. I’m constantly amazed at how many people negotiate for government secrecy.

    The first amendment is a good angle. But I wonder if in the future when decent people pen a new constitution and rule of law means something again that the same amendment should make clear the people have a right to know everything government does? Government has demonstrated that all it’s citizenry and most of the rest of the world can and will be open-sourced…. at the very least Government itself should be the single entity which is open-sourced.

  17. susan the other

    So. Oil, not a free press, is really the topic. A free press would be nice. But I don’t think we’ve ever had a free press serving the interests of common people. But oil, on the other hand, actually does serve the interests of the common people in our trickle-down, oil-based economy. Oil R Us. Seems like it’s verboten to mention certain things, like the very nature of our trickle-down economy, or how China is starving for oil supplies and would gladly gobble up all the oil in the Middle East and then some. Or the exact reserve figures on the Caspian, reputedly with at least 100 years of oil left – but then what? Or also never discussed is the quandary we face over global warming v. human economies. Or the environment v. profiteering. It’s easier to ignore those things and just go for oil. Really simple marching orders. Take over control of production and sale. Limit consumption to specific industries – that’s the easiest way to control the economic free-for-all we foolishly set in motion to win the Cold War. But since this is a free market, a democracy, and the land of opportunity, we can’t discuss any of that. Too bad. Hypocrisy is even worse than official propaganda.

  18. Oregoncharles

    “Somehow, though, Senators, Congressmen, and intelligence officials are not supposed to talk about those 28 pages in the 9/11 Commission report which are classified.”
    From the Constitution, Article I ,Sect,.6, paragraph 1: “The Senators and Representatives…for any Speech or Debate in either House, … shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
    In other words, they have legal immunity for any action they take in office. If they REALLY wanted those 28 pages released, or, for that matter, the Intelligence Committee report on the CIA, they would read them into the Congressional Record, as Gravel did with the Pentagon Papers. Presto Change-o – not classified any more. Any ONE Congress-member can declassify anything they have in their possession, without being exiled or thrown into a military prison.

    They would do that, that is, if they had any guts whatsoever, or really wanted them released.
    And this specifically includes my own Senator Wyden, as well as Udall, who has also pretended to make a fuss over the NSA abuses.

  19. Oregoncharles

    “Unwinding the classified state, and beginning the adult conversation put off for seventy years about the nature of American power” – ain’t gonna happen without some form of revolution, conceivably electoral (though I fear that would be met with a coup) but probably not. (I wish.) I think that’s particularly clear from this article.

    As a recent academic study showed, we don’t have a democracy here. It’s a plutocracy, as nc demonstrates more or less every day, and increasingly authoritarian – precisely so they can get away with this sort of thing, to say nothing of the massive Wall St. theft regime.

    And incidentally, it may be ridiculous to say that the Bush administration “orchestrated” the 9/11 attacks (I don’t think they had the resources), but not at all ridiculous to say they knew it was coming and let it happen. It’s just a minor re-interpretation of the Commission’s conclusions. And if, indeed, Bandar Bush or one of his princely cohorts did it, then we’re very, very close to the Bush administration itself.

  20. Lambert Strether

    “The Saudi state, like all states, isn’t a coherent whole, but a set of elites that interact with each other.” I like this because it implies factional infighting in the Saudi state (as in all states) and that means that a “pillars of the regime” strategy that takes advantage of such infighting has some chance of success. I realize I’m reasoning backwards from a desired result, but sometimes that’s the only way to play the hand….

  21. Nat Scientist

    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland depiction of the Red Queen and the language that she used come to mind. Medieval torture demonstrations keep it Medieval; right where they started from.
    I love you, don’t leave, I’ll destroy you,
    Scotland forever.

  22. readerOfTeaLeaves

    I’m very late to this thread but hope Matt Stoller sees this comment.
    Sic Semper Tyrannis had a recent link to a fascinating report about the history, geology, population pressures, and agricultural constraints of Syria.

    Off the top of my head, and therefore not checked for accuracy:
    Imagine that in a period of about 40 years, a population went from 3 million to 24 million.
    Suppose that population was living in a region with very little arable land.
    Then add onto that a drought 2006 – 2010 that shrunk the already-insufficient arable land by about 60% — leaving a population of 24 million to try and live off about 30% of its previous arable land.
    Farmers and their families become urban poor in a state already under pressure.

    One would expect conflict and violence in such a situation. Syria appears to be a climate disaster unfolding.

  23. Fiver

    I note a rather disturbing recent trend among some critics of US foreign policy with respect to the long relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, the current US-sponsored conflicts from Libya to Pakistan, and a partial revision of the events surrounding 9/11.

    For a long time now many have argued for a version of what is asserted here, i.e., that senior members of the Saudi Arabian Government and/or Royal Family were up to their eyeballs in the creation, funding, arming, training (including ideological indoctrination in fraudulent ‘Islam’) and direction of ISIS, itself simply a re-branded terrorist start-up built from the wreckage of the failed US/Saudi/Qatari/Turkish/Jordanian/Other mercenary ‘jihadist’ regime-change attempt in Syria, which failed when Putin refused to allow the US to pin a false charge against Assad for attacking his own people with chemical weapons. Further, that 9/11 itself was a Saudi operation conducted by essentially the same senior Saudi players.

    Pinning all of this on Saudi Arabia is simply not plausible. There is no chance, and I mean none, that even the Bush Admin would give any the Saudis actually responsible a pass had it been a Saudi-only attack. That such a wild misreading of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the history of the entire US power establishment is deemed plausible is disappointing – and dangerous. Let’s examine this a bit:

    Stoller points to the role of the Saudis as swing producer of oil, a position which gave it the power to control oil prices. However, Stoller speaks only of keeping prices down, and ignores the opposite, driving prices up. Please recall that the price of oil in the late ’90’s had dropped to $10 a barrel; that the US appeared to have embarked on a technological/trade/financial revolution so impressive as to allow permanently low interest rates; a balanced budget; the technological prowess to actually act on Climate Change and get off fossil fuels, or order the affairs of the planet. All of these were anathema to oil producers – both Saudi and American, the latter’s oil industry languishing in a world where much of the world’s reserves were controlled by State-owned oil firms, but with a set of new technologies that promised a new US oil bonanza – if the price of oil was much higher, then – and now.

    Stoller, against a great deal of evidence to the contrary, places the power of the Oil Lobby ahead of the Israeli Lobby, even though the Bush Admin was loaded to the gills with neocons known to have a very radical, wrong-headed and dangerous set of world views and goals, and explicit, even more dangerous plans for their realization – most of them still ensconced in senior power positions. The neocons were wedded to Israel. The Saudis, Big US Oil and an Israel/Likud that has never intended to make peace with the Palestinians each had factions long familiar with organized mayhem.

    Please think this through:

    It is evident to leadership elites that most intelligent, most educated, and just plain most people no longer believe a great deal of what they are told, and that the number grows every day. This is particularly true vis a vis the entire Official Truth Narrative that arrived with 9/11, so much so that even the putrid gnomes in Congress, the Admin, the State Department, Intelligence Agencies, media and the rest know they have to do something to reconcile the failed 9/11 cover story and aftermath with the actions of reasonable, honest leaders. A Government that claims the right to lie, murder, redact history, stage history, steal anything not tied down and more has been caught cold in all these acts all the while building out the apparatus to spy on, cyber attack, track, hound, and terrorize its own citizenry – and we are supposed to pay any attention whatever to what these criminals have gone to such great lengths to imprint on our wee brains – that the “key” 28-pages not released is ‘the answer’? Tell me you’re not serious.

    In order for the State, and those US and other persons directly involved, to escape criminal culpability for 9/11 and everything else since, they are preparing the ground to ditch, if necessary, at least for public consumption, their usually completely reliable partner in Riyadh. The problem, of course, is the debacle in Syria, which is when the serial regime plan of the neocons went badly off the rails via Putin’s intervention, Assad’s implied threat to use chemical weapons in the event of an American attack, and Obama’s temporary ‘hold’ on that attack. This angered all of America’s allies in this crime noted above, and indeed the Saudis and Bandar publicly stated their intention to create a new army to finish the job. No surprise that this is ISIS. However, only a fool believes the US isn’t also heavily involved in ISIS, and that what we’ve witnessed is some creative terrorist start-up gimmicks to cover a very useful (to the US, Saudis, and price of oil even as the global economy slows) leadership change in Iraq, and a literally hysterical political and media response in the US which granted a big green beacon of a light for Obama to bomb the entire Arab/Islamic world to rubble if need be – and that now includes Saudi Arabia given the US shale oil boom, a slowing global economy and the fact it cannot bomb Russia, which just happens to hold a trillion barrels of recoverable, quality crude with the assistance of US technology – an amount that utterly dwarfs the US ‘boom’.

    Israel, of course, had the most to gain by 9/11 – the US has mopped the floor as per the neocons (i.e., Israel’s) plans. But Israel, too, was livid at the outcome in Syria, an outcome which ruined the prospect of a complete capitulation by Hamas at the bargaining table, for which the Hamas leadership was nonetheless blamed and a thorough plastering of Gaza promised and delivered. And just when the world was registering maximum disgust with Israeli actions, out comes Queebs, the London Head Hunter to remind the great American Christian Mass just who was a barbarian and who was not.

    9/11 was about powerful interests, Saudi, domestic US (oil, CIA, etc.), and Israeli. Any of those interests are indeed so deeply entrenched none could do much of anything without the other 2 knowing. Only such a powerful confluence of interests and sophistication can account for the whole story from the late ’90’s to date. All over the globe there are countries with huge reserves of conventional and unconventional oil deemed ‘unfriendly’ or ‘unstable’: Iraq, Libya, Iran (total 200 billion barrels) and Venezuela (minimum a trillion barrels) have been joined by Ukraine (major oil and gas potential) and Russia, currently huge but with ‘contained’ enormous prospects. Isn’t this odd considering 15 years of alarm over Peak Oil, a tripling and often more of the oil price, the wholesale environmental destruction of US fracking and Canadian oil sands?

    Keep the price down, my ass.

    This is not my best shot at this, just the best in a mad rush to post.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Follow the money.

      Cheap oil is essential to the US economy. Israel isn’t.

      The US ties to Saudi Arabia go back to the Roosevelt Administration. By contrast, Kissinger cleverly made the US a patron of Israel (via having us provide some supplies in IIRC the Six Day War) which ended what had been a much more powerful position for the US in the Middle East, that of being a neutral-ish power broker.

      Younger Jews don’t identify with Israel. Quite a few older Jews have also become ambivalent about Israel, some dating to the invasion of Lebanon, more with the latest round of attacks on Gaza. Anyone paying attention knows that Israel’s power in the US is falling and will fall further. Congresscritters and pols will still give lip service to Israel, but policy going forward is another kettle of fish. You clearly did not bother to look at the Real News Network video I mentioned. Despite the US acting like Netanyahu’s poodle for the last couple of years in the fact of increasing Israeli recklessness and intransigence, we’ve finally told the Israelis through unofficial channels that we’ve had it and we are prepared to withhold military supplies if they don’t shape up.

      1. Fiver


        Thanks very much for taking the time to respond, and for posting my comment at all, given its controversial content and the fact you could’ve chosen otherwise with none the wiser. You are a class act and that’s no lie.

        I started writing a long, detailed response, but have opted to go short and sweet:

        You say cheap oil is vital to the US and global economy, and that is indeed the standard, conventional and correct view – that is IF the leadership elite was actually interested in a strong US or global economy as opposed to the utterly corrupt, criminal and I fear completely cracked collection of characters now calling the shots in Washington and on Wall Street. Any real leadership believing it had been slammed by Saudis would’ve at minimum launched a massive effort to either get off fossil fuels or invest seriously in fossil fuel alternatives (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Venezuela, Russia et al), not allowed the price to rise, rise, then rocket into the stratosphere via financialization and other factors.

        I’ll flesh out my thinking in later comments on related storied. I wish I wasn’t right, but fear that’s just the way it is. Thanks again, Yves.

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