William Arkin has long been an outstanding investigator of the “National Security State,” bringing to light many of its sinister operations. But he seems to have looked into the abyss too long, for now, in a recent article in Cryptome, he is offering a counsel of despair that reflects the worst and most extreme stances of the National Security State toward terrorism, while completely overlooking that same State’s role — still continuing today — in fostering, funding and arming Islamic extremism.
We have not even begun to address this “root cause” of violent Islamic extremism in its modern, organized form. Arkin undoubtedly knows this history. He knows how an international jihad army was shaped, funded and armed by the United States and Saudi Arabia in order to create so much terror and chaos in Afghanistan that the Soviet Union would be forced to intervene to save the secular government there. He knows that the architect of this policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, is very open and proud of this. He knows about Reagan’s “freedom fighters” who tied their opponents between tanks and tore them to pieces. He knows how Washington fuelled extremist jihad for years, until it achieved its aim: giving the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam,” as Brzezinski put it to Jimmy Carter. Once the Soviets pulled out, of course, the United States promptly forgot about Afghanistan, leaving it at the mercy of pitiless warlords and extremists.
Arkin knows that the United States facilitated Islamic extremists in the former Yugoslavia. Arkin knows that the United States is helping vicious extremists in Syria right now, including extremist factions allied with Al Qaeda. Arkin knows the United States has a long-standing, no-questions-asked alliance with the greatest purveyor of virulent Islamic extremism in the world: Saudi Arabia. Arkin knows that the United States is directly involved in Saudi Arabia’s savage slaughter in Yemen, which has cleared the way for the growth of both al Qaeda and Isis in that country.
Arkin knows that America’s chief ally in the region, Israel, is in a tacit alliance with Saudi Arabia to support violent extremists in Syria. He knows Israel treats ISIS soldiers in its hospitals, he knows Israeli officials have said they would prefer an Islamist regime in Syria to Asad’s government. Arkin knows that Barack Obama said, with admirable candor, that he held off on taking action against ISIS as it began its rampage through Iraq precisely because he wanted to “put pressure” on the government in Baghdad to change its leadership, which Washington no longer liked. This was said in a much-publicized interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Arkin cannot be unaware of this.
In sum — and leaving out a much longer history of American and Western and Israeli policies of fostering Islamic extremism to advance various political goals — the continuing and active involvement of the world’s leading democracies in directly and indirectly arming, funding and spreading Islamic extremism cannot be denied. But it is not even mentioned by Arkin. He simply says that ALL “reasonable” approaches to quelling terrorism have been tried, and have failed. Therefore, there is nothing left to do but examine “our enemies” — with, to be sure, due acknowledgement of their humanity and a careful consideration of their cause — and then “embrace an uncompromising war” against those unfit for human society. Somehow, he thinks, this will lead to the end of the growing militarization and authoritarianism that he says, quite rightly, is destroying our own freedoms. Somehow, the launching of an all-out, uncompromising, unreasonable war against “pure evil” will cause the militarists and authoritarians to have LESS power in our society. The hyper-militarization of society such a total war would require will somehow, magically, lead us back to our freedom. For surely history has taught us that authoritarians always happily give up their authority once “pure evil” has been defeated.
And of course, such an approach will not solve the problem of terrorism as he outlines it. He says that if, after judicious examination of their cause, we decide “our enemies” are “just pure evil”, then we need to steel ourselves and “embrace an uncompromising war to better humanity.” Who will make this judgment? (I think we know who.) What if other nations don’t agree that this or that enemy is “beyond the pale” and decide to support them instead? And if we embrace this unreasonable, uncompromising war — which will certainly kill multitudes of innocent people — why will this not create even more hatred, extremism and thirst for revenge? Since “terrorism” does not abide in one nation, where will this uncompromising war be aimed? Arkin says his approach doesn’t mean “bombs and more bombs” — what then does it mean? An “uncompromising war” fought with water pistols? How can you eliminate “pure evil” without bombs and more bombs? Or is he advocating the expansion of death squads to take out individuals whom someone somewhere has concluded are “pure evil” and must be eliminated?
I understand where Arkin is coming from. I know he thinks that this will somehow stop the societal rot being caused by the Terror War. But what he is doing, ultimately, is “embracing” the most extremist stance of the Terror Warriors: that we should stop all this pussyfooting around and just slaughter these wretches of “pure evil” with a savage war that “won’t be pretty.” This, he says — just like Trump, Cruz and many others — is a “better path” to peace than our “muddled reasonableness.”
But again, he has failed to consider one of the most vital and consequential factors in the growth of violent Islamic extremism: its support by the very forces who claim to be fighting for civilization. You cannot say we have “tried everything” to quell terrorism and now must embrace total war, if we have not even acknowledged this factor, much less tried to deal with it.