Israel’s disproportionate and increasingly pernicious role in American politics and policies is well-known. But Washington’s decades-long collusion of corruption with the repressive, retrograde regime of Saudi Arabia has if anything been even more disastrous for the world.
Historians of the next millennium will look back on the fatal bargain that humanity has made with fossil fuels as one of the great wrong turnings in the history of homo sapiens. By the end of this century it will have burned or drowned vast portions of the planet and plunged billions of people into ruin and suffering. The benefits that arose from our oil-based civilization cannot be denied — yes, I too am glad that an ambulance can get me quickly to the hospital or fly me across the ocean to see my children — but the cost of these benefits has been immense, and there is far worse to come in the years ahead … not least for those same beloved children.
One of the most deleterious effects of fossil-fuelled civilization has been the prominence that geographical happenstance has given to Saudi Arabia. Its vast reserves of oil has meant that governments of every stripe have overlooked its horrendous oppression and its global propagation of one of the most narrow and ignorant perversions of Islam. This is particularly striking given the fact that for the past 30 years, “Islamic extremism” has been the chief bugbear and bloody shirt waved by Western powers seeking to maintain and extend their dominance of world affairs. All of these powers — Washington especially — have always known that the greatest backing, financing and arming of “Islamic extremism” have come from the elite of Saudi Arabia … the same elite that the Western powers have cravenly courted, decade after decade.
Without oil, Saudi Arabia would be one of the world’s pariah states, where women are oppressed to a degree unseen in any other nation, where clerics wearing 17th-century blinkers behead people for the crime of falling in love with the “wrong” person, where the political freedom of ordinary people is stifled on a level nearly commensurate with that of North Korea. But Saudi Arabia does have oil. And so its oppression, misogyny, brutality and tyranny is not only excused by the West’s great champions of democracy; it is honored, celebrated and sustained with arms deals and diplomatic support — and, of course, the trillions of dollars that have flowed to the kingdom from every corner gas station in America for decades.
This collusion with extremism has grown even more deadly since 9/11 — the beginning of what looks almost certain to be a century of “war on terrorism.” Indeed, one of Saudi Arabia’s great facilitators of Islamic extremism — its longtime ambassador to Washingon, Prince Bandar — was so close to the American power structure that he was known as “Bandar Bush” — an honorary member of one of the leading families of the American ruling elite. Even while America is ostensibly fighting an ever-expanding war against “Islamic extremism,” it is coddling and colluding with the most active and effective supporter of Islamic extremism in the world, Saudi Arabia. A cynic might see in this bizarre symbiosis the perfect expression of the murderous corruption at the heart of our political world — and of our whole oil-based civilization.
The horrific turmoil we are seeing in the Middle East today — particularly with the rise of ISIS — grows from that selfsame soil. In an excellent article this week, Patrick Cockburn traces the rise of ISIS in part to a long-term plan by Prince Bandar and the Saudi elite to eliminate their hated sectarian rivals, the Shiites, while protecting and extending their own repressive and illegitimate ascendancy over the Middle East — and Islam as a whole. As so often happens with these grand plans — like the neo-con vision of “remaking” the oil regions through military conquest — the Saudi scheme has gone badly awry: the puppets have cut the strings, and are now threatening the puppet-master.
You should read the Cockburn piece in full, but here are a few excerpts:
How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”
The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit. …
There is no doubt about the accuracy of the quote by Prince Bandar, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 and head of General Intelligence between 2012 and 2014, the crucial two years when al-Qa’ida-type jihadis took over the Sunni-armed opposition in Iraq and Syria. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004, emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar’s words, saying that they constituted “a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed”.
He does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” This sounds realistic since the tribal and communal leadership in Sunni majority provinces is much beholden to Saudi and Gulf paymasters, and would be unlikely to cooperate with Isis without their consent.
… The forecast by Prince Bandar, who was at the heart of Saudi security policy for more than three decades, that the 100 million Shia in the Middle East face disaster at the hands of the Sunni majority, will convince many Shia that they are the victims of a Saudi-led campaign to crush them. “The Shia in general are getting very frightened after what happened in northern Iraq,” said an Iraqi commentator, who did not want his name published. Shia see the threat as not only military but stemming from the expanded influence over mainstream Sunni Islam of Wahhabism, the puritanical and intolerant version of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia that condemns Shia and other Islamic sects as non-Muslim apostates and polytheists.
… The West may have to pay a price for its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which have always found Sunni jihadism more attractive than democracy. A striking example of double standards by the western powers was the Saudi-backed suppression of peaceful democratic protests by the Shia majority in Bahrain in March 2011. Some 1,500 Saudi troops were sent across the causeway to the island kingdom as the demonstrations were ended with great brutality and Shia mosques and shrines were destroyed.
…Western powers and their regional allies have largely escaped criticism for their role in reigniting the war in Iraq. Publicly and privately, they have blamed the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for persecuting and marginalising the Sunni minority, so provoking them into supporting the Isis-led revolt. There is much truth in this, but it is by no means the whole story. …
But for all his gargantuan mistakes, Maliki’s failings are not the reason why the Iraqi state is disintegrating. What destabilised Iraq from 2011 on was the revolt of the Sunni in Syria and the takeover of that revolt by jihadis, who were often sponsored by donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. Again and again Iraqi politicians warned that by not seeking to close down the civil war in Syria, Western leaders were making it inevitable that the conflict in Iraq would restart. …
Of course, US and British politicians and diplomats would argue that they were in no position to bring an end to the Syrian conflict. But this is misleading. By insisting that peace negotiations must be about the departure of Assad from power, something that was never going to happen since Assad held most of the cities in the country and his troops were advancing, the US and Britain made sure the war would continue. …
Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control. .. Nor is this the only point on which Prince Bandar was dangerously mistaken. The rise of Isis is bad news for the Shia of Iraq but it is worse news for the Sunni whose leadership has been ceded to a pathologically bloodthirsty and intolerant movement, a sort of Islamic Khmer Rouge, which has no aim but war without end.
Cockburn’s analogy of ISIS with the Khmer Rouge is disturbingly apt. In both cases, a volatile region whose societies were laid waste by the intervention of Western dominationists and their local partners has led to the rise of an implacable, intolerant and incredibly violent sect intent on returning the area to a fantasized “Year Zero,” upon which a genocidally purged and “purer” society can be constructed.
Cockburn believes, I think rightly, that ultimately ISIS will not succeed, just as the Khmer Rouge were eventually ousted. (By America’s hated enemy, communist Vietnam.) But, as in Cambodia, before that happens, immense suffering is in store for millions of people.
What we are seeing in Iraq today are the fruits of American war crime in Iraq. Many people — even some who opposed the war — believed that the consequences of this atrocity could be contained: a tragedy, yes, and isn’t it a shame that the perpetrators got away with it, but in the end, the world moves on, and we can concentrate again on our partisan squabbles on Capitol Hill, or the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
But these criminal actions, these reckless decisions, these fatal bargains with extremism and corruption, these pustulant growths of militarism and repression do not just go away. Their effects are real; they are long-lasting; they reverberate through the years in many lands, in many ways — ways which no one can foresee at the time. We are not going to go back to “normal” — not to the pre-9/11 normal, not to the pre-Iraq invasion normal. This is especially true given the fact that Barack Obama — and whoever follows him, be it Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush or some other wealthy imperial courtier — will keep following the same morally insane policies that have led to the current catastrophe.
It’s not a joke; it’s not a dream; it’s not happening to someone else in another place, in another time. With every step, every new day, we are building a world of hell for ourselves and those who come after us.