The Whirlwind and the Candle: Terror as a Policy Tool
Right after the Paris attacks in November 2015, I wrote two articles about the historical context and the continuing policies that led to the nightmare. (One of articles was denounced in Parliament by the prime minister and others.) Unfortunately, the articles are still entirely applicable today, with only small amendment: substituting “Manchester” for “Paris.” I very much fear they will be applicable for a long time to come. I've put them together below.
I. Age of Despair: Reaping the Whirlwind of Western Support for Extremist Violence
We, the West, overthrew Saddam by violence. We overthrew Gadafy by violence. We are trying to overthrow Assad by violence. Harsh regimes all — but far less draconian than our Saudi allies, and other tyrannies around the world. What has been the result of these interventions? A hell on earth, one that grows wider and more virulent year after year.
Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq — which, by the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than a million innocent people dead — there would be no ISIS, no “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” Without the Saudi and Western funding and arming of an amalgam of extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East, used as proxies to strike at Iran and its allies, there would be no ISIS. Let’s go back further. Without the direct, extensive and deliberate creation by the United States and its Saudi ally of a world-wide movement of armed Sunni extremists during the Carter and Reagan administrations (in order to draw the Soviets into a quagmire in Afghanistan), there would have been no “War on Terror” — and no terrorist attacks in Paris tonight.
Again, let’s be as clear as possible: the hellish world we live in today is the result of deliberate policies and actions undertaken by the United States and its allies over the past decades. It was Washington that led and/or supported the quashing of secular political resistance across the Middle East, in order to bring recalcitrant leaders like Nasser to heel and to back corrupt and brutal dictators who would advance the US agenda of political domination and resource exploitation.
The open history of the last half-century is very clear in this regard. Going all the way back to the overthrow of the democratic government of Iran in 1953, the United States has deliberately and consciously pushed the most extreme sectarian groups in order to undermine a broader-based secular resistance to its domination agenda.
Why bring up this “ancient history” when fresh blood is running in the streets of Paris? Because that blood would not be running if not for this ancient history; and because the reaction to this latest reverberation of Washington’s decades-long, bipartisan cultivation of religious extremism will certainly be more bloodshed, more repression and more violent intervention. Which will, in turn, inevitably, produce yet more atrocities and upheaval as we are seeing in Paris tonight.
I write in despair. Despair of course at the depravity displayed by the murderers of innocents in Paris tonight; but an even deeper despair at the depravity of the egregious murderers who have brought us to this ghastly place in human history: those gilded figures who have strode the halls of power for decades in the high chambers of the West, killing innocent people by the hundreds of thousands, crushing secular opposition to their favored dictators — and again, again and again — supporting, funding and arming some of the most virulent sectarians on earth.
And one further cause of despair: that although this historical record is there in the open, readily available from the most mainstream sources, it is and will continue to be completely ignored, both by the power-gamers and by the public. The latter will continue to support the former as they replicate and regurgitate the same old policies of intervention, the same old agendas of domination and greed, over and over and over again — creating ever-more fresh hells for us all to live in, and poisoning the lives of our children, and of all those who come after us.
II. A Game Worth the Candle: Terror and the Agenda of our Elites
People see the carnage in Paris, and cry, “When will this end?” The hard answer is that it is not going to end, not any time soon. We are living through the horrific consequences of decisions and actions taken long ago, as well as those of being taken right now. The currents and movements set in motion by these actions cannot be quelled in an instant — not by wishing, not by hashtags of solidarity or light shows on iconic buildings … and certainly not by more bombing, destruction, repression and lies, which are the main drivers of our present-day hell.
There will be no end to rampant terrorism soon because our leaders are not really interested in quelling terrorism. This is simply not a priority for them. For example, in the past 12 years they have utterly destroyed three largely secular governments (Iraq, Libya and Syria) and turned them into vast spawning grounds for violent sectarianism. They did this despite reports from their own intelligence services and military analysts telling them that the spread of violent extremism would almost certainly be the outcome of their interventions. But for our leaders — both the elected ones and the elites they serve — their geopolitical and macroeconomic agendas outweighed any concerns over these consequences. Put simply, to them, the game was worth the candle. They would press ahead with their agenda, knowing that it would exacerbate extremism and terrorism, but doubtless hoping that these consequences could be contained — or better yet, confined to nations seen as rivals to that agenda, or to remote places and peoples of no worth to our great and good.
Our leaders are not opposed to terrorism, neither as a concept nor as a practical tool. Over the past several decades, our leaders and their allies and puppets around the world have at times openly supported terrorist violence when it suited their aims. The prime example is in Afghanistan, where Jimmy Carter and his Saudi allies began arming and funding violent jihadis BEFORE the Soviet incursion there. In fact, as Carter’s own foreign policy guru, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has openly stated, the United States began supporting Islamist terrorism in Afghanistan precisely in order to draw the Soviet Union into the country. Despite fierce internal opposition in the Kremlin, the Soviets finally took the bait, and sent in troops to save the secular government it was backing from the fundamentalist rebellion.
Ronald Reagan continued and expanded this policy. The same type of men now in charge of ISIS and al Qaeda were welcomed to the Oval Office and praised by Reagan as “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.” They were given arms, money and training in terrorist tactics by our military and intelligence services. They were given textbooks — prepared, financed and distributed by the US government — to indoctrinate schoolchildren in violent jihad. The creation of this worldwide network of Islamic extremists was aimed at weakening the Soviet Union. This was the overriding geopolitical concern of the time. Any other consequences that might flow from this policy — creating a global infrastructure of sectarian extremism, seeding a radical minority with arms, funds and innumerable contacts and connections with state were considered unimportant. But we are now living with those consequences.
These are not the only examples of course. For instance, the United States supported — and went to war for — the KLA in Kosovo, a group that it had earlier condemned as terrorists for years. The cultish terror group MEK —which not only carried out deadly terrorist attacks in Iran but also murdered American government officials — is now honored and supported by top politicians from both parties in Washington. The United States now calls al Qaeda associates in Syria “moderate rebels” and provides arms to their allies. The United States is deeply involved in Saudi Arabia’s horrific attack on Yemen against the Houthis, who had been bottling up al Qaeda in the country. Now, thanks to US bombs and guidance — and participation in a blockade of Yemen that is driving the country to starvation — al Qaeda is thriving there again. The violent extremists that the West knowingly and openly helped in NATO’s destruction of Libya are now exporting weapons and terrorists throughout Africa and the Middle East.
Again, in almost all of these cases, Western leaders were specifically warned by their own experts that their actions would exacerbate extremism and violence. And again, with this knowledge, they decided that their geopolitical agendas were more important than these consequences. This agenda — maintaining and expanding their political and economic dominance, and preserving the power and privileges that a militarist empire gives to those at the top — was more important than the security and welfare of their own people.
In this, they are as one with the leaders of ISIS and al Qaeda. They too know that the chief victims of their actions will not be the elites of the West but the ordinary Muslims going about their lives in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India and elsewhere. But their own similar agenda — power, privilege, domination — outweighs any concerns for innocent human lives.
This is the abysmal, despairing tragedy of our times. Our lives, and the lives of our children and descendants, do not really matter to our leaders; certainly not more than the agendas they pursue. And so despite the horrors we’ve seen in the past few weeks — and yes, the bombing of the Russian airliner, the mass murders in Beirut and Baghdad are every bit as horrific and grievous as the attack on Paris — nothing is likely to change. Our leaders are not even beginning to take the steps necessary to even begin addressing the consequences of their morally demented agenda and at last begin the long process of reversing the current of violence and extremism that assails us. Instead, at every turn, they are adding to the flow of death and madness, despite the stark, undeniable evidence of the consequences of their actions.
They say they are at war with terrorism. It’s a lie. They use terrorism and terrorists when it suits their agenda. They say they are “at war” with ISIS, an enemy which they tell us represents an existential threat to human civilization, and whose destruction is now our “highest priority.” It’s a lie. In a real war against such a threat, you would make common cause against the common enemy, even if you find your allies distasteful. Thus the mutually loathing capitalists of the West and communists of the Soviet Union (and elsewhere) made common cause against Nazi Germany.
If we were really “at war” with ISIS, if its military defeat really was an overriding concern, then the West would form a military coalition with Iran, Russia, Turkey, the Syrian government and others to carry out this goal. It is obvious that for the West, the overthrow of the Assad government is far more important than defeating ISIS or bringing the conflict in Syria to an end by diplomatic means.
Instead, our leaders give every indication that they will continue the policies that have brought us to this dark and evil place. With the near-total ignorance and amnesia of our media class, there is little hope that public opinion can be mobilized to insist on a new course. And so, at some point soon, we will see more iconic buildings bathed in the colors of a Western nation (but never one from the Middle East, whose peoples suffer more, by several orders of magnitude, from the decades of extremism fostered by the West). And this will go on, year after year, until we decide that human life, human dignity, human freedom are more important than our leaders’ agendas of greed and domination.