The terrorist threat that has arisen from the Sunni side of the Islamic divide is largely of Washington’s own making; and it is being nurtured by endless US meddling in the region’s politics and by the bombing and droning campaigns against Washington’s self-created enemies.
At the root of Sunni based terrorism is the long-standing Washington error that America’s security and economic well-being depends upon keeping an armada in the Persian Gulf in order to protect the surrounding oilfields and the flow of tankers through the straits of Hormuz.
That doctrine has been wrong from the day it was officially enunciated by one of America’s great economic ignoramuses, Henry Kissinger, at the time of the original oil crisis in 1973. The 45 years since then have proven in spades that its doesn’t matter who controls the oilfields, and that the only effective cure for high oil prices is the free market.
Every tin pot dictatorship from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to Saddam Hussein, to the bloody-minded chieftains of Nigeria, to the purportedly medieval Mullahs and fanatical Revolutionary Guards of Iran has produced oil. And usually all they could because almost always they desperately needed the revenue.
For crying out loud, even the barbaric thugs of ISIS milked every possible drop of petroleum from the tiny, wheezing oilfields scattered around their backwater domain before they were finally driven out. So there is no economic case whatsoever for Imperial Washington’s massive military presence in the middle east.
The truth is, there is no such thing as an OPEC cartel – virtually every member produces all they can and cheats whenever possible. The only thing that resembles production control in the global oil market is the fact that the Saudi princes treat their oil reserves not much differently than Exxon.
That is, they attempt to maximize the present value of their 270 billion barrels of reserves. Yet ultimately they are no more clairvoyant at calibrating the best oil price to accomplish that objective at any given time than are the economists employed by Exxon, the DOE or the International Energy Agency.
For instance, during the run-up to the late 2014 collapse of the world oil price, the Saudis overestimated the staying power of China’s temporarily surging call on global supply.
At the same time, they badly underestimated how rapidly and extensively the $100 per barrel marker reached in early 2008 would trigger a flow of investment, technology and cheap debt into alternative sources of supply. That is, the US shale patch, the Canadian tar sands, the tired petroleum provinces of Russia, the deep offshore of Brazil etc. – to say nothing of solar, wind and all the other government subsidized alternative source of BTUs.
Way back when Jimmy Carter was telling us to turn down the thermostats and put on our cardigan sweaters, those of us on the free market side of the so-called energy shortage debate said high oil prices are their own best cure. Now we know for sure.
To wit, the Fifth Fleet and its overt and covert auxiliaries should never have been in the Persian Gulf and it environs. And we mean from the very beginning – going all the way back to the CIA’s coup against Iranian democracy in 1953 that was aimed at protecting the oilfields from nationalization.
The Folly of the Bushes’ Persian Gulf Wars
But having turned Iran into an enemy, Imperial Washington was just getting started when 1990 rolled around. Once again in the name of “oil security” it plunged the American war machine into the politics and religious fissures of the Persian Gulf; and did so on account of a local small beans conflict between Iraq and Kuwait that had no bearing whatsoever on the safety and security of American citizens.
As US ambassador Glaspie rightly told Saddam Hussein on the eve of his Kuwait invasion, America had no dog in that hunt. After all, Kuwait wasn’t even a country: It was merely a bank account sitting on a swath of oilfields surrounding an ancient trading city that had been abandoned by Ibn Saud in the early 20th century.
That’s because the illiterate Bedouin founder of the House of Saud didn’t know what oil was or that it was there; and, in any event, Kuwait had been made a separate protectorate by the British in 1913 for reasons that are lost in the fog of British diplomatic history.
As it happened, Iraq’s contentious dispute with Kuwait was over its claim that the Emir of Kuwait was “slant drilling” across his own border and into Iraq’s Rumaila field. Yet it was a wholly elastic boundary of no significance whatsoever.
In fact, the dispute over the Rumaila field started in 1960 when an Arab League declaration arbitrarily marked the Iraq–Kuwait border two miles north of the southernmost tip of the Rumaila field.
And that newly defined boundary, in turn, had come only 44 years after the English and French diplomats had carved up their winnings from the Ottoman Empire’s. As we described elsewhere, they had done so by laying a straight edged ruler on the map they had confected the artificial country of Iraq from the historically independent and hostile Mesopotamian provinces of the Shiite in the south, the Sunni in the west and the Kurds in the north.
In short, both of the combatants in the 1990 Iraq/Kuwait war were recently minted artifacts of late-stage European imperialism. That Bush the Elder choose to throw American treasure and blood into the breach is, accordingly, one of the stupidest crimes every committed from the Oval Office.
The truth is, it didn’t matter who controlled the southern tip of the Rumaila field – the brutal dictator of Baghdad or the opulent Emir of Kuwait. Not the price of oil, nor the peace of America nor the security of Europe nor the peace of the world depended upon it.
But once again Bush the Elder got persuaded to take the path of war. This time it was by Henry Kissinger’s economically illiterate protégés at the national security council and his Texas oilman Secretary of State. They falsely claimed that the will-o-wisp of “oil security” was at stake, and that 500,000 American troops needed to be planted in the sands of Arabia.
That was a catastrophic error, and not only because the presence of crusader boots on the purportedly sacred soil of Arabia offended the CIA-trained Mujahedeen of Afghanistan, who had become unemployed when the Soviet Union collapsed.
The 1991 CNN-glorified war games conducted in the Gulf by Bush the Elder also further empowered another group of unemployed crusaders. Namely, the neocon national security fanatics who had mislead Ronald Reagan into a massive military buildup to thwart what they claimed to be an ascendant Soviet Union bent on nuclear war winning capabilities and global conquest.
All things being equal, the sight of Boris Yeltsin, Vodka flask in hand, facing down the Red Army a few months later should have sent these neocon charlatans into the permanent repudiation and obscurity they so richly deserved. But Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz managed to extract from Washington’s pyric victory in Kuwait a whole new lease on life for Imperial Washington.
Right then and there came the second erroneous predicate. To wit, that “regime change” among the assorted tyrannies of the middle east was in America’s national interest.
More fatally, the neocons now insisted that the Gulf War proved it could be achieved through a sweeping interventionist menu of coalition diplomacy, security assistance, arms shipments, covert action and open military attack and occupation.
What the neocon doctrine of regime change actually did, of course, was to foster the Frankenstein that ultimately became ISIS. In fact, the only real terrorists in the world which threaten normal civilian life in the West are the rogue offspring of Imperial Washington’s post-1990 machinations in the middle east.
The CIA trained and armed Mujahedeen mutated into al-Qaeda not because Bin Laden suddenly had a religious epiphany that his Washington benefactors were actually the Great Satan owing to America’s freedom and liberty.
His murderous crusade was inspired by the Wahhabi fundamentalism loose in Saudi Arabia. This benighted religious fanaticism became agitated to a fever pitch by Imperial Washington’s violent plunge into Persian Gulf political and religious quarrels, the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia, and the decade long barrage of sanctions, embargoes, no fly zones, covert actions and open hostility against the nominally Sunni regime in Baghdad after 1991.
Yes, Bin Laden would have amputated Saddam’s secularist head if Washington hadn’t done it first, but that’s just the point. The two were bitter enemies, not natural allies – so the attempt at regime change in March 2003 was one of the most foolish acts of state in American history.
Bush the Younger’s neocon advisers had no clue about the sectarian animosities and historical grievances that Hussein had bottled-up by parsing the oil loot and wielding the sword under the banner of Baathist nationalism. But Shock and Awe blew the lid and the de-baathification campaign unleashed the furies.
Indeed, no sooner had George W. Bush pranced around on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln declaring “mission accomplished” than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a CIA recruit to the Afghan war a decade earlier and smalltime specialist in hostage-taking and poisons, fled his no count redoubt in Kurdistan to emerge as a flamboyant agitator in the now disposed Sunni heartland.
The founder of ISIS succeeded in Fallujah and Anbar province just like the long list of other terrorist leaders Washington claims to have exterminated. That is, Zarqawi gained his following and notoriety among the region’s population of deprived, brutalized and humiliated young men by dint of being more brutal than their occupiers.
Indeed, even as Washington was crowing about its eventual liquidation of Zarqawi, the remnants of the Baathist regime and the hundreds of thousands of demobilized Republican Guards were coalescing into al-Qaeda in Iraq. Their future leaders were actually being incubated in a monstrous nearby detention center called Camp Bucca that contained more than 26,000 prisoners.
How a US prison camp helped create ISIS
As one former US Army officer, Mitchell Gray, later described it,
You never see hatred like you saw on the faces of these detainees,” Gray remembers of his 2008 tour. “When I say they hated us, I mean they looked like they would have killed us in a heartbeat if given the chance. I turned to the warrant officer I was with and I said, ‘If they could, they would rip our heads off and drink our blood.’ ”
What Gray didn’t know – but might have expected – was that he was not merely looking at the United States’ former enemies, but its future ones as well. According to intelligence experts and Department of Defense records, the vast majority of the leadership of what is today known as ISIS, including its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, did time at Camp Bucca.
And not only did the US feed, clothe and house these jihadists, it also played a vital, if unwitting, role in facilitating their transformation into the most formidable terrorist force in modern history.
The point is, regime change and nation building can never be accomplished by the lethal violence of 21st century armed forces; and they were an especially preposterous assignment in the context of a land rent with 13 century-old religious fissures and animosities.
In fact, the wobbly, synthetic state of Iraq was doomed the minute Cheney and his bloody gang decided to liberate it from the brutal, but serviceable and secular tyranny of Saddam’s Baathist regime. That’s because the process of elections and majority rule necessarily imposed by Washington was guaranteed to elect a government beholden to the Shiite majority.
After decades of mistreatment and Saddam’s brutal suppression of their 1991 uprising, did the latter have revenge on their minds and in their communal DNA? Did the Kurds have dreams of an independent Kurdistan that had been denied their 30 million strong tribe – going way back to Versailles and ever since?
Why, yes, they did. So the $25 billion spent on training and equipping the putative armed forces of post-liberation Iraq was bound to end up in the hands of sectarian militias, not a cohesive national army.
In fact, when the Shiite commanders fled Sunni-dominated Mosul in June 2014 they transformed the ISIS uprising against the government in Baghdad into a vicious fledgling state in one fell swoop. It wasn’t by beheadings and fiery jihadist sermons that it quickly enslaved dozens of towns and several million people in western Iraq and the Euphrates Valley of Syria.
ISIS Was Washington’s Frankenstein
The new Islamic State’s instruments of terror and occupation were the best weapons that the American taxpayers could buy. That included 2,300 Humvees and tens of thousands of automatic weapons, as well as vast stores of ammunition, trucks, rockets, artillery pieces and even tanks and helicopters.
And that wasn’t the half of it. The newly proclaimed Islamic State also filled the power vacuum in Syria created by its so-called "civil war". But in truth that bloody carnage was the offspring of still another exercise in Washington inspired and financed regime change – this one undertaken in connivance with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The latter were surely not interested in expelling the tyranny next door; they are the living embodiment of it.
Instead, the US/Saudi sponsored rebellion was about removing Bashir Assad’s, Iran’s Alawite/Shiite ally, from power in Damascus and laying gas pipelines across the upper Euphrates Valley to take Qatar’s abundant natural gas to Europe.
In any event, ISIS soon had troves of additional American weapons. Some of them were supplied to Sunni radicals by way of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. More came up the so-called “ratline” from Gaddafi’s former arsenals in Benghazi through Turkey.
And still more came through Jordan from the “moderate” opposition trained there by the CIA, which more often than not sold them or defected to the other side.
That the Islamic State was Washington’s Frankenstein monster became evident from the moment it rushed upon the scene in the summer of 2014. But even then the Washington War Party could not resist adding fuel to the fire, whooping up another round of Islamophobia among the American public and forcing the Obama White House into a futile bombing campaign for the third time in a quarter century.
But if bombing really worked, the Islamic State would have been quickly pounded into sand and gravel. Indeed, as shown by the map below, it was never really much more than that anyway.
The dusty, broken, impoverished towns and villages along the margins of the Euphrates River and in the bombed out precincts of Anbar province did not attract thousands of wannabe jihadists from the failed states of the middle east and the alienated Muslim townships of Europe because the caliphate offered prosperity, salvation or any particular future at all.
What recruited them was a meager paycheck and a mountain of outrage at the bombs and drones being dropped on Sunni communities by the US air force; and by the cruise missiles launched from the bowels of the Mediterranean, which ripped apart homes, shops, offices and mosques containing as many innocent civilians as ISIS terrorists.
The map below shows the Islamic State at its maximum extent several year ago, but in truth it was destined for a short half-life anyway, as has now transpired.
But even at it relative peak, the Islamic State was contained by the Kurds in the north and east and by Turkey with NATO’s second largest army and air force in the northwest. And it was surrounded by the Shiite crescent in the populated, economically viable regions of lower Syria and Iraq.
So absent Washington’s misbegotten campaign to unseat Assad in Damascus and demonize his confession-based Iranian ally, there would have been nowhere for the murderous fanatics who pitched a makeshift capital in Raqqa to go.
As subsequent history has proven, ISIS was destined to run out of money, recruits, momentum and public acquiesce in their horrific rule in due course.
But with the US Air Force functioning as their recruiting arm and France’s anti-Assad foreign policy helping to foment a final spasm of anarchy in Syria, the gates of hell were temporarily opened wide. What had been puked out was not an organized war on Western civilization, as Washington neocons so hysterically claimed.
It was just blowback carried out by that infinitesimally small salient of mentally deformed young men who can be persuaded to strap on a suicide belt.
Needless to say, bombing didn’t stop them; it just made more of them.
Ironically, what in the end did stop them was the Assad government and the allies it had every right to enlist as a sovereign nation. That is, the air support of Russia and the ground forces of Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
But Imperial Washington was so caught up in its myths, lies and hegemonic stupidity that it could not see the obvious.
And that is why a quarter century after the cold war ended peace still hasn’t been given a chance and the reason that even the American homeland is needlessly subjected to so-called terrorist "inspired" attacks from time to time like those a few years back in San Bernardino and Orlando.
The truth is, these terrible attacks emerge episodically because the terror that Washington’s bombs, drones and missiles visits upon Muslim lands is what actually inspires them.
After all, whatever the Koran has to say about purging the infidel, it inspired no attacks on American soil at all for decade upon decade upon decade: The jihadist threat to the American homeland only arose after Imperial Washington went into the regime change and military intervention business in the middle east, and for no good reason of true national security whatsoever.
The Persian Gulf is not now an American Lake, and never was.
David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America and TRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.