After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the Red Army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end.
The world had descended into a 77-Year War, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations that germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into World War II and the Cold War that followed inexorably thereupon.
Upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped out during that span. The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and the follies of Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam.
At the end of the Cold War, therefore, the last embers of the fiery madness that had incepted with the guns of August 1914 had finally burned out. Peace was at hand. Yet 30 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it.
In fact, the War Party entrenched in the nation’s capital is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war. These forces ensure endless waste on armaments; they cause the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st-century high-tech warfare; and they inherently generate terrorist blowback from those upon whom the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony.
Worse still, Washington’s great war machine and teeming national security industry is its own agent of self-perpetuation. When it is not invading, occupying and regime changing, its vast apparatus of internal policy bureaus and outside contractors, lobbies, think tanks and NGOs is busy generating reasons for new imperial ventures.
So there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-Year War ended. The great general and President, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial-congressional complex” in the draft of his farewell address. But that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch.
So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday-afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of Beltway busybodies who constituted the civilian branches of the Cold War armada (CIA, State, AID, NED and the rest) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world.
In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1991 was that the American Imperium would not go away quietly into the good night.
In fact, during the past 30 years Imperial Washington has lost all memory that peace was ever possible at the end of the Cold War. Today it is as feckless, misguided and bloodthirsty as were Berlin, Paris, St. Petersburg, Vienna and London in August 1914.
A few months after that horrendous slaughter had been unleashed 107 years ago, however, soldiers along the western front broke into spontaneous truces of Christmas celebration, song and even exchange of gifts. For a brief moment they wondered why they were juxtaposed in lethal combat along the jaws of hell.
A sudden cold snap had left the battlefield frozen, which was actually a relief for troops wallowing in sodden mire. Along the Front, troops extracted themselves from their trenches and dugouts, approaching each other warily, and then eagerly, across No Man’s Land. Greetings and handshakes were exchanged, as were gifts scavenged from care packages sent from home. German souvenirs that ordinarily would have been obtained only through bloodshed – such as spiked pickelhaube helmets, or Gott mit uns belt buckles – were bartered for similar British trinkets. Carols were sung in German, English, and French. A few photographs were taken of British and German officers standing alongside each other, unarmed, in No Man’s Land.
Near the Ypres salient, Germans and Scotsmen chased after wild hares that, once caught, served as an unexpected Christmas feast. Perhaps the sudden exertion of chasing wild hares prompted some of the soldiers to think of having a football match. Then again, little prompting would have been necessary to inspire young, competitive men – many of whom were English youth recruited off soccer fields – to stage a match. In any case, numerous accounts in letters and journals attest to the fact that on Christmas 1914, German and English soldiers played soccer on the frozen turf of No Man’s Land.
British Field Artillery Lieutenant John Wedderburn-Maxwell described the event as “probably the most extraordinary event of the whole war – a soldier’s truce without any higher sanction by officers and generals….”
The truth is, there was no good reason for the Great War. The world had stumbled into war based on false narratives and the institutional imperatives of military mobilization plans, alliances and treaties arrayed into a doomsday machine and petty short-term diplomatic maneuvers and political calculus. Yet it took more than three-quarters of a century for all the consequential impacts and evils to be purged from the life of the planet.
The peace that was lost last time has not been regained this time, however, and for the same reasons. Historians can readily name the culprits from 107 years ago.
These include the German general staff’s plan for a lightning mobilization and strike on the western front called the Schlieffen Plan; the incompetence and intrigue in the court at St. Petersburg; French President Poincare’s anti-German irredentism owing to the 1871 loss of his home province, Alsace-Lorraine; and the bloodthirsty cabal around Winston Churchill who forced England into an unnecessary war, among countless others.
Since these casus belli of 1914 were criminally trivial in light of all that metastasized thereafter, it might do well to name the institutions and false narratives that block the return of peace today. The fact is, these impediments are even more contemptible than the forces that crushed the Christmas truces one century ago.
IMPERIAL WASHINGTON – THE NEW GLOBAL MENACE
There is no peace on earth today for reasons mainly rooted in Imperial Washington – not Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Damascus, Mosul or the rubble of what remains of Raqqa. Imperial Washington has become a global menace owing to what didn’t happen in 1991.
At that crucial inflection point, Bush the Elder should have declared “mission accomplished” and parachuted into the great Ramstein air base in Germany to begin the demobilization of the America’s war machine.
So doing, he could have slashed the Pentagon budget from $600 billion to $250 billion (2015 $); demobilized the military-industrial complex by putting a moratorium on all new weapons development, procurement and export sales; dissolved NATO and dismantled the far-flung network of U.S. military bases; reduced the United States’ standing armed forces from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand; and organized and led a world-disarmament and peace campaign, as did his Republican predecessors during the 1920s.
Unfortunately, George H. W. Bush was not a man of peace, vision or even middling intelligence.
He was the malleable tool of the War Party, and it was he who single-handedly blew the peace when, in the very year the 77-Year War ended with the demise of the Soviet Union, he plunged America into a petty argument between the impetuous dictator of Iraq and the gluttonous emir of Kuwait. But that argument was none of George Bush’s or America’s business.
By contrast, even though liberal historians have reviled Warren G. Harding as some kind of dummkopf politician, he well understood that the Great War had been for naught, and that to ensure it never happened again the nations of the world needed to rid themselves of their huge navies and standing armies.
To that end, he achieved the largest global-disarmament agreement ever during the Washington Naval Conference of 1921, which halted the construction of new battleships for more than a decade. And even then, the moratorium ended only because the vengeful victors at Versailles never ceased exacting their revenge on Germany.
And while he was at it, President Harding also pardoned Eugene Debs. In so doing, he gave witness to the truth that the intrepid socialist candidate for president and vehement antiwar protester, who Woodrow Wilson had thrown in prison for exercising his First Amendment right to speak against US entry into a pointless European war, had been right all along.
In short, Warren G. Harding knew the war was over and the folly of Wilson’s 1917 plunge into Europe’s bloodbath should not be repeated, at all hazards.
But not George H. W. Bush. The man should never be forgiven for enabling the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Gates and their neocon pack of jackals to come to power – even if he eventually denounced them in his doddering old age.
Alas, upon his death, Bush the Elder was deified, not vilified, by the mainstream press and the bipartisan duopoly. And that tells you all you need to know about why Washington is ensnared in its Forever Wars and is the very reason why there is still no peace on earth.
Even more to the point, by opting not for peace but for war and oil in the Persian Gulf in 1991 Washington opened the gates to an unnecessary confrontation with Islam and nurtured the rise of jihadist terrorism that would not haunt the world today save for forces unleashed by George H. W. Bush’s petulant quarrel with Saddam Hussein.
We will momentarily get to the 47-year-old error that holds the Persian Gulf is an American lake and that the answer to high oil prices and energy security is the Fifth Fleet.
Suffice it to say here that the answer to high oil prices everywhere and always is high oil prices – a truth driven home in spades by the oil busts of 2009, 2015 and 2020, and the fact the real price of oil today (2019 $) is lower than it was on the eve of the great oil embargo of 1973.
But first it is well to remember that in 1991 there was no plausible threat anywhere on the planet to the safety and security of the citizens of Springfield, MA, Lincoln, NE or Spokane, WA when the Cold War ended.
The Warsaw Pact had dissolved into more than a dozen woebegone sovereign statelets; the Soviet Union was now unscrambled into 15 independent and far-flung republics from Belarus to Tajikistan; and the Russian motherland would soon plunge into an economic depression that would leave it with a GDP about the size of the Philadelphia SMSA.
Likewise, China’s GDP was even smaller and more primitive than Russia’s. Even as Mr. Deng was discovering the People’s Bank of China’s printing press, which would enable it to become a great mercantilist exporter, an incipient Chinese threat to national security was never in the cards.
After all, it was the 4,000 Walmarts in America upon which the prosperity of the new Red Capitalism inextricably depended and upon which the rule of the Communist oligarchs in Beijing was ultimately anchored. Even the hardliners among them could see that in swapping militarism for mercantilism and after invading America with tennis shoes, neckties, home textiles and electronics – that the door had been closed to any other kind of invasion thereafter.
NO ISLAMIC TERRORISTS OR JIHADI THREAT CIRCA 1991
Likewise, in 1991 there was no global Islamic threat or jihadi terrorist menace at all. What existed under those headings were sundry fragments and deposits of Middle Eastern religious, ethnic and tribal histories that were of moment in their immediate region, but no threat to America’s homeland security whatsoever.
The Shiite/Sunni divide had coexisted since A.D. 671, but its episodic eruptions into battles and wars over the centuries had rarely extended beyond the region, and certainly had no reason to fester into open conflict in 1991.
Inside the artificial state of Iraq, which had been drawn on a map by historically ignorant European diplomats in 1916, for instance, the Shiite and Sunni got along tolerably. That’s because the nation was ruled by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist brand of secular Arab nationalism, flavored by a muscular propensity for violent repression of internal dissent.
Hussein championed law and order, state-driven economic development and politically apportioned distributions from the spoils of the extensive government-controlled oil sector. To be sure, Baathist socialism didn’t bring much prosperity to the well-endowed lands of Mesopotamia, but Hussein did have a Christian foreign minister and no sympathy for religious extremism or violent pursuit of sectarian causes.
As it happened, the bloody Shiite/Sunni strife that plagues Iraq, Syria and the greater middle east today and which functioned as a hatchery for angry young jihadi terrorists in their thousands was initially unleashed only after Hussein had been driven from Kuwait in 1991 and the CIA had instigated an armed uprising in the Shiite heartland around Basra..
That revolt was brutally suppressed by Hussein’s republican guards, but it left an undertow of resentment and revenge boiling below the surface. That was one of many of George H. W. Bush’s fetid legacies in the region.
Needless to say, when it came their turn, Bush the Younger and his cabal of neocon warmongers could not leave well enough alone.
When they foolishly destroyed Saddam Hussein and his entire regime in the pursuit of nonexistent WMDs and alleged ties with al-Qaeda, they literally opened the gates of hell, leaving Iraq as a lawless failed state where both recent and ancient religious and tribal animosities were given unlimited violent vent.
WHY THE WAR PARTY NEEDED TO DEMONIZE IRAN
Also circa 1990, the Shiite theocracy ensconced in Tehran was no threat to America’s safety and security – even if it was an unfortunate albatross on the Persian people.
The very idea that Tehran is an expansionist power bent on exporting terrorism to the rest of the world is a giant fiction and tissue of lies invented by the Washington War Party and its Bibi Netanyahu branch in order to win political support for their confrontationist policies.
Indeed, the three-decade-long demonization of Iran has served one overarching purpose. Namely, it has enabled both branches of the War Party to conjure up a fearsome enemy, thereby justifying aggressive policies that call for a constant state of war and military mobilization.
Indeed, Iran has not been demonized by happenstance. When the Cold War officially ended in 1991, the Cheney/neocon cabal deeply feared the kind of drastic demobilization of the US military-industrial complex that was warranted by the suddenly more pacific strategic environment.
In response, they developed an anti-Iranian doctrine that was explicitly described as a way of keeping defense spending at high Cold War levels. If the fearsome Soviet Union was gone, a vastly inflated threat emanating from Iran’s minuscule GDP of $450 billion and tiny defense budget of $17 billion would needs be invented and hyperbolized.
And the narrative they developed to this end is one of the more egregious Big Lies ever to come out of the Beltway. It puts you in mind of the young boy who killed his parents, and then threw himself on the mercy of the courts on the grounds that he was an orphan!
To wit, during the 1980s the neocons in the Reagan Administration issued their own fatwa against the Islamic Republic of Iran based on its rhetorical hostility to America. Yet that enmity was grounded in Washington’s 25-year support for the tyrannical and illegitimate regime of the Shah, and constituted a founding narrative of the Islamic Republic that was not much different than America’s revolutionary castigation of King George.
That the Iranians had a case is beyond doubt. The open US archives now prove that the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953 and put the utterly unsuited and megalomaniacal Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne to rule as a puppet on behalf of US security and oil interests.
During the subsequent decades the Shah not only massively and baldly plundered the wealth of the Persian nation; with the help of the CIA and US military, he also created a brutal secret police force known as SAVAK. The latter made the East German Stasi look civilized by comparison.
All elements of Iranian society including universities, labor unions, businesses, civic organizations, peasant farmers and many more were subjected to intense surveillance by the SAVAK agents and paid informants. As one critic described it:
Over the years, Savak became a law unto itself, having legal authority to arrest, detain, brutally interrogate and torture suspected people indefinitely. Savak operated its own prisons in Tehran, such as Qezel-Qalaeh and Evin facilities and many suspected places throughout the country as well. Many of those activities were carried out without any institutional checks.
Ironically, among his many grandiose follies, the Shah had embarked on a massive civilian nuclear-power campaign in the 1970s, which envisioned literally paving the Iranian landscape with dozens of nuclear power plants.
He would use Iran’s surging oil revenues after 1973 to buy all the equipment required from Western companies – and also fuel-cycle support services such as uranium enrichment – in order to provide his kingdom with cheap power for centuries.
At the time of the revolution, the first of these plants at Bushehr was nearly complete, but the whole grandiose project was put on hold amidst the turmoil of the new regime and the onset of Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran in September 1980. As a consequence, a $2 billion deposit languished at the French nuclear agency that had originally obtained it from the Shah to fund a ramp-up of its enrichment capacity to supply his planned battery of reactors.
Indeed, in this very context the new Iranian regime proved quite dramatically that it was not hell-bent on obtaining nuclear bombs or any other weapons of mass destruction. In the midst of Iraq’s unprovoked invasion of Iran in the early 1980s, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against biological and chemical weapons.
Yet at that very time, Saddam was dropping these horrific weapons on Iranian battle forces – some of them barely armed teenage boys – with the spotting help of CIA tracking satellites and the concurrence of Washington. So from the very beginning, the Iranian posture was wholly contrary to the War Party’s endless blizzard of false charges about its quest for nukes.
However benighted and medieval its religious views, the theocracy that ruled Iran did not consist of demented warmongers. In the heat of battle they were willing to sacrifice their own forces rather than violate their religious scruples to counter Saddam’s WMDs.
HOW WASHINGTON INSPIRED THE MYTH OF IRAN’S SECRET NUCLEAR-WEAPONS PROGRAM
Then in 1983 the new Iranian regime decided to complete the Bushehr power plant and some additional elements of the Shah’s grand plan. But when they attempted to reactivate the French enrichment-services contract and buy necessary power plant equipment from the original German suppliers they were stopped cold by Washington. And when they tried to get their $2 billion deposit back, they were curtly denied that, too.
To make a long story short, the entire subsequent history of off-again, on-again efforts by the Iranians to purchase dual-use equipment and components on the international market, often from black market sources like Pakistan, was in response to Washington’s relentless efforts to block its legitimate rights as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to complete some parts of the Shah’s civilian nuclear project.
Needless to say, it did not take much effort by the neocon “regime change” fanatics that inhabited Washington’s national-security machinery, especially after the 2000 election, to spin every attempt by Iran to purchase even a lowly pump or pipe fitting as evidence of a secret campaign to get “the bomb”.
The exaggerations, lies, distortions and fear mongering that came out of this neocon campaign are truly deplorable. Yet they incepted way back in the early 1990s when George H. W. Bush actually did reach out to the newly elected government of Hashemi Rafsanjani to bury the hatchet after it had cooperated in obtaining the release of American prisoners being held in Lebanon in 1989.
Rafsanjani was self-evidently a pragmatist who did not want conflict with the United States and the West; and after the devastation of the eight-year war with Iraq, he was wholly focused on economic reconstruction and even free market reforms of Iran’s faltering economy.
It is one of the great tragedies of history that the neocons managed to squelch even Bush the Elder’s better instincts with respect to rapprochement with Tehran.
So the prisoner-release opening was short-lived – especially after the top post at the CIA was assumed in 1991 by the despicable Robert Gates.
He was one of the very worst of the unreconstructed Cold War apparatchiks who looked peace in the eye, and elected, instead, to pervert John Quincy Adams’ wise maxim. That is, Gates spent the rest of his career searching the globe for monsters to fabricate.
In this case the motivation was especially loathsome. Gates had been Bill Casey’s right-hand man during the latter’s rogue tenure at the CIA in the Reagan Administration. Among the many untoward projects that Gates shepherded was the Iran-Contra affair that nearly destroyed his career when it blew up, and for which he blamed the Iranians for its public disclosure.
From his post as deputy national-security director in 1989 (and then as CIA head shortly thereafter), Gates pulled out all the stops to get even. Almost single-handedly he killed off the White House goodwill from the prisoner release, and launched the blatant myth that Iran was both sponsoring terrorism and seeking to obtain nuclear weapons.
Indeed, it was Gates who was the architect of the demonization of Iran that became a staple of War Party propaganda after 1991. In time that morphed into the utterly false claim that Iran is an aggressive would-be hegemon and a fount of terrorism dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel, among other treacherous purposes.
The latter giant lie was almost single-handedly fashioned by the neocons and Bibi Netanyahu’s coterie of power-hungry henchman after the mid-1990s. Indeed, the false claim that Iran posed an “existential threat” to Israel is a product of the pure red meat domestic Israeli politics that kept Bibi in power for much of the last two decades – a plague on mankind that has hopefully finally ended.
But the truth is Iran has only a tiny fraction of Israel’s conventional military capability. And compared to the latter’s 100-odd nukes, Iran never even had a nuclear weaponization program after a small-scale research program was abandoned in 2003.
And that is not our opinion. It was the sober assessment of the nation’s top 17 intelligence agencies in the official National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) for 2007, and has been confirmed ever since.
It’s the reason that the neocon plan to bomb Iran at the end of George W. Bush’s term didn’t happen. As Dubya confessed in his autobiography, even he couldn’t figure out how he could explain to the American public why he was bombing facilities that all his intelligence agencies had said did not exist. That is, he would have been impaled on WMD 2.0 on his way out of the White House.
Moreover, now via a further study arising from the 2015 international nuclear accord – which would have straitjacketed even Iran’s civilian program and eliminated most of its enriched-uranium stockpiles and spinning capacity had not the Donald foolishly ash-canned it – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also confirmed that Iran had no secret nuclear-weapons program after 2003.
The whole scary bedtime story was false War Party propaganda manufactured from whole cloth.
MORE WAR PARTY LIES – DEMONIZATION OF THE SHIITE CRESCENT
In this context, the War Party’s bloviating about Iran’s leadership of the so-called Shiite Crescent is another component of Imperial Washington’s 30-year-long roadblock to peace. Iran wasn’t a threat to American security in 1991, and since then it has never organized a hostile coalition of terrorists that requires Washington’s intervention.
Start with Iran’s long-standing support of Bashir Assad’s government in Syria. That alliance goes back to his father’s era and is rooted in the historic confessional politics of the Islamic world.
The Assad regime is Alawite, a branch of the Shiites, and despite the regime’s brutality, it has been a bulwark of protection for all of Syria’s minority sects, including Christians, against a majority-Sunni ethnic cleansing. The latter would surely occur if US and Saudi-supported rebels, led by the Nusra Front and ISIS, had been permitted to take full power.
Likewise, the fact that the Baghdad government of the broken state of Iraq – that is, the artificial 1916 concoction of two striped-pants European diplomats (Messrs. Sykes and Picot of the British and French foreign offices, respectively) – is now aligned with Iran is also a result of confessional politics and geo-economic propinquity.
For all practical purposes, Iraq has been partitioned. The Kurds of the northeast have declared their independence and have been collecting their own oil revenue for the past few years and operating their own security forces.
And the western Sunni lands of the upper Euphrates, of course, were first conquered by ISIS with American weapons dropped in place by the hapless $25 billion Iraqi army minted by Washington’s departing proconsuls; and then obliterated during Obama’s (and the Trump’s) vicious bombing and droning campaign designed to uproot the terrorist evil that Washington itself had spawned.
Accordingly, what is left of the rump state of Iraq is a population that is overwhelmingly Shiite and nurses bitter resentments after two decades of violent conflict with the Sunni forces. Why in the world, therefore, wouldn’t they ally with their Shiite neighbor?
Likewise, the claim that Iran is now trying to annex Yemen, thereby justifying the mayhem wreaked upon it by the Saudi air war, is pure claptrap. The ancient territory of Yemen had been racked by civil war off and on since the early 1970s. And a major driving force of that conflict has been confessional differences between the Sunni South and the Shiite North.
In more recent times, Washington’s blatant drone war inside Yemen against alleged terrorists and its domination and financing of Yemen’s government eventually produced the same old outcome – that is, another failed state and an illegitimate government that fled at the 11th hour, leaving another vast cache of American arms and equipment behind.
Accordingly, the Houthis forces now in control of substantial parts of the country are not some kind of advanced guard sent in by Tehran. They are indigenous partisans who share a confessional tie with Iran, but who have actually been armed, if inadvertently, by Washington.
Finally, there is the fourth element of the purported Iranian axis – the Hezbollah-controlled Shiite communities of southern Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley in the northeast. Like everything else in the Middle East, Hezbollah is a product of historical European imperialism, Islamic confessional politics and the frequently misguided and counterproductive security policies of Israel.
In the first place, Lebanon was not any more a real country than Iraq was when Sykes and Picot laid their straight-edged rulers on a map. The result was a stew of religious and ethnic divisions – Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Copts, Druse, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds, Armenians, Jews and countless more – that made the fashioning of a viable state virtually impossible.
At length, an alliance of Christians and Sunnis gained control of the country, leaving the 40% Shiite population disenfranchised and economically disadvantaged, as well. But it was the inflow of Palestinian refugees in the 1960s and 1970s that eventually upset the balance of sectarian forces and triggered a civil war that essentially lasted from 1975 until the turn of the century.
It also triggered a catastrophically wrong-headed Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982, and a subsequent repressive occupation of mostly Shiite territories for the next 18 years. The alleged purpose of this invasion was to chase the PLO and Yasser Arafat out of the enclave in southern Lebanon that they had established after being driven out of Jordan in 1970.
Eventually Israel succeeded in sending Arafat packing to North Africa, but in the process created a militant, Shiite-based resistance movement that did not even exist in 1982 and that in due course became the strongest single force in Lebanon’s fractured domestic political arrangements.
After Israel withdrew in 2000, the then-Christian president of the country made abundantly clear that Hezbollah had become a legitimate and respected force within the Lebanese polity, not merely some subversive agent of Tehran:
“For us Lebanese, and I can tell you the majority of Lebanese, Hezbollah is a national resistance movement. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t have liberated our land. And because of that, we have big esteem for the Hezbollah movement.”
So, yes, Hezbollah is an integral component of the so-called Shiite Crescent, and its confessional and political alignment with Tehran is entirely plausible. But that arrangement – however uncomfortable for Israel – does not represent unprovoked Iranian aggression on Israel’s northern border.
Instead, it’s actually the blowback from the stubborn refusal of Israeli governments – especially the right-wing Likud governments of modern times – to deal constructively with the Palestinian question.
In lieu of a two-state solution in the territory of Palestine, therefore, Israeli policy has produced a chronic state of confrontation and war with the huge share of the Lebanese population represented by Hezbollah.
The latter is surely no agency of peaceful governance and has committed its share of atrocities. But the point at hand is that given the last 35 years of history and Israeli policy, Hezbollah would exist as a menacing force on its northern border even if the Iranian theocracy didn’t exist and the shah or his heir was still on the Peacock Throne.
In short, there is no alliance of terrorism in the Shiite Crescent that threatens American security. That proposition is simply one of the big lies that was promulgated by the War Party after 1991 and that has been happily embraced by Imperial Washington since then in order to keep the military-industrial-security complex alive, and justify its self-appointed role as policeman of the world.
WASHINGTON’S ERRONEOUS VIEW THAT THE PERSIAN GULF IS AN AMERICAN LAKE – THE ROOT OF SUNNI JIHADISM
The actual terrorist threat has arisen from the Sunni, not the Shiite, side of the Islamic divide. But that, in turn, 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 depend upon keeping an armada in the Persian Gulf in order to protect the surrounding oil fields 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 48 years since then have proven in spades that it doesn’t matter who controls the oil fields, 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 all they could because they desperately needed the revenue.
For crying out loud, even while the barbaric thugs of ISIS were briefly in power in eastern Syria, they milked every possible drop of petroleum from the tiny, wheezing oil fields scattered around their backwater domain. 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, but ultimately are no more clairvoyant at calibrating the best oil price to accomplish that at any given moment than are the economists at Exxon or the International Energy Agency.
During the last decade, for example, the Saudis have repeatedly underestimated how rapidly and extensively the $100-per-barrel marker reached in early 2008 and again in 2014 would trigger a flow of investment, technology and cheap debt into the US shale patch, the Canadian tar sands, the tired petroleum provinces of Russia, the deep waters offshore Brazil and the like. And that’s to say nothing of solar, wind and all the other government-subsidized alternative sources of BTUs.
Way back when Jimmy Carter was telling us to turn down the thermostats and put on our cardigan sweaters, those of us in Congress on the free market side of the so-called energy-shortage debate said that high oil prices would bring about their own cure. Now we know.
So the Fifth Fleet and its overt and covert auxiliaries should never have been there – going all the way back to the CIA’s coup against Iranian democracy in 1953.
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 the above referenced small-potatoes conflict 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 Hussein’s Kuwait invasion, America had no dog in that hunt.
Kuwait wasn’t even a country; it was a bank account sitting on a swath of oil fields surrounding an ancient trading city that had been abandoned by Ibn Saud in the early 20th century. That’s because Saud didn’t know what oil was or that it was there; and in any event, it had been made a separate protectorate by the British in 1913 for reasons that are lost in the fog of diplomatic history.
Likewise, Iraq’s contentious dispute with Kuwait had been over its claim that the emir of Kuwait was “slant drilling” across his border 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 aforementioned pair of English and French diplomats had carved up their winnings from the Ottoman Empire’s demise by laying a straight-edged ruler on the map. In so doing, they thereby confected the artificial country of “Iraq” from the historically independent and hostile Mesopotamian provinces of the Shiites in the South, the Sunnis in the West and the Kurds in the North.
In short, it did not matter who controlled the southern tip of the Rumaila field – the brutal dictator of Baghdad or the opulent emir of Kuwait. Neither the price of oil, nor the peace of America, nor the security of Europe nor the future of Asia depended upon it.
THE FIRST GULF WAR – A CATASTROPHIC ERROR
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 Bush’s Texas oilman secretary of state. They falsely claimed that the will-o’-the-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 in the Gulf also further empowered another group of unemployed crusaders. Namely, the neocon national-security fanatics who had misled 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 the neocons into the permanent disrepute and obscurity they so richly deserved. But Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz managed to extract from Washington’s Pyrrhic 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 first 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 who 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 CIA-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 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 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 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-dispossessed 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 the demise of Zarqawi, the remnants of the Baathist regime and the hundreds of thousands of demobilized republican guards were coalescing into al-Qaeda in Iraq, and their future leaders were being incubated in a monstrous nearby detention center called Camp Bucca that contained more than 26,000 prisoners.
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.
Early in Bucca’s existence, the most extreme inmates were congregated in Compound 6. There were not enough Americans guards to safely enter the compound – and, in any event, the guards didn’t speak Arabic. So the detainees were left alone to preach to one another and share deadly vocational advice . . .
Bucca also housed Haji Bakr, a former colonel in Saddam Hussein’s air-defense force. Bakr was no religious zealot. He was just a guy who lost his job when the Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded the Iraqi military and instituted de-Baathification, a policy of banning Saddam’s past supporters from government work.
According to documents recently obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel, Bakr was the real mastermind behind ISIS’ organizational structure and also mapped out the strategies that fueled its early successes. Bakr, who died in fighting in 2014, was incarcerated at Bucca from 2006-’ 08, along with a dozen or more of ISIS’ top lieutenants.”
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 spilling into Turkey and Syria that had been denied their 30-million-strong tribe way back at Versailles and ever since?
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 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. But 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.
THE ISLAMIC STATE WAS WASHINGTON’S VERY OWN FRANKENSTEIN
To the contrary, its 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 Islamic State also filled the power vacuum in Syria created by its so-called civil war. But in truth that was another exercise in Washington-inspired and Washington-financed regime change undertaken in connivance with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The princes of the petro-states were surely not interested in expelling the tyranny next door. Instead, the rebellion was about removing Iran’s Alawite/Shiite ally from power in Damascus and laying the gas pipelines to Europe – which Assad had vetoed – across the upper Euphrates Valley.
In any event, due to Washington’s regime change policy in Syria, ISIS soon had even more troves of 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.
So, that the Islamic State was Washington’s Frankenstein monster became evident from the moment it rushed upon the scene in mid-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 the short-lived Islamic State was never a real threat to America’s homeland security.
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 future at all.
What recruited them was outrage at the bombs and drones dropped on Sunni communities by the US Air Force and by the cruise missiles launched from the bowels of the Mediterranean that ripped apart homes, shops, offices and mosques which mostly contained as many innocent civilians as ISIS terrorists.
The truth is, the Islamic State was destined for a short half-life anyway. It had been 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 further surrounded by the Shiite Crescent in the populated, economically viable regions of lower Syria and Iraq.
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 had pitched a makeshift capital in Raqqa to go. They would have run out of money, recruits, momentum and public acquiescence in their horrific rule in any event.
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 had been opened wide, unnecessarily.
What has been puked out was not an organized war on Western civilization as former French president Hollande so hysterically proclaimed in response to one of the predictable terrorist episodes of mayhem in Paris.
It was just blowback carried out by that infinitesimally small contingent of mentally deformed young men who can be persuaded to strap on a suicide belt.
In any event, bombing did not defeat ISIS; it just temporarily made more of them.
Ironically, what did extinguish the Islamic State was the Assad government, the Russian air force invited into Syria by its official government and the ground forces of its Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard allies. It was they who settled an ancient quarrel that had never been any of America’s business anyway.
But Imperial Washington was so caught up in its myths, lies and hegemonic stupidity that it could not see the obvious. Accordingly, 30 years after the Cold War ended and several years after Syria and friends extinguished the Islamic State, Washington has learned no lessons. The American Imperium still stalks the planet for new monsters to destroy – presently in the precincts of Russian-speak eastern Ukraine that are utterly irrelevant to America’s peace and security.
And that’s why there is still no peace on earth 30 years after it should have broken out, as was the case 107 years ago during the Christmas Truce of 1914.
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.