By James O’Neill*
The political reaction to the recent Paris killings, and the associated reporting, highlight yet again the selective compassion, hypocrisy and historical blindness of our political and media class.
ISIS did not arise out of a vacuum. Neither is it an example of what the late Chalmers Johnson called “blowback”, i.e. the unintended consequences of policies pursued by the great powers. On the contrary, it is a deliberate and intended result of specific policies that have at their heart the overthrow of governments unwilling to accede to the Washington agenda, and the subsequent control of natural resource and/or strategic location.
Its modern antecedents can be found in Operation Cyclone in Pakistan in the late 1970s. At training camps run by the Americans and part financed by the Saudis, jihadist fighters (they were called Mujaheddin then) were recruited to infiltrate and attack not only the secular socialist government of Afghanistan, but also the Muslim majority republics of the then Soviet Union and the strongly Muslim region of Xian Shan in western China.
That policy had multiple goals beyond disruption of Afghan, Soviet and Chinese society. Afghanistan was the world’s largest producer of heroin, the proceeds from the sale of which were and are a major source of off the books CIA operations as Alfred McCoy, Peter Dale Scott and others have amply demonstrated.
Afghanistan was also the logical route for a pipeline to transship oil and gas from the rich fields of the Caspian basin, then under Soviet control. It was the later refusal of the Taliban government of Afghanistan to award the pipeline contract to American companies in which Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney and Zbigniew Brzezinski had an interest that was the actual reason for the US led invasion and continuing occupation of Afghanistan in October 2001.
The decision to attack Afghanistan had been made in July 2001, two months before the ostensible excuse of the events of 11 September 2001 in the US allegedly led by CIA alumnus Osama bin Laden.
In the decade before 9/11 the US and its allies had mounted siege warfare against the Iraqi people, which resulted in the deaths of more than half a million Iraqi women, children, and old people. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright thought that the deaths of half a million people were “worth it”.
In March 2003 the US, together with its allies including Australia, invaded Iraq on the wholly false pretext of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. None of the political leaders of the time, including Bush, Blair and Howard, have ever been held accountable for that monstrous crime. In Australia’s case successive governments have resisted calls for an inquiry into Australia’s involvement in that war. Reliable calculations of the results of that invasion and occupation put the excess Iraqi death toll over the post 2003 period at in excess of one million people.
Millions more were displaced or forced to flee the country. Civil society was destroyed. Today Iraq is a failed state. ISIS controls significant areas of its territory and also that of neighbouring Syria.
In 2012 Libya was similarly attacked by the western powers, again on the false allegation that Gaddafi was “killing his own people”. Libya was the country with the highest living standards in Africa, with an excellent education and health system for its people, and one that did not discriminate against its people on the basis of gender. Today it is another failed state racked by civil war and a breeding ground for radical jihadist groups.
Libya, not coincidentally, has massive oil and gas reserves. Gaddafi also had the temerity to propose trading his country’s oil and gas in “golden dinars”, thereby undermining the then secret deal that Henry Kissinger struck with the Saudis in 1972 that oil and gas sales would only be denominated in US dollars. Saddam Hussein made a similar fatal mistake when he announced that Iraqi oil could be traded in Euros.
There are many more examples, with Sudan, Mali and Yemen being some of the better-known recent illustrations. Saudi Arabia, armed almost exclusively by the Americans, is currently engaged in an attempt to destroy the Shi’ite allied Houthis who forced the Yemeni dictator to flee to Saudi Arabia. The Americans actively support this ongoing and devastating assault upon Yemen. Australia does Saudi Arabia the courtesy of failing to make any adverse comment on this egregious breach of international law.
Both William Blum and Noam Chomsky have separately estimated that the US has bombed, invaded or overthrown more than 70 nations since World War 2. Tens of millions have died as a consequence. In Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia people are still being killed and maimed from residual ordinance from bombing by the Americans during the Vietnam War (1954-1975). The toxic effects of Agent Orange and other chemical weapons resulted in birth defects decades after the war ended.
The process of economic and political sanctions, assassinations of key leaders and scientists, sabotage and insurrections under the cover of an ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘colour revolutions’ are all on display in the Middle East and elsewhere. Iran was a target, often through the American supported, armed and protected MEK terrorist group. Direct American involvement in Iran’s affairs date at least from the 1953 CIA coup against the Mossadeq government and accelerated after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. That 1953 coup was on behalf of the Anglo-American oil company (now BP).
American strategy in the Middle East is best understood from three principal driving forces:
- Control of resources (hence the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing support for the despicable Saudi regime whose policies are impossible to reconcile with the professed American goals of democracy and human rights).
- To protect Israel by political, military and economic support, despite Israel’s appalling record, including but not limited to multiple invasions of its neighbours, defiance of international law, and the brutal suppression of the Palestinian people. Australian support for Israel goes beyond a total failure to criticize even its most egregious acts. Australia is frequently one of a handful of nations that votes with the US and Israel (together with some American colonies) in General Assembly resolutions. “Hypocrisy” barely covers it.
- To exclude Russian gas from the European market (as part of a general policy of encirclement and confrontation). In order to achieve that goal there needs to be an alternative source of supply. The most feasible candidate allied to the US is Qatar. The pipeline to take Qatari gas to Europe lies through Iraq and Syria. The present Russian pipeline for European gas goes through Ukraine, which is an important element in why the Americans staged a coup there in February 2014 and assisted the Ukrainians in shooting down MH17 on 17 July 2014.
When Bashar al Assad, Syria’s President, refused in 2011 to agree to the US proposal for a pipeline for Qatari gas to go through his country, he turned from being a friend who tortured on America’s behalf, to a demonized person whose alleged crimes against his own people (echoes of Saddam and Gadhafi) required that he “must go”. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was a faithful echo chamber for the ‘Assad must go’ mantra until very recently.
Assad has been fighting a war ever since. The pretense of the US and its acolytes including Australia has been that the opposition to Assad were “moderates”. The western media have helpfully perpetuated this utter fiction. The fact that since the civil war started Assad won an election that UN observers pronounced fair is never mentioned. It is one of the reasons the Russian government insists that the Syrian people must carry out any change of government in Syria. That is generally a concept that falls on deaf western ears.
The US has supplied, armed, financed and generally supported the Syrian rebel groups, either directly or indirectly through their regional allies, in particular Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey.
The Turks and Israelis have in particular played a duplicitous game, providing sales outlets for stolen oil, giving medical treatment in Turkish and Israeli hospitals for wounded jihadists, and in Turkey’s case also bombing the Kurds who have been among the most successful fighters against ISIS.
For the past twelve months the Americans have been conducting a bombing campaign in Syria. They claimed, falsely, to be bombing ISIS targets. Their principal targets were Syrian infrastructure. The western media have been complicit in this falsehood.
Six weeks ago the geopolitical situation changed radically with the intervention of Russian military forces. The Russians are there at the invitation of the Syrian government, unlike the US, Australia and others, whose bombing of Syria is clearly in breach of international law. The French have also just carried out bombing attacks on Syrian targets, claiming retaliation for the Paris killings. The more obvious inference to draw from the statements made by French President Hollande is that the rhetorical groundwork is being laid for a NATO intervention in Syria. This might properly be called Plan B as Plan A, the use of jihadist proxies to overthrow Assad has clearly been thwarted by the Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah intervention on behalf of the Syrian government.
So weak is the Australian case for intervening in Syria that the Foreign Minister has been reduced to uttering complete banalities and falsehoods, refusing to release the legal advice upon which the intervention is allegedly based, and also refusing to allow any debate on yet another Australian war on behalf of the US, in the House or the Senate.
The Russian intervention has been stunning. The Syrian Army has achieved more militarily in the past six weeks than in the previous year. Any talk about no-fly zones in northern Syria, and even “Assad must go,” has become muted. Superior Russian weaponry, including the S400 missile system, has forced a rethink of western ambitions. There are even talks in Vienna between the major players and phrases like “there must be a political solution” are being heard. It is further evidence of the media’s belief in the terminal naivety of the public that we are being subjected to such nonsense.
Russia could not expect to escape retaliation for its successful intervention and thwarting of American ambitions. There was the expected propaganda barrage, about Russian bombs allegedly hitting hospitals, killing civilians and apparently worst of all, killing the “wrong” terrorists. The utter hypocrisy of the US stance and that of its allies was the promise of the Saudis to arm the ‘moderates’ with ground-to-air missiles in order to shoot down the Russian planes wreaking such damage on their proxies.
So far, so usual. The added dimension was the destruction of a Russian civilian airliner over Sinai with the resultant deaths of 224 people, nearly all Russian citizens. This was nearly 100 more than died in the Paris atrocity. There was not however, the same level of outrage, grief, and support from the western media. To show too much sympathy for the Russian victims would undermine the relentless barrage of anti-Putin, anti-Russian propaganda in the western media.
In both the Paris and Sinai cases, ISIS claimed responsibility. That may well be true. But the real question is one that the media resolutely refuse to ask: who is behind ISIS?
The evidence is now overwhelmingly clear that ISIS, like its various terrorist manifestations over many decades, is no more than a tool of American foreign policy. Seymour Hersh pointed out the policy objectives in an article in the New Yorker in 2007, “The Redirection.” Nothing has happened in the intervening years to rebut his argument.
The real responsibility for these tragic events should therefore be sheeted home to the true perpetrators. That proxies carry out the atrocities does not detract from that essential conclusion.
Unless and until we confront the true history of western support for terrorism as an instrument of state policy, then we are going to have to cope with many repetitions of what happened over Sinai and in Paris.
*Barrister at Law. He writes on geopolitical events with special reference to international law. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org