By James O’Neill
The recent rise to prominence of ISIS (also known as ISIL or Daesh) and regularly referred to by Tony Abbott as a “death cult” has shone fresh light on the role played by western governments in using extreme groups in support of their foreign policy ambitions.
This is however, not a new phenomenon. The British had a divide and rule strategy that pitted factions within countries under colonial occupation against each other to the extent that they were insufficiently strong to oppose the occupying power.
More recently, Afghanistan with its deeply divided tribal factions has been a classic forum for playing out the rivalries between India, Pakistan, Iran, China, the then USSR and the US. The constant jockeying for relative advantage between the various powers are well described in Fitzgerald and Gould’s Afghanistan’s Untold Story (2009).
For present purposes a particularly significant development was the strategy developed by Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. In the late 1970s he foresaw an opportunity to foment unrest in Afghanistan to the degree that the Soviet Union would be forced to intervene to protect a friendly government on its southern flank.
Brzezinski sold the program to Carter on the basis that it would give the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam” by enticing it into an occupation of a country that three times in the previous century and a half had roundly defeated British attempts at pacification. Afghanistan did not earn the sobriquet of ‘graveyard of empires without good cause.
Known as Operation Cyclone the Americans set up training camps in Pakistan, funded by the CIA and Saudi Arabia. CIA funding relied heavily upon proceeds from the illegal drug trade with which it was heavily involved (McCoy The Politics of Heroin rev. ed. 2003) which had the added advantage of being outside the budgetary purview of the US Congress.
Mujihideen were recruited from around the world for training in these camps, and then for infiltration, not only into Afghanistan but also the Soviet Republics with strong Muslim populations to the north of Afghanistan, and the Uighur province in western China with a similarly significant Muslim minority.
The policy, then as now, was to foster discontent among the population of these countries or regions, to carry out acts of terrorism, sabotage, assassinations, and generally foster regime change by replacing their governments with governments more aligned with US interests.
The Mujihideen recruited were the foundation of what we now know as al Qaeda, which is Arabic for “the base” or database of individuals who could be relied upon to carry out terrorist acts in pursuance of the aforementioned foreign policy goals. A prominent recruit was Osama bin Laden, also known as Colonel Tim Osman on his frequent forays to US military bases in the US. Bin Laden was a Saudi fundamentalist whose family had close ties to the Bush family. Members of the bin Laden family were flown out of the US on 12 September 2001 at a time when US air space was otherwise closed to civilian traffic.
The ten-year Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended in 1989. The American objective had been achieved on several fronts. The one they claimed credit for was the defeat and subsequent dismemberment of the Soviet Union. More importantly for subsequent history however was the creation of a substantial body of Islamic militants. These militants had not only infiltrated the former Soviet republics. They were a ready-made force available for deployment as and when required. Deployed they certainly were, for campaigns as diverse as Chechnya, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria and more recently Syria.
One of the better known sub-groups is the Mujihideen el Khalq (MEK) an American armed and financed terrorist group that has been waging a terrorist war on Iran for at least three decades. The assassination of Iranian scientists has been widely attributed to the MEK.
A refinement of this policy of using Islamic militants to destabilize unfriendly governments, or countries where the US sought control over valuable natural resources or strategic location, evolved further under the Bush-Cheney regime.
In an important article in the New Yorker Magazine in 2007, “The Redirection”, Seymour Hersh argued that:
“To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shi’ite, the Bush administration decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the administration has co-operated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shi’ite organization that is backed by Iran. The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al Qaeda.”
Hersh’s article left the impression that militant anti-American groups were a by-product of American policy. It might more accurately be argued that they were an intentional consequence. In 2007 when Hersh wrote there may have been some scope for uncertainty. Any lingering doubts have now been dispelled by the release on 18 May 2015 by the American group Judicial Watch of previously classified Defence Intelligence Agency and State Department documents obtained through a Freedom of Information lawsuit.
The documents sow that in early 2012 US Intelligence agencies were forecasting the rise of ISIS. Rather than this being a cause for concern, it is clear that US Intelligence saw ISIS as a strategic asset. Its primary, but far from sole role, was as a tool for regime change in Syria.
The Defence Intelligence Agency memoranda made a number of salient points. They include the following:
- Al Qaeda drives the opposition in Syria.
- The “west” identifies with the opposition.
- The establishment of a “Salafist Principality” in Eastern Syria is exactly what the West, the Gulf States, and Turkey want in order to weaken the Assad government.
- Safe havens are suggested for areas conquered by ISIS insurgents.
A great deal of evidence had emerged prior to the release of these documents that exposed the simplistic description of ISIS as a “death cult” for the furphy that it is.
This evidence included the capture of ISIS weaponry traceable by its serial numbers to a joint CIA-Saudi program. Other evidence, both direct and inferential, included for example the extraordinarily limited use of US air power to attack ISIS movements and ground positions. There is a great deal more. The Jordanian government has admitted the use of camps on its territory for the training of ISIS soldiers. The Jerusalem Post has published pictures and articles of wounded ISIS fighters being treated at Israeli military hospitals in the Golan Heights. A variety of European media have confirmed that ISIS is able to transport stolen oil across the Turkish border for sale within Turkey, both known and tolerated by the Turkish authorities.
All of this has been verified from open sources. The DIA documents are in this regard merely confirmatory. As is so often the case with inconvenient information the Australian press prefers to keep its readers in the dark.
As to why the ISIS scenario is being played out in the Middle East and elsewhere is a broader geopolitical question. Many interests are being served. A far from complete list, but again one missing from Australian mainstream media include the following:
- It fits the Israeli agenda as set out many years ago in the Yinon Plan, which called for the break up of Iraq and Syria into weak statelets that would be unable to challenge Israeli territorial and other ambitions in the region.
- Saudi hatred for all things Shi’ite that takes many forms, most recently exhibited in the illegal (under international law) bombing of Yemen. In this endeavour they receive military and political support from the US. Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, happens to sit on one of the world’s crucial seaways, control of which is a major US strategic imperative.
- The US desire to provide an alternative pipeline route to Europe of Qatari gas currently blocked by Iraq and Syria. That gas would undermine the economic and political position of both Iran and Russia. (See Pepe Escobar Empire of Chaos, 2015).
Unsurprisingly, these issues do not receive any analysis in the Australian mainstream media. Far easier to parrot “death cult” and publicize ISIS beheadings (while simultaneously ignoring Saudi beheadings), both of which serve the twin goals of demonizing Islam and diverting attention from the reality of the war being waged by the US and its allies (terrorist and otherwise).
The goal of that war, as acknowledged in US Pentagon position papers, is for “full spectrum dominance” of land, sea, air and space. Peter Dale Scott (American War Machine, 2010) calls that policy “arguably insane”. Unfortunately, the insanity and dangerous dishonesty of these policies appear not to trouble Australia’s policy makers. There is a radical shift underway in the world, of which a re-centering of power from the “west” to Eurasia is the most obvious manifestation. We ignore that at our peril.
*Barrister at Law
He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org