How Kissinger Won the Middle East for America until now – by Uri Avnery

Exactly 43 years ago, at this exact moment, the sirens sounded.
We were sitting in the living room, looking out on one of Tel Aviv’s main streets. The city was completely silent. No cars. No traffic of any kind. A few children were riding about on their bicycles, which is allowed on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day. Just like now.
Rachel, my wife, I, and our guest, Professor Hans Kreitler, were in deep conversation. The professor, a renowned psychologist, was living nearby, so he could come on foot.
And then the silence was pierced by a siren. For a moment we thought that it was a mistake, but then it was joined by another and another. We went to the window and saw a commotion. The street, that had been totally empty a few minutes before, began to fill up with vehicles, military and civilian.
And then the radio, which had been silent for Yom Kippur, came on. War had broken out.
A few days ago I was asked if I was prepared to talk on TV about the role of Henry Kissinger in this war. I agreed, but at the last moment the program was canceled, because the station had to devote the time to showing Jews asking God for forgiveness at the Western Wall (alias the Wailing Wall). In these Netanyahu times, God, of course, comes first.
So, instead of talking on TV, I shall write down my thoughts on the subject here.
Henry Kissinger has always intrigued me. Once my friend Yael, the daughter of Moshe Dayan, took me – in the great man’s absence, of course, since he was my enemy – to his large collection of unread books and asked me to choose a book as a present. I chose a book of Kissinger’s, and was much impressed by it.
Like Shimon Peres and I, Kissinger was born in 1923. He was a few months older than the other two of us. His family left Nazi Germany five years later than I and went to the US, via England. We both had to start working very early, but he went on with his studies and became a professor, while poor me never finished elementary school.
I was impressed by the wisdom of his books. He approached history without sentiment and dwelled especially on the Congress of Vienna, after Napoleon’s downfall, in which a group of wise statesmen laid the groundwork for a stable, absolutist Europe. Kissinger stressed the importance of their decision to invite the representative of vanquished France (Talleyrand). They realized that France must be part of the new system. To ensure peace, they believed, no one should be left out of the new system.
Unfortunately, Kissinger in power disregarded this wisdom of Kissinger the Professor. He left the Palestinians out.
The subject I was to speak about on TV was a question that has intrigued and troubled Israeli historians since that fateful Yom Kippur: Did Kissinger know about the impending Egyptian-Syrian attack? Did he deliberately abstain from warning Israel, because of his own nefarious designs?
After the war, Israel was rent asunder by one question: why had our government, led by Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, disregarded all the signs of the coming attack? Why had they not called up the army reserves in time? Why had they not sent the tanks to our strongholds along the Suez Canal?
When the Egyptians attacked, the line was thinly held by second-class troops. Most soldiers were sent home for the high religious holiday. The line was easily overrun.
Israeli intelligence knew of course of the massive movement of Egyptian units towards the canal. They disregarded it as an empty maneuver to frighten Israel.
To understand this, one has to remember that after the incredible victory of the Israeli army only six years earlier, when it smashed all the neighboring armies in six days, our army had abysmal contempt for the Egyptian armed forces. The idea that they could dare to carry out such a momentous operation seemed ridiculous.
Add to this the general contempt for Anwar al-Sadat, the man who had inherited power from the legendary Gamal Abd-al-Nasser a few years earlier. Among the group of “Free Officers” who, led by Nasser, had carried out the bloodless 1952 revolution in Egypt, Sadat was considered the least intelligent, and therefore appointed by consent as Nasser’s deputy.
In Egypt, a country of innumerable jokes, there was joke about that, too. Sadat had a conspicuous brown spot on his forehead. According to the joke, whenever a subject came up in a Free Officers’ Council meeting, and everyone expressed his view, Sadat would stand up last and start to speak. Nasser would put his finger on his forehead, press it gently and say: “Sit down, Anwar, sit down.”
In the course of the six years between the wars, Sadat several times conveyed to Golda that he was ready for peace negotiations, based on Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Sinai Peninsula. Golda contemptuously refused. (In fact, Nasser himself had decided on such a move just before he died. I played a small role in conveying this information to our government.)
Back to 1973: almost at the last moment Israel was warned by a well-placed spy, no less than Nasser’s son-in-law. The message gave the exact date of the impending attack, but the wrong hour: instead of noon, it predicted the early evening. A difference of several fateful hours. In Israel it was later debated whether the man was a double agent and had give the false hour on purpose. It was too late to ask him – he had died in mysterious circumstances.
When Golda informed Kissinger about the impending Egyptian move, he warned her not to carry out a preemptive strike, which would put Israel in the wrong. Golda, trusting Kissinger, obeyed, contrary to the views of the Israel Chief of Staff, David Elazar, nicknamed Dado.
Kissinger also delayed informing his own boss, President Nixon, by two hours.
So what was Kissinger’s game?
For him, the main American aim was to drive the Soviets out of the Arab world, leaving the US as the sole power in the region.
In his world of “realpolitik”, this was the only objective that mattered. Everybody else, including us poor Israelis, were just pawns on the giant chessboard.
A major but controlled war was for him the practical way to make everybody in the region dependent on the US.
When the Egyptian and Syrian attacks initially succeeded, Israel was in panic. Dayan, who in this crisis showed himself to be the nincompoop he really was, bewailed the “destruction of the Third Temple” (adding our state to the two Jewish temples of antiquity which were destroyed by the Assyrians and the Romans respectively.) The army command, under Dado, kept its cool and planned its countermoves with admirable precision.
But munitions were running out quickly and Golda turned in despair to Kissinger. He set in motion an “air bridge” of supplies, giving Israel just enough to defend itself. Not more.
The Soviet Union was helpless to interfere. Kissinger was king of the situation.
With remarkable resilience (and the weapons delivered by Kissinger) the Israeli army turned the tables, pushing the Syrians back well beyond their starting point and nearing Damascus. On the Southern front, Israeli units crossed the Suez Canal and could have started an offensive towards Cairo.
It was a rather confused picture: an Egyptian army was still east of the Canal, practically encircled but still able to defend itself, while the Israeli army was behind its back, west of the canal, also in a dangerous position, liable to be cut off from its homeland. Altogether, a classic “fight with reversed fronts”.
If the war had run its course, the Israeli army would have reached the gates of Damascus and Cairo, and the Egyptian and Syrian armies would have begged for a cease-fire on Israeli terms.
That’s where Kissinger came in.
The Israeli advance was stopped on Kissinger’s orders 101 km from Cairo. There a tent was set up and permanent cease-fire negotiations started.
Egypt was represented by a senior officer, Abd-al-Rani Gamassi, who soon captured the sympathy of the Israeli journalists. The Israeli representative was Aharon Yariv, former chief of army intelligence, a member of the government and a general of the reserves.
Yariv was soon recalled to his seat in the cabinet. He was replaced by a very popular regular army general, Israel Tal, nicknamed Talik, who happened to be a friend of mine.
Talik was devoted to peace, and I often urged him to leave the army and become the leader of the Israeli peace camp. He refused, because his overriding passion was to create the Merkava, an original Israeli tank that would give its crew maximum security.
Immediately after the fighting I met Talik regularly for lunch in a well-known restaurant. Passersby may have wondered about these two – the famous tank general and the journalist universally hated by the entire establishment – conversing together.
Talik told me – in confidence, of course – about what had happened: one day Gamassy had taken him aside and told him that he had received new instructions – instead of talking about a cease-fire, he could negotiate an Israel-Egyptian peace.
Immensely excited, Talik flew to Tel-Aviv and disclosed the news to Golda Meir. But Golda was cool. She told Talik to abstain from any talk about peace. When she saw his utter consternation, she explained that she had promised Kissinger that any talks about peace must be held under American auspices.
And so it happened: a cease-fire agreement was signed and a peace conference was called in Geneva, officially under joint US and Soviet auspices.
I went to Geneva to see what would happen. Kissinger was there to dictate terms, but Andrei Gromyko, his Soviet counterpart, was a tough customer. After a few speeches, the conference adjourned without results. (For me it was an important event, because there I met a British journalist, Edward Mortimer, who arranged for me to meet the PLO representative in London, Said Hamami. Thus the first Israeli-PLO meeting came about. But that is another story.)
The Yom Kippur war cost many thousands of lives, Israeli, Egyptian and Syrian. Kissinger achieved his goal. The Soviets lost the Arab world to the United States.
Until Vladimir Putin came along.

The West in the Middle East

by Roger Hardy

Many people, understandably, are perplexed by the violence and disorder of the Middle East. They look at, say, the conflict in Syria and ask: how did it come to this? Part of the problem is that the media focus on the crowded foreground and neglect the all-important historical background – in particular, the formative period in the emergence of the modern Middle East, in the age of empire.

To understand the conflicts and crises of today′s Middle East, we need to understand how it emerged in essentially its present form, in the half-century between 1917 and 1967. When the British left Egypt, 77 percent of the population was illiterate, per capita income stood at £42 a year and the life expectancy of an Egyptian male was 36.

The region was shaped in important and fateful, ways by the First World War and its aftermath. The Ottoman Empire, which had governed the Middle East for four hundred years, had taken the side of Germany. After its defeat, Britain and France divided the Arab portions of the empire between them. The post-war settlement left a legacy of deep mistrust – and unwittingly sowed the seeds of many of the conflicts of today, including the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the Lebanon problem and the statelessness of the Kurds.

Arabs who dreamt of independence felt betrayed when they found they had exchanged Turkish for European rule. ″The ghost of the Peace Settlement,″ wrote the historian Albert Hourani, ″has haunted Arab politics ever since.″

A bitter harvest

European domination of the Middle East and North Africa had profound consequences for the region and its relations with the West. First, colonial rule was from the start contested. Only two years after the French occupied Algeria in 1830, a charismatic young warrior and Sufi scholar, Emir Abdelkader, led a 15-year revolt. This and a subsequent rebellion in 1871, were suppressed with great ferocity. Arabs and Berbers, the country′s two main ethnic groups, were united in opposing French rule. An anonymous Berber poet wrote of the bitterness the French left in the wake of these revolts:

They have sowed hatred in the villages.

We store it under the ground where it remains,

The abundant yield of a harvested field.

The same sentiment was apparent elsewhere. Throughout the region, with relatively few exceptions, colonial rule provoked resentment and – in many cases – rebellion.

The French were taken by surprise by the Great Revolt in Syria in the 1920s, which broke out in the Druze region south of Damascus and soon spread to much of the country. In Iraq, the Shia of the south rose up against British rule in 1920 and the colonial power responded by using air power against this and subsequent unrest, whether among the Shia tribes or the Kurds of the north. In Palestine, it took the Arab Revolt, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, to knock the stuffing out of British complacency.

The most sustained violence was in Algeria. Experts continue to debate how many died in the war of independence, which lasted from 1954 to 1962, but it was no less than half a million.

Nation-building

Secondly, colonial rule challenged the basis of Middle Eastern societies. Under Ottoman rule, for all its deficiencies, the region had a certain coherence – culturally as well as politically – which it never regained. The idea of the nation-state was novel and, initially at least, alien. British and French officials drew the new borders – those infamous ″lines in the sand″ – to suit their imperial interests. In many cases, they were scarcely a natural fit. As a result, the process of state-building and nation-building was fraught with difficulty.

What′s more, even when they proclaimed a ″civilising mission″, the colonial powers did little to educate the mass of the people. Instead they educated a small collaborative elite which could provide the schoolteachers and low-level functionaries they required. When the British left Egypt, 77 percent of the population was illiterate, per capita income stood at £42 a year and the life expectancy of an Egyptian male was 36.

A pattern of intervention

Third and perhaps most crucially, colonial rule was part of a broader pattern of intervention. This went back to the era of Disraeli and Gladstone, when the European powers picked at the decaying corpse of the Ottoman Empire and extended beyond the colonial period to more recent interventions – most notably the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

Whatever else they were guilty of, the two authors of that invasion, George Bush and Tony Blair, displayed an astonishing ignorance of history. They seemed blissfully unaware that, for more than two hundred years, Western intervention in the Middle East had produced a nationalist response – and that prolonged occupation provoked prolonged insurgencies.

And when insurgencies are crushed, the hatred is stored:

… under the ground where it remains,

The abundant yield of a harvested field.

The Ruining of Egypt

From The Economist
IN EGYPT they are the shabab al-ahawe, “coffee-shop guys”; in Algeria they are the hittistes, “those who lean with their backs to the wall”; in Morocco they go by the French term, diplômés chômeurs, “graduate-jobless”. Across the Arab world the ranks of the young and embittered are swelling.

In most countries a youth bulge leads to an economic boom. But Arab autocrats regard young people as a threat—and with reason. Better educated than their parents, wired to the world and sceptical of political and religious authority, the young were at the forefront of the uprisings of 2011. They toppled rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and alarmed the kings and presidents of many other states.

Now, with the exception of Tunisia, those countries have either slid into civil war or seen their revolutions rolled back. The lot of young Arabs is worsening: it has become harder to find a job and easier to end up in a cell. Their options are typically poverty, emigration or, for a minority, jihad.

This is creating the conditions for the next explosion. Nowhere is the poisonous mix of demographic stress, political repression and economic incompetence more worrying than in Egypt under its strongman, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

The Middle East is where people are most pessimistic and most fearful that the next generation will fare worse than the current one. Arab populations are growing exceptionally fast. Although the proportion who are aged 15-24 peaked at 20% of the total of 357m in 2010, the absolute number of young Arabs will keep growing, from 46m in 2010 to 58m in 2025.

As the largest Arab state, Egypt is central to the region’s future. If it succeeds, the Middle East will start to look less benighted; if it fails, today’s mayhem will turn even uglier. A general who seized power in a coup in 2013, Mr Sisi has proved more repressive than Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in the Arab spring; and he is as incompetent as Muhammad Morsi, the elected Islamist president, whom Mr Sisi deposed.

The regime is bust, sustained only by generous injections of cash from Gulf states (and, to a lesser degree, by military aid from America). Even with billions of petrodollars, Egypt’s budget and current-account deficits are gaping, at nearly 12% and 7% of GDP respectively. For all of Mr Sisi’s nationalist posturing, he has gone beret in hand to the IMF for a $12 billion bail-out (see article).

Youth unemployment now stands at over 40%. The government is already bloated with do-nothing civil servants; and in Egypt’s sclerotic, statist economy, the private sector is incapable of absorbing the legions of new workers who join the labour market each year. Astonishingly, in Egypt’s broken system university graduates are more likely to be jobless than the country’s near-illiterate.

Egypt’s economic woes stem partly from factors beyond the government’s control. Low oil prices affect all Arab economies, including net energy importers that depend on remittances. Wars and terrorism have kept tourists away from the Middle East. Past errors weigh heavily, too, including the legacy of Arab socialism and the army’s vast business interests.

But Mr Sisi is making things worse. He insists on defending the Egyptian pound, to avoid stoking inflation and bread riots. He thinks he can control the cost of food, much of which is imported, by propping up the currency. But capital controls have failed to prevent the emergence of a black market for dollars (the Egyptian pound trades at about two-thirds of its official value), and has also created shortages of imported spare parts and machinery. This is stoking inflation anyway (14% and rising). It is also hurting industry and scaring away investors.

Sitting astride the Suez Canal, one of the great trade arteries of the world, Egypt should be well placed to benefit from global commerce. Yet it lies in the bottom half of the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business index. Rather than slashing red tape to set loose his people’s talents, Mr Sisi pours taxpayers’ cash into grandiose projects. He has expanded the Suez Canal, yet its revenues have fallen. Plans for a new Dubai-like city in the desert lie buried in the sand. A proposed bridge to connect Egypt to Saudi Arabia sparked protests after Mr Sisi promised to hand back two Saudi islands long controlled by Egypt.

Even Mr Sisi’s Arab bankrollers appear to be losing patience. Advisers from the United Arab Emirates have gone home, frustrated by an ossified bureaucracy and a knucklehead leadership that thinks Egypt needs no advice from upstart Gulfies—mere “semi-states” that have “money like rice”, as Mr Sisi and his aides are heard to say in a leaked audio tape.

Such is Egypt’s strategic importance that the world has little choice but to deal with Mr Sisi. But the West should treat him with a mixture of pragmatism, persuasion and pressure. It should stop selling Egypt expensive weapons it neither needs nor can afford, be they American F-16 jets or French Mistral helicopter-carriers. Any economic help should come with strict conditions: the currency should ultimately be allowed to float; the civil service has to be slimmed; costly and corruption-riddled subsidy schemes should be phased out. The poorest should in time be compensated through direct payments.

All this should be done gradually. Egypt is too fragile, and the Middle East too volatile, for shock therapy. The Egyptian bureaucracy would anyway struggle to enact radical change. Yet giving a clear direction for reform would help to restore confidence in Egypt’s economy. Gulf Arabs should insist on such changes—and withhold some rice if Mr Sisi resists.

For the time being talk of another uprising, or even of another coup to get rid of Mr Sisi, has abated. Caught by surprise in 2011, the secret police are even more diligent in sniffing out and scotching dissent. But the demographic, economic and social pressures within Egypt are rising relentlessly. Mr Sisi cannot provide lasting stability. Egypt’s political system needs to be reopened. A good place to start would be for Mr Sisi to announce that he will not stand again for election in 2018.

Islamist Violence

Interview conducted by Claudia Mende

Islamist violence is “in part a product of Western disdain”

Karen Armstrong, British scholar of comparative religion, finds that there is a long and inglorious tradition of distorting Islam in Europe. She criticises the notion that Islam is essentially more violent than Christianity and speaks about the genesis of Western disdain for the Arab world. Interview by Claudia Mende

Ms Armstrong, in an article for “The Guardian” you wrote that the barbaric violence of IS may be “at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain”. Would you write that again now, after the Paris attacks?

Karen Armstrong: Yes, most certainly. If the attack on “Charlie Hebdo” was indeed inspired or backed by al-Qaida, it was politically as well as religiously motivated. In Paris, it attacked the sacred symbol of mo­dern secular Western civilisation: freedom of expres­sion. Freedom of expression was an Enlightenment ideal; it was essential to capitalist society that people were free to innovate without being suppressed by the restrictions of Church, class or guild. In Paris, the terrorists were saying in effect: “You attack our sacred symbol (the Prophet Muhammad); then we will attack yours! Now you see what it feels like.”

But what does this have to do with Western disdain?

Armstrong: The Prophet has been caricatured in the West as a violent, epileptic, lecherous charlatan since the time of the Crusades in the Middle Ages; this distorted image of Islam developed at the same time as our European anti-Semitism which caricatured Jews as the evil, violent, perverse and powerful enemies of Europe.

So yes, the attack on the magazine was in part a product of Western disdain. The attack on the Jewish supermarket, which seems to have been backed by ISIS, was directed against Western support for Israel. Here too, there is an element of disdain: there has been little sustained outcry against the massive casualties in Gaza last summer, for example, which seems to some Muslims to imply that the lives of Palestinian women, children and the elderly are not as valuable as our own.

Where do you see the roots of this disdain?

Armstrong: The Enlightenment ideal of freedom was, in practice, only for Europeans. The Founding Fathers of the United States, who were deeply influenced by the Enlightenment, proudly proclaimed that “All men are created equal” and enjoyed the natural human rights of life, liberty and property. But they felt no qualms about owning African slaves and driving the Native Americans out of their ancestral lands.

John Locke, the apostle of tolerance, wrote that a master had “absolute and despotical” rights over a slave, which included the right to kill him at any time. This continues: many of those who marched for freedom of expression in Paris were leaders of states that have supported regimes in Muslim majority countries that denied their subjects basic freedoms; Britain and the US, for example, continue to support the Saudi regime. Again, a disdain: ourfreedom is more important than yours.

Shouldn’t we also look at certain Koranic verses and their interpretation throughout history to explain the phenomenon of Islamist terror?

Armstrong: “Throughout history”, these Koranic verses have not inspired terrorist activities. Any empire depends upon force; this is true of the Indian, Chinese, Persian, Roman, Hellenistic and British empires and it is also true of the Islamic empires. Furthermore, until the modern period, Islam had a far better record of tolerance than Western Christianity. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they slaughtered the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of the city in a massacre that shocked the Middle East, which had never seen such unbridled violence. And yet it was 50 years before there was any serious Muslim riposte. There is more violence in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament than there is in the Koran.

Most Christian theologians would disagree.

Armstrong: Those theologians who claim that there are no passages in the New Testament like Koran 2.191–93 have perhaps forgotten the Book of Revelation, which is the preferred text of many Christian fundamentalists who look forward to the battles of the imminent End Time that will destroy the enemies of God. They interpret these texts literally and quote them far more frequently than the Sermon on the Mount. The aggression towards the enemy commanded in Koran 2:191 concludes: “If they cease hostilities, there can be no further hostility.” (Koran 2. 193). No such quarter is allowed those who fight the Word of God in the battles of Revelation.

Why is this never mentioned in debates on this subject?

Armstrong: One might argue that this book is uncharacteristic of the New Testament as a whole, but exactly the same can be said of the “sword verses” of the Koran. Even Jesus, who told his disciples to love their enemies and turn the other cheek when attacked, warned his followers: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth; it is not peace I have come to bring but the sword.” (Matthew 10: 14). All scriptures have violent passages that can be quoted out of context, given undue importance, and made to cancel out the irenic teaching that inspires all faiths at their best.

There is a popular understanding that Islam has violence incorporated into its beliefs from the very beginning. What do you think?

Armstrong: This popular belief originated at the time of the Crusades, when it was Western Christians who were attacking Muslims in the Near East; it may reflect a buried anxiety and guilt: Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies not to exterminate them. The conviction that Islam had always been a religion of the sword was promoted by learned monks during the twelfth century: they were projecting their concern about their own behaviour onto their victims.

But what about the beginnings of the Islamic empire?

Armstrong: In the early years, while the Muslims were an embattled minority in Mecca, the Koran forbade them to retaliate and attack their aggressors. But when they were forced by intensified persecution to flee Mecca and found an infant state, the Muslims, like any state-builders, had to fight, and the Koran endorses this. But military historians tell us that Muhammad and the first caliphs are almost unique in building empires more by diplomacy than by violence: Muhammad, by uniting the Arabian Peninsula, which had previously consisted of warring tribal societies, and imposing the Pax Islamica there; and the first caliphs, the Rashidun, in the cultivated lands of the Middle East.

Another difference between East and West is the lack of separation between state and religion in the Arab world. Why does secularism have such a difficult stand?

Armstrong: The secularism that developed in the West during the eighteenth century was a radical innovation. Before the modern period, religion permeated all human activities because people wanted to make their lives significant. The idea of “religion” as a personal, private quest essentially separate from all other pursuits was unknown in pre-modern Europe as well as in the rest of the world. No other culture has anything like it. Words that we translate as “religion” (such as “din” in Arabic or “dharma” in Sanskrit) refer to an entire way of life. Trying to take “religion” out of politics would have been as difficult as taking the gin out of a cocktail. This was not because they were too stupid to distinguish two entirely different activities but because such questions as the plight of the poor, the maintenance of public order and public security, and justice were matters of sacred import.

So secularism is perceived as an essentially Western concept?

Armstrong: It is a Western innovation; we were able to develop it under our own dynamic and not at somebody else’s behest. It was essential to our modernisation and many therefore found it liberating. But in the Arab world, it was merely a foreign import; it was imposed by colonial powers and came with political subjection rather than political freedom. When the colonialists left, it was often imposed so cruelly that it seemed positively evil.

When Ataturk secularised modern Turkey, he closed down all the madrassas. His policies of ethnic cleansing forever associated secularism with the violence of the Young Turks, a secularist group who had seized power in Ottoman Turkey and committed the Armenian massacres during World War I. These rulers wanted their countries to look modern (that is, European), even though the majority of the population had no familiarity with Western ideas.

What about Egypt, the motherland of Islamism?

Armstrong: After an attempt on his life in 1954, Gamal Abdel Nasser incarcerated thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the innocent along with the guilty minority. Most were imprisoned without trial for doing nothing more incri­mi­nating than handing out leaflets or attending a meeting.

One of them was Sayyid Qutb. As he saw the Brothers being beaten, tortured and executed in this vile prison and heard Nasser vowing to secularise Egypt on the Western model and confine Islam to the private sphere, secularism seemed a great evil. In prison he wrote “Milestones”, the “bible” of Sunni fundamentalism, the work of a man who has been pushed too far and was executed, at Nasser’s special request, in 1966. The other Brothers were radicalised in these terrible prisons; when they were released in the 1970s, they took their extremism into the mainstream.

Why Arabs Don’t Want US intervention in Syria

by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

As the US focuses on the rise of the Islamic State and search for the source of the savagery that took innocent lives in Paris and San Bernardino, it might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology. Instead it should examine the more complex rationales of history and oil—and how they often point the finger of blame back at US shores.

America’s unsavory record of violent interventions in Syria—little-known to the American people yet well-known to Syrians—sowed fertile ground for the violent Islamic jihadism that now complicates any effective response by our government to address the challenge of ISIL. So long as the American public and policymakers are unaware of this past, further interventions are likely only to compound the crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry this week announced a “provisional” ceasefire in Syria. But since U.S. leverage and prestige within Syria is minimal—and the ceasefire doesn’t include key combatants such as Islamic State and al Nusra–it’s bound to be a shaky truce at best. Similarly President Obama’s stepped-up military intervention in Libya—U.S. airstrikes targeted an Islamic State training camp last week—is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the radicals. As the New York Times reported in a December 8, 2015, front-page story, Islamic State political leaders and strategic planners are working to provoke an American military intervention. They know from experience this will flood their ranks with volunteer fighters, drown the voices of moderation and unify the Islamic world against America.

To understand this dynamic, we need to look at history from the Syrians’ perspective and particularly the seeds of the current conflict. Long before our 2003 occupation of Iraq triggered the Sunni uprising that has now morphed into the Islamic State, the CIA had nurtured violent jihadism as a Cold War weapon and freighted U.S./Syrian relationships with toxic baggage.

This did not happen without controversy at home. In July 1957, following a failed coup in Syria by the CIA,  Sen. John F. Kennedy infuriated the Eisenhower White House, the leaders of both political parties and our European allies with a milestone speech endorsing the right of self-governance in the Arab world and an end to America’s imperialist meddling in Arab countries. Throughout my lifetime, and particularly during my frequent travels to the Mideast, countless Arabs have fondly recalled that speech to me as the clearest statement of the idealism they expected from the U.S. Kennedy’s speech was a call for recommitting America to the high values our country had championed in the Atlantic Charter; the formal pledge that all the former European colonies would have the right to self-determination following World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt had strong-armed Winston Churchill and the other allied leaders to sign the Atlantic Charter in 1941 as a precondition for U.S. support in the European war against fascism.

But thanks in large part to Allen Dulles and the CIA, whose foreign policy intrigues were often directly at odds with the stated policies of our nation, the idealistic path outlined in the Atlantic Charter was the road not taken. In 1957, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy sat on a secret committee charged with investigating the CIA’s clandestine mischief in the Mideast. The so called “Bruce-Lovett Report,” to which he was a signatory, described CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt, all common knowledge on the Arab street, but virtually unknown to the American people who believed, at face value, their government’s denials. The report blamed the CIA for the rampant anti-Americanism that was then mysteriously taking root “in the many countries in the world today.” The Bruce-Lovett Report pointed out that such interventions were antithetical to American values and had compromised America’s international leadership and moral authority without the knowledge of the American people. The report also said that the CIA never considered how we would treat such interventions if some foreign government were to engineer them in our country.

This is the bloody history that modern interventionists like George W. Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio miss when they recite their narcissistic trope that Mideast nationalists “hate us for our freedoms.” For the most part they don’t; instead they hate us for the way we betrayed those freedoms—our own ideals—within their borders.

For Americans to really understand what’s going on, it’s important to review some details about this sordid but little-remembered history. During the 1950s, President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers—CIA Director Allen Dulles and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles—rebuffed Soviet treaty proposals to leave the Middle East a neutral zone in the Cold War and let Arabs rule Arabia. Instead, they mounted a clandestine war against Arab nationalism—which Allen Dulles equated with communism—particularly when Arab self-rule threatened oil concessions. They pumped secret American military aid to tyrants in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon favoring puppets with conservative Jihadist ideologies that they regarded as a reliable antidote to Soviet Marxism. At a White House meeting between the CIA’s director of plans, Frank Wisner, and John Foster Dulles, in September 1957, Eisenhower advised the agency, “We should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect,” according to a memo recorded by his staff secretary, Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster.

The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949—barely a year after the agency’s creation. Syrian patriots had declared war on the Nazis, expelled their Vichy French colonial rulers and crafted a fragile secularist democracy based on the American model. But in March 1949, Syria’s democratically elected president, Shukri-al-Quwatli, hesitated to approve the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, an American project intended to connect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to the ports of Lebanon via Syria. In his book, Legacy of Ashes, CIA historian Tim Weiner recounts that in retaliation for Al-Quwatli’s lack of enthusiasm for the U.S. pipeline, the CIA engineered a coup replacing al-Quwatli with the CIA’s handpicked dictator, a convicted swindler named Husni al-Za’im. Al-Za’im barely had time to dissolve parliament and approve the American pipeline before his countrymen deposed him, four and a half months into his regime.

Following several counter-coups in the newly destabilized country, the Syrian people again tried democracy in 1955, re-electing al-Quwatli and his National Party. Al-Quwatli was still a Cold War neutralist, but, stung by American involvement in his ouster, he now leaned toward the Soviet camp. That posture caused CIA Director Dulles to declare that “Syria is ripe for a coup” and send his two coup wizards, Kim Roosevelt and Rocky Stone, to Damascus.

Two years earlier, Roosevelt and Stone had orchestrated a coup in Iran against the democratically elected President Mohammed Mosaddegh, after Mosaddegh tried to renegotiate the terms of Iran’s lopsided contracts with the British oil giant Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP). Mosaddegh was the first elected leader in Iran’s 4,000-year history and a popular champion for democracy across the developing world. Mosaddegh expelled all British diplomats after uncovering a coup attempt by U.K. intelligence officers working in cahoots with BP. Mosaddegh, however, made the fatal mistake of resisting his advisers’ pleas to also expel the CIA, which, they correctly suspected, was complicit in the British plot. Mosaddegh idealized the U.S. as a role model for Iran’s new democracy and incapable of such perfidies. Despite Dulles’ needling, President Harry Truman had forbidden the CIA from actively joining the British caper to topple Mosaddegh. When Eisenhower took office in January 1953, he immediately unleashed Dulles. After ousting Mosaddegh in “Operation Ajax,” Stone and Roosevelt installed Shah Reza Pahlavi, who favored U.S. oil companies but whose two decades of CIA sponsored savagery toward his own people from the Peacock throne would finally ignite the 1979 Islamic revolution that has bedeviled our foreign policy for 35 years.

Flush from his Operation Ajax “success” in Iran, Stone arrived in Damascus in April 1957 with $3 million to arm and incite Islamic militants and to bribe Syrian military officers and politicians to overthrow al-Quwatli’s democratically elected secularist regime, according to Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA, by John Prados. Working with the Muslim Brotherhood and millions of dollars, Rocky Stone schemed to assassinate Syria’s chief of intelligence, the chief of its General Staff and the chief of the Communist Party, and to engineer “national conspiracies and various strong arm” provocations in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan that could be blamed on the Syrian Ba’athists. Tim Weiner describes in Legacy of Ashes how the CIA’s plan was to destabilize the Syrian government and create a pretext for an invasion by Iraq and Jordan, whose governments were already under CIA control. Kim Roosevelt forecast that the CIA’s newly installed puppet government would “rely first upon repressive measures and arbitrary exercise of power,” according to declassified CIA documents reported in The Guardian newspaper.

But all that CIA money failed to corrupt the Syrian military officers. The soldiers reported the CIA’s bribery attempts to the Ba’athist regime. In response, the Syrian army invaded the American Embassy, taking Stone prisoner. After harsh interrogation, Stone made a televised confession of his roles in the Iranian coup and the CIA’s aborted attempt to overthrow Syria’s legitimate government. The Syrians ejected Stone and two U.S. Embassy staffers—the first time any American State Department diplomat was barred from an Arab country. The Eisenhower White House hollowly dismissed Stone’s confession as “fabrications” and “slanders,” a denial swallowed whole by the American press, led by the New York Times and believed by the American people, who shared Mosaddegh’s idealistic view of their government. Syria purged all politicians sympathetic to the U.S. and executed for treason all military officers associated with the coup. In retaliation, the U.S. moved the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, threatened war and goaded Turkey to invade Syria. The Turks assembled 50,000 troops on Syria’s borders and backed down only in the face of unified opposition from the Arab League whose leaders were furious at the U.S. intervention. Even after its expulsion, the CIA continued its secret efforts to topple Syria’s democratically elected Ba’athist government. The CIA plotted with Britain’s MI6 to form a “Free Syria Committee” and armed the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate three Syrian government officials, who had helped expose “the American plot,” according to Matthew Jones in “The ‘Preferred Plan’: The Anglo-American Working Group Report on Covert Action in Syria, 1957.” The CIA’s mischief pushed Syria even further away from the U.S. and into prolonged alliances with Russia and Egypt.

Following the second Syrian coup attempt, anti-American riots rocked the Mideast from Lebanon to Algeria. Among the reverberations was the July 14, 1958 coup, led by the new wave of anti-American Army officers who overthrew Iraq’s pro-American monarch, Nuri al-Said. The coup leaders published secret government documents, exposing Nuri al-Said as a highly paid CIA puppet. In response to American treachery, the new Iraqi government invited Soviet diplomats and economic advisers to Iraq and turned its back on the West.

Having alienated Iraq and Syria, Kim Roosevelt fled the Mideast to work as an executive for the oil industry that he had served so well during his public service career at the CIA. Roosevelt’s replacement as CIA station chief, James Critchfield, attempted a failed assassination plot against the new Iraqi president using a toxic handkerchief, according to Weiner. Five years later, the CIA finally succeeded in deposing the Iraqi president and installing the Ba’ath Party in power in Iraq. A charismatic young murderer named Saddam Hussein was one of the distinguished leaders of the CIA’s Ba’athist team. The Ba’ath Party’s Secretary, Ali Saleh Sa’adi, who took office alongside Saddam Hussein, would later say, “We came to power on a CIA train,” according to A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, by Said Aburish, a journalist and author. Aburish recounted that the CIA supplied Saddam and his cronies a murder list of people who “had to be eliminated immediately in order to ensure success.” Tim Weiner writes that Critchfield later acknowledged that the CIA had, in essence, “created Saddam Hussein.” During the Reagan years, the CIA supplied Hussein with billions of dollars in training, Special Forces support, weapons and battlefield intelligence, knowing that he was using poisonous mustard and nerve gas and biological weapons—including anthrax obtained from the U.S. government—in his war against Iran. Reagan and his CIA director, Bill Casey, regarded Saddam as a potential friend to the U.S. oil industry and a sturdy barrier against the spread of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Their emissary, Donald Rumsfeld, presented Saddam with golden cowboy spurs and a menu of chemical/biological and conventional weapons on a 1983 trip to Baghdad. At the same time, the CIA was illegally supplying Saddam’s enemy, Iran, with thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight Iraq, a crime made famous during the Iran-Contra scandal. Jihadists from both sides later turned many of those CIA-supplied weapons against the American people.

Even as America contemplates yet another violent Mideast intervention, most Americans are unaware of the many ways that “blowback” from previous CIA blunders has helped craft the current crisis. The reverberations from decades of CIA shenanigans continue to echo across the Mideast today in national capitals and from mosques to madras schools over the wrecked landscape of democracy and moderate Islam that the CIA helped obliterate.

A parade of Iranian and Syrian dictators, including Bashar al-Assad and his father, have invoked the history of the CIA’s bloody coups as a pretext for their authoritarian rule, repressive tactics and their need for a strong Russian alliance. These stories are therefore well known to the people of Syria and Iran who naturally interpret talk of U.S. intervention in the context of that history.

While the compliant American press parrots the narrative that our military support for the Syrian insurgency is purely humanitarian, many Arabs see the present crisis as just another proxy war over pipelines and geopolitics. Before rushing deeper into the conflagration, it would be wise for us to consider the abundant facts supporting that perspective.

In their view, our war against Bashar Assad did not begin with the peaceful civil protests of the Arab Spring in 2011. Instead it began in 2000, when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500 kilometer pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Qatar shares with Iran the South Pars/North Dome gas field, the world’s richest natural gas repository. The international trade embargo until recently prohibited Iran from selling gas abroad. Meanwhile, Qatar’s gas can reach European marketsonly if it is liquefied and shipped by sea, a route that restricts volume and dramatically raises costs. The proposed pipeline would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey, which would pocket rich transit fees. The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would give the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. Qatar hosts two massive American military bases and the U.S. Central Command’s Mideast headquarters.

The EU, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, was equally hungry for the pipeline, which would have given its members cheap energy and relief from Vladimir Putin’s stifling economic and political leverage. Turkey, Russia’s second largest gas customer, was particularly anxious to end its reliance on its ancient rival and to position itself as the lucrative transect hub for Asian fuels to EU markets. The Qatari pipeline would have benefited Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni monarchy by giving it a foothold in Shia-dominated Syria. The Saudis’ geopolitical goal is to contain the economic and political power of the kingdom’s principal rival, Iran, a Shiite state, and close ally of Bashar Assad. The Saudi monarchy viewed the U.S.-sponsored Shiite takeover in Iraq (and, more recently, the termination of the Iran trade embargo) as a demotion to its regional power status and was already engaged in a proxy war against Tehran in Yemen, highlighted by the Saudi genocide against the Iranian backed Houthi tribe.

Of course, the Russians, who sell 70 percent of their gas exports to Europe, viewed the Qatar/Turkey pipeline as an existential threat. In Putin’s view, the Qatar pipeline is a NATO plot to change the status quo, deprive Russia of its only foothold in the Middle East, strangle the Russian economy and end Russian leverage in the European energy market. In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”

Assad further enraged the Gulf’s Sunni monarchs by endorsing a Russian-approved “Islamic pipeline” running from Iran’s side of the gas field through Syria and to the ports of Lebanon. The Islamic pipeline would make Shiite Iran, not Sunni Qatar, the principal supplier to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran’s influence in the Middke East and the world. Israel also was understandably determined to derail the Islamic pipeline, which would enrich Iran and Syria and presumably strengthen their proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative Bashar Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. It is important to note that this was well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad.

Bashar Assad’s family is Alawite, a Muslim sect widely perceived as aligned with the Shiite camp. “Bashar Assad was never supposed to be president,” journalist Seymour Hersh told me in an interview. “His father brought him back from medical school in London when his elder brother, the heir apparent, was killed in a car crash.” Before the war started, according to Hersh, Assad was moving to liberalize the country. “They had internet and newspapers and ATM machines and Assad wanted to move toward the west. After 9/11, he gave thousands of invaluable files to the CIA on jihadist radicals, who he considered a mutual enemy.” Assad’s regime was deliberately secular and Syria was impressively diverse. The Syrian government and military, for example, were 80 percent Sunni. Assad maintained peace among his diverse peoples by a strong, disciplined army loyal to the Assad family, an allegiance secured by a nationally esteemed and highly paid officer corps, a coldly efficient intelligence apparatus and a penchant for brutality that, prior to the war, was rather moderate compared to those of other Mideast leaders, including our current allies. According to Hersh, “He certainly wasn’t beheading people every Wednesday like the Saudis do in Mecca.”

Another veteran journalist, Bob Parry, echoes that assessment. “No one in the region has clean hands, but in the realms of torture, mass killings, [suppressing] civil liberties and supporting terrorism, Assad is much better than the Saudis.” No one believed that the regime was vulnerable to the anarchy that had riven Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. By the spring of 2011, there were small, peaceful demonstrations in Damascus against repression by Assad’s regime. These were mainly the effluvia of the Arab Spring that spread virally across the Arab League States the previous summer. However, WikiLeaks cables indicate that the CIA was already on the ground in Syria.

But the Sunni kingdoms with vast petrodollars at stake wanted a much deeper involvement from America. On September 4, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressional hearing that the Sunni kingdoms had offered to foot the bill for a U.S. invasion of Syria to oust Bashar Assad. “In fact, some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing, the way we’ve done it previously in other places [Iraq], they’ll carry the cost.” Kerry reiterated the offer to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.): “With respect to Arab countries offering to bear the costs of [an American invasion] to topple Assad, the answer is profoundly yes, they have. The offer is on the table.”

Despite pressure from Republicans, Barack Obama balked at hiring out young Americans to die as mercenaries for a pipeline conglomerate. Obama wisely ignored Republican clamoring to put ground troops in Syria or to funnel more funding to “moderate insurgents.” But by late 2011, Republican pressure and our Sunni allies had pushed the American government into the fray.

In 2011, the U.S. joined France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK to form the Friends of Syria Coalition, which formally demanded the removal of Assad. The CIA provided $6 million to Barada, a British TV channel, to produce pieces entreating Assad’s ouster. Saudi intelligence documents, published by WikiLeaks, show that by 2012, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were arming, training and funding radical jihadist Sunni fighters from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere to overthrow the Assad’s Shiite-allied regime. Qatar, which had the most to gain, invested $3 billion in building the insurgency and invited the Pentagon to train insurgents at U.S. bases in Qatar. According to an April 2014 article by Seymour Hersh, the CIA weapons ratlines were financed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The idea of fomenting a Sunni-Shiite civil war to weaken the Syrian and Iranian regimes in order to to maintain control of the region’s petrochemical supplies was not a novel notion in the Pentagon’s lexicon. A damning 2008 Pentagon-funded Rand report proposed a precise blueprint for what was about to happen. That report observes that control of the Persian Gulf oil and gas deposits will remain, for the U.S., “a strategic priority” that “will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war.” Rand recommended using “covert action, information operations, unconventional warfare” to enforce a “divide and rule” strategy. “The United States and its local allies could use the nationalist jihadists to launch a proxy campaign” and “U.S. leaders could also choose to capitalize on the sustained Shia-Sunni conflict trajectory by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world … possibly supporting authoritative Sunni governments against a continuingly hostile Iran.”

As predicted, Assad’s overreaction to the foreign-made crisis—dropping barrel bombs onto Sunni strongholds and killing civilians—polarized Syria’s Shiite/Sunni divide and allowed U.S. policymakers to sell Americans the idea that the pipeline struggle was a humanitarian war. When Sunni soldiers of the Syrian Army began defecting in 2013, the western coalition armed the Free Syrian Army to further destabilize Syria. The press portrait of the Free Syrian Army as cohesive battalions of Syrian moderates was delusional. The dissolved units regrouped in hundreds of independent militias most of which were commanded by, or allied with, jihadi militants who were the most committed and effective fighters. By then, the Sunni armies of Al Qaeda in Iraq were crossing the border from Iraq into Syria and joining forces with the squadrons of deserters from the Free Syrian Army, many of them trained and armed by the U.S.

Despite the prevailing media portrait of a moderate Arab uprising against the tyrant Assad, U.S. intelligence planners knew from the outset that their pipeline proxies were radical jihadists who would probably carve themselves a brand new Islamic caliphate from the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq. Two years before ISIL throat cutters stepped on the world stage, a seven-page August 12, 2012, study by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, obtained by the right-wing group Judicial Watch, warned that thanks to the ongoing support by U.S./Sunni Coalition for radical Sunni Jihadists, “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (now ISIS), are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” Using U.S. and Gulf state funding, these groups had turned the peaceful protests against Bashar Assad toward “a clear sectarian (Shiite vs. Sunni) direction.” The paper notes that the conflict had become a sectarian civil war supported by Sunni “religious and political powers.” The report paints the Syrian conflict as a global war for control of the region’s resources with “the west, Gulf countries and Turkey supporting [Assad’s] opposition, while Russia, China and Iran support the regime.” The Pentagon authors of the seven-page report appear to endorse the predicted advent of the ISIS caliphate: “If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” The Pentagon report warns that this new principality could move across the Iraqi border to Mosul and Ramadi and “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

Of course, this is precisely what has happened. Not coincidentally, the regions of Syria occupied by the Islamic State exactly encompass the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.

But then, in 2014, our Sunni proxies horrified the American people by severing heads and driving a million refugees toward Europe. “Strategies based upon the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend can be kind of blinding,” says Tim Clemente, who chaired the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force from 2004 to 2008 and served as liaison in Iraq between the FBI, the Iraqi National Police and the U.S. military. “We made the same mistake when we trained the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The moment the Russians left, our supposed friends started smashing antiquities, enslaving women, severing body parts and shooting at us,” Clemente told me in an interview.

When the Islamic State’s “Jihadi John” began murdering prisoners on TV, the White House pivoted, talking less about deposing Assad and more about regional stability. The Obama dministration began putting daylight between itself and the insurgency we had funded. The White House pointed accusing fingers at our allies. On October 3, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden told students at the John F. Kennedy Jr. forum at the Institute of Politics at Harvard that “our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria.” He explained that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “so determined to take down Assad” that they had launched a “proxy Sunni-Shia war” funneling “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda”—the two groups that merged in 2014 to form the Islamic State. Biden seemed angered that our trusted “friends” could not be trusted to follow the American agenda.

Across the Mideast, Arab leaders routinely accuse the U.S. of having created the Islamic State. To most Americans, such accusations seem insane. However, to many Arabs, the evidence of U.S. involvement is so abundant that they conclude that our role in fostering the Islamic State must have been deliberate.

In fact, many of the Islamic State fighters and their commanders are ideological and organizational successors to the jihadists that the CIA has been nurturing for more than 30 years from Syria and Egypt to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Prior to the American invasion, there was no Al Qaeda in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. President George W. Bush destroyed Saddam’s secularist government, and his viceroy, Paul Bremer, in a monumental act of mismanagement, effectively created the Sunni Army, now named the Islamic State. Bremer elevated the Shiites to power and banned Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party, laying off some 700,000 mostly Sunni, government and party officials from ministers to schoolteachers. He then disbanded the 380,000-man army, which was 80 percent Sunni. Bremer’s actions stripped a million of Iraq’s Sunnis of rank, property, wealth and power; leaving a desperate underclass of angry, educated, capable, trained and heavily armed Sunnis with little left to lose. The Sunni insurgency named itself Al Qaeda in Iraq. Beginning in 2011, our allies funded the invasion by AQI fighters into Syria. In April 2013, having entered Syria, AQI changed its name to ISIL. According to Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker, “ISIS is run by a council of former Iraqi generals. … Many are members of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath Party who converted to radical Islam in American prisons.” The $500 million in U.S. military aid that Obama did send to Syria almost certainly ended up benefiting these militant jihadists. Tim Clemente, the former chairman of the FBI’s joint task force, told me that the difference between the Iraq and Syria conflicts is the millions of military-aged men who are fleeing the battlefield for Europe rather than staying to fight for their communities. The obvious explanation is that the nation’s moderates are fleeing a war that is not their war. They simply want to escape being crushed between the anvil of Assad’s Russian-backed tyranny and the vicious jihadist Sunni hammer that we had a hand in wielding in a global battle over competing pipelines. You can’t blame the Syrian people for not widely embracing a blueprint for their nation minted in either Washington or Moscow. The superpowers have left no options for an idealistic future that moderate Syrians might consider fighting for. And no one wants to die for a pipeline.

What is the answer? If our objective is long-term peace in the Mideast, self-government by the Arab nations and national security at home, we must undertake any new intervention in the region with an eye on history and an intense desire to learn its lessons. Only when we Americans understand the historical and political context of this conflict will we apply appropriate scrutiny to the decisions of our leaders. Using the same imagery and language that supported our 2003 war against Saddam Hussein, our political leaders led Americans to believe that our Syrian intervention is an idealistic war against tyranny, terrorism and religious fanaticism. We tend to dismiss as mere cynicism the views of those Arabs who see the current crisis as a rerun of the same old plots about pipelines and geopolitics. But, if we are to have an effective foreign policy, we must recognize the Syrian conflict is a war over control of resources indistinguishable from the myriad clandestine and undeclared oil wars we have been fighting in the Mideast for 65 years. And only when we see this conflict as a proxy war over a pipeline do events become comprehensible. It’s the only paradigm that explains why the GOP on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration are still fixated on regime change rather than regional stability, why the Obama administration can find no Syrian moderates to fight the war, why ISIL blew up a Russian passenger plane, why the Saudis just executed a powerful Shiite cleric only to have their embassy burned in Tehran, why Russia is bombing non-ISIL fighters and why Turkey went out of its way to shoot down a Russian jet. The million refugees now flooding into Europe are refugees of a pipeline war and CIA blundering.

Once we strip this conflict of its humanitarian patina and recognize the Syrian conflict as an oil war, our foreign policy strategy becomes clear. Like the Syrians fleeing for Europe, no American wants to send their child to die for a pipeline. Instead, our first priority should be the one no one ever mentions—we need to kick our Mideast oil jones, an increasingly feasible objective, as the U.S. becomes more energy independent. Next, we need to dramatically reduce our military profile in the Middle East and let the Arabs run Arabia. Other than humanitarian assistance and guaranteeing the security of Israel’s borders, the U.S. has no legitimate role in this conflict. While the facts prove that we played a role in creating the crisis, history shows that we have little power to resolve it.

As we contemplate history, it’s breathtaking to consider the astonishing consistency with which virtually every violent intervention in the Middle East since World War II by our country has resulted in miserable failure and horrendously costly blowback. A 1997 U.S. Department of Defense report found that “the data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement abroad and an increase in terrorist attacks against the U.S.” Let’s face it; what we call the “war on terror” is really just another oil war. We’ve squandered $6 trillion on three wars abroad and on constructing a national security warfare state at home since oilman Dick Cheney declared the “Long War” in 2001. The only winners have been the military contractors and oil companies that have pocketed historic profits, the intelligence agencies that have grown exponentially in power and influence to the detriment of our freedoms and the jihadists who invariably used our interventions as their most effective recruiting tool. We have compromised our values, butchered our own youth, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, subverted our idealism and squandered our national treasures in fruitless and costly adventures abroad. In the process, we have helped our worst enemies and turned America, once the world’s beacon of freedom, into a national security surveillance state and an international moral pariah.

America’s founding fathers warned Americans against standing armies, foreign entanglements and, in John Quincy Adams’ words, “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Those wise men understood that imperialism abroad is incompatible with democracy and civil rights at home. The Atlantic Charter echoed their seminal American ideal that each nation should have the right to self-determination. Over the past seven decades, the Dulles brothers, the Cheney gang, the neocons and their ilk have hijacked that fundamental principle of American idealism and deployed our military and intelligence apparatus to serve the mercantile interests of large corporations and particularly, the petroleum companies and military contractors that have literally made a killing from these conflicts.

It’s time for Americans to turn America away from this new imperialism and back to the path of idealism and democracy. We should let the Arabs govern Arabia and turn our energies to the great endeavor of nation building at home. We need to begin this process, not by invading Syria, but by ending the ruinous addiction to oil that has warped U.S. foreign policy for half a century.

The Paradox of Egypt’s Militarism and Legitimacy

By CJPME

Not since the early 1970s has Egypt been so militarily active in the Middle East. The calamitous legacy of Egypt’s previous military engagements in Yemen and Israel had long deterred an active military response to regional insecurity. Yet, under the emboldened leadership of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt has expanded police and military operations in the Sinai Peninsula, and it has been playing a pivotal role in countering Islamic State activities in eastern Libya and in the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen. Indeed, this bellicose strategy signals a clear break from abstention in regional conflicts.

President Sisi’s self-serving militarism

At first glance, Egypt’s active involvement in foreign conflicts would seem incongruous against the backdrop of the country’s most pressing and interwoven problems: fractious domestic politics, a weakened economy and the persistent threat of militant activity in the Sinai Peninsula. Yet, this drastic shift in strategy underlies a greater play at hand: a bid to consolidate power at home by “selling” militarism to key foreign powers.

Egypt is shoring up allies

Egypt’s active participation in the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis goes beyond the prism of national or regional security. It is natural to assume that Egypt’s involvement in the Gulf Cooperation Council’s campaign against the Houthis is primarily to ensure secure commercial access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. A far less public benefit of signing on to the GCC’s agenda, however, is that Egypt has secured critical aid that has kept its economy afloat. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have provided over $23 billion in economic support to Egypt – including fuel shipments, financial aid, infrastructure, health and education.

In a bold move, Egypt has played off souring relations with the United States to court Russia, tapping on a Russian desire to expand its influence in the Middle East. To that end, President Sisi’s diplomatic prowess has allowed him to play the middleman in Russian arms support to Egyptian-backed Libyan commanders, circumventing the UN ban on direct arms sales to Libya by “mediating” purchases. In the process, Sisi also locked in a $3.5 billion arms deal with Moscow.[iii]

Likewise, the Sisi regime restored the decades-long status quo with Israel by closing the Rafah border crossing during the 2014 Gaza conflict, destroying tunnels and providing intelligence against Hamas.[iv] This support was pivotal to Israel’s devastating attack on Hamas in Gaza. It also indirectly helped Sisi to cut support for militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula while restoring a valuable “security” partner in the region.

Egypt’s self-proclaimed role as a “pioneer” in counter-terrorism, bolstered by the approval of its highly questionable anti-terrorism legislation, has helped it secure substantial military support from key Western powers. Partly as a result, the United States overturned its freeze on military aid to Egypt, valued at $1.3 billion, restoring Egypt as the US’ second largest aid recipient after Israel. Also partly as a result, France negotiated a colossal arms deal with Egypt valued at $5 billion. Moreover, Sisi’s recent bilateral talks in Germany, coupled with his upcoming visit to the United Kingdom, highlight increasing acquiescence to the regime in Western eyes.

Turning a blind eye

President Sisi has taken advantage of Egypt’s perennial role as a key regional mediator to strengthen his power base, presenting his military authoritarianism as a strong predictor of stability in an increasingly volatile region. In effect, Sisi’s policy towards domestic terrorism and regional security has welded his domestic agenda to his international agenda. This was done in order to align himself with the interests of both Western and regional powers. To that end, this has enabled him to garner crucial support from all sides; foreign powers see him as “the most sustainable puppet to utilize” in order to exert their influence in the region.

In turn, the self-serving interests of these powers have enabled the regime to insulate itself from international condemnation for its repressive tactics at home. Sisi has been free to implement what can be described as “neoliberal militarism”, namely an autocratic management of economics and politics, at the expense of the rule of law. The regime is only half-heartedly criticized for its lamentable human rights record while enjoying the tacit acceptance of Western powers for its sweeping security laws to combat extremism and domestic terrorism.

A cautionary tale

Though Sisi enjoys widespread military support for his “war on terror,” the regime’s lack of accountability does not come without potential shortcomings. Sisi’s dependence on external sources of power as opposed to local legitimacy risks exacerbating internal cleavages and inflaming militant movements. According to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, “widespread human rights abuses threaten to push alienated Egyptians into the arms of extremist groups, as well as create a broader swath of society unwilling to help the army or police defeat them”. Add to this Egypt’s ill-defined entanglements in regional conflicts and it risks reaching a ‘boiling point’ that could unravel stability in an otherwise fragile state.

Egypt’s pivotal role in the Middle East cannot be underestimated, but it should not come at the price of inclusive governance and the rule of law. The democratic façade by which Sisi has shirked international scrutiny must be overturned, and this responsibility lies with the very “moralistic” states that have fallen for Sisi’s ruse so handily. Canada, for its part, should no longer ignore the blatant hypocrisy that has enabled Sisi to reverse Egypt’s democratic transition. Canada’s condoning of autocratic practices for the dubious short-term benefit of regional peace could ironically lead to more volatility in the region, ultimately playing into the hands of the militant and extremist groups that Canada opposes.

Why Egypt’s Sisi wouldn’t last

By Stephanie Thomas

Egyptians have always been ill-served, at best, and brutalized, at worst, by their leaders, whether Ottoman, British, Nasserist or under President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. So instead of asking why Egypt’s revolution of five years ago failed, let’s point a finger at the sorry parade of post-revolutionary leaders who have presumed to lead but failed just as their predecessors did.

Egyptian citizens were ill-served by their first democratically elected leader, President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Overweening and prone to clumsy power grabs that appeared to have less to do with Islam than stupidity, Morsi was more incompetent than he was evil. He was certainly no “terrorist,” as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has labeled him and all other Muslim Brotherhood members.

Egyptians were also failed by the liberal and secular politicians whose self-interest took precedence over the hard work of developing strong alliances, parties and platforms. They espoused pluralistic democratic values but applied them selectively — in 2013, for example, they chose to back the violent overthrow of Morsi rather than let him be voted out of office.

Consider Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who played the coy politician for two years, tweeting his fatuous aspirations instead of rolling up his sleeves and building the political process. He then joined Sisi’s interim government, only to resign a month later after the Rabaa massacre, in which some 800 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed by security forces.

Egyptians have even been let down by a generation of their own sons and daughters. These young activists often seemed more adept at online organizing and protesting — no matter the cause — than protecting the gains of their protests. After fighting the military throughout 2011 and 2012, many joined the military-backed effort to remove Morsi in the spring of 2013, even protesting when Sisi called for a show of support. Familiar with this pattern, it was inevitable that they would eventually sour on Sisi, which they have.

That said, none of them deserved to be put in prison, where many of them languish.

While covering the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, I was inspired to leave my television job, move back to Egypt and be a witness to what looked like a promising future. I had lived happily in Cairo as a student studying Arabic in the 1990s and looked forward to working at the American University in Cairo, a campus infused with post-revolutionary energy and potential.

When I arrived in September 2011, the romantic slogans (“The army and the people are one hand”) and alliances forged in Tahrir Square were already fraying badly. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the interim military body that replaced Mubarak, was cracking down on protesters with impunity, most egregiously during what came to be known as the Maspero massacre, in which armored personnel vehicles were caught on camera mowing down fleeing Coptic protesters. When the Muslim Brotherhood swept the parliamentary elections of 2011 and 2012, political demonization become the preferred platform of the feckless secular opposition groups.

Demonstrators take part in a protest marking the first anniversary of Egypt’s uprising at Tahrir square in Cairo January 25, 2012. REUTERS/ Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

Closer to home, I found a giddy array of empowered and politically vocal citizens, a liberated media and a class of public intellectuals sporting shiny new revolutionary personas, and the clothes to match (“revolution chic”). One professor-turned-politician sported long hair, corduroy sport coats and appeared to do a little teaching (sometimes from his car by calling in to a student’s phone that would be set on speakerphone). One former ambassador-turned-dean embodied the values of civil liberty and democracy in elegant suits, then promptly joined the post-Morsi interim military government. A cadre of denim-clad, gel-haired Tahrir activists secretly cooperated with the military to foment a “grass-roots” movement against Morsi.

Even the revolution-anointed leaders were failing Egypt’s citizens. By the time I left Cairo in June 2013, most people I knew at the university supported a return to military rule and seemed to accept as a given the violent and illiberal measures it would take to do so. One self-aware pundit coined the phrase “Egypt’s illiberal liberals.”

Egypt’s current regime, led by Sisi, makes the Mubarak regime look benign. Harsh repression is justified in the name of security and stability, protests are against the law, political groups are banned or emasculated and polarization is promoted by a subservient media.

Sisi’s hold on power has been aided by widening regional chaos. Libya, Syria and Yemen loom conveniently large in case Egyptians forget what premature democracy movements can yield. A spate of recent house arrests and “enforced disappearances” has targeted journalists and civil-rights activists, which has forced the government to acknowledge that hundreds are being illegally detained.

The discovery last week of the body of Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Italian PhD student, who was left by the side of a road and appeared to have been tortured, was considered particularly unsettling because the Egyptian security forces typically reserve their brutality exclusively for Egyptians. In spite of continuing efforts by Italian authorities, Regeni’s family will almost certainly never find out what happened to their son, just as tens of thousands of Egyptians never learn the truth about the extrajudicial deaths of family members.

Not much is likely to change in the short term. Sisi will probably continue to perform better outside of Egypt than domestically, and he’ll maximize his role as a line of defense against Islamic State in the Sinai. He will likely maneuver for a place in whatever regional coalition is formed to manage the crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen. He will continue to receive international support and military aid in spite of his authoritarian measures. Ninety million Egyptians will continue to struggle with rising food prices, high unemployment, impossible daily commutes, poor healthcare, worse education and an entirely unaccountable government.

Where is the bright side? It is the simple fact of Egypt’s revolution — not its much-debated outcomes. Egyptians have shown that they can depose leaders who serve them badly, whether they’ve done this righteously, cynically or fickly. Egyptians have also shown their capacity for political accommodation and transient loyalties — bad for democracy but useful for getting rid of governments.

With time, as Sisi’s excesses continue, new alliances of convenience and cooperation will form among unexpected allies. Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers may once again align with secular groups; military factions may find the Brotherhood a useful ally against a rogue president. Voices in the media will begin to speak up. Criticism on social media will begin to build up a revolutionary head of steam. One day, Sisi will be replaced — probably not democratically.

I hope whoever replaces him will finally serve Egyptians better.