Last Tuesday, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Israel added a new power to the "Axis of Evil". According to Netanyahu, "Militant Islamists" (including not only ISIS in Iraq and Syria but Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Al Qaeda groups in Africa and the Middle East)", want to dominate the world like the Nazis; only unlike the Nazis, they believe in a "Master faith" instead of a "Master Race"
Obama, in his speech four days earlier announcing that he would begin Air Strikes in Syria, also discussed "extreme fundamentalism" in the Middle East. Although he did not specify Islamists as the only fundamentalists, he emphasized the necessity of eliminating these groups and, using a combination of the idea of "American Exceptionalism" and a retread of the colonial playbook where the civilized countries (read mostly white, western) have to quell the extreme militant fundamentalists (read "savages") in the Middle East. This was of course, his justification for invading Syria and bombing ISIS.
The "Axis of Evil", originally inspired by the Nazis in World War II, was recreated by George W. Bush in 2002 and initially included three Nation States --Iraq, Iran and North Korea --and became Bush's excuse to invade Iraq. Under his administration, this concept was later expanded to include Cuba, Libya and Syria. The American president offered no evidence to support what we now know was slander and had much more to do with protecting US oil interests than protecting the American people, not to mention the lives of other peoples of the world.
Of the original six members, Cuba and North Korea are effectively quarantined by Western-imposed embargoes, isolated from balanced international relations and development. Of the other four, Iraq and Libya, were invaded by US-led forces in the name of fighting Islamic terrorism, and have been destroyed and realigned to serve Western interests.
It is no accident that Obama is targeting one of the two remaining members, Syria, while changing the stakes from targeting a specific country to the concept of "extreme (read Islamic) fundamentalism" which is much broader and not hampered by nation state boundaries blurring the lines of what is legal and illegal under international law as well as increasing the threat of endless war since it is unclear what nation state you would negotiate with to end the war.
In analyzing the current crisis with ISIS, an historical analysis provides some perspective. Since the 1970's, capitalist interests have morphed into a toxic combination of religious fundamentalism and extreme militarism to achieve their economic goals -– whether that is the reawakening of the Christian-based KKK and the rise of the Patriots and Tea Party in the United States; the Evangelicals, military dictators and death squads in Latin America; the Orthodox Zionist Jews and the concept of a Greater Israel in the Palestinian conflict; or extreme Islamic fundamentalism in the larger Middle East.
It is unclear why this fundamentalism has such appeal these days – maybe it's because the world is scarier as we globalize and people want to retreat to the “good old days”, to concepts they believe will not change. Maybe it’s because fundamentalism is unquestioning and based on faith rather than reason and it makes it easier for the 1% to manipulate the rest of us. Maybe it is because religious fundamentalism is not restricted by national borders and makes it easier to rationalize the new global paradigm. Maybe it is a combination of all of these.
Whatever the reason, the drums of war are rumbling again, and we are hoping that the drum beats will be loud enough to drown out the voice of reason by finding a new enemy. An enemy who can be the bad guy -- pure evil that must be squelched mercilessly which we can only do with war. We, of course, are the “good guys” and wear the white hat because, as always, “God (and a white supremacist morality) is on our side.”
But I would suggest it is not Islamic extremists, terrorists, drug lords, rogue states, corrupt regimes, authoritarian superpowers or Eastern Block" (the "Red Menace sans Communism)who are “the enemy.” It is the multinational oil interests, the military industrial complex and the American government and its allies who are the real “axis of evil.” It is the system of capitalist corruption, exploitation and enrichment that has put the world into poverty, conflict and on the brink of yet another major war.
Money Makes the World Go Round
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, and other Sunni countries, along with Israel, have long been the United States’ partners in controlling the oil reserves in the world. The United States gives these countries billions of dollars in military aid to thwart the United States competitors for oil – Russia, China, Syria, Iran. It is important to note that the US's continued sale of weapons to our Sunni and Israeli allies is also critical to the arms industry and keeping the US military industrial complex afloat.
Americans often blame America's (and currently Obama's) failure to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East on competing religious and/or cultural differences in the region. This is certainly been traditionally true of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Currently, the necessity of destroying the threat posed by extreme "Islamic" Fundamentalism, as exemplified by ISIS, is Obama's rationalization for bombing both Iraq and now Syria. But as Noam Chomsky pointed out in an article in ZNet:
Let's look at and ask the obvious question: for whom has policy been a failure for the past 60 years? The energy corporations? Hardly. They have made "profits beyond the dreams of avarice" (quoting John Blair, who directed the most important government inquiries into the industry, in the '70s), and still do, and the ME is their leading cash cow. Has it been a failure for US grand strategy based on control of what the State Department described 60 years ago as the "stupendous source of strategic power" of ME oil and the immense wealth from this unparalleled "material prize"? Hardly. The US has substantially maintained control [...] Furthermore, those extraordinary successes had to overcome plenty of barriers: primarily, as elsewhere in the world, what internal documents call "radical nationalism," meaning independent nationalism. [Ed note: In the current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, Lockheed has already made substantial war profits in only a month]
Meanwhile the very Arab countries (mainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar) that are now joining Obama's coalition to fight ISIS and Al Qaeda as the symbol of Islamic terrorism, have been financing these same rebel and terrorist organizations to promote their own nationalist interests. The American government has not only been complicit with but actively promoted the Sunni oil cartel's fundamentalist goals (i.e., the US funding of Osama bin Laden against the Soviets in the struggle for control of Afghanistan). The US, supposedly the country that promotes democracy and equality for all, has ignored the amount Saudi Arabia has spent on spreading Salafi, a brutal, dictatorial and puritan version of Islam as this would hurt the United States oil interests. At the same time, the US gave billions in military aid to Saudi Arabia last year, much of which ended up, both directly and indirectly, in the ISIS stockpile of weapons. Moreover, while ISIS has been around for awhile, the US interest only increased after ISIS in June, after ISIS had taken over a major oil producing area.
At the same time the United States was going to war with Afghanistan in response to Al Qaeda’s attack on the United States, the United States was busy shifting the blame for 911 to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Not because Hussein or Iraq had any complicity in 911, but because Hussein betrayed the US by "switching sides” by agreeing to negotiate rights to Iraq's reserve oil fields with Russia. Hussein further compounded the injury to the US by agreeing to accept Euros as currency instead of dollars.
As Michael Moore showed in his film 911, the Bush administration was also sneaking the Royal Saudi family out of the United States while refusing to acknowledge the close ties of Saudi Arabia with Al Qaeda and the 911 bombers. The United States’ also declared that it was going to war in Afghanistan in part to liberate the “oppressed” Afghani women while continuing to ignore the very repressive Saudi laws effecting women. Salafi, the Saudi version of fundamentalist Islam among other things, negates the rights and humanity of women.
21st Century Propaganda: The 24 hour cable news cycle
Western media would never acknowledge that the ruling class of the US and its allies need some kind of external enemy in order to justify their militarism and foreign aggression. For over four decades, 1950-1990, the convenient enemy was the “red menace” or communism as exemplified by the Soviet Union. That allowed the US and its allies to invade and subjugate countries all around the world in the name of “fighting communism” and “defending the free world” when the real, hidden agenda was gaining control of natural resources for Western corporations. From 1945 to the 1990s, the US and its European allies conducted overt and covert military interventions in more than 50 countries around the world, from Latin America to the Caribbean, from Africa to the Middle East and Asia. It is estimated that the death toll from these US-led coups, subversions, proxy wars and all-out wars, such as in Vietnam, amount to well over 10 million people.
If the Western corporate controlled media was truly independent it could have provided some historical corrective to the “axis of evil” narrative to prevent a repeat of the same mistakes.
With the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-91, the Western powers needed to come up with a new enemy to justify imperialist business as usual. For a brief interval, it looked like the US would use the War on Drugs as a rationale for foreign intervention, especially to ensure its neoliberal free market policy in Central and Latin America. One of the best examples of this rationale was the ousting of Manuel Noriega, the strongman in Panama who had, at the request of the US supported the US Contra war in Central America. Noriega, a known drug dealer and our enforcer in the South, ran a foul of the US when he decided to return to his Latin American roots and join with other central American countries against the US. Suddenly he was vilified as a drug dealer who, under the war on drugs, must be eliminated.
On December 20, 1989, the United States invaded Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, which involved 25,000 American troops. Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of the government of Panama, had been giving military assistance to Contra groups in Nicaragua at the request of the U.S. which, in exchange, allowed him to continue his drug trafficking activities, which they had known about since the 1960s. Operation Just Cause, whose purpose was to capture Noriega, led to the toppling of his regime; The operation also resulted in the destruction of major parts of Panama City and the deaths of approximately 4,000 innocent people.
The early 1990s, with the end of the cold war and the "communist menace" was the beginning of the “war of terror” narrative and variations of that which gave US and its allies a “new enemy”. Trillion-dollar military budgets would therefore continue to be sustained at the expense of social development. Military interference in the affairs of sovereign nations would again be invoked in the name of “defending the free world”. The US spends more on military than all nations of the world combined even as its own society goes into social meltdown from poverty.
The media might have noted that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein had actually been installed by the US after a CIA coup against Abdul Karim Qassim. That Iraq had borne 10 years of crippling US-instigated economic sanctions that claimed the lives of over one million Iraqi children, which former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright described as “a price worth paying” to punish Iraq when Hussein went against the US.
The press could have informed the public that Iran’s government had attained political and economic independence from American tyranny in 1979 after the people of Iran threw out the Washington-backed dictator, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi who was installed by the US in 1953 after the CIA and British MI6 overthrow the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh because the latter dared to harness Persian oil wealth for the benefit of the people rather than the pockets of Western capitalists.
As for North Korea and its reclusive communist regime, whatever its internal problems, the Western media could have put Bush’s axis of evil label into perspective by pointing out that the Asian country has not waged war on any neighbor and has no substantiated links to international terrorism (Cunningham, 2012).
The U.S. military defeat of the secular Iraqi and Libyan governments (in 2003 and 2011) and its policy of fueling armed civil war is the fundamental reasons the so-called Islamic State has grown and become strong. The United States invasion in Iraq destroyed the government, disbanded the Iraqi army, and hand picked Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki whose government pursued a sectarian policy of terrorizing Sunni communities.
The United States and its NATO partners smashed the Libyan government through a massive bombing campaign in 2011. This war of aggression fractured Libya, similar to what happened in Iraq, and led to the seizure of vast tracts of territory and heavy weapons by Jihadist militias. These weapons and many fighters quickly migrated to join the armed opposition groups against the government in Syria. The armed opposition groups, including the Islamic State, acquired massive heavy weapons and funds from a coalition of countries that included the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The remaining two are Syria and Iran, both of which are being assailed by economic sanctions and Western covert (and in the case of Syria now overt) aggression.
War does not end war
Obama, the US congress and the mainstream media all give lip service to the idea that they do not believe the situation in the Middle East can be solved militarily, but their actions all speak otherwise.
Instead of partnering immediately with the UN to try to solve the problems in Syria and the larger Middle East through a political or economic solution, the US has consistently chosen to work with NATO, a pro-western military alliance which can only lead to a military solution that will further inflame the non-western countries.
Two weeks ago President Obama began a bombing campaign in Iraq and last week he extended that campaign to Syria. In the same time period he has put almost 1,600 troops and a new military base in Iraq and, although he says he will not put American boots on the ground, he has admitted ground forces will be necessary to stop ISIS and expects the US to be involved "for years." He has also secured arms to arm those rebels in Syria that they hope will put forward the Western agenda.
In spite of his claims that he is seeking a long term economic and political solution, he took all these steps before he presented his ideas to the UN General Assembly. In fact, he bombed Syria the day before he presented his economic, diplomatic and humanitarian solutions at the UN and asked members to form a coalition to fight ISIS. The war was already a fait accompli.
This Administration and the previous three administrations have each waged war under the supposed need to protect “U.S. interests” and each was conducted using noble, humanitarian or anti-terrorist slogans. If one goes by the media headlines this U.S. war too will be for another noble cause. This time the war will be conducted under the slogan of defeating the heinous so-called Islamic State forces who have come to dominate predominantly Sunni communities in northern and western Iraq.
Glenn Greenwald wrote on American fear of ISIS in The Intercept:
“It’s easy to understand why beheading videos provoke such intense emotion: they’re savage and horrific to watch, by design. But are they more brutal than the constant, ongoing killing of civilians, including children, that the U.S. and its closest allies have been continuously perpetrating?"
As to the practice of beheadings, themselves, if the press is so shocked, why didn't it point out that they are a regular practice in Saudi Arabia to this day and that beheadings were also conducted by the US backed rebels in Syria. I also have personal experience with beheadings conducted by the "Contras", a group of particularly brutal counter-revolutionaries who the United States funded and trained to overthrow the Sandinista Government in Nicaragua. While I was in Nicaragua, I visited a cooperative in the countryside, Three days later when I was back in Managua, I read that the contras had beheaded all 18 people present at the cooperative.
One wonders what the random killing of young black men in the streets of US cities by police look like to people in other countries? What would it be like to have drones constantly hovering overhead that could suddenly drop out of the sky and chase and kill an innocent person? Perhaps drone technology seems "cleaner" than a bloody head to Western minds, but even more outrageous are the air wars by the powerful military machines of NATO and the United States, which inevitably kill civilians, and have so far done far more damage to people.
Whether by airstrike or drone-strike, U.S. attacks on Iraq and Syria won't increase the safety of the people. But the fear-mongering continues, leading people to think that ISIS plans an attack on the U.S. The biggest danger is that people living in the U.S. will once again get bamboozled into supporting an unjust war to strengthen the U.S. empire in the name of "stopping" Islamic fundamentalism. How is that working in Afghanistan, 13 years later?
What is the position of the US and its allies? Rejecting any internal Syrian solution, Washington, London, Paris and Turkey and the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies have vowed to increase financial and material support for the supposedly moderate rebel groups in an effort to strengthen these currently almost nonexistent rebels as a counter-force to ISIS led rebels. Unfortunately, the rebel groups in Syria recently made a pact so that ISIS and the Western backed rebel groups are working together against Assad, so it is likely that ISIS will have access to weapons straight from the United States.
The New Populism
The only other official Salafi country is Saudi's Gulf neighbor Qatar, which is, per capita, the richest country in the world. It likes to paint itself as a more liberal and open version of the Muslim sect. Its newest and biggest mosque is named after one of the original founders of Salafism, but this is the fun, football-loving version.
The Qataris will host the 2022 World Cup – to which, to the horror of their Saudi neighbors, women will be admitted. In Qatar, unlike Saudi, women are allowed to drive and travel alone. Westerners can eat pork and drink alcohol. There is no religious police force or powerful class of clerics to enforce morality. Qatar's Al Jazeera television network stands in contrast with the region's state-controlled media, and the Qataris are investing in the West, including the Shard, Harrods and big chunks of Sainsbury's and the London Stock Exchange.
Interestingly, that is not the crucial difference between Saudis and their Qatari neighbor. Where the Saudis tend to support restrictive strong-man regimes like their own across the Arab world, the Qataris, throughout the Arab Spring, have backed grassroots Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The tiny country has given $200m to Hamas which won a popular UN verified election in Gaza because of its humanitarian social policies toward its citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim alike and also as a protest against the genocidal seize of Gaza by Israel (supported by the West). Qatar is also more open-minded towards the Shia Muslims of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, whom the Saudis see as enemies. It even has good relations with the Taliban. And it has been the biggest funders of the Syrian rebels, with sources in Doha estimating it has spent as much as $3bn in Syria alone – 70 military cargo flights were sent in the past two years – in an attempt to develop networks of loyalty among rebels and set the stage for Qatari influence in a post-Assad era.
The result of all this is that Qatar and Saudi have channeled funds, arms and salaries to different groups in Syria. Until last year they were creating rival military alliances and structures. On the ground the rebel groups have been porous, with personnel switching to whichever was the best supplied. Fighters grew their beards or shaved them off to fit the ideology of the latest supplier. Eventually one of them, Jabhat al-Nusra, lost dominance to the other, ISIS, which has declared itself the Islamic State. Funds continue to flow from wealthy Qatari individuals and from conservative Saudi preachers collecting funds through their television shows. The terrorists of the Islamic State, who were earning $8m a month from a Syrian gas field where they have established robust logistical lines, have added a further $1m a day from the half dozen Iraqi oilfields they have seized. Worse still, the conflict in Iraq has solidified into religiously defined ethnic identity lines.
The toxic combination of the economic interests of the oil states and the military industrial complex’s need to continue to produce and supply weapons have led the Western powers to continue to support the most reactionary fundamentalists. Moreover, young, alienated men and women, are joining the ISIS forces from all over the world as a reaction against Western, primarily US, imperialism in what appears to be an almost “populist” movement among the Jihadists.
An article this week indicated that the number of young people coming from abroad to small towns in Iraq and Syria has increased since the bombing of Syria began. In one small town, it noted, people were coming to join ISIS at the rate of about 20 a day. And there are many small towns.
Unfortunately, as we are all aware, populist reactions from people against oppression can often morph into fascist right-wing movements – whether it be the Nazis arising from the defeated Germany after WW1, the Ku Klux Klan and Patriot groups arising from poor whites in the United States who have seen their jobs disappear into the global economy, or ISIS in reaction to western imperialism.
Is There Another Solution?
In Obama's recent speech to the UN General Assembly -- one day after he invaded Syria to bomb ISIS and scolded the Muslim world for the creation of violent fundamentalist (read Islamic) extremism -- he gave a very nice speech suggesting that the US, with other nations, find alternatives to war to solve the problem. He suggested various diplomatic efforts through the UN as well as economic efforts such as blocking the bank accounts of individuals and interests who fund ISIS, as well as an increase in humanitarian aid to countries absorbing refugees. After, of course, the US led coalition had already "come to the rescue," invading Syria and dropping bombs on ISIS-held areas where civilians clearly live. I didn't hear any clear directive for the US and other countries to stop providing military aid. He failed to mention the 50 invasions, frequently illegal, that the United States is responsible for since World War II and the resultant 10 million deaths.
Maybe he also views those invasions, directly with troops or weapons or indirectly as military aid, as the US cavalry riding to the rescue, or maybe he just forgot about them in the heat of the current struggle. But the people who have lived through these US brutalities have not. And they were all there sitting in front of him in the UN.
People always seem surprised when the "underdog" succeeds against the might of an imperialist power (whether it was in the American Revolution, Vietnam or possibly ISIS against the current US led coalition when the Iraqi Army, which we have been training and supplying with weapons for several years now, fled ). Personally, I was surprised when, after 911, Americans kept asking "Why Do They Hate Us?" I don't think the new Iraqi or Syrian recruits to ISIS are naturally Islamic fundamentalists. And it is a sad commentary if the reason they side with ISIS (either passively or actively) is not because they believe in Islamic Fundamentalism but because they hate or fear the US more than ISIS.
They say when you keep doing the same things over and over again with the same bad results, that is the definition of insanity. It's time for a little sanity. It's time for the US to really go home -- and take our weapons with us.
Noam Chomsky, The Israeli Lobby, Znet, March 26, 2006
Finian Cunningham, Syria Exposes America's "Axis of Evil", Global Research, July 11, 2012