Special to The Public Record

Reflections On American Power And Foreign Policy

US foreign policyIt was reserved for Augustus to relinquish the ambitious design of subduing the whole earth, and to introduce a spirit of moderation into the public councils. -Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The deteriorating political landscape in the Middle East stands as a monument to the Bush and Obama Administrations.  While the United States attempts to extricate itself from another long, costly, lost cause – the twelve-year Afghanistan war – military intervention in Syria and Iran is now being considered.  Financially dependent upon the golem of war, members of Congress, Neocons, think tanks, and, of course, a claque of lobbyists clamor for a new conflict, despite positive overtures from Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani.  Senator Lindsey Graham, among others, is actively stumping for war with Iran, threatening to introduce legislation authorizing military intervention in Iran without Congressional approval if “nothing changes” regarding Iran’s nuclear program by the end of the year.

The vicissitudes of history are “dross” – to borrow from Ezra Pound’s Pisan Canto #81 – unless a concomitant willingness to learn from history exists.  Based on an historical review since the Second World War, the United States seems incapable of learning from foreign policy mistakes, and this inability is only becoming more pronounced.  There is one other possibility:  the United States understands precisely what it is doing and does it anyway, spending trillions of dollars to protect corporate access around the world while vastly increasing the specter of terrorism and misery in the rest of the world.

The chaos in the Middle East affords an opportunity to consider whether the United States’ foreign policy around the world is hurting the country rather than helping it, to consider whether U.S. policies are increasing enmity against the United States and increasing the likelihood of terror attacks against the West.  As the drumbeat for military intervention in Syria and Iran increases, the question is whether additional U.S. military intervention in the Middle East is even rational when political destabilization has resulted virtually everywhere the U.S. has left its footprint.

The war in Syria has become a religious civil war that is marked by internecine fighting among forces opposing Assad, including al Qaeda.  Libya grows more chaotic by the day.  The corrupt and effete governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are incapable of influencing events in the Middle East and tremble at the prospect of civil uprisings and religious strife in their own kingdoms.  Saudi Arabia recently turned down a coveted position on the United Nations Security Council, blaming the U.S.  The reason for turning down a Security Council seat:  The U.S. refuses to attack Saudi Arabia’s political and religious enemies, Syria and Iran.  Equally unpardonable is the fact that the U.S. is engaging in diplomacy with both countries.  Finally, there is no mystery that Israel desperately seeks U.S. conflict with both Syria and Iran for its own strategic reasons.[2]

Secretary of State Kerry’s hortatory decree before the Senate Committee that circumstances in Syria constituted a “Munich moment” is risible.  It is simply not possible to say with a straight face that U.S. presence in the Middle East has created more stability at the end of 2013 than existed in 2000 or in 2001 after 9/11.  It also is not possible to say that the threat of terror attacks against the U.S. has diminished.  While proof of the foregoing may be more intuitive than quantifiable, the always-specious Neocon blather about democracy spreading through the Middle East was never anything other than pabulum for an all-too-credulous American public.

Nearly $3 trillion later, Iraq is a complete disaster.  More than 7,000 Iraqi citizens have been killed this year alone.  The Washington Post, November 1, 2013.  Trillions of dollars later, Afghanistan, too, is a disaster and an unstable abysm of corruption.  Some of the potential, Islamic warlords who are waiting in the wings to replace President Hamid Karzai, who will soon depart the country with hundreds of millions, if not a billion, of stolen U.S. aid dollars, are likely to make the Taliban look like the Salvation Army.

Saudi Arabia is the center of the Sunni religion in the Arab world.  Syria’s and Iran’s religious affiliations are Shiite (or Shia), which accounts for Iran’s decades-long support for Syria.  Not overlooked in the region is the fact that Saudi Arabia funded the Iraq/Iran war (1980-1988) that resulted in more than one million dead.  The U.S. also supported Iraq in that war, although it played both sides, selling arms to Iran (more on that later).

Strategically speaking, Iran is a political equipoise to Saudi Arabia:[3]

So the fraught relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran encompasses ethnic enmity between Arabs and Persians, religious animosity between Sunni and Shia, regional hostility between two countries vying for influence, and the obvious tension between a US ally and Washington’s foremost opponent. . . .

King Abdullah’s overriding concern is that America and Iran will reach an accommodation on terms that would sacrifice his own country’s security interests. In particular, he fears an agreement on the nuclear issue that would leave Iran with the capacity to enrich uranium – the essential technology that could be used to make a nuclear weapon.

It is tantamount to high comedy to suggest that the U.S. supports democratic elections in the Middle East.  As soon as Hamas was elected in Palestine, the U.S. denounced the result and renounced support for the democratically-elected government.  Following the highly-anticipated, democratic election in Egypt that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, the U.S. was slightly more circumspect.  Still, it refuses to refer to the military ouster of democratically-elected Mohamed Morsi as a coup.  But the U.S. obviously approved of the result before the coup was conducted.  The U.S. is, after all, still providing extensive military support to Egypt.  In fact, “Egypt receives more U.S. military aid than any country except for Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.” 

In his book, Blowback, Chalmers Johnson observes that “[i]nstead of demobilizing after the Cold War, the United States imprudently committed itself to maintaining a global empire.”[4]  Johnson’s central thesis is that U.S. policies beget resentment that comes back in the form of “blowback,” a term first used by CIA “to refer to the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people.”  Johnson, C., Blowback:  The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, (New York: Metropolitan, 2001) p. 8.  “One man’s terrorist is, of course, another man’s freedom fighter, and what U.S. officials denounce as unprovoked terrorist attacks on its innocent citizens are often meant as retaliation for previous American imperial actions.”  (Id. at 9)  Writing later in The Nation, Johnson states:

The suicidal assassins of September 11, 2001 did not “attack America,” as our political leaders and the news media like to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy.  Employing the strategy of the weak, they killed innocent bystanders who then became enemies only because they had already become victims.  Terrorism by definition strikes at the innocent in order to draw attention to the sins of the invulnerable.  The United States deploys such overwhelming military force globally that for its militarized opponents only an “asymmetric strategy,” in the jargon of the Pentagon, has any chance of success. When it does succeed, as it did spectacularly on September 11, it renders our massive military machine worthless:  The terrorists offer it no targets.

If Johnson’s last sentence is correct, history will rightly judge the Bush and Obama Administrations harshly for the more than half a million civilian deaths in those countries.[5]

But the United States continues to kill innocent citizens, raining drones on alleged U.S. allies Pakistan and Yemin.  Somalia in North Africa,[6] a non-ally, also is a frequent target.  Drone attacks on Pakistan and Yemin are obviously in exchange for substantial, albeit unconfirmed, infusions of U.S. cash, because it is inconceivable these countries would tolerate attacks that mock their sovereignty and kill more innocent civilians than terrorists without substantial emolument.  The Washington Post recently reported that a secret CIA memorandum confirms that Pakistan officials have always been informed about – and implicitly support – drone strikes, dating back to the Bush Administration.  “A report published in the Washington Post on Oct 24 details the fact that despite publicly denouncing CIA’s drone attack, top Pakistani officials have for years been secretly endorsing the program.”  The Washington Post, October 28, 2013.

The CIA and, more recently the Pentagon, are responsible for targeting victims of drone attacks.  Each downplays the number civilian casualties caused by drones, and each refuses to disclose specific numbers on national security grounds.  Nevertheless, some information has emerged:  Sen. Lindsey Graham places the number of drone deaths resulting from the Pakistan/Somalia/Yemin program at 4,700.  Graham is quoted saying, “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war . . .”  Micah Zenko who writes for The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that 3,500 have been killed.  Scott Shane of the New York Times has the figure closer to 3,000.  “Terror:  The Hidden Source,” The New York Review, October 24, 2013.  Whatever number is, it is clear that not all the dead are terrorists.  In fact, most are not.  News reports are replete with accounts of drones mistakenly wiping out entire, extended families that were, for example, attending events like wedding receptions.  The convicted terrorists of the failed attack on a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and the attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010, have both proclaimed that U.S. drone attacks were among their motivations for the attempted bombings.

Notably, a growing list of former senior Bush and Obama administration security officials have expressed concern that the short-term gains of drone strikes in eliminating specific militants may be outweighed by long-term strategic costs. Among the cautionary voices are Michael V. Hayden, who as C.I.A. director in 2008 oversaw the first escalation of strikes in Pakistan; Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired general who commanded American forces in Afghanistan; James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Dennis C. Blair, the former director of national intelligence. 

General James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, retired from the Marine Corps in 2011 after nearly 40 years of service.  Cartwright has stated that drone strikes may be undermining long-term efforts to battle extremism:  “We’re seeing . . . blowback.  If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”  Jeremy Scahill has reported that U.S. drone strikes in Yemen are the primary source for Al-Qaeda’s presence in the Arabian Peninsula.  Another writer correctly notes:

The problem with [drones], of course, is twofold. First, the basic justification for the use of drones is the threat of terrorism. But terrorism is simply a predictable consequence of an interventionist foreign policy, the propping up of puppet dictators, and the embrace of empire that began after World War II (at least). The use of drones simply compounds this problem, creating more potential terrorists for every one that is killed.  

Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute recently reported that the number of Pakistani civilians killed in drone strikes is “significantly and consistently underestimated . . .”  There are estimates that 98% of drone strike casualties involve civilians, not terrorists, a figure that roughly translates to 50 civilians killed for every “suspected terrorist.”  The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that CIA is compounding the problem of killing civilians by deliberately targeting individuals who go to drone site attacks after the bombing, presumably to kill terrorists who return “as a part of a ‘double-tap’ strategy, eerily reminiscent of methods used by terrorist groups like Hamas. Id.  The obvious and foreseeable consequence of such attacks is that innocent civilians and rescue workers who rush to bombing sites to aid victims are killed as well.

Without debating the legality of the drone program, more writers and government officials are openly questioning whether the drawbacks of the drone program outweigh its benefits.  Moreover, there is no dispute that drone killings account for significant international enmity, a conclusion that is confirmed in a joint report issued by the Stanford International Human Rights Clinic and the New York University Global Justice Clinic, entitled Living under DronesInterviews from living victims and witnesses over nine months revealed that drones kill innocent civilians on a regular basis and that US drone policy has increased anti-American sentiment.

The roiling conditions in Middle East speak to the failure of both America’s foreign policy and intelligence programs.  The flowering promise of the Arab Spring has withered and been replaced by widespread sectarian and religious strife.  It is important to understand that the Arab Spring is not a product of U.S. foreign policy.  All that is left to do is wonder whether the Arab Spring was ever anything more than an illusion and another U.S. intelligence failure to interpret and anticipate the political and social conditions on the ground.

The Wall Street Journal’s constant execration of Obama’s support for the Arab Spring and his Middle East policy is predictable.  Here is an example:

[T]he White House made five big miscalculations about the Middle East. It misread the political maturity and capability of the Islamist groups it supported; it misread the political situation in Egypt; it misread the impact of its strategy on relations with America’s two most important regional allies (Israel and Saudi Arabia); it failed to grasp the new dynamics of terrorist movements in the region; and it underestimated the costs of inaction in Syria. 

But the Journal’s criticism is both anachronistic and unfair.  Its analysis targets a specific point in history that disregards the continuum of failed U.S. foreign policy that coincides, to some extent, with the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947.  A few examples are sufficient to rebut the criticism:

  • First, the U.S. has been making foreign policy miscalculations worldwide for years, and not just in the Middle East.
  • Second, the U.S. bears direct responsibility for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the form of Ayatollah Khomeini, whose rise to power in Iran was a direct response to the 1953 U.S. led coup that removed a democratically-elected leader and reinstalled Shah Reza Pahlavi.  Accordingly, the U.S. bears direct responsibility for the rise of religious fundamentalism not only in Iran, but elsewhere in Arabia peninsula and beyond.
  • Third, the U.S. armed and trained both the Taliban and al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, and supported each in the Afghan War against the Soviet Union during the 1980s and in the Bosnian War in the 1990s.
  • Fourth, the U.S. is directly responsible for the corrupt, ineffectual government of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq.
  • Fifth, the U.S. is directly responsible for the corrupt, ineffectual government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.
  • Sixth, the U.S. is largely responsible for the corrupt, ineffectual government in Libya.
  • Seventh, Pakistan has become a shadow of the vibrant country it once was.
  • Eighth, with respect to Egypt, what is not clear is what the U.S. should, or could, have done differently, unless it was willing to continue to support Hosni Mubarak, oppose democratic elections, incur the wrath of Egypt, and, possibly, the entire Middle East.[7]
  • Ninth, if Israel and Saudi Arabia had their way, the United States would have been at war with Syria and Iran several years ago, while each sat comfortably on the sidelines.
  • Tenth, the United States has failed to grasp the dynamics of terrorism for well over a decade, if not longer, which is why it continues to pursue the same failed policies that increase terrorism directed at the West.
  • And finally, eleventh, with respect to the allegation that the U.S. “underestimated the costs of inaction in Syria,” my inclination is to shout:  “Hooray, the U.S. finally got it right.”  The fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia are discomfited by the possible success of diplomacy is vastly outweighed by the fact that the U.S. has managed to avoid – at least for the moment – another unwise, expensive, military conflict that it cannot win and that surely will increase terrorism directed against the U.S. and the West.

Whether military action in Syria and/or Iran takes place or not, the possibility provides a starting point for thinking about the inter-relationship between America’s use of military power, foreign policy, CIA’s involvement, and what appears to be the diminishment of the country’s ability to influence world events.  Such an inquiry always dredges up the beguiling but deceitful U.S. justifications of protecting human life, human rights, and encouraging the spread of democracy.[8]  Obviously, it is not argued here that protecting human life, human rights, and the spread of democracy are not worthwhile.  But those goals are not the motivation behind the United States’ Middle East policy, nor were they the goals supporting the foreign policies in Central and Latin America or South East Asia.  Far from it.

Since the end of World War II, a war the United States entered late and reluctantly, the United States has thrust itself into geopolitical events around the world with ever-increasing frequency in the form of military intervention and regime change.  Since the end of the Cold War, the United States’ ability to intervene in world affairs countries is virtually unchecked by any foreign power.  Addressing the pretext for U.S. interventionist behavior, conservative economist and writer Robert Samuelson recently cited survey results that revealed the United States has relied upon a sense of “moral superiority as a pretext to throw its weight around the world.”  Samuelson, Robert, The Washington Post, September 23, 2013.  In a stridently worded opposition to calls for a military strike against Syria, former Republican insider, David Stockman, eviscerates the moral hectoring coming from Congress and the White House:

Now the White House wants authorization . . . to deliver from the firing tubes of U.S. naval destroyers a dose of righteous “punishment” that has no plausible military or strategic purpose. By the President’s own statements the proposed attack is merely designed to censure the Syrian regime for allegedly visiting one particularly horrific form of violence on its own citizens.

Well, really? After having rained napalm, white phosphorous, bunker-busters, drone missiles and the most violent machinery of conventional warfare ever assembled upon millions of innocent Vietnamese, Cambodians, Serbs, Somalis, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemeni, Libyans and countless more, Washington now presupposes to be in the moral sanctions business?  That’s downright farcical.

The U.S. would never concede that most of the world agrees with Stockman’s view that the United States has no basis laying claim to the moral high ground.[9]  In addition to the accusations leveled by Stockman, the rest of the world, particularly the Arabian peninsula, is well-aware that the U.S. supplied Iraq with the chemical components and armaments that became the chemical weapons that Iraq used against Iran in the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988)( discussed herein) and against the Kurds.  If Stockman is correct, and the U.S. is nothing but a moral poseur, what can be the justification for another war in the region that U.S. citizens will pay for, that will kill innocent civilians and destroy infrastructure, and create more political chaos?  Of course, war will certainly create wealth for the arms purveyors and thousands of companies with government contracts, and U.S. taxpayers will certainly foot the bill.

Before the U.N General Assembly, President Obama recently proclaimed:  “Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional . . . ” Doubtless, the entire U.N. audience disagreed.  More important, however, Obama failed to give even passing mention to preserving democracy, liberty, freedom, or human rights when he identified the “Core Interests” of the United States in its foreign policy, which he identified as follows:  (1) resisting aggression against allies; (2) protecting the free flow of energy; (3) dismantling terrorist organizations; and (4) preventing the development of weapons of mass destruction.  Id.

By and large, Americans believe that the United States is beloved the world over and that the United States is a peace-loving country that engages in armed conflict for altruistic reasons.  The rest of the world is not so uninformed.  This is particularly true in the Middle East and Latin and Central America, but Africa and Asia are not far behind.  Traveling outside this country, it is impossible to ignore the extent to which the rest of the world questions the United States’ moral and economic arrogance and the self-serving policies that are imposed upon the rest of the world, including the aggressive aggrandizement of natural resources, the increasingly frequent use of military power, and the conditions imposed by U.S. controlled entities like the International Monetary Fund.

This view is confirmed by results from a Zogby International Poll of citizens from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Morocco in 2004.  Notably, those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: “What is the first thought when you hear ‘America’?” respondents overwhelmingly said: “Unfair foreign policy.”  Most Arabs believe that the Iraq war caused more terrorism and brought about less democracy, and that the Iraqi people are far worse off today than they were while living under Hussein’s rule.  The majority also said they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world.[10]

In a more recent 2010 survey, participants were asked the following question:  “Which two of the following factors do you believe are most important in driving American policy in the Middle East?  The results are as follows:

Protecting Israel – 49%;

Controlling oil – 45%;

Weakening the Muslim world – 33%;

Preserving regional and global dominance – 33%;

Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons – 13%;

Promoting peace and stability – 9%;

Fighting terrorism – 7%;

Spreading human rights – 6%;

Promoting democracy – 5%.

Asked to “name two countries that pose a threat to you,” 88% answered Israel and 77% answered the United States.  The closest competitors were Iran and Algeria, both with 10%.  

In his 2004 book, Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer, CIA’s former Counterterrorist Station Chief for Osama bin Laden, writes that bin Laden’s reasons for attacking the United States had nothing “to do with [U.S.] freedom, liberty, and democracy, but everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world,” including the destruction of Iraq and that U.S. citizens are mistaken that “Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do.”  Scheuer, Michael, Imperial Hubris:  Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, (Washington, D.C., Brassey’s Inc., 2004) pp. 8, x.  According to Scheuer, while U.S. culture in the form of modernity, democracy, and sexuality may conflict with Muslim religious and cultural values, Muslims are rarely moved to take action unless American military forces are present in Muslim countries.  Scheuer argues that as long as U.S. policies motivate Muslims toward insurgency, America will remain in the sights of terrorists.  See generally, id. at 163-207. America continues to disregard this advice at her peril.

To understand why the U.S. is perceived the way it is, this country’s direct and indirect role in military attacks, military occupation and regime change around the world, including assassination must be considered.  According to one author who has written widely on the subject, since World War II, the United States has:

  • Endeavored to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically-elected.
  • Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.
  • Waged war/military action, either directly or in conjunction with a proxy army, in some 30 countries.
  • Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.
  • Dropped bombs on the people of some 30 countries.
  • Attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries.

Blum, William, America’s Deadliest Export:  Democracy, (London, Zed Books (2013) p. 1.   These are staggering figures, and wasting time arguing whether Blum’s figures are exact misses the point by light years.  If the foregoing figures are cut in half, they are chilling and alarming.  Much more important, they raise important questions regarding this country’s role in world affairs and what the country thinks it is achieving.  This is a debate that never takes place.

Irrespective of where one stands on policy, left or right, there should be general consensus that, at a minimum, one objective of any informed foreign policy ought to be the ability to influence events around the world.  Is the U.S. policy of non-stop intervention, particularly in the Middle East, furthering that objective?  If so, what does American foreign policy have to show for its expense and effort?  Peace?  Please.  Stability?  Please.  Cheap oil?  Certainly, cheaper than most of the West; but if U.S. policy was set on achieving this objective, it failed miserably.

To justify the huge, recently-exposed, $53 billion intelligence budget provided by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, The Washington Post, August 13, 2013, the CIA and the National Security Agency are always quick to trumpet successes, but substantive proof of these alleged successes is virtually never provided.  Government retrenchment from claims of successful terrorist interdictions is the norm, not the exception.  Frankly, based on the manifest evidence, the successes are virtually always marginal affairs, and the fact that the government has so frequently disseminated false claims casts aspersion on the program as a whole.  I recently spoke to a retired CIA analyst who told me that that the only real success stories involve intelligence set ups like the alleged attempt to bomb the Sears Tower by a group of buffoons who, collectively, didn’t own a single gun or know how to make a bomb.  No one is claiming that the job is easy.  But what is known is that U.S. intelligence misses more than it hits.  Anyone who thinks differently must be a somnolent member of Congress.

The country’s intelligence failures over more than half a century have been slowly coming to the fore, with information trickling out over decades in dribs and drabs.  But the opening lines of former CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner’s Introduction in his book Burn Before Reading says it all:

The fact that the events of 9/11 occurred without warning was a failure of our system of collecting and evaluating intelligence.  It was a failure that ranks even higher than Pearl Harbor.  The fact that we invaded Iraq in 2003 on the assumption that there were weapons of mass destruction there was another serious failure of intelligence . . . .  It should be obvious to the public that the intelligence organization we established in 1947 is not serving us adequately. . . . In combating terrorism, intelligence must be our first line of defense.  If we cannot stop terrorists from committing heinous deeds, but can only respond after the fact, we will lose much of what our country stands for.  Already our society is considerably different as a result of the actions we have found necessary to take to ward off terrorists.  The more such actions we feel compelled to take, the more we lose.

Turner, Stansfield.  Burn Before Reading, (New York: Hyperion, 2005) pp 1-2.  This was written by a conservative, former CIA Director in 2005!

The rest of the world doesn’t rely on or need Freedom of Information Act document dumps to know who causes them harm.  The rest of the world doesn’t distinguish between the CIA, the US military, or the US government.  There is only the United States.  Following 9/11 when George W. Bush informed the world “We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.  Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime,”  the rest of the world understood exactly what he was saying and understood the gravity of the threat.

According to President Theodore Roosevelt, his famous aphorism, “speak softly, but carry a big stick” was not his creation but originated in a West African proverb.  It spawned the diplomatic ideology known as “big stick diplomacy” that connoted cautious, non-aggression supported by significant power that would be used if necessary.  The concept is still in effect, but since Roosevelt, the U.S. no longer speaks softly.  It unabashedly throws its weight around, routinely installing and supporting foreign dictators who are inimical to the citizens they rule, whose primary function is to ensure that corporate American interests are protected.  The list of U.S. supported monsters is long and ugly, and an examination of some bad guys who have come and gone with U.S. support is illuminating.  Hopefully, some historical perspective can be achieved by reviewing that history en masse.

Rafael Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961, using his political power to amass tremendous wealth.  His power was largely due to U.S. support, which was provided in return for his alleged resistance to communism in the region.  His time in power, much of which was spent as an unelected military leader, is recognized as among the most brutal in Latin and Central America.  During his dictatorship, 50,000 people are said to have been killed.  Referring to Trujillo, US Secretary of State, Cordell Hull (1933-1944), issued the now famous statement (which also has been attributed to Franklin Roosevelt speaking of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza):  “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch.”  Whether the phrase referred to Trujillo or Somoza doesn’t matter.  The larger, more important point is that there have been, and continue to be, many sons-of-bitches around the world who are U.S. supported thugs.

Anastasio Somoza is another example.  A former used car salesman, he was recruited by CIA to become the commander of the Nicaraguan National Guard.  With U.S. urging and assistance, Somoza assassinated Augusto Sandino in 1934 and set up a family dictatorship that lasted 43 years.  The man he assassinated is still revered throughout Latin America as a revolutionary hero for his six-year opposition to the U.S. military’s occupation of Nicaragua from 1927-1933.  Somoza’s brutal regime was supported by the U.S in return for opposition to communism.  During his time in office, Somoza seized huge tracts of land and allowed U.S interests to take advantage of lucrative leases for mining rights and other natural resources, the quintessential requisite of U.S. puppets.

El Salvador was beset by a series of corrupt military juntas that began in 1979, and the Regan Administration supported all of them, allegedly as a hedge against communism in the region.  Throughout the 1980s, the United States provided $6 billion in aid to the military rulers in El Salvador, an amount second only (at the time) to Israel.  These military juntas created death squads that killed more than 70,000 non-combatants, including Archbishop Oscar Romero, who had the temerity to criticize the United States for aiding the new government.[11]  In 1989, after six Jesuit priests were murdered by death squads, the U.S. Congress created the Moakley Commission – named after Congressman Joseph Moakley – to investigate the murders.  “That investigation revealed that the murders had been directed from the upper levels of the Salvadoran armed forces. The findings also resulted in reduced military funding to El Salvador, led to the successful prosecution of members of the Salvadoran military, and helped pave the way for U.N. Peace Accords in 1992 and democratic elections in El Salvador.” The United Nations’ Commission on Truth for El Salvador confirmed what human rights organizations in and outside El Salvador had reported for a decade:

that the Salvadoran armed forces and death squads bore principal responsibility for the murder, disappearance and torture of Salvadoran civilians. A full eighty-five percent of the cases denounced to the Truth Commission involved state agents, paramilitary groups, or death squads allied with official forces. 

The United States’ role in the history of Guatemala is even more shameful.  In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup that ousted the popular and democratically-elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman (who won with 65% of the vote), who had proposed land reforms to empower the indigenous Mayan peasant population.  Before coming to power in 1951, Arbenz was instrumental in a number of seminal reforms, including introducing a new constitution, declaring men and women equal before the law, making racial discrimination a crime, banning private monopolies, assuring workers were assured a forty-hour week and paid in cash, not coupons, ending press censorship, removing governmental control of higher education, and legalizing labor unions.  These changes rattled corporate America, particularly the United Fruit Company.

Guzman ordered the creation of a government operated shipping port to compete with United Fruit’s Puerto Barrios.  He attempted to break up the transportation monopoly enjoyed by International Railways of Central America monopoly by constructing a highway to the Atlantic.  He also planned a huge, national hydroelectric plant to offer cheaper energy than the U.S. controlled electricity monopoly.  In 1952, Guzman instituted agrarian land reform that returned 1.5 million acres to more than 100,000 peasant families.  The land was paid for by $8.5 million in government bonds and included land owned by Guzman, himself.  The primary opponent was United Fruit Company which owned 550,000 acres of land, 85% of which was uncultivated.  In 1953, approximately 210,000 acres were taken by the government for $525,000, based on a price of $3.00 per acre, the figure that United Fruit used for its U.S. tax filing.  United Fruit countered, demanding $75 per acre or $16 million.  Thereafter, United Fruit with CIA assistance began a disinformation campaign that Guatemala was the beginning of Soviet expansion in Latin America.  Under the supervision of CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith, the aptly-named “Operation Fortune” was developed to overthrow Guzman.  When Secretary of State Dean Acheson found out about the intended coup, he convinced President Truman to stop the operation.  But under President Eisenhower, Acheson was replaced at State by John Foster Dulles, and his brother, Allen Dulles, was made Director of CIA.  Both John Foster and Allen sat on the Board of United Fruit.  The denouement in Guatemala was preordained.

After Guzman was removed, Guatemala descended into perpetual civil war (1960-1996).  Each succeeding CIA-supported government was as corrupt and murderous as its predecessor.  Released CIA documents that were part of the National Security Archive, Guatemala Project, concede that the widespread murders and genocide that took place were the direct result of the CIA supported coup.  Document #26, dated August 1983, begins with a frank review of the history and root causes of political violence in Guatemala:

Since 1954, when a rightist coup ended a decade of social and economic reforms, the nation has been ruled by elites who view the national government primarily as an instrument for maintaining social order, providing minimal services, and allowing the free market to run its course.  Politics has been devoted to “keeping the lid on” and preventing a return to power of the identified with the pre 1954 reform era.  The political order that has evolved depends on an informal coalition of conservative military officers, wealthy businessmen and plantation owners, and some middle class right wing politicians.  They apparently share a tacit understanding that unpredictable and unmanageable political processes – such as free elections and greater popular participation – are inimical to their interests.

This is the political culture the United States cultivated and made possible not only in Guatemala but over most of Central and Latin America.  A review of archived CIA documents reveals that CIA was, at all times, aware of the extent of the brutal killings, disappearances, and torture.  In any event, gradually, quasi-government paramilitary groups controlled by succeessive, corrupt Guatemalan governments were responsible for the genocide of Mayan peasants.  Entire villages were exterminated.  Upwards of 200,000 citizens were killed and another 100,000 persons disappeared.

In 1992, Rigoberta Menchú was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for her work bringing international attention to the U.S. supported, government-sponsored, genocide that took place against Guatemala’s indigenous peasant population.   The United Nation’s “Historical Clarification Commission” determined that during the presidency of Efraín Ríos Montt’s presidency, deliberate “acts of genocide” against the indigenous population took place.  Montt and his successor Óscar Mejía were supported by the U.S. and received direct aid from CIA.

The UN report documented 626 massacres committed by the army in the 1980s, during the height of its scorched-earth policy against Indian peasant communities believed to be sympathetic to the rebels. Documenting the atrocities, the report found the army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their dwellings, livestock and crops” and said that in the northern part of the country, where the Mayan population is largest, the army carried out a systematic campaign of “genocide.”

In December 2006, Spain called for the extradition from Guatemala of seven former members of Guatemala’s government on charges of genocide and torture, including former U.S. supported military rulers Efraín Ríos Montt and Óscar Mejía.

During this same general time frame, the Reagan Administration was funding and supporting the corrupt government in El Salvador.  Both El Salvador and Guatemala were beset by civil war and mass atrocities that caused large numbers of citizens to flee to the United States to escape the killing.  The Reagan Administration actually prevented refugees from these countries from obtaining asylum in the U.S. by asserting they were economic refugees fleeing poverty, not human rights violations.  Admitting that human rights abuses were taking place in those countries would have precluded foreign aid.  Large numbers of illegal refugees from those countries were deported.  The ACLU issued a 1985 report documenting that at least 130 Salvadorans were tortured, killed, or disappeared after their deportation to El Salvador.  Consider the real numbers.

Because of the carnage, the U.S. finally passed a series of laws that provided temporary deportation relief for individuals who would be deported to a country in the throes of war.  The Immigration Act of 1990 provided protected status to Salvadorans who had been displaced by the civil war in El Salvador.  More than 190,000 Salvadorans qualified for protection under the first Bush Administration through 1994.  According to a 2009 Department of Homeland Security analysis:

46% of Salvadorans, 60% of Guatemalans, and 68% of Hondurans were unauthorized.  Altogether, approximately 530,000 Salvadorans, 480,000 Guatemalan, and 320,000 Honduran immigrants were unauthorized in 2009.  Between 2000 and 2010, the number of unauthorized Salvadoran immigrants increased by 44%, Guatemalans by 78%, and Hondurans by 106%.


What few are willing to concede, however, is the direct connection between the immigration issues that the U.S. is facing today and the influx of immigrants from Central American countries that were afflicted by civil wars fomented, in large part, by the foreign policy of the United States.  Between 1980 and 1990, approximately one million persons from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras sought asylum in the United States, fleeing the terror and political repression wrought by governments backed by the U.S.

Of course, even “U.S. sons-of-bitches” sometimes become too much to take and have to be asked to leave the party.  Eventually, the U.S tired of Rafael Trujillo, and he was murdered.  A declassified CIA memorandum states that an Office of Inspector General investigation into Trujillo’s murder disclosed “quite extensive Agency involvement with the plotters,” and that the weapons used by the assassins included M1 carbines that the CIA had supplied.  Before CIA was able to transfer power, however, Trujillo’s son returned from France and installed himself as the country’s new ruler.  According to the 1975 report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, President Kennedy sent a memo approving the assassination.  “[T]he assassination was as close as the CIA had ever come to carrying out a murder at the command of the White House.”  Legacy of Ashes at 171-172.

Other examples of U.S supported thugs who outlived their U.S. usefulness include Panama strongman Manuel Noriega and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  When the time came for their removal, both leaders were decried by the U.S as brutal, corrupt dictators.  Yet both were embraced as allies as long as they carried out CIA’s bidding and U.S. corporate interests were protected.

Manuel Noriega was recruited as a CIA informant while he was studying at a military academy in Peru, and he worked for CIA and stayed on CIA’s payroll until 1988.  He also received training at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.  During the Iran-Contra Affair, Oliver North advised the Reagan Administration to pay Noriega $1,000,000 from funds raised from the sale of weapons to Iran in return for Noriega’s help in the clandestine war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.  The 1988 Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations report stated:

The saga of Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega represents one of the most serious foreign policy failures for the United States. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, Noriega was able to manipulate U.S. policy toward his country, while skillfully accumulating near-absolute power in Panama. It is clear that each U.S. government agency which had a relationship with Noriega turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing, even as he was emerging as a key player on behalf of the Medellín Cartel (a member of which was notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar). 

Of course, Noriega was eventually captured, tried and jailed.  The actual financial cost of the war is difficult to pin down.  There are estimates that the occupation alone cost $1,000,000 per day.  In any event, as the New York Times reported:  “[s]ending 24,000 troops to bag Manuel Noriega nevertheless is likely to stand in the history of overkill higher even than Ronald Reagan’s Grenada operation.”  

Saddam Hussein may provide the best example of the intersection of U.S. foreign policy, intelligence, and military intervention working together to produce the most horrible result possible.  First, the U.S. spent tens of billions of dollars propping Saddam up, keeping him in power, and paying for the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988) in the process.  Then, under two Iraq wars 1990-1991 and 2003-2011, the U.S. spent trillions of dollars to remove him from power.

From 1967 to 1984, the United States had no diplomatic relations with Iraq.  With the ascendency of Saddam Hussein, the United States said good-bye to all that.  Hussein came to power in 1979, the same year U.S. puppet Shah Pahlavi was ousted in the Iranian Islamic Revolution, which resulted in the Ayatollah Khomeini returning from exile and to power, an event U.S intelligence, predictably, failed to anticipate.  Saddam assumed power and almost immediately invaded Khuzestan, the oil rich, western region of Iran.  The result was an eight-year bloodbath that resulted in the loss of more than one million lives, many of whom were killed by means of chemical weapons, the materials for which were supplied by the United States.  In the belief that a defeated Iran would prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism to other countries in the Middle East, the U.S. allegedly supported Iraq in the war. 

Declassified documents and interviews with former U.S. officials establish that the U.S. provided extensive intelligence and logistical support to Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war.  The Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs issued a report that concluded “the US, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr., sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene.”  According to the report, UN inspectors established that many of the materials sold were used for chemical and nuclear weapons development and the development of Iraq’s missile systems.  Committee chairman Donald Reigle reported that the “executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think it’s a devastating record.” 

In Assassin’s Gate, George Packer notes that in 1988, “Saddam committed genocide against the Kurds at the end of the Iraq-Iran War, and again in 1991, when Saddam massacred the Shia and Kurds who had risen up at the end of the Gulf War.  Apart from Kanan Makiya [an Iraqi intellectual] and a few other lonely voices, no one was calling for armed intervention . . .”  Packer, George.  The Assassin’s Gate:  America in Iraq, (New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005) p. 35.

But while the U.S. was presumptively supporting Iraq in the war, the U.S. was actually playing both sides.  Soon after Regan took office in 1981, the U.S. “secretly and abruptly changed United States’ policy and allowed Israel to sell several billion dollars’ worth of American-made arms, spare parts and ammunition to the Iranian Government, according to former senior Reagan Administration officials and Israeli officials.” 

The United States specifically authorized Israel to make the sales to Iran for a period that by different accounts ranged from 6 to 18 months. But the United States watched them continue after that, even as the Reagan Administration aggressively promoted a public campaign, known as Operation Staunch, to stop worldwide transfers of military goods to Iran.

Id.  Although this information was generally known, it was fully exposed during the Congressional investigation into allegations that Reagan’s campaign team negotiated with Iran to delay the release of the hostages until after Regan’s inauguration.

But even after the official agreement was broken, American officials said, the Administration made no effort to curb what became a steadily increasing flow of American-made arms from Israel to Iran. American intelligence officials received steady reports showing that Israel was selling large quantities of American-made arms and other military goods to Teheran, much of it through private arms dealers. These reports were routinely given to senior officials in the White House and elsewhere in the Administration.

We were getting literally daily reports of Israeli sales to Iran,” a former high-level Reagan Administration intelligence official said. “It was so routine I didn’t think twice about it. It was pretty clear that all the key players knew.

Id.  According to former Israeli Government officials, arms to Iran were transported from a covert air base near Tucson, Ariz., known as Marana Air Park. This is the same airfield used by CIA to ship secret arms to the Nicaraguan rebels during Iran-Contra.  Id. Despite the fact that the U.S. never abided by its terms and Israel continued to sell arms to Iran, “Operation Staunch” was implemented by the Reagan Administration to halt arms sales to Iran by third countries.  CIA and the National Security Council illegally directed the Contra War against the Sandinistas.  UN reports state that more than 75,000 were killed.  Walsh, Lawrence, Firewall:  The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up, (New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997); Mahle, Melissa,  Deception and Denial:  An Insider’s View of the CIA from Iran Contra to 9/11,  (Avon Publishing Group, 2004); Kornbluh, Peter (ED.), Iran Contra Scandal:  The Declassified History.  (The New Press, 1993); Draper, Theodore, A Very Thin Line:  The Iran Contra Affairs, (New York:  Hill & Wang, 1991).

Not surprisingly, relations between Iraq and the U.S were strained when the fact that the U.S. had been selling arms to Iran as one part of the Iran-Contra affair became public.  Congress had passed the Boland Amendment in 1982, which prevented the U.S. government from aiding the Nicaraguan rebels (the “Contras”) against the socialist Sandinista government.  Directly flouting the law, the U.S. illegally sold arms to Iran from August 1985 to November 1986 to generate funds for the Contras.  In return for the sale of arms to Iran, the Reagan Administration hoped to secure Iran’s assistance negotiating the release of American hostages being held by terrorists in Lebanon who had ties to Iran.  This was done in blatant contravention to the Reagan Administration’s public refusal to negotiate with terrorists.  Of course, not only was the U.S. negotiating with terrorists, it was selling arms to their benefactor, Iran.

Regan hoped that Iran would use its influence over Hezbollah to free American hostages held in Lebanon. The effort was a boondoggle.  In exchange for several shipments of TOW and HAWK missiles, Hezbollah eventually released the three kidnapped American hostages, but then promptly kidnapped three new American hostages in Beirut.

The Iraq/Iran war finally ended in 1988.  But as the United States was girding to go to war with Iraq under the first Bush Administration in 1990, consider, the staggering irony of the situation:

Saddam ended the war with an army of about a million men and enough equipment to make it bigger than the army of any member of NATO except the United States.  It was the world’s fourth largest standing army.  Saddam had also created a massive domestic arms industry . . .

Duelfer, Charles.  Hide and Seek:  The Search for Truth in Iraq.  (New York: PublicAffairs, 2009) p. 57.

In addition to U.S. funding, both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait threw their support to Iraq during the eight-year war, a decision both countries would later regret when Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990.  That invasion resulted in U.S. troops being stationed in Saudi Arabia during the first U.S. Gulf War, which is the primary reason why Osama bin Laden focused his gaze squarely upon the United States.  There is a reason why tourist visas are not granted to non-Muslims:  infidels are not granted ingress to the Saudi Kingdom.  Exceptions are made, of course, if you’re a government official or a big money player on the world stage.  But with a population at just 26 million and oil revenue at nearly $300 billion in 2012, revenue from tourism is not a big ticket item.

It is easy to overlook the fact that the roots of the Islamic Revolution in the Middle East started as the direct result of U.S. intermeddling in the internal affairs of Iran.  CIA was responsible for “Operation Ajax,” the 1953 coup that deposed democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh, Time’s 1951 Man of the Year, who had the temerity to nationalize Iran’s oil industry.  Under the Eisenhower Administration, Operation Ajax was carried out by Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Kermit Roosevelt.  The result was that Shah Pahlavi was restored to power, and he immediately created SAVAK, the hated Iranian secret police that was trained by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad.  SAVAK was reputed to be “as brutal and terrifying as the Nazi Gestapo in World War II.”  Operation Ajax marked the first time the CIA overthrew a foreign government.

In his memoir, Roosevelt wrote that when he briefed officials in Washington on the Iranian coup:

[H]e noticed the Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, and his brother the Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, looking at him with gleams in their eyes.  And [Roosevelt] realized that they were already thinking:  If we could overthrow the government of Iran so easily, we can do this in other countries too.

The next year, the United States went on to overthrow the Government of Guatemala.  That was another coup that seemed successful at the beginning but ended tragically.  It produced a series of unspeakably brutal military dictatorships that resulted in the slaughter of literally hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan citizens.  These two coups formed a template as the United States embraced the culture of covert action.

The history of U.S. interference in the affairs of Latin and Central America confirms Roosevelt’s grandson’s observation.

Addressing the 1953 Iran coup, writer Stephen Kinzer has written that “[i]f the United States had not sent agents to depose Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran would probably have continued along its path toward full democracy.  Over the decades that followed, it might have become the first democratic state in the Muslim Middle East. . .”  Kinzer, Stephen, All the Shah’s Men:  An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, (New Jersey, John Wiley and Sons 2003) p. ix-x.  In a 2007 interview, Kinzer stated:

The result of that coup was that the Shah was placed back on his throne. He ruled for 25 years in an increasingly brutal and repressive fashion. His tyranny resulted in an explosion of revolution in 1979 the event that we call the Islamic revolution. That brought to power a group of fanatically anti-Western clerics who turned Iran into a center for anti-Americanism and, in particular, anti-American terrorism. The Islamic regime in Iran also inspired religious fanatics in many other countries, including those who went on to form the Taliban in Afghanistan and give refuge to terrorists who went on to attack the United States. The anger against the United States that flooded out of Iran following the 1979 revolution has its roots in the American role in crushing Iranian democracy in 1953. Therefore, I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that you can draw a line from the American sponsorship of the 1953 coup in Iran, through the Shah’s repressive regime, to the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the spread of militant religious fundamentalism that produced waves of anti-Western terrorism.  

Following the Iranian revolution, initial U.S reaction was to remove Khomeini via a military coup.  Subsequently, U.S. foreign policy analysts like Zbigniew Brzezinski, George Ball, and others suggested using Islamic fanaticism as a bulwark against the expansion of Soviet hegemony in the region.  Although the U.S. was loath to accept a religious Islamic state, Khomeini was virulently anti-communist.  “The theory was, there was an arc of crisis, and so an arc of Islam could be mobilized to contain the Soviets.”  Scott, Peter, The Road to 9/11:  Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America, (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2007) p. 67.  Accordingly, the U.S. continued to court Khomeini until the Shah was allowed to enter the U.S. for cancer treatment.  Enraged, Khomeini broke off relations, and the U.S. Embassy was seized a week later.  But this was not the first time the U.S. courted religious fundamentalists in the Middle East.  The precedent was set much earlier.

In 1952, the Egyptian military overthrew British puppet King Farouk, with Gamal Nasser eventually emerging as the coup leader, fully supported by the Muslim Brotherhood.  Muslim  Brotherhood support was withdrawn, however, when Nasser made clear that he intended to establish a secular, nationalist government.  In 1954, Nasser banned the Muslim Brotherhood, murdering leaders, jailing thousands, and sending flocks of outlawed Muslim Brotherhood refugees to seek sanctuary in Saudi Arabia, which welcomed them with open arms.  Saudi amenability to the Muslim Brotherhood did not last, and the enmity between the two today is pronounced.  “The openly difficult relationship between Saudi Arabia and Muslim Brotherhood chapters across the region has become a salient feature of Middle East politics since the advent of the ‘Arab Spring.’  This mutual distrust has increased in the wake of the Kingdom’s recent support for the military takeover in Cairo and the generals’ subsequent repression of the Brotherhood there.” 

The patrician and egomaniacal Director of CIA, Allen Dulles, disliked Nasser.  According to former covert CIA agent, Miles Copeland, author of the best-selling 1989 book, The Game Player:  Confessions of the CIA’s Original Political Operative, Dulles planned multiple assassination plots to eliminate Nasser.  He also considered putting LSD in Nasser’s drinks to cause him to lose support by appearing psychologically unstable in public.  Ultimately, Dulles scrapped that strategy in favor of working with the ostracized religious element in Egypt.  Copeland was then tasked with recruiting Egyptian imams to support American objectives.  According to Copeland, the phrase “Find an Islamic Billy Graham” frequently surfaced in CIA memoranda during this time frame, and through Copeland, CIA actively partnered with the Muslim Brotherhood, as did the Saudis, for a time.

U.S. infatuation with Islamic fundamentalists did not end with these two dalliances, however.  Under CIA auspices, the U.S. did significant business with other, prominent Islamic religious groups, including the Taliban and al Qaeda.  “[I]n Afghanistan the United States also helped bring to power the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic movement whose policies toward women, education, justice, and economic well-being resemble not so much those of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran as those of Pol Pot’s Cambodia.”  Johnson, Chalmers, Blowback:  The Cost and Consequences of American Empire, (New York, Henry Holt & Co. 2000) p. 13; see also Scott, Peter, The Road to 9/11:  Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America, (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2007).

That the Taliban was created and empowered by the United States is not even a marginally debatable point.  Prominent players on the world stage admit it openly.  In a 2009 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, former Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, who left office in 2013, admitted that Taliban insurgents were created and financed by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence services. Selig Harrison, acknowledged expert from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, who has frequently testified before congressional committees has written, the “CIA made a historic mistake in encouraging Islamic groups from all over the world to come to Afghanistan. The U.S. provided $3 billion for building up these Islamic groups, and it accepted Pakistan’s demand that they should decide how this money should be spent.”  http://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/pol/wtc/oblnus091401.html  Former National Security Advisor to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has admitted in two different books that the Taliban was created by the United States, and that it was instrumental in turning the war in Afghanistan into a “Vietnam” for the Soviet Union.

Brzezinski gave the following interview to the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur in January 1998:

Question:  The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski:  Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q:  Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

B:  It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q:  When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them.  However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?

B:  Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q:  And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B:  What is most important to the history of the world?  The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire?  Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Q:  Some stirred-up Moslems?  But it has been said and repeated:  Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

B:  Nonsense! 

Most recently, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed this fact in a 2010 TV interview, admitting that the U.S. created and funded the terrorists we are fighting today.

We had helped create the problem we are now fighting. . .  When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we had this brilliant idea that we were going to come to Pakistan and create a force of mujahedeen, equip them with stinger missiles and everything else to go after the Soviets in Afghanistan.  And we were successful.  The Soviets left Afghanistan and then we said, ‘good,’ leaving these trained people who were fanatical in Afghanistan and Pakistan, leaving them well-armed, creating a mess. . .  The people we are fighting today, we were supporting in the fight against the Soviets [in Afghanistan]. 

Although the Washington Post reported that the mujahedeen were receiving arms from the U.S. government as early as February 1980, formal shipment of arms to the Taliban was in full force in 1985 when CIA was supplying mujahedeen rebels with extensive satellite reconnaissance data of Soviet targets on the Afghan battlefield, plans for military operations based on the satellite intelligence, intercepts of Soviet communications, secret communications networks for the rebels, delayed timing devices for tons of C-4 plastic explosives for urban sabotage, and sophisticated guerrilla attacks, long-range sniper rifles, a targeting device for mortars that was linked to a U.S. Navy satellite, wire-guided anti-tank missiles, and other equipment.  Between 1986 and 1989, the mujahedeen also were provided with more than 1,000 state-of-the-art, shoulder-fired Stinger antiaircraft missiles.  By 1987, the annual supply of arms had reached 65,000 tons, and CIA and Pentagon officials were conferring with Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to plan military operations for the mujahedeen.  Id.

Notably, while arms shipments were continuing, the U.S. government was under no illusions about the Taliban’s cultural propensities:

The U.S. government was well aware of the Taliban’s reactionary program, yet it chose to back their rise to power in the mid-1990s. The creation of the Taliban was “actively encouraged by the ISI and the CIA,” according to Selig Harrison, an expert on U.S. relations with Asia . . .  When the Taliban took power, State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies said that he saw ‘nothing objectionable’ in the Taliban’s plans to impose strict Islamic law, . . .  ‘The good part of what has happened is that one of the factions at last seems capable of developing a new government in Afghanistan.’  ‘The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There will be Aramco [the consortium of oil companies that controlled Saudi oil], pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that,’ said another U.S. diplomat in 1997.  

Osama bin Laden was not the founder of al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda originated in Pakistan, created by Sheik Abdullah Azzam with extensive economic and technical support from CIA and the Pakistani security service.  In fact, Azzam was Osama bin Laden’s mentor.  Al Qaeda, which translates from Arabic as “the base,” initially was dedicated to battling the Soviet army in Afghanistan and Afghan Communists.  After the Soviets were defeated and left Afghanistan, the U.S abandoned its support of the mujahedeen, and Afghanistan descended into civil war.  However, recognizing that a large, trained force was immediately at hand, the U.S. transported thousands of mujahedeen and al Qaeda members from Afghanistan to Bosnia to fight the Serbs in Yugoslavia where civil war had broken out in the early 1990s and Muslims there were threatened.

These Islamic warriors were accompanied by U.S. Special Forces. The Clinton administration armed and trained these fighters, in direct violation of U.N. accords, and arms purchased by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran were secretly shipped to the Islamists via Croatia, which netted a hefty profit from each transaction. A Dutch intelligence report found that the United States was “very closely involved” in these weapons transfers.

It is clear that both al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden played a significant role in the fighting in Serbia before NATO forces began the saturation bombing of Yugoslavia.  For all intents and purposes, the United States and al Qaeda were allies in the war from 1990-1995.  “More importantly, according to many prominent anti-terror experts, Bosnia was the “guidebook” for Al-Qaeda.  Bosnia was where Al-Qaeda was forged in the fires of Islamic jihad.”  Id.  Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism advisor to three Presidents, including George W. Bush was written:

What we saw unfold in Bosnia was a guidebook to the Bin Laden network, though we didn’t recognize it as such at the time. Beginning in 1992, Arabs who had been former Afghan mujahedeen began to arrive. With them came the arrangers, the money men, logisticians, and ‘charities.’ They arranged front companies and banking networks. As they had done in Afghanistan, the Arabs created their own brigade, allegedly part of the Bosnian army but operating on its own. The muj, as they came to be known, were fierce fighters against the better-armed Serbs. They engaged in ghastly torture, murder, and mutilation that seemed excessive even by Balkan standards.

Clarke, Richard, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, (New York: Free Press, 2004) p. 137.

Bin Laden committed some of his own funding for the Bosnian mission with the intention of setting up an Islamic republic in the Balkan region.  However, the extent to which bin Laden funded military efforts himself was completely misunderstood and misstated by CIA and FBI.  CIA thought bin Laden was worth $300 million, but in reality, bin Laden, who was a member of a huge, extended family, “received only about $1 million a year from his family from 1970 until 1994.”  Risen, James, State of War:  The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, (Thorndike Press, 2006) pp. 292-293.  More important, CIA seemed to miss the critical fact that al Qaeda was funded almost exclusively by wealthy Arabs, particularly from Saudi Arabia.

Although al Qaeda has become the omnipresent face of Terror in the west, spawning explosive growth in the intelligence/security industry in the west worth hundreds of billions of dollars, the actual number of “al Qaeda” members was always comparatively small.  In 2001, there were, at most, 300 members of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, most of whom were low level functionaries.  In 2010, when Obama increased the military presence in Afghanistan to 130,000 at huge cost to the American taxpayers, CIA Director Leon Panetta admitted in a televised interview that the al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan was low.  “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan,” he said.  http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/cia-director-panetta-exclusive-intelligence-bin-laden-location/story?id=11027374   So while the U.S. was spending approximately $2 billion per week and increasing U.S. troop presence, the main al Qaeda force was located next door under the protection of U.S. ally Pakistan, the fifth largest recipient of military aid. Go figure.

Also in the “go figure” category is the mysterious case of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was deliberately targeted and killed in 2011 by a drone attack in Yemin.  Although it is commonly believed that his 16 year old son was killed with al-Awlaki, he was killed two weeks later in a wholly separate drone attack.

In his book Dirty Wars Jeremy Scahill claims that John Brennan, then Obama’s senior advisor on counterterrorism and homeland security “suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review.”  After becoming the Director of CIA, Brennan was quoted as saying [n]o such review killing of [al-Awlaki’s son] has ever been made public.”   Scahill writes:  “I asked the former senior administration official why, if that was the case [that al-Awlaki’s son was killed accidentally], the White House didn’t publicly acknowledge it.  “We killed three US citizens in a very short period,” he told me.  “Two of them weren’t even targets:  Samir Khan and Abdulrahman Awlaki.  That doesn’t look good.  It’s embarrassing.”  Scahill, Jeremy, Dirty Wars:  The World is a Battlefield, (New York:  Nation Books, 2013) p. 142.

Even more curious:  who would have imagined that that the slain boy’s father, Anwar Al-Awlaki, would be invited to meet in the Secretary of the Army’s office at the Pentagon, allegedly as part of an outreach program, just weeks after 9/11.  Certainly not the FBI.  On the date of the meeting, al-Awlaki was a wanted man by the FBI.  In fact, FBI agents actually followed Al-Awlaki to the doors of the Pentagon on the day of his luncheon.  This is the same Al-Awlaki whom CIA and FBI claim was behind the failed shoe bomb attempt, the failed Christmas Day jet bombing outside Detroit, the unsuccessful Times Square bombing attempt, and, sadly, the successful Fort Hood shooting (see herehere and here). CIA now alleges this is the same al-Awlaki who also advised three of the 9/11 hijackers and purchased airline tickets for them just prior to 9/11:  (1) Mohammed Atta, America West Airlines, 08/13/2001, for a flight from Washington, DC, to Las Vegas, Nevada, to Miami, Florida; (2) S. Suqami, Southwest Airlines, 07/10/2001, for a flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Orlando, Florida; and (3) Al-Sheri, National Airlines, 08/01/2001, for a flight from San Francisco, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, to Miami, Florida.  

The Pentagon’s meeting with al-Awlaki was not disclosed until after the Fort Hood shootings in July 2009.  Both Judicial Watch, an entity that investigates government corruption, and FOX News obtained documents through Freedom of Information Act litigation.  See, e.g., (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State and Federal Bureau of Investigations (No. 1:12-cv-00893)).  According to Judicial Watch, FBI authorities knew Awlaki was linked to several 9/11 hijackers weeks before he was invited to lunch at the Pentagon.  Among the 262 pages of documents produced in the litigation are FBI surveillance reports and logs confirming that a’-Alwaki was trailed to the Pentagon on the day he spoke as an invited guest.  “The day before the surveillance and luncheon, al-Awlaki had been identified as a ‘terrorist organization member,’ and an FBI alert had been issued reading, ‘Warning – approach with caution . . . Do not alert the individual to the FBI’s interest and contact your local FBI field office at the earliest opportunity . . .’”   Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton has stated:  “For the FBI to follow a known terrorist to the Pentagon where the terrorist has a high-level meeting is beyond comprehension. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there’s more than meets the eye in Obama’s assassination of al-Awlaki.  We were told that he was a terrorist, when in fact he was also probably a U.S. government informant.”  Id.  It would seem that at a minimum, al-Awlaki was being courted by the military as an informant, albeit without FBI’s knowledge.

Why Anwar al-Awlaki was not simply picked up has never been explained and former FBI Director Robert Mueller refused to provide answers to Congress.  Al-Alwaki was detained and questioned at JFK Airport on October 10, 2002 based on a warrant for passport fraud, which is a felony, punishable by ten years in prison.  FOX News’ Specials Unit reported that al-Awlaki was held by customs agents at JFK International Airport in New York City in early morning of Oct. 10, 2002, until FBI Agent Wade Ammerman ordered his release – even though the warrant for his arrest was still active.  Al-Awlaki left JFK, traveled to Washington, D.C., and ultimately traveled to Yemen.

Allowing Anwar al-Awlaki to leave the country is curiously similar to The Bush Administration’s decision to allow members of Osama bin Laden’s immediate family, who were in the U.S. on 9/11 to leave the United States several days after 9/11.

[I]t was revealed that members of the bin Laden family and other prominent Saudi citizens were allowed to leave the United States on special flights arranged by the Saudi government and facilitated by the FBI in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks . . . .

Risen, James, State of War:  The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.  (Thorndike Press, 2006) p. 298;

The Saudis’ chartered flights was arranged after 9/11 when most flights in the United States were still grounded  The three Las Vegas flights, with a total of more than 100 passengers, ferried members of the Saudi royal family and staff members who had been staying at Caesar’s Palace and the Four Seasons hotels. The group had tried unsuccessfully to charter flights back to Saudi Arabia between Sept. 13 and Sept. 17 because they said they feared for their safety as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, the F.B.I. documents say.  Once the group managed to arrange chartered flights out of the country, an unidentified prince in the Las Vegas group “thanked the F.B.I. for their assistance,” according to one internal report. The F.B.I. had interviewed many members of the group and searched their planes before allowing them to leave, but it nonetheless went back to the Las Vegas hotels with subpoenas five days after the initial flight had departed to collect further information on the Saudi royal guests, the documents show.

It is suggested here that U.S. foreign policy, military interventions, and intelligence efforts have played, and continue to play, a major role in shaping foreign opinion of this country and creating enemies.  Under any calculus, under any cost-benefit analysis, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has failed.  Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry has confirmed that regime change in Syria is warranted.  Assuming it comes to pass, this will leave two contiguous countries – Syria and Iraq – in a state of virtual anarchy.  Separated by Iran, Afghanistan is in essentially the same devastated condition, with U.S. policy being responsible for the political dysfunction in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

But there are other war-related costs that must be factored into the Iraq/Afghanistan equation.  Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, economist and senior lecturer in public finance at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University estimate that cost of the wars is vastly higher than reported U.S. estimates.   The authors estimate the more accurate cost of the Iraq War is in the $3 trillion range.  Stiglitz, Joseph, Bilmes, Linda.  The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.  (New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2008) pp.24-31.  When the cost of the Afghanistan War is included, the likely cost is in the $6 trillion range.

Among the ancillary costs that account for this higher figure is medical care for our wounded soldiers.  According to Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America Defense Department data at the end of 2012, the number wounded soldiers was 51,564.  According to a 10-month investigation conducted by The Huffington Post, more than 16,000 Americans have been taken from the battlefield with severe, disabling wounds.  “In the Army alone, 73,674 soldiers have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their combat experience. The Army also has diagnosed 30,480 soldiers who returned from combat with traumatic brain injury, often caused by one or more severe blows to the head or exposure to a concussive blast.”  Id.  In 2008, Stiglitz and Bilmes estimated that the lifetime cost of health care for wounded veterans was between $600 billion and $900 billion.  Bilmes more recently revised the figure to be above $1 trillion.

In addition, there is the ugly issue of suicide:  In 2012, there were 349 suicides, almost one per day. That is higher than the number of combat-related deaths in 2012:  295.  The 2012 suicide figure is higher than the previous year, 301, exceeding the Pentagon’s own internal projection of 325.   The rising rate of suicides remains unexplained, but its cost in human terms is incalculable.

Over the years, it has been widely and frequently reported, by many credible sources, that that the Iraq war was primarily about oil.  Although it is not necessary to replicate that research here, it is important to consider the evidence in the bigger context of what U.S. foreign policy is all about.  In fact, the calls for war with Iraq over oil began well before George W. Bush was elected.  In 1997, Robert Kagan and William Kristol founded the Project for a New American Century (“PNAC”).  In January 26, 1998, seventeen PNAC members wrote to President Clinton urging regime change in Iraq, arguing that a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil was at risk if Saddam was not removed.  Eleven of the signatories would ultimately serve in the Bush Administration, including Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Paula Dobriansky, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, William Schneider, Jr., Paul Wolfowitz, and Robert Zoellick.  “[W]ithin a few months, the Republican Congress overwhelmingly passed, and the Democratic president (besieged by the Monica Lewinsky affair) reluctantly signed, the Iraq Liberation Act.  Regime change in Iraq became official American policy.”  The Assassin’s Gate at 23-24; War of Necessity, War of Choice at 165-167.

Former CIA Director George Tenet in his book, The Center of the Storm, writes that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction was merely “the public face that was put on it” by the Bush administration. Tenet writes that both Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Fieth were consumed with Iraq prior to 9/11.  In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Tenet reports that the day after 9/11 neocon Richard Perle told him “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility. . . .  The intelligence then and now, however, showed “no evidence of Iraqi complicity.”  Tenet, George.  The Center of the Storm:  My Years at the CIA (New York:  HarperCollins Publisher, 2007) p. xxi.

Paul O’Neill, George Bush Jr.’s first Treasury Secretary, was forced out of office in 2002.  Author Ron Suskind quotes O’Neil in his 2004 book, The Price of Loyalty, stating that the Bush Administration was committed to invading Iraq over oil well prior to 9/11.  According to O’Neill, war with Iraq was in the offing at the very first meeting of the National Security Council, and Dick Cheney had already prepared a chart setting out how Iraq’s oil would be divided among the oil companies following the war.  Confirming the veracity of O’Neil’s account, investigative journalist Jane Mayer reported the existence of a secret National Security Council document dated February, 2001 that stated:

The top-secret document, written by a high-level N.S.C. official, concerned Cheney’s newly formed Energy Task Force. It directed the N.S.C. staff to cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the “melding” of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: “the review of operational policies towards rogue states,” such as Iraq, and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”


In The Age of Turbulence (written while the Iraq War was ongoing), Federal Reserve Chairman is unabashedly apologetic as to why the United States went to war in Iraq:

The intense attention of the developed world to Middle Eastern political affairs has always been tied to oil security.  The reaction to, and the reversal of, Mossedeq’s nationalization of Anglo Iranian Oil in 1951 and the aborted effort of Britain and France to reverse Nasser’s takeover of the key Suez Canal link for oil flows to Europe in 1956 are but two prominent historical examples.  And whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in an area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy.

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows:  the Iraq war is largely about oil.  Thus, projections of world oil supply and demand that do not note the highly precarious environment of the Middle East are avoiding the eight-hundred pound gorilla that could bring world economic growth to a halt. Greenspan, Alan.  The Age of Turbulence:  Adventures in a New World.  (New York: The Penguin Press, 2007) p. 463 (emphasis added).

Some have argued that the flow of oil from the region has continued, more or less completely unabated amidst the general tumult of the wars of the 21st Century.  The cost of petroleum in the United States, too, has been kept artificially low, relative to the rest of the world.  Based on June prices, The International Business Times reports that the average cost of a gallon of gas is about $8.00 per gallon in Great Britain, France, and Germany.  In Italy, the cost is closer to $9.00.  But before being overcome with elation, consider that the cost of a barrel of oil was $25 in 2003.  Two wars and a number of costly interventions later, the price of oil is now at approximately $100 per a barrel.[13]

Identifying US military interventions since 1950 is complicated by definitional and doctrinal vagaries and attempting to distinguish between wars, military operations, military interventions and military occupations is not worth the effort, at least not for purposes here.  Complicating the analysis is the fact that the US rarely declares war.  Suffice-it-to-say, since the conclusion of World War II, the United States has bombed 24 countries -some multiple times – including China, 1945-46; Korea, 1950-53; China, 1950-53; Guatemala, 1954; Indonesia, 1958; Cuba, 1959-60; Guatemala, 1960; Congo, 1964; Peru, 1965; Laos, 1964-73; Vietnam, 1961-73; Cambodia, 1969-70; Guatemala, 1967-69; Grenada, 1983; Lebanon, 1984; Libya, 1986; El Salvador, 1980s; Nicaragua, 1980s; Panama, 1989; Iraq, 1991-1999; Sudan, 1998; Afghanistan, 1998; Yugoslavia, 1999; Afghanistan, 2001-present; Iraq, 2002-2011; and Libya, 2012.  If drone attacks are factored into this discussion, the number of countries bombed increases to 27 to include Pakistan, Yemin, and Somalia.  There also are unsubstantiated reports of drone bombings in the Philippines.

The United States has orchestrated and/or assisted in numerous coups around the world.  CIA also has been responsible for multiple assassinations or attempted assassinations of political leaders who were deemed to be undesirable.  For example, it is well-known that CIA was behind multiple attempts to assassinate Cuban Premiere Fidel Castro.  One particularly ham-handed attempt involved notorious Mafia bosses Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante.  Trafficante was paid to arrange the assassination of Castro but never completed his assignment.  Unbeknownst to CIA, Trafficante had a long-standing relationship with Castro and dutifully revealed information about CIA plots to Castro, all the while banking CIA money and evading any possibility of domestic prosecution in the U.S.  Trento, Joseph, The Secret History of the CIA, (New York: Random House, 2001) pp. 197-202, 345.

In the years of guerilla warfare against Batista, Castro received guns from Trafficante.  In return, Castro promised Trafficante control of gambling in Cuba once the revolution succeeded.  Trafficante also allowed Castro’s supporters to bring heroin into Miami and sell it on his turf to help finance the revolution. . . .

“Just how [influential] Trafficante was [with Castro] became clear when, after the revolution, Castro arrested Meyer Lansky’s brother, Jake.  Trafficante personally intervened to get Jake released and the casinos reopened.” Id at 199-200; Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodi, Cloak and Dollar:  A History of American Secret Intelligence, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002) p. 193.  But there are plenty of other examples, only some of which are described below:


The general aim of U.S. foreign policy is to achieve two primary objectives:  strategic and economic advantage.  There is nothing remarkable or even surprising about these objectives.  Greed is, by its nature, inherently inward-looking, and foreign policy is, if nothing else, an extension of that universal tendency.  The general interest of the polity is expected to take precedence, and it is not suggested here that the foreign policy of this country, or any other country’s for that matter, should be otherwise.

On the other hand, however, it is always appropriate to subject U.S. policies to basic, moral calculi.  And, of course, it is always appropriate to evaluate whether U.S. foreign policy is advancing its strategic and economic interests, when the fallout from U.S. policies is weighed in the balance.  Perhaps, in the case of the United States, fallout is in the eye of the beholder, and in this case the beholder is always the administration in power, administrations that always are financially beholden to the military industrial complex, big oil, and corporate interests.

Freedom House is a Washington, D.C. think tank that conducts research on democracy, freedom, and human rights.  In its annual report, Freedom in the World 2013, seven nations received the lowest possible rankings for both political rights and civil liberties:  Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  It should come as no surprise that the United States provides significant economic, military and diplomatic support to the governments of four of these countries:  Saudi Arabia, Equatorial Guinea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. 

The only apparent justification for U.S. support, which has occurred during both the Bush and Obama Administrations, is the significant presence in these countries of large oil and/or natural gas reserves:  (1) Saudi Arabia possesses the largest oil reserves in the world; (2) Equatorial Guinea possesses huge oil reserves; (3) Uzbekistan possesses and/or controls huge oil and natural gas reserves; and (4) Turkmenistan possesses world’s fifth-largest natural gas reserves.[15]

But the remaining three countries on the list, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan, all have oil reserves. So, what gives?  Well, Sudan’s oil industry is dominated by China National Petroleum Corporation, which controls 40 per cent of the largest oil consortiums.

As an aside, China also purchases two-thirds of Sudan’s oil output.

Eritrea and Somalia?  Both have extensive oil reserves, but at the moment, Eritrea is not interested in developing them.  Somalia, on the other hand, is being actively courted.  Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, hosted a conference on Somalia in 2012 in what The Observer termed:

a “secret high-stakes dash for oil in Somalia” in return for British humanitarian aid and security assistance. The revelation and British Foreign Minister William Hague’s comments during his visit to Somalia, where he talked about “the beginnings of an opportunity to rebuild the country”, cast a question mark over London’s, and indeed the entire western world’s humanitarian endeavors with some commentators going as far as dubbing the summit as ‘aid for oil’.

Even if one accepts the premise that the sole purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to advance purely selfish interests, it is difficult to contend that the U.S. is even achieving that objective through its policies, given the blowback.  And if the blowback is worth it – and that argument is not advanced here – what are the justifications that Americans who are outside the decision-making process don’t know?

Looking at the Middle East today, there is no evidence of any meaningful “nation building.”  Leaving politics aside, the Obama Administration has six years in office with little to show for itself.  But this merely proves the point that U.S. foreign policy is less about the political party holding office and more about political power and money.  To the extent politics enters the equation at all, it is more directed at whether a given administration is being more, or less, aggressive than desired by the opposing party.  The same, amorphous abstractions are used by both political parties to justify foreign policies and objectives that rarely seem to deviate too much from the other.[16]  The foreign policy of both the Clinton and Obama Administrations seems to be driven by “crisis” as opposed to discernible policy objectives.  Recent Republican administrations can be characterized by policies that more aggressively pursue obvious imperial policies.  But both parties essentially have pursued the same policy of self-aggrandizement at the expense of the less powerful and the disenfranchised around the world.

Any suggestion that the U.S. has spent trillions and trillions of dollars since 9/11 fighting wars around the world to spread democracy should be given the same credence as Kerry’s pronouncement that Syria constitutes a “Munich moment.”  None.

Any reader shocked by this statement shouldn’t be, because the proof has been before the public for some time.  In a telling colloquy that appears in The Assassin’s Gate, the author relates an off-the-cuff comment made by Joe Biden in December 2003 about the Bush Administration, and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, in particular:  “My bet from day one – I hope I am wrong – has been that the dominant element of this administration was going to be the neorealists, Cheney and Rumsfeld, who are no more committed to nation building than this table is committed to go home with me in my back pocket.”  The Assassin’s Gate at 42.  Whether Biden was right is beside the point, because the Obama Administration has evinced no tangible evidence of nation building.  To the extent that it has, the only evidence is that it is not actively pursued the same imperialistic tendencies of the Bush Administration with the same fervor.

The United States rarely, if ever, acknowledges the actual reasons for intervening abroad.  Hiding behind a veil of excessive and unwarranted of secrecy, the U.S. government is in the full-time business of dissimulating all the time.  Just listen to a Jay Carney press conference.  Indeed, one of the primary premises of Chalmers Johnson’s book, Blowback, is that American citizens are deliberately not provided with information that would allow citizens to make informed decisions:  “Largely by design, much of America’s imperial politics takes place well below the sight lines of the American Public.”  Blowback at 65.

Reviewing the past thirteen years, the United States cannot escape the shadow of two disastrous wars that have destabilized the entire region, and resulted in terrorist elements moving back to Northern Africa.  The U.S. will never publicly acknowledge that the war against Iraq was about oil or that the ongoing negotiations with the Karzai government over the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan have more to do with the oil reserves under the Caspian Sea, among the largest oil reserves in the world.[17] (See here and here).

In virtually every instance of U.S. involvement in the internal affairs of foreign countries from the end of World War II to the end of the cold war, U.S. officials have justified intervention on the basis of protecting the world from Communism, language that is a periphrasis for protecting American corporate interests.  Following the end of the cold war, the public justification for U.S. foreign intervention changed to the protection of or spread of democracy.  But even the most cursory review of this country’s foreign policy history over the last 65 years refutes the claim that democracy is the motivation.  To the contrary, the United States’ lengthy history of assassinations, overthrowing democratically-elected governments, and supporting murderous regimes is the norm, not the exception.

If, ultimately, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were really about oil – and the body of evidence suggesting that is the case continues to grow – hopefully, Americans will have the collective memory and collective will to hold those responsible accountable.  But more important than retribution, the United States should engage in serious cost benefit analyses and consider what the $3-$7 trillion the U.S. has spent in wars and interventions in the Middle East might have accomplished if spent differently.

Using a defendable estimate of the actual cost of the Iraq War, authors Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes pose alternatives:

A trillion dollars could have built 8 million additional housing units, could have hired 15 million additional public school teachers for one year; could have paid for 120 million children to attend a year of Head Start; or insured 530 million children for health care for one year; or provided 43 million students with four-year scholarships at public universities.  Now multiply those numbers by three.

The Three Trillion Dollar War at xv.  Then multiply them by six.  Perhaps several trillion dollars pumped into the infrastructure of the U.S. might have helped the economy just a bit.  To those who would argue otherwise, consider how we could have done any worse.  And for those who advocate additional war in the Middle East, please recognize for whom you are lobbying:  it’s not the American public.

Ultimately, there are only several possibilities to explain U.S. behavior around the world.  Either the United States’ policy (1) is incompetent, (2) is both venal and incompetent, or (3) is merely venal.[18]

You decide.

The information in this article has been previously reported.  It was not written for those who are intimately familiar with the America’s history of foreign military and CIA interventions.  It was written for those who are not.

[2] Israel’s role in U.S. policy in the Middle East is complicated.  Charles Freeman, Jr., Chairman, Projects International; Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Former President, Middle East Policy Council has observed:

[The U.S.] has pursued two main but disconnected objectives in West Asia and North Africa: on the one hand, Americans have sought strategic and economic advantage in the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf, and Egypt; on the other, support for the consolidation of the Jewish settler state in Palestine. These two objectives of U.S. policy in the Middle East have consistently taken precedence over the frequently professed American preference for democracy.  These objectives are politically contradictory. They also draw their rationales from distinct moral universes. U.S. relations with the Arab countries and Iran have been grounded almost entirely in unsentimental calculations of interest. The American relationship with Israel, by contrast, has rested almost entirely on religious and emotional bonds. This disconnect has precluded any grand strategy.

[4] Based on the history and behavior set forth above for consideration, it is arguable that the U.S. set about “maintaining a global empire” at the end of World War II.

[6] The U.S. should get comfortable with the terrain and climate in North Africa, which is becoming the new garrison for Islamic terrorists.

[7] My discussions with numerous former government and CIA officials confirm that support for the Mubarak Government was untenable in the face of the Arab Spring.  It is clear, however, that U.S. intelligence failed to anticipate these developments in Egypt, which is its primary function.

[8] See Haass, Richard.  War of Necessity, War of Choice:  A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars 9New York:  Simon & Schuster 2009) p. 235 (“The arguments put forward for going to war – noncompliance with UN resolutions, possession of weapons of mass destruction – turned out to be essentially window dressing, trotted out to build domestic and international support for a policy that had been forged mostly for other reasons.”)

[9] The gravamen of Stockman’s argument is confirmed by Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and former principle advisor to Colin Powell from 2001 to 2003.  War of Necessity, War of Choice at 267-278.

[10] The survey also found that 76 percent of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States in 2002, compared with 98 percent in 2004. In Morocco, 61 percent viewed the U.S. unfavorably in 2002, but that number rose to 88 percent in 2004.  In Saudi Arabia, the figures were 87 percent in 2002 and 94 percent in 2004.

[12] Jason Leopold has written:

By March 2001, Cheney’s task force had prepared a set of documents with a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a list titled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts,” according to information released in July 2003 under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch.
A Commerce Department spokesman issued a brief statement when those documents were released stating that Cheney’s energy task force “evaluated regions of the world that are vital to global energy supply.”  There has long been speculation that a key reason why Cheney fought so hard to keep his task force documents secret was that they may have included information about the administration’s plans toward Iraq.  

[15] For a description of the abysmal civil and human rights abuses see this report from Digital Journal.

[16] Foreign policy approaches to Israel do differ by administration.

[17] “In February 1998, Unocal Corporation testified to the House Committee on Internal Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific that the “Taliban government in Afghanistan is an obstacle” to having an oil pipeline from the Caspian region to the Indian Ocean – that is, through Afghanistan. In 1997, Unocal even tried to woo the Taliban with billions of dollars to support the proposed pipeline through their country. The unrecognized Taliban government, however, was a set back to their plans.

Having a government in Afghanistan that is beholden to U.S. interests, along with stationing U.S. troops in the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, would secure the region and allow this project to proceed. And just in time, as far as the U.S. oil companies are concerned, because there is international competition for the Caspian Sea oil resources.

Russia and German companies had been trying to establish a pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Eastern Europe, but U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia blocked this plan. Russia, however, also brokered a treaty with Iran for a pipeline route. China also began negotiating to build oil and gas pipelines from Kazakhstan. In January 2001, oil industry journals lamented that any chance the U.S. had of cementing alliances in the region seemed doomed. They noted, however, that the incoming Bush administration, heavy in oil and related interests, would likely try to reverse this trend.  (www.caucasuswatch.com).” 

[18] In this context, “venal” means pursuing courses of action that produce results like those discussed in this article, actions that result in civilian killing on a massive scale, the suppression of democracy and human rights, and the arrant pursuit of U.S. corporate interests no matter what the cost in human misery.

George Brent Mickum is executive editor and general counsel of The Public Record. He lives in Washington, D.C. where he is an attorney and businessman. 

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1 Response for “Reflections On American Power And Foreign Policy”

  1. John Wiseman says:

    I Was shocked to read that you describe the human disaster of 9/11, 2001, as “blowback because of American Foreign Policy”.
    If you had said “the blowback because of American Foreign Policy” was used as an INSTRUMENT to IMPLEMENT the horrific incident,
    it might have been an approximation toward truth.

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