During the KSU/Basta on ISIS and Iraq, Abulkasim Al-Jaberi, journalist and political activist shared a sharp analysis on the rise of the Islamic State and the role of the West. We publish here the second part of his text. The publication consists of three parts.
The US and Saudi push for Wahhabism
This is as far as the most recent Iraq invasion goes. Now let’s look at the history of Wahhabism, the Saudi puritanical ideology that has been promoted for decades by the US and the Saudis in an effort to neutralize what they describe as the threat of popular sentiment. We will see that this has become the driving ideological force of such groups as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic state.
In the 1950s and ’60s Arab countries witnessed an upsurge in what scholar Vijay Prashad has called ”Third World Nationalism”. Movements like the Nasserists of Egypt, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman sprung up. And what these movements had in common, is that they shared a contempt towards what they regarded as Western imperialism. Their answer to colonial meddling took the form of a secular nationalist agenda. In Egypt for instance, this translated into land reforms, economic nationalization, and other social programs. Gamal Abd Annasr enjoyed an immense popularity, not just in Egypt, but all over the Arab world movements were inspired by such moves as the nationalization of the Suez canal. This formed a direct threat to the Western corporate ownership of much of Egypt’s economy at the time, and in 1956, Britain, France and Israel decided to invade Egypt in an attempt at containing this threat. Elsewhere, third world nationalist movements were crushed by the US through a policy of regime change. Top-level U.S. government documents describe as a threat to U.S. interests ”radical” and ”nationalistic regimes” who seek ”immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses” which contradicts ”a political and economic climate conductive to private investment” and ”the protection of our [sic] raw materials”. Note the language here, they speak of our raw materials. Of course there is no space for sovereignty of a people over their countries’ resources in the imperialist mindset.
A very striking example, bearing directly on oil interests, is Iran. In Iran, the first democratically elected president, Mohamed Mossadeq, also introduced social reforms. He permanently ended an agreement signed with BP in 1901, which gave BP exclusive rights to prospect for oil for a period of 60 years. Mossadeq was overthrown by a joint effort of the US and British intelligence agencies, and the pro western Shah came to power. Mossadeq was so popular in Iran that an earlier attempt by the Shah to depose him was met with riots by the people. So the British knocked the door of the Americans, and convinced them his regime was weak, and easy to fall prey to what they called the communist threat. The US, in a national security council meeting in 1953, was very frank about the policy of controlling oil resources through regime change. Im quoting the memorandum from that meeting here: “Not only would the free world be deprived of the enormous assets represented by Iranian oil production and reserves, but the Russians would secure these assets and thus henceforth be free of any anxiety about their petroleum situation. If Iran succumbed to the Communists there was little doubt that in short order the other areas of the Middle East, with some 60% of the world’s oil reserves, would fall into Communist control.” And it’s not that these policy objectives have ever been a secret, but this information is just drowned out in the midst of all the humanitarian language about liberating people.
Once again, what we see here is that waging a war against popular movements who seek the improvement of their people is a central tenet of US foreign policy, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s look at what top level US officials have to say:
Q1: Early 40s – top US planners, as was revealed by internal documents, stated that- ´[we must] hold unquestioned power´ and pursue ´an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy´.
Q2: 1944: top State Department planners: Middle-East’s oil is ‘a stupendous source of strategic power’ and ‘one of the greatest material prizes in world history’
Q3: Fast forward to 1992, as outlined in the defence planning guidence: ¨[ME is] a region whose resources would under consolidated control be sufficient to generate global power¨
These imperial ambitions are still reflected today. For those who think this is something of past US administrations, this is what Obama had to say when he addressed the UN last year:
President Obama: “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War. We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.”
Obama is here threatening openly with using his full military arsenal if anyone dare challenge US hegemony.
Iraq is no exception to this rule. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein reached power ”on an American train” according to top-members of his party. Fearing a take-over by Iraq’s immensely popular progressive movement -”radical Arabs” as the State Department called them- the CIA provided Saddam with lists of left-wing nationalists, and Saddam Hussein moved on to imprison and execute them. The threat of popular sentiment was now neutralized. The consolidation of Saddam Hussein’s power meant keeping in place a loyal proxy government to ensure strategic access to this greatest material prize in world history. Perhaps this explains why in 1980, to reward Saddam Hussein for his loyalty, he was named honorary citizen of Detroit. Im not making this up.
Regime change can of course not be executed everywhere, at any given moment. So this has not been the only instrument of control the US has employed. Besides arming dictatorships, Western powers have for decades attempted to undermine nationalism by encouraging Islamism as a counterweight. Former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher perfectly formulated this policy at the time, when she said: “It is in our own interests, as well as in the interests of the people of that region, that they build on their own deep religious traditions” instead of what she termed ”imported Marxism.” The Saudi monarchy too was threatened by this nationalistic surge, and they have played a crucial role in realizing Thatcher’s vision. Since the fifties, they have relentlessly exported a specific form of Islamism, namely Wahhabism. And this has been the ideological engine of Jihadist movements, including al-Qaeda, and its offshoot, the Islamic State. Wahhabism is a puritanical ideology that regards nationalistic movements, Shiites, and anything deviating from a very narrow set of politically motivated laws as heretical. Mind you, this is not some natural Islamic current. It is an instrument of control. The political elite in Saudi Arabia, the Monarchy, has used it to control every aspect of their subjects’ lives, and to maintain a firm grip on power. And they have done so effectively. As everybody here probably knows, there is no such thing as political life in Saudi Arabia besides the King’s holy laws. This form of unchecked and unconditional power is of course challenged by masses in the streets demanding change. Third world Nationalism was at least in theory opposed to hierarchy, and the rule of one clan, the Al Saud, over every aspect of life. This was of course diametrically opposed to what the Monarchy had in mind. So when a revolution took place in Iran in 1979 that deposed the pro Western Shah, American weapons and intelligence, and Gulf and Saudi money flowed into Saddam Hussein’s coffers. This popular uprising had to be contained lest it inspires subjects of the monarchy to do the same. Saddam then moved on to invade Iran. What followed was a bloody war that lasted 8 years. At least one million people died as a result.
The Saudis were thus more than aware of the threat posed by political upheaval. And so they put their petro dollars to use. In 1962, the Saudi crown prince Faysal received 111 Ulema, muslim learned men in the Kingdom. The purpose of their visit was very clear, they created the World Muslim League, an organization aimed specifically at dealing with the secular nationalist threat. The conclusions drawn at the conference speak very clear language: “Those who disavow Islam and distort its call under the guise of nationalism are actually the most bitter enemies of the Arabs, whose glories are entwined with the glories of Islam.” Of course, they get to determine what Islam means. What followed was large sums of money being spent to create networks of mosques, charities, political organizations and cultural centers through which the Saudis could assert soft power. These newly created platforms were used to glorify Wahhabism, while demonizing secularism and nationalism. Saudi and US interests thus converged here, and this is partly what explains their unshakeable ties. It also explains why Saudi Arabia is one of the largest markets for US arms. In 2010, the US sold 60 billion dollars worth of military aircraft to the monarchy, the largest US arms sale ever. This included 84 F-15 fighter jets and 80 Apache attack helicopters. Ever since relations between the countries have been predicated upon the primacy of U.S. interests in Saudi oil policies in exchange for US military protection of the House of Saud dynasty. In 1943 Roosevelt declared “the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States.” Two years later, the US established Dharan Airbase on Saudi soil followed by a permanent training mission of the Saudi security forces in 1951. Other countries in the oil-producing Gulf region, like Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have followed the Saudi example.
The Gulf is now dotted with U.S. military bases, from which the US can deploy substantial military force to any oil well in the region within a few moments. The US, moreover, exerts virtually exclusive military control over oil routes and pipelines in and from the region.
In fact, the US is the ”dominant military… power” in the Middle East, says former US National Security Council staff member Gary Sick.
Yet again, statements made by American leaders reflect the policy we see on the ground.
In a released Washington memo summarizing a discussion about the Muslim Brotherhood between former U.S. president Eisenhower and a CIA operative, the president says ”we should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect” as to undermine nationalist movements in the Arab world.
CIA agent James Russel Barracks confirmed the US had ”an extensive program” to fund religious cells, including the direct ancestors of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network. The US role in creating jihadists groups becomes more explicit if we look at Afghanistan. Billions were spent on financing, training and arming the Afghan Taliban in 1980s to fight off the Russians. A US diplomat commented ”Taliban will develop like the Saudis did. There will be…no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that”.Ronald Reagan even referred to mujahideen fighters as ‘freedom fighters. With the help of Pakistani intelligence, the US armed and trained mujahideen fighters from Afghanistan and elsewhere in camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of these recruits was a Saudi businessman,Osama bin Laden. It is here that he made contacts that he then used to form al Qaeda in the early 1990s. Throughout the 1980s, a steady flow of US arms made sure the Islamist insurgents would never run out of weapons. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the military aid, the US provided C-4 plastic explosives, long-range sniper rifles, wire-guided anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. The US not only armed and trained the Islamists, they also poured money into the region: some US $3 billion, more than any other aid program to insurgent groups, was spent on this effort.
In other words, to eliminate political opponents bent on throwing out Western corporate giants, a US Saudi alliance has been feeding the al-Qaeda founding ideology for decades. The US has proved willing to arm and fund whatever group or state that coincides with its strategic objectives. Democracy has never been a consideration in this. Decades of support to the Saudi monarchy, infamous for its human rights violations, and the virtual creation of the Taliban, should attest to the US’s deep seated hatred of democracy. Statements by veteran US National Security advisor Zbigniew Brezinski confirm this hatred. In the wake of the Arab spring, when popular uprisings swept the region, he qualified “regimes responsive to popular attitudes” as a “problem, that the US must deal with seriously. He explained ”Arab elites are more inclined to accommodate our wishes…That is not the case with the Arab masses” because their ”attitudes are…quite critical of American foreign policy – and especially so in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.”
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