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Recent attacks on American embassies and consulates in numerous Muslim countries are claimed to be irrational and undue reactions to a film portraying the Muslim prophet Mohammed in a degraded manner. The film is intentionally sacrilegious and incendiary toward Islamic beliefs and seems intended to add fuel to the rage of a Muslim world already incensed at the U.S. for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for destructive American drone attacks in Yemen and Somalia and multiple other nations, and one-sided support for Israel accompanied by platitudes for Palestinians. Thus, the roots of widespread anti-Americanism are much deeper than can be explained merely by recent events. Instead, Muslim fury can be traced to the ever increasing intervention by Washington in Muslim countries since the end of World War II. Prior to that, the U.S. was considered a non-interventionist, even anti-imperialist, friend in much of the region. Yet, even before the war ended President Roosevelt made a secret deal with the Saudi king to provide American protection (and ultimately arms as well, used primarily to suppress his own population) to the Saudis in return for unobstructed American corporate access to the recently discovered Saudi oilfields.
Few today remember American policies during the Iranian crisis of 1946, when the U.S. obliquely threatened to force Soviet Troops out of Iran. American, British and Soviet troops occupied Iran in 1941 because it had tilted toward the Nazis under the father of the later American client, Shah Reza Pahlavi. The Soviets occupied the oil fields of northern Iran with Washington’s approval during the war to prevent them from falling into Nazi hands. The Soviets were supposed to withdraw in March of that year but refused until a deal could be arranged whereby the USSR could purchase Iranian oil in order to begin rebuilding its war-ravaged society. Initially the Truman Administration encouraged the Iranian government to accept the deal. Then when the Red Army did withdraw also encouraged the Iranians to renege on the arrangement. It is worth noting that the Red Army did not then re-occupy the territory, thereby putting the lie to the claim made immediately after WWII that the Soviets were bent on world domination. There was nothing, not even employing atomic weapons, that the U.S. could have done to stop the Red Army had it chosen to reoccupy Iran’s oilfields since that would have destroyed the very resources that were being contested. The Soviets were only one of the principal obstacles to American post-war plans- though they were trumpeted as the prime mover. Equally important was nationalism, especially the sort of national independence craved by countries possessing vital resources that the U.S. coveted. Few also realize that until WWII the U.S. was the prime exporter of petroleum. By war’s end the U.S. had used so much of its domestic oil, and its hydrocarbon-based economy had grown so exponentially, that from that point on the U.S. was impelled to begin importing oil.
Many do remember the overthrow of the prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeqh in 1953. Exceeding its legal mandate to gather intelligence, the newly minted Central Intelligence Agency, initiated its first successful overthrow of a constitutional and elected government because that government decided that Iranian oil belonged to the Iranians and not to the British oil company that would eventually become British Petroleum. The American scheme was calculated to ensure that American companies would thereafter dominate Iranian oil production and get rid of most British competition in Iran as well. The Shah and his brutal government was then installed to act as Washington’s gendarme in the region. To ensure his rule the U.S. military and CIA then trained his dreaded secret police in the fine arts of torture and terror.
Meanwhile the CIA was active in similar efforts across the planet to undermine any form of nationalism, socialism, or communism that would interfere with the overarching American agenda, which was not the promotion of “democracy” but the installation of friendly clients into positions of power in countries considered strategic for their resources or geographic position. Space does not allow a complete catalog but of importance to current events is certainly the role the “Company” played in the overthrow of the British client king of Iraq in 1958, an intrigue in which Saddam Hussein played a role and that led eventually to his dictatorship, one with which Washington was happy to cooperate after the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979. The famous film of Donald Rumsfeld warmly shaking Saddam’s hand perfectly illustrates the lower depths to which Washington has too often stooped to achieve its ends. The U.S. provided highly technical intelligence to Iraq against Iran, aiding the mass slaughter that ensued, and when he used poison gas made from chemicals provided by American corporations against Iraqi Kurds during the war with Iran, Washington prevented sanctions against his regime. At that point he was assisting the American agenda to weaken Iranian fundamentalism so his crimes could be whitewashed. However, his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 became the perfect rationale to inject what evolved into a permanent American military presence in the Persian Gulf.
At the time of 9-11 Michael Scheur was the CIA’s foremost expert on Al Qaeda. His writings emphasize that Americans had to take seriously the reasons spelled out by Osama Bin Laden for Al Qaeda’s antagonism toward the U.S. One of those principal motivations was the American military presence in Saudi Arabia during and after Operation Desert Storm. Bin Laden said clearly that the presence of “infidel” troops on sacred Islamic soil was a desecration. Thereafter, all American forces were to be driven from all Islamic lands. The widespread perception in the Muslim world that Americans had defiled the holiest sites of Islam and were exploiting Muslim resources while propping up corrupt dictatorial apostates like the rulers of the Arab Gulf states contributed to the relative ease with which al Qaeda could recruit new Jihadis to its cause.
Scheur also noted that bin Laden said that the attacks on 9-11 were intended to promote further intervention by Washington in the region and thus promote more of the anti-Americanism that he hoped would fuel his movement. To a great extent American actions have worked almost precisely to Bin Laden’s plan and the current explosion of violence around the world toward the U.S. is a direct outgrowth of the increasing resentment and hatred long stored in memory across the Middle East. Washington is reaping the violent whirlwind sowed by itself.
The so-called “Arab Spring” represented an upwelling of long-simmering opposition to numerous dictatorships in the region, most of them propped up by Washington with a few exceptions that rankled like Libya and Syria. Though President Obama and Hillary Clinton mouthed piously about popular democracy and the “will of the people,” such didn’t help the hapless residents of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where instantaneous and brutal repression followed, with mere sighs from Washington. Remember that at first, President Obama supported Hosni Mubarak in Egypt until the intensity of the demonstrations in Cairo forced the U.S to abandon him. But not before the Egyptian military high command stepped up to reassure the State Department that it would take his place. Then they threw Mubarak “under the bus.” Nevertheless, the sheer pressure of popular demand for a voice necessitated an election. Since the Egyptian Army is financed and armed by Washington, and Egypt receives the second largest sum of foreign aid (after Israel) widespread knowledge that the Egyptian Army is a creature of the U.S. led to victory in the elections by the despised Muslim Brotherhood. After the election the Egyptian courts sought to prevent the seating of this Parliament dominated by the Brotherhood and with representation by the even more vehement Salafists, but the newly seated president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, does indeed represent the Brotherhood. One reason the Army allowed the elections was because its leadership feared that rank and file troops would not support repression in the face of such an uprising from the depths of their own social origins. Morsi is being very careful now. It remains to be seen how the new configuration of power, of Islamists vs. the Army, will evolve.
The killing of the American ambassador and three other Americans in Libya prompted an embittered Secretary Clinton to ask how those who owed their “liberation” to the U.S. could be so ungrateful to their emancipators, thereby confirming how little she understands of the circumstances fostering the Libyan uprising, nor those her government has wrought, or the degree to which the planned outcome of U.S. intervention islikely to fail utterly. The standard interpretation of what transpired in Libya is that the U.S. and its European allies in NATO conducted a humanitarian intervention to rid Libya of another brutal dictator. It is true that Muammar Qaddaffi ruled autocratically but in this he was supported by a substantial majority at least in western Libya, where traditional tribes were loyal.
Libya came into existence as an independent state only in 1951. Before that it had been an Italian colony, or rather three separate colonies cobbled together and given the name the ancient Romans called most of North Africa. In its efforts to subdue these colonies Italy became the very first European empire to use the airplane in primitive bombing runs on resisting tribes. In this they were soon followed by the French in Syria and Lebanon, and by the British in Iraq and Afghanistan, facts still well remembered in the region. Therefore, like so many nations that acquired independence after World War II, Libya was an artificial construct, merging mutually suspicious or hostile ethnic groups and tribes into a configuration designed by former colonial masters to serve their interests. When Qaddaffi overthrew the corrupt king of Libya in 1969, who made sweetheart deals with western oil companies, and hoarded revenues from Libya’s newly discovered oil, he took over a country already riven with tribal animosities. One of his difficulties was that much of Libya’s oil was in the east, where tribes different from his own loyalists dwelled. He suppressed opposition brutally.
Another problem which Quaddaffi dealt with successfully – and which brought him the unending hostility of the west and led to a deadly cat and mouse game that played out over forty years- were those western oil companies that dominated the industry and reaped the greatest share of profits. Qaddaffi immediately nationalized oil but allowed some companies to remain. However, he imposed significantly higher taxes and royalties on those, like the American company Occidental, resulting in a considerable increase in revenues available to him but he used these to raise the standard of living substantially, mainly for his loyalists, but also to an extent for the entire population. Whether his example stimulated what followed is unclear but the facts are that numerous other former oil producing colonies of the western powers subsequently initiated their own nationalizations, thereby upsetting longstanding and profitable western arrangements. He also refused to peg the Libyan currency, the dinar, to the International Monetary Fund, and refused to submit to the World Bank and International Bank for Settlements. Qaddaffi also styled himself the champion of pan-Arabism, the movement to unify the entire Arab world and funded many nationalist movements hostile to the west.
During all this time the CIA was actively involved with Qaddaffi’s opponents to find a way to overthrow him. This lethal contest led to mutual terrorism (though most American media and scholarly accounts omit the U.S. actions) and culminating in the atrocity of Lockerbie, followed by the bombing of Libya, including Qaddaffi’s house where his adoptive three year old daughter was killed. Qaddaffi then intensified efforts to acquire chemical weapons, and even undertook a nuclear program. However sanctions led him to submit the Lockerbie suspects for trial in the UK, and later to give up these WMD programs. At that point western media reports declared that Qaddaffi had “normalized’” affairs with the west.
Whatever he imagined about his new relations with former enemies, the CIA had other ideas. So when the “Arab Spring” erupted in Tunisia and soon spread across the entire region, many Libyans followed suit and Libya descended into the civil war that Washington and NATO then leapt upon in order to accomplish finally what the western governments and energy corporations had desired all along- the overthrow of Qaddaffi and his replacement with an installed government essentially of handpicked clients who would restore Libyan resources to western corporate domination. In the midst of fighting the private global intelligence company STRATFOR published and circulated a detailed map showing most of Libya’s oil was located in the eastern area of Benghazi. It was also well known that the oil Libya produced was of a type that is refined easily into the gasoline required in European automobiles. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham waxed feverishly over the lure of profits, braying “Let’s get in on the ground. There’s a lot of money to be made in Libya. Lots of oil to be produced. Let’s get on the ground and help the Libyan people establish a democracy and a functioning economy based on free market principles.” Even before the “revolution” had succeeded and a new government was installed, the rebel group claiming authority announced the dissolution of Qaddaffi’s national bank and replaced it with a new central bank tied to international institutions, which, of course, are dominated by the western financial establishment.
As media images showed clearly, Qaddaffi still had enormous support. The “rebels” included eastern tribal members long hostile to rule from western Libya, but also ethnic minorities like the Berbers, but also Libyan members of al Qaeda as well as al Qaeda jihadists from around the Arab and Muslim world. Included in the toxic mix were CIA operatives and covert American Special Forces. Without western arms supplied to Qaddaffi’s opponents, and especially the U.S. led bombing campaign it is likely Qaddaffi would have hung on. The result we see today, however, was utterly predictable.
The so-called government installed in Tripoli, in the west of Libya, has no control over anything, especially in eastern Benghazi. In May the interim prime minister’s offices were attacked with four aides killed. In June a bomb exploded in the same consulate building where Ambassador Stevens was killed. The British ambassador narrowly escaped assassination last spring. The January ransacking of the National Transition Council offices provides evidence that factions in Benghazi want independence, not the unified state. What more would it have taken for Washington to realize that its best laid plans were going awry? Writing in the Guardian, Benjamin Barber notes that at minimum 100,000 militants of one faction or another, all armed with American and NATO weapons (including the rocket-propelled-grenade launchers used against the American consulate) continue to wage war or jihad upon each other, and that al Qaeda is as much a home –grown faction as any other. Indeed, al Qaeda raised its flag over the Benghazi courthouse the day after Qaddaffi was killed.
On March 2, 2007 Retired General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO forces, and 2004 Democratic contender for the presidency, appeared on Amy Goodman’s televised program Democracy Now. In the interview he revealed that shortly before the invasion of Iraq a highly placed Pentagon officer divulged a secret plan to him to overthrow the governments of seven countries-Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Speaking in San Francisco the following October Clark repeated this and added commentary about a conversation he had in 1992 with Paul Wolfowitz, a prime architect of George W. Bush’s policies, who at the time was number three in the Defense department. Quoting Wolfowitz Clark said: “One thing we learned [in the Persian Gulf War] is that we can use our military in the region- in the Middle East- and the Soviets won’t stop us. And we’ve got five or ten years to clean up those old Soviet regimes – Syria, Iran, Iraq- before the next superpower comes along to stop us.”
The Neo-Conservatives were supposed to have been swept from power by the new Obama Administration, and yet the withdrawal (that is not really a withdrawal) from Iraq was negotiated by Bush, and the “surge” in Afghanistan ordered by Obama out neo-conned the neo-cons, just as the “liberation” of Libya certainly followed their template if not their foolish expectations. Syria awaits our humanitarian ministrations. But that may prove the most disastrous escapade of all.
Paul Atwood is Interim Director of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, and faculty in the American Studies Department, University of Massachusetts-Boston, and member of the Smedley Butler Brigade, the Boston chapter of Veterans for Peace. He is the author of War and Empire: the American Way of Life.