Hedges and Paul Jay
discuss the history of Saudi-promoted Jihadism and blowback as ISIS attacks
their former allies
column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign
correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He
has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian
Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New
York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. He has
written nine books, including "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and
the Triumph of Spectacle" (2009), "I Don't Believe in Atheists"
(2008) and the best-selling "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the
War on America" (2008). His book "War Is a Force That Gives Us
Meaning" (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
Paul Jay, Senior Editor, TRNN:
Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay.
attacks from Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia to Baghdad, and of course many other
places in the world, the news of the day is all about ISIS. This gets reported
in a very isolated way, without much historical context at all. This Wahhabism,
extreme, radical Islam, whatever terminology you want to use, the thing that
doesn't get said very often is to what extent this was all a tool of US foreign
policy and for decades.
relationship with the Saud family was concretized in a meeting in 1945 on Great
Bitter Lake when President Roosevelt meets King Ibn Saud and they more or less
concretize a deal there to American support for the Saudi regime in exchange
for American hegemony over Middle Eastern oil. It begins the use of Wahhabism
throughout the region and even becomes explicit under Eisenhower.
us to talk about this is Chris Hedges. Chris is a prize winning journalist.
He's a columnist at Truthdig. He was a former Middle East bureau chief for the
New York Times. Thanks for joining us, Chris.
Hedges: Sure, Paul.
Jay: So, Eisenhower. There's a quote,
and I have not been able to find the exact quote today, but it more or less is
that we, meaning the United States, and as part of the Eisenhower doctrine,
which was a doctrine which, if I understand it correctly, explicitly got
Congress to legislate the use of American force to assert US interest in the
quote which is more or less from Eisenhower where he says we should use the
Saudis' control of Mecca and their prestige in the Islamic world to fight
Nasserism, socialism and nationalism throughout the Arab world, and essentially
use the Saudis to spread Wahhabism all over the pan-Arab world in order to
fight, they called, international communism, but I think it's more about
fighting Arab nationalism.
what's your take on how this, the significance of the roots of this?
Hedges: Well, Wahhabism goes back as a
sect, a fanatical sect, to the Ottoman Empire. And the common kind of wisdom in
the Middle East is that the British secret service used Wahhabism as a way to
create divisions and unrest within the Ottoman Empire. And one of the things
that's often not understood about these Wahhabi religious leaders made
an alliance with the
House of Saud, basically just bandits at the time, giving them religious
legitimacy which they needed in order to control Mecca and Medina.
made war against the Sufis. We still have a lot of Sufis in Turkey, but when I
was covering Egypt for the New York Times they would go into Sufi mosques
Sufis are largely pacifists, mystics and gun them all down or blow them up. So,
the spread of Wahhabism which has been sanctioned by the United States for
decades, as you correctly point out, and funded by oil revenues, has led to groups
like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
And in the
beginning these groups received tremendous sums of money. It's funnelled
through the Islamic charities, but these Islamic charities are just massive,
you know, incredibly wealthy organizations that are able to donate tens if not
ultimately hundreds of millions of dollars. And so groups like Al Qaeda, groups
like ISIS which preach a kind of Islam that appeals to certainly the
harder-line elements within Wahhabism, receive not only money but weapons.
eventually, under US pressure, the Saudis are forced to back off, especially as
ISIS grows and becomes a threat to the Saudi regime itself. And we've seen the
same thing happen in Turkey. Under US pressure, Erdogan is now giving carte
blanche to jihadists who travel through Turkey in order to get to Syria. All
these jihadists have Turkish cell phones. A lot of them, you know, do their
money transfers through Turkey. I mean, they use Turkey as a kind of a
logistical base, and as Turkey has shut that down, of course we have seen the
attacks that have taken place, the most recent one being, of course, in the
airport in Istanbul.
we're seeing, and we've seen essentially the same thing happen since 2014 in
Saudi Arabia, is kind of blowback, because the quid pro quo that the Saudi
regime has with these radical groups is that you won't, you know, carry out
this kind of activity, this kind of terrorist activity, on the soil of Saudi
Arabia. So that's what we're watching at the moment.
reason I raised the historical context is that if you want to talk about what
to do about it, about ISIS, and anywhere from Trump's we're going to wipe them
out I’m not sure what that means, because wipe them out
means either massive ground troop, American ground troops, or massive carpet bombing in parts of Iraq and
Syria. So I know what
Hedges: That won't
work in an area the size of Texas. I mean, what our response, which is, of
course, you know, saturation bombing of cities like Raqqa, is precisely what we're seeing. That as
These people doesn’t have an air force. Suicide bombers are, in essence, their
air force or their militarized drones. They have 20 thousand foreign fighters.
Four to five thousand of them carry EU passports. You know, it was only a matter of time before they
sent back to the heart of empire, back to the countries that have been making
their life a living hell, to carry out these This is, I
would be highly surprised if this was not the beginning of a very frightening
wave of attacks.
not the United States? Because where you have anywhere, you know, several
thousand jihadists out of France alone, it's impossible for the French secret
service or internal security to follow that number of people. Same with
Belgium. Same with Britain, ultimately. But it's estimated that there's only
about 175 to 200 US citizens, and so those people are much easier because it's
a much smaller number. They're much easier to monitor, but that they'll
eventually get through, I'm sad to say, is probably inevitable.
know, I expect, I mean, certainly America is the target, and I expect they're
working overtime to do something here, aside from the kind of wannabe stuff
that you see in Orlando or something. You know, but something much more
think, you know, it's kind of interesting looking at the last three attacks:
the one in Turkey, the one in Bangladesh and the one in Orlando, because they
are examples of the three kinds of attacks that are now carried out by
self-identified members of ISIS. One, in the Orlando, ISIS didn't know that
this guy exists, I suspect. He, you know, was a kind of self-appropriation.
In the case
of Bangladesh, now we know that Bangladeshis were going back and forth to
Syria. I suspect that there was some kind of a connection, but it may be
probably tangential. They hit a very soft target, a cafe. And then you have the
far more serious attack, which was hitting the airport in Istanbul, place of
very high security, very well-planned, very, you know, centralized control.
Those are the three kinds of attacks that we can expect.
And I think
that, you know, because of the large numbers of civilians who have inevitably
been killed by this bombing there is a great deal of rage within territory
controlled by ISIS and I am certain that they have sent people back out to
carry out the same kind of deadly devastation against the perpetrators of these
Jay: The history of the use of, by US
foreign policy, of alliance with essentially fascist In fact it goes back, even including
Hitler as an example, where many forces in corporate America and in the
American political elite financed and encouraged and helped arm Hitler, hoping
he would simply go and attack the Soviet Union. I don't know that they expected
him to go west, which is kind of the point. They create these monsters and then
these monsters have their own agenda.
an alliance with the Saudis, another form of fascism, against this rising tide
of nationalism and socialism. Nasser represented a form of nationalism but a
secular form, on the whole. They did everything they could, and were quite
successful in wiping out many of the socialists, the communists, the leftists
throughout the Arab region and promoting this kind of, you know, extreme
religious ideology. And it continues with the alliance with Saudis and Qataris
and the Turks supporting the extremists in Syria and trying to overthrow Assad.
getting at here is, there's no solution as long as you keep working with these
kinds of forces thinking you can control them to your own ends
they all have their own agendas. They're not your puppets.
Hedges: Right. The only problem with the
Hitler analogy is that while there were certainly business interests, you know,
Henry Ford and others, that were very IBM sympathetic to fascism and quite
willing to do business deals with the Nazis, I think the US has played a much
more hands-on role in the Middle East
Hedges: In terms
of creating these groups. It was intentional, especially with Al Qaeda, you
know, with our involvement in the war against the Soviets
Hedges: In the
same way that Israel,
in the early years that I covered Gaza, Israel always left Hamas alone because
they saw Hamas as a way to splinter Fatah's hegemony and in many ways allowedIsrael
was as responsible as anything else for letting it grow and ultimately having
it seize power.
mean, there was a series of errors, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan
compounding the problem. But, we have long, for decades, as you correctly point
out, empowered and supported these groups as a kind of counterweight in a very
foolish way, without seeing that they would ultimately not only turn on us but
turn on our supposed allies within the region, and that's what we're seeing now
in Turkey and seeing in Saudi Arabia.
So, yeah, I
mean, US foreign policy in the Middle East for a long time has been one
bumbling disaster after another, whether it's overthrowing Mossadegh or
overthrowing Morsi in Egypt, yeah, we just don't get it.
Jay: And I guess part of it is I
mean, not part of it, the underlying principle is simply, since the Second
World War, the
principle that there should never be another superpower. There can only be one.
And if that's the beginning, middle and end of your foreign policy objectives,
then you do whatever it takes to control various regions of the world, and of
course with all the oil the Middle East becomes so critical to you. But the
principle is, you have to be the dominant power.
Hedges: right. Well, it's far more
frightening than that because, you know, we don't have any diplomacy left, We
essentially use techno-war as a way and it doesn't work. We've lost the war in
Afghanistan. Iraq is destroyed as a unified country. We've turned Libya into a
failed state. We've turned, as I said before, an area the size of Texas
controlled by the Islamic State into another failed state. It doesn't work. It
is the idiocy of allowing, or attempting to speak to the rest of the world
exclusively in the language of force, and these are the kind of consequences
that we bear because of that idiocy.
Jay: And the other part of it, of
course, is the amount of money that gets made out of all this. There's nothing
like almost-war to make a lot of dough for people manufacturing arms.
Jay: The Saudi-Iranian rivalry is a
dream come true.
Hedges: Right. Right, well, I think really
at this point our foreign policy, and I think this explains the expansion of
NATO, because we had promised Gorbachev, or Reagan had promised Gorbachev after
the fall of the Berlin Wall that NATO would not expand beyond Germany. Why did
it expand? Not for security reasons, but because the arms manufacturers want
new markets. I think the same is true in the Middle East.
There is no
goal, there is not endpoint, there is no vision. But companies like Raytheon
and Halliburton and Northrop Grumman are making, you know, huge amounts of
money. And I think at this point they've kind of taken hostage this failed
policy and they keep perpetuating it because it's good for their bank accounts,
but it's certainly not good for anyone in the Middle East and it's not good for
Jay: So, what do you make of the two
candidates running for president on their Middle East policy?
Hedges: Oh, I You know,
I don't think that [laughs]The military industrial complex plays the tune and
politicians dance to it. I don't think there'll be any difference between Trump and
Clinton, in terms of that.
Jay: All right, thanks very much for
Hedges: Thank you.
Jay: And thank you for joining us on
the Real News Network.
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