by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
For more than three decades, the U.S. has deployed Islamic fundamentalist surrogates to fight its imperial wars in Muslim lands. Now, the world’s most successful jihadists have turned on their former masters – and will soon go after the Gulf oil states. “The Caliphate has taken the ideology to its logical and ghastly conclusion, and dares to challenge the legitimacy of its former funders, staunch allies of the ‘Crusader’.”
The Empire Reaps the Jihadist Whirlwind
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“The problem is, the Pentagon’s proxies are evaporating.”
The rise of the Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria has flipped the script on U.S. proxy war policies in the region, and may ultimately bring down the royal oil states whose survival is indispensable to American hegemony in the world. At the foot soldier level, the imperial proxy strategy has already collapsed with the disintegration of the (always ephemeral) “moderate” armed opposition to the Syrian government and the defection to the Caliphate of formerly U.S.-financed Sunni fighters in Iraq.
The $500 million President Obama has requested for Syria has been rendered moot by the Caliphate’s stunning political and military victories; no amount of money can create an army out of phantoms. The most active Syrian insurgents have flocked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State formerly known as ISIS, whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, served notice on Washington: “You should know, you defender of the cross, that getting others to fight on your behalf will not do for you in Syria as it will not do for you in Iraq.”
The U.S. corporate media were more interested in the rest of al-Baghdadi’s message, in which he warned Washington that “soon enough, you will be in direct confrontation – forced to do so, God willing. And the sons of Islam have prepared themselves for this day. So wait, and we will be waiting, too.” For most self-obsessed Americans, this was received as a threat to attack “the Homeland.” However, downtown Manhattan is not on the Caliphate leader’s map. Al-Baghdadi meant that the American strategy of financing Muslim muppets to fight imperialism’s wars is kaput, and that the Pentagon will soon have to do its own dirty work, dressed in “Crusader” uniform.
Accordingly, the U.S. is sending additional hundreds of “non-combat” troops to northern Iraq – as if Marines and Special Forces are anything but combat soldiers – to join the 1,000 or so American military and “security” personnel already there, by official count. Contrary to what many Americans on the Left believe, U.S. planners are not itching to send large American units to Arab lands (the Kurds are not Arabs), since their presence is counter-productive in the extreme. The problem is, the Pentagon’s proxies are evaporating, in flight, or – in the case of Arab Iraq – growing even more dependent on Iran and (who would have predicted it?) Russia, which is assisting in reconstituting the Iraqi air force.
“Downtown Manhattan is not on the Caliphate leader’s map.”
Some leftists in the U.S. even imagine that Washington has achieved some kind of victory with the imminent departure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the veteran American stooge. But, Maliki’s ouster was also backed by Iran, Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani (who mobilized millions demanding an end to the U.S. occupation), Muqtada al-Sadr (whose militia fought two wars against the occupation), and even much of Maliki’s own Dawa Party. Only the Kurds remain in Washington’s (and Israel’s) pocket – and this matter of convenience, too, may pass as the neighborhood changes all around Kurdistan.
By that, I mean the larger neighborhood, encompassing Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Turkey and Jordan. The Caliphate’s al-Baghdadi had a message for them, his erstwhile financiers, back in late June: “The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas.” Thousands of the Islamic State’s fighters – and, just as importantly, its fundamentalist Wahhabist worldview – are indigenous to the Arabian peninsula. That’s why journalist Patrick Cockburn, in his new book, excerpted in Counterpunch, concluded that, “For America, Britain and the Western powers, the rise of Isis and the Caliphate is the ultimate disaster....”
The Caliphate’s victories resonate far beyond the Sunni Arab population of Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia’s political legitimacy is based on its role as protector of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina – and the Old Time Religion. But its royal family, like the rest of the hereditary potentates of the region, is debauched and infinitely corrupted by wealth. The Saudis (and, in no less lethal form, the Qataris) export jihad against Shia and secularists while hoping to control it at home. The Caliphate has taken the ideology to its logical and ghastly conclusion, and dares to challenge the legitimacy of its former funders, staunch allies of the “Crusader.”
Cockburn puts it this way:
“The resurgence of al-Qa’ida-type groups is not a threat confined to Syria, Iraq, and their near neighbors. What is happening in these countries, combined with the increasing dominance of intolerant and exclusive Wahhabite beliefs within the worldwide Sunni community, means that all 1.6 billion Muslims, almost a quarter of the world’s people, will be increasingly affected. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that non-Muslim populations, including many in the West, will be untouched by the conflict. Today’s resurgent jihadism, which has shifted the political terrain in Iraq and Syria, is already having far-reaching effects on global politics with dire consequences for us all.”
“All 1.6 billion Muslims, almost a quarter of the world’s people, will be increasingly affected.”
The consequences are, of course, most dire to those Muslims (including but not limited to Shia) labeled heretics by the takfiris of the expanding Caliphate, and for all religious minorities and secular forces within their reach. But, the Salafist chickens are coming back home to roost on the peninsula – which is why the Saudis are, at this late date, frantically attempting to put the jihadist genie back in the bottle. As Cockburn writes, “Fearful of what they’ve helped create, the Saudis are now veering in the other direction, arresting jihadi volunteers rather than turning a blind eye as they go to Syria and Iraq, but it may be too late.”
It is certainly too late for the U.S. to salvage a critical element of its foreign policy in the Muslim world: war by proxy. It has been a long and bloody ride since the late Seventies, when the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan invented the global jihadist network almost from scratch, to give the Soviets a black eye in Afghanistan. The Islamists provided the foot soldiers for America’s own imperial jihad in Muslim lands.
In 2011, it was jihadists to the rescue after popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt threw the imperial pack into panic. The U.S. and its NATO allies mounted a monstrous assault on Libya – a kind of Shock and Awe – providing air cover for a jihadist army largely financed by Arab oil royals. When regime change was accomplished, Libyan fighters joined their Salafist comrades in the rampage in Syria, already underway.
Today, with Libya in utter chaos, and Assad’s government still standing in Syria, the Caliphate has declared independence from its western and royal godmothers – as we at BAR predicted three years ago.
Imperialism has let loose a plague upon the world, that will – sooner, rather than later – consume the kings, emirs and sultans the U.S. depends on to keep the empire’s oil safe. The pace of imperial decline just got quicker.