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April 6, 2007

Iran scheme
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:49 AM * 75 comments

Remember a couple years back when Seymour Hersh claimed that the US was already fighting a covert war against Iran? Looks like he got some of the details wrong, but the gist right. ABC News is reporting that the US is secretly supporting Pakistan-based terrorist attacks against Iran.

Jundullah is a Sunni group based in Baluchistan, a region spanning parts of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. They’re seeking to split the region off into its own nation, with a Taliban-like government, and they have connections with al-Qaeda. Abdul Malik Rigi, the group’s leader, is a drug smuggler who used to fight with the Taliban, and earlier this week made an appearance on Voice of America, which described him as the “leader of the Iranian people’s resistance movement”. Jundullah has taken credit for a car-bomb attack in February that killed 18 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Money is funneled to the terrorists via Iranian exiles. Unnamed Pakistani government sources say that Cheney discussed Jundullah’s campaign against Iran when he met recently with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Naturally, both Jundullah and the CIA deny that any such support or cooperation exists.

(Thanks to Jim Henley for the info.)

Comments on Iran scheme:
#1 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 02:20 AM:

Well, it seems that any time the current administration criticizes some other nation's conduct, it's because the administration thought of it first. The USA: terrorist supporter. One does not know whether to laugh or cry.

#2 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 03:21 AM:

Political observers are often bewildered by the Byzantine complexity of American politics. The U.S. was attacked by Al Qaeda. This is taken as a justification for attacking Saddam Hussein's Iraq, an enemy of Al Qaeda, while supporting Saudi Arabia, Al Quaeda's major funder, and Pakistan, Al Qaeda's current home base. Now we have the news that the U.S. is funneling support to a group linked with Al Qaeda, in the hope of destabilizing Iran, another Al Qaeda enemy. This is the same Iran that former U.S. President Reagan and Vice President Bush, the current president's father, secretly and illegally funneled arms to.

From the point of view of the Middle East, which operates on the basis of cynical but very straightforward realpolitik, the American behavior is inexplicable. There is always the rationale that American foreign policy is driven by domestic political considerations, but it boggles the mind to consider how any domestic politics can be helped by such apparently contradictory and self-destructive policies. The term "Byzantine" is appropriate. Once the Byzantine Empire reached the tipping point of incompetence and disarray, it still took two hundred and fifty years to fall. Is the American Empire at a similar tipping point? It is too soon to tell. In the meantime, it is striking how much contemporary American political analysis resembles an inside the palace walls account of intrigue in the Angelos court. Here is an example from a leading newspaper, which is trying to take into account the decision by American voters to create a divided government:

The American political system seems to be restoring its equilibrium by showing an extremist president the limits of his power. But is it an equilibrium that can hold?

In part, last year's election results reflected the complexity of Bush's skeptical, conditional and diverse constituency. They also demonstrated his isolation within the powerful conservative establishment, whose politics, however opaque, are determinative. At its center, Dobson commands a faction known as the traditional family values conservatives. No elected leader can serve, let alone execute a policy agenda, without the acquiescence of the religious leader and his associates. But was Bush one of the leader's associates? Or was he, like his predecessor, Clinton, something of a political rival? The answer to this question should determine the extent to which Bush's foreign-policy extremism and authoritarian tendencies are taken seriously as a political program. But it is a puzzle that has vexed political analysts since the president took office in January 2001, bringing with him a faction that was largely new to the political scene. Composed partly of military and business elements, partly of extremist clerics like John Ashcroft and partly of inexperienced new conservative politicians, those in Bush's faction are often called "neoconservatives." But to the extent that they have an ideology, it is less new than old, harking back to the early days of the gilded age. Since that time, the same elite has largely run American politics, though it has divided itself into competing factions, and the act of wielding power has mellowed many hard-liners into pragmatists. Bush's faction, on the other hand, came into power speaking the language of the past but with the zeal of the untried.
My apologies for the length of the quote, but I think its length and breathlessness reinforce an important point: The degeneration of the American political system is accompanied by a degeneration in the global political discourse. What passes for sober objective analysis, even from the outside, is endless speculation about personalities and faction politics without any substantive consideration of actual policies or their effect on the prosperity and security of the State. There is a great risk in this. How can we expect any political actor to behave rationally, even in the Middle East, when the U.S. is acting so irrationally? The one hope I have is that the Middle East has seen many empires come and go. They remember that Byzantium fell. They might decide to bide their time. In that time the U.S. might also remember, before it is too late, that Byzantium fell.

#3 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 04:50 AM:

"From the point of view of the Middle East, which operates on the basis of cynical but very straightforward realpolitik, the American behavior is inexplicable."

It ain't all that much clearer to us natives, y'know. US foreign policy is made almost entirely on the basis of US internal politics, without regard to geopolitical reality. This cannot fail to produce horrific failures. And, just as you say, I think we've got a systemic problem here. But it is not yet time to talk of fixing systemic problems--we have to get through the next election.

#4 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 06:21 AM:
...the act of wielding power has mellowed many hard-liners into pragmatists
I knew I'd read that phrase somewhere in an article about Iran. Nifty work, though, taking a passage from a New York Times article about Iran and just changing the names.
#5 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 08:18 AM:

Let me get this straight:

1. It is Shrub's policy to attack, invade and occupy terrorist sponsor states.

2. The US is a terrorist sponsor state.

3. Therefore, Shrub will decide we need to be attacked invaded and occupied by him and his people.

This is how Shrub intends to stay in power forever.

#6 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 08:35 AM:

Ursula 5: You forget one thing: if the origin nation of the terrorism is a US ally (see Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Al Qaeda and most of the 9/11 hijackers), the policy is slightly different.

Bush will attack Canada.

#7 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 09:17 AM:

#3: And, just as you say, I think we've got a systemic problem here. But it is not yet time to talk of fixing systemic problems--we have to get through the next election.

And then the next one, and the next one? If not now, then when?

Kicking reform of the political system (and, at least as important, the mass media) down the road for another two years (because, I assume, you don't really mean the *next* election, you mean the next *important* election) reminds me awfully of kicking the mess in Iraq down the road for another six months. Something that has gone on far more than six months too long.

Furthermore, as long as we don't fix our political system and our political discourse, it will keep on producing things like the invasion of Iraq, which *killed over half a million people*. I'd say that makes it a fairly urgent priority.


I have to agree with #1, though: in hindsight this seems awfully obvious. So much of the right's rhetoric is based on projection that when they started accusing everyone in sight of being terrorist supporters, we ought to have suspected that they were supporting some terrorists themselves. (Again. I know it's fashionable to forget the Contras, but that doesn't make it a good idea.)

I wonder if there's any chance that the administration *actively supporting terrorists* will get the party to throw them under the bus. Probably not - they're pretty much the Royalist Party these days: by definition, the king can do no wrong.

#8 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 09:22 AM:

Hersh had another piece in the New Yorker a couple of months ago. We are now fighting ourselves in Iraq. To stem the tide of Shia domination in the region, the US is funding Saudi Sunni extremists who are fighting the Shia government in Iraq. The same government that we're protecting. Another name for Saudi Sunni extremists in Al-Qaeda.

We are now giving money and arms to the very people who attacked us, and still attack us.

#9 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 09:54 AM:

"But for the saved, my child, all things are pure."

The President said, "You're either with us or your with the terrorists." I guess they took a look at the tote board of their "Coalition of the Willing," checked their own ability to have functional, actionable, and implementable plans and decided the numbers favored the opposite side. So they switched so they could claim to be on the winning side.

Me? Cynical? Never.

#10 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 10:17 AM:

#4: taking a passage from a New York Times article about Iran and just changing the names

Ding! You got it! I've been reading a lot of articles breathlessly analyzing Iranian politics, and they just cried out for this to be done to them. The link to this one was from Avram Grumer's handy Iran smalltalk post on this site.

Seriously, behind the snark, I am outraged. Support for Jundullah is treasonous dealing with an enemy. We're talking about the same high crime, providing material support to terrorists, that they made the guy in Gitmo confess to.

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 10:38 AM:

How much of this is the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? A lot of the Byzantine elements of US foreign policy are the result of the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House all having different objectives and different constituencies.

#12 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 10:47 AM:

"(the Nicaraguan Contras) are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers." - Ronald Reagan

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

We're right back to the 70s and 80s, just some of the players' names have changed.

#13 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 10:56 AM:

The "left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing" problem is happening because the people in charge don't want the left hand to know.

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 10:59 AM:

Well, describing Ashcroft as a "cleric" tripped me up, but a lot of the Iraqi system of political checks and balances does look very like the system in the USA. The chief difference seems to be that their Supreme Court is overtly a religious body.

Yes, there are a lot of other differences in details, but that seems to be the biggie.

#15 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 11:30 AM:

s/extremist clerics/extremist religious conservatives/

#16 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 11:37 AM:

Chris@7 "And then the next one, and the next one? If not now, then when?"

Strategy, strategy--no-one wins without strategy. If the radical right loses in 2008, I think they will probably be broken for a generation and we will have some space in which we can push for serious reform. For this reason, though, it is going to be the hardest-fought election in generations, with the right leaning heavily on ID requirements to reduce turnout (it seems possible that some states will have pre-Voting-Rights-Act turnout levels) and whipping up xenophobia to drive voters into their camp. Our "side" is going to have to fight very hard just to win, and national advocacy of major reforms at that time, however important to us, may cost us the election, and power for a generation. That's bitter, I know. But I want to win, and I want to win badly enough to wait.

#17 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 11:37 AM:

I suspect that to folks outside, a lot of the decisions (foreign policy and otherwise) made by the Bush administration appear to be made for religious reasons. It makes complete sense to note that John Ashcroft is a "cleric." This is a meaningful and wholly legitimate category in the political machinery of those many countries that do not have a Constitutionally mandated separation between religion and the state.

Oh, wait...

#18 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 12:21 PM:

TomB #15: Perhaps. I suspect, though, its the result of W's lack of attention to detail and the empire-building of different segments of the administration and the Retaliban Party.

#19 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 12:33 PM:
Well, describing Ashcroft as a "cleric" tripped me up, but a lot of the Iraqi system of political checks and balances does look very like the system in the USA.

#14 Dave Bell: I think you mean Iranian, not Iraqi...

#20 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 12:33 PM:

So, if Ashcroft is the cleric, Bush is the paladin, Cheney is the ranger, and Robert Gates is the new battlemage. Right?

#21 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 12:49 PM:

And here I always thought Bush was the Scarecrow, Cheney was the Tin-Man, Gates was the Lion, and Ashcroft was Toto.

#22 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 01:09 PM:

Hmm, it seems the Mis-Administration has miscalculated.

The fired US Atty from NM, Iglesias, is in the Naval Reserve, and one of the reasons given for his dismissal was that he was absent for 36 to 45 days on miltary duty each year.

This after a law was passed by Congress making it illegal for employers to fire anyone away from their job for military service....

Hypocracy, thy name is Bush.

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 01:27 PM:

lori @ 22

Not only that, but he told the people in DC every time he left to do his reserve stint.

#24 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 01:52 PM:

Lori (22): But it was *Congress* who passed the law, not the Bush administration. Bush and his Administration aren't bound by the petty laws passed by the Legislative Branch. Everyone knows that.

/sarcasm

#25 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 02:30 PM:

Hypocracy is rule by hypocrites, right?

#26 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 02:32 PM:

Steve #21: But then Cheney's recent visit to Australia doesn't make political sense. After all, Oz never gave nothing to the Tin Man that he didn't already have... :-)

#27 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 02:38 PM:

#22 Lori Coulson, IANAL, but I believe Congress and the Executive Branch are exempt from the employment laws they pass.

#28 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 03:53 PM:

Steve @ #27: I'm a Federal employee -- and the Executive Branch most certainly IS required to observe the law of the land. There is a little wiggle room for political appointees, but even they are subject to the Code of Ethics for the Executive Branch. There's even a special one that applies only to Federal employees called the Hatch Act.

The Congress, however, is exempt in some areas regarding employees. IIRC, they can fire their employees without going through the paperwork it takes to fire the civil service folk.

#29 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 04:31 PM:

#28 Lori Coulson, thanks for the clarification.

#30 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 06:17 PM:

Randolph Fritz @ #16:

"If the radical right loses in 2008, I think they will probably be broken for a generation"

Sorry, but that sounds waaaay to optimistic to me.

There's a pretty big chance that there'll be serious economic troubles in the US without anyone, no matter how competent and well-meaning, being able to do much about it. Wich means that these troubles will be there no matter who's in office.

And there's at least some chance that there'll be another major terrorist attack (perhaps by some group that's angry about being left out when other terrorist groups got US government help) in the USA- simply because if they try again and again and again, no kind of strategy or safety measure will stop them forever.

So there might be a lot of economic trouble with more and more hardships for more and more people in the USA, and perhaps even another major terrorist attack, with a Democratic president in the White House. Thinking about what this could mean for the 2012 election is even scarier than anything the Bush Administration has done.

#31 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 11:57 PM:

Xopher @ #6:

At this point, I doubt that Shrub considers the US people his allies. Where is his approval rating at the moment?

#32 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 01:24 AM:

Lizzy@17--"I suspect that to folks outside, a lot of the decisions (foreign policy and otherwise) made by the Bush administration appear to be made for religious reasons."

To some people inside, too. As far as I can tell W. Bush's Christianity is one of the few things he really does believe.

#33 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 02:18 AM:

#32: Christianity is supposed to be difficult. Pardon me if I'm not impressed by a version that never, ever tells the believer he's doing something wrong.

#34 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 02:19 AM:

#16 Randolph Fritz: "Our "side" is going to have to fight very hard just to win, and national advocacy of major reforms at that time, however important to us, may cost us the election, and power for a generation. That's bitter, I know. But I want to win, and I want to win badly enough to wait."

I think that advocating major reforms is exactly what we must do to win in 2008. I can't imagine a better strategy, given the utter disgust with the current state of politics. Why should anyone vote for us unless they have reason to think that we might do things differently? The idea that Democrats mustn't try to advocate anything radical hasn't exactly raked in the elections, you know.

I'm also opposed in general to the idea that we can't actually tell the voters what we plan to do if we win. If being honest with the voters will lose you the election, then you don't really deserve to win.

#35 ::: Meg Thornton spots comment spam @35 ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 05:33 AM:

Or possibly xiaoxinwow has a point, but mislaid it in all the hype they're attempting to stir up.

#36 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 05:35 AM:

Randolph @ #1:

The USA has been supporting terrorists for a long time. Just ask the British. It was one of those things which raised my eyebrows when I heard some senior muckety-muck blathering on about getting hard on people who provided financial aid to terrorists. I could just about see the politely worded letter from the British consulate mentioning things like motes, logs, and the nice people in Boston who had been helping both sides of the argument along in Northern Ireland for the better part of thirty years.

Then there were things like the behaviour of the US government in Cambodia (bomb someone you were allies with in order to make things harder for your own troops), the interference in political affairs in South America (remove democratically elected, but left-wing leader. Support military coup. Ensure that ensuing junta is both right wing and hard line, and let the atrocities begin) and just about all US interference in practically anything. Iran-Contra was yet another example.

Of course the US is going to support terrorists. Why change something which has worked so well for so long.

I think I've figured out the main thrust of US Foreign Policy for the past century or so: make sure everyone is busy fighting each other; pick sides; support both sides financially (after all, they can't buy the weapons without money, and since there's a lot of the US which is in the business of selling weapons to both sides, there's a lot of money needed); promote one side as the "good guys" and the other side as the "bad guys" and if they both decide to get together and talk, send in the Marines to "sort things out". Meanwhile, keep talking up a global reputation as a "peacemaker", even though your country has been responsible for funding, starting, supporting and continuing more and bloodier wars than have been fought previously, and would probably cause less bloody trouble if you just kept your noses within your own damn borders and cleaned house a bit.

Australian foreign policy, by contrast, is simple: Who's your Daddy?

Earl @ #20:

Bush isn't a paladin. He can't be a paladin. Paladins are Lawful Good, and Bush is Chaotic Incompetent. Blackguard if anything. Not a paladin.

#37 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 12:09 PM:

Meg @36 and Earl @ 20: Bush could be a paladin if he's a World of Warcraft paladin, and not a D&D one. (No alignments in WoW, although we certainly have factions.) When WoW first came out, quite a few people who played paladins were infamously n00bish players who acted for their own profit, often forgot about their party members needs, and had too much power for their own good. "Nerf teh pallies!" was a common cry on the WoW forums. Anyway, Bush is infamously n00bish, acts without regard to people he is supposed to be protecting, and has too much power for his own good. Ergo, he's a paladin.

Not quite on the subject but not quite off it either: Today on CNN, I saw a link to a story about Prince William's friend from Sandhurst getting killed near Basra. And this paragraph: "Prime Minister Tony Blair called the ambush an "act of terrorism" Thursday and suggested it may have been carried out by elements linked to Iran, although he stopped short of blaming Tehran." And then I blinked. I mean, I know there are multiple terrorist factions in the Middle East, and it is entirely possible, and probable, that there's more than a few Iranians in there. BUT....the way this is phrased, I just feel like I'm being fed info on the Enemy du Jour, as if I supposed to forget about the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, and Saddam loyalists, and whoever else--ie. here's our new threat, kiddies, and don't you forget it. I just finished reading Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment, and I'm definitely getting a feeling like I live in Borogovia and we have to be fighting somebody constantly because that's our national character. And it's not a pleasant feeling.

#38 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 03:05 PM:

Meg@37--um, y'know, that really doesn't cover all of US foreign policy in the 20th century--especially considering that Britain would probably have been conquered (twice) by Germany without US support. Please, no more such remarks.

#39 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 06:58 PM:

Britain would probably have been conquered (twice) by Germany without US support.

That is somewhat questionable. Certainly the liberation of continental Western Europe would have been impossible without the US, and the US deserves great credit for that action, but there has never been a realistic prospect of Germany invading Britain. (See, for example Alison Brooks's excellent analysis of Operation Sealion.)

#40 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 07:59 PM:

Xopher@6: Bush will attack Canada

In the words of the Canadian radical left, "Blah blah Stephen Harper blah blah NAFTA blah blah nuclear moon lasers blah blah got the T-shirt."

Which is not to say that they are wrong. We all know that Bush has made noises about going back to the moon.

PixelFish@37: So what you're saying is, the reason that the White House's poll numbers are so poor is that George's bubblehearth is still on cooldown?

#41 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 11:51 PM:

Ooh. Nuclear moon lasers sound cool.

#42 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 12:01 AM:

Sylvia Li, #33--hey, I dislike W. Bush's Christianity, too, but he pretty clearly does believe it.

Heresiarch, #34--"I think that advocating major reforms is exactly what we must do to win in 2008."

Major, but moderate reforms, maybe. Working over the way the USA makes foreign policy I think had better wait--for one thing, it's going to take more time than there is before the elections to really work out. For another, it's likely to scare people, and that plays into the radical right's hands. So...clean elections, raise the minimum wage, ...?

Raphael, #30--I can't imagine how the current radical right coalition would survive a second major loss in 2008. Both the big money faction and religious faction would probably pull out, and that's the media access and the worker bees. I think you're right that we are going to have more problems, and there will be new radical movements--this whole century promises to be a stormy one. Ideally, reforms will better equip us to respond.

#43 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 12:34 AM:

Randolph, #42: I dislike W. Bush's Christianity, too, but he pretty clearly does believe it.

I think it would be more accurate to say that (1) he believes that what he believes in is Christianity, and (2) he knows very well which side his bread is buttered on.

You have heard, I'm sure, about the new book by a former White House insider which details the contempt in which the Christianists are actually held by most of the Administration. Bush, however, appears to be a genuine Dominionist, or at least to believe that being on friendly terms with them will get him Saved when the Rapture comes.

More frighteningly, he also appears to believe that God Has Put Him In Power Now For A Reason, and that this reason is to usher in Armageddon and pave the way for the Rapture to occur.

#44 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 01:31 AM:

Lee, #43: he believes that what he believes in is Christianity.

I agree with that. However, I also think that what he believes in is not any actual denomination of Christianity, not even the Dominionist heresy. He can't bear criticism, as I'm sure you've noticed. He has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. His Christianity is one that he has carefully tailored to feed his insatiable need for affirmation that he is admirable.

Yes, Dubya's God tells him that he is In Power For A Reason. But I doubt he thinks of that Reason having much to do with Armageddon. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd say that the Reason morphs constantly, depending on whatever it is Dubya currently wants to do. If he wants to get even with the Senate for crossing him, then lo and behold! the Senate will be an Instrument of Evil, and it will be his Mission to Smite them. I'm sure Dubya's God is also on his side in whatever domestic arguments he has with Laura.

So why does he hang out with the Dominionists so much? Well, there may be a sliver of what you suggest: they might actually be right about the Rapture coming soon; if so, that's kinda scary, and maybe being on friendly terms with them will get him Saved when the Rapture comes.

But I think it's mostly that they are consummate courtiers, and he's constitutionally incapable of resisting flattery.

#45 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 06:15 AM:

#38 Randolph Fritz: "um, y'know, that really doesn't cover all of US foreign policy in the 20th century--especially considering that Britain would probably have been conquered (twice) by Germany without US support. Please, no more such remarks."

It certainly isn't the only aspect to U.S. foreign policy, but it sure is the dominant theme. Funding terrorism has been a, if not the, major tool of U.S. foreign policy since the start of the Cold War. You could make a very cogent argument that the Cold War, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror all fulfill essentially the same function: to provide an ideological justification for American interference with foreign governments, no matter how questionable. We've sponsored at least three successful military coups, at last count, and backed countless others.

Meg's point is well-taken. The U.S. has been in the business of terrorism for a long time. We pioneered the techniques, and disseminated them widely. We trained Bin Laden, but then, we trained them all. Bush didn't invent this; he's hardly even broken any new ground. The only thing he's done differently is that he's been far less careful about keeping it hidden. It used to be that we would train and fund locals to do our dirty work; now he's cut out the middle man. I guess he didn't want them to have all the fun.

#42: "Working over the way the USA makes foreign policy I think had better wait--for one thing, it's going to take more time than there is before the elections to really work out. For another, it's likely to scare people, and that plays into the radical right's hands."

It isn't that hard to work out, and it's not an issue that Democrats are going to be able to avoid. Iraq is going to be central in 2008, and foreign policy is what Iraq really boils down to: what are you going to do to make sure that this never happens again? And I think the radical and, coincidentally, right answer is going to be very popular right about now: renouncing the U.S.'s right/responsibility to interfere with foreign countries' domestic affairs. I think the argument that we need to focus on our own problems will sound like good sense to a lot of Americans these days.

#46 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 08:41 AM:

Heresiarch said (#45):
Meg's point is well-taken. The U.S. has been in the business of terrorism for a long time. We pioneered the techniques, and disseminated them widely. We trained Bin Laden, but then, we trained them all. Bush didn't invent this; he's hardly even broken any new ground. The only thing he's done differently is that he's been far less careful about keeping it hidden. It used to be that we would train and fund locals to do our dirty work; now he's cut out the middle man. I guess he didn't want them to have all the fun.

"We pioneered the techniques and disseminated them widely"? I'm really dubious about what this is supposed to mean. We pioneered assasination? We pioneered hijacking airplanes for political purposes? We pioneered planting bombs on buses, airliners, and ferries? We pioneered suicide bombing?

"We trained Bin Laden, but then we trained them all?" Really? The US trained ETA, the Red Brigades, Action Directe, Abu Sayef, the LTTE, etc., etc., etc.?

#47 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 10:08 AM:

Meg Thornton said (#36):
I think I've figured out the main thrust of US Foreign Policy for the past century or so: make sure everyone is busy fighting each other; pick sides; support both sides financially (after all, they can't buy the weapons without money, and since there's a lot of the US which is in the business of selling weapons to both sides, there's a lot of money needed) ...

Can you provide some specific examples of this? I'm particularlly curious about the "selling weapons to both sides" bit, since I'm having trouble thinking of examples. It can't apply to World Wars I or II, and I really doubt the US was supplying weapons to the Communist sides of the Russian and Chinese civil wars, or to North Korea and North Vietnam, for example.

There are countries that have profited by selling weapons to both sides in a long, bloody war -- I'm thinking of China selling to both Iran and Iraq during their war -- but I'm a bit stumped for significant US examples.

I could see this as possibly a crude characterization of US policy in parts of the 19th Century, when the US was, for example, interested in selling to both the British and the French during the Napoleonic Wars. (Though you'd be hard-pressed to claim the US was responsible for the Napoleonic Wars.)


I'll also note in passing that this supposed century-long national policy is really dumb from a selfish economic standpoint, because keeping lots of countries tied up in wars tends to result in depressed or ruined economies, which means fewer foreign customers for US-produced goods. Which is not in the interests of US companies (to say nothing of just about everyone else).

#48 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 01:45 PM:

Peter Erwin #47: I'll also note in passing that this supposed century-long national policy is really dumb from a selfish economic standpoint, because keeping lots of countries tied up in wars tends to result in depressed or ruined economies, which means fewer foreign customers for US-produced goods. Which is not in the interests of US companies (to say nothing of just about everyone else).

This depends on what the US-based companies specialize in. If they happen to be Halliburton et al., then it's in their interest.

#49 ::: rams ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 01:50 PM:

Happy birthday, Seymour Hersh.

#50 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 05:19 PM:

I've given up on trying to keep track of the different brands of whacko-Jesus-freak in current US politics. English history is bad enough.

But if they get swept up in the Rapture, and leave the likes of use to face the hordes of evil, and all I have to look forward to is death and eternal damnation...

"Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre,
mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað."

Let the runtlings run hot to their Rapture;
Let them leave their oaths to loved and living.
What would their Lord give to an un-thing, an oathbreaker?
"Chap with wings, five rounds, rapid."
That's the homecoming for Hellspawn.

#51 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 05:21 PM:

Heresiarch #45:

If we're going to reform our foreign policy (I agree it's worth doing), we should probably try to do it in response to what really has happened, rather than some kind of weird America-as-the-devil version of history. Our foreign policy has been disorganized and subject to capture by domestic interests (see our policy toward Israel and Cuba for big examples of this), but it hasn't been run for the purpose of doing evil, and while the outcomes have been mixed, they haven't been an unending parade of carnage. Often, our cold war policies amounted to backing the local strongman or some obvious rival, so that we could be sure the country would stay out of the communist camp. (I'm not sure what the Communists were supposed to be able to do with a whole bunch of third-world hellholes full of starving people and landmines, but we sure spent a lot of our money and other peoples' blood preventing it.) Our impact in Europe and Asia was mostly pretty good. The difference in quality of life in the Eastern Block countries and the West was huge, and the information on it is widely available now. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea all ended up as really decent places to live, with rule of law, more-or-less democratic government, human rights, and first-world economies, largely because of the US.

#52 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 06:56 PM:

Randolph, things would have been somewhat different in the 1940s, if US foreign policy in the 1920's and 30s hadn't involved buddy-buddying up to certain repressive right-wing foreign dictators*, no?

The "you'd be speaking German if it wasn't for US!" chest-beating - you know better than that. But your Americanist Heretical roots are showing. (It's okay, we've all got our Jingoist tendencies, we can't help it, it's part of our national patrimony. But we do have a duty to root them out, too.)

* e.g.

#53 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 01:15 AM:

I'm no fan of George W. Bush, to say the least, but comments like Sylvia's at #44 make me a bit uncomfortable. Do we really have even remotely sufficient basis on which to psychoanalyze him?

#54 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 03:05 AM:

#46 Peter Erwin: ""We pioneered the techniques and disseminated them widely"? I'm really dubious about what this is supposed to mean."

Ever heard of the School of the Americas? The anti-Soviet mujahideen training camps in Afghanistan? The U.S. military's widely-distributed interrogation manuals? I admit, "we trained them all" is considerable hyperbole, but the U.S. has been in the business of training and funding terrorists/freedom fighters for a damn long time, and the sheer range of organizations who have recieved our backing is somewhat breath-taking.

#52 albatross: "If we're going to reform our foreign policy (I agree it's worth doing), we should probably try to do it in response to what really has happened, rather than some kind of weird America-as-the-devil version of history."

It's not a America-as-the-devil, it's America-as-a-sociopath. Which we are. The undeniable truth of U.S. foreign policy, that has been demonstrated time and time again, is that we will do whatever we have to to get whatever we want. And what "we" want, generally, is what our powerful, politically-active corporations want. What they want is profit. Someone threatens to nationalize U.S. corporate holdings? CIA-sponsored coup. Ruthless genocidal dictator happy to sell off his country's oil rights for a couple of BMWs? No problem.

The instances where domestic political concerns actually ventured so far as to effect foreign policy are rare. In the vast majority of cases, foreign policy was decided without the American people even knowing about it: coups or attempted coups in Indonesia, Iran, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Guatemala weren't the result of domestic politics, nor I imagine was the funding of repressive governments in South Korea, Taiwan, Iran, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan.

"Our impact in Europe and Asia was mostly pretty good."

Asia? No, it hasn't. The U.S.'s influence in Asia has been quite negative. Indonesia was sucked dry by U.S. corporations under the aegis of a U.S.-backed dictator; U.S. involvement in Vietnam cost countless lives and billions of dollars; the invasion of East Timor was backed by U.S. military aid; in the Philippines, the Marcos regime enjoyed generous U.S. support. U.S. involvement in Asia, especially Southeast Asia, has had terrible effects.

South Korea was held in thrall by a succession of repressive regimes with U.S. support. The U.S.-backed Taiwanese government was, until recently, incredibly corrupt and repressive (now it's just corrupt). South Korea and Taiwan's democracies are recent developments, and owe little to U.S. involvement. In fact, democracy, with its accompanying emphasis on reunification, was quite contrary to U.S. interests. Taiwan and South Korea are democracies these days despite U.S. interference, not because of it.

It's not that the U.S. has never, ever done anything good. It certainly has. But as many times as it has stood up for freedom, democracy, and human rights, it has betrayed them just as often. Nor am I claiming that the U.S. is especially unique in our national sociopathy: most nations are. However, most nations lack the power to actually topple democratic governments in favor of dictators in order to make a few bucks.

#55 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 10:23 AM:

Peter Erwin @ 47 asks for examples of the US supporting both sides of a war financially. I think this would be an interesting project to work out, and alas there is no Wikipedia page of same.

I wouldn't exclude World War II as categorically as Mr. Erwin - the US played a role in supporting the rearmament of Germany, and IBM's role in particular has been controversial. Further, a certain Prescott Bush had assets seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act

Afterwards, there's Iran/Iraq, India/Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia/Israel/Egypt. The US was certainly trading with the Soviet Union while supporting the Afghanistani muj, but I don't know if that counts.

I'd modify the thesis to suggest that the US prefers to sell to multiple sides in potential wars (all of the profit and little of the economic disruption) but the potential does have a tendency to be come actual.

#56 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 11:06 AM:

Prior to US involvement in the War of 1812, US merchants gleefully sold food and other goods to both France and England. Then both sides (especially the British) began cracking down on that neutral trade, which along with other issues eventually led the US into becoming involved in the war itself.

#57 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 01:06 PM:

The undeniable truth of U.S. foreign policy, that has been demonstrated time and time again, is that we will do whatever we have to to get whatever we want.

The undeniable truth of world history is that *everybody* does this. It's just most noticeable in the people who claim they don't. Some nations, some of the time, have the sense to avoid means that tend to backfire on those who employ them (such as sponsoring guerilla warfare or terrorism). But eventually a new leader comes to power who doesn't understand the problem with those means or doesn't care.

Prior to US involvement in the War of 1812, US merchants gleefully sold food and other goods to both France and England.

Isn't trade normally considered one of the rights of neutrals? Trading with both sides of a war your own country isn't involved in is normal because trading with everyone you can reach is normal.

If you're going to reject the concept of neutrality, and claim that anyone who isn't hostile towards your enemy becomes your new enemy, then you're going to have an awful lot of enemies. (Of course, some political leaders WANT their country to have a lot of enemies - it changes the domestic political landscape in a way that's more important to them than whether or not they're running the country into the ground.)

#58 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 01:49 PM:

Julia Jones said (#57):
Peter Irwin at #47: why on earth do you think that "selling weapons to both sides" couldn't apply to WWI and WWII? The US did not get into either war as a combatant rather than an arms dealer until they'd already been in progress for a couple of years.

Because in both cases Britain blockaded continental Europe so thoroughly that the US was clearly unable to sell weapons to the Central Powers (in WW1) or the Axis (in WW2), even if it had wanted to. And unlike the case of the Napoleonic War/War of 1812, the US did not challenge Britain's right or ability to do so, and did not agitate for the right to trade with Germany. Instead, US ships carrying supplies to Britain were attacked by German submarines.

This is why Germany's trading partners during WW2 were restricted to friendly/client states in Eastern Europe, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and (until mid-1941) the Soviet Union.

(Leaving aside the question of why Germany would want to buy US weapons, when its own were equally good or superior.)

#59 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 03:04 PM:

Not a rejection of neutrality, but deliberate war profiteering was taking place prior to 1812 by US merchants. They made no bones about how their neutrality was making them filthy rich, especially when they would take bids from both French and British interests for their cargoes before deciding who to sell it to.

#60 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 04:15 PM:

Fungi from Yuggoth said (#55):
Peter Erwin @ 47 asks for examples of the US supporting both sides of a war financially. I think this would be an interesting project to work out, and alas there is no Wikipedia page of same.

Well, I was most curious about the "selling weapons to both sides during a war" claim. General trading by neutrals with both sides during a war is, as Chris noted, supposed to be an international right.

I wouldn't exclude World War II as categorically as Mr. Erwin - the US played a role in supporting the rearmament of Germany, and IBM's role in particular has been controversial. Further, a certain Prescott Bush had assets seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act

But then arguably so did everyone who traded with Germany during the 1930s. For example, this article (warning: PDF file) mentions that even in 1937/1938, Germany was France's third most important trading partner, after Algeria and Belgium. (And I'd argue that the rearmament of Germany in the precise sense -- i.e., weapons and ammunition -- was overwhelmingly a German affair.)

If you're looking for countries that traded with both the Allies and Germany during the war, you really have to look to places like Sweden, Switzerland[*], Portugal, and Spain.

Afterwards, there's Iran/Iraq, India/Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia/Israel/Egypt. The US was certainly trading with the Soviet Union while supporting the Afghanistani muj, but I don't know if that counts.

Well, the US wasn't trading with Iran after the hostage crisis, which started before the Iran-Iraq war, so that doesn't qualify. (And almost all of Iraq's weapons before the war came from the Soviet Union or France.) I don't think Saudi Arabia has actually been at war with Israel since the 1940s (though they've certainly been hostile). Israel and Egypt have been officially at peace since the mid-1970s, and prior to that the Soviet Union was Egypt's weapons supplier, not the US. Similarly, India has bought most of its weapons from the Soviet Union/Russia, or from France[**]. Only now is India starting to look into buying US weapons.


[*] It does appear that 20mm cannons designed by the Swiss firm Oerlikon were used by almost everyone during World War II, including Germany, Japan, the US, and the UK.

[**] Hmm.... a little googling turns up the interesting fact that France has sold aircraft to India and submarines to Pakistan.

#61 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 06:14 PM:

Well, I was most curious about the "selling weapons to both sides during a war" claim. General trading by neutrals with both sides during a war is, as Chris noted, supposed to be an international right

It's also the ideal position for arms merchants to be in, so I'm not convinced that common practice makes it morally unremarkable.

I stuck with "financially supported" because it encompassses things like BCCI giving money to Iraq to buy weapons, and also the US's track record in Latin America (where, I think it can be argued, the US is funding both the narcotrafficers and the anti-drug warriors). It's a more interesting question, at least to me.

We can draw lines differently about selling weapons to merely hostile states, but Iran-Contra included sales in 1985 and 1986, well within the 1980-1988 period of this particular Persian Gulf war. (The timeline suggests that the Iran/Iraq war started before Reagan's election, which would put even the first arms for hostages deal in the same category).

#62 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2007, 10:02 PM:

#58 Chris: "The undeniable truth of world history is that *everybody* does this. It's just most noticeable in the people who claim they don't."

I know. I said this. "Nor am I claiming that the U.S. is especially unique in our national sociopathy: most nations are." What makes the U.S. special is that a) We have the power to do it all the time, everywhere, for terrible reasons, b) most of the time, it's very poorly thought-out and ends up backfiring, and most importantly, c) when the U.S. does it, it's being done in my name.

#63 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2007, 09:18 AM:

Bellatrys, #52--I'd have to say that Chomsky is not an unbiased or accurate commentator on US political history; very much the leftist version of a libertarian (which term, in fact, originally was used to describe Proudhon). There was a US political faction which supported the fascists, but it wasn't the only one, nor the most powerful.

I was snapping at Ms. Thornton (who in fact is Australian rather than from the UK--sorry) but I think it's a legitimate comment, though sharply worded. The USA spent treasure and lives defending both the UK and Australia in two world wars, and while the USA might "cause less bloody trouble if you just kept your noses within your own damn borders and cleaned house a bit", had it done so during either world war matters would have gone poorly both for the UK and Australia, and, in the second war, probably all of Europe as well.

Personally, I would prefer to concentrate on making amends for the past, and setting matters right in the future, rather than refighting all the wars of the 20th century.

#64 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2007, 03:03 PM:

Randolph Fritz @64: US deaths in the first world war were outstripped by Serbia. In reality, it's highly likely that the allies would have prevailed over the central powers even without US involvement; however, the arrival of US forces in Europe in mid-1918 -- 90% of the way through the war -- contributed to the German High Command's loss of nerve and the consequent collapse of the Second Reich.

The Third Reich is another matter -- but it can be argued that, had the first war been pursued to the bitter end (with British and French boots in the rubble of Berlin by mid-to-late 1919 or early 1920) there would have been no return match.

Even then, let's remember that it was Russians who did 90% of the fighting and dying that it took to put Hitler back in his box. And while lend-lease surely helped them, I'm not convinced it made that much difference to the final, inevitable outcome once Hitler decided to deploy a tool honed for fighting short, fast wars at close range against a continent-sized foe.

(Pointed out not because I'm an ungrateful Brit, but because the way the history of that period is mis-taught tends to get up my nose -- especially when the myths are held up as a bloody shirt to be waved.)

#65 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2007, 03:30 PM:

Charlie, Wikipedia lists US losses in WW I as 116,708 killed and 205,690 wounded--that's the population of a small city. Yes, Serbian deaths were higher (but not wounded, interesting, wonder why), but Serbia was after all invaded and conquered during the war. It seems to me that with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Central Powers could then have redeployed many of their troops in Western Europe to devastating effect; without US intervention, I think they'd have had a good chance of victory.

As you say, World War II was a different kettle of fish. It's interesting; thinking it over, without US aid, likely the the UK would have lost first to the Axis, and then the Axis itself lost to the USSR. Or perhaps not. China would have been pivotal, and who knows what would have happened there? (Hmmm. There's a novel there. Only who would be bloody-minded enough to write it?)

Definitely a reminder of the meaning of balance of power. And a reminder of why war is a Really Bad Idea, as if we needed more of those.

#66 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2007, 06:10 PM:

Hmmm. There's a novel there. Only who would be bloody-minded enough to write it?

Who indeed?

#67 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2007, 07:32 PM:

Among those on record as thinking that Europe and the world would have been better off if the USA stayed out of the Great War is Winston Churchill in 1936 (although the record is disputed):

America should have minded her own business and stayed out of the World War. If you hadn't entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the Spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, no breakdown in Italy followed by Fascism, and Germany would not have signed the Versailles Treaty, which has enthroned Nazism in Germany. If America had stayed out of the war, all these 'isms' wouldn't today be sweeping the continent of Europe and breaking down parliamentary government — and if England had made peace early in 1917, it would have saved over one million British, French, American, and other lives.

#68 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2007, 09:54 PM:

Niall, #68: "If you hadn't entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the Spring of 1917. [...]"

I have my doubts, to put it mildly. Would the allies really have surrendered? Would that have stopped the October Revolution? I don't know enough about Churchill, but if he said that, I doubt that he believed it, and even doubt that he said that.

Neil, #67: Chuckle. Thanks.

#69 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2007, 04:20 AM:

Randolph, make peace does not mean surrender.

#70 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2007, 05:10 AM:

Randolph @66: It seems to me that with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Central Powers could then have redeployed many of their troops in Western Europe to devastating effect; without US intervention, I think they'd have had a good chance of victory.

They did exactly that in spring of 1918, and it failed; you might find googling on "Kaiserslacht" useful (or better still, find a good history of the first world war). US troops weren't released for combat until the Kaiserslacht was already running out of steam; their presence in small numbers (about 400,000, IIRC, compared to the several millions of the BEF and the French army) was mostly significant for its morale implications to the other combatants.

As for WW2 ... without US aid, I think Hitler might well have forced the UK into an armistice or cease-fire; but he didn't have the wherewithal to mount an invasion. Nor could the UK credibly allow the axis control of the Mediterranean -- without access to the Suez canal, the British empire would be doomed, and without the quid-pro-quo for lend-lease the British government had absolutely no interest in giving up India and parts east. The UK/Reich war would almost inevitably have reignited as and when the Reich began to move on Egypt. And unlike Germany, the UK was on a total war footing as early as December 1939; by 1944 its industry was out-producing Germany on munitions (albeit at ruinous cost).

It's hard to talk counterfactuals without a stack of history books to one side, but it helps to have read a bit more widely than the standard received wisdom; the actual sequence of events in those wars isn't what we get taught in schools.

#71 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2007, 11:50 AM:

#70: Randolph, make peace does not mean surrender.

In neocon-land, it means not only "surrender" but "stab your brave soldiers in the back". Real men never make peace, they only make war.

A lot of the problems caused by neocons are because people think "nah, they couldn't possibly be THAT crazy". Well, actually, yes they can.

#72 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2007, 12:10 PM:

Niall, #70--that has Churchill claiming a victory in a war never fought. Which also makes the remark more plausible; good political puffery, and no inconvenient facts to get in the way.

Charlie, #71. The Central Powers and the Axis had logistic superiority, regardless. With no powerful ally across the Atlantic, providing logistic support, that would eventually have told on the UK--it was exactly threats to the Atlantic supply lines that ultimately brought the USA into World War I. (I am struck, by the way, by how little the Wikipedia articles cover the logistics of the war; it is still true that "an army travels on its stomach", but you'd never think it from those articles.) I found a few paragraphs on the US trade in munitions in World War I over on globalsecurity.org--the amount of munitions before the official US entry into the war was staggering--some $2.2 billion in the money of the period. I'm not sure where most of those went, though I think it was largely the Allied armies, but I know one place they didn't go--Germany, which was successfully blockaded by the Royal Navy.

There's probably more to say about this, but I've got to go.

#73 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:54 AM:

Real men perceive their truth only in war,
peace is for women, homos, wimps, the weak;
the world is for the strong, not for the meek;
this is the logic of base cowards in a bar.
A man may be a hero, in the privacy of his car,
in his mind he's achieved the top, the peak;
to limit his power, to stay calm, that is bleak
and will not lead us to the furthest star.
So order, peace, and justice are a waste;
they don't allow the hero's light to shine
and manhood's not allowed its proper place.
Instead let's value pride, urgency, haste,
those things that let me claim the world as mine;
that's what's important, and damn the human race.

#74 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:11 PM:

Fragano, that reminds me of the saying "The meek will inherit the earth; the rest of us are going to space!"

#75 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:36 PM:

Marilee #75: I know that as J. Paul Getty's declaration that the meek will inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights.

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