Blowback Works Both Ways

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows how to inflame American and Israeli leaders.

He’s claimed 9/11 was an inside job:

Making reference to what he called the “mysterious September 11th incident” and the “slave masters and colonial powers” of the West, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad excoriated Western member nations in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York

Ahmadinejad said after the speech that as an engineer he’s sure the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York were not brought down by jetliners.

Ahmadinejad, in an interview with The Associated Press, says it would have been impossible for two jetliners to bring down the towers simply by hitting them. He says some kind of planned explosion must have taken place.

(Amusingly, this sparked al-Qaeda to supposedly put out a counter-statement defiantly claiming responsibility and condemning Ahmadinejad, although such disputes have not prevented America from claiming that Iran and al-Qaeda were jointly responsible for 9/11).

He’s claimed that the holocaust may have never happened:

During an interview with CNN, which aired Monday on “Piers Morgan Tonight,”the Iranian president said he will not judge Nazi Germany’s extermination of the Jews during World War II.

“Whatever event has taken place throughout history, or hasn’t taken place, I cannot judge that. Why should I judge that? I say researchers and scholars must be free to conduct research and analysis about any historical event,” Ahmadinejad said.

And today, he claimed that Israel was a “nuclear armed fake regime”, and that Israel will be eliminated:

 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be “eliminated,” ignoring a U.N. warning to avoid incendiary rhetoric ahead of the annual General Assembly session.

Ahmadinejad also said he did not take seriously the threat that Israel could launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, denied sending arms to Syria, and alluded to Iran’s threats to the life of British author Salman Rushdie.

Ahmadinejad claims that Israel and America are bluffing in their threats to attack Iran:

In a series of combative interviews in New York on the eve of the UN General Assembly, Iran’s political leader said Israel was making a lot of ‘noise’ and encouraging the West to prevent legitimate scientific progress in his country.

Reiterating that he was open to dialogue with the United States on the nuclear issue he also said he was prepared to defend Iran from any external threat.

“Fundamentally, we do not take seriously threats of the Zionists,” he said. “We believe the Zionists see themselves at a dead end and they want to find an adventure to get out of this dead end. While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take these threats seriously.”

He may be right on that count, because America can ill afford another costly invasion, and nothing less than a full invasion and regime change is likely to in the long run prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.Yet while I believe that an American or Israeli attack on Iran is an entirely foolish policy that will only serve to weaken America and Israel in the long run, it is foolish and dangerous for Ahmadinejad to needlessly enrage the ferocious neoconservative beast.

Ahmadinejad may well be playing the same long game as Osama bin Laden:

We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.

Osama bin Laden

And they may succeed (although those who believe that war is a stimulus that can end a depression will surely disagree — as Antal Fekete has noted, Western governments may look to a new hot war in the middle east as an opportunity to exit an economic depression that they cannot control).  But for Ahmadinejad and Iran, it may come at a huge, huge cost — a long painful invasion, ending in death in the street or on the gallows. Neoconservatism — and Obama and Romney are both to lesser and greater degrees neoconservatives — is a violent utopian ideology that seeks to force the entire world — by whatever means and at any cost — to conform to American foreign policy imperatives. As America should have learned a long time ago — and as Ahmadinejad may well soon learn — needlessly pissing off violent utopian ideologues creates blowback.

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Time to Get Out of the Middle East

It takes a lot of time and effort to try to understand American counter-terrorism policy today.

Personally, I think the status quo is like trying to treat a cocaine overdose with methamphetamine. It’s like trying to cure chlamydia by having sex with multiple random strangers in a park. It’s like trying to cure a broken nose by punching oneself in the face.

Or, as Glenn Greenwald puts it:

I absolutely believe that another 9/11 is possible. And the reason I believe it’s so possible is that people like Andrew Sullivan — and George Packer — have spent the last decade publicly cheering for American violence brought to the Muslim world, and they continue to do so (now more than ever under Obama). Far from believing that another 9/11 can’t happen, I’m amazed that it hasn’t already, and am quite confident that at some point it will. How could any rational person expect their government to spend a full decade (and counting) invading, droning, cluster-bombing, occupying, detaining without charges, and indiscriminately shooting huge numbers of innocent children, women and men in multiple countries and not have its victims and their compatriots be increasingly eager to return the violence?

Isn’t it painfully obvious? The interventionist policies — occupation, drone strikes, cluster-bombing, indefinitely detention, false vaccination programs and so forth — in the middle east advocated by both “liberal” and “conservative” hawks that are supposed to prevent terrorism are creating anger, creating enemies, and creating terrorists. I too am amazed another 9/11 hasn’t happened. I despise jihadism and Islamism. It is contrary to everything I stand for. That’s exactly why I oppose a foreign policy that serves as a hugely effective recruiting tool for the totalitarian jihadists. 

Yemeni lawyer Haykal Bafana explained the rationale last month:

Dear Obama, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

Or as convicted terrorist Faisal Shahzad put it:

Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people.  And, on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attack.  Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.

Or as former CIA counter-terrorism expert Michael Scheuer noted:

The idea that has been pushed by President Clinton and President Bush and Mr. Cheney and Barack Obama and Senator McCain, that America is being attacked [for its freedom] is a disservice to the population of the United States. This war is not against Americans because we’re Americans, it’s motivated by the activities of our government and its allies in the Muslim world.

So why do we keep doing this? Two reasons: hubris and greed.

First, the hubris. We know Ron Paul was booed in South Carolina for advocating that we should do to others as we would like done to us:

My point is if another country does to us what we do others, we’re not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in — in foreign policy. Don’t do to other nation what we don’t want to have them do to us.

But that’s just the propagandistic nature of being a superpower. Years of prosperity, military supremacy and pro-war propaganda have made it normal to believe strongly in the idea that America is intrinsically better, and wherever America goes America brings freedom, and anyone who doesn’t agree with that needs to be waterboarded until they do.

Yet however many times as the phrase “they hate us because we are free” is repeated, mantra-like by a Rick Santorum or a Newt Gingrich, it does not become truer. It is just an illusion, just a fantasy. While the jihadis were always anti-American, anti-democratic and anti-capitalistic, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Sayyid al-Qutb — the fathers and grandfathers of modern Wahhabism, jihadism and al-Qaeda — became anti-American militants because of America’s role in the middle east.

As bin Laden himself said:

Those who kill our women and innocent, we kill their women and innocent, until they refrain.

And even more clearly:

Free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom. If so, then let him explain to us why we don’t strike Sweden, for example.

Second, the greed. America is in the middle east because America likes cheap energy. That myth of America as liberators flourished first as a justification for America’s petrodollar foreign policy.

And people get rich from America being at war — so far in the region of $4 trillion has gone to fighting since 9/11. A lot of weapons contractors are happy with the status quo.

So the military-industrial complex — the lobbyists, the weapons makers, the media — may accept it if Obama kills 14 women and 21 children to get one suspected terrorist. More terrorism means more weapons spending. For the lucky few it’s a self-perpetuating stairway to riches. Yet for wider society it means spending time, money and effort on war, instead of on domestic prosperity. It means the constant threat of terrorism. And it means the loss of our liberty, as the security state adopts increasingly paranoid anti-terrorism measures.

We should do to others as we would have done to ourselves. That means — unless we are comfortable with the idea of ourselves living under military occupation and drone strikes — getting out of the middle east, and letting that region solve its own problems — forget another costly and destructive occupation in Syria. Slash the war and occupation spending, and redirect the money to making America independent of middle eastern energy and resources.