Once during the Q&A session of a lecture, Noam Chomsky was asked when it was okay to trust one’s own government. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied that you could and should never trust one’s government. Never. At the time, I thought perhaps the great dissident had for once overstated the case. But the more one learns about the intrigues of Washington, the more apt his radical precept seems.
When the official history of the realm is one day written, it may contain several chapters that establish President Barack Obama as a great flag-bearer of liberty, free trade, and economic recovery. Those chapters will be drenched in distortion, tinged with the blood of true freedom fighters, darkened by the vanished jobs and sickly pall of an economy in permanent decline. But though parlor tricks like fiddling with unemployment numbers and disguising offshoring as free trade are notable for their sheer chutzpa, few deceits are more striking than those that occur in the sordid arena of regime change.
The Innocent Bystander
Our government will employ nearly any means necessary to prop up its timeworn self-image as the ‘innocent bystander’, that lone and exceptional nation that looks on with worried brow as benighted desert populations spill each other’s blood over medieval tribal disputes. This is the essential portrait of the American character renewed for us daily by the arbiters of popular opinion—CNN, FOX, NPR, and the New York Times, and their local-market stenographers. Standing in line at Starbuck’s, scanning the headlines of the day, we are thus reassured that our representatives in Washington are freely dispensing the bottomless altruism that makes us an indispensible nation.
Each anchor, reporter, columnist or op-ed guest will take pains to credit Western stakeholders with the purest of motives. Inevitably comes the phrase, “Western nations worry that…” or “Proponents of the strategy are concerned that…” We are invited to picture the grim Cabinet member shifting uneasily in his bespoke suit as the latest Arab bloodletting is discussed in hushed tones. That’s the proper image of the neoliberal Uncle Sam. A no-nonsense man of the people, anxiously wringing his hands, asking himself how he might best help defend the defenseless from the indefensible. After all, he has a responsibility to protect.
It’s closer to the truth to say that we expose the defenseless to the indefensible—in order to defend our interests. The innocent bystander motif has become a threadbare and discredited image of America, like the logo of a defunct charity found to have siphoned donations into Swiss bank accounts. The innocent bystander motif largely claims that we intervene to defuse conflict and calm chaos. Precisely the opposite is true. We incite conflict and encourage division—and not by accident. (Another cliché defense of the educated classes: we made a mistake, chaos was never our intention.) The overarching geopolitical strategy of the United States calls for division. It calls for aggression. It calls for subversion. It calls for murder. There is no other way to establish oneself as the global hegemon.
There seems to have been precious little debate about American foreign policy in the heady aftermath of the Soviet meltdown. There don’t seem to have been any high-profile conferences on the benefits of a multi-polar world. Instead it was unipolar all the way. It was full-steam ahead, destination global dominion. As researcher Andrew Gavin Marshall suggested, four documents outline the American strategy for a “new world order.” The Paul Wolfowitz-drafted Defense Planning Guide from 1992 that laid out the goal in the starkest of terms: Now that the Soviet Union has crumbled, we cannot permit any new rivals to arise. Clear enough. Then the doyen of beltway geostrategists, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his cheery manual for global conquest, The Grand Chessboard, reminded Washington that Eurasia was the true “geopolitical prize” to be had. Control Eurasia and you control three-fourths of the world’s resources, the mandarin sniffed. Not long afterward, the neoconservative cabal of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) weighed in with its feverish white paper, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” in which it argued for the need to fight and win multiple major theater wars around the world. This was empire for the ADD generation. Not to be outdone, the Pentagon added its heavyweight forecast, the Joint Vision 2020 report, to the pile, coining the phrase “Full Spectrum Dominance” to consolidate all of these slightly nuanced visions into one comprehensive and terrifying mandate.
Well, if you want to be the world’s sword bearer, guardian of the grain, defender of the weak and dispenser of justice, you’d better have a plan. These core documents appear to represent the four cornerstones of U.S. imperial strategy. They offer a context in which to consider how and why men like Barack Obama must incessantly conjure up new pretexts by which to start new conflicts. During his tenure, Obama has made use of more covert tactics to advance our strategic aims. That is no surprise, given that he followed the painfully overt tactics and ham-fisted execution of his predecessor George W. Bush. But then Republicans were never known for their tact.
The Ruse of Democracy Promotion
Uninterested in large boots-on-the-ground quagmires, Barack Obama was evidently pleased to make use of one of the more clandestine tactics of imperial conquest—one he put to good use in Ukraine most notably, but also in Syria and Libya. It is always a dispiriting discovery to learn that a democratic uprising has been largely stage-managed by the West. Not that there wasn’t simmering discontent in every country that participated in the Arab Spring. There was. Not that there weren’t Ukrainians disgusted by the corruption of then President Viktor Yanukovych and his government. There were. But discontent doesn’t often explode in a wave of regime challenging rebellions. Turns out Obama and his Western consorts were more than happy to hijack legitimate but minority anti-government movements with sacks of cash, seminars on destabilization, and a paid contingent of head-crackers to ensure the fledgling protests attained a violent apotheosis. All of this to happen before news cameras and a billion mobile devices—all ready to Facebook and tweet and YouTube every smoke-smudged fracas and gruesome puncture wound.
The modern euphemism is that of the ‘color revolution’. Our venerable cabal of faux foreign aid organizations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House, and politicized billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI)—all backed by USAID—have all funneled taxpayer monies into local anti-democracy and anti-government groups, as well as neofascist pockets, for the purpose of undermining the sitting administration, be it elected or imposed. Only one factor really matters in the profile of the government to be capsized—the fact that it doesn’t follow the Washington Consensus. The rest is immaterial.
Nothing kick starts a geopolitical redesign like a regional destabilization campaign. Just look at this cabal’s masterful achievements in Eastern Europe, places such as Serbia with the Bulldozer Revolution, Georgia with the Rose Revolution, Ukraine twice with the Orange Revolution and last year’s Euro Maidan, and ongoing efforts in Macedonia.
Nor should we forget South America, where a phalanx of Trojan horse NGOs have relentlessly targeted Venezuela’s Bolivarian socialism. In South America, the pattern is also to provoke street violence and loudly condemn the sitting government for harsh crackdowns on free expression, whether true or not. Also important is the ability to sabotage the domestic economy—through hoarding in Venezuela—so that the State Department can hysterically flap its wings and explain why socialist regulation never works and is a fundamentally anti-freedom.
This faux regime-change-from-within tactic is presently being deployed on numerous fronts: Syria, Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Venezuela. Note all of the targeted countries have one or two salient features in common. They generally have the aforementioned independent-minded governments. They sometimes lean eastward politically, cutting deals with hated Muscovites or Maoists. And they either have heaps of oil and gas beneath their soil, or are potentially a major thoroughfare for energy transit.
The Pretext of Extremism
In the Middle East, the formula is a bit more sanguinary. Syria and Iraq demonstrate this daily. Sometimes it’s not enough to teach hordes of disgruntled students how to light a trash bin on fire and set it rolling toward Parliament Square. Stronger tactics must be employed. The process is slightly different: Hijack some fledgling discontent in the districts, add a powder keg of jihadist rage, label them all moderate freedom fighters for ‘worried’ Western consumers, and keep up a steady supply of freshly minted weapons. This is the penultimate tactic before all-out war, and the extremist clans can often serve as a proxy ground force one can support with air cover. This spares American lives—always popular with the rabble—and creates a patina of restraint, which is the calling card of Democratic presidents. In the end, if you can’t buy off a ruling party, if you can’t remove them by stirring up a confection of angry students and exiled politicians, and if a coup can’t be engineered through the military, then arming extremists tends to look marginally more attractive. Therein lies the dynamite of regime change in Syria, as Sunnis war with Shiites and both will soon see the other as an existential threat—like a feverish Netanyahu rehearsing his Iran talking points in an echo chamber.
Encouraging extremists to run amok across sovereign borders is also a reliable way to justify intervention. Claiming we must intervene to stop a procession of YouTube beheadings is usually a winning stratagem. Whoever argues against it is instantly branded a barbaric fantasist fit for an expanded NSA file. But this is pretext President Obama used to take us back to Iraq—to engage us in yet another fight for the future of freedom. Fortunately, and not that infrequently, a batch of files obtained through an inside leak or via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will surface to give the lie to the official plot.
The revelations contained in newly released Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) papers—won through the FOIA—have done just that. They confirm what Seymour Hersh revealed in the “Redirection” essay in the New Yorker nearly eight years ago. They confirm what Rand Paul uttered just a couple of days ago. Namely, that ISIS is largely a Western creation. Not only has Washington funded, trained and armed extremists, it knew they were extremists and not the ‘moderates’ that Obama so seamlessly slipped past the inattentive eye of mainstream America.
So why are we backing Al Qaeda in Iraq, its virulent offshoot ISIS or Daesh, and seemingly any other jihadist with a gun and a grudge that happens into the cross-border fray? Quite simple: we did so as part of a plan to topple a democratically elected leader in Syria, dismember Iraq, and permit a relatively fangless caliphate to emerge across the borders of those two ill-fated nations.
But don’t we hate Sharia law? Not as much as we love oil. Because once Syria and Iraq are reduced to simmering cauldrons of conflict on the edges of Iran and Lebanon, a major portion of the Shia Crescent will have been sundered beneath the boot heel of more pliable Sunni factions. The Crescent includes Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and recently Iraq. And these groups of self-determined Shiites are the largest obstacles to complete Western dominion over the natural resources of the Middle East. With its allies largely scattered, the West can then focus its destructive energies on Tehran.
And still we believe. Though Iranian commanders have lamented our lack of air support in the fight against ISIS positions, notably in Ramadi, essentially laying bare the fact that we don’t want to retard ISIS as it conquers new territory. In reply, we have offered a string of farcical excuses—from an inopportune sandstorm to a hand-wringing fear of civilian casualties.
But Ramadi has fallen. And Palmyra has fallen. And now the nefarious caliphate-obsessed marauders are streaming toward Baghdad and Damascus. Showdowns are in the offing. And one can guess where Washington’s chips will be laid. Along with Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s and Qatar’s and the UK’s, our motley crew of amoral profiteers that back Al Qaeda and ISIS. Arms, air cover, and cash money. How twisted that we now arm the ideological descendants of the 9/11 criminals. How depraved.
Still, this is a time-tested model. It was pioneered by his Democratic ancestor Jimmy Carter, who was himself hoodwinked by his National Security Advisor Brzezinksi, who handed him the foolproof plan to solicit the cheaply bought services of Islamic jihad to help advance Western interests—in that particular case, to create a “Vietnam” experience for the Soviet Union on the grassy knolls of Kabul. Mission Accomplished.
Yet here we are, not having digested any of the lessons of the past, except those useful for refining the imperial strategies we continue to employ. The American population continues to live beneath a banner of official deceits, its leaders feeding it whatever imposture they cobble together, then whitewashing it all with a bucket of soporific platitudes. And as long as the American public lives in the dark, foreign populations will continue to live beneath the buzz of drones and the rain of missiles and within the fray of sectarian slaughter, their cries ignored or unheard. It was Voltaire who once opined that, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” To that we might add, “or simply overlook them.”