American Resistance To Empire

Major Mainstream News Player–L.A. TIMES–Recognizes That Nat. News Has Devolved Into Propaganda

President Donald Trump speaks during a conference supporting veterans and military families through partnership at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

The “P” word.

It’s a pivotal part of the story on Donald Trump’s camera-lit path to the White House. The media, of course, rarely if ever uttered the taboo term on air, even as demonstrators shouted it at cameras during women’s marches and scrawled it across protest signs they brandished outside the White House.

But here we are, two years in, tiptoeing around The Word That Cannot Be Said. Let’s just call it what it is: Propaganda.

The state-sponsored spread of deliberate misinformation is not a “half-truth,” “distortion of reality” or “the president’s loose relationship with the facts,” as many a mainstream news correspondent and pundit have said. It’s also not “a bold truth” or simply “The Truth” as many voices on the right have asserted.

The doctored “karate-chop” video of CNN’s Jim Acosta allegedly manhandling a White House intern at a press conference, posted by press secretary Sarah Sanders last week, was not a matter of differing perspectives, dueling truths or conflicting political beliefs. Nor were the White House transcripts of public meetings where Trump’s flubs were mysteriously omitted, altered presidential approval ratings posted by Don Jr. before the midterms or the cropped photo that Sean Spicer insisted was proof of the biggest inaugural crowd ever. “Period!”

They were all cases of purposefully manufactured narratives, disseminated from the highest levels of government, sometimes with the help of adversary nations, to sway public opinion, quash dissenting voices and consolidate power.

I know, it’s not half as fun as Kellyanne Conway’s wacky spiel on alternative facts or just Trump being Trump. In fact, it’s associated with some of the uglier chapters of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Propaganda is something most of us read about in history class and wondered how people were so easily duped. Certainly they saw through such obvious attempts to manipulate? Its use dates back well before Nazi Germany and Cold War Russia and stretches up to present-day China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea. It arrives in the form of fake Facebook accounts created abroad and meant to influence our elections, or surveillance video from a Turkish embassy where Saudi operatives sought to cover up a murder by posing as their victim.

It’s the mark of a country we never wanted to be: a nation that divides its own people and pits them against one another. And it never ends well.

Democracy relies on people being informed…A society [with] their own set of facts is absolutely devastating.–Stephan Lewandowsky, cognitive scientist

“On page one of any political science textbook it will say that democracy relies on people being informed about the issues so they can have a debate and make a decision,” Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist who studies the persistence and spread of misinformation, told the BBC shortly after Trump’s inauguration. “Having a large number of people in a society who are misinformed and have their own set of facts is absolutely devastating and extremely difficult to cope with.”

No wonder fabrications from the Oval Office are often viewed as singular events or anomalies caused by an outsider who crashed Washington rather than age-old propaganda. It’s too frightening to admit the calls are coming from inside the house.

Orwellian state messaging has even permeated the TV series we binge for entertainment. Shall we be terrified by “The Man in the High Castle” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” tonight, honey? We’ve also been desensitized by reality TV, the modern-day answer to the documentary, where scripted moments of drama are an acceptable and almost expected part of serialized “reality.”

Take Trump’s old show “The Apprentice,” where the bankruptcy-prone son of a real estate mogul was reimagined into a self-made billionaire. The lines between fantasy and reality weren’t just blurred by “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett, they were erased entirely and redrawn by some of television’s best alchemists.

It was all fun and games and great ratings until someone got elected to office.

With such deep cultural references as “You’re Fired!” permeating American society, it’s no wonder the idea of propaganda seems like a relic from the paranoid 1950s or a cruel fate meant for other countries with fist-shaking Ayatollahs or military strongmen. We’ll stick with Rosie the Riveter, thanks, a nostalgic symbol of the domestic war effort. She smiled on the factory floor while assembling deadly munitions. What could be cuter? And please don’t say Flo, the perky Progressive Insurance lady.

'Mission accomplished'
President Bush stands in front of the now-famous “Mission accomplished” banner on May 1, 2003. Stephen Jaffe / AFP/Getty Images

There’s of course nothing new about politicians evangelizing their version of events or extolling their successes. George W. Bush gave the “mission accomplished” thumbs up shortly after the U.S. invaded Baghdad, though the mission was predicated on faulty intel and the war would drag on for over a decade. Barack Obama graciously accepted the Noble Peace Prize as the drone strikes he ordered killed civilians in Pakistan.

War propaganda is as old as, well, war. And hard spin is used just as frequently to influence in diplomatic times. Leaders must always look like leaders. But perhaps you’ve heard: This presidency isn’t like the others.

In July when speaking to a group of veterans in Kansas City about his distrust of the media, Trump said it plainly: “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

He couldn’t have been more truthful, at least in that instance.

The altered Acosta video, which appeared to have been uploaded by Sanders from the conspiracy-minded website InfoWars to her Twitter feed, was used to justify banning the CNN correspondent from future press briefings, and now CNN is suing. No word yet if Final Cut Pro will be hired as the next press secretary.

The crowd
This pair of photos shows a view of the crowd on the National Mall at the inaugurations of President Barack Obama, above, on Jan. 20, 2009, and President Donald Trump, below, on Jan. 20, 2017.. Associated Press

That wasn’t the only clumsy attempt at recasting a moment already witnessed by millions. Recently released government documents acquired through a Freedom of Information request confirmed what many suspected following Trump’s first days in the White House. The Guardian reported that “a government photographer edited official pictures of the inauguration to make the crowd appear bigger” after a request by Trump “who was angered by images showing his audience was smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2009.”

He called the correction “fake news,” a phrase that Trump seems to have brought into the lexicon to muddy the waters.

Trump propaganda is of course reflected and fed by his unofficial media wing, Fox News. It’s a back-and-forth feeding frenzy that’s become so acceptable at the network that even two of its star hosts campaigned on stage alongside the president at political rallies.

So many ethical lines have been crossed in the past two years, it’s doubtful anyone — let alone Sean Hannity — can locate where the defining boundaries of “normal” used to be.

There are a few who can see through the gentle euphemisms — namely, the old guard who remember a time when Russia was the enemy, presidents showed their tax returns and Gold Star families were honored by their country’s Commander in Chief. Military analyst Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, left Fox News but not before stating: “With the rise of Donald Trump, Fox did become a destructive propaganda machine. And I don’t do propaganda for anyone.”

Still, the slow drip of repeated terms like “fake news” wears a groove that’s hard to get out of, even when the real fake news is coming from the White House and undermining democratic institutions critical to our nation’s health. And let’s not forget the sharpest tool of all: fear. Beware of caravans, Nancy Pelosi, transgender bathrooms, black women journalists, yadda, yadda.

Many in the media must have expected Trump to develop from a reality-show ringleader to a world leader when they used non-corrosive terms like “distortions” and “half-truths” while correcting his 2017-era falsehoods.

But by his second year in office, even the euphemisms got tired. Now several mainstream journalists use the L-word: lie.

Perhaps the “P-word” is next.


Trump Reportedly Explores Option of Letting Turkey Kill US Resident Gulen, As Bribe To Forget Saudi Murder of Khashoggi


Fethullah Gülen. Photo: Matt Smith/picture alliance via Getty Image

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Marco Rubio wrote that Donald Trump’s brand of nationalism is not a creed that subordinates enlightenment values to zero-sum tribalism — as French president Emmanuel Macron had recently suggested. Rather, the Florida senator argued that the president’s nationalistic ethos was rooted in his deep appreciation for America’s “identity as a nation committed to the idea that all people are created equal, with a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

There are more than a few problems with the thesis that Donald Trump only puts “America First” because America does the same for the concept of universal human rights. But an especially conspicuous one is that the president disdains the concept of human rights more than he reveres his fellow Americans.

Or so Trump’s handling of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder would suggest. From the moment the Turkish government revealed that Saudi agents had killed a Washington Post columnist — and legal U.S. resident — in Istanbul, the American president made it clear that he viewed the murder as less of a moral atrocity than a PR headache.

Trump’s first response to Turkey’s revelation was to demand that the public give his friends in Riyadh the presumption of innocence. His second was to allow that, if the Saudis did in fact murder and dismember a U.S.-based journalist, “it would not be a positive” — but nevertheless insisted that the American government couldn’t respond too harshly to such an offense because the Saudis are “spending $110 billion on [American] military equipment” (and those arms sales must be protected at all costs).

Now, with Khashoggi’s death buried beneath the ruins of a thousand subsequent news cycles, Trump has (reportedly) shifted his focus away from offering Riyadh constructive criticism on its lackluster cover-up, and toward getting Turkish president Recep Erdogan to let bygones be bygones.

More specifically, the president is reportedly trying to persuade Erdogan to forgive the Saudis for murdering a U.S. resident who was critical of their government by helping Erdogan imprison (and, in all probability, murder) a U.S. resident who was critical of the Turkish government.

As NBC News reports:

The White House is looking for ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.

Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.


… They said the White House specifically wanted details about Gulen’s residency status in the U.S. Gulen has a Green Card, according to two people familiar with the matter. He has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.

Career officials at the agencies pushed back on the White House requests, the U.S. officials and people briefed on the requests said.

“At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the process.

Erdogan has accused Gülen (without any substantial evidence) of masterminding the failed 2016 coup attempt against his government. Last year, Erdogan vowed to behead the “traitors” who had attempted to depose him. Thus, there is little doubt that to expel Gülen to Turkey would be to put the longtime Keystone State resident, and charter-school entrepreneur, in mortal danger.

To review: In order to help an Islamist theocracy get away with executing one American immigrant, Trump is (reportedly) trying to find a legal rationale for letting another (much less totalitarian) Islamist theocracy execute a different American immigrant.

If this is true, then it seems safe to say, contra Rubio, that Trump is less of an American nationalist who harbors a deep commitment to human rights than an American solipsist who is ready and willing to abet crimes against humanity if he believes that he stands to benefit personally from doing so.

US State Dept. Whitewashing Pentagon’s Dirty History Creating ISIS

[ISIS is Al-Qaeda In Iraq, rebranded within the confines of US Prison Camp Bucca, near Basra, Iraq, where all of the primary leaders of ISIS were held…a prison referred to by the guards as “jihadi university“.  
ISIS is a creation of Obama/Hillary, who assigned the job to Bandar bin Sultan, Emir of Qatar,  CIA, MI-6, and Mossad.]

[What Is the Truth About ISIS?]

In this file photo, Islamic State group militants hold up their flag as they patrol in a commandeered Iraqi military vehicle in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq © AP Photo / File

US State Department Claims Daesh Was Created to ‘Protect People’ From Assad

Damascus and its allies have repeatedly accused Washington of waging a phony war on the jihadists, and of providing various forms of covert support for terrorists operating on Syrian territory.

The Syrian government is directly responsible for creating Daesh (ISIS)*, US special representative for Syria engagement James Jeffrey has alleged.

“The Syrian regime produced ISIS,” the diplomat said, speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday. “The elements of ISIS in the hundreds, probably, saw an opportunity in the total breakdown of civil society and of the upsurge of violence as the population rose up against the Assad regime, and the Assad regime, rather than try to negotiate or try to find any kind of solution, unleashed massive violence against its own population.”

“That created a space for ISIS to recruit people; to protect people to some degree, ironic as it sounds, from the depredations of the Assad regime; and very soon, ISIS had an army of 35,000 troops and had seized big chunks of both Iraq and Syria,” Jeffrey said.

Later in the press conference, Jeffrey appeared to contradict himself, recalling that al-Qaeda in Iraq, the direct precursor to Daesh, was actually started in Iraq.

“ISIS’s predecessor under the same leader, [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi, al-Qaeda in Iraq, was almost completely defeated when I was in Iraq…But it was able to regenerate itself because there was no long-term strategy in either Syria or Iraq, but particularly in Iraq at the time, because that’s where we were focused on, to ensure the enduring defeat of these elements,” the diplomat said.

Daesh’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was formed in 2004, soon after the US invasion of Iraq, which caused the country to descend into chaos as a number of terrorist groups, warlords and militia groups waged guerrilla warfare against the central administration, US forces, and each other for control of their territories.

No US Aid for Reconstruction

Calling Syria a “pariah” state, Jeffrey stressed that neither Washington nor “most of the rest of the international community that typically provides reconstruction funds” would do so “until we see a great deal more progress” in Syria.

Earlier this year, Syrian President Bashar Assad estimated that Syria’s reconstruction could cost up to $400 billion and take 10-15 years to complete.

US Will Stay in Syria After Daesh is Gone

Noting that the US and its allies expect Daesh’s holdings in Syria to be mopped up “in a few months'” time, Jeffrey admitted that the US military presence also supports other, “secondary” goals, including countering alleged Iranian “malign activities” and demonstrating a US “interest in achieving a political solution by the various ways we have, not just diplomatic but security and military, through economic tools and other assets that we have and that we’re deploying in this conflict”.

Accusing Iran of “contributing greatly” to Daesh’s rise in 2013 and 2014, the US diplomat said that any resolution to the conflict will require their withdrawal. “Technically, the Syrian government invited them in; we expect the Syrian government to ask them to leave.”Damascus has repeatedly urged US forces to end their illegal presence in Syria, and have alleged that the US anti-Daesh mission was never about fighting terrorism.

* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.

Saudis Defend Against Khashoggi Murder By Deifying Young Prick Prince

[Saudi Arabia Says Calls for Internationalization of Holy Sites ‘A Declaration of War’ ]

Saudi Arabia Is Misusing Mecca

In the aftermath of the Jamal Khashoggi murder, the kingdom has exploited the podium of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by using its imams to praise, sanctify and defend the rulers and their actions.

By Khaled M. Abou El Fadl

Mr. Fadl teaches law at the University of California, Los Angeles.

CreditCreditChristina Hägerfors 

The rulers of Saudi Arabia derive much of their legitimacy and prestige in the Muslim world from their control and upkeep of the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba in Mecca and the mosque of Prophet Muhammad in Medina. King Salman, like the rulers before him, wears the title of the “Khadim al-Ḥaramayn al-Sharifayn,” which is translated as the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” or, more precisely, “The Servant of the Two Noble Sanctuaries.”

Despite the humility of the royal title, the Saudi monarchy has a long history of exploiting the podium of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by using its imams to praise, sanctify and defend the rulers and their actions.

In the aftermath of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as the world’s accusatory gaze was transfixed on Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi monarchy has again used the Grand Mosque to defend and deify the crown prince in a manner that makes its legitimacy and control of Mecca and Medina morally troubling like never before.

On Oct. 19, Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudais, the officially appointed imam of the Grand Mosque and the highest religious authority in the kingdom, delivered his Friday sermon from a written script. Friday sermons at the Grand Mosque are broadcast live on cable networks and social media sites, watched with great reverence by millions of Muslims and carry a great deal of moral and religious authority.

Imam Sudais delivered a troubling sermon, violating the sanctity of the sacred space he occupied. He referenced a saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad that once every century, God sends a mujaddid, a great reformer to reclaim or reinvigorate the faith. He explained that the mujaddid is needed to address the unique challenges of each age.

He proceeded to extol Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a divine gift to Muslims and implied that the crown prince was the mujaddid sent by God to revive the Islamic faith in our age. “The path of reform and modernization in this blessed land … through the care and attention from its young, ambitious, divinely inspired reformer crown prince, continues to blaze forward guided by his vision of innovation and insightful modernism, despite all the failed pressures and threats,” the imam declared, from the podium where Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon.

Invoking the debate following the Khashoggi murder, Imam Sudais warned Muslims against believing ill-intended media rumors and innuendos that sought to cast doubt on the great Muslim leader. He described the conspiracies against the crown prince as intended to destroy Islam and Muslims, warning that “all threats against his modernizing reforms are bound not only to fail, but will threaten international security, peace and stability.”

He cautioned that the attacks against “these blessed lands” are a provocation and offense to more than a billion Muslims. Imam Sudais used the word “muhaddath,” or “uniquely and singularly gifted” to describe Prince Mohammed. “Muhaddath” was the title given by Prophet Muhammad to Umar Ibn al-Khattab, his companion and the second caliph of Islam. The imam implicitly compared the crown prince to Caliph Umar.

Imam Sudais prayed for God to protect Prince Mohammed against the international conspiracies being woven against him by the enemies of Islam, the malingerers and hypocrites, and concluded that it was the solemn duty of all Muslims to support and obey the king and the faithful crown prince, the protectors and guardians of the holy sites and Islam.

Muslim Hajj pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, located in the center of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.CreditMustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images 

When an imam of the Grand Mosque calls upon Muslims to obediently accept Prince Mohammed’s incredulous narrative about the murder of Mr. Khashoggi; to accept his abduction, jailing and torture of dissenters, including imprisonment of several revered Islamic scholars; to ignore his pitiless and cruel war in Yemen, his undermining the democratic dreams in the Arab world, his support for the oppressive dictatorship in Egypt, it makes it impossible to accept the imam’s categorization of the crown prince as a divinely inspired reformer. The sanctified podium of the prophet in Mecca is being desecrated and defiled.

The control of Mecca and Medina has enabled the clerical establishment and the monarchy flush with oil money to extend their literalist and rigid interpretations of Islam beyond the borders of the kingdom. Most Muslims will always prefer a tolerant and ethically conscientious Islam to the variant championed by the crown prince and the acquiescent Saudi clergy.

By using the Grand Mosque to whitewash acts of despotism and oppression, Prince Mohammed has placed the very legitimacy of the Saudi control and guardianship of the holy places of Mecca and Medina in question.

Khaled M. Abou El Fadl is a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of “Reasoning With God: Reclaiming Shari‘ah in the Modern Age.”


An earlier version of this article misstated a term that Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudais used to describe Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a divinely inspired reformer. The word was “mujaddid,” not “mujtahid.” The earlier version also misspelled one of King Salman’s titles. It is Khadim al-Haramayn al-Sharifayn, not Khadim al-Ḥaramayn as-Sarifayn.

Trump “Green-Lighting” Saudi Plans For Lebanon’s Destruction?

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John Abizaid.jpg
Gen. John Philip Abizaid, Lebanese decent, former head of Iraq mission.

Gen. John P. Abizaid’s nomination as the next ambassador to Saudi Arabia comes six weeks after the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi.CreditCreditWin McNamee/Getty Images

By Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt

WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Tuesday that he will nominate Gen. John P. Abizaid, a retired commander of forces in the Middle East, as his new ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a position that has taken on new sensitivity with the assassination of a Saudi journalist.

The selection, if confirmed by the Senate, will finally give the president a representative of his own in Riyadh at a time when the relationship with Washington has grown strained over the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who lived in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post.

General Abizaid, a Lebanese-American who speaks fluent Arabic and spent years in the Middle East, served as head of the United States Central Command with responsibility for the region and oversaw the early years of the Iraq war under President George W. Bush. Since 2016, he has served as special envoy to the Ukrainian military helping bolster its capacity against Russian aggression.

The nomination comes six weeks after Mr. Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to obtain paperwork needed for his coming wedding. A team of Saudi agents flew to Istanbul and killed him minutes after his arrival, then dismembered his body, according to Turkish officials.

After initially denying it, Saudi officials have acknowledged that Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the consulate and that it was premeditated, but have continued to deny that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often known by his initials, M.B.S., knew in advance or had any involvement in the operation. A recording shared by Turkish officials with the C.I.A. captured a member of the kill team instructing a superior over the phone to “tell your boss” that the operation had been carried out.

The lack of an ambassador in either Saudi Arabia and Turkey has been a point of contention since Mr. Khashoggi’s death, underscoring that many important diplomatic posts remain unfilled nearly two years into Mr. Trump’s administration, some because no one has been nominated and others because the Senate has not acted.

Mr. Trump has promised “severe punishment” if it were demonstrated that the Saudis were behind the killing, but he has resisted curbing arms sales as lawmakers in both parties have urged. His Middle East strategy to confront Iran and force Palestinians to make peace with Israel has relied largely on Saudi Arabia, a relationship cultivated by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, with Prince Mohammed.

General Abizaid, 67, graduated from West Point, where his 1973 yearbook described him as “an Arabian Vince Lombardi” in that he “just couldn’t accept second place.” He spent 34 years in the Army, rising from infantry platoon leader to a celebrated four-star general. As a company commander in Grenada in 1983, he used a bulldozer to advance on a Cuban bunker, a moment later recreated in the Clint Eastwood movie “Heartbreak Ridge.”

As deputy head and then commander of the United States Central Command, he oversaw the early years of the Iraq war, including the quick defeat of the Baghdad government and the capture of Saddam Hussein. His deep understanding of the Middle East made him “our version of Lawrence of Arabia,” as John P. Hannah, Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, once described him. He coined the phrase “long war” to describe the nation’s struggle with terrorists to make clear to Americans that it would not be a quick battle.But a Sunni insurgency grew on his watch, turning the war into a bloody quagmire. General Abizaid favored a strategy of turning over the war to Iraqi forces as early as possible and resisted sending more American troops when Mr. Bush opted to dispatch a “surge” of reinforcements in 2007 that helped turn around the war, at least for a time. As the surge began, General Abizaid retired, having served as head of Central Command longer than any of his predecessors.

General Abizaid remains highly regarded by both military and diplomatic veterans. Three people familiar with the selection said it had been in the works for months and one of the people said General Abizaid turned down the job twice before relenting.

“Excellent choice with experience in the kingdom, but he faces an unprecedented challenge dealing with a crown prince whose reputation is in tatters, probably irredeemably,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and former C.I.A. officer who wrote a recent book on Saudi Arabia and American presidents.

“He has deep knowledge of the area, thinks strategically and should be good,” said Ronald E. Neumann, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Gerald M. Feierstein, a former ambassador to Yemen and the State Department’s second-ranking diplomat for Middle East policy from 2013 to 2016, said the selection showed that Mr. Trump continued to favor military officers for senior civilian positions.

“But Abizaid isn’t a bad choice and may have some influence with the Saudis,” he said. “The timing is also interesting after delaying for two years. It may indicate that the administration has finally figured out that the Kushner-M.B.S. channel isn’t sufficient for managing the relationship.”

Still, it was unclear how much leeway General Abizaid would have in managing the relationship rather than being a figurehead while Mr. Kushner and Prince Mohammed maintain their channel. “It’s a very conventional pick,” said Andrew Miller, the deputy director for policy at the Project for Middle East Democracy and a former State Department and White House official under President Barack Obama. “There’s a long history of retired military officers serving in that post.”

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

“Islamist NATO”

Image: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (2nd L) welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to dance with a sword during a welcome ceremony at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Creating a New Arab Alliance

Donald Trump doesn’t like the original NATO, so why does he want a second one?

by Doug Bandow

Rather, the region’s greatest problems are internal, often exacerbated or even created by the U.S. government. Indeed, Washington is the region’s most destabilizing force: blowing up both Iraq and Libya, attempting to overthrow the Syrian government, pushing barely disguised regime change in Iran, and backing the Saudi regime’s reckless military intervention in Yemen and elsewhere. No other government has wreaked nearly as much havoc throughout the region.

Some Americans care much more about Israel than they do about U.S. energy supplies or regional stability. However, the radical Likud government also is playing the United States. Israel is a nuclear-armed regional superpower, capable of defending itself from all comers. Like its neighbors, the principal existential threat facing Israel is internal: if it seeks to forcibly maintain a growing Arab population as a subject labor force, then Israel may find it impossible to be both democratic and Jewish.

Fourth, Iran is in no position to dominate the Mideast. President Trump recently argued that “When I came into here, it was a question of when would [the Iranians] take over the Middle East?” But Iran faces severe domestic challenges. The Islamist elite lacks legitimacy, especially among a younger population which looks West. The economy is isolated and weak. The military as never recovered from the revolution which overthrew the Shah.

Indeed, Iran’s conventional military strength is anemic; Tehran’s military outlays ran about $16 billion last year, trailing both Saudi Arabia’s $77 billion and UAE’s $25 billion. The Islamic Republic is in no position to launch a blitzkrieg assault on its immediate neighbors, let alone more distant states such as well-armed Egypt.

Iran’s missile program, oft criticized by U.S. officials who control the world’s most powerful military, is a deterrent borne of weakness, ensuring deterrence as city-busting weapons targeting desert city-states. Saudi Arabia is the region’s most threatening aggressor, having invaded its poor neighbor, Yemen, used military forces to maintain Bahrain’s brutal Sunni monarchy over the majority Shia population, subsidized Egypt’s murderous al-Sisi dictatorship, underwritten radical jihadists in Syria, and kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister. Abu Dhabi, with a more effective military, has joined in many of these destructive interventions. Tehran is a piker in comparison.

Iran’s supposed empire of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen is a fantasy. The Bush administration empowered the Islamist regime by ousting Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, but even so Baghdad is no puppet. Tehran enjoys influence in desperately dysfunctional Lebanon through Hezbollah, but at most that offers Iran a possible deterrent weapon against Israel. Tehran has never dominated Yemen and is assisting Houthi rebels mostly to bleed the aggressors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In Syria Iran has worked hard to preserve a long-standing ally under siege by Riyadh and others. These foreign-policy initiatives are largely defensive and, even if successful, have been economically ruinous.

The Saudi Crown Prince has admitted that “Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.” So why does Riyadh, which candidate Donald Trump denounced for its military dependence on Washington, need U.S. defense subsidies formalized by treaty?

An Arab NATO cannot supply the region’s governments with what most desperately crave: political legitimacy. A gaggle of corrupt, authoritarian monarchies, highlighted by Saudi Arabia’s totalitarian absolute rule, plus one ostentatiously brutal dictatorship (Egypt), cannot appeal to disaffected young Arabs. To survive they must rely on repression. MESA would formally put the U.S. military at their service. So much for the president’s insincere rhetoric about human rights.

Today the Gulf states contract out most work, from gardening to medicine. They informally do the same with the military. MESA would make official their reliance on the U.S. armed services as their bodyguards—and certainly not for America’s benefit.

The Middle East has been a graveyard of U.S. expectations. Decades of military intervention have had counterproductive, often disastrous consequences. Washington has blown up Iraq and Libya with devastating impact and intervened in the Lebanese and Syrian civil wars with no good result. The United States has backed tyranny throughout the region, including in Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Failing to recognize that the illegitimate Gulfdoms need Washington more than Washington needs them, the United States has backed Riyadh’s and Abu Dhabi’s monstrous war in Yemen. Even support for Israel, a democracy for its Israeli citizens but not millions of Arab subjects, has created blowback, encouraging violent terrorism against Americans at home and abroad.

It is a catastrophic record. Yet MESA would reinforce Washington’s failed strategy. The United States should step back and disengage from the Middle East. The original NATO has turned into a deadweight for America. A new Mideast alliance start badly and go downhill from there.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire .

Trump, Like Obama and Bush, Fixes World Attention Upon Shiite Iran In Order To Create More Sunni Terrorists

An ‘Arab NATO’ and America’s militarized Mideast policy