At the time, that was considered the smart play because Islamic fundamentalism was seen as a force that could counter atheistic communism. So, starting with the Carter administration but getting dramatically ramped up by the Reagan administration, the United States threw in its lot with the extremist Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia to invest billions of dollars in supporting these Islamist militants who included one wealthy Saudi named Osama bin Laden.
At the time, with Great Communicator Ronald Reagan leading the way, virtually the entire U.S. mainstream media and nearly every national politician hailed the mujahedeen as noble "freedom fighters" but the reality was always much different. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com's "How US Hubris Baited Afghan Trap."]
By the end of the 1980s, the U.S.-Saudi "covert operation" had "succeeded" in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan with Kabul's communist regime ultimately overthrown and replaced by the fundamentalist Taliban, who stripped women of their rights. The Taliban also provided safe haven for bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist band, which -- by the 1990s -- had shifted its sights from Moscow to Washington and New York.
Even though the Saudis officially broke with bin Laden after he declared his intentions to attack the United States, some wealthy Saudis and other Persian Gulf billionaires, who shared bin Laden's violent form of Islamic fundamentalism, continued to fund him and his terrorists right up to -- and beyond -- al-Qaeda's attacks on 9/11.
Then, America's fear and fury over 9/11 opened the path for the neocons to activate one of their longstanding plans, to invade and occupy Iraq, though it had nothing to do with 9/11. The propaganda machinery was cranked up and again all the "smart" people fell in line. Dissenters were dismissed as "Saddam apologists" or called "traitors." [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War."]
By fall 2002, the idea of invading Iraq -- and removing "monster" Saddam Hussein -- was not just a neocon goal, it was embraced by nearly every prominent "liberal interventionist" in the United States, including editors and columnists of the New Yorker, the New York Times and virtually every major news outlet.
At this point, the "realists" were in near total eclipse, left to grumble futilely or grasp onto some remaining "relevance" by joining the pack, as Henry Kissinger did. The illegal U.S.-led invasion of Iraq also brushed aside the "legal internationalists" who believed that global agreements, especially prohibitions on aggressive war, were vital to building a less violent planet.
An Expanding Bloodbath
In the rush to war in Iraq, the neocons and the liberal interventionists won hands down in 2002-2003 but ended up causing a bloodbath for the people of Iraq, with estimates of those killed ranging from hundreds of thousands to more than a million. But the U.S. invaders did more than that. They destabilized the entire Middle East by disturbing the fragile fault lines between Sunni and Shiite.
With Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein ousted and hanged, Iraq's vengeful Shiite politicians established their own authoritarian state under the military wing of the U.S. and British armies. Neocon hubris made matters worse when many former Sunni officials and officers were cashiered and marginalized, creating fertile ground for al-Qaeda to put down roots among Iraqi Sunnis, planting a particularly brutal strain nourished by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda in Iraq attracted thousands of foreign Sunni jihadists eager to fight both the Westerners and the Shiites. Others went to Yemen to join Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Trained in the brutal methods of these Iraqi and Yemeni insurgencies, hardened jihadists returned to their homes in Libya, Syria, Europe and elsewhere.
Though the disaster in Iraq should have been a powerful cautionary tale, the neocons and the liberal interventionists proved to be much more adept at playing the political-propaganda games of Washington than in prevailing in the complex societies of the Middle East.
Instead of being purge en masse, the Iraq War instigators faced minimal career accountability. They managed to spin the Iraq "surge" as "victory at last" and maintained their influence over Washington even under President Obama, who may have been a "closet realist" but who kept neocons in key posts and surrounded himself with liberal interventionists. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Surge Myth's Deadly Result."]
Thus, Obama grudgingly was enlisted into the next neocon-liberal-interventionist crusades in 2011: the military intervention to overthrow Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and the covert operation to remove Syria's Bashar al-Assad. In both cases, the propaganda was ramped up again, presenting the opposition groups as "pro-democracy moderates" who were peacefully facing down brutal dictators.
In reality, the oppositions were more a mixed bag of some actual moderates and Islamist extremists. When Gaddafi and Assad -- emphasizing the presence of terrorists -- struck back brutally, the "R2P" crowd demanded U.S. military intervention, either directly in Libya or indirectly in Syria. With the U.S. mainstream media onboard, nearly every occurrence was put through the propaganda filter that made the regimes all dark and the oppositions bathed in a rosy glow.
After the U.S.-led air war destroyed Gaddafi's military and opened the way for an opposition victory, Gaddafi was captured and brutally murdered. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might be called a "neocon-lite," joked: "We came, we saw, he died."
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