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General News    H3'ed 5/30/19

Tomgram: Danny Sjursen, With Friends Like These...

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Think of U.S. policy in the Middle East as the proverbial broken record. Explain it as you will, Washington's focus always comes back to Iran. Seldom has a country that remains anything but a superpower (even a regional one) loomed larger. It all started in 1953 when the CIAoverthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the prime minister of a democratically elected Iranian government, and left power in the hands of the autocratic young shah (and his brutal secret police). In other words, Washington's modern history in the region began with a devastating blow against a democracy (and against democracy itself). In a sense, neither country has ever recovered. Of course, blowback for that act finally arrived in 1979, when the Shah was ousted, Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile, American diplomats were taken hostage, and the clerics ascended to power.

The enmity between the two countries would only grow in the years that followed. Though it's long been forgotten here, in the mid-1980s, the U.S. secretly backed Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. (Yes, the same Saddam who, within years, would become the "Adolf Hitler" of the Middle East in Washington's eyes.) The U.S. military even helped his forces target Iranian troop concentrations at a time when Saddam was using chemical weapons on them. It was another bitter blow to the Iranians (though President Ronald Reagan's administration also secretly sold that country arms in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal). And then, of course, George W. Bush's administration turned on Saddam, declared him part of an "axis of evil" (including, of course, Iran), attempted to "decapitate" his government, invaded his country, and left its ruler to be hung. But even when destroying its former ally and disastrously occupying Iraq, Bush's top officials, including John Bolton, never took their eyes off Iran. As the saying reportedly went at the time, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran."

The real men, of course, didn't make it there in 2003 or thereafter, but it seems that they're once again angling to take a shot at it, as the Trump administration further beefs up U.S. forces in the region. Almost 70 years after Mossadegh and Iranian democracy went down for the count, the blowback only continues. (Even Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, might have been amazed.) And so many years later, what could possibly go wrong with such a policy approach to the Middle East? As retired Army major and TomDispatch regular Danny Sjursen suggests today, when it comes to both this country's eternal fixation on Iran and its eternal devotion to "democracy," Washington is playing that same broken record again. Hey, remind me, isn't it time to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran? Tom

Troika Fever
Key American Allies in the Middle East Are the Real Tyrants
By Danny Sjursen

American foreign policy can be so retro, not to mention absurd. Despite being bogged down in more military interventions than it can reasonably handle, the Trump team recently picked a new fight -- in Latin America. That's right! Uncle Sam kicked off a sequel to the Cold War with some of our southern neighbors, while resuscitating the boogeyman of socialism. In the process, National Security Advisor John Bolton treated us all to a new phrase, no less laughable than Bush the younger's 2002 "axis of evil" (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea). He labeled Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua a "troika of tyranny."

Alliteration no less! The only problem is that the phrase ridiculously overestimates both the degree of collaboration among those three states and the dangers they pose to their hegemonic neighbor to the north. Bottom line: in no imaginable fashion do those little tin-pot tyrannies offer either an existential or even a serious threat to the United States. Evidently, however, the phrase was meant to conjure up enough ill will and fear to justify the Trump team's desire for sweeping regime change in Latin America. Think of it as a micro-version of Cold War 2.0.

Odds are that Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both unrepentant neocons, are the ones driving this Latin American Cold War reboot, even as, halfway across the planet, they've been pushing for war with Iran. Meanwhile, it's increasingly clear that Donald Trump gets his own kick out of being a "war president" and the unique form of threat production that goes with it.

Since it's a recipe for disaster, strap yourself in for a bumpy ride. After all, the demonization of Latin American "socialists" and an ill-advised war in the Persian Gulf have already been part of our lived experience. Under the circumstances, remember your Karl Marx: history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

And add this irony to the grim farce to come: you need only look to the Middle East to see a genuine all-American troika of tyranny. I'm thinking about the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the military junta in Egypt, and the colonizing state of Israel -- all countries that eschew real democracy and are working together to rain chaos on an already unstable region.

If you weren't an American, this might already be clear to you. With that in mind, let's try on a pair of non-American shoes and take a brief tour of a real troika of tyranny on this planet, a threesome that just happen to be President Trump's best buddies in the Middle East.

America's Favorite Kingdom

The Saudi royals are among the worst despots around. Yet Washington has long given them a pass. Sure, they possess oodles of oil, black gold upon which the U.S. was once but no longer is heavily dependent. American support for those royals reaches back to World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt took a detour after the Yalta Conference to meet King Ibn Saud and first struck the devilish deal that, in the decades to come, would keep the oil flowing. In return, Washington would provide ample backing to the kingdom and turn a blind eye to its extensive human rights abuses.

Ultimately, this bargain proved as counterproductive as it was immoral. Sometimes the Saudis didn't even live up to their end of the bargain. For example, they shut the oil spigot during the 1973 Yom Kippur War to express collective Arab frustration with Washington's favoritism toward Israel. Worse still, the royals used their continual oil windfall to build religious schools and mosques throughout the Muslim world in order to spread the regime's intolerant Wahhabi faith. From there, it was a relatively short road to the 9/11 attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals (and not one was an Iranian).

More recently, in the Syrian civil war, Saudi Arabia even backed the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda franchise. That's right, an American partner funded an offshoot of the very organization that took down the twin towers and damaged the Pentagon. For this there have been no consequences.

In other words, Washington stands shoulder to shoulder with a truly abhorrent regime, while simultaneously complaining bitterly about the despotism and tyranny of nations of which it's less fond. The hypocrisy should be (but generally isn't) considered staggering here. We're talking about a Saudi government that only recently allowed women to drive automobiles and still beheads them for "witchcraft and sorcery." Indeed, mass execution is a staple of the regime. Recently, the kingdom executed 37 men in a single day. (One of them was even reportedly crucified.) Most were not the "terrorists" they were made out to be, but dissidents from Saudi Arabia's Shia minority convicted, as Amnesty International put it, "after sham trials that... relied on confessions extracted through torture."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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