Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 22, 2017

The business of America is business

Filed under: Iran,Saudi Arabia,Trump — louisproyect @ 4:59 pm

Calvin Coolidge: The business of America is business

If the overarching goal of the USA is to use Saudi Arabia as its chief partner in a proxy war on the “axis of resistance” in the Middle East, then it can be said that Donald Trump is continuing with the policy of his predecessor Barack Obama and one that Hillary Clinton would have continued as part of the “neoliberal” foreign policy supported by John McCain, the NY Times op-ed page, and me–according to my intellectually-impaired detractors.

On the other hand, for NY Times reporters Ben Hubbard and Thomas Erdbrink, the visit was a departure from Obama’s foreign policy favoring Iran:

In using the headline address of his first foreign trip as president to declare his commitment to Sunni Arab nations, Mr. Trump signaled a return to an American policy built on alliances with Arab autocrats, regardless of their human rights records or policies that sometimes undermine American interests.

At the same time, he rejected the path taken by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Mr. Obama engaged with Iran to reach a breakthrough nuclear accord, which Mr. Trump’s administration has acknowledged Iran is following.

One has to wonder why the two reporters ever thought that there was a “return” to an American policy built on alliances with Arab autocrats given Obama’s actions as opposed to his high-falutin’ words. In a 2002 speech he called upon the Saudis to “stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent” but as President he sold $115 billion of arms to the Saudis, which was $30 billion more than George W. Bush ever did and even $5 million more than Trump’s deal.

Gareth Porter, a well-known supporter of the “axis of resistance” must be particularly disappointed in Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia since his foreign policy was supposedly a repudiation of Hillary Clinton’s hawkish stance. In a January 20, 2017 Middle East Eye article titled “US intervention in Syria? Not under Trump”, Porter expressed relief that Trump would cut off funding for the jihadi groups in Syria:

The US military leadership was never on board with the policy of relying on those armed groups to advance US interests in Syria in the first place.

It recognised that, despite the serious faults of the Assad regime, the Syrian army was the only Syrian institution committed to resisting both al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

It seems likely that the Trump administration will now return to that point as it tries to rebuild a policy from the ashes of the failed policy of the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, for the very first time in the six year war in Syria, the USA has deliberately struck Assad’s military. The first instance was to retaliate for the Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas attack; the most recent was an air strike against a convoy of militias advancing on a base where United States and British Special Forces were training Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State. Pirouetting as nimbly as Baryshnikov, Porter warned Commondreams readers about Trump agreeing to the Pentagon’s “permanent War in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria” but held out hope that “judging from his position during the campaign and his recent remarks, Trump may well baulk at the plans now being pushed by his advisers.” This distinction between Trump and his bellicose advisers James Mattis and H.R. McMaster based on Trump’s “remarks” is a reminder that P.T. Barnum was right when he observed that there is a sucker born every minute. Doesn’t Porter understand that if Trump said it was a sunny day, you need to to bring an umbrella with you when you go outside?

On April 18th, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote a letter to Paul Ryan assuring him that Iran was living up to the agreement made with the Obama administration not to develop nuclear arms even though the letter referred to Iran’s support of “terror” in the Middle East. Tillerson sounded very much as if he was Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State on April 10th in the aftermath of the bombing of a Syrian air base (largely ineffectual) with his statement that Assad’s reign was “coming to an end”. One supposes that these words carry about as much weight as Obama’s frequently repeated call for Assad to step down.

Meanwhile, Al_Masdar news, the former employer of neo-Nazi/Assadist Paul Antonopoulos and a reliable source of “axis of resistance” opinion, has good news for those who hoped that the Trump/Putin détente could be salvaged:

Russia’s Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford confirmed in their phone conversation the readiness to reinstate the memorandum of understanding on safe flights over Syria and to draw up more measures so as to avoid any conflicts, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday.

“Syria was in focus of the talks in the light of the agreements, reached in Astana on May 4 this year, on establishing de-escalation zones in some regions of Syria,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Astana talks began in Khazakistan in early January. Sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Syria, they were supposed to lead to a truce and eventually an end to the war. The USA sent observers to Astana but did not push for “regime change”, even from the peanut gallery. Last week the rebel delegation boycotted the talks because Assad had violated the truce. Syria blamed Turkey for the breakdown at Astana but the idea that it was opposed to the general aim of the talks to consolidate Assad’s rule over the carcass that is Syria today appears ludicrous given Erdogan’s bromance with Putin that grew out of Turkey’s anxieties over the US-Kurdish military ties plus the need to reestablish commercial relations with Russia to counteract a deep economic slump.

Five days ago Trump announced that a waiver on sanctions on Iran would continue even with added restrictions. Relaxation will continue unabated in all likelihood given the election of Hassan Rouhani, a cleric who favors “globalism” as the people at Global Research might put it.

The verbal belligerence to Iran must be weighed against the USA’s continuing support for the Shi’a sectarian state in Iraq and its obvious willingness to abide by Assad’s continuing rule despite the two military strikes in 2017. If Trump and his generals were genuinely for prosecuting a proxy war with Iran and Russia, the first thing they would do is arm the rebels against Assad. However, as was the case with Obama, the rebels are expected to fight ISIS, not the blood-soaked despot whose brutal sectarian dictatorship helped ISIS take root.

In May 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry advised European banks to proceed full speed ahead investing in Iran, even if American banks still could not. It didn’t take too long for American corporations to take advantage of the thaw. On April 4, 2017 Iran signed a deal pay Boeing  $4 billion for 60 jets to refurbish its aging state-owned airline. I am generally not in the business of playing Nostradamus but I am predicting that Trump will okay the deal. After all, Calvin Coolidge got it right when he said that the business of America was business.

As the WSJ reported on March 28, 2017 in an article by Asa Fitch and Benoit Faucon, those European corporations Kerry encouraged will take advantage of profit-maximizing opportunities that it will be impossible for the USA to resist, especially when it comes to someone as nakedly devoted to corporate interests as Donald J. Trump:

After years shunning Iran, Western businesses are bursting through the country’s doors — but U.S. companies are noticeably absent.

Dozens of development projects and deals have been hammered out since Iran’s nuclear accord with world powers in 2015 lifted a range of sanctions. Among them, France’s Peugeot and Renault SA are building cars. The U.K.’s Vodafone Group PLC is teaming up with an Iranian firm to build up network infrastructure. Major oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell PLC have signed provisional agreements to develop energy resources. And infrastructure giants, including Germany’s Siemens AG, have entered into agreements for large projects.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. last year got the go-ahead to sell 80 aircraft valued at $16.6 billion to Iran. But for the most part, deals involving U.S. businesses are few and far between.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., have steered clear of Iran since the nuclear accord. A Ford spokeswoman said the company was complying with U.S. law and didn’t have any business with Iran. GM is focusing “on other markets, and other opportunities,” a spokesman said.

Peugeot has taken notice. Its Middle East chief, Jean-Christophe Quemard, said Peugeot’s early entry has left U.S. rivals in the dust. “This is our opportunity to accelerate,” he said last month.

U.S. companies are at risk of losing lucrative deals to early movers into a promising market of 80 million people, analysts say, setting off skirmishes among European and Asian companies eager to gain an edge on more-cautious U.S. competitors. But as latecomers, U.S. companies likely won’t face a learning curve in dealing with the political risks and the bureaucratic difficulties in Iran.

Apple Inc. explored entering the country after the Obama administration allowed the export of personal-communications devices in 2013, according to people familiar with the matter. But the company decided against it because of banking and legal problems, the people said. Apple declined to comment.

U.S. companies usually need special permission from the Treasury Department to do business with Iran. Further complicating matters for U.S. companies: President Donald Trump during his campaign threatened to rip up Iran’s nuclear deal, and he hit the country with new sanctions shortly after taking office. On Sunday, Iran imposed its own sanctions on 15 U.S. companies, mainly defense firms.

The nuclear deal removed a range of U.S., European Union and United Nations sanctions in 2016 that had held back Iranian energy exports and put the brakes on foreign investment. But while food, medicine and agricultural products are exempted from U.S. restrictions, U.S. products are available in Iran often only through foreign subsidiaries or third-party importers.

Peugeot, officially known as Groupe PSA SA, is aiming to hit annual production of 200,000 cars in Iran by next year in conjunction with its partner Iran Khodro, after the two signed a 400 million euro ($432 million) joint-venture agreement in June. Already, the pace of both Peugeot’s and Renault’s car sales in Iran has more than doubled.

Asian companies, mainly Chinese ones, have had a growing presence in Iran. Some have stepped up activities since the nuclear deal, including China National Petroleum Corp., which joined France’s Total SA in a preliminary agreement to develop a major Iranian gas field in November.

Iran has caught the attention of a broad spectrum of investors beyond autos, with foreign companies selling everything from gas-powered turbines to mining technologies in the country.

Government-approved foreign direct investment shot up to more than $11 billion last year, official figures show, from $1.26 billion in 2015. Pedram Soltani, the vice president of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, said more than 200 foreign business delegations have visited Iran since the nuclear deal took effect.

“We see what’s happening in the U.S. and Mr. Trump’s comments,” said Ghadir Ghiafe, an Iranian steel-industry executive who is exploring partnerships with South American and European companies. “Our businessmen don’t pay much attention to it.”

Foreign companies still face daunting obstacles to doing business in Iran. Iran placed 131st out of 176 countries for corruption in a ranking by Transparency International last year. It also has major economic problems, including high unemployment and a banking system saddled with bad loans.

Large international banks remain reluctant to re-establish links with Iran despite the nuclear deal. That reluctance has made transfers of money into and out of Iran a challenge.

Western banks such as Standard Chartered PLC, BNP Paribas SA and Credit Suisse Group AG have generally refused to handle transactions to Iran for fear of running afoul of banking sanctions that remain. Chinese and smaller European banks have attempted to step into the breach, even though many companies remain concerned about the regulatory environment.

Some large multinationals — including infrastructure giants and major oil companies — are keeping a close eye on the U.S. in case sanctions snap back into place. Shell, Total SA and OMV AG of Austria have signed memorandums of understanding for deals in Iran but have yet to complete terms.

Last month, Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said the company would wait for clarity from the Trump administration before completing a $4.8 billion investment in the country’s South Pars offshore gas field.

But many foreign companies are finding the country’s growth hard to ignore.

The International Monetary Fund recently estimated the economy grew 7.4% in the first half of the Iranian fiscal year that ended this month, rebounding from a decline in the previous year. Meanwhile, a surge in demand has pushed consumer spending in Tehran to $5,240 per capita so far in 2017, up about 11% compared with 2016, according to Planet Retail, a London research firm.

American deals with Iran will go full steam ahead. That’s my prediction based on the fundamental laws of capitalism, a system that allowed IBM, Coca-Cola and Ford to do business with Nazi Germany even after WWII had begun.

July 18, 2016

The declassified 28 pages: connecting the dots on 9/11

Filed under: Saudi Arabia,September 11 — louisproyect @ 4:38 pm

George W. Bush and Prince Bandar bin Sultan: the two architects of 9/11?

On May 18th I wrote about the allegations that “the Saudis” were behind 9/11 that would supposedly be proved by a 28-page section of a report that remained classified. Even without having seen those pages, I was certain that nothing within them could support the notion that the Saudi monarchy would have conspired to attack the WTC and the Pentagon since a Marxist class analysis and a reading of Akbar Ahmad’s “The Thistle and the Drone” would reveal two major points against this claim:

  1. Although most of the hijackers were Saudi citizens, they were originally from Yemen and were as hostile to the monarchy as they were to the USA.
  2. Blamed for the attack, al Qaeda was hardly an instrument of Saudi royal ambitions since it had carried out terrorist attacks a number of times within Saudi Arabia itself.

Since writing this article, the 28 pages have finally been declassified and released to the press. There is nothing in them that would change my mind although the usual cast of characters has jumped at the opportunity to crow that they prove Saudi Arabia was “behind 9/11”, including Salon’s Ben Norton who wrote an article titled “28 pages” showing Saudi connection to 9/11 attacks finally released after 14 years. Norton notes that “FBI and CIA documents disclosed that, while some of the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the U.S., they likely had contact with Saudi intelligence officers, the pages reveal.” Actually, the hijackers also had contact with American intelligence operatives as well. Does that prove that the USA was “behind 9/11”? If you’ve had the intellectual deficit to believe “truther” material, you’ll nod your head in agreement of course.

You would think that someone like Ben Norton, who believes even if mistakenly that he is a serious reporter, would have taken the trouble to mention that these hijackers were also in touch with FBI informers. With superficial and propagandistic hacks such as him, you can never tell whether he is sweeping the facts under the rug or whether his ignorance is to blame. In a trial, they say that ignorance of the law is not a defense. The same thing can be said about journalism as well.

Back on July 25, 2003, the NY Times reported:

The F.B.I. may have missed its best chance to prevent the Sept. 11 plot when one of its informants developed close ties to two of the hijackers living in San Diego, yet never alerted the bureau to the impending attacks, according to a Congressional report released today.

The declassified report by a House-Senate committee focuses closely on the incidents in San Diego, where Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi settled soon after arriving in the country in early 2000. The informant told his F.B.I. handler they were “good Muslim Saudi youths” who had come to America to go to school.

It is likely the informant being referred to here is Abdussattar Shaikh, who rented rooms to al-Midhar and Alhazmi. One hardly knows what to make of an FBI snitch keeping the crime of the century a secret from his handlers, especially when the human beings drawn to the filthy job of informant are not especially known for their scruples.

That being said, the newly issued report is replete with references to suspicions about the men gleaned from informants. It appears that there was substantial evidence that they were up to no good but specific plans about a 9/11 attack did not appear on the FBI’s radar.

If the FBI was effectively turning a blind eye to the 9/11 terrorist attack, the CIA was even more complicit. The CIA had identified Alhamzi and Al-Midhar as al Qaeda operatives  but did not pass that information along to the FBI agents in San Diego. So naturally you can conclude that such negligence was no accident.

Indeed for the “truthers”, there was no intelligence failure. Everything pointed to 9/11 being an inside job with the hijackers, the CIA and the FBI being in cahoots. If the FBI kept the plot a secret from the American people, surely this must prove that it was the USA itself that sought a “false flag” excuse to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Any fool could have seen that the invasion and occupation of the two countries have been the best thing that happened to the USA since its birth in 1776. The expenditure of trillions of dollars has led to utter chaos in the region, after all, and very little of it of benefit to multinational corporations.

Not only does the Times article refer to FBI failing to take action on the plotters, it also identifies the man who is key to the 28-page “revelations”:

Meanwhile, unresolved questions surround the strange relationship that developed in San Diego between the two hijackers and a man from Saudi Arabia, Omar al-Bayoumi. Mr. al-Bayoumi met the two soon after their arrival in the United States and helped them settle in San Diego, allowing them to stay at his apartment for several days and co-signing a lease on their apartment.

You can read the 28 pages at http://intelligence.house.gov/sites/intelligence.house.gov/files/documents/declasspart4.pdf. They document a myriad of contacts between the hijackers and Saudi officials, most of all Omar al-Bayoumi. But they also point to Prince Bandar as a possible accomplice. It seems, for example, that his wife had been sending money on a regular basis to Osama Bassnan who was instrumental in helping hijackers Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi financially when they were in San Diego. So it is a simple matter, it would seem, to connect the dots: Khalid al-Midhar/Nawaq Alhazmi –> Osama Bassnan/Omar al-Bayoumi –> Prince Bandar. In fact this was the point that Michael Moore made in “Fahrenheit 9/11”, with a lot more panache than Ben Norton and about as much credibility.

What is missing from these calculations is a “smoking gun” that would prove that Prince Bandar directed Bassman and al-Bayoumi to render financial and logistical support knowing in advance that it would be for terrorists whose goal it was to fly passenger planes into the WTC and the Pentagon. In order to make such a case, you would have to confront the most counter-indicative datum, namely the true relationship between the House of Saud and Osama bin-Laden who is referenced extensively throughout the 28 pages as if they were joined at the hip:

The FBI has also developed additional information clearly indicating that Bassnan is an extremist and supporter of Usama Bin Ladin. In 1993, the FBI became aware that Bassnan had hosted a party for the Blind Shaykh at his house in Washington, DC in October 1992. Bassnan has made many laudatory remarks to FBI assets about Bin Ladin, referring to Bin Ladin as the official Khalifate and the ruler of the Islamic world. According to an FBI asset, Bassnan spoke of Bin Ladin “as if he were a god.” Bassnan also stated to an FBI asset that he heard that the Government had stopped approving visas for foreign students. He considered such measures to be insufficient as there are already enough Muslims in the United States to destroy the United States and make it an Islamic state within ten to fifteen years. According to FBI documents, Bassnan also knew Bin Ladin’s family in Saudi Arabia and speaks on his mobile telephone with members of the family who are living in the United States.

After reading this, you’d think that the families of 9/11 casualties would be as interested in suing the FBI and CIA as they were the Saudi government. If you look through the 28 pages, you will see repeated references to the “FBI assets” knowing about every single move of the hijackers and the assistance they were receiving from people like Bassnan. So why didn’t they put them all in jail before 9/11? Maybe it is because they had no idea that 9/11 was in the works.

For some, it is easy to connect the dots. Paul Sperry, a reporter for Murdoch’s NY Post, added the missing link (Khalid al-Midhar/Nawaq Alhazmi–>Osama Bassnan/Omar al-Bayoumi–>Prince Bandar–>George W. Bush) in an April 2016 article that anticipated the declassified material:

But Bandar held sway over the FBI.

After he met on Sept. 13, 2001, with President Bush in the White House, where the two old family friends shared cigars on the Truman Balcony, the FBI evacuated dozens of Saudi officials from multiple cities, including at least one Osama bin Laden family member on the terror watch list. Instead of interrogating the Saudis, FBI agents acted as security escorts for them, even though it was known at the time that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

“The FBI was thwarted from interviewing the Saudis we wanted to interview by the White House,” said former FBI agent Mark Rossini, who was involved in the investigation of al Qaeda and the hijackers. The White House “let them off the hook.”

In other words, the political conclusion you are forced to draw if you are Ben Norton or any of the other hacks who believe that the Saudi royal family has ambitions indistinguishable from ISIS is the same as the 9/11 Truthers, namely that it was an “inside job”. We are forced to conclude that the CIA, the FBI, the White House and the Saudi monarchs sat down and devised a plot that would lead to the deaths of privileged stock brokers in the WTC and life-long employees of the Department of Defense in order to create a panic over al-Qaeda that would lead to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq that most policy-makers now view as a disaster to US interests.

Since we will never be able to get our hands on “the smoking gun” until after a successful socialist revolution in the USA that will allow us to open up the safes of the CIA and FBI, we will be forced instead to rely on a class analysis no matter how boring that is. In my view, for what it is worth, the Saudi ruling class has zero interest in apocalyptic plots to create a worldwide Wahhabist empire even if that was something close to the heart of Osama Bassnan. Like capitalist ruling classes everywhere, its main interest is in stability so that its investments and future investment possibilities can be safeguarded.

Furthermore, the Wahhabism of the Saudi state cannot be interpreted as a medieval version of the kind of ambitions we associate with a globally transformative movement like Socialism. Instead it is a commitment to very conservative personal behavior that in most cases leads to passive acceptance of the status quo. In Pakistan, where the Saudi state has arguably devoted more resources to spreading its religious and political values than anywhere, graduates of the Saudi-funded madrassas offer no challenge to the status quo. Like most devout people, their focus is on the afterlife rather than social transformation even of a reactionary type.

On the other hand, al-Qaeda does challenge the status quo. The 9/11 attacks were consistent with its terrorist strategy that had been unleashed all across the world, including inside Saudi Arabia. There is little question that the men who took part in the 9/11 attacks were seeking to drive a wedge between the West and the Ummah. Instead of seeing them as acting on the behalf of the Saudi state or the CIA, it makes much more sense to put them into the context of a movement that emerged after the collapse of the USSR. When there was a Soviet Union, young men and women from traditional Muslim families could see Marxism, even in its distorted forms, as an alternative to the rotten systems that the West had imposed on the Middle East and North Africa in its pursuit of oil profits. Once it vanished, new hopes were placed in political Islam—something we are still paying for now as the Arab Spring has been caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Islamic fundamentalism and the decrepit neoliberal ‘socialist’ states of Gaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria that people like Ben Norton stepped forward to justify.

 

 

July 5, 2016

Lessons to be drawn from the ISIS suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia

Filed under: Jihadists,Saudi Arabia — louisproyect @ 3:55 pm

Although ISIS has not taken credit for the suicide bombings in three Saudi cities yesterday, there is little doubt that it was responsible. The targeting of the Prophet’s Mosque in the city of Medina might undermine allegations of an ISIS connection since it is considered the second holiest site for Muslims but only if you have not been following Saudi history for the past several decades. In fact, one of the biggest assaults on the Saudi state prior to this took place in late 1979 when jihadists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the religion’s most holy site. Like ISIS, the heavily armed intruders considered the royal family to be apostates.

After the 1979 rebellion was drowned in blood, a new one began to take shape in the early 2000s around the same grievances, namely that the royal family was a tool of the West. In May 2003 bombs went off at three compounds in Riyadh frequented mostly by Westerners that resulted in 39 deaths and 160 wounded. Among the perpetrators identified by Saudi security forces was Khalid al-Juhani, a Saudi member of al-Qaeda who had promised retaliation for the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

A year later jihadists mounted a suicide car bomb attack on the Saudi Interior Ministry and the Special Emergency Force training center. Although a draconian crackdown in 2005 tended to decrease the number of attacks, there has been a recent upsurge connected to the rise of ISIS as the NY Times reported on March 31 this year:

The men were not hardened militants. One was a pharmacist, another a heating and cooling technician. One was a high school student.

They were six cousins, all living in Saudi Arabia, all with the same secret. They had vowed allegiance to the Islamic State — and they planned to kill another cousin, a sergeant in the kingdom’s counterterrorism force.

And that is what they did. In February, the group abducted Sgt. Bader al-Rashidi, dragged him to the side of a road south of this central Saudi city, and shot and killed him. With video rolling, they condemned the royal family, saying it had forsaken Islam.

Despite an abundance of evidence that both al-Qaeda and ISIS were mortal enemies of the Saudi Arabian theocracy and that the July 4th attacks were consistent with a pattern going back 35 years, there is little doubt that the Baathist left will continue to believe that such groups are proxy forces directed by the Saudi state like pawns on a chessboard.

If you Google “Saudi Arabia, proxy, ISIS” you will end up with 436,000 results. In first place is an article titled “Saudi Arabia Admits to John Kerry that it Created ISIS” that appeared on Zero Hedge, a conspiracist website with both feet planted in the Putin/Assad camp. A runner up in third place is Jennifer Lowenstein’s CounterPunch article that claims “Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the U.S. knowingly aided the rise of ISIS.” You can also find the ubiquitous Charles Glass telling Intercept readers that “To Stop ISIS, Outside Powers Must End Their Proxy Wars in Syria”. While I can go on forever, let me cite one more “expert”. Daniel Lazare, who is capable of trenchant analysis except when it comes to Syria, wrote a piece for the arch-Baathist Consortium News titled “The Saudi Connection to Terror”. Do you think he bothered to cite any of the hundreds of articles about how the Saudi state was on the jihadi shit-list for over three decades? Nah.

In “Khiyana”, a collection of articles that I contributed to, you can read Sam Charles Hamad’s “The Rise of Daesh in Syria—some Inconvenient Truths”, which effectively debunks the claim that Saudi Arabia is responsible for the rise of the Islamic State.

As opposed to most on the left who sling around terms like Salafist or Wahhabist interchangeably, Hamad takes considerable trouble to root them in the region’s history with the sort of erudition that is necessary to separate fact from fiction. To start with, Wahhabism is a current within Salafi Islam, a revivalist movement that sought to ground worship in the beliefs and practices of first generation Muslims, the as-Salafiyyah (pious forefathers). Mohammad al-Wahhab was an 18th century cleric who allied with the Al-Saud clan that eventually created the forerunner of the modern Saudi state. Warlike from the beginning, it attacked the Shia and Sufi sects as kuffar (unbelievers). So far this sounds just like ISIS, right?

Only if you do not understand that for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Saudi royal family is kuffar as well. That should be obvious at the outset from his belief that he is the new Khalifa, or steward of the Caliphate. The goal of ISIS is to create an Islamic state that honors no national boundaries. As such all states in the Middle East have to be subsumed under its authority, including Saudi Arabia. Muslims will belong to the new Caliphate, not any particular state nor take orders from the government that rules it. In a word, it is anti-national.

In November 2014 al-Baghdadi recorded an audio message declaring his intention to liberate the Saudi people from the Saloul, a derogatory name for the ruling family. Daesh threatened to invade Saudi Arabia from its redoubt in Anbar province. The Saudis placed sufficient weight in this threat to construct a 600-mile wall of the sort that Donald Trump could only admire. Like Trump, the Saudi royal family was deathly afraid of Islamic extremists. Unlike Trump, the Saudi fear was rooted in reality.

Despite Saudi efforts to thwart Daesh, the group has launched guerrilla attacks along the border with Iraq near the city of Arar that involved suicide bombers. But the more serious threat comes from Saudi citizens who have joined Daesh. The attacks are directed against Shia worshippers with the hope of sparking a sectarian war such as the kind that has been tearing apart Iraq and Syria.

Even more contrary to the dominant “anti-imperialist” narrative on Saudi Arabia, the Saudis have supported groups in Syria that have no connection to either ISIS or al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate. Specifically, when Daesh and the FSA had a pitched battle in Deraa province, the FSA used weaponry supplied by the Saudis.

Now these hard facts will have no influence whatsoever on the people writing for Salon, LRB, ZNet, CounterPunch, Consortium News, and dozens of other lesser-known blogs and zines. We have reached the point where the truth hardly matters. In Orwell’s “1984”, the world was divided into three superstates which demanded total fealty. We are living in a world today in which there is a wrinkle on Orwell’s narrative. For some, the fealty is not to the motherland but to the one your superstate opposes. You have the same kind of fierce devotion to the “axis of resistance” that Rush Limbaugh listeners once gave to George W. Bush. It is the classic case of putting a plus where the State Department puts a minus. As Trotsky put it in “Learn to Think”:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

 

May 17, 2016

Was Saudi Arabia behind 9/11?

Filed under: Saudi Arabia,September 11 — louisproyect @ 6:09 pm

Last month there was extensive media coverage about the still classified 28 pages of an intelligence report that reputedly establishes Saudi support for the 9/11 attack. One of the report’s co-authors is a retired Democratic Party Senator from Florida named Bob Graham who has been fighting to get the pages released. His efforts dovetail with the legal action mounted by the families of 9/11 victims to force Saudi Arabia to pay damages.

The FBI has denied any such connection, something that Graham views as a virtual cover-up since according to him the agency suppressed the results of an investigation of a Saudi family in Sarasota, Florida that revealed multiple contacts between it and the hijackers training nearby until the family fled just before 9/11.

For a number of years, this type of claim has been made by Zacarias Moussaoui, a self-described but unlikely member of the 9/11 conspiracy who is serving 6 concurrent life sentences. In an article on Graham, the NY Times refers to Moussaoui’s concurrence with Graham but without providing crucial background that might shed light on his credibility—or incredibility more accurately. In his trial, he claimed that he and shoe-bomber Richard Reid were supposed to fly an airliner into the White House on 9/11 but then later testified that he had no role in the 9/11 attacks. He said that he was being held in reserve for a future attack. Since he flunked out of flight school and was regarded by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as unreliable, it doubtful that he ever had any role to play. Psychiatrists testifying for the defense concluded that he was paranoid schizophrenic, a diagnosis that jibes with his complaint that his lawyers were plotting to kill him.

In a story about the 28 pages on CBS’s Sixty Minutes, Tim Roemer, a former Democratic Congressman from Indiana, took part in a joint interview with Graham. For the two ex-pols, the connections between Saudi government officials living in the USA and 9/11 hijackers was undeniable:

During their first days in L.A., witnesses place the two future hijackers at the King Fahd mosque in the company of Fahad al-Thumairy, a diplomat at the Saudi consulate known to hold extremist views. Later, 9/11 investigators would find him deceptive and suspicious and in 2003, he would be denied reentry to the United States for having suspected ties to terrorist activity.

Tim Roemer: This is a very interesting person in the whole 9/11 episode of who might’ve helped whom– in Los Angeles and San Diego, with two terrorists who didn’t know their way around.

Phone records show that Thumairy was also in regular contact with this man: Omar al-Bayoumi, a mysterious Saudi who became the hijackers biggest benefactor. He was a ghost employee with a no-show job at a Saudi aviation contractor outside Los Angeles while drawing a paycheck from the Saudi government.

Steve Kroft: You believe Bayoumi was a Saudi agent?

Bob Graham: Yes, and–

Steve Kroft: What makes you believe that?

Bob Graham: –well, for one thing, he’d been listed even before 9/11 in FBI files as being a Saudi agent.

On the morning of February 1, 2000, Bayoumi went to the office of the Saudi consulate where Thumairy worked. He then proceeded to have lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Venice Boulevard where he later claimed he just happened to make the acquaintance of the two future hijackers.

Tim Roemer: Hazmi and Mihdhar magically run into Bayoumi in a restaurant that Bayoumi claims is a coincidence and in one of the biggest cities in the United States.

Steve Kroft: And he decides to befriend them.

Tim Roemer: He decides to not only befriend them but then to help them move to San Diego and get residence.

In San Diego, Bayoumi found them a place to live in his own apartment complex, advanced them the security deposit and cosigned the lease. He even threw them a party and introduced them to other Muslims who would help the hijackers obtain government IDs and enroll in English classes and flight schools. There’s no evidence that Bayoumi or Thumairy knew what the future hijackers were up to, and it is possible that they were just trying to help fellow Muslims.

For some on the left, allegations of Saudi state-level participation in 9/11 serves as another brick in the foundation to support the notion not only of Saudi Arabia being bent on the destruction of the cornerstones of American imperialism—the WTC and the Pentagon—but American complicity in what amounts to a willful act of self-immolation. You can count on the WSWS.org to make such an argument in an article on Bob Graham:

Graham’s language is significant, since it could suggest not only official Saudi support to the hijackers during their months in the US—the focus of the “60 Minutes” report—but support to the hijackers by other individuals or other agencies, including the US government itself. It was reported after 9/11 that the lead hijacker, Mohammed Atta, was well known to the US government, and had been under surveillance during his residence in Germany before he came to the United States to get flight training.

Two other hijackers, the San Diego-based Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, were also known to the US government. The CIA had observed them participating in an al Qaeda planning meeting in 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and placed them on a “watch list” for FBI monitoring if they came to the United States. Nonetheless, under circumstances that have never been clarified, the two men were allowed to enter the United States on January 15, 2000, landing at Los Angeles International Airport, eventually going to San Diego where they attended flight training school, preparing for their role as pilots of hijacked planes on September 11, 2001.

The distance between this analysis and that of the 9/11 Truther movement can be measured in millimeters. If the USA connived to open doors for men bent on its destruction, why wouldn’t it send in operatives to prepare a planned detonation of the twin towers or fire a missile at the Pentagon? If the ruling class was so desperate to launch a new war in the Middle East based on a “false flag”, why not?

The guilt of the Saudi government has been accepted by much of the conspiracy-minded left for obvious reasons. Osama bin-Laden admitted he was behind it and 15 out of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia just like him. Isn’t that proof enough? As so many guests on the Bill Maher or Jon Stewart show used to put it, we should have invaded Saudi Arabia rather than Iraq.

If you buy into this, it is probably a good idea to gloss over the long-standing relationship between the ruling class of the USA and the Saudi royal family. Saudi Arabia has been staunchly opposed to radical movements in the Middle East and supportive of stability in the West, where much of its oil wealth was invested. It supported the first Gulf War and has provided an open door to the construction of American military bases. In 2010 the USA signed a 60 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia, not exactly consistent with reports that they might be used to destroy American assets both economic and personal.

In fact, it makes no sense at all, especially in light of al Qaeda’s hostility to the monarchy. Indeed, one of the reasons bin-Laden gave for the 9/11 attack was the presence of American troops on the land where Muhammad was born.

But an alternative interpretation begins to make sense if you look beneath the surface. Bin-Laden and the 15 hijackers might have been Saudi but their roots were in the Yemeni tribe that has been brutally oppressed by the Saudi monarchy since the early 20th century.

The Arabian Peninsula was home to two major tribes historically, the Adnan who lived in the north and became the rulers of contemporary Saudi Arabia, and the Qahtani who dwelled in the south and are now referred to as Yemenis. Bin-Laden was a Qahtani descendant as were every single one of the Saudi hijackers. Furthermore, most of the initial cadre of al Qaeda were Yemenis from the Asir region of Saudi Arabia that borders Yemen and was Qahtani homeland. Like Texas, this was a piece of foreign territory that a more powerful nationality was able to conquer and absorb.

If you have trouble with the word tribe, it is simply a synonym for the more anthropologically precise “segmentary lineage” term that is defined in Wikipedia as:

A simple, non-anthropologist’s explanation is that the close family is the smallest and closest segment, and will generally stand with each other. That family is also a part of a larger segment of more distant cousins and their families, who will stand with each other when attacked by outsiders. They are then part of larger segments with the same characteristics. Basically, if there is a conflict between brothers, it will be settled among all the brothers, and cousins will not take sides. If the conflict is between cousins, then brothers on one side will align against brothers on the other side. However, if the conflict is between a member of a tribe and a non-member, then the entire tribe including distant cousins could mobilize against the outsider and his or her allies. This tiered mobilization is traditionally expressed e.g. in the Bedouin saying: “Me and my brothers against my cousins, me and my cousins against the world.”

In 1906 the Asiris formed a state under the leadership of Muhammad al-Idrisi, the great-grandson of a revered Sufi scholar known for his skillful debates against Wahhabists from the north. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of WWI, al-Idrisi cast his lot with the British who he hoped could guarantee the sovereignty of his people. Instead the British chose alignment with Saudi Arabia that had became a state in 1932. Did this have something to do with the fact that the north had oil and the south virtually none? Do I have to ask?

Deciding that Asir must become part of Saudi Arabia, its monarch Ibn Saud went to war and was victorious. Some historians believe that as many as 400,000 Asiris and other tribesmen died as a result of Ibn Saud’s onslaught.

Once the Asiris were brought under Riyadh’s thumb, a process of forced assimilation took place with Wahhabi beliefs being forced down the throats of people whose customs could not be more remote from the austere but mammon-worshipping norms of the north. Qahtani tribesmen wore garments that amounted to skirts, revealing much of their legs. They were known as the “flower men” and frankly could pass for people walking around Haight-Ashbury in 1969.

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As for the women, they liked to dress in colorful clothes and shunned the veil. Their elaborate headdresses were customarily bedecked with coins and jewelry.

To consolidate its grip on a people that obviously resented being forced into the Wahhabist mold, the Saudis constructed Highway 15 that would be the backbone of an economic-military presence in its newly acquired territory. It would have air bases, missile sites and garrison outposts just like the Alamo. Guess who got the job of building Highway 15. Osama bin-Laden’s father. That project and others in Saudi Arabia generated billions for the family but did little to mollify his son. Even though the Asiris appeared to have been reengineered as Wahhabi robots, they harbored resentment against American presence in the region as well as the ostentation of the Saudi ruling class. From its inception, the Qahtani tribe had preferred a simple life and tribal camaraderie. Bin-Laden might not have had flowers in his hair but there were aspects of Saudi society he found deeply objectionable, in fact far more irritating than the reputed “Western” values like Madonna videos he supposedly reviled.

In order to understand the clash between the Asiris and the royal family, as well as to help debunk the outlandish claim that top Saudi government officials were involved with 9/11, you have to read Akbar Ahmad’s “The Thistle and the Drone” that I reviewed for Critical Muslim two years ago. Ahmad lays out the social divide between the descendants of the Adnan and the Qahtani:

Muhammad [bin-Laden] had come to feel at home in Asir. He loved its tribes, its ways, its history, and its cultural ambiance. One of his favorite wives was from Asir. In turn, the tribes of Asir accepted Muhammad as one of their own. Not only was he a fellow Yemeni, but they were won over by his easy charm as he held court sitting in a large white canvas tent with brightly colored cushions and carpets covering the floor. Muhammad received tribesmen who would petition him to settle disputes or for other assistance. He had become more than a mere construction worker. He had become their sheikh. The tribes would respond with loyalty when Muhammad’s son Osama would come to them for support. Twelve of the 9/11 hijackers were from towns along Highway 15.

While the oil boom made the Saudi royal family and its supporters very rich, little was done for the people of Asir. The large, extravagantly built holiday villas owned by the Saudi elite in Asir seemed to add nothing but salt to their wounds. In 1980 the poverty-stricken province had only 535 hospital beds for a population of about 700,000. Besides, given their religious background and its emphasis on austerity, the Yemenis disapproved of the Saudis’ arrogance and vulgar displays of wealth. Poor Yemeni tribesmen desperate for work looked for jobs in the Saudi cities. Typically, they could only find employment in the military or as cooks, gardeners, or drivers. After the kingdom began to invite immigrant workers from the Philippines and India, the Yemenis could not even obtain those menial positions. Their resentment against the Saudi centers of power remained a constant undercurrent of Asir society.

Eventually the grievances against the ruling family reached a critical mass and led to open revolts. A cleric from Asir named Juhayman al-Otaybi led the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in December-January 1979 that was directed both against infidelity to Islam and the worship of riches in the country’s top echelons.

Finally, despite the emphasis on radical Islam versus the civilized world, a more plausible explanation for the violent clashes taking place around the world is not that different from that between tribes and civilization more generally. Indeed, Islam does not have to enter the picture as the British conquest of Ireland might indicate.

For Osama bin-Laden, the loyalty to Qahtani values might trump his Wahhabi beliefs. Indeed, if you take a close look at his statements around 9/11, there is a tribal element that stands out as Murad Batal al-Shishani pointed out in a March 4, 2010 Jamestown Foundation article:

A focus on tribes in Yemen has been a main reason behind al-Qaeda’s success in finding a safe haven there.  Abu Musab al-Suri, the first to see Yemen’s potential as a safe haven for the jihadist movement, has said that the main reason for considering Yemen a stronghold for jihadis is the tribal nature of its people and the solidarity between tribes. [3]. It was for similar reasons that Osama bin Laden addressed the southern tribes of Saudi Arabia in 2004, specifically in Asir province (which borders Yemen), naming the tribes and encouraging them to fight in Iraq. “Oh heroes of Asir and champions of Hashed, Madhaj, and Bakeel, do not stop your supplies to assist your brothers in the land of Mesopotamia [i.e. Iraq]. The war there is still raging and its fire spreading.” [4]

Abdul-Ilah al-Sha’e, a Yemeni journalist, confirms that al-Qaeda has succeeded in building an alliance with the tribal system in Yemen because the country has not been “tamed” or “civilized” like other countries.  Tribes are still in control and thus it was easy to build alliances with them. [5] Abdul-Illah said that al-Qaeda wanted to recruit young people who were not afraid of death and found these young people in Yemen’s tribal and Bedouin societies, where acts of revenge and battles between tribes are still dominant, given the absence of state institutions (al-Jazeera.net, January 21).

 

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