The Forgotten Libyan Lessons and the Syrian War

Exclusive: Western leaders are plotting to bomb another Mideast nation, this time Syria, citing “humanitarianism.” But similar claims in Iraq and Libya were deceptive and ended up killing far more people than were “saved,” says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Most intelligent Americans – Republicans as well as Democrats – now accept that they were duped into the Iraq War with disastrous consequences, but there is more uncertainty about the war on Libya in 2011 as well as the ongoing proxy war on Syria and the New Cold War showdown with Russia over Ukraine.

Today, many Democrats don’t want to admit that they have been manipulated into supporting new imperial adventures against Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Russia by the Obama administration as it pulls some of the same propaganda strings that George W. Bush’s administration did in 2002-2003.

Yet, as happened with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, we have seen a similar hysteria about the evil doings of the newly demonized foreign leaders with the predictable Hitler allusions and vague explanations about how some terrible misdeeds halfway around the world threaten U.S. interests.

Though people mostly remember the false WMD claims about Iraq, much of the case for the invasion was based on protecting “human rights,” spreading “democracy,” and eliminating a supporter of Palestinians who were violently resisting Israeli rule.

The justification for aggression against Iraq was not only to save Americans from the supposed risk of Iraq somehow unleashing poison gas on U.S. cities but to free the Iraqis from a brutal dictator, the argument which explained why Bush’s neocon advisers predicted that Iraqis would shower American troops with rose petals and candies.

Those same “humanitarian” arguments were out in force to justify the U.S.-European “regime change” in Libya eight years later. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted – even this year – Muammar Gaddafi was a “genocidal” dictator bent on slaughtering the people of eastern Libya (though Gaddafi insisted that he was only interested in killing the “terrorists”).

After a frenzied media reaction to Gaddafi’s supposedly genocidal plans, Western nations argued that the world had a “responsibility to protect” Libyan civilians, a concept known as “R2P.” In haste, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution to protect civilians by imposing a “no-fly zone” over eastern Libya.

But the subsequent invasion involved U.S.-coordinated air strikes on Gaddafi’s forces and European Special Forces on the ground working with anti-Gaddafi rebels. Before long, the “no-fly zone” had expanded into a full-scale “regime change” operation, ending in the slaughter of many young Libyan soldiers and the sodomy-with-a-knife-then-murder of Gaddafi.

As Western leaders celebrated — Secretary Clinton exulted  “We came, we saw, he died” — Libyans began the hard work of trying to restructure their political system amid roaming bands of heavily armed jihadist rebels. Soon, it became clear that restoring order would not be easy and that Gaddafi was right about the presence of terrorists in Benghazi (when some overran the U.S. consulate killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.)

Libya, which once had an enviable standard of living based on its oil riches, slid into the status of failed state, now with three governments competing for control and with jihadist militias, including some associated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, disrupting the nation. The result has been a far worse humanitarian crisis than existed before the West invaded.

Lessons from Libya

So, there should be lessons learned from Libya, just as there should have been lessons learned from Iraq. But the U.S. political/media establishment has refused to perform a serious autopsy of these monumental failures (U.S. inquiries only looked narrowly at the WMD falsehoods about Iraq and the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi for Libya). So, it has fallen to the British to take a broader view.

The British inquiries have had their own limitations, but the Chilcot report on Iraq catalogued many of the flawed decisions that led Prime Minister Tony Blair to sign up for President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” — and a recent parliamentary report revealed how Prime Minister David Cameron fell into a similar pattern regarding Libya and President Obama.

Of course, it’s always easier to detect the manipulations and deceptions in hindsight. In real time, the career pressures on politicians, bureaucrats and journalists can overwhelm any normal sense of skepticism. As the propaganda and disinformation swirl around them, all the “smart” people agree that “something must be done” and that usually means bombing someone.

We are seeing the same pattern play out today with the “group think” in support of a major U.S. military intervention in Syria (supposedly to impose the sweet-sounding goal of a “no-fly zone,” the same rhetorical gateway used to start the “regime change” wars in Iraq and Libya).

We are experiencing the same demonization of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin that we witnessed before those other two wars on Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Every possible allegation is made against them, often based on dubious and deceitful “evidence,” but it goes unchallenged because to question the propaganda opens a person to charges of being an “apologist” or a “stooge.”

Past Is Prologue

But looking back on how the disasters in Iraq and Libya unfolded is not just about the past; it’s about the present and future.

In that sense, the findings by the U.K. parliament’s foreign affairs committee regarding Libya deserved more attention than they received because they demonstrated that the Iraq case was not a one-off anomaly but rather part of a new way to rationalize imperial wars.

And the findings showed that these tactics are bipartisan, used by all four major parties in the U.S. and U.K.: Bush was a Republican; Blair was Labour; Obama a Democrat; and Cameron a Conservative. Though the nuances may differ slightly, the outcomes have been the same.

The U.K. report also stripped away many of the humanitarian arguments used to sell the Libyan war and revealed the crass self-interest beneath. For instance, the French, who helped spearhead the Libyan conflict, publicly lamented the suffering of civilians but privately were eager to grab a bigger oil stake in Libya and to block Gaddafi’s plans to supplant the French currency in ex-French colonies of Africa.

The report cited an April 2, 2011 email to Secretary of State Clinton from her unofficial adviser Sidney Blumenthal explaining what French intelligence officers were saying privately about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s real motives for pushing for the military intervention in Libya:

“a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production, b. Increase French influence in North Africa, c. Improve his internal political situation in France, d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world, e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.”

Regarding France’s “humanitarian” public rationale, the U.K. report quoted then-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé as warning the U.N. about the imminence of Gaddafi engaging in a mass slaughter of civilians: “We have very little time left — perhaps only a matter of hours.”

But the report added, “Subsequent analysis suggested that the immediate threat to civilians was being publicly overstated and that [Gaddafi’s] reconquest of cities had not resulted in mass civilian casualties.”

The report also found that “Intelligence on the extent to which extremist militant Islamist elements were involved in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion was inadequate,” including the participation of Abdelhakim Belhadj and other members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. A senior defense official said the jihadist danger was played down during the conflict but “with the benefit of hindsight, that was wishful thinking at best.”

The report stated: “The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion should not have been the preserve of hindsight. Libyan connections with transnational militant extremist groups were known before 2011, because many Libyans had participated in the Iraq insurgency and in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda.”

(This year, Belhadj and his jihadist militia were enlisted by U.S. officials to protect the U.S.-U.N.-backed “Government of National Accord,” which has failed to win over the support of rival factions, in part, because more secular Libyan leaders distrust Belhadj and resent outsiders deciding who should run Libya.)

Hyperbolic Claims

The U.K. committee criticized the West’s hyperbolic claims about Gaddafi’s intent to slaughter civilians in eastern Libya when his actions were making clear that wasn’t happening.

The report said:  “Muammar Gaddafi’s actions in February and March 2011 demonstrated an appreciation of the delicate tribal and regional nature of Libya that was absent in UK policymaking. In particular, his forces did not take violent retribution against civilians in towns and cities on the road to Benghazi. [North Africa analyst] Alison Pargeter told us that any such reprisals would have ‘alienated a lot of the tribes in the east of Libya’ on which the Gaddafi regime relied. …

“Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence. The Gaddafi regime had retaken towns from the rebels without attacking civilians in early February 2011. …

“During fighting in Misrata, the hospital recorded 257 people killed and 949 people wounded in February and March 2011. Those casualties included 22 women and eight children. Libyan doctors told United Nations investigators that Tripoli’s morgues contained more than 200 corpses following fighting in late February 2011, of whom two were female. The disparity between male and female casualties suggested that Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians.”

The report added: “On 17 March 2011, Muammar Gaddafi announced to the rebels in Benghazi, ‘Throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya and other places did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.’ Subsequent investigation revealed that when Gaddafi regime forces retook Ajdabiya in February 2011, they did not attack civilians. Muammar Gaddafi also attempted to appease protesters in Benghazi with an offer of development aid before finally deploying troops.”

In another reprise from the Iraq War run-up, the U.K. inquiry determined that Libyan exiles played key roles in exaggerating the dangers from Gaddafi, much like the Iraqi National Congress did in fabricating supposed “evidence” of Saddam Hussein’s WMD. The report said:

“We were told that émigrés opposed to Muammar Gaddafi exploited unrest in Libya by overstating the threat to civilians and encouraging Western powers to intervene. In the course of his 40-year dictatorship Muammar Gaddafi had acquired many enemies in the Middle East and North Africa, who were similarly prepared to exaggerate the threat to civilians.”

Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite channel, which currently is hyping horror stories in Syria, was doing the same in Libya, the U.K. committee learned.

“Alison Pargeter told us that the issue of mercenaries was amplified [with her saying]: ‘I also think the Arab media played a very important role here. Al-Jazeera in particular, but also al-Arabiya, were reporting that Gaddafi was using air strikes against people in Benghazi and, I think, were really hamming everything up, and it turned out not to be true.’”

Allegations Debunked

The report continued: “An Amnesty International investigation in June 2011 could not corroborate allegations of mass human rights violations by Gaddafi regime troops. However, it uncovered evidence that rebels in Benghazi made false claims and manufactured evidence.

“The investigation concluded that much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge. …

“In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty. US intelligence officials reportedly described the intervention as ‘an intelligence-light decision’. We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya. …

“It could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion. UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence.”

If any of this sounds familiar – echoing the pre-coup reporting from Ukraine in 2013-2014 or the current coverage in Syria – it should. In all those cases, Western diplomats and journalists put white hats on one side and black hats on the other, presenting a simplistic, imbalanced account of the complicated religious, ethnic and political aspects of these crises.

The U.K. report also exposed how the original goal of protecting civilians merged seamlessly into a “regime change” war. The report said:

“The combination of coalition airpower with the supply of arms, intelligence and personnel to the rebels guaranteed the military defeat of the Gaddafi regime. On 20 March 2011, for example, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces retreated some 40 miles from Benghazi following attacks by French aircraft. If the primary object of the coalition intervention was the urgent need to protect civilians in Benghazi, then this objective was achieved in less than 24 hours.

“The basis for intervention: did it change? We questioned why NATO conducted air operations across Libya between April and October 2011 when it had secured the protection of civilians in Benghazi in March 2011. … We asked [former chief of defense staff] Lord Richards whether the object of British policy in Libya was civilian protection or regime change. He told us that ‘one thing morphed almost ineluctably into the other’ as the campaign developed its own momentum. … The UK’s intervention in Libya was reactive and did not comprise action in pursuit of a strategic objective. This meant that a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into a policy of regime change by military means.”

Less destructive options were also ignored, the report found: “Saif Gaddafi is the second son of Muammar Gaddafi. He was a member of his father’s inner circle and exercised influence in Libya. … Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who knew the Gaddafi regime better than most Western politicians, confirmed that Saif Gaddafi was ‘the best, if not the only prospect’ of effecting political change in Libya.” But that opportunity was rebuffed as was the possibility of arranging Gaddafi’s surrender of power and exile, the report said, adding:

“It was therefore important to keep the lines of communication open. However, we saw no evidence that the then Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to exploit Mr Blair’s contacts. Mr Blair explained that both Mr Cameron and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were aware that he was communicating with Muammar Gaddafi. We asked Mr Blair to describe Mr Cameron’s reaction to his conversations with Muammar Gaddafi. He told us that Mr Cameron ‘was merely listening’.

“Political options were available if the UK Government had adhered to the spirit of [U.N.] Resolution 1973, implemented its original campaign plan [to protect civilians] and influenced its coalition allies to pause military action when Benghazi was secured in March 2011. Political engagement might have delivered civilian protection, regime change and reform at lesser cost to the UK and to Libya.”

Spreading Disorder

There was also the consequence of the Libyan conflict, spreading disorder around the region because Libyan military stockpiles were plundered. The report said: “Libya purchased some £30 billion [or about $38 billion] of weapons and ammunition between 1969 and 2010. Many of those munitions were not issued to the Libyan Army and were instead stored in warehouses. After the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, some weapons and ammunition remained in Libya, where they fell into the hands of the militias. Other Libyan weapons and ammunition were trafficked across North and West Africa and the Middle East.

“The United Nations Panel of Experts appointed to examine the impact of Resolution 1973 identified the presence of ex-Libyan weapons in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Gaza, Mali, Niger, Tunisia and Syria. The panel concluded that ‘arms originating from Libya have significantly reinforced the military capacity of terrorist groups operating in Algeria, Egypt, Mali and Tunisia.’ …

“The international community’s inability to secure weapons abandoned by the Gaddafi regime fuelled instability in Libya and enabled and increased terrorism across North and West Africa and the Middle East. The UK Government correctly identified the need to secure weapons immediately after the 2011 Libyan civil war, but it and its international partners took insufficient action to achieve that objective. However, it is probable that none of the states that intervened in Libya would have been prepared to commit the necessary military and political resources to secure stocks of weapons and ammunition. That consideration should have informed their calculation to intervene.”

Despite these findings, the Obama administration and its allies are considering an escalation of their military intervention in Syria, which already has involved arming and training jihadists who include Al Qaeda militants as well as supposedly “moderate” fighters, who have aligned themselves with Al Qaeda and handed over sophisticated American weaponry.

The U.S. military has spearheaded a bombing campaign against Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State, inside Syria. But the Obama administration sometimes has put its desire to oust Assad ahead of its supposed priority of fighting the Islamic State, such as when U.S. air power pulled back from bombing Islamic State militants in 2015 as they were overrunning Syrian army positions at the historic city of Palmyra.

Now, with Syria and its Russian ally resorting to intense bombing to root Al Qaeda and its allies, including some of those U.S.-armed “moderates,” from their strongholds in eastern Aleppo, there is a full-throated demand from the West, including virtually all major media outlets, to impose a “no-fly zone,” like the one that preceded the “regime change” in Libya.

While such interventions may “feel good” – and perhaps there’s a hunger to see Assad murdered like Gaddafi – there is little or no careful analysis about what is likely to follow.

The most likely outcome from a Syrian “regime change” is a victory by Al Qaeda and/or its erstwhile friends in the Islamic State. How that would make the lives of Syrians better is hard to fathom. More likely, the victorious jihadists would inflict a mass bloodletting on Christians, Alawites, Shiites, secular Sunnis and other “heretics,” with millions more fleeing as refugees.

Among the Western elites – in politics and media – no lessons apparently have been learned from the disaster in Iraq, nor from the new British report on the Libyan fiasco.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

To Fight Global Warming, Canada Ponders a Carbon Tax

Exclusive: While the gridlocked U.S. political process freezes progress in the fight against global warming, Canada is considering a national tax on carbon emissions to give a boost to renewables, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Canada can take credit for many great innovations, from insulin and peanut butter to Trivial Pursuit and basketball (Dr. James Naismith was Canadian). But one of its best may be a bold new nationwide policy of taxing carbon emissions to fight global warming.

The new plan, applauded by environmentalists, requires provinces and territories to begin imposing a tax of at least $10 (Canadian) a ton on carbon emissions by 2018, rising to C$50 by 2022. (In the United States, a tax of $20 per ton of emissions would raise the price of gasoline by about 20 cents per gallon.)

It’s a tried-and-true — if highly controversial — means of creating market incentives to shift consumer behavior and promote innovations that are needed to rescue humanity from the dire prospects of climate change.

More than a dozen leading Canadian CEOs — including a former president of Shell Canada — endorsed the proposal, calling it “the most economically effective way to reduce emissions and stimulate clean innovation – which will be critical to Canada’s success in a changing global economy.”

The United States has ducked the issue ever since anti-Obama Republicans and industry-funded lobbyists killed national legislation to develop a “cap-and-trade” system to limit unsustainable emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, industry and other sectors of the economy. House Republicans followed up in 2013 by voting to prohibit the government from putting any kind of price on carbon emissions.

Instead, President Obama has had to fall back on clumsy regulatory initiatives, still tangled up in the courts, to press states to reduce their carbon emissions by unspecified means.

Many experts across the political spectrum, including conservatives, business leaders and environmentalists, agree with four former Republican heads of the Environmental Protection Agency that “A market-based approach, like a carbon tax, would be the best path to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.” They lamented that such an efficient policy was “unachievable in the current political gridlock in Washington.”

Like them, President George W. Bush’s former chief economic adviser, Harvard University’s Greg Mankiw, declared that taxing carbon emissions to curb global climate disruption is “largely a no-brainer.”

“One of the beauties of a carbon tax, for me, is that it makes a lot of other policies [and regulations] less necessary,” Mankiw told an interviewer last year. “You let the market work it out. . . A carbon tax automatically incentivizes low-carbon forms of energy, so . . . wind and solar and technologies we haven’t even heard of yet are going to have an advantage relative to coal. People will automatically start thinking that electric cars are better than gas-powered cars. . . [But] the private market won’t do the right thing unless we put the price on this scarce resource.”

Carbon emissions are now priced, one way or another, in Finland, Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden and the state of California. Carbon taxes also had a brief but effective life in Australia, until repealed in 2014.

Success in British Columbia

Canada is home to one of the greatest success stories for carbon taxes. In 2008, British Columbia, the country’s third-largest province, introduced a tax on carbon dioxide of C$10 per ton, which rose to C$30 by 2012. It covers all major fuels, including natural gas, coal and gasoline.

To make the tax political palatable, even popular, the provincial government cut business and personal income tax rates and provided tax credits for many low-income residents. By 2012, British Columbia had the lowest personal income tax rate and one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in Canada.

The environmental results were striking. Over the period 2008 to 2013 (the last year for which data are available), per capita carbon emissions plummeted 13 percent compared to the baseline period 2000 to 2007. That drop was three-and-a-half times greater than the reduction across the rest of Canada.

Following introduction of the tax, British Columbia enjoyed slightly faster economic growth than the rest of Canada as well. And a team of economists concluded in 2015 that the net impact of the tax on income distribution in the province was “highly progressive.”

For the 10 years that Canada was ruled by the Conservative Party, which drew much of its funding from Alberta’s oil and gas industry, the national government rebuffed every call to emulate British Columbia’s success.

Since the Conservatives were trounced in the last national elections, however, “ever-wide cracks” have developed “in the Conservative facade of opposition to a proactive climate change strategy,” according to Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert.

Ontario’s conservative leader, Patrick Brown, told a congress of party delegates in March, “Climate change is a fact. It is a threat. It is man-made. We have to do something about it, and that something includes putting a price on carbon.”

Beholden to the oil, gas and coal industries, and billionaire petrochemical producers like the Koch brothers, U.S. Republican leaders continue to insist, with Donald Trump, that global warming is a “hoax” or a matter of natural weather changes. The overwhelming consensus of climate scientists, of course, refutes their toxic disinformation and discredits their political obstructionism.

Scientific facts may not sway Washington, but if Canada makes as great a nationwide success of carbon taxes as British Columbia achieved, its example may yet trickle down south to the United States. Then, if history is any guide, Americans will embrace the policy as a smart innovation that was invented in Canada first. Just like basketball.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Obama Flinches at Renouncing Nuke First Strike,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “How Arms Sales Distort US Foreign Policy,”  “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.

The Joint US-Saudi Guilt for 9/11

Exclusive: As guilty as Saudi Arabia may be over 9/11, the broader guilt is shared by generations of U.S. officials who coddled Saudi extremism and cooperated in building a jihadist movement for geo-political gain, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

In a stunning repudiation of Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, Congress has overridden a presidential veto and confirmed that 9/11 survivors can sue Saudi Arabia for its role in the destruction of the World Trade Center.

The vote was a rare victory in a global political system in which the major powers routinely roll over ordinary civilians the way a tank rolls over a daisy. Whether it’s a Yemeni wedding party pulverized by an errant bomb or a terrified office worker plummeting through space to escape the fire on 9/11, these are the sorts of people whom drone operators call “bug splats,” individuals whose bloody remnants must be wiped away as quickly as possible so that the war machine can continue on its way. But now it looks like some of their surviving families may finally get their day in court.

As wonderful as this is, there’s a problem. JASTA, as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is universally known, goes after the wrong people. Yes, Saudi hands are all over 9/11. As the inestimable Kristen Breitweiser has pointed out the long-suppressed 28-page chapter (actually 29) of the Joint Congressional Report dealing with the Saudi role in 9/11 was a bombshell no matter how Washington and Riyadh try to deny it.

It described one link after another between Saudi officials and the 19 hijackers, 15 of them Saudi subjects. It notes, for instance, that the FBI received “numerous reports from individuals in the Muslim community” that Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national who helped two of the hijackers after they arrived in the U.S., was a Saudi intelligence officer.

It says that Osama Bassnan, whom it describes as a supporter of Osama bin Laden, may have “received funding and possibly a fake passport from Saudi Government officials”; that he and his wife may also have received financial support from Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, and that he received “a significant amount of cash” from another member of the royal family as well.

The report cites FBI documents saying that a phone book owned by Abu Zubaida, a senior Al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan, contained the unlisted number of the company that manages Bin Sultan’s vacation home in Aspen, Colorado.

Such links are remarkable, and if JASTA enables 9/11 survivors to pursue them further, then it’s all to the good. Still, the legislation overlooks one all-important fact: 9/11 in the final analysis was less a Saudi job than an American one.

This doesn’t mean that the CIA wired the Twin Towers with explosives or that Mossad somehow engineered the hijacking. What it means, rather, is that Washington has shaped the U.S.-Saudi relationship from the start and that it therefore must take responsibility for the horrors that have followed.

Made in the USA

The degree to which Saudi Arabia was made in the USA is often overlooked. But before the United States happened on the scene in the early 1930s, the kingdom was a great empty zone consisting of goats, flies, sand dunes, and a few thousand fanatical jihadis whom the British had no trouble taking care of when they threatened their holdings in neighboring Iraq and Jordan.

King Ibn Saud, whose stronghold was a desolate plateau known as Najd, was himself virtually a U.K. prisoner. Indeed, this is why he brought in American geologists when it appeared that significant oil deposits might lie beneath his country’s shifting sands. An alliance with the U.S. was his only hope of getting out from under Britain’s thumb.

Ibn Saud was a wily operator who eventually figured out how to use his oil wealth to gain leverage over U.S. oil companies as well. But leverage doesn’t mean independence. To the contrary, it meant a deepening partnership with the U.S. that the Americans encouraged at every turn.

So durable was the relationship that events that should have torn it apart only made it stronger. The most obvious is the 1973 Yom Kippur War when America’s pro-Israel policies led the Saudis to impose an oil embargo that quickly brought capitalism to its knees. Although President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger briefly considered seizing Saudi oil fields in retaliation, they eventually opted for an opposite policy based on ever closer economic integration.

With oil prices jumping six-fold in real terms by 1980, Saudi Arabia blossomed into an economic powerhouse, a mass consumer of everything from oil equipment to refrigerators, air conditioners, and cars. American anger soon dissipated. The country was the new El Dorado.

The Iranian Revolution in February 1979 might also have undermined the budding new relationship by sending a clear message that the Persian Gulf was deeply unstable and that the U.S. would be foolish to grow overly reliant on energy from such a dangerous source. The same goes for the seizure of Mecca’s Grand Mosque by ultra-Wahhabist militants the following November. It also highlighted the political fault lines coursing through the region, which might also have caused the U.S. to back off.

But instead, the U.S. responded by embracing the Saudis ever more tightly. Although Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski had already begun sponsoring an Islamic fundamentalist revolt in Afghanistan, the Soviet incursion that followed in late December 1979 sealed the deal on what was to become one of the most durable marriages in modern diplomatic history.

Soon, under President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. and Saudis would be partners not only in fomenting Afghan jihad, but in other ventures as well such as channeling funds to the Nicaraguan Contras or to the South African-backed guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi in Angola.

This was an age of off-shoring when Wall Street moved its financial operations overseas in order to escape the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Reagan administration did the same with covert operations in order to escape an increasingly intrusive Congress.

But just as one shouldn’t blame the Cayman Islands for the consequences, one shouldn’t blame the Saudis either. To be sure, the latter reaped enormous benefits in the form of economic and military security, not to mention trillions in oil revenue. But the U.S. benefited even more.

Bleeding the Soviets

Not only did Saudi-fueled jihad bleed the Soviets dry in Afghanistan, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia acquired sufficient leverage to manipulate the energy markets to Soviet disadvantage. U.S. control should not be exaggerated; America was having as hard a time as everyone else maintaining its balance amid economic turbulence of the day.

But the combination of steep price hikes in the 1970s and an equally dizzying plunge in the 1980s had the effect of first encouraging Russia’s dependence on international oil revenues and then slamming it to the ground when those revenues suddenly vanished. It was a one-two punch from which the Soviet economy never recovered.

Combined with the punishing war in Afghanistan, the results soon proved fatal. When the Nouvel Observateur caught up with Brzezinski in 1998 and asked him if he regretted stirring up Islamic fundamentalism, he shot back:

“Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost ten years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet Empire….

“What is more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire?  Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

And, for these American global chess players, the benefits kept on coming. The Saudis also helped the U.S. roll back leftwing influence across the Third World and then deal Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a punishing blow in the 1990-91 Gulf War, an awesome military display that doubled as a shot over the bow of neighboring Iran.

Riyadh sent mujahedeen to Bosnia where the U.S. was anxious to reduce Russian influence and to Chechnya where the threat to Russian interests was even more direct.

But then the relationship unraveled when Osama bin Laden began striking at Western targets, most notably U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya where more than 200 people died in simultaneous bombings in August 1998 and then the USS Cole in October 2000. The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 11 months later was of course the final straw.

An Enduring Bond

So why didn’t the U.S. cut its losses by severing the Saudi partnership? Didn’t it realize that the costs were beginning to outweigh the benefits? The reason is that it knew that it was complicit in the Saudi terror campaign and that the Saudis knew it too. The two countries were in it together. Both had shown staggering recklessness and duplicity in their dealings with Al Qaeda, and both therefore had too much to lose in the event of a mutual falling out.

The George W. Bush administration, moreover, was especially vulnerable. After the stolen election of 2000, Republicans knew that they faced mass destruction at the polls in 2004 if the full news about Bush’s incompetence got out. So a cover-up was even more essential for Washington than it was for Riyadh.

This is why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began pushing for an invasion of Iraq the morning after the Twin Towers attack. Although all evidence pointed to the Saudis, he wanted to deflect attention from Riyadh and place it on Baghdad instead. The same goes for Vice President Dick Cheney who, as Breitweiser notes, opposed a special investigation into 9/11 on the grounds that it would somehow interfere with efforts to ward off incidents that were undoubtedly on the way.

As Cheney put it in May 2002: “An investigation must not interfere with the ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack, because without a doubt a very real threat of another perhaps more devastating attack still exists.  The people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion.”

An investigation into 9/11 would divert attention from the more immediate task of taking out Iraq. Yet the reality was quite the other way around. Taking out Iraq would divert attention from an investigation into 9/11. The 2003 invasion can thus be seen as a vast diversionary effort.

Its goal was to deflect attention from the real culprits, which is to say the U.S. and its Saudi partners, and shift it onto a country, Iraq, that, as former counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke would later complain, had no more to do with 9/11 than Mexico did with Pearl Harbor. It was an exercise in mass deception that ended up costing an estimated $3 trillion and perhaps half a million lives.

To the degree that JASTA will help shift attention back to the Saudis, it is welcome. But if it takes aim at only one party in this grotesque pas-de-deux, and the less guilty one at that, then it could actually end up compounding the cover-up.

With oil down to $50 a barrel or so, Congress figures that the U.S. no longer has much need of Saudi Arabia and can therefore kick it while it’s down. Voting to allow the survivors’ lawsuit to go forward meant allowing it to take the fall, which is why it passed so overwhelmingly. But Riyadh should not accept the outcome without protest. Rather, it should do everything it can to take Washington down with it.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

Coming Up Short on Fund Drive

From Editor Robert Parry: We want to wrap up our late-summer/early-fall fund drive in the next few days but find ourselves still around $10,000 short of our $30,000 goal. I realize there are many demands on people’s generosity, especially in an election year, but it is important to sustain Consortiumnews as a reliable source of truly independent journalism.

In America, we are one of the few news sites daring to challenge the “group thinks” of Official Washington, which have now cast the world into a new and dangerous Cold War. But we can only continue with your help.

So, please contribute what you can with a donation by credit card online (we accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover), by PayPal (our PayPal account is named after our original email address, “consortnew @”), or by mailing a check to Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201.

We also are registered with PayPal’s Giving Fund under the name Consortium for Independent Journalism. And, since we are a 501-c-3 non-profit, donations by American taxpayers may be tax-deductible.

And, we are offering a special thank-you gift for those who can give $125 or more – or if you set up a recurring monthly donation by credit card or PayPal.

You can receive a signed copy of the new edition of my second book, Trick or Treason, which was originally published in 1993 and has been long out of print. It tells the inside story of my PBS-Frontline investigation of the 1980 October Surprise mystery (whether Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush sabotaged President Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations to ensure their electoral victory). There is also a new “Afterword” that brings the story up to the present day.

As part of the gift package, we are including a DVD of the Frontline documentary, “Election Held Hostage,” the 1991 program that resulted from the investigation.

If you wish to get this book-and-DVD thank-you gift, just follow up your donation with an e-mail to us at with instructions on where to mail it. We’ll pay the shipping charges.

Another way to help is to buy a five-book set of my other books – Fooling America, Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege, Neck Deep and America’s Stolen Narrativethrough the Web site at a deep discount price, with part of each purchase going to the fund drive.

Thanks for your support and for making our two decades-plus of honest journalism possible. Our work could not happen without your help.

Robert Parry is a longtime investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He founded in 1995 to create an outlet for well-reported journalism that was being squeezed out of an increasingly trivialized U.S. news media.