Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, as Max Blumenthal points out in his insightful book “The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump,” was made possible not only by massive social inequality and concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the oligarchic elites but by the national security state’s disastrous and prolonged military interventions overseas.
From the CIA’s funneling of over a billion dollars to Islamic militants in the 1970s war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union to the billion dollars spent on training and equipping the radical jihadists currently fighting in Syria, the United States has repeatedly empowered extremists who have filled the vacuums of failed states it created. The extremists have turned with a vengeance on their sponsors. Washington’s fueling of these conflicts was directly responsible for the rise of figures such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden and ultimately laid the groundwork for the 9/11 attacks. It also spawned the rabid Islamophobia in Europe and the United States that defines Trump’s racist worldview and has been successfully used to justify the eradication of basic civil liberties and democratic rights.
The misguided interventions by the national security apparatus have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, over 5 million desperate refugees fleeing to Europe, the destruction of entire cities, the squandering of some $5 trillion of U.S. taxpayer money, rampant corruption and criminality. The mandarins of national security, rather than blunt the rise of radical jihadism, have ensured its spread across the globe. The architects of this imperial folly have a symbiotic relationship with those they profess to hate. The two radical extremes—the interventionists in the national security apparatus and the radical jihadists—play off of each other to countenance ever-greater acts of savagery. The more perfidious your enemy, the more your own extremism is justified. We are locked in a macabre dance with the killers we created and empowered, matching war crime for war crime, torture for torture and murder for murder. This unrestrained violence has a dark momentum that escapes management and control. It exacerbates the very insecurity it claims to be attempting to eliminate by constantly creating legions of new enemies.
“Drone strikes take out a few bad guys to be sure, but they also kill a large number of innocent civilians,” Nabeel Khoury, a former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Yemen, argues. “Given Yemen’s tribal structure, the U.S. generates roughly forty to sixty new enemies for every AQAP [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] operative killed by drones.”
The binary view of the world imagined by right-wing ideologues such as Richard Pipes during the Cold War, defined as a battle to the death against godless communism, has been reimagined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American neocons such as Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Fred Fleitz, Robert Kagan, Steve Bannon, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and leaders of the Christian right including Gary Bauer and William Bennett to become a battle to the death between the “barbarity” of Islam and the “civilized” ethic of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a rebranding of the Cold War, so useful to the retrograde forces of capitalism in crushing popular dissent and so profitable to the arms industry. Its most prominent voices are a bizarre collection of neofascist ideologues and quack conspiracy theorists such as Bannon, Sean Hannity, Stephen Miller and Pam Geller, who claims that Barack Obama is the love child of Malcolm X.
This ideology, like the ideology of anti-communism, erases not only history but context. Those who oppose us are removed from the realm of the rational. They are seen as incomprehensible. Their hate has no justification. They are human embodiments of evil that must be eradicated. They despise us for our “values” or because they are driven by a perverted form of Islam. The failure, as Blumenthal writes, to place these conflicts in context, to examine our own complicity in fueling a justifiable anger, even rage, dooms us to perpetual misunderstanding and perpetual warfare. Our response is to employ greater and greater levels of violence that only expand the extremism at home and abroad. This demented project, as Blumenthal writes, collapses “the fragile space where multi-confessional societies survive.” It bifurcates political space into competing forms of extremism between the jihadists and the counter-jihadists. It creates a strange and even comforting “mutually reinforcing symbiosis” that depends “on a constantly escalating sense of antagonism.”
The methods used on a wary public by the national security state, especially the FBI and the intelligence agencies, to justify and advance these wars are increasingly unsavory. Muslims, many suffering from emotional and mental disabilities, are baited by law enforcement into “terrorist” plots that few of them could have conceived or organized on their own. The highly publicized arrests and quashing of these nascent “terrorist plots” exaggerate the presence of radical jihadists within the country. They keep fear at a fever pitch among the U.S. population. Trevor Aaronson, the author of “Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terror,” found that nearly half of all terror prosecutions between Sept. 11, 2001, and 2010 involved informants, including some with criminal backgrounds who were paid as much as $100,000 by the FBI. Aaronson noted that during the last year of the George W. Bush administration the government did not prosecute anyone arrested in a terrorist “sting.” But such stings exploded under Barack Obama, a tactic that Blumenthal writes was “designed to cast his administration as just as tough on terror as any Republican”—the Obama administration “announced an arrest resulting from a terrorism sting every sixty days.” This suggested, Aaronson writes, “that there are a lot of ineffective terrorists in the United States, or that the FBI has become effective at creating the very enemy it is hunting.”
The longer and more confusing the “war on terror” becomes, nearly two decades on, the more irrational our national discourse becomes. The paranoid and racist narratives of the far right have poisoned the mainstream dialogue. These racist tropes are repeated by the White House, members of Congress and the press.
“Islamophobia had become the language of a wounded empire, the guttural roar of its malevolent violence turned back from the sands of Iraq and the mountain passes of Afghanistan, and leveled against the mosque down the turnpike, the hijabi in the checkout line, the Sikh behind the cash register—the neighbors who looked like The Enemy,” Blumenthal writes.
Far-right parties are riding this rampant Islamophobia, fueled by the catastrophic failures in the Middle East, to power in Germany, Italy, France, Britain, Sweden, Poland and Hungary. This toxic hatred is also a central theme of the Trump administration, which demonizes Muslims, especially Muslim refugees, and seeks to bar them from entering the United States.
The arrival of millions of Muslim refugees in Europe from states such as Libya, Syria (which alone has produced a million refugees in Europe), Iraq and Afghanistan has dramatically bolstered the appeal of European neofascists. Nearly 73 percent of Britons who voted for their nation to leave the European Union cited the arrival of immigrants as their most important reason for supporting the referendum.
The radical jihadists have long expressed a desire to extinguish democratic space in the West. They are aware that the curtailment of civil liberties, evisceration of democratic institutions, especially the judicial system, and overt hatred of Muslims push Muslims in the West into their arms. Such conditions also increase the military blunders of the United States and its allies abroad, providing jihadists with a steady supply of new recruits and failed states from which they can operate. The jihadist strategy is working. In the year before the 2016 presidential election, violence against Muslims in the United States soared, including shootings and arson attacks on mosques. Public disapproval of Muslims, according to opinion polls, is at a record high.
The Democratic Party, signing on to the forever crusade by the national security state in the name of humanitarian intervention, is as complicit. The Obama administration not only accelerated the sting operations in the United States against supposed terrorists but, in its foreign operations, increased the use of militarized drones, sent more troops to Afghanistan and foolishly toppled the regime of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, creating yet another failed state and safe haven for jihadists.
The radical jihadists, in an irony not lost on Blumenthal, are often deliberately armed and empowered by the U.S. national security apparatus, along with Israel, as a way to pressure or remove regimes deemed antagonistic to Israel and the United States. Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, in audio leaked from a closed meeting with Syrian opposition activists, admitted that the U.S. had used Islamic State as a tool for pressuring the Syrian government. He also acknowledged that Washington’s complicity in the growth of IS in Syria was the major cause for Russian intervention there.
In a 2016 op-ed titled “The Destruction of Islamic State Is a Strategic Mistake,” Efraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, argued that “[t]he West should seek the further weakening of Islamic State, but not its destruction.” He said the West should exploit IS as a “useful tool” in the fight against Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. “A weak IS is, counterintuitively, preferable to a destroyed IS,” Inbar concluded. He went on to argue for prolonging the conflict in Syria, saying that extended sectarian bloodshed would produce “positive change.”
Earlier in 2016, Israel’s former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had said similarly, “In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State.”
Israel seeks to create buffer zones between itself and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. It sees its neighbor Syria, because of its alliance with Iran, as a mortal enemy. The solution has been to cripple these traditional enemies by temporarily empowering radical Sunni jihadists and al-Qaida. There are numerous reports of Israel, along with the United States, using its aircraft and military in Syria to aid the very jihadists Washington and Jerusalem claim to want to wipe from the face of the earth.
This intractable morass, Blumenthal argues, led directly to the demonization of Russia. Trump’s anti-interventionist rhetoric, however disingenuous, triggered what Blumenthal calls “a wild hysteria” among the foreign policy elites. Trump calls the invasion of Iraq a mistake. He questions the arming of Syrian jihadists and deployment of U.S. forces in Syria. He is critical of NATO. At the same time, he has called for better relations with Russia.
“Joining with the dead-enders of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, who were desperate to deflect from their crushing loss, the mandarins of the national security state worked their media contacts to generate the narrative of Trump-Russia collusion,” Blumenthal writes.
“Out of the postelection despair of liberals and national security elites, the furor of Russiagate was born. This national outrage substituted Russia for ISIS as the country’s new folk devil and painted Trump as Russian president Vladimir Putin’s Manchurian candidate.”
“Almost overnight, hundreds of thousands of liberals were showing up at postelection rallies with placards depicting Trump in Russian garb and surrounded by Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbols,” Blumenthal writes.
The FBI and the intelligence community, organizations that have long spied upon and harassed the left and often liberals, became folk heroes. NATO, which was the instrument used to destabilize the Middle East and heighten tensions with Russia because of its expansion in Eastern Europe, became sacrosanct.
“In its obsession with Moscow’s supposed meddling, the Democratic Party elite eagerly rehabilitated the Bush-era neoconservatives, welcoming PNAC [Project for the New American Century] founder William Kristol and ‘axis of evil’ author David Frum into the ranks of the so-called ‘resistance,’ ” Blumenthal writes. “The Center for American Progress, the semiofficial think tank of the Democratic Party, consolidated the liberal-neocon alliance by forging a formal working partnership with the American Enterprise Institute, the nest of the Iraq war neocons, to ‘stand up to Russia.’ ”
Those in the alternative media who question the Russia narrative and chronical the imperial disasters are in this new version of the Cold War branded as agents of a foreign power and hit with algorithms from Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to deflect viewers from reading or listening to their critiques. Politicians, such as Bernie Sanders and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who push back against the war lust are smeared with the same nefarious charge. It is, as Blumenthal writes, a desperate bid by the war industry and the interventionists to mask the greatest strategic blunder in American history, one that signals the end of American hegemony.
“In the face of their own failure, America’s national security elites had successfully engineered a new Cold War, wagering that the reignited conflict would preserve their management of savagery abroad and postpone the terrible reckoning they deserved at home,” Blumenthal concludes.
The corporate state, its legitimacy in tatters, seeks to make us afraid in order to maintain its control over the economic, political and military institutions. It needs mortal enemies, manufactured or real, at home or abroad, to justify its existence and mask its mismanagement and corruption. This narrative of fear is what Antonio Gramsci called a “legitimation doctrine.” It is not about making us safe—indeed the policies the state pursues make us less secure—but about getting us to surrender to the will of the elites. The more inequality and injustice grow, the more the legitimation doctrine will be used to keep us cowed and compliant. The doctrine means that the enemies of the United States will never be destroyed, but will mutate and expand; they are too useful to be allowed to disappear. It means that the primary language of the state will be fear. The longer the national security state plays this game, the more a fascist America is assured.