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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bush and bin Ladin join forces, or, extraordinary stupidity, ordinary blowback

One of the many obsessions of this blog is to highlight the failures of George W. Bush and company to appreciate the differences between Sunni and Shia Islam as well as the differences between the various armed Islamist groups. (See, for instance, my entry of January 27, 2007.) In short, Bush et al. don't seem to understand the fundamental incompatibility between Salafist Sunni groups like al-Qa'ida and Shia groups like Hizballah, nor can they properly appraise the relative threats that each set of actors poses to the United States and its interests.

It was thus with great dismay that I read Seymour Hersh's article 'The Redirection' in the March 5, 2007 issue of the New Yorker. Hersh claims that the Bush people, in their mind-boggling anti-Shia zeal, are distributing money and weapons to violent anti-Shia groups. And who is the most belligerent anti-Shia group in the world? Why, al-Qa'ida, of course. According to Hersh, covert money and matériel from the U.S. are, by design, making their way into al-Qa'ida's hands because they are apparently Bush's new ally in a joint jihad-crusade against Shiites.

Since the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, Bush's policy towards Lebanon has been to support Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government in the face of opposition from Hizballah. That in itself is neither remarkable nor objectionable. The problem arises when one considers what that support includes. According to MI6 veteran Alastair Cooke, quoted in Hersh's article, the Lebanese government has passed these covert funds and weapons on to Fatah al-Islam, a Salafist splinter group operating in Lebanon's Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, to be used in campaigns against Hizballah. Anyone with any knowledge of the history of U.S. covert operations can already guess where this story is headed.

Let's recall Bush's many statements about states that harbor terrorists. My favorite is this one from September 25, 2001:

'Well, I think most people in the world understand that I was very serious, and they're serious, when we say if you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist.'

If Bush is as serious as he claims, then he should be ordering strikes on Lebanon right about now. From Hersh's article:
'In an interview in Beirut, a senior official in the Siniora government acknowledged that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. "We have a liberal attitude that allows Al Qaeda types to have a presence here," he said.'

That 'liberal attitude' is now part of the Bush-Siniora policy of using al-Qa'ida 'types' to fight Hizballah. That's a bit like arming Hitler to fight Musolini.

What amazes me most about this insane policy is not its hypocrisy but the fact that U.S. policymakers continue to operate at such levels of political intrigue in the first place. What makes them think they can maintain control over so many variables and rogue elements?

We can speculate about how much of this covert support is directly being used against U.S. interests in the region. Has any of it been used against U.S. troops in Iraq, for instance? Or we can read the day's news and find evidence of it. Fatah al-Islam, the Salafist group named above as a beneficiary of this mad policy, last week turned its weapons on the Lebanese government. And now the U.S. is sending 'plane-loads of American military supplies' to the Lebanese government to help it fight Fatah al-Islam, according to the BBC. Your tax dollars at work, arming both sides.

Whether Fatah al-Islam is an official al-Qa'ida affiliate or just an ideological clone is irrelevant. The U.S. should not be arming any Salafist groups anywhere in the world. I can't believe that this needs to be said. It's a bit like saying habeas corpus is worth defending. I have been a critic, to say the least, of George W. Bush since the beginning, but even I am surprised by this latest turn of events. Is there no level of dangerous stupidity to which Bush and his policymakers will not stoop? Alas, I have no doubt that I will soon be surprised yet again.

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