In the 1980s sci-fi flick Scanners, the villain is a telepath who is so powerful that he can make a victim’s head explode using just his mind. If anyone in real life had such a power, it would be the American political class; and they would accomplish it using the cognitive tension from all the conflicting ideas, goals, and justifications they try to have people hold in their heads at once. Unfortunately, it would only work really well on libertarians and other government skeptics, because they seem to be the only ones perturbed in the slightest by such contradictions.
In fact, we already almost lost Scott Horton, the great libertarian radio host, when his head almost exploded on the air while playing the following remarks recently given by President Obama on the White House lawn following the astonishingly rapid conquest of western Iraq by the terrorist group ISIS (aka ISIL):
Indeed, across the region, we have redoubled our efforts to help build more capable counterterrorism forces, so that groups like ISIL can’t establish safe haven. And we’ll continue that effort through our support of the moderate opposition in Syria, our support for Iraq and its security forces, and our partnership with other countries across the region.
What is so brain-busting about that statement is that it was precisely such U.S. support for ISIS’s allies in a war against ISIS’s mortal enemy, Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad that enabled ISIS to conquer large parts of Syria, which served as the safe haven from which they launched their conquest of western Iraq in the first place. As political science professor David C. Hendrickson recently wrote:
[U.S.] orchestration of external support for the Syrian revolution and the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, in which Washington has been a key player,has undoubtedly redounded to the benefit of ISIS.
The emerging strategic reality was given pungent expression by Ayad Jamal al-Din, a liberal Iraqi cleric and politician: “The war in Syria and the war in Iraq are one and the same,” he said on June 10. “Both in Syria and in Iraq, it is a war against ISIS. The United States strives to weaken the Syrian regime, and this benefits ISIS, but in Baghdad, it supports the regime against ISIS. This is suspicious and perplexing, to tell you the truth.”
U.S. support for the Iraqi regime is part of yet another conundrum. The political class would have us believe that Iran, which hasn’t attacked another country in centuries, is supposed to be a mortal threat to the U.S. and Israel. In fact, U.S. support for ISIS-allied rebels against Assad, as admitted by Obama, is largely for the purpose of weakening Assad’s ally, Iran.
And yet, the Shi’ite Iraqi regime that the U.S. fought a bloody post-invasion war to install and is now propping up and aiding against the Sunni insurgency, is intimately allied with Shi’ite Iran. Iraq’s primary military forces were trained by Iran, Iran backed the election of Iraq’s current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Iran has even sent its elite Qud Force into Iraq to save Maliki from ISIS.
This last part was necessary, because Maliki’s own troops incontinently dumped their American weapons and uniforms, and fled upon the first sight of ISIS. Thus, the U.S. is providing arms to ISIS in at least two ways. The terrorists are picking them up in Syria from their U.S.-aided allies, and in Iraq as they are left behind by Iraqi troops. And all this is besides the direct support ISIS has received from our “friends” in the Arab world.
Of course the Republicans are even less coherent than Obama. Every dictator (Assad) and jihadist group (ISIS in Iraq) he is threatening, they think he should bomb. And every dictator (Maliki) and jihadist group (ISIS’s allies in Syria) he is supporting, they think he should support more. See for example, Senator John McCain’s Memorial Day trip to Syria to encourage and meet the rebels, which included his infamous photo-op with rebel fighters who turned out to be jihadist kidnappers.
And the mainstream media is so corrupt and/or so lacking in critical thinking skills, that the utter confusion of this strategy has gone largely unnoticed. Rand Paul finally introduced the issue into mainstream public discourse recently, when he told CNN’s Candy Crowley:
I see mostly confusion and chaos, and I think some of the chaos is created from getting involved in the Syrian civil war. You have to realize that some of the Islamic rebels that we have been supporting are actually allies of the group that is now in Iraq causing all of this trouble. But, I see that in the Syrian civil war we’re sending arms and opposing Iranian proxies — now they want, some people want us to get involved, allied with Iranian guard, even maybe fighting alongside the Iranian guard.
In Egypt, the U.S. propped up military dictator Hosni Mobarak for decades, but then turned on him in favor of both liberals and Islamists once the “Arab Spring” reached Tahiri Square, only to later turn on the Islamists after their democratically elected government was overthrown by a coup, by recognizing and supporting the new military dictatorship that resulted.
In Libya, after decades of vilifying military dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, the U.S. allied with him in the War on Terror, only to overthrow him through an “Arab spring” war (fought, again, by U.S.-supported jihadists) during Obama’s first term, bringing chaos to that country which still hasn’t lifted. Again, the overthrow resulted in an elected Islamist government; and again, there has been an attempted military coup, this time led by a likely CIA asset.
Why is the U.S. empire working at such cross purposes? Why is it playing both sides in every contest in the Muslim world? Are our overlords so unable to, as Horton says, “rub two neurons together” to see the obvious inner contradictions of their Middle East policy?
Stupidity surely plays a role, as does short-term thinking. Also, with each successive regime change, the U.S. may be re-shuffling the deck, hoping to eventually get the perfect hand: a regime that is both totally compliant and helpfully supported by popular sovereignty. But an entirely darker “method to the madness” would explain the mess just as readily, and must not be discounted as at least a partial explanation.
U.S. policy makers and influencers may be pursuing a chaotic policy because they want chaos. They want to, in the words of neocon Michael Ledeen, “cauldronize” the Middle East: turn the region into a boiling cauldron. Ledeen wrote in 2002 in support of invading Iraq:
By supporting both sides in regional conflicts, and by shifting alliances to install some factions in power only to later overthrow them, at least some U.S. policymakers seek to divide and conquer. This may be called the Cauldron Doctrine.
In Christopher Nolan’s Batman film The Dark Knight, Alfred explains the Joker’s unpredictable, chaotic, seemingly irrational malevolence by explaining that, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Similarly, the foreign policy of some of the sociopaths in the war party is “to watch the world boil.”
How might they suppose that sowing chaos furthers their ends? Perhaps they think that if the region is cauldronized, people will be too busy killing each other to terrorist-attack the U.S. government and its human livestock. Perhaps they think only regimes beset by insurgency and civil war will be dependent enough on U.S military aid to be totally compliant.
The role of Israel in the Cauldron Doctrine must not be discounted either. To understand its role, its regional goals must be understood. As Justin Raimondo informs us:
In “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” a 1996 document prepared by a gaggle of neocons — [Richard] Perle, Douglas Feith, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was urged to “break out” of Israel’s alleged stagnation and undertake a campaign of “regime change” across the Middle East, targeting Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and eventually Iran. With the exception of Iran — and that one’s still cooking on the back burner — this is precisely what has occurred. In 2003, in the immediate wake of our Pyrrhic “victory” in Iraq, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared to a visiting delegation of American members of Congress that these “rogue states” — Iran, Libya, and Syria — would have to be next on the War Party’s target list.
As can be gleaned from the “Clean Break” document, and from Israeli policy, Israel effectively defines “rogue” as “insufficiently cooperative with Israel’s desire to dispossess and crush its Palestinian helots with total impunity.”
Now, it would be a mistake to suppose that Israel is entirely leading the U.S. behemoth by the nose. Israel is the U.S.’s imperial junior partner in the region; and therefore, the latter sees the ambitions of the former, to a large degree, as its own.
The fact that several of the forces that Israel considers enemies are also enemies of each other contributes to the chaos of U.S. policy. Israel is, of course, opposed to the rise to power of anti-Israel Bin Ladenite groups like ISIS, as well as to any Sunni Baathist return to power. But it is obstinately opposed to both Syria and Iran as well. And so it will brook no U.S. let up in its proxy war against ISIS’s mortal enemy Assad, and will not abide by the U.S. relenting in its constant threats and sanctions against (much less allying with) ISIS’s other mortal enemy, Iran. They would rather see both sets of enemies slaughter each other in perpetuity than see a lesser enemy prevail.
In Iraq, as Hendrickson said, “neither side seems positioned to gain a victory in Iraq; they can kill but not conquer the other.” This is all of a piece with what Raimondo claims to have been the goal of the Iraq War all along.
When we invaded and occupied Iraq, we didn’t just militarily defeat Iraq’s armed forces — we dismantled their army, and their police force, along with all the other institutions that held the country together. The educational system was destroyed, and not reconstituted. The infrastructure was pulverized, and never restored. Even the physical hallmarks of a civilized society — roads, bridges, electrical plants, water facilities, museums,schools– were bombed out of existence or else left to fall into disrepair. Along with that, the spiritual and psychological infrastructure that enables a society to function — the bonds of trust, allegiance, and custom — was dissolved, leaving Iraqis to fend for themselves in a war of all against all.
With regard to Syria, at least some warmongers are quite explicit about their Cauldron Doctrine. As Ray McGovern has reported:
A report on Sept. 6, 2013, by the New York Times’ Judi Rudoren, writing from Jerusalem, addressed Israel’s thinking in an uncommonly candid way. Her article, titled “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria,” noted that the Israelis have argued, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria’s civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome. Rudoren wrote:
“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.
“This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”
The Cauldron Doctrine is not only utterly demonic, but suicidally stupid. The thing about cauldrons is that they bubble over. It is herculean hubris if U.S. and Israel policymakers think they can turn Israel’s near abroad, and the Muslim world in general from Mali to Pakistan, into a boiling sea of violence and chaos, and that they will be able to surf that sea while it submerges and boils all their rivals: riding it until it subsides, leaving them and a handful of puppet Muslim satraps as the last men standing, dry and unscalded, ruling over an entire Muslim world as devastated, demoralized, and docile as their Palestinian helotry. If they really think that, even subconsciously, they surely have another thing coming.
Strife begets strife, and violence begets radicalization. Jihadist groups are not only extremists, but extremophiles: creatures that thrive most in extreme conditions, like the bacteria that live in deep-sea hydrothermal vents. “Cauldrons” are petri dishes that culture the most virulent strains of extremism, while boiling away civil society. The wave of terrorists eating human hearts in Syria and slashing off human heads in Iraq is a zombie apocalypse unleashed on the world by such a cauldron-born contagion. When the U.S., under Israeli prodding, turned Iraq, and then Syria into a cauldron, that cauldron was the ideal environment for the germination of Al Qaeda-oriented groups like the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS, the latter of which has since established a proto-“caliphate,” rich in oil, gold, territory, recruits, and heavy U.S. armaments.
If the U.S. and Israel cling to their cauldronizing policy indefinitely, there may be no limit to the spread of this zombie epidemic in the Muslim world. Both governments pitch fits over quiescent, but not totally compliant Muslim rulers like Assad and Khamenei (and formerly Saddam and Gaddaffi). But imagine if not only those men, but subservient client-state rulers like the Hashemite royal house of Jordan and the Hadi regime in Yemen were swept away by a zombie wave of irreconcilable Bin Ladenites. How secure would we all feel then?
If you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. If you sow chaos, you will reap the chaotic blowback. We must strenuously insist that U.S. and Israeli policymakers abandon their mad cauldron experiments, and leave local institutions alone to eventually reorganize, regrow, and deal with the epidemic unleashed by the Cauldron Doctrine.