Post 9/11, the world was stupefied to discover that the Afghan “freedom fighters”, once lauded by President Ronald Reagan for their resistance to the Soviet empire of evil, had a very specific idea of “freedom”. Twenty years after its blindness helped create al-Qaida, has the United States learned its lesson? The answer, if we are to believe the celebrated American journalist Seymour Hersh, is no: the US has brought together a coalition of moderate Sunni Arab states to support all the anti-Iranian and anti-Shia movements, even the most “radical” (1).
Lebanon, where the Shia Hizbullah dominates opposition to Fuad Siniora’s US-backed government, is a textbook case. Even before Fatah al-Islam (2) achieved prominence, Hersh noted with concern the emergence of radical Sunni groups, linked to al-Qaida, some of whose funding came from forces close to the government and Hariri’s party. Hersh said: “The United States of America are looking the other way as money flows in from us… and [from] Saudi Arabia under the table…. Why do we support… the Salafists – we would have arrested these guys two years ago and put them in GuantÃ¡namo. Now we’re supporting them because they’re potential allies against… Hizbullah” (3).
According to the journalist David Samuels: “[Condoleezza] Rice and her colleagues in the administration decided to embark on a daring and risky third course.” This involved a subtle mix of diplomacy, economic pressure, large-scale military exercises, psychological warfare and covert operations.
“The bill for the covert part of this activity, which has involved funding sectarian political movements and paramilitary groups in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, is said to amount to more than $300m. It is being paid by Saudi Arabia and other concerned Gulf states” (4). Iran, it seems, has now succeeded al-Qaida as public enemy number one. ________________________________________________________
(1) Seymour Hersh, “The redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefiting our enemies in the war on terrorism”, New Yorker, 5 March 2007.
(2) This radical Islamist group formed in November 2006. During May and June 2007 it took on the Lebanese army in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.
(3) Interview on the site Antiwar.com, 13 March 2007.
(4) David Samuels, “Grand Illusions”, Atlantic Monthly, Washington DC, June 1970.