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The Well Travelled and Disastrous Road from Kabul to Benghazi



In his book Blowback, published in 2000, the author and scholar, Chalmers Johnson, wrote: “World politics in the twenty-first century will in all likelihood be driven primarily by blowback from the intended consequences of the Cold War and the crucial American decision to maintain a Cold War posture in a post-Cold War world.” In 2003, in a preface to the book’s second edition, he wrote that the attacks of September 11, 2001 “descend in a direct line” from events in 1979, when the CIA launched “its largest ever clandestine operation,” the secret arming of mujahideen to wage a proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, “which involved the recruitment and training of militants from all over the Islamic world.”

“The blowback from the second half of the twentieth century has only just begun,” Johnson concluded.

Johnson died a couple years ago. I bet were he around today he would spot the line – sometimes direct and other times indirect – running from Afghanistan to Libya and on to Syria, and even touching on the April 15 premeditated murder of innocents at the Boston Marathon.

Last week, the Financial Times wrote that Qatar had fallen into second place when it comes to providing arms for the forces out to overthrow the Syrian government. Partly, it said this is because of “concern in the West and among other Arab states that weapons it supplies could fall into the hands of an al-Qaeda-linked group, Jabhat al-Nusrah, which has gained strength over the past year.” The story went on, “Diplomats also say the Qataris have had trouble securing a steady supply of arms, something the Saudis have been able to do via their more developed networks. Those networks are a legacy of past endeavors in places such as Afghanistan, where in the 1980s the Saudis helped bankroll US-led support for Mujahedeen fighting against Soviet occupation.”

The Saudis and the Qataris spent a lot of money recruiting, transporting and arming fighters for the Libya war as well. There, “Al-Qaida played a key role in toppling Gadhafi and remains a potent threat,” UPI reported May 14.

The Cold War is ostensibly over but training and arming the bad guys never stopped.

I have no idea what really went on in official Washington following the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi but the policy makers must have had serious concern about it appearing that once again,  forces unleashed by the U.S., Britain and France had bit the hand that fed them.

Outside the devastated consulate after the attack, a young member of a Libyan security team told an interviewer that the group suspected of storming the building had been considered on the side of the good guys.

On May 14, New York Times columnist, David Brooks, made an intriguing statement. “Furthermore, intelligence officers underestimated how dangerous the situation was,” he wrote. “They erred in vetting the Libyan militia that was supposed to provide security.” Maybe one day he will elaborate.

Describing the emails that were turned over by the Obama Administration to Congressional investigators, Eli Lake, the senior national security correspondent for Newsweek, wrote May 14 in the Daily Beast that there was “extensive discussion on the evening of September 14 about whether the talking points should mention Anwar al-Sharia, a jihadist militia member. The original CIA draft stated he was a likely participant in the attacks. Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman at the time, asked whether or not mentioning the group would prejudice the investigation, and the FBI in later emails did not object (to what?). Still, the final version excised the reference to Ansar al-Sharia as well as a reference to Facebook posts the group had created suggesting a link to the attacks.”

And how about the Tsarnaev brothers who carried out the bombing in Boston that killed three and wounded more than 260? A short time before the terror attack, the eldest, Tamerlan, was in Manchester, NH having tea with a friend, Musa Khadzhimuratov, a Chechen exile that the New York Times identified as a “former separatist fighter.” He had once been a bodyguard for Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen separatist leader now living in London. On May 14, the FBI searched Khadzhimuratov’s home, inspected his computers and gave him a lie detector test.

Khadzhimuratov told the Voice of America that he and Tsarnaev the elder had met three times, visited a local shooting range together and never talked politics.

Then there is Graham Fuller, a high CIA official whose daughter married Ruslan Tsarnaev, uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers, who, according to numerous accounts, was quite familiar with the project to recruit and train terrorists for use in the former USSR.

Because people in the “intelligence” community don’t usually talk out loud about such things, we may never know the real story behind the Moscow arrest of the U.S. spy with the ugly wig, pocket knife, compass and roll of dollars. But no one has refuted the Russian’s claim that he was trying to recruit a Russian who specializes in the affairs of the North Caucasus. According to the Guardian (UK), “The US has not reacted to the expulsion of Ryan Fogle, who Russia said was caught in a sting operation last week while allegedly attempting to recruit an FSB agent focused on anti-terrorism efforts in Russia’s North Caucasus.”

Throughout the Cold War, the CIA had “assets” in that troubled part of the then Soviet Union that includes Chechnya and it has never ceased to stir that pot.

Last week, CNN reported that “Russian authorities asked U.S. officials to investigate Tamerlan before the trip, saying they believed he was becoming increasingly involved with radical Islam. The FBI investigated, but found no evidence of extremist activity and closed the case.” U.S. officials probably had good reason to be wary about following up on Russian warnings and inquiries about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Last year, with the governments of Britain and France leading the pack and the U.S. “leading from behind,” they launched yet another attempt to use a popular political uprising to overthrow a government they once wooed and then turned against. What has it wrought? According to UPI, “Eighteen months after the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya remains a powder keg with a government unable to control dozens of armed groups whose lawless marauding has created a security crisis that’s driving off desperately needed foreign investment.”

And, “Security officials say there are about 500 militias and armed groups across Libya, most of them competing with one another. Libya's Warrior Affairs Commission estimates these total around 250,000 men who hold allegiance to warlords, tribal leaders and Salafist groups rather than to the government that's struggling to emerge.”

Writing May 13 in the neoconservative organ Commentary, arch neocon Max Boot described what he considers “the real scandal” around Benghazi – “the shameful failure of the Obama administration to extend state-building assistance to Libya’s pro-Western leaders after having helped them to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The inability of the Libyan government to control its own territory created the conditions that led to the 2012 attack – and those conditions have not changed since.”

Boot went on to quote a recent Reuters dispatch from Tripoli that said “More than 18 months after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s new rulers have yet to impose a firm grip on a country awash with weapons. Rebel groups that helped to overthrow him are still refusing to disband, and remain more visible on the streets than the state security forces.”

Ethan Chorin, a former U.S. diplomat in Libya and expert on the Libyan economy, chides the U.S. for having been “unprepared for the ability of terrorist groups to undermine advances toward civil authority there.”

“In short, if the United States and its NATO and Arab allies had learned from the Iraq experience and implemented a full, well-supported plan for Benghazi, covering everything from technical assistance to security and staffing, we might have averted the attack and the momentum it has given to extremists.”

Boot and Chorin are both wise enough to know the history of such endeavors but foolish enough to think the U.S. can or should step in to bring it all under control and sort out the freedom lovers from the reactionary extremists. The lesson they apparently draw from Iraq and Afghanistan is: try it again.

Chorin, however, is clear on where he thinks the trouble began. “Libya’s own ‘Islamist’ problem is itself a product in part of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan– those conflicts attracted militants looking to hone their skills in the war against Gaddafi; they returned to fight in the Libyan Revolution, and many are now back in Syria helping the Islamist factions within Syrian rebel ranks,” he wrote on his blog May 4.

“US, British and French recipes for Syria’s future seem as fraught with potential for disaster as their plans in 1916 or 2003,” wrote Patrick Cockburn in the Independent (UK) May 12. “In saying that [President] Assad can play no role in a future Syrian government, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaks of the leader of a government that has still only lost one provincial capital to the rebels. Such terms can only be imposed on the defeated or those near defeat. This will only happen in Syria if Western powers intervene militarily on behalf of the insurgents, as they did in Libya, but the long-term results might be equally dismal.”

“Mr. Obama would not be a decent human being – let alone a leader – if he did not have an urge to try to stop the killing in Syria,” wrote the Financial Times chief foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman May 14. “He is hanging back because he does not have the answers to some really crucial questions.

“If we supply weapons to the rebels, how do we know that it will not simply lead to worse bloodshed? If western intervention is decisive enough to tip the military balance, do we understand the nature of the forces that will take control in Syria? Is there any way of ensuring that a decent regime will emerge in Syria, short of a decade-long, Afghanistan-style commitment to nation-building? (And, incidentally, even Afghanistan has not worked out too well.)”

Bob Woodward has taken some flak for his view of the situation after he had read the Administration’s internal emails. (“Oh, let’s not tell the public that terrorists were involved, people connected to al Qaeda. Let’s not tell the public that there were warnings.”) Well, I think that’s more likely than Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s explanation (“In the midst of a re-election campaign, Obama aides wanted to promote the mythology that the president who killed Osama was vanquishing terror. So they deemed it problematic to mention any possible Qaeda involvement in the Benghazi attack.”). There were al Qaeda-linked “terrorists” involved. And, there were warnings dating back to 2000 and “Blowback.” When you lay down with dogs you get fleas.

In Syria and elsewhere, the U.S. is funding (with help of the freedom loving Gulf monarchies), arming and training the same terrorists it is said to be fighting in Yemen, Mali and Libya. The consequence would seem to be inevitable. Those aren’t chickens. It’s a whole flock of turkey buzzards coming home to roost.
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BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.

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