Sunday, December 13, 2015

America's Special Relationship with Al Qaeda

Although it is incredibly easy to criticize the hypocritical and counterproductive nature of US foreign policy, it is also easy to go too far. The US has done many appalling and appallingly stupid things in the Middle East, but we must be careful not to overstate them. The truth is bad enough; there is no need for exaggeration.

This is important for several reasons. First, if one makes an argument that is false, even if only in a technical way, it necessarily diminishes everything else they had to say. For instance, you will occasionally hear people claim that the US directly supported ISIS. At least for now, there's no concrete evidence to support that claim. But it is certainly true that the policy of the US and its allies to pour weapons and funds to support the rebellion in Syria helped create space for ISIS to form. It's also true that the US's decision to fight on one side of a civil war in Iraq helped create the conditions that allowed ISIS to take real power instead of just being a marginalized extremist group. And it's true that the US and its allies have lent direct support to groups that work directly with Al Qaeda in Syria. Whether the US directly and deliberately gave weapons to ISIS or Al Qaeda is not clear, but it is also immaterial. They might as well have, as the ultimate result of the policy has been effectively the same.

The point here is that when you already have a smoking gun, you don't need to plant evidence. Indeed, your case is undermined when you do so, because you might get called on it. Yes, the US's foreign policy has been incredibly awful in many different ways. But there is nuance here. And most of the horrible US policies seem to be driven chiefly by ignorance, stupidity, and deeply mistaken priorities more than deliberate malice just for the hell of it. None of which constitutes any kind of excuse, since it matters little to countries and civilians that are on the receiving end. But it is still easier to convince the average American that their government is incredibly stupid and callous rather than incredibly evil.

All of which brings us to our recommended story for today. This is a long-form piece from Andrew Cockburn at Harper's. It tells the long and complicated story of the US's relationship with Al Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups, starting back with President Jimmy Carter and extending through today. With numerous resources to bolster his story, Cockburn explains how and why the relationship began, how the movement developed, who has been its key supporters, and how Al Qaeda has recently rebranded itself to play a major role in the Syrian conflict. It's an essential read for anyone looking to get a better understanding of the US's complicated and counterproductive role in the Middle East:

A Special Relationship: The US is teaming up with Al Qaeda again

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