Max Blumenthal on international jihadism
Host Chris Hedges talks to author and journalist Max Blumenthal about the intimate connection between the misguided support the United States has given to international Jihadism – starting with over $1billion Washington gave to the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1970s – and the rise of neo-fascists and ultra-nationalist movements in Europe and the US. Blumenthal’s new book ‘The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump’ was published in April by Verso Books.
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CH: Welcome to On Contact. Today, we discuss how 9/11 and the military interventions in the Middle East made possible the election of Donald Trump with author Max Blumenthal.
MB: After the anti-Soviet jihad that the CIA backed in Afghanistan, many of these figures came back to the US, including Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind--the so-called Blind Sheikh, who had been sent to Afghanistan by the CIA and entered New York on a CIA visa to a place called the Al Kifah Center which was in Jersey City. I actually live down the street from its former location for several years. And Al Kifah--the Al Kifah Center was basically an al-Qaeda cell in New York overseen by the FBI and the CIA.
CH: Well, in it--there is an imminent connection between the misguided support the United States has given to international jihadism starting with the over $1,000,000,000 Washington gave to the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1970’s and the rise of neo-fascist, an ultranationalist movement in Europe and the United States. The long collusion by the CIA and the US military with jihadists in Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya has led to a series of failed states that has equipped and trained a generation of radicalized jihadists who have turned on their former sponsors and brought their finely-honed terrorism skills back to plague Europe and the United States. It has spawned a massive refugee crisis, which coupled with the economic dislocation caused by neoliberalism, has empowered the xenophobia and violence of the far right. The folly of our national security policy led directly to the rise of Osama bin Laden, the attacks of 9/11, ISIS, and ultimately the empowerment of demagogues, such as Donald Trump. Joining me in the Washington studio to discuss these issues is Max Blumenthal, author of Management of Savagery, How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump. Beginning of the book, you say that you are set out to make the case that Trump’s election would not have been possible without 9/11 and the subsequent military interventions conceived by the National Security State. Explain.
MB: Well, it’s--it is definitely something that I set out to explain and it’s not the only reason I think Trump was elected. I mean, you’ve made the case, Trump--Chris, that, you know, the financial crisis and, you know, neoliberal austerity has been a big factor in Trump’s rise. But Islamophobia and this kind of transatlantic axis between the European far right and Trump’s understanding of right-wing populism was a big factor in Trump’s rise. And I talk in the book about how Trump--how close he was to the ground in New York City on the day of 9/11 and how close he was to one host in particular who was the number one drive time host in the United States.
CH: Howard Stern.
MB: Howard Stern. Trump was kind of, at the time, struggling with his businesses and he was going on Howard Stern to stay relevant. And when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, it was Howard Stern live on the air who conveyed what was taking place to New Yorkers and he was actually joking that it was Pam Anderson’s jet because he was in the middle of a yarn about hanging out at a seedy midtown bar called Scores and hitting on Pam Anderson. And for a few minutes, Stern was joking about the attack and then he delves into a genocidal tirade with his co-host, Robin Quivers. We’ve got to bomb the hell out of them. We’ve got to bomb everything over there. There has to be a war. We have to drop chemical weapons on them and burn their eyes out. This is the language of Howard Stern. Donald Trump was close to this atmosphere and he understood that Stern came out of that broadcast as somebody who had captured the hearts and minds of many New Yorkers and people across the US. And he adopted that language in his subsequent campaigns. And then there was Dan Rather who appeared on Dave Letterman. Dan Rather, you know, not exactly a hardcore neocon, just a trusted voice of evening news. On David Letterman, a week later, he emerges basically from nonstop newscast shell-shocked. He looked completely tired and he said that Arabs had been celebrating the attacks from across the river, Arab-Americans in New Jersey. Remember, Donald Trump deployed this lie, this trope during his 2016 campaign and all the fact checkers tried to show that it was false, that it never took place. And Trump’s fans said, “Well, actually Dan Rather said this a week after 9/11.” So it’s the culture of 9/11 that’s still with us today, that kind off exterminationist, Islamophobic culture that grew out of the attacks of 9/11 and what I set out to do in this book is show how it wasn’t Donald Trump’s fault that 9/11 took place. It was, of course, al-Qaeda’s fault, but it was also the fault of the National Security State Mandarins who are so opposed to Trump these days and see him as a rogue figure.
CH: You talk about Israel in the book and Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, and how he articulated much of this, this vision of what you call a global struggle between the civilized Judeo-Christian west and the “Barbaric eastern hordes.” And that when the “War on terror begins,” they really--George W. Bush and others, including Donald Trump, adopt this Netanyahu narrative and this language.
MB: Yeah, I--my book starts in 1979, two years after I was born at the point of what I consider this major historic rupture which led to 9/11 and helped bring us to where we are today, the Iranian Revolution, which caused this freak out in the US with an Islamic Revolutionary government coming to power. The Siege of the Great Mosque in Saudi Arabia which led to the Faustian bargain between the Saudi Royal Court and the Wahhabi clergy in which the Saudi Royal Court committed to spending billions to project their vision abroad.
CH: Look, let me just back up because you explained in the book that there was an occupation of the mosque and you’re not allowed to employ acts of violence in this sacred space. And so they had to get a cleric to pass a fatwa or a ruling that permitted them to crush it and the deal, the Faustian bargain that you point out, is that they would fund these highly conservative, is the wrong word, you know, kind of fanatic, Islamic charities and allow them to project that radical jihadism outwards in Pakistan and everywhere else.
MB: Right. And Juhayman Otaybi, who led the Siege of the Great Mosque, had a following that the Saudi Royal Court was deeply worried about and he said these are corrupt figures who are hanging out on yachts and spending all their money on prostitutes.
CH: With all of which I would say is true.
MB: Which is all true. And, you know, that fell on fertile soil with, you know, common people in Saudi Arabia, including someone who was part--very close to the royal court, a young Osama bin Laden. So, it relieved the pressure internally in Saudi Arabia to send these young men to Afghanistan. But back to your original question about Israel, it was also in 1979 that a young Benjamin Netanyahu began holding a series of conferences under the auspices of the Jonathan Institute named after his late brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, who was killed in the Entebbe Raid in which western elites, major figures from the Beltway Press Corps, figures like George H. W. Bush, longtime CIA Chief, were hosted in Israel and elsewhere for conferences on the concept of terrorism, which was new to the American public. And their job was to convey the Israeli understanding of terrorism back to the western public, which set the stage for this understanding of the clash of civilizations between, as you said, the Judeo-Christian west and the Islamic hordes or the Arab hordes.
CH: And this becomes popularized by Samuel Huntington at Harvard in his book The Clash of Civilizations which essentially repeated this narrative. And then the US signs on for this holy war. And…
MB: Right. In 1979. Zbigniew Brzezinski makes the decision.
CH: So, the author of the book, I’m just going to say one, there’s a $51,000,000 grant from the United States agency for International Development to the University of Nebraska’s Center for Afghan Studies. And they create four million third grade textbooks that help transform Afghan schools into jihadist indoctrination centers.
MB: Yeah. I was--you know, let me--I was actually looking to--for the quote, but I think I can--I can remember it by heart. It’s an arithmetic question that appears in one of these third grade textbooks.
CH: It’s right here. “One group of mujahideen attacks fifty Russian soldiers. In that attack, 20 Russians are killed. How many Russians fled?” This is from a textbook that is being printed in the United States in--for Afghan…
MB: Funded to the tune of $51,000,000 by the US Agency for International Development to a professor named Thomas Gutier who was one of the premier Afghan experts and was essentially a CIA Asset at the University of Nebraska. These textbooks were delivered to schools operating in areas held by the CIA-backed mujahideen as well as in refugee camps in Pakistan that were being used as way stations for the CIA-backed anti-Soviet jihad. And they encouraged children to become insurgents and set the stage for generational violence and disruption. And they were recycled. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan after the Soviet-backed government fell, and the Taliban basically swept out these CIA-backed warlords, the US proceeded to support the Taliban, something that’s been whitewashed from history because the Taliban protected Unocal’s pipeline. And the one thing the Taliban did was they wiped out the human images that were in these USAID textbooks, but just use them as they were and they provided a perfect, you know, a perfect indoctrination books for the kind of society the Taliban wanted to build.
CH: And this creates a term I had--was not aware of before, a disposal problem in the words of US officials. Explain what that is and what the ramifications were.
MB: Well, the disposal problem was something that I spoke to Jack Bloom about who was the investigator for the Senate Select committee on the CIA and the US’s role in importing drugs from Central America into the US, Iran-Contra, and on the US role in funding Salafi jihadi elements in Afghanistan. Bloom explained it as, you know, in terms of the Cold War, the first disposal problem was in Miami when the Cuban extremists that we trained for the Bay of Pigs came back and we had to basically give them something to do. In this case…
CH: Let me just interrupt because there was a series of bombings in Miami.
MB: And here in Washington.
CH: Against--that’s right. Against people who were considered sympathetic to the Cuban regime.
MB: Cubana flight 455 was brought down by a CIA asset, Orlando Bosch, and Bosch was honored by Governor Jeb Bush with Orlando Bosch Day in Miami. You know, after the anti-Soviet jihad that the CIA backed in Afghanistan, many of these figures came back to the US, including Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind--the so-called Blind Sheikh who had been sent to Afghanistan by the CIA and entered New York on a CIA visa to a place called the Al Kifah Center, which was in Jersey City. I actually live down the street from its former location for several years. And Al Kifah--the Al Kifah Center was basically an al-Qaeda cell in New York overseen by the FBI and the CIA.
CH: Well, there’s many instances that you document in the book of these jihadists who have turned against the United States but because they had prior relationships either with the FBI or the CIA, they’re actually protected by those organizations.
MB: Right. So Ali Mohamed was being protected throughout the ‘90s. He had actually given sessions for army officers on the “Arab mind” at the JFK School of Special Warfare while he was working for Zawahiri. He was detained by Canadian Mounted Police at an airport in Canada because of his connections to al-Qaeda. And an FBI agent actually called and said let him go when he--when the figures who were eventually put on trial who are part of Al Kifah and were eventually prosecuted went to court and were defended by a lawyer named Roger Stavis, Stavis attempted to put the CIA on trial and Stavis told me his line throughout the entire trial was Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Afghanistan, what these guys were doing was serving the United States and you cannot prosecute them as terrorists. You have no right to do so. And Stavis’s defense actually was so dangerous to the United States that when he called Ali Abdul Saoud Mohamed to the stand, the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, told Mohamed, “Do not show up, do not appear. It’s too embarrassing for us, the United States government, to know what you’re doing.” Meanwhile, Ali Mohamed was still out there working with al-Qaeda.
CH: Great. When we come back, we continue our conversation about America’s role in the rise of radical jihadists with Max Blumenthal. Welcome back to On Contact. We continue our conversation about America’s role in the rise of radical jihadists with author Max Blumenthal. So, you write about a report, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. Talk about that.
MB: This was a white paper put forward to Benjamin Netanyahu by Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, two figures who would prove key in the invasion of Iraq and stove piping false intelligence to George W. Bush who were, at the time, at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and an Israeli-funded think-tank. And they put this paper together to layout Benjamin Netanyahu’s regional strategy as he entered the Prime Minister’s Office for the first time. And what it called for essentially was taking all the enemies of Israel that provided strategic depth to Iran, particularly Syria, but also Iraq, and placing them in the crosshairs of regime change and fragmenting them in order to destroy their societies from within. And so one thing that this Clean Break document calls for is using the Sunni Arab tribes in Northeastern Syria as a kind of proxy to undermine a government that was controlled by an Alawite president. And what did that--what later took place in Northeastern Syria? Well, as we now know, the rise of ISIS took place with some support from those Sunni Arab tribes. So, basically what they were laying out was what later took form in the Syrian proxy war, in the proxy war in Libya, and of course the invasion of Iraq. And it was all done in their minds to benefit Israel and weaken all of its regional enemies.
CH: Well, there’s constant examples in the book of direct collusion between the CIA and the United States, and even Israel, and these jihadist forces. They are--they will--they will use them at certain moments, Syria would be a good example, when they think they will benefit that geopolitical goal of destabilizing these states.
MB: Israel has admitted recently to even establishing a Free Syrian Army group to undermine the Assad government in Syria, in the Golan Region, Fursan al-Joulan, The Knights of Golan. Some of these fighters were reputed to have been paid $3,000 a month by Israel. They were armed by Israel. But there were other instances where Israel was literally providing air cover and artillery cover to ISIS. Israel negotiated a ceasefire with ISIS in the Golan. And Moshe Alon, who was the former Defense Minister of Israel, actually openly said, “If it comes to a choice between Assad and ISIS, I prefer ISIS. Why? Because these Israel, like the United States, aims to take all of the stable secular Arab states that are independent and that resisted sphere of influence, and weaken them from within.” And that’s where ISIS and al-Qaeda have the function of doing. That’s why we have supported them since the anti-Soviet jihad.
CH: And arm--which means arming them.
MB: Arming them with high-powered weaponry starting with Stinger missiles in Afghanistan.
CH: The White Helmets--I mean, when you talk about Israel when finally, the Assad, with Russian support and Iranian support, managed to push or recapture the territory, Israel actually extracts The White Helmets. Talk a little bit about--you wrote extensively about it, but talk a little bit about how they served western propaganda’s interest and that extraction itself is an illustration of the close relationship, because The White Helmets, as you point out, were very tied to the jihadists, the close relationship between Israel and these jihadist.
MB: Well, The White Helmets are the most, I would say, the most cynical humanitarian interventionist scam perpetrated on the west in out lifetimes.
CH: Explain for viewers who--what--reportedly what they do and who they are.
MB: Well, let me--let me--let me just explain why they are what they are. You know, the US embarked on a over $1,000,000,000--multibillion dollar arm and equip program of Syrian non-moderate insurgents called Operation Timber Sycamore. And it allowed insurgents to seize territory, including five neighborhoods in East Aleppo, now the entire province of Idlib is under insurgent control. Raqqa was under control of ISIS. These areas were controlled by al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, Javid Al-Isra and its allies. And it was not a pretty thing for the western media to show the western public that the US was arming these elements who were embarking on a process of Talibanization, as the--Professor Joshua Landis called it, where Christians were ethnically cleansed, where Jews were killed and forced to unbury their dead, where women were put in fifth-class status. And so we needed to look at something else, so let’s look at rescuers, let’s look at people who are rescuing children from bombs and let’s just say that Assad isn’t trying to recapture territory from Salafi jihadi elements. Let’s say that he is bombing his own people because he’s a bloodthirsty cat-petting dictator, and that these heroes are rushing in with their white helmets just to save the children, and these heroes happen to have cameras, advanced HD cameras to show us this and to give it to media which is unable to enter these areas because so many western journalists have been kidnapped and killed, and even in the case of James Foley, beheaded. And what I have showed in my journalism and what other independent journalists have showed is that The White Helmets have operated exclusively alongside al-Qaeda and even ISIS as their ancillaries, as their public relations team with $23,000,000, now it’s $35,000,000 from USAID, the same group that supplied those textbooks in Afghanistan, and $55,000,000 ollars from the British Foreign Office, and untold sums from Qatar. Their documentary, propaganda documentary about them, won an Oscar at Netflix. They have won the--they’ve been nominated for the Nobel Prize. And what they have aimed to do in practice is to convince the western public that we need to bomb Syria and invade Syria in order to save the children. We need to do something. And they’ve almost succeeded.
CH: Well, they keep calling for a no-fly zone.
MB: A no-fly zone.
CH: Which Hillary Clinton and others have adopted.
CH: Which means that…
MB: Which Hillary Clinton, by the way, in a private speech admitted would kill a lot of Syrians.
CH: And that essentially means the Assad Air Force cannot fly over that zone. s
MB: Nor can the Russian Air Force.
CH: Nor can the Russians?
MB: So, we’ve seen generals admit in testimony in the--in the Senate that that would mean a hot war with Russia and Syria. So, The White Helmets actually exist to promote and stimulate support for war. Not only that, White Helmet leader Raed al-Saleh, has repeatedly been to Washington to lobby for sanctions on Syria, which took the form of the so-called Caesar Bill, and he was lobbying one of the most pro-Israel members of Congress, Eliot Engel. These sanctions have had a terrible, devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Syrians who are now facing a gas heating crisis and have had trouble heating their homes for the past few months because of the Caesar Bill, because of what The White Helmets lobbied for. So, I ask everyone what kind of rescue group, which was nominated for Nobel Prize and essentially won an Oscar, is fighting to bomb their own countrymen and sanction ordinary people in their own country?
CH: You say in the book “Islamophobia had become the language of a wounded empire, the guttural roar of its malevolent violence, turned back from the sands of Iraq and the mountain passes of Afghanistan, and leveled against the mosque down the turnpike, the Hijabi in the checkout line, the Sikh behind the cash register, the neighbors who looked like the enemy. The very hard war between Muslims and westerners that a member of Bin Laden’s inner circle had foreshadowed in 1996 was coming home.” And you--the management of savagery comes. I think it was an ISIS or Al-Qaeda document and it’s about managing savagery and destroying what they straw--they described as the gray zone, that middle ground between extremists, between them and right-wing extremists, those who speak like you.
MB: Yeah. I mean, when the National Security State emboldens Salafi jihadist elements, you have another element in the west which has risen to the fore that defines itself as the counter-Jihadist element who I would call the…
CH: Pam Geller…
MB: Robert Spencer.
CH: Right, these absolute whack jobs.
MB: David Horowitz.
MB: Steven Emerson. And these are the people who have profited and benefited from anti-Muslim attitudes that they’ve cultivated in stones…
CH: Let me just interrupt because you talk--were--when you say profit, these--they’re paid like a hundred thousand dollars from the FBI, and they don’t know anything. I mean, I spent seven years in the Middle East. They don’t speak Arabic. They don’t--but they--but they feed this Netanyahu narrative of a clash of civilizations.
MB: And the FBI needs them to feed it just as the FBI itself foments Islamophobia through--by entrapping young, mentally disturbed Muslim men in fake terror busts. But, you know, we think about Islamophobia as kind of this organic, you know, this organic crisis that just erupted. But we need to understand it and what I aim to do in my book is to provide political context to it. It wasn’t just 9/11 that caused Islamophobia. It was a long-term process carried out by this--by this industry. And at the heart of it was Steven Emerson. Steven Emerson’s first film was called “The Terrorist Among Us” and it was primarily about, at first, a real al-Qaeda cell that was overseen by the CIA and FBI, which I just spoke about, Al Kifah. And it was shown to members of Congress before 9/11. After 9/11, there was no Al Kifah, there was no Al-Qaeda cell in the US, and the FBI and CIA were no longer willing to preside over such a thing. And so Emerson basically moved on to prosecute--to pushing for prosecutions of Palestinian professors who had no connection to international Jihadism. And they were prosecuted. And then you had this industry explode. And the culmination, as I write in my book for the Islamophobia industry was actually the killing of Osama bin Laden. There’s a really fascinating poll by an Ohio State University researcher named Erik Nisbet who just find the killing of bin Laden as a focusing event and showed that Islamophobic attitudes peaked because of Bin Laden’s prominence in the media and the--because of the fear that another attack would take place because people were reminded of 9/11 by this, and also because of the whole campaign to paint Obama as a Muslim.
CH: Let me close. You begin with your afterword. You talk about--you call it the new moral panic. And we have a minute left. But this is where you say the Russiagate stuff comes from.
MB: Well, you know, all of these--you know, the whole process of the war on terror took much longer than it should have because the National Security State is not concerned with national security. It would have never allowed bin Laden to be attached to an operation in Afghanistan, if it were. But eventually, ISIS lost momentum. The Syrian government, with its Russian ally, and with the help of Iran, defeated ISIS and al-Qaeda, and the US came in with a very brutal operation on Raqqa. And so the National Security State pivoted. And in the Trump National Security Doctrine announced by Defense Secretary James Mattis, we saw no mention of ISIS in 2018. It was about Russia and China. We’re back to a much more comfortable position for the National Security State to a great power conflict, in which we will continue to see these proxy wars to wear down the states that we can’t confront directly. And that’s where Russiagate comes in. Russiagate is the sort of political background noise of a great power conflict that justifies intervention, that justifies proxy wars, that justifies NATO expansion.
CH: Well--but that’s also failed, as you point out, in your book.
MB: You know, I wouldn’t call it a failure. I mean I’d like to take a victory lap and say I’m vindicated for saying that Mueller would come up with nothing, that there’s no collusion with Trump. But this has been a great victory for elements in the CIA, who are now, you know, working as MSNBC contributors.
MB: This has been a great victory for a National Security State that needed to transition from the war on terror to something much bigger. And they knew exactly what they were doing when they got into this, and ginned up things like the Steele dossier and pushed this narrative. And it’s not going to end here, and it could end very badly.
CH: Great. Thanks, Max. That was Max Blumenthal, author of “The Management of Savagery, How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump.” Thanks, Max.