Patrick Cockburn penned an essential piece in The Independent (U.K.) a few weeks ago that put the pieces together in a way I haven’t seen in any U.S. media. He argues that the Saudis are now nervous about all their support for terrorism over the years for fear of the same blowback that turned the CIA Afghanistan asset, Osama bin Laden, into their worst nightmare. He writes:
A measure of the seriousness of the present situation is that, in recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has for the first time been urgently seeking to stop jihadi fighters, whom it previously allowed to join the war in Syria, from returning home and turning their weapons against the rulers of the Saudi kingdom. This is an abrupt reversal of previous Saudi policy, which tolerated or privately encouraged Saudi citizens going to Syrai to take part in a holy war to overthrow president Bashar al-Assad and combat Shia Muslims on behalf of Sunni Islam. In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has called on all foreign fighters to leave Syria, and King Abdullah has decreed it a crime for Saudis to fight in foreign conflicts.
Cockburn’s larger point is that the war on terror can now be declared an ignominious failure in its own terms given that the death of bin Laden himself, so celebrated here as a final triumph, has had no effect at all on the explosive growth and battlefield successes of the various jihadist movements in Syria, Iraq and of course Afghanistan itself. Furthermore, there is now a serious jihadist presence in Somalia, Libya, Lebanon and even Egypt. Some call themselves an al-Qaeda group of some sort; others don’t. But none of them respond to a centralized command structure and thus cannot be decapitated by droning a figurehead in the Pakistan mountains.
Cockburn lays out known but largely forgotten aspects of the U.S. complicity with Saudi support for jihadist extremists, the bizarre failure to blame reactionary Saudi religious beliefs for incubating the 9/11 terrorists themselves (16 of whom were Saudis), the quick spiriting of bin Laden family members out of the U.S. by the Bush Administration (drawing zero criticism from the loyal Democrats), and the pivot to blaming Saddam Hussein for the twin towers attack, which he had nothing to do with. So now those chickens are coming home to roost alongside the vast poultry farms of Iraq.
I take issue only with one element of Cockburn’s argument: that the war on terror is therefore a failure. It certainly is if we take at face value the consensus over its announced goal of destroying the armed threat to U.S. interests, including the safety of we citizens. That’s been a complete disaster.
But if a secondary aim were to feed the security state and channel vast sums into the military-contractor-weapons-media complex for the indefinite future and browbeat the citizenry into swallowing the destruction of our prosperity and well-being, well then, the war on terror hasn’t been a failure at all—in fact, it’s been a rousing success.