The Powers Behind the Islamic State

by Berry Friesen

Berry f
Missing from most Christian commentary about the Islamic State has been discussion of the possibility that it is a proxy army of the empire, carrying out the aims and purposes of the USA and its allies.

This suggestion may surprise some readers. After all, isn’t the USA bombing the Islamic State?

Yes, it is. But that does not end the discussion. When an empire engages in a war for survival, we can safely assume it fights to win. But when its survival is not at stake, it may find it advantageous to fight on both sides so that neither emerges victorious and the entire region is disorganized and open to imperial exploitation. In such situations, success does not require victory, but only fragmentation and the absence of effective opposition.

Since the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the Mideast and its oil have been a strategic priority of the USA. For forty years, the USA has been committed to being the dominant power in the region. Toward that end, it has established permanent bases in the Mideast; entered into strategic alliances with Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States; isolated and stigmatized Iran; encouraged Iraq to attack Iran and later Kuwait; launched a war of aggression against Iraq; occupied Afghanistan on a permanent basis; and deployed lethal force against Iran, Yemen and Syria. As many as five million Middle East residents have died as a result of these actions.

Obviously, the USA does whatever is “necessary” to maintain Mideast dominance. Is the Islamic State one of its tools to accomplish this? Much evidence suggests it is.

The organization known today as the Islamic State was already highly visible in Iraq during the years leading up to and immediately following the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011. Its actions included many car bombs aimed to kill Shiite civilians and facilitate prison breaks. The point is that U.S. officials were well-acquainted with this group three-to-four years ago.

In April, 2013, the Islamic State formally merged with al-Qaeda in Syria (called the Nusra Front) for the purpose of bringing down the Syrian government. During the last half of 2013, its fighters took control of many smaller towns and cities in eastern Syria. In January 2014, it seized Raqqa, Syria’s largest city in the east and made it the center of its operations. By June of last year, it had captured vast expanses of Syria and Iraq, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

The USA and its allies did little to stop this aggression. But in July, 2014, after mainstream media headlined Islamic State massacres of Yazidi civilians, U.S. officials responded with alarm. Secretary of Defense Hagel hyped the Islamic State as “a force that is sophisticated. It’s dynamic, it’s strong, it’s organized, it’s well-financed, it’s competent. And it is a threat to our allies all over the Middle East. It’s a threat to Europe. It’s a threat to every stabilized country on Earth, and it’s a threat to us.” President Obama promptly sent U.S. troops back to Iraq. By August U.S. planes were bombing Islamic State positions and by September the U.S. had assembled a 40-nation coalition to defeat the Islamic State.

The abrupt change in the U.S. response was bizarre. It suggested the U.S. wanted the Islamic State to succeed, but only up to a point.

This past May, we learned that since at least August, 2012, the Pentagon had been expecting something like the Islamic State to emerge in eastern Syria. I quote from a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report: “If the situation unravels [in eastern Syria], there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers [Western countries, the Gulf states, Turkey] to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime” (emphasis added).

In other words, at least three years ago, the Pentagon anticipated and hoped for the emergence of something like the Islamic State.

During that time, support from the USA and its allies has included money, arms, supplies and open borders. This began at least as early as 2011, soon after the NATO attack on Libya, with the shipment of Libyan arms into Syria. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in Benghazi, was giving oversight to that CIA operation in the days just before his death.

Wealthy supporters living in Sunni-dominated countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, provided cash—perhaps in the billions. This financial support has been widely reported and openly discussed by U.S. officials, but continues without serious U.S. objection even today. Of course, the Gulf States have long supported jihadi violence, beginning with the mujahedeen (including Osama bin Laden) during the final months of the Carter Administration and continuing ever since. British researcher Nafeez Ahmed traces this 35-year history in his article, “Islamic State is the cancer of modern capitalism.”

Earlier this year, mainstream media in Germany and the U.S. confirmed that every day, convoys of trucks with supplies for the Islamic State cross Turkey’s southern border. Chechnyan recruits from southern Russia and Uyghur recruits from western China also cross that border to join the Islamic State’s army. Of course, Turkey is part of NATO and an ally of the USA; if U.S. officials wanted to end the violence of the Islamic State, it would persuade Turkey to close its borders to this traffic.

In May, U.S. Special Forces raided the eastern Syria office of the Islamic State official responsible for smuggling the oil that has become a major source of revenue for the Islamic State, amounting to several million dollars a day. Records seized in that raid revealed that Turkish buyers accounted for most of the oil sales and that high-ranking Turkish government officials gave oversight to the commerce.

Last week, Turkey ended a successful two-year ceasefire with Kurdish separatists in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. It arrested hundreds of Kurdish activists in Turkey and launched scores of bombing raids on Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. What is the significance of this? The Kurds have been highly effective battlefield opponents of the Islamic State. By attacking the Kurds, a key U.S. ally is making sure that the Islamic State remains strong.

A small example communicates vividly the phony nature of Western opposition to the Islamic State. In May, after the Islamic State captured Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar province located about 65 miles west of Baghdad, it held a victory parade on a sunny day under skies controlled entirely by the USA and its allies. You would think such a spectacle would have been bombed, but it wasn’t. And the pictures of the triumphant and seemingly unstoppable Islamic State parading through Ramadi showed up on all the U.S. news shows that very evening.

In short, it appears that part of the reason the Islamic State is scary and powerful is because the USA wants it to be scary and powerful. And indeed, when we look at the impact the Islamic State is having in the Middle East, we immediately notice that it is weakening the same governments that U.S. officials want weakened: Syria, Lebanon and Iraq (directly) and Iran (indirectly). Israel and Saudi Arabia have no problems with the Islamic State.

What should Christian peacemakers do about this? Very simply, talk about it with one another, in our congregations and with anyone who will listen. The Islamic State is so successful because it is supported by the West to serve Western interests. Peace will not come until we bring this dirty secret out into the light of day.

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14 responses to “The Powers Behind the Islamic State

  1. Excellent article, Max, consistent with other non-mainstream sources I’ve been reading! (How did you intend for the last sentence to end?)

    An article I would like to see next is a set of illustrations or stories of how local communities have been successful in a few areas in non-violently resisting IS. Such an article would be useful in quoting during conversations with people who think the only way to deal with IS is to bomb the hell out of them – a strategy we all know won’t work in the long run.

    You may need to update your article with the reality that Turkey has finally joining up with the US in fighting IS and is now allowing access to that strategic military base it has, as described and analyzed here: http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2015/07/29/darker-horizons-ahead-rethinking-the-war-on-is/

    • Thank you, Clair, for your encouragement and for your comment. Obviously, the most effective way for us in the USA to “deal with IS” is to challenge the narrative mainstream media has fed us. Why does our own government hype its danger and then also support its development and continued existence?

      Yes, now Turkey is also supposedly at war against the IS. But if this opposition is of the same character and nature as the opposition of the USA since August of 2014, then it is primarily a pretense, meant to confuse the world while it pounds the Kurds and seizes land in Syria.

      We shall see. For now, I encourage skepticism about whether Turkey has indeed changed its position. I suspect it is trying to fool us, just as the USA is.

      Hoping to get acquainted with you sometime. You’ve lived and worked in Australia?

      • Yes, I just returned to the USA after 7 years in the capital city of Canberra.

        This BBC article today (Sunday) substantiates your perspective about Turkey, in response to James Juhnke:
        http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33818282

        Berry, I remember reading a good article several months ago about successful indigenous people groups’ resistance to IS, but but can’t find it now. Do you have any hunches about who might have knowledge about this?

        Cheers,
        Clair Hochstetler

  2. Berry, you critiqued Ben Goossen for letting his conclusions outrun the evidence. The same critique is applicable to this article–in spades. Your portrayal of the motives behind the U.S.-Turkey alliance is especially weak.

  3. Jim, my assertions are well-documented, but the links have not been published, so I can see where that creates problems for readers.

    Sure the U.S. has a complicated relationship with Turkey, but the fact remains that Turkey is supportive of the Islamic State and has left its borders open to the Islamic State’s supply train of material and recruits. And the U.S. has been operating out of southern Turkey for years now, coordinating what exactly if not the rope-a-dope we are fed by the mainstream media. Check out “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition” a NYT article from over three years ago.

    • Jim, just published by the Levant Report: “Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise of Islamic State was ‘a willful decision’ and Defends Accuracy of 2012 Memo.”

  4. In response to Clair, in recent months Sojourners published an article “Resisting ISIS” and McClatchy published “For Syrian activist group, resisting the Islamic State isn’t about making war”.

  5. Berry,
    I just came across your comments on the existence of the IS.
    It could be justifiably asserted that the historical narrative of Islam, in general, combined with the contents of the Koran, in particular, establishes the necessity of all representative governments, whose respective constitutions are so constructed as to insure a governance consistent with the nature of human existence, to eliminate from the Globe the political significance of Islam.
    As with our own constitution, Islam, in its written form, does not have the protection for full expression as a religion since its full expression would be in violation as anti-constitutional, non-constitutional and un-constitutional.
    Most assuredly, the founding Fathers of our nation did not deign to state the above in just those words since nowhere in the constitution is the blatantly obvious outlined.

  6. Turkey has recently begun bombing ISIL targets in Syria. ISIL has protested vigorously. Are they BOTH trying to fool us? It is so obvious why Turkey opposes both Kurdish nationalism and ISIL nationalism. I’ll be in Turkey for two weeks in September and will have opportunity to talk to people who oppose the Erdogan government’s policies. I’ll be sure to ask them if Turkey’s attack on ISIL is sham and pretense.

    • Jim, I hope to hear a report of your findings. From a distance, Turkey’s open southern border makes a farce of its claims to oppose the IS. Partition of Syria is clearly the agenda now among the powers aligned with the USA, with Turkey taking its slice, Israel its slice, and the IS its slice (I suppose Jordan may be a winner too in this redrawing of borders).

      The major remaining question is if they have figured out a way to dislodge Hezbollah without turning eastern Syria and southern Lebanon into a wasteland.

      While in Turkey, ask why Syrian refugees are leaving the comparative safety of Turkey for dangerous passages to Greece and beyond.

  7. Now that more time has passed, and Jim has been to Turkey and had a chance to have conversations and make observations first hand, I would be interested in whether the perspective of either of you, James or Berry have changed. Do you think Turkey’s policy toward the IS has changed in any way? And now I see that Al Quaida is I need the news again, apparently trying to compete with the IS in the Syrian situation? -Clair

    • Clair, we began this conversation last summer. September 30, the Russian military entered the war in Syria and throughout the fall and early winter, there were many published accounts of Turkey’s active and strategic collaboration with Da’esh around oil, arms, medical care, resupply, recruitment, etc. It was an international embarrassment for the USA, but seldom reported in the US media, when Putin released satellite photos of the great convoys of trucks carrying Syrian oil from Da’esh-controlled areas into Turkey. A Turkish elite has become rich through it all. Then there was the shoot-down of the Russian fighter plane, almost certainly an effort to widen the war through Russian retaliation. And reports of how Turkey has manipulated the refugee crisis to exact concessions from Europe.

      Turkey is in crisis today because of these revelations and this recklessness; Erdogan is attempting to silence all who oppose his policies and is willing to risk prosperity and international respect in order to prevail.

    • Yes, al-Qaeda is the primary opponent of the Syrian government and controls about half of Aleppo. Its working allies on the ground include the forces the US has armed and trained, forces that the US stoutly protects and continues to resupply.

      And by this resupply, the US resupplies al-Qaeda too, because on the ground the various allied forces act as one and must share their resources.

      There remains no reasonable doubt about it any longer: al-Qaeda in Syria is a US asset, doing the work of the empire in destroying Syrian civil society and making sure that Syria and its allies will never regain full control of its country.

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