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Friday, November 18

"Shadow Wars" has seen the enemy and it is us

”Davidson is especially dogged at ‘following the money’—e.g., the rise of crony-capitalist networks in the Gulf monarchies and the financing of al-Qaida and Islamic State… An exhaustively researched account.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Christopher M. Davidson's new book, Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East, surely provides many details that will be new to the public. But from Steve Donoghue's November 17 review for the Christian Science Monitor, the basic story Davidson tells is already sickeningly familiar to those who've paid close attention to the War on Terror:


The patterns were set during the great imperial heyday of Continental gamesmanship, when British satraps all throughout the Middle East often propped up the most fiercely conservative Islamic fundamentalists because they made more effective regional buffers against the forces of Russian encroachment.

And the further along Davidson's book progresses, the more those patterns come to look unbreakable. The Western powers intervene, meddle, support, subsidize, and double cross, constantly using the rhetoric of good stewardship while caring only about securing oil and land bases to parry the ambitions of the other regional chess masters, primarily the Russians. 

In all cases, long-term strategies are forgotten in the cloak-and-dagger mania of short-term tactics, and the result is a word that crops up all throughout Davidson's book: blowback – unintended consequences that are intensely predictable in hindsight.

> So an American Secretary of State can on a Monday deliver a stirring address about the sanctity of human rights in “the developing world” and on a Tuesday declare that the local dictator is a close personal friend of the family and must remain in power to ensure the stability of the region. 

> So the United States can funnel covert funding and training to jihadist guerrilla forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s in order to use them as catspaws against the Soviets, without sparing much concern for the fact that the jihadis in question hated America as fervently as they hated the Russians – without, in other words, even trying to envision blowback that might involve one of those jihadi guerrilla fighters, Osama bin Laden, going on to strike at his American benefactors. 

Even when the warning signs are tragically explicit, they often go unheeded, as Davidson chronicles in theaters of operation stretching from West Africa to Central Asia.

The pattern holds firm everywhere from Syria to Qatar to Yemen to Libya to Somalia to Nigeria: Great Britain or France or the United States will pick some "partner" in a volatile region like Iraq, bet all the markers on that partner being a willing agent of democratic reform even though that partner is very visibly a power-bloated monster, and then, years down the line, express pious horror when that partner turns out to be a power-bloated monster.


Another of these recurring notes is something of longer-standing centrality to American foreign policy: Saudi Arabia, staunch ally, trade partner, and arms market to the United States, turns up repeatedly playing a game of its own, harboring, sponsoring, and financing Islamic terrorists in their operations against the United States. Running through virtually every tale of Middle Eastern violence and treachery Davidson relates is at least some strand of Saudi complicity.


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