Ten US Interventions in the Muslim Mid-east

by Bob Stone

Summaries from Killing Hope by William Blum


Nothing can excuse the use of unwilling human missiles to kill thousands of innocent civilians in the World Trade Center. However, largely unbeknownst to the US public, there have been 10 US interventions in mostly Muslim nations of the mid-east since 1948, and these no doubt partly provoked the recent attacks.

Prior to 1953 there were two major postwar interventions. In 1948 the US (with the USSR's blessing) joined in naively imposing Israel on the Palestinians -- 53 years later an increasingly violent effort. In 1953, the US took it on itself to subvert Iran's duly elected Mossadegh government in favor of the Shah, mostly due to Mossadegh's talk of nationalizing oil. The Shah's 26-year reign of terror nurtured Khomeni's revolution of 1979, which in turn initiated the current wave of Islamic fundamentalism. The 8 major post-1953 interventions are described in detail in Killing Hope: US Military & CIA Interventions Since WW II, by William Blum -- a foreign service officer who left the State Department in 1967 over the Vietnam war. The facts in Blum's glimpses into recent history are solid. This book is an eye-opener, and not just on the mid-east! Published in 1995, it is sold for $19.95 by Common Courage Press, Monroe ME, ph 207-525-0900. Noam Chomsky calls it "Far and away the best book on the topic."

Following are my brutal summaries of Blum's accounts of 6 of the 8 post-1953 interventions in mid-east Muslim nations. I omit his extensive documentation from established sources. Here goes:

"Syria 1956-1957: Purchasing a new government."

Shortly after the hugely popular Arab nationalist Nassar took over the Suez canal, the US fomented a coup against Syria's neutralist government. It had not nationalized any assets, its main fault was refusal of US aid with the string that Syria agree "to encourage the efforts of other free nations...to foster private initiative and competition [i.e.capitalism]." A legitimate government was ended by bankrolling a coup proposed to the conservative Michail Bey Ilyan. The CIA gave cash to Ilyan for radio stations in Damscus and Aleppo, newspapers owned by Saudis and Egyptians, and for bribes to army colonels to seize 4 cities. The coup effected, these media would pronounce the new government legitimate. Delayed until 1957 by Israel's war with Egypt and occupation of Sinai and Gaza, some key colonels turned over their bribe money (Ilyan's consent to make peace with Israel having been purchased) to Syrian intelligence and named their CIA benefactors. Syrian intelligence instructed these colonels to play along to clinch the case. The relevant CIA agents were arrested, declared persona non grata, and escorted out of the country. Enraged, a US Colonel Molloy ran his Syrian motorcycle escort off the road on his way to Lebanon, screaming that the intelligence chief was a "commie." (pp. 84-89)

"The Middle East 1957-1958: The Eisenhower Doctrine claims another backyard for America."

The doctrine was that the US could intervene in the Mideast when invited by a government whose peace it felt was threatened by "international communism." But the main threats to peace in Arab eyes came from the West or its proxies. So of course it was ignored that -- but for the restraint imposed by Russia's threat to intervene in Egypt -- British, French and Israeli forces would be toasting each other in Cairo's best hotels! In April 1957 Jordan's King Hussein cashiered his prime minister Nabulsi for talking neutralism, rejecting US aid, not severing ties with Egypt, and (in fact) planning a coup against Hussein. Immediately, uninvited, the huge US Sixth fleet appeared in the eastern Mediterranean to help. This was refused by Hussein, but not the start of huge cash payments and lots of female company in the bargain from the CIA, an arrangement that continued for 20 years. Meanwhile the US engineered King Saud's funding of a scheme to oppose Nasser 's influence in Syria. Dulles assembled an asssassination team based on Eisenhower's remark that he hoped "the Nasser problem could be eliminated." But when he realized Ike just wanted better US-Egyptian relations he ordered the team to stand down (he failed to cancel a later "misinterpretation" in the case of Lumumba). In January 1958 the US mid-wifed birth of the Arab Union between Iraq and Jordan (to counter the Syria- Egypt United Arab Republic). But in July the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown and the pact renounced in favor of plain old republican government.

By late July, 1958 10,600 US Marines and other soldiers had landed not in Iraq but Lebanon. Chamoun's US-funded electoral victory had drawn huge popular protest and militant demonstrations for neutralism and an opening to Nassar's Arab nationalism. After troops landed civil strife intensified instead of abating. Eisenhower's distinction of "stationed in" from "invading" was lost on the Lebanese. The US diplomat Robert Murphy invited Chehab, the Lebanese Commander-in-Chief, to accompany him to a window where he pointed to the USS Saratoga. One of its planes, he said, could level Beirut with a nuclear device (evidently ignoring the 10,600 US troops who would also die). Chehab, a US report later said, seemed to have "regained control" of his troops. The world got the point: the US can "project power" anywhere. The US more covertly oppsed Iraqi General Kassem by funding Kurdish guerillas seeking some autonomy: Kassem was helping start OPEC, making the US unhappy. (pp. 89-99)

"France/Algeria 1960s: L'état, c'est la CIA."

Up to the Bay of Pigs the CIA enjoyed either invisibility or credit. But right after the Bay of Pigs, on April 23, 1961 and continuing for weeks, Il Paese (Italian), Le Monde, Washington Post, NY Times, Walter Lippman, Newsweek and L'Express carried stories saying the CIA had encouraged the April 22 putsch by 4 French generals seizing power in Algeria to keep it French, and threatening de Gaulle government in Paris. Premier Debre want on TV to urge resistance to imminent paratrooper landings near Paris. On one hand, the stories said the CIA was concerned the NLF would be communist (in fact it asked CP members to leave the party), on the other, a coup against de Gaulle would liberate US aspirations for NATO, since de Gaulle refused integration of French troops into it and opposed exclusive US control of NATO's nuclear weapons. Claude Krief, Algerian correspondent of L'Express, reported that Challe, leader of the putsch, had been encouraged by certain US officials in NATO and the Pentagon and had met often with CIA officers who told him that "to get rid of de Gaulle would render the Free World a great service." On top of the Bay of Pigs debacle, James Reston of the NY Times said this news showed the CIA had "gone beyond the bounds of objective intelligence gathering" and had "embarrassed the Administration" by its own "advocacy of men and policies." (pp. 148-151)

"Iraq 1972-1975: Covert action should not be confused with missionary work."

In his border dispute with Iraq, the Shah asked Nixon and Kissinger to encourage the Kurds to keep Iraq busy. The Shah could have and did arm the Kurds, but their leader Barzani did not trust him, only the Americans. So the US fostered Kurdish demands for autonomy, guaranteeing that the Shah would not later abandon them. Well, in March 1975, the Shah had attained his goal -- more say in OPEC -- by agreement with Iraq's vice president. So he withdrew all aid to the Kurds. The next day Iraq unleashed a huge offensive on them. Stunned, the Kurds wired Kissinger: "Your Excellency, having always believed in the peaceful solution of disputes including those between Iran and Iraq, we are please to see that their two countries have come to some agreement...However, our hearts bleed to see that an immediate byproduct of their agreement is the destruction of our defenseless people.." Of course the suppression of the Kurds was Henry K's point. Over 200,000 refuges reached Iran but it and the US gave inadequate aid, the US refused admittance to all refugees, and Iran even sent 40,000 back into Iraq. Interviewed later on the betrayal, Kissinger said famously: "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work." (pp. 242-244)

"Morocco 1983: A video nasty."

King Hassan sent Moroccan troops to Zaire in 1977 and 1978 to aid US actions, helped UNITA in Angola since the mid-1970s, and allowed building of a key CIA African post in Morocco. He was, in short, on our side. Ahmed Rami, living in Sweden, had led the clandestine" Mouvement des officiers libres" -- army officers seeking to overthrow the king for his "crimes against human rights," a "democratic Islamic Arab Republic of Morocco," and peace with the Polisario guerillas in the south (against which US aid had allowed Hassan to maintain a deadlock). Shown a CIA video of his southern commander, General Dlimi, talking in Sweden with Rami, Hassan knew what to do. On the evening of January 23, 1983, according to eyewitness reports that surfaced later, Dlimi was arrested and escorted to a cellar interrogation room where at 1am "two American officers" arrived with the king. Dlimi was tortured for 4 hours, shot, and placed in his car in a suburb. The car was exploded Nobody was allowed to see the body, not even his wife. As day broke, the government announced the "grievous death" in a car accident of the king's close friend of 20 years. (pp. 278-279)

"Libya 1981-1989: Ronald Reagan meets his match."

A US air raid of 14 April 1986 aimed at Qaddafi -- for bombing a Berlin nightspot frequented by US soldiers, killing 2 and a civilian -- killed 40-100, all but one civilian, wounded another hundred, and flattened France's embassy. White House spokesman Larry Speakes did not claim Qaddafi's adoptive daughter and her friend from London, both dead, were connected to the Berlin bombing. Rather, Blum says: "Like the mideast terrorists who threw hand grenades at an El Al ticket counter to kill Israelis simply because they were Israelis, and those who planted a bomb on PanAm flight 103 in order to kill Americans simply because they were Americans, the bombing of Libya was an attempt to kill Libyans simply because they were Libyans." Speakes explained: "It is our hope this action will preempt and discourage Libyan attacks against innocent civilians in the future." It encouraged non-Libyans. CIA had claimed a Bedouin leader who could not protect his home would be diminished. The "irrefutable evidence" Libya caused the Berlin attacks was in alleged intercepts of orders to Libya's East Berlin embassy "to conduct a terrorist attack against Americans, to cause maximum and indiscriminate casualties." These are at best interpretations; complete texts were never made public. NSA got decoded intercepts from German federal intelligence (BND), but Der Spiegel said they were unclear, and BND cautioned against "premature accusation," saying rival discos and drug dealers might be in play. In January 1987 a senior Bonn official told investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that Bonn remained "very critical and skeptical" of US charges. Blum does not deny Qaddafi backed terrorist groups. He just backed "the wrong terrorist groups, i.e. Qaddafi was not supporting the same terrorists that Washington was, such as the Nicaraguan Contras, UNITA in Angola, Cuban exiles in Miami, the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, and the US military in Grenada. The one band of terrorists the two men supported in common was the Moujahedeen in Afghanistan." (pp. 280-283)

Since they are well known, I won't summarize Blum's last 2 accounts of mideast interventions: "Iraq 1990-1991: Desert holocaust" and "Afghanistan 1979-1992: America's Jihad." To the 10 punctual interventions -- a number matched only by those into Latin America --add ongoing pressures of struggles for oil, land and water between the relatively poor mideast owners of these resources and the relatively wealthier European nations who covet them and have more weapons.

Blum's accounts show patterns. One is clear: indiscriminate killing of Muslims -- often in the name of anti-communism and unknown to the public -- followed by indiscriminate killing of Americans, followed by indiscriminate killing of Muslims, and so on -- so that we don't know what comes first. In short, the WTC/Pentagon attacks are part of a cycle of indiscriminate killing established before September 11. Bush's policy will likely continue it, though, as with Vietnam, its bankruptcy may not be immediately evident. But there is another way: abandonment of policies that fostered Islamic fundamentalism, breaking the cycle of indiscriminate violence by presenting evidence as part of a scrupulously legal remedy that carefully avoids taking any innocent lives at all.