BOOK REVIEW/David Weiner

Tangled History Sets Up Arab 'Blowback'

Richard Labeviere, prize-winning Swiss journalist specializing in Arabian and African affairs and the United Nations, spent 1994 through 1998 unraveling what may be the most important political relationship of the last five decades. This is the relationship between the extremist Sunni Islamic Wahabi movement which controls Saudi Arabia, and the US Central Intelligence Agency. Each for its own reasons was dedicated to undermining the efforts of Arab nations formed following World War I and later to achieve genuine autonomy and independence. In Dollars for Terror [Algora Publishing, New York, 2000] Labeviere shows how according to the Arabic maxim, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and they have used one another brilliantly to achieve this goal.

The CIA-Wahabi relationship began with an agreement signed aboard the USS Quincy in 1945. According to the Quincy Pact, the United States guaranteed Saudi Arabia full economic and military support in return for oil --and mutuality. In order to understand why the United States wanted more than just an economic relationship it is necessary to review some history not included in Dollars for Terror. The Wahabi militant Sunni movement dates from the mid 1700s when ibn Abd Al Wahab united Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula with a call for Islamic re-purification. Jihad began in 1763 and by 1811, from their capital at Riyadh, under the command of their ruling family, the Sauds, the Wahabis controlled the entire Arabian Peninsula with the exception of Yemen. Within a decade the Ottomans had driven them back into the desert; however in 1900 the Wahabis recaptured Riyadh and never let go. Following World War I, when the League of Nations distributed the rest of the Arabic World among Britain, France and Russia, the Arabian Peninsula remained in control of the Saud family --and the Wahabi tribes. Despising the new Arabic "nations" and their leaders no less than they despised Europeans, in 1932 Saudi Arabia nevertheless accepted formal recognition as an Islamic monarchy --the only new Arabic state never to be a protectorate of Europeans. It was also the only Arabic state disinterested in achieving status as a nation, disgusted with its neighbors' willingness to do so, and neutral in response to the establishment of Israel.

As the new Arabic republics gradually achieved independence of Western political control, if not of economic domination, the threat of Russian influence loomed large. Saudi Arabia offered the United States the antidote they needed. The Wahabis considered their neighbors' nationalist aspirations to constitute heresy. The religious fanaticism of the Wahabis had no appeal for other Arabs, however. The Wahabis could not create a formidable military force on their own. Nor did Saudi Arabia appear likely ever to develop as a modern nation state due to the primitive fanaticism of the Wahabis and the inability of the Saud family to control them. Therefore, the United States could safely support the Wahabis' passion to undermine their neighbors' nationalist goals and to establish themselves as a new ruling dynasty, with little threat of "blowback." Or so it seemed to US foreign policy strategists and in particular to the CIA.

Labeviere describes how step by step the CIA assisted the Wahabis in their mission, never doubting their ability to control the process in such fashion that only the destabilization of Arab nationalism but not the creation of a new extremist Arabia would be achieved. Money, much more than religious fanaticism was the bonding agent used to create the world's newest and most terrifying "mafia." Through the creation of a financial empire of incredible sophistication --the achievement primarily of Osama Bin Laden --an extremist yet opportunistic network of terror emerged. Covertly committed to Wahabi ideals, yet hungering for wealth and power, this mafia enabled the CIA-Wahabi to recruit train and reward terrorist organizations throughout the entire Islamic world. Their first major accomplishment was assisting the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt to undermine Nasser, whose pan-Arabic nationalism was anathema to the Wahabis and whose flirtation with Russia was unacceptable to the CIA. Subsequently, the CIA-Wahabis mobilized extremists in Pakistan, created the Taliban movement, established extremist sects in Pakistan, Algeria, Yemen, Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, and established organized-criminal financial centers in Malaysia, Madagascar, South Africa, Nigeria, Latin American, Switzerland, England, Turkestan, and elsewhere. Of crucial importance was that Iran's potential to create its own pan-Arabic organization was virtually nullified by CIA-Wahabi gamesmanship. Labeviere identifies key operatives in each Moslem country and describes their strategies.

As the mafias' successes grew, the CIA's control of it faltered. Terrorist cells trained by them took apparently independent action against US targets, The State Department began to show alarm. When confronted, the CIA claimed to have anticipated a certain amount of "blowback" and considered such costs acceptable in light of achieved goals. Labeviere is skeptical of this claim. He strongly suggests, but documents less well than he documents the flow of money and influence pursuant to the CIA-Wahabi's "great game," that the CIA has operated with almost complete autonomy in relation to the State Department and other United States governmental bodies of control He suggests that the CIA has come to be a law unto itself.

As an example of how thoroughly, and how precariously the CIA appears to control US foreign affairs in the Middle East, Labeviere tells us how the "erroneous" bombing --according to Washington's own eventual admission --of the chemical plant in Sudan in retaliation for Osama Bin Laden's alleged complicity in the bombings of American embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam was not erroneous at all from the point of view of the CIA. The plant belonged to an enemy of Bin Laden and the mafia --to a powerful businessman inclined to resist the mafia's destabilization of the Sudan in support of CIA-Wahabi goals.

The only major flaw in Dollars for Terror is the lack of an index. If it is not as polished as it might be, Labeviere's analysis is the first to describe in detail the CIA's role in the production of terrorism, and the role of money toward this end. He may also be the first analyst compellingly to indicate what risk the nation faces when foreign policy decisions fall outside of democratic process.

David Weiner is a writer in Austin, Texas. Email Dollars for Terror, by Richard Labeviere [Algora Publishing, New York 2000, 393 pp.]

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