Mohsen Abdelmoumen: What is your analysis of the current situation in Syria and Iraq with the rise of Daesh?
Jason Hirthler: The United States has presented the rise of Daesh as a grave threat to Middle Eastern stability and a just cause for humanitarian intervention. In fact, it was the United States and its Saudi, Jordanian, and Turkish allies who have facilitated the rise of Daesh and the Al Nusra Front. Both are descendants of Al Qaeda and have sadly benefited from Western training, funding, and arms. Among other sources, Seymour Hersh’s excellent essay, “The Redirection” from 2007 details the Bush plan to use Sunni radicalism to achieve its regional goals. Obama seems to have continued the policy. Likewise, recent revelations in a cache of disclosed documents from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) confirm that the West not only foresaw the rise of Daesh, but also actively facilitated it. One also has to wonder if the Iraqi army’s astonishing capitulations in Mosul—where hundreds of thousands of well-armed troops simply abandoned their weapons in the face of perhaps thirty thousand more dubiously armed extremists—and elsewhere were actually acts of cowardice or if the army was following orders by fleeing and purposely abandoning large arsenals to the extremists.
Why would the West actively cultivate extremist armies in the Middle East? Because it needs them to execute its long-standing strategy of destroying the Shia Crescent that stretches from Beirut to Damascus to Tehran. Washington recognizes that if it wants to establish unchallenged hegemony in the region and exert control over its natural gas and oil resources, it likely needs to destroy the defiant and anti-imperialist necklace of nations that include Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. Iraq is also a threat since the toppling of Saddam Hussein moved the country closer to Iran, politically and ideologically. Russia, sympathetic to Syria and Iran, must also be marginalized through harsh economic sanctions and a proxy war in Ukraine that will sap resources it might otherwise direct to the Middle East.
Daesh and Al Nusra are the proxy forces that the West can use to overthrow Bashar al Assad in Damascus and effectively separate Hezbollah from Tehran. This would represent a tactical advance toward the ultimate goal of isolating Iran, which can then be more easily dealt with. Thus far, the extremist armies are making progress toward Damascus and Baghdad. And if a Sunni ‘principality’ happens to arise between the two, that is an acceptable outcome for the West.
Taking the long view, the turn of the century neoconservative plan to topple seven countries in five years is behind schedule, but is still being executed by the Obama administration (supposed the representative of the liberal element of American society). Once Iran is isolated, it can be forced into submission in one fashion or another. The nuclear deal with Tehran—built on the absurd pretext that Iran is desperately trying to build a bomb—is helpful insofar as it delays the threat of war, but the ultimate goal there is to disarm Washington’s rivals so that they are more easily dealt with.
How do you explain the failure of the coalition led by the United States against Daesh’s terrorists?
I don’t think Washington is particularly interested in stopping Daesh. Listen to Iranian generals complain that the U.S. has hardly contributed to its fight against Daesh in Ramadi. Look at the strange and inexplicable capitulations of the Iraqi army to Daesh, surrendering huge weaponry to the radicals. These groups have benefited from safe zones across the Turkish border, Turkey being a NATO ally.Daesh is basically a necessary proxy army that the West needs in its quest to topple the Assad government in Syria.
The delicate public relations act being performed by the West is to convince Western publics that it is fighting to stop Daesh and their barbaric medieval cruelties, even as it works to enable Daesh to destroy Shiites and their allies in Baghdad and Damascus. Thus far the conceit has taken hold in the public mind.
Saudi Arabia has just put Algeria on a blacklist, accusing it of financing the terrorism. Think you that the Saudi kingdom which arms and finances the international terrorism can give lessons to Algeria which has just neutralized a very dangerous terrorist group, fights the terrorism for years and was the first State to ask for the criminalization of the ransoms’ payment to the terrorists?
No, Saudi Arabia has nothing to teach anyone except how to crush popular uprisings internally and externally (Bahrain and Yemen come to mind), and how to effectively spread the gospel of extremism across the Middle East. The United States, in its supposedly moral campaign against Daesh, is being aided, naturally, by Saudi Arabia, the font of Wahhabi extremism and leading practitioner of medieval punishments itself. It beheads women for prostitution and others for sorcery. It forbids women to leave their homes without a male escort. Its juridical system is Quaranic. And yet it remains one of our staunchest regional allies. This is a good barometer of the actual value Washington assigns to human rights. Algeria is another African target of the West, as was Libya before it. Any strategically important nation that does not accede to Western hegemony is blacklisted in one form or another. Self-determination is not permitted within the imperial system.
How do you analyze the backward movement of social struggles in the western countries, in spite of the economic crisis and the ultra liberal measures which produce more austerity and unemployment?
There is a surfeit of material wealth in the West. There are many comforts and entertainments that distract Westerners from engaging more directly in politics. We once had a communitarian mindset derived from working class solidarity. The group mentality was stronger than individualism during the New Deal Era. Collective suffering was recognized and common solutions were achieved through the power of collective action. But thanks to 100 years of anti-labor campaigns by capital, and 40 years of neoliberal propaganda about personal responsibility, working class solidarity has nearly vanished. People have become atomized, no longer connected by class interests. Nobody is in a union anymore. Nobody has the time to dig for news beneath the surface reportage of CNN, FOX,NPR, and the New York Times, which all tend to parrot the anti-labor, personal responsibility narrative. They are owned by big capital, after all, which prefers cheap labor, deregulation, and low taxes—several of the aims of neoliberalism.
If working class consciousness is dead, it has been replaced by consumer consciousness. The economic shift in America from production and export to consumption and import has changed our collective consciousness. We no longer see ourselves as a class of workers and citizens, but as a sea of individual consumers. We live to consume. The credit card industry has been recharged to provide already indebted consumers with more credit, the better to consume more goods and services. And debt and debt-financed creature comforts are effective at diffusing and redirecting popular anger.
In this kind of environment, there is little appetite for revolution. And the media helps keep it that way. Unemployment is understated by externalizing from the unemployment rate those who have given up seeking work out of despair. The actual rate is much higher, but the aforementioned media keeps up a steady drumbeat of optimistic numbers and forecasts. We are incessantly told unemployment is declining even as it rises. We are told the economy is recovering even though incomes are flat-lining. We are told that inflation is low even as prices go up. We are told that all of our lost jobs are being replaced, though we have traded full-time, benefit-rich, living-wage work for part-time, no-benefits, low-wage work. We are told we are fighting for freedom in the Middle East, when we are fighting to overthrow democratically elected governments. With this kind of false historical narrative being dinned into our consciousness every day, it is hard for people to challenge received opinion, dig for truth, and find likeminded dissenters to join up with.
The one exception thus far seems to be the African-American community, which has staged a number of uprisings in response to the injustices meted out by our militarized police force. Blacks have responded with anger, broad protests, and occasional destruction. Of course, as always, it is the black community that suffers the most. The majority of their wealth was swept away during the Great Recession, and millions of black men have dubious criminal records which in this country makes voting difficult, and securing a job exceptionally difficult. High unemployment, low wages, and state repression—these triple evils form a good recipe for civil discontent.
But perhaps not enough people have been laid off, and not enough people have been brutalized by the state, and not enough people have gone bankrupt for a large-scale rebellion to take root. Either that or we are so well propagandized, so well indoctrinated, that we simply will not defend our rights even as they are taken from us. In a sense, this later picture is more accurate, since the working classes have been in a class war for 40 years and many still aren’t even aware of it. We have a vague belief that hard times are an unavoidable consequence of globalization, as the Times’ Tom Friedman often preaches.
How do you explain the rise of alternative media and social networks, do you think they can compete with the mainstream media?
The Internet continues to represent a great hope for the people. In my experience, access to alternative thinking is ten times greater than it was two decades ago. The facts that expose state lies are there for the taking, but they are still invisible to many, who don’t know the best URLs to type into their browsers. They don’t know where in the ocean of the web to look for trustworthy reporting on American foreign policy, austerity economics, and so forth. But I believe knowledge is spreading. Hopefully Congressional contrarians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are sickened by the betrayals of their own party, will gain visibility during the 2016 election cycle. They certainly will on alternative media, and network like RT are a helpful antidote to mainstream media propaganda, which is already treating Hillary Clinton’s candidacy more as a coronation than a campaign.
What are your future projects, can you tell us about?
I’m putting together a collection of my best essays and new writing to publish in the near future. The focus will be American foreign policy, always contextualized within the larger imperial ambitions of Washington. It will also include a slightly lesser focus on media propaganda and the impact of neoliberal economics at home and abroad.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Jason Hirthler?
Jason Hirthler is an American writer, veteran of the digital media industry and political commentator. He is a regular contributor to CounterPunch and Dissident Voice, and also publishes periodically on State of Nature and other progressive publications. He can also be seen on RT’s CrossTalk, St. Petersburg’s Channel 5, Press TV, and elsewhere.
Published in Oximity, June 12, 2015: https://www.oximity.com/article/Jason-Hirthler-Algeria-is-another-Afri-1