For the State Blowback is a Feature, Not a Bug

by Kevin Carson

The Muslim Brotherhood is in the news a lot these days, thanks to the recent upheaval in Egypt. Glenn Beck — living proof that pregnant women shouldn’t do LSD — apparently sees the Twitter Revolution as some sort of choreographed performance behind which the Muslim Brotherhood will dance their way to power. And that’s just the first step toward bringing everything everything from London to Jakarta under a revived Caliphate. The equally goofy Frank Gaffney has elevated the Brotherhood and “Sharia Law” into objects of paranoia comparable to what International Communism was for the Birchers.

So guess which country, as it turns out, has been courting the Muslim Brotherhood since at least the 1950s? That’s right. The U.S. government, since the Eisenhower administration, has promoted the Brotherhood as a conservative counterbalance to secular radicals like Nasser.

In 1953, according to Ian Johnson (“Washington’s Secret History With the Muslim Brotherhood,” New York Review of Books, Feb. 5), Ike invited around thirty Islamic scholars and civic leaders to Washington to impress them with America’s status as the premier defender of religious and spiritual values against Godless Communism. Among them was Said Ramadan, representative of the Brotherhood and son-in-law of its founder.

By the late ’50s the U.S. overtly backed Ramadan, and encouraged the Brotherhood as an alternative to radical Arab nationalism on the pattern of the Free Officers’ Movement and Baathism.

Why am I not surprised?

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of something like this. I also recall reading a few years ago that Israel had secretly funded Hamas as a counterbalance to secular radicals — in this case Arafat and Al-Fatah. It’s an open secret in the American intelligence community that Israel indirectly funnelled financial support to Hamas, starting in the late ’70s. Such a religious competitor, the Mossad hoped, would undermine and weaken the PLO. The Israelis were subsequently surprised by the scale of Hamas’s involvement in the Intifada.

Come to think of it, didn’t the U.S. support Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan a few decades back against some secular socialists or other? Zbigniew Brzezinski thought it would be a cunning move, in the great game of chess with the USSR, to draw them in a Vietnam of their own — specifically, a shooting war with fundamentalist guerrillas on the border of their own predominantly Muslim southern regions. Interestingly, Al Qaeda was named for one of the bases at which the Mujaheddin trained for war against the Soviets. And Osama Bin Laden, having witnessed the defeat of one superpower, decided there was no reason to stop with just one.

This pattern should be instructive. Governments are like organized crime families, operating as “executive committees” of their domestic ruling classes, and enforcing the privileges and artificial property rights by which their members extract rents from the domestic population. These crime families deal with each other, establishing constantly shifting alliances of convenience and redividing the world between themselves, as their relative strength shifts.

There’s a saying by Palmerston that nations have no permanent allies or enemies — only permanent interests. But there’s no reason the principle should apply only to the recognized governments of nation-states. The truth is a lot older than the Westphalian state system.

So you wouldn’t expect a bunch of jaded characters like the U.S. national security community to be surprised that the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Qaeda didn’t have the decency to stay bought.

I wonder, though, if they really were all that surprised. Each defection of a former ally of convenience just creates a new Threat of the Week, a new Moral Equivalent of Hitler, to justify the state’s self-aggrandizement. As Randolph Bourne said, “war is the health of the state.” But war is impossible without enemies.

If the tools of yesterday’s war become the enemies in today’s new war, from the state’s perspective that’s a feature rather than a bug. Just look at Dubya. If it hadn’t been for 9-11, he’d probably have been a one-termer. Instead, we had Tom Daschle announcing that there was “no daylight” between Congressional Democrats and the President, and fearless Fourth Estate champion Dan Rather saying “Just tell me where to line up, Mr. President.” The Democrats rubber-stamped USA PATRIOT faster than you could say “Reichstag Enabling Act.”

Brzezhinski said in retrospect, after 9-11, that he still considered his splendid little war in Afghanistan to have been worth it. And I’m sure Dubya agreed. Don’t get me wrong — I’m really not into the 9-11 Truth thing. But if you’d warned the folks at the helm that their cunning little chess move would create blowback in the form of three thousand dead serfs and a whole raft of new powers for themselves, I don’t think they’d have cried themselves to sleep.

If governments — the U.S. government included — didn’t have enemies, they’d have to invent them. And it seems they sometimes have.

9 responses to “For the State Blowback is a Feature, Not a Bug

  1. Funnily enough, I’ve just written a post over at Counting Cats In Zanzibar about the worryingly inward directed gaze of Libertarians.

    Which was itself, on reflection, guilty of the same thing. But at least, on a day perhaps comparable to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in historical significance, I actually managed to say something positive about the Egyptian Revolution.

    No wonder nobody listens to us. What the hell do we ever say that is of interest to anyone beyond our little circle?

  2. Interesting, with some pertinent truths but it does imply that there are no real enemies to be fought. The implication that Hamas or Al Qaida or radical Islam in general would not be a problem if we only didn’t interfere in the Middle East is both naive and arrogant. Maybe the State really would invent enemies if none existed, but just sometimes, enemies really do exist. Enemies who won’t be mollified if we just live peaceful, non interventionary lives but will seek to subjugate us regardless.

    The fact is that huge numbers of Muslims adamantly want to spread and impose their political/religious system by force. Complaining about Western governments cynicism in dealing with this is not enough.

  3. To quote Israel Today:

    “The White House appears determined to downplay the severity of what a Muslim Brotherhood takeover would mean. But the Brotherhood itself has been kind enough to clarify exactly what it is all about.
    In a recent interview with Japanese television, Rashad al-Bayumu, the group’s second-in-command, stated clearly that if the Brotherhood comes to power it will cancel Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
    A few years ago, Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi ‘Akef told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Karama that ultimately, the Islamic, and not the Western, version of democracy will rule in Egypt.
    The Muslim Brotherhood’s official website continues to promote jihad as the duty of all Muslims who wish to achieve global domination for their religion and the establishment of a new Islamic empire.
    The book “Jihad is the Way,” written by former Brotherhood leader Mustafa Mashhur, continues to be a guiding text for the group. In it, Muslims are told that Allah wants them to use all means at their disposal to conduct jihad with the goal of eventual global domination. The book, which was written in 1995, has been translated by Palestinian Media Watch and is being posted online.”

  4. @John B mainly…

    I am sure that Israel can look after itself, if allowed to, and if threatened.

    The abiding problem is: will it, instead, flinch…and blink – to the “great heaviness of us all”? (To quote what the City of York said when it learned that Richard III was slain at Bosworth.)

    I would not like to consider the consequences if it did (blink).

    Thirty years of power is more than enough for any statist man, especially a non-democrat. One just hopes that whoever is “in charge” (nominally) in the interim will see to it that “fundamentalist” Jihadists, operating as they may be to drag Egypt into the warrior-Islamist-camp against Israel, are kept well away from ballot-boxes, explosives, other people of all kinds, and telephones, for quite some time, if not for ever and ever and ever and ever.

    Sorry, chaps: liberalism will not in the end win for all humanity, and we will not get to achieve minimal-statism anywhere at all, and still less anarcho-capitalism, if we allow the enemy any breaks at all – whoever he may be at any time. The times are coming when the political enemy-class, which is to say: anti-liberals of many many kinds (and there are lots): and which will be often in other nations in which we have no immediate financial or any other interest, will have to be stopped, and removed, so that – as the lefties say here – “lessons have been learned, and this will never happen again”.

    I’m not saying that what I am probably seen to be recommending is morally right from a strictly libertarian, non-interventionist point of view: merely that it might be what has to be done, to _/drain the swamp/_ . One can be right, and also subsequently dead, in the same general time-frame, like martyrs to truth have been, very, very, very often. It’s probably better to be right and also alive, to tell others how it went. Eternal “persuasion” of those who are unconvinced and who have guns, will not work.

    I also feel the need to draw fire away from poor old Sean Gabb, who has been recently tarred with allegations of unllibertarianism, “white supremacy” (whatever that means) and even “atheism” (!!! LOL) by seeing if some of the thrown-mud of the last week or so will stick to me instead, and what will happen as a result! So we’ll find out who’s reading this, won’t we.

  5. Tom Burroughes

    I have to agree with IanB here. Yes, there are uncertainties ahead, but if the Egyptian experience proves to be akin to the 1989 changes in Eastern Europe, this is a good day to be liberal in the true meaning of that word.

    As for Carson’s blowback argument, he obviously does have a point; the West also backed the very groups in Afghanistan that later caused us a headache once the Cold War was over. I am sure the same applies elsewwhere.

    For once, I am glad to see that the West let a country and its people figure things out for themselves. This was actually a good examnple of non-interventionism as a smart approach.

    I wish the people of that country good luck.

    Where on earth was Sean called an atheist? Not heard that one! Sean has always been pretty scornful towards militant atheists, in my experience.

  6. In 1989 forces motivated by freedom and liberty overcame totalitarian systems.
    The Soviet – West confrontation was completely different to the Islamist – western confrontation.
    The soviets were totalitarian/authoritarian, and the pro western groups overcame them.
    The ‘freedom’ gained in Egypt is fairly certainly going to bring to ascendency an Islamist grouping. This could well be totalitarian to an absolute degree (death for apostacy, adultery). This being freedom from, sure, an authoritarian government.
    The ramifications of these developments will no doubt be immense and probably usher in events we cannot yet imagine, possibly to contain chaos.
    There are horrors going on that we simply do not hear about because MSM simply does not report them or presents them in a less ‘enthusiastic’ light. Where were the calls for support for the green revolution in Tehran? It has simply became a non-issue.
    At least the soviets respected diplomatic niceties when they had to.

  7. It must be Muslim Brotherhood week. Why don’t I think this a good thing? bring Back Tom Lehrer perhaps a comical song will put us in the right frame of mind.

    Glen Beck has a habit of being right, this may just be a domino on the road to Damascus, sorry I mean the Caliphate. To repeat the question this is a good thing?

  8. I always find it strange that libertarians, whose conclusions are so profoundly penetrating when it comes to analysing the outcomes resulting from associations between freely consenting individuals, i.e. industry, markets, economics, etc., are so laughably naive when confronted by the darker realities of the world we live in: wars, conflicts, dictatorships, realpolitik and relations between nation states. Hence I have to agree with the views expressed here by C H Ingley, John B and Howard R Gray.

    It is almost as though libertarians are unable to conceive the very existence of those who will stop at nothing until they have succeeded at destroying our way of life, and ourselves at the same time if we do not submit to them. I think I can understand the reason for this blind spot. If we admit the reality of the fact that evil-doers exist whose activities are beyond our control, we must come to the inevitable conclusion that the tolerance that we extend to all kinds of behaviour, some of which we find utterly distasteful, has a limit. If we are to survive we cannot afford to extend that same tolerance to those whose one aim is our destruction. Unpleasant but a fact of life, and one which many otherwise sensible people will never admit.

  9. David Davis states that: “I am sure that Israel can look after itself, if allowed to, and if threatened.”

    Israel is a tiny country with a population of less than 8 million, 20% of whom are indeed themselves Arabs. It is country that has been under threat for every second of its sixty-three year existence in its current form, surrounded as it is on all sides by far larger and more populous neighbouring states implacably intent on its destruction.

    That Israel has survived so long is a miracle partly due on to its possessing small (in absolute terms) but efficient armed forces. Another important factor has been the fact that Egypt, its vastly larger neighbour, was governed for decades by a relatively secular dictatorship which could be bought off by the West, a situation which has now ended.

    Israel is small so the option of defence in depth is not available to it. It cannot afford cede more territory, especially considering the lightning speed of action that is possible with modern weaponry, and let us not forget that its neighbours, between them, do possess overwhelmingly large quantities of modern military equipment.

    So IMHO if a conflict breaks out, which seems likely from the pronouncements of those who would take power in Egypt (and elsewhere as well) , the only possible course Israel can take to attempt to survive will involve violence beyond anything we have so far seen in the Middle East. If that is what Israel looking after itself means then I do not think any of us can be complacent about what the future may bring.