Silent for the Sake of Arms Sales?
Consortiumnews.com contributor Daniel Lazare says U.S. officials have known for years that their Gulf partners are funding groups like the Islamic State.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
France remains under a state of emergency following terror attacks last Friday that left 129 people dead. This comes as the G20 wrapped up its summit in Turkey with an agreement to cooperate on policy towards eradicating ISIS. On Tuesday the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with French President Francois Hollande, and here is some of what he had to say.
JOHN KERRY: We have to step up our efforts to hit them at the core, where they’re planning these things. And also, obviously, to do more on borders and in terms of the movement of people. But the level of cooperation could not be higher. We’ve agreed even to exchange more information. And I’m convinced that over the course of the next week’s dash we’ll feel even greater pressure. They’re feeling it today, they felt it yesterday, they’ve felt it in the past weeks.
PERIES: Joining us now from New York City is Daniel Lazare. Dan is the author of three books dealing with the U.S. Constitution and U.S. urban policy, and is a regular contributor to Consortium News. Dan, thank you so much for joining us today.
DANIEL LAZARE: Thank you.
PERIES: So Dan, you can see that the G20 nations have come together, and they’re consolidating their response to ISIS. First of all, do you think it is going to be a more successful effort than they have previously done?
LAZARE: No. I think it’ll be no more successful than it has been in the past. This whole thing is an outrageous farce.
PERIES: So I would like to move here beyond conversation about the ISIS as a radical, extremist movement and discuss some of the roots of the Islamic State. How did it come to be?
LAZARE: Well, it came at first out of the radical destabilization of the Middle East, which was greatly aggravated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. But it’s been, the problem started back in the ’80s with the U.S.-Saudi jihad to overthrow the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. And it’s continuing through various events since the 2003 invasion. So this has been a whole, sort of, various forces percolating which have culminated in the Islamic State.
PERIES: Now, Daniel, in your writing you have written that U.S. officials have known for years that the Saudis and the Gulf states were the main backers of the ISIS, or groups that evolved into ISIS. What do we know about that in terms of, you know, concrete things? Are there any examples of this?
LAZARE: Well, concrete things is that–concrete is a little bit difficult. We have statements form Joe Biden. In October 2014 Joe Biden gave a talk before students at Harvard’s Kennedy School in which he said that the Saudis and the UAE and other Gulf states had channeled, quote, hundreds of millions of dollars into the radical Sunni opposition to Assad in Syria, and that those gave rise to radical jihadist movements like Al-Qaeda, and eventually ISIS. So we have the vice president of the United States identifying the Gulf states as a chief source of funding for these groups.
Now, the problem with bombing Syria is that it doesn’t cut the funding off at the source. And the idea that ISIS is funding itself out of local oil fields to me does not add up. It’s a far too, far too expensive an operation to be fueled by a few local oil wells. ISIS has no, no engineers, no refineries, no modern transport. So therefore it doesn’t make sense to think that it’s generating its own income. I think it’s quite obvious the income is coming from outside.
PERIES: And when you’re saying from outside, give us a map of where and how you think it’s flowing.
LAZARE: It’s coming from the five main Sunni Gulf states. Those are Saudi Arabia, first and foremost. Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. And these are countries that have been involved in a growing sectarian, regional war against various Shiite forces. Iran, the Syrian government, and Hezbollah. And also, of course, the Houthis in Yemen.
PERIES: And you’re getting this, besides Vice President Biden’s comments on that, are there any other ways in which this money can be tracked, or there’s any evidence of it?
LAZARE: Well, in 2009 Hillary Clinton wrote a, a diplomatic memo in which she said that the Saudi donors, the prime source of Sunni terrorist funding. This is a memo that was made public through WikiLeaks. The New York Times did an editorial just last month, identified Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia as still saying they were still passing on funding to ISIS. ISIS militants parade around in hundreds of spanking-new Toyota pickups and SUVs, and nobody can figure out where they get them from. Now, clearly they’re not coming from selling a few barrels of crude.
We know that there’ve been many complaints that the Saudis have not moved energetically to shut down their, their money channels. This has been a repeated complaint. The State Department and Treasury Departments have tried to cover it up, but it’s every reason to believe those channels are still wide open, and the money is continuing to flow. I would have more confidence if the Obama administration was moving vigorously to shut these conduits down. But there’s no evidence that it is.
PERIES: Now, Daniel, we just interviewed Loretta Napoleoni, who is a scholar in terms of how the ISIS finances itself. And she argues that they are at this moment relying on smuggling oil and selling it to their neighbors, and also this refugee exodus and people paying them to get out of the region is how they’re generating their resources. And she calculates that it is roughly about half a million dollars a week, adding up to about, I guess, $2 million to do what they’re doing. Do you think that makes sense?
LAZARE: No, it doesn’t make sense. I mean, ISIS, the estimates are that ISIS has 100,000 men under arms. They receive as much as $800 a month. $800 times $100,000 is $80 million. Now, that–regardless of how accurate that figure is, the important point is that ISIS, the ISIS budget, is tens of millions of dollars per month.
Now, $2 million per week, or whatever it is, just simply doesn’t make a dent. They clearly have to have more ample funding sources. And that should be where the focus is. And of course, of course the important thing is that the, is that no one wants to talk about it for two reasons. One is oil the West purchases from the Gulf states, the other is the billions of dollars–billions of dollars of weaponry the U.S. and France sell to the GCC. Just yesterday the U.S. State Department announced the sale of $1.27 billion worth of smart bombs to Saudi Arabia to replenish the bombs the Saudis have dropped on Yemen.
Now, it’s vitally important to the administration those deals continue, which is why it does not want to rock the boat when it comes to Saudi funds finding their way to ISIS.
PERIES: And Daniel, how much influence in terms of policy and reacting to the region do you think the arms industry has, arms and weapons industry has at the moment?
LAZARE: Oh, vitally important. I mean, the GCC is now, is now perhaps the leading market for Western weaponry in the world. The, I think in 2010, the Obama administration signed a deal, a $60 billion arms deal with the Saudis. The GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, is now the third-biggest military spender in the world. It spends less than China, but spends more than Japan, Germany, France, or Britain. These markets are huge, and these countries, these Western countries, will do anything to protect them as well as to do anything to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted flow of oil.
So for that reason, no one wants to look at the problem. No one wants to examine where the real problem lies. Instead they’d rather bomb the desert and put up with occasional massacres in places like Paris. It’s an outrage.
PERIES: During the Democratic debate on Saturday night, Hillary Clinton made an interesting comment. First, Bernie Sanders said that Iraq war was the greatest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history, and Clinton responded by saying that Americans have been victims of terrorism long before that invasion. Here she seems to ignore the role of the U.S. foreign policy in all of this. What do you make of that?
LAZARE: Her comment made no sense. I mean, and it’s true these attacks predate the 2003 invasion, but there’s little doubt the 2003 invasion vastly destabilized the situation in the Middle East and has led to a giant mushrooming of this problem. But Sanders didn’t make any sense either. Sanders kept talking about having the Saudis and the Gulf states assume more of a burden. That means essentially leaving it to the Saudis to somehow resolve matters in Syria. I mean, Saudi Arabia is a country that prevents women from driving, virtually locks them up in their own homes, cuts people’s heads off for the crime of sorcery, believe it or not.
Now, do you expect a country like this to in any way impose a democratic solution on the horrendous civil war in Syria? What can Saudi Arabia do, or Qatar, or the UAE, what can they do other than make matters even worse than they are now?
PERIES: Right. And of course, in addition to these kinds of terror attacks, what it has also done has really created this enormous exodus from the conflict zones out into Europe, and now of course in the U.S. as well. And we have a lot of the governors here, the 26 Republican governors have said that they will not accept new Syrian refugees in their states. And you’re a constitutional lawyer. Is this legal?
LAZARE: No, it’s not legal. It’s politically influential, but it’s not legal. The governors can’t do that, but they can, you know, they can harass the federal authorities in various ways as they try to settle refugees in their states.
PERIES: All right, Dan. I want to thank you so much for joining us today, and we hope to have you back very soon.
LAZARE: Thanks very much.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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