December 12, 2001

Christopher Hitchens and 'the god that failed'

The idea that US foreign policy sowed the seeds of 9/11 is denounced as "anti-Americanism" and "blaming the victim" by our wartime intelligentsia, including such notables as Christopher Hitchens. The acerbic British-born journalist, who juggles columns in the glitzy Vanity Fair and the dowdy Nation, used to be a leftist and is now, whether or not he yet realizes it, a left-neoconservative, albeit of an idiosyncratic sort. Yes, having taken over the Right side of the political spectrum, the neocons are now making inroads on the Left.


Hitchens has been in the vanguard of the War Party, post-9/11, and his pronouncements on the subject rival those of right-neocon Andrew Sullivan in their fervor for exporting the benefits of Western civilization at gunpoint. Both Sullivan and Hitchens are fulsome in their praise of the US "liberators" of Afghanistan, and both have signed on to the new Popular Front against "Islamo-fascism" – the relentless campaign to turn the war on terrorism into a holy war of the West against Islam. Both of these Brits have the bright idea that America must pick up where the Mother Country left off, and take up the white man's burden – the burden, that is, of Empire.


Of course, as an editor of The New Republic, which makes no bones about its Israel First editorial policy, Sullivan's antipathy to all things Arabic is hardly surprising. He has been calling for an all-out attack on Iraq from the beginning: as the only openly gay neocon, Sullivan has his "butch" image to keep up, and perhaps this partly explains why he has been among the most bloodthirsty of the laptop bombardiers: he and Rich Lowery, over at National Review, are currently in a contest to see who can come up with the most ingenious rationalizations for nuking – yes, nuking! – Afghanistan.


Sullivan is a careerist, whose self-infatuated ramblings can always be counted on to synthesize the conventional wisdom: far more interesting is Hitchens, a relative newcomer to the War Party, whose feats of ideological gymnastics in support of the new interventionism are instructive. Writing in his column in The Nation, Hitchens states the premise of this new dispensation with characteristically charming hyperbole:

"The United States of America has just succeeded in bombing a country back out of the Stone Age. This deserves to be recognized as an achievement, even by those who want to hasten past the moment and resume their customary tasks  (worrying about the spotty human rights record of the Northern Alliance is the latest thing)."


Reading Hitchens, one is reminded of those Nation articles of the 1930s praising Stalin's Russia and hailing the liberation of women, the rollback of Russian feudalism, and the over-fulfillment of the Five Year Plan as an "achievement" of similar magnitude. Like the Nation writers of the Red Decade, who downplayed or denied the "spotty human rights record" of the KGB, Hitchens is disdainful of petty hagglers and sticklers who bother their silly little heads about such necessary brutalities as are required to construct the new order: they are, after all, on the wrong side of history. All that's changed, in some seventy years, is the object of such blind idolatry.


Hitchens attacks "those ultraleftists and soft liberals" who are against giving the Bushies a blank check to wage an eternal "war on terrorism" and avers that they could

"Safely be ignored and needn't be teased too much now. The rescue of the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 taught them nothing; they were for leaving Bosnia and Kosovo to the mercy of Milosevic; they had nothing to say about the lack of an international intervention in Rwanda. The American polity is now divided between those who can recognize a new situation when they see it, and those who cannot or will not."


This "new situation" is, of course, the unchallenged supremacy of the American Empire to do what it damn well pleases, from Bosnia to Baluchistan. This is what unites the neoconservative "Right," represented by Sullivan, and the neo-Wilsonian Left, embodied by Hitchens: the romanticization of American military power as the instrument of a new world order.


That Hitchens can mention our great "victory" in Bosnia – presumably with a straight face – in connection with the war on terrorism is a testament to the awesome ability of some people to ignore facts that contradict ideology. For if Bosnia is to come up at all, in this discussion, it is as an object lesson in how the US directly aided bin Laden and his followers. Indeed, in Bosnia – and later in Kosovo – the US and the bin Ladenites were allies, with the former shielding and perhaps covertly aiding the latter. The arms pipeline that supplied the Bosnian Muslim government of President Alija Izetbegovic, evading UN sanctions, was operated by bin Laden and his associates with the full knowledge and complicity of the US. The same US-bin Laden alliance held firm in Kosovo, as Professor Marjorie Cohn pointed out in an excellent article in Jurist:

"The United States gave considerable assistance to the Kosovo Liberation Army – a Muslim terrorist group financed by the Third World Relief Agency, through which bin Laden funneled $350 million – and its twin, the National Liberation Army in Macedonia."


The three-year civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina led Izetbegovic to seek help from his Muslim brothers abroad, and links with Iran, Islamic groups in Egypt, and Al Qaeda were forged. When the war went into full tilt, Izetbegovic got back in touch with his old buddy, Elfatih Hassanein-omal-Fatih, a top leader of Sudan's ruling party, the National Islamic Front. In the guise of "humanitarian aid," Fatih's Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) began smuggling arms into Bosnia, enough to stave off almost certain defeat. Linked to Sheik Omah Abdel Rahman, the radical imam who was convicted of organizing the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in 1993, TWRA has also been identified as one of bin Laden's assets. In his best-selling book, Holy War, Inc., Peter L. Bergen writes:

"A Vienna-based charity linked to bin Laden, Third World Relief Agency, funneled millions of dollars in contributions to the Bosnians. Al-Qaeda trained mujahideen to go and fight in Bosnia during the early nineties, and bin Laden's Services Office also maintained an office in neighboring Croatia's capital, Zagreb."


The Balkan Centre for Peace in the Balkans has identified several prominent Bosnian officials with direct ties with TWRA, including Irfan Ljevakovic, a founding leader of the Stranka Demokratske Akcije (SDA – Izetbegovic's ruling Muslim party), and the man responsible for bringing bin Laden's followers to Bosnia; Alija Izetbegovic, SDA and Bosnian Muslim president who guaranteed Fatih's credentials to Austria's Die Erste Osterreich Bank, enabling him to open an account there and begin the gunrunning operation. Bosnian Muslims listed as Executive Directors of TWRA include: Hasan Cengic, Husein Zivalj (deputy foreign minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina), and Faris Nanic (an advisor to Izetbegovic).


The assets of the Third World Relief Agency in the US and Europe have been frozen – but what about the government of Bosnia, which is getting off scot-free? The Bosnian Muslims, it seems, have some powerful protectors in Washington, and have so far managed to escape the post-9/11 wrath of the US. Strangely, they seem to have also escaped the ire of the professional Islamophobes, such as Daniel Pipes and Stephen Schwartz. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Schwartz homes in on the Saudis as the real threat to the US, and goes out of his way to extol the Bosnians, and specifically Izetbegovic, as model Muslims and devoted friends of the West.


Schwartz has constructed a conspiracy theory based on the idea that the Saudi-backed Wahabi sect is akin to Soviet Communism and fascism, a dire threat to the West. The Bosnians, not being Wahabis, are supposedly examples of all that is good in Islam:

"Many strategists in Western capitals ask where we will find Muslims prepared to stand by the West. One tested Muslim statesman who is widely respected, even idolized, in the Islamic world is the wartime president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic. A learned and pious Muslim who was imprisoned for his faith by Tito's Communist regime, Izetbegovic led the fight for the survival of Bosnian Islam. He is an authentic warrior in a legitimate jihad."

Gee, it looks like this "legitimate jihad" got a little out of hand – or else what is the supposedly pro-Western Izetbegovic doing as an Executive Director of the Third World Relief Agency, a known terrorist organization?

Schwartz blithers on about how "most of the world's Muslims, given the chance, would gladly side with Izetbegovic against both bin Laden and his patrons in Saudi Arabia, a culturally incoherent, politically two-faced country that we should regard as a state backer of terrorism at least as dangerous as Libya or Iran." For the former leader (and sole member) of the Fomento Obrero Revolucionario Organizing Committee in the United States (FOCUS) to call anyone two-faced is laughable. What is interesting about this hypocrite's sustained campaign against the Saudis, however, is how it diverts attention away from the real center and fulcrum of bin Laden's terrorist conspiracy – Bosnia.


It was during bin Laden's residence in Sudan that the primarily Saudi Al Qaeda was internationalized, incorporating fundamentalist groups in Egypt, Algeria, Chechnya, and elsewhere. It was also during this time that the Bosnian struggle fused all these disparate elements together, and created the financial operations that make the bin Ladenite empire run. In the effort to trace and uproot Al Qaeda's financial tentacles, a recent New York Times article revealed the significance of the Bosnia-Al Qaeda connection:

"To support Al Qaeda, some operatives work like organized crime crews. Government officials exploring Al Qaeda's operation in Bosnia found that operatives skimmed money from relief charities and linked up with Bosnian crime bosses. The success in Bosnia made it a model for Al Qaeda to use in embattled countries around the world."


In President Izetbegovic's Bosnia, said one intelligence officer, bin Laden and his lieutenants "found a very hospitable environment." The Times reports that "the bin Laden financial machine blossomed, according to officials who have been informed of intelligence information on the matter. Charities around the Arab world proclaimed that they were raising money for humanitarian purposes in Bosnia, but in fact portions benefited Islamic extremist groups in the area, including Al Qaeda."

The Al Qaeda militants also linked up with what the Times calls "Bosnian organized crime figures" (i.e. Albanians) and found a ready market for Afghan heroin, which provides a good chunk of the terrorist budget. Their Bosnian operation proved so successful, according to US government officials, "that it became an 'off-the-shelf' model for fundraising and recruitment used by the terrorist organization again and again in Kosovo, Albania and Chechnya."


Schwartz, rising out of a well-deserved obscurity as a fringe leftist, is now reinventing himself as an "expert" on Islam. When the Islamophobes want an article on this or that aspect of the evils of Wahabism, they turn to him; a recent interview with Schwartz on MSNBC consisted of the news anchor asking him leading questions about the alleged evil of Saudi Arabia, and Schwartz answering "Absolutely! Absolutely!" What a farce. The campaign against the Saudis is intended to draw attention away from the real culprits, the Bosnian Muslims, who protected, profited from, and allied themselves with bin Laden and his confederates. A secondary motive is to isolate America from the Arab world, and draw the US ever closer to Israel.


There are disturbing indications that our boy President is firmly in the grip of the "get Iraq" crowd: the recent announcement that the Third Army Corps is moving its headquarters to Kuwait is just the most public. Aside from that, there are rumors in Washington that the number of troops in Saudi Arabia – purportedly 5,000 – is now closer to 25,000. A war with Iraq would seriously destabilize the Arabian peninsula at a time when a more nationalistic monarch, Crown Prince Abdullah, is in line to take over. The impending crisis of the Saudi regime and what to do about it is now the chief topic of conversation in Washington circles.


One solution, widely proposed by the prophets of neo-imperialism, such as Max Boot, Mark Steyn and the airheaded Jonah Goldberg, is to simply take over the Middle East – including the Saudi oil fields. A vilification campaign directed at the Saudi monarchy, and the demonization of the state-backed Wahabi sect: all of this is a necessary prelude to any military occupation. As the most prolific if not the chief ideologue of the Islamophobes, Schwartz never relents from his task: to point an accusing finger at the Saudis, while distracting us from the real jihadists ensconced in Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Macedonia.


US foreign policy had nothing to do with the growth and development of Al Qaeda? Bullhockey! If it is treason, or "anti-Americanism" to say so, then so be it. US taxpayer dollars built the Bosnian Muslim state, from the ground up: our soldiers protect it, and the same is true of Kosovo, where a separatist state is taking shape under UN-US tutelage. It was Bill Clinton who took up the Bosnian Muslim cause, along with Bob Dole for the Republican side of the aisle: this culminated in the Kosovo war, which, we are learning, was the crucible that led to the spread of Al Qaeda beyond its previously limited sphere of influence. Actions have consequences, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: it's a simple rule of physics, and of life.


The "humanitarian" interventionism peddled by NATO in the Balkans took in Hitchens and a whole raft of rather gullible lefties, who saw no reason why the US – under King Klinton and his Red Queen, Hillary – could not right every wrong, from Sarajevo to Rwanda. Now we must all stand in awe of the towering "achievement" of the Afghan war, and humbly contemplate the awful majesty of American military power: this is, actually, quite a logical progression for Hitchens and some other leftists who, after all, have no objections to power – as long as they are the ones wielding it. The old Soviet Union may be dead and, by now, half-forgotten, but for many of these poor lost souls the "liberating" power of a global crusader for justice has been transferred to the US. They still want to export their egalitarian delusions at gunpoint, only now it is Americans, and not Russians, who are holding the guns.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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