This is a bizarre tale. It is the story of two men, four events, and how the world has come to the brink of war, again - a war that threatens the fabric of civilization, itself.
First, we'll talk about a martyr, Syed Qutb.
Qutb was born in rural Egypt, in 1906. By any rational measure, Qutb should have been a success story. Deeply religious, Qutb held a burning passion for education, yet throughout his life, firmly held that religious studies should be taught only in conjunction with modern, secular studies. In a time where few of his neighbors could send their children to school, Qutb slowly and painfully built up a large - for his village - library of twenty-five books, and forced his way through his own shyness to try and teach other village children (boys and girls, alike) what he had learned.
This passionate thirst for knowledge and education eventually bore fruit, and Qutb became a teacher, working for the Ministry of Public Instruction, in 1933. Six years later, he took a minor post with the Ministry of Education, itself. Qutb became an author in his own right, publishing several novels, and helped several other authors launch their own careers, including that of noted novelist Naguib Mahfouz. Qutb's first major theoretical work of religious social criticism, Al-'adala al-Ijtima'iyya fi-l-Islam ("Social Justice in Islam"), was published in 1949.
In 1948, the Ministry of Education sent Qutb to the United States, to study the American educational system. The event changed Qutb's life.
"Culture shock" is not a good description of Qutb's reaction to the late-1940's United States - "horror" would probably be more accurate.
While Egypt was Westernizing slowly, Qutb was - to use the Americanism - a "real square": women had their place - well-treated, but very much under the care of their husbands and fathers. He also found Americans unhealthily devoted to completely inane things: abstract devotion to materialism paled, in Qutb's mind, to the American obsessions with lawn maintenance and jazz music; the open racism prevalent at the time likely didn't help. It would not be a stretch to say that Qutb viewed the United States as something in the same category as the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, or Babylon. The experience bred in him a horror and hatred of Western culture, and began his slide towards what became Radical Islam.
Upon his return from the United States, Qutb would publish his experiences in "The America That I Have Seen." He resigned his ministry post, and joined the Muslim Brotherhood, swiftly rising through its ranks, and quickly became one of its leading intellectual lights.
Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood welcomed Gamal Abdel Nasser's coup against the Egyptian monarchy in 1952, but quickly broke with him when it became obvious that Nasser had no intention of establishing an Islamic state in Egypt. There followed a predictable pattern of plots, prison, torture and radicalization, followed by execution by hanging, in 1966, that made Qutb into a martyr.
However, Qutb's later writings, from a brief period if freedom before his final arrest, lived on, and have come to form the coals of the fire of modern radical Islamic thought.
Anatoly Golitsyn was an officer, specifically a Major, in the KGB. In 1961, Golitsyn defected with his wife and daughter from Helsinki, Finland, and was spirited to the United States, where he was interviewed at length by the CIA. His defection caused an immediate shock-wave within the KGB, generating a series of cables to Soviet embassies around the world, with instructions on how to mitigate the possible damage from his defection.
Golitsyn has always had a controversial reputation in the intelligence community. On the one hand, the British general, Sir John Hackett, at one time the commander of the British Army of the Rhine, described Golitsyn as the most valuable defector to have ever reached the West; on the other hand, the official historian of Britain's MI5 intelligence service described his assessments as questionable, even while acknowledging that his raw intelligence was solid.
The primary reason for this dichotomy was a remarkable claim Golitsyn made during his debriefings, where he claimed the existence of a long range plan, begun by elements within the KGB, to undermine the Western states, specifically the United States, a a plan which would result in an ultimate victory for worldwide Soviet Communism. This plan would revolve around a seeming Soviet and Communist collapse on a worldwide scale, that would lull the West into apathy, while allowing the Communist leading states of Russia and the People's Republic of China to rebuild themselves, bringing about a Communist victory when the West collapsed under the strain. Golitsyn revealed this idea publicly in his 1984 book, New Lies For Old, and later, in 1995's The Perestroika Deception.
As remarkable as this story was, sounding as it does like the plot of a Robert Ludlum novel, historian Mark Riebling claimed in his book Wedge - The Secret War between the FBI and CIA (Knopf, 1994) that of 194 predictions in New Lies For Old, some 139 had been proven true by 1993, nine were clearly wrong, and the remaining 46 were 'not soon falsifiable'.
One part of this complicated plot was the infiltration and undermining of Western institutions, such as the Catholic Church, and centers of higher learning. As was proven repeatedly throughout the Soviet Era, idealistic - but impressionable - young people could be turned into rabid Communists by having "agents of influence" prey on their inherent good natures, by convincing them that Marxist-Leninist thinking was the best way to improve the lives of the downtrodden. This process was outlined in 1954, in the expose School of Darkness. The Record of a Life and of a Conflict Between Two Faiths, by Dr. Bella V. Dodd, at one time a leader of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA). The specific mechanism used in this undermining process is a concept called "strategical diversion", as outlined by another KGB defector, Yuri Bezmenov, a process which seeks to alter the perception of reality through what we would now term "information overload".
One clear result of this infiltration is the marked reluctance of Western academia to discuss the murderous nature of the Soviet state, not simply under the reign of Josef Stalin, but continuing all the way through the supposed collapse of the Soviet state itself, even while highlighting foibles of western countries that pale in comparison to the wholesale slaughter inflicted by the Communist world.
Another obvious aspect of this plan was the undermining of US influence and image within the Third World. This brings us to the four events of this analysis.
Unlike what many people may be thinking at this point, the list of events does not begin with Vietnam. In the 1950's and 60's, the United States was seen as near-invincible. Although the Korean War had ended in a stalemate, and the US and USSR were engaged in tit-for-tat oneupmanship around the world, no one - least of all the Soviet Union - seriously considered that war at any realistic level with the USA was even remotely winnable. That said, as the 1960's wore on, it became apparent to anyone paying attention that the United States was stumbling. This was to be expected: the no country is ever going to have it all go their way, all the time, and the US was not immune, despite a 150-year track record of winning, both internally and externally. No, the triggers in this story begin in a very different place:
From this start, there would be a swift series of seemingly unconnected blows over the following twenty-four months, that would combine to thoroughly undermine the West, and raise the specter of world war, once again.
Iran - ancient Persia - had spent the 20th Century unevenly Westernizing. But, the road was rocky. The ruling Qajar Dynasty was overthrown in 1925 by Reza Pahlavi, who soon made himself Shah, and founded the House of Pahlavi. However, endemic corruption, increasing paranoia and very poor choices in foreign policy in the run-up to World War 2 led to the invasion of Iran by British and Soviet forces in 1941. Reza I was deposed, and his young son, Reza II, was installed as a puppet. As the United States' "Lend-Lease" policy began to shift into high gear, Iran became a vital avenue of supply to a beleaguered Soviet Union.
Following World War 2, Reza II worked to repair his house's reputation, and began a program of modernization. However, the Soviet penetration of Iran during the war had immeasurably strengthened the Tudeh Party, the Iranian Communist Party. This group helped to foment the unrest of 1952-53, which ultimately resulted in the United States overthrowing a democratically-elected government, in favor of an autocratic monarchy.
In the aftermath of Operation Ajax, Reza II worked hard to modernize and and Westernize Iran. Ultimately, the Shah turned Iran into a bastion of Western military power directly abutting the Soviet Union's border.
In doing so, he came into conflict with hardline Shi'ite clerics, ultimately led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. However, it is increasingly apparent that the Tudeh Party began infiltrating the Shi'ite religious establishment in Iran, in a manner similar to that used in the United States.
Exiled to Turkey in 1965 (where he stayed in the home of a Colonel in Turkish military intelligence), Khomeini moved to the Shia holy city of Najaf, Iraq, where he would remain until October of 1978, when he was expelled by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Khomeini had by then assumed the leadership of anti-Shah sentiment in Iran, following the death "under mysterious circumstances" of the previous acknowledged leader, the revolutionary sociologist and historian Dr. Ali Shariati in a Southampton hospital in 1977.
Iran had become increasingly unstable in the preceding five years, so much so that the Shah - ill with terminal cancer - was completely unable to deal with the agitation. As well, the United States appeared utterly incapable of aiding one of its most important allies in the Middle East. With Khomeini's expulsion from Iraq, the situation deteriorated with increasing speed, until the Shah and his family "went on vacation" at the end of January, 1979. Khomeini returned in triumph on the first of February, and officially declared the end of the monarchy and the creation of an "Islamic republic" on the eleventh. The increasingly downward spiral within Iran led directly to an open break with the United States, with the seizure of the US embassy on November 4th.
The appearance of helplessness in its inability to save what appeared to be one of its strongest allies severely - possibly irreparably - damaged the image of the United States as a strong bulwark of democracy. Abandoning South Vietnam to its fate after a bruising, 15-year long war could be written off as a strategic stumble. Likewise, the fall of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua could be viewed as inevitable. But, like the shattering of the public perception of the character of the Vietnam War following the release of the so-called "Pentagon Papers", the fall of the Shah and the radicalization of Iran came as a brutal shock to many in the West, but especially in America. Indeed, the fall of the Shah was the prime reason behind the complete defeat of of President Jimmy Carter's reelection bid.
But then, a curious thing happened.
Nearly forgotten by the Western public, some two weeks after the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, a group of men stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 20, 1979.
The bloody, two-week long siege of the Grand Mosque - Islam's holiest shrine - seriously undermined the ruling House of Saud, in ways not fully understood at the time. However, within the Islamic world, the stamping out of a "false Mahdi", and the frantic attempts to blame the Khomeini regime for the attack backfired on the United States, as Khomeini (and the KGB) swiftly capitalized on the attack by blaming the United States. The resulting uproar caused demonstrations and riots throughout the Muslim world, and led to the destruction by mobs of the US embassies in Libya and Pakistan.
Although the militants were rooted out, and the leader and 67 of his surviving men were beheaded for the seizure, the real aftermath was that the Saudi monarch yielded more and more authority to the conservative Ulama religious councils.
Then, some twenty days after the retaking of the Grand Mosque - on December 24th - the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
This event was widely regarded as the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union; in fact, it was frequently referred to as the "Soviet Union's Vietnam". The United States - feeling pushed to the proverbial wall - was bound to act eventually, the actions of certain individuals notwithstanding. The Soviet system, by then imploding, could not handle the strain. They would withdraw, clearly beaten, in 1989, as the Berlin wall came down, and the Warsaw Pact collapsed.
But, there is one final act to this blood-soaked play: The Iran-Iraq War.
Iraq invaded Revolutionary Iran on September 22, 1980, sparking an eight-year long bloodbath that was a very loud echo of World War 1's trench warfare. This led to the exposure of shady backroom deals by the United States that effectively prolonged the war, further weakening and tarnishing its image, even as it seemingly "won" the Cold War.
Over the next twelve years, the United States seemed to steadily decline in influence: it proved unable to capitalize on its defeat of Saddam's Iraq in 1990; its abandonment of Sunni Kurds and Shi'te Iraqi's in their attempt to overthrow Saddam seriously damaged the image of the Bush Administration, and contributed to the defeat of his reelection bid in 1992. His successor, William Jefferson Clinton, appeared incapable of dealing with even minor opponents, nor capable of effectively stopping massacres in Europe and Africa, as the United Nations stood mutely by.
To review, we have a sequence of four events, spanning some twenty-four months - three of the events happening in the space of a mere eight weeks - that are clearly related and feed off of each other, yet which have no real reason to exist separately:
-The implosion of the Pahlavi regime, while perhaps inevitable, was noticeably accelerated by the expulsion of Khomeini from Iraq by Saddam Hussein, a known and acknowledged ally of the Soviet state. That implosion led, swiftly and directly, to the imposition of a brutal regime almost irretrievably hostile to the United States, a regime almost certainly heavily infiltrated by the Iranian Communist Party.
-While no hard evidence exists pointing to Soviet or Iranian Revolutionary involvement with the seizure of the Grand Mosque, both Iranian and KGB sources were surprisingly swift to put out stories blaming the United States for a very unique and specific event...which, in the KGB's case, is even stranger, given what would happen eight weeks after the Grand Mosque was retaken.
-The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was an act of blinding insanity: it critically damaged the Soviet Union's image throughout the Muslim world, and virtually guaranteed a steady stream of volunteers to battle "godless Communist dogs" -- America might be the "Great Satan", as Khomeini continually railed, but they were at least nominally Christian, and thus, "People of the Book". Likewise, there could be no rational view of the invasion by the West as anything but s direct threat to Pakistan, another US ally in upheaval, facing the regional titan of India - a some-time ally of the Soviets - and now facing the might of the Soviet Union hard against their border. There was no scenario in which the US could not respond as they ultimately did...and waiting in the wings, were the students of Syed Qutb. Following the assassination of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, many of the survivors were put on planes and sent to Afghanistan as Egypt's price for supporting the Afghan Mujahideen. Qutb's final, apocalyptic tracts, written after the duress of imprisonment and torture, had nowhere to go, and were withering on their poisoned vine, until saved by the revolutionary fervor of an "honest holy war" against an avowed enemy of all religion.
-Some nine months later, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. While much has been made of Soviet attempts at courting both sides, in reality the long, bloody war worked doubly in the Soviets' favor: Revolutionary Iran was bled white, losing nearly an entire generation of young men in the fighting, while its attempts to spread its revolution were severely curtailed. Meanwhile, Saddam's Iraq was badly weakened, and in his weakened state, he could be counted on to act foolishly, out of desperation...
...And all the while, the serpent birthed by the US undermining of the Soviets in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, grew and developed, ultimately rising on September 11th, 2001, to strike directly at the heart of the United States, sparking what is rapidly becoming a multi-decade war, rooted in the extremist ideals of "offensive jihad" of Syed Qutb...
...Now, there is no reason to connect any of these disparate events - from the collapse of American-Iranian relations to the start of the Iran-Iraq War - in the absence of Golitsyn's conspiracy plan. If Golitsyn was wrong, then the events of the twenty-four month period of October 1978 to September 1980 are simply happenstance, nothing more than the fickle finger of Fate at work.
But -- if Golitsyn is correct, the implications are dire.
As of this writing - early October of 2016 - the United States is more divided than at any time in its history since the Civil War. The US economy is effectively stagnant; actual unemployment is nearly 10%; the military has been exhausted and stretched to its limit, with its manning levels lower than at any point since 1940, even as wars and international tensions heat up. The continual saber-rattling with Russia, over Ukraine and the Baltic Republics, as well as the increasingly bellicose Chinese language over navigation in the South China Sea (to say nothing of North Korea), bodes ill.
This is not simply a matter of ironmongery; buying more "stuff" is not the problem. The United States military lacks the manpower - and has lacked it for almost two decades - and the training to face either former KGB officer Vladimir Putin's Russia or China. This is because of a conscious decision to not mobilize the country to fight in the Middle East. As well, the nature of the conflict on the Middle East that the US has been fighting for fifteen years has led to an atrophying of capability to fight "main force" opponents, which Russia, and increasingly China, most certainly are.
The outlook for political leadership within the United States is bleak. With a bitterly divided electorate, trust in government leadership is at an all-time low. The political structure of the United States seems pathologically devoted to maintaining the status quo.
While that was a strategy that may have worked twenty years ago, it will not work now.
It is unclear whether Donald J. Trump, should he win the election on November 8th, will be able to either unify the country, nor whether he will be able to get the US government into some semblance of functionality. It is equally unclear whether the majority of the American people can be motivated to care enough to recall that national unity sometimes requires disciplined collective action.
What is abundantly clear, however, is that Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democrat Party are not capable of dealing with the myriad of looming problems, because their entire political existence is predicated on maintaining the status quo.
While it may sound alarmist, there is no fallback position, now - if the United States is unable to "get its act together", there is nowhere to fall back to. If there is no effective response to the rise of Russian and Chinese aggression, the world will go to a very dark place -- and will stay there for a very long time.
[NOTE: Article edited at 9pm/2100hrs CST, 10/10/2016]
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