A rather startling Newsweek feature that shows just how shallow the US understanding of the Middle East has been for decades. Working with tyrants and torturers and murderers, in the name of fighting “terrorism”, has meant that the overthrow of such figures in the last six months has resulted in US eyes and ears becoming close to blind and deaf. Expect Washington to support any kind of reliable brutes in the months and years ahead:
Among American spies there’s more than a little nostalgia for the bad old days. You know, back before dictators started toppling in the Middle East; back when suspected bad guys could be snatched off a street somewhere and delivered to the not-so-tender mercies of interrogators in their home countries; back when thuggish tyrants, however ugly, were at least predictable.
It’s not a philosophical thing, just a practical one. Confronted by the cold realities of this year’s Arab Spring, many intelligence and counterterrorism professionals now see major dangers looming near at hand, while the good news—a freer, fairer, more equitable and stable Arab world—remains somewhere over the horizon. “All this celebration of democracy is just bullshit,” says one senior intelligence officer who’s spent decades fighting terrorism and finds his job getting harder, not easier, because of recent developments. “You take the lid off and you don’t know what’s going to happen. I think disaster is lurking.”
Which is why the Americans have once again turned to Riyadh as their discreet and indispensable ally. In Yemen particularly, the Saudis have their own operatives on the ground and many tribal leaders on their payroll. The kingdom’s main objective—to stabilize Yemen while eliminating Al Qaeda—is much the same as Washington’s. But can Saudi Arabia really resist the region’s seismic change? If the country is about to erupt as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria have done, would local intelligence services know? Would the Americans? The record is far from encouraging.