Moderate rebels and augmented reality

A common characteristic of the multiple regime change interventions in the Middle East is the financial, military, and moral support given by Western governments (US, UK, France and others, in alignment with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Gulf states) to so-called ‘moderate rebels’. ‘Moderate rebels’ are mostly (wannabe) terrorists who are ‘on our side’ — for the time being.

‘Moderate’ sounds innocuous. It sounds like the safest option in the menu of a restaurant you are visiting for the first time and you are worried that ‘spicy’ may be too spicy, so you go for ‘moderate’. ‘Rebel’ sounds milder than ‘revolutionary’ (‘guerilla’ would evoke too mixed feelings). A ‘moderate rebel’ sounds like a guy who had no choice; it is the other guy’s fault — the ‘moderate rebel’ would rather be drinking tea and eating cake.

‘Moderate rebels’ is a word-thinker-friendly term. A word-thinker, as Scott Adams says, is someone who uses ‘labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking’. It could be that mainstream media know just how to manipulate the word-thinkers who are watching. I would not assume that most MSM journalists are not word-thinkers themselves, in which case, expressing themselves in word-thinker terms comes naturally to them.

Substitute ‘rebel’ with ‘opposition’, and you get to yet another level of word-thinking. For extra word-thinking points use the uber-word-thinker term: ‘freedom fighter’. I suspect this evokes some Hollywood-type romantic emotion to word-thinkers across the Western world.

Hardeep Singh Puri, Indian diplomat and former President of the United Nations Security Council, has written an excellent book, called Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos, on Western government-induced regime change interventions. In the book Puri gives a clear picture of who those ‘moderate rebels’ are. One of the core themes of his book that pertains to our ‘moderate rebels’ is summarised in this quote:

‘The Al-Qaeda and ISIS could not have come to existence without powerful state sponsors, among them the countries that sought and worked for Saddam’s and Gaddafi’s ousters [i.e. the Western governments and Gulf states mentioned above].’

The ‘moderate rebels’ may have previously been civilians:

[In Libya and Syria,] the original dissent and resentment to authoritarian rule [during the Arab Spring] on the part of unarmed civilians was slowly but surely transformed — through active moral, financial and military encouragement from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the West — into an armed insurrection.’

Post-regime change the ‘moderate rebels’ became the new antagonistic warlords in the chaos that ensued:

‘Where regime change has been effected, weak or splintered governments have been held hostage by subregional or sectarian militias and violent extremists and terrorists. The state and its institutions have broken down, replaced by a reign of terror.’

Puri’s book is eye-opening; and deeply depressing.

Arming terrorists seems so common a strategy, despite its disastrous and well-documented consequences, that it is worth considering why Western governments keep on doing it (as for Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is natural for them to support al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Salafi-Wahhabi terrorist groups, since they are ideologically aligned).

John Gray, in his magisterial book Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, shows that the neocon regime-changers (Bush, Blair & co) were literally ‘armed missionaries’ of the ideal of global democracy. (Today, Obama and Hillary have joined the company.)

But why are ‘moderate rebels’ such a necessary part of regime change? Are they that indispensable militarily to justify the inevitable consequences that their enlistment brings with it?

The idea of ‘moderate rebels’ is necessary in the ‘global democracy’ narrative of regime change. Even if rebels do not exist, they have to be created. Imagine having a reasonable-sounding (usually fabricated) excuse for regime change (say, WMD, chemical attacks, etc), without having someone in that country who has taken up arms against their government to bring about democracy.

If some people have taken up arms, then they must be made to look like they did so for democracy (not for some other system of government). If some people want democracy, it is simpler: just arm them. Usually it is a bit of both.

The presence of rebels gives to the regime change project an aura of the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution, which are already much romanticised in the minds of a large proportion of the Western public — ask a Corbynista (or a Syriza supporter if it comes easier geographically). But to make the whole dish palatable (remember, not ‘too spicy’), the rebels have to be ‘moderate’, sort of soft-spoken versions of Robespierre or Lenin. Like that British newspaper article from the 90s about that ‘shy man’… Osama Bin Laden.

Regime change without ‘moderate rebels’ is not dramatic enough. Not only does it not make for good TV, it may even make neocons doubt themselves (the last emotion a missionary wants to feel is doubt). For neocons, the absence of moderate rebels would mean that nobody wants their democracy. The invention of moderate rebels serves the purpose of making the war more tangible and believable to the very same bureaucrats who wage it. A kind of low-tech augmented reality.

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