On December 19, 1983, a special envoy from President Ronald Reagan stepped off the plane in Baghdad with a handwritten letter from the President to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.  The letter informed Saddam that Washington was prepared to support Iraq in her war with Iran.  The envoy was Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld spent another day in Baghdad expanding on the American strategy for aiding Iraq, including sharing intelligence and providing military advice, dual-use materials, and, through other countries, advanced military hardware.  This seems almost incredible, given that, within a few years, America would be at war with Saddam and, in 2003, would depose him.

This misguided U.S. policy toward Iraq was not an anomaly.  The tilt we took toward Iraq in the 1980’s was mainly an attempt to clean up a mistake of previous decades when we blindly promoted Iran as our surrogate in the Gulf.  From 1953, when the CIA engineered a coup that removed the leftist nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh from power and put Mohammed Reza Pahlavi back on the Peacock Throne, we sold Iran the latest and best of whatever military hardware she wanted.  We trained her military at home and in the United States.  When the shah was deposed and the ayatollahs took charge, however, we became the Great Satan, and American arms in Iranian hands became dangerous.  We had created a threat that we tried to nullify through our tilt toward Iraq.

We also blundered when the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1979.  Once again, the centerpiece of our efforts focused on Islamic surrogates.  We embraced several Islamic groups that hated us as much as, or more than, they hated the Soviets.  According to Robert I. Friedman, between 1979 and 1989, the CIA gave over ten billion dollars in aid to mujahideen groups in Afghanistan.  Much of this was channeled through the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to such ultrareligious groups as the Taliban and a band of foreigners headed by a Saudi businessman named Osama bin Laden.  During the 1980’s, Bin Laden spent several years fighting Soviet forces and setting up military training camps in Afghanistan for foreign—mainly Arab—recruits.  The CIA provided assistance for this training, and paper trails show direct delivery of weapons from the United States to Osama bin Laden’s group.

When the Soviets left Afghanistan, Bin Laden looked for other areas in which to apply his training, weapons, and money.  The Balkans were his prime target.  Osama was an early supplier of weapons to the Bosnian Muslims.  He also applied his skills in Kosovo, having established his base in Albania in 1994 with the help of then-premier Sali Berisha.

Bin Laden’s efforts in the Balkans were known to the Clinton administration, which tolerated them because, among other reasons, it decided that supporting Muslims in the Balkans enhanced American influence in the wider Islamic world.  Bin Laden was given a free hand in the Balkans and eventually established a strong foothold in the heart of Europe.

The Clinton administration also ignored funds and arms being shipped to Muslim forces by the Iranians, Saudis, and others.  In 1994 alone, Saudi donors sent $150 million through Islamic aid organizations to Bosnia, according to the U.S. embassy in Riyadh.  By the summer of 1995, over 3,000 foreign mujahideen and several foreign Muslim “humanitarian aid” centers were operating in Bosnia.

Under the Dayton Peace Accords, all foreign Islamic volunteers who fought with the Bosnian Muslim army were supposed to leave Bosnia.  Many remained, however, having been given Bosnian citizenship and permanent residence, and Islamic “humanitarian-aid” agencies (which are often front groups for militants) continued to operate.  Other foreign Muslims who supported the Muslim cause in Bosnia were rewarded in different ways—freedom of passage through and within Bosnia and access to legitimate Bosnian passports.  A number of Islamic terrorists arrested over the past decade have held official Bosnian passports.  Osama bin Laden himself was issued a passport by the Bosnian embassy in Vienna in 1993.

In its June 26, 1997, report on the bombing of the Al Khobar building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the New York Times noted that those arrested confessed to serving with Bosnian Muslim forces.  The terrorists also admitted having ties to Osama bin Laden.

By late 1999, the Bosnian connection to Islamic terrorism attracted further attention when U.S. law-enforcement authorities discovered that several suspects who had visited or lived in Bosnia were associated with a terrorist plot to bomb U.S. targets on New Year’s Day.  Karim Said Atmani—a former roommate of Ahmed Ressam, the man arrested at the Canadian-U.S. border in mid-December 1999 with a carload of explosives—was identified by authorities as the document forger for a group accused of plotting the New Years’ Day bombings.

Another Bosnian veteran, a Palestinian named Khalil Deek (who became a U.S. citizen in 1991), was arrested in Jordan in late-December 1999 on suspicion of involvement in a plot to blow up tourist sites.  Mehrez Amdouni, yet another terrorist and former Bosnian resident, was arrested in September 1999 in Istanbul, where he arrived with a Bosnian passport.  The New York Times Magazine reported on February 6, 2000, that “last year, sources in Jordan say, the Mukhabarat, the intelligence service, alerted the C.I.A. to at least three plots by Bosnian-based Islamic terrorists to attack U.S. targets in Europe.”

The bottom line is that, by seeking favor with international Islam through supporting Islamic factions in their battle against their Christian neighbors in the Balkans, the United States succeeded in establishing a base and a safe haven in the West for the international Islamic terrorist movement.

And things could get worse.  Two of our supposed closest allies in the Islamic world, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, are questionable investments.

U.S. ties to the Saudi regime date back to a meeting in 1945 between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the founder of the Saudi dynasty, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud.  Saudi Arabia, according to James A. Russell, is the largest purchaser of U.S.-made defense equipment in the world, with sales totaling over $65 billion since the early 1950’s.  Most major platforms in the Saudi inventory are of U.S. origin: F-15 fighters, AWACS aircraft, Patriot missiles, M1A2 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, AH-64 Apache helicopters, and numerous other systems.  U.S. advisors have spent the last 50 years helping hone the kingdom’s military capabilities.  Thousands of U.S. military contractors have been continuously based in Saudi Arabia.

All these efforts to build up a client in the Gulf region could be transformed overnight into a bastion of anti-American power for the international Islamic movement.

Since the Saudis’ grand entrance onto the world stage as a wealthy oil-exporting nation in the 1950’s, a status amplified in the 1970’s with the drastic rise in oil prices, the House of Saud has desperately tried to align their desert kingdom with the West.  However, theirs is not the only voice that matters in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a marriage of convenience between the House of Saud and the strict Wahhab sect of Islam.  In the 18th century, Mohammed ibn Saud, the forebear of today’s ruling family, allied himself with conservative Muslims from the Wahhab sect.  Over the next 200 years, backed by the Wahhabis, Saud and his descendants conquered much of the Arabian peninsula, including Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina.  Puritanical and ascetic, the Wahhabis were given wide sway over Saudi society, enforcing a strict interpretation of certain Koranic beliefs.  Their religious police ensure that subjects pray five times per day and that women are covered head to toe.  Rival religions—even other schools of Islam—are banned, and criminals are subject to stoning, lashing, and beheading.  Moreover, the Wahhabis and the Saudis are determined that Saudi Arabia will remain the center of the Islamic world and are prepared to use their oil wealth to make it so.

Starting in the late 1980’s—after the dual shocks of the Iranian revolution (viewed as a potential challenge to the religious leadership of the Saudi/Wahhab coalition) and the Soviet war in Afghanistan—Saudi Arabia’s quasi-official charities became the primary source of funds for the fast-growing jihad movement.  In some 20 countries, the money was used to run paramilitary training camps, purchase weapons, and recruit new members.

As David E. Kaplan has reported in Newsweek (December 15, 2003), the charities were part of an extraordinary $70-billion Saudi campaign to spread Wahhabism worldwide.  The money helped lay the foundation for hundreds of radical mosques, schools, and Islamic centers that have acted as support networks for the jihad movement.  The Saudi weekly Ain al-Yaqeen last year boasted of the results: some 1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 colleges, and nearly 2,000 schools in non-Islamic countries.

Although they called themselves private foundations, these were not charities in the sense that Americans understand the term.  The Muslim World League and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), for example, are overseen by the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s highest religious authority.  They receive substantial funds from the government and members of the royal family and make use of the Islamic-affairs offices of Saudi embassies abroad.

U.S. intelligence officials knew about Saudi Arabia’s role in funding terrorism by 1996, yet, for years, Washington did almost nothing to stop it.  Examining the Saudi role in terrorism was virtually taboo.  Even after the embassy bombings in Africa, moves by counterterrorism officials to act against the Saudis were repeatedly rebuffed by senior staff at the State Department and elsewhere who felt that other foreign-policy interests outweighed fighting terrorism.  Washington’s unwillingness to confront the Saudis over terrorism was part of a broader strategic failure to sound the alarm on the rise of the global jihad movement.

Pakistan is another potential foreign-policy disaster waiting to happen.  Relations between the United States and Pakistan have fluctuated since Pakistan was founded in 1947.  The United States has suspended aid numerous times over Pakistan’s conflict with India over Kashmir, concerns about the country’s lack of democratic institutions and her nuclear weapons, and security issues.

Pakistan has also been viewed as a crucial ally at times during the past 50 years and, as Bill Moyers reported on PBS’s Now, has received nearly $12 billion in aid between 1947 and 2000.  After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan took on the role of frontline ally in one of the final encounters of the Cold War.

In 1990, Congress imposed an aid embargo on Pakistan because of her nuclear-weapons development program but included a clause allowing the President to provide aid that served U.S. national-security interests.  In the aftermath of September 11, President George W. Bush lifted the embargo and resumed military aid to Pakistan.

However, President Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a military coup in 1999, threw his support to the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” only grudgingly.  In announcing his intention to cooperate with the United States, he characterized his decision as “a choice between accepting a distasteful action or damage to the country.”  (The main supporter of the Taliban regime and the only country to recognize its legitimacy officially was Pakistan.)

Musharraf was quickly rewarded.  Washington resumed sharing of intelligence information, training of military and other security personnel, and delivery of weapons, ammunition, and spare parts.  In addition, Pakistan received over $1.5 billion in U.S. aid in 2002 and 2003.  In late March 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the release of 28 F-16 fighter-bombers that had been held up under Congress’s embargo.  The administration also recently pledged a five-year, three-billion-dollar aid package to Pakistan, according to the New York Times.

In return, over the past three-and-a-half years, Pakistan has rounded up some 500 middle- and lower-level terrorist suspects, but key leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar remain at large—and, many suspect, moving about within Pakistani territory.

During the same time period, it was discovered that Abdul Qadeer Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani nuclear program, ran one of the most extensive nuclear-proliferation schemes ever devised, supplying weapons know-how and parts to Iran, North Korea, and Libya.  President Musharraf pardoned him because of “his great service to Pakistan.”

This has not put an end to Pakistan’s proliferation efforts.  On March 26, 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported that

A federal criminal investigation has uncovered evidence that the government of Pakistan made clandestine purchases of U.S. high-technology components for use in its nuclear weapons program in defiance of American law.


Federal authorities also say the highly specialized equipment at one point passed through the hands of Humayun Khan, an Islamabad businessman who they say has ties to Islamic militants.

The components in question were sophisticated oscilloscopes and high-speed electrical switches also known as “triggered spark gaps,” which are used in nuclear devices.

What is especially troublesome is that, despite Musharraf’s alleged support for the United States, the mainstream of Pakistani public opinion seems to despise us.  A March 2004 poll by the Pew Charitable Trust found that less than 10 percent of Pakistanis hold a positive view of the United States, while 69 percent say their views are “unfavorable.”

Given the social, economic, and political condition of the country, this is not surprising.  According to the September 11 Commission Report, “Pakistan’s endemic poverty, widespread corruption, and often ineffective government create opportunities for Islamist recruitment.  Poor education is of particular concern.”

Both the American and Pakistani governments are aware of the collapse of Pakistan’s educational system and the pervasiveness of the madrassas, the religious schools that, in many instances, teach terror and preach hatred toward the West.  There were only 250 madrassas at independence in 1947 and about 5,000 in the 1980’s.  This number has now jumped to 45,000.  The predominance of the madrassas in Pakistan is a consequence of the massive infusion of foreign, largely Saudi, funds and Pakistan’s failure to provide adequate alternative educational facilities.

The attitude of the Pakistani people, and the questionable commitment of their leaders, suggests that Pakistan is shaky ground on which to build our efforts to combat terrorism in the Middle East.

Shaky ground does not seem to bother our policymakers, however: They are even willing to wade into quicksand.  In May 2005, a French agency reported that the United States is trying to convince opposition forces in Syria to accept the lead of the Muslim Brotherhood.  According to the report, the State Department, National Security Council, and members of the U.S. Congress have, for some months, been engaged in dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood leaders about toppling the Syrian regime.

So, while we march merrily along proclaiming “mission accomplished” in our efforts to transform the Middle East, pouring our money, arms, and hope into Islamic regimes with the expectation that they will fight for our interests and help achieve our security, we are actually selling them the rope they need to hang us with.  In some cases, we are giving it to them free.

Why do we do this?  As Daniel Pipes has suggested, we are misled by four myths: There is no clash of civilizations; terrorism is not Islamic; Islam is compatible with American ideals and adds to American life; and Americans must learn to appreciate Islam.

Anyone who believes these myths needs to read Srdja Trifkovic’s book The Sword of the Prophet.  He confirms Bernard Lewis’s statement that “Islam has actually been at war with the West for 1400 years.”  Their world consists of the Dar al Islam, the zone of the believers (“submission”), and the Dar al Harb, the zone of struggle.  There is no zone of peaceful coexistence.  The problem is, we think there is.