About 'Grand Conspiracy' Theories: Geopolitical Gossip (2002+)

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Geopolitical gossip about 'grand conspiracies' by US and other elites have been pervasive in relation to the September 11 attack in America, and subsequent attempts to eliminate the threat of terrorism (See also Competing Civilizations and Attack Implications) The Asian financial crisis also generated a fair amount of geopolitical gossip.

Some examples of 'grand conspiracy' theories are identified below - and various articles related to such theories are outlined in an attachment to this document. Examples of conspiratorial materials are categorized separately.

This document will suggest that systemic problems in the current global order provide a partial foundation for perceiving conspiracies, and that there are innumerable other ways that such perceptions can be created in the minds of observers from real and imaginary causes. A very high standard needs to be set in testing evidence of alleged conspiracies.

However geopolitical gossip tends not to gain credibility because: such standards do not seem to be met in assessing what is seen as evidence; collusion amongst diverse groups is presumed without clearly justifying motivations for doing so; and theories tend only to blame scapegoats and show little understanding of how the real world works.  Because of the latter characteristic, conspiracy theories can perhaps be likened to primitive man's invention of 'evil spirits' to explain adverse events in the (then) incomprehensible natural world.

Various current 'grand' conspiracy theories seem to have limited credibility. 

The way some philosophical 'idealists' view the world (ie those who see all efforts to understand as subjective and ideas as 'chips' for playing political games, rather than as a way to understand the requirements for success in practical affairs) could be considered as a factor in geopolitical gossip.  Because conspiracy theorists tends to merely blame scapegoats and provide no practical suggestions about alternative options, they have limited prospects of ever actually changing anything.

The 'idealist' (postmodern / relativist) view has apparently become dominant in Western humanities faculties. This is positively dangerous in an integrating world because it contributes to ignorance of the practical (eg economic) implications of different cultural traditions - and this prevents those who suffer relative disadvantages from improving their position and encourages a belief that their problems must be due to 'oppression'. These factors seem significant in generating terrorist reactions.

How: Ignorance seems to be a major factor in such situations. For example a community may be marginalized and disadvantaged because it lacks access to understanding of the modern world. Then well-intentioned outsiders (who are ignorant of established ways) may attempt to help by introducing 'modern' ways. This leads to resistance by some who feel they are being subject to imperialism. This resistance is over-ridden because it is so clearly based on ignorance. Conflict emerges, and at no stage is it then possible to have effective communication about the advantages and disadvantages of these alternative ways.

Given the damage that undisciplined conspiracy theories can do and the presumed existence of cases of real wrong-doing that are swamped by a tidal wave of 'gossip', more effective ways of responding to this phenomenon seem to be needed.

A novel touch was added to the 'conspiracy theory' genre in 2010, when 'WikiLeaks' released large numbers of leaked documents from the US State Department apparently intending to reduce the US's ability to carry forward its presumed 'authoritarian conspiracies' - a conspiratorial move that had many parallels with the 'conspiracies' WikiLeaks' founder was apparently concerned about (see The Weirdness of WikiLeaks)

Some Theories

Some Theories

The author has become aware of various conspiracy theories which are presented as a presumed-reliable way to understand history and current events. For example:

Extremist Islamists in Indonesia are reportedly motivated by a belief in a US and Jewish conspiracy to destroy Islam and dominate the world [1] - for which the September 11 attacks and the Bali bombing were pretexts [1]. A similar view is reportedly widespread in the Middle East. 

US neo-cons have a long term master  plan to conquer the world [1]

"it is .. easy to trace certain personages and institutions behind nearly every competing ideology and conflict for the past few hundred years" [email, 7/2/05]

Some Muslims have a plan to conquer the West preferably by a process of migration and conversion - and are concerned by al Qaida's impatience which alerted the West [1]

Turkey is seeking entry to the European Union in order to free its Islamist government from the laws about secularization which prevent religious interference in government [1]

Osama bin Laden's claim in a video-tape of 29/10/04 of responsibility for the September 11 attacks in America proves that he is a CIA / Illuminati asset - and that al Qaeda is a CIA operation to provide the US with an excuse for attacking the middle east. [1]

US threats about an attack on Iraq are seen to be motivated by:

  • a desire to control its oil reserves [1] and the Middle East, rather than by genuine concern about weapons of mass destruction [1, 2, 3];
  • ensuring that oil is traded in $US rather than Euros - because, if other countries followed Iraq's example, the $US would crash 40% and the US would be bankrupted [Pravda]
  • a desire to demonstrate US military power to the world [1] or to establish the US as a "full-fledged global empire, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary policeman" [1, 2];
  • a classic modern strategy of endangered right-wing oligarchs diverting mass discontent into nationalism through fear of external enemies [1]; 
  • a desire to reduce dependence on Saudi Arabia which is seen perhaps as colluding with terrorists [1, 2];
  • a risky project with idealistic motives to bring democracy to the Middle East [1]
  • a desire to boost the white male ego [1]

Iraq war was merely to gain domestic political advantage for the Bush administration [1]

The US invasion of Iraq was decided much earlier than formally announced, and claims about WMD were merely part of a public relations campaign [1]

Australia's most radical Muslim group suggests that planes did not destroy the NY World Trade Centre, but that they were brought down by explosives - presumably set off by US government agents. [1]

There were no planes at all involved in the attack on the World Trade Centre. Rather the attack was by missiles surrounded by holographic images that looked like planes (O'Neill B., 'Meet the no planers', New Statesman, 11/9/06) - a suggestion that those associated with the 9/11 Truth Movement claimed was an attempt to discredit all conspiratorial interpretations of 9/11 events  ("The 9/11 Truth Movement and Conspiracy Theorists – A Call To Readdress Priorities", 911Blogger.com, 2/3/07).

The 911 attacks were authorized by US President Bush as part of a strategy to turn the US into a Presidential dictatorship [1]

There has long been official recognition of the Peak Oil crisis in the US, and the response has been to protect the interests of elites at the expense of all others [1]

The theory that global oil production might soon peak is a scam by international oil companies (mainly from the US) to gain super profits from high oil prices. Oil is actually of abiotic origin (ie created deep within the earth at the time it was formed rather than derived 'recently' from fossil sources) and is essentially inexhaustible.

Conspiracy has been seen in the work by the IPCC on climate change, motivated perhaps a desire to create some form of socialist world government. The Great Global Warming Swindle was seen to be promoting the view that fraud goes back to Thatcher in the UK who used the global warming risk to promote nuclear power [1]

Four Corners screened The Denial Machine which suggested that scepticism about climate change was driven by coal / oil companies in the same way that tobacco industry tried to discredit smoking / cancer links. [1]

The 911 attacks in America were organized by the US Vice President as a strategy to prepare for the expected Peak Oil crisis (Ruppert M., Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil). [However another observer was certain that Ruppert is an agent for central bankers who want oil supplies to be blamed for the coming global depression rather than their own manipulation of world finance [1]  ]

Oil interests have also been seen as the cynical motivation of French and German opposition to US led action [1], while:

  • French political leaders were accused of being bought [1]
  • Germany's intelligence organizations were allegedly involved in discussions to establish relationships with Iraq as part of a deal whereby German companies might gain profitable contracts from Iraq if Berlin prevented a US-led invasion ('German agents tried to cut secret deal with Baghdad', Australian,  21/4/03)

US and Israel are seen to be cooperating in seeking to promote peace in the Middle East by destabilizing despotic Arab regimes and encouraging the spread of democracy because of fears about a concerted attack on Judeo-Christian civilization [1].

US claims about establishing 'democracy' in the Middle East are simply a way of referring to puppet regimes [1].

Israel convinced the US administration of the need to attack Iraq, in order to create conditions in which it could expel the Palestinian population without attracting global condemnation [1], or as a proxy for its war against Arab regimes.

Nationalists in many Asian countries believe that the Asian financial crisis was a deliberate plot by US interests to discredit 'Asian' economic models.

The tsunami which devastated many coastal regions in SE Asia in 2004 was either caused by global warming (due to US motorists) or known about in advance by US who did nothing in order to harm Islamic communities [1]

The tsunami was caused by a nuclear explosion by the US and Australia, which triggered an earthquake [1]

Other 'grand conspiracy' theories that have been drawn to the present writer's attention include: The Ashkenazi Jews and the Khazarian Bloodline - The Truth Behind the Bloodline (YouTube); British Overload, a Nation Drowning in Lies (New Eastern Outlook); Mafia Expert Reveals Which Country Is the Most Corrupt on Earth (nsnbc international); The British Mad Dog: Debunking the Myth of Winston Churchill (YouTube); Washington Military Planners Have Gone Mad (New Eastern Outlook); Chief of the CIA's Bin-Laden unit tells the world that Al-Qaeda never existed (Veteran's Today); A Russian Warning (ClubOrlov); Big Trick Hybrid Op at Orlando or just another Sandy Hoax? (Veterans Today).

Similar theories appear regularly in: Information Clearing House (World News Daily); The Vineyard of the Sakar

Real Problems

Conspiracy theories can reflect real problems

Undoubtedly there are genuinely under-handed actions by powerful factions at times.

For example:
  • Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an ex-Conservative by David Brock confesses to elaborate deception in the production in 1992 of The Real Anita Hill which demolished the character of a person who had accused a prominent conservative politician of harassment - a step that was described as a major turning point in US politics (Mayer J., 'I once was blind', FR, 8/11/02) [Comment: confessing to an elaborate deception creates a credibility problem. Who can ever be sure that the confession is also not just a deception?]
  • the AWU faction of the Queensland ALP appeared to routinely practice electoral rorting in order to secure important political positions (see Note 22)

However 'dirty tricks' such as the above examples (which can be equated with common criminality) tend to have localized impacts and to involve quite narrow groups of people.

Of more significance is that systemic defects in the way the world currently operates can give rise to problems that can be perceived to be due to 'conspiracies'.

Economic 'systems': There appears to scope for international business practices and economic theory to be significantly improved. For example widely accepted economic models can have adverse effects (eg foreign investment can reinforce regimes that provide poor economic leadership in resource rich regions; financial markets may lead to instability; and liberal market policies may create a pressure to 'compete' but not the systemic capabilities needed to be successfully 'competitive').

Also all prudent organizations and states now develop strategies for coping with (and constructively influencing) their environment (see Strategy Development in Business and Government). Almost every conceivable action will have been addressed by contingency planning - so indicators that current events are the results of 'plans' will exist even though there may be countless 'plans' that were never put into effect. Moreover, as the goal of any strategy is typically to gain a competitive advantage, there is almost always going to be a hidden agenda which the organization hopes that its competitors do not see. The difference between competitive strategy and 'conspiracies' is that the formed involves legal and moral goals and methods, while the latter does not.

However it is unnecessary to see the result of business actions as capitalist 'conspiracies', or a community's failure to progress as due to 'oppression'.

In particular foreign firms may be able to do little but reinforce the position of repressive regimes given:

  • the impossibility of external leadership of constructive change in sovereign states - especially as such change may have complex cultural implications (see Competing Civilizations); and
  • the sheer difficulties of achieving anything in societies that lack effective political and economic machinery.

Moreover quite different types of regimes are reinforced if they are available, and the problem may largely have domestic causes (eg in Muslim countries a need to link authority and religion can be expected to lead to authoritarianism).

US power: Legitimate criticism can be leveled at the way US power has sometimes been used (eg see Resentments are partly justified which refers to the side-effects of Cold-War 'covert' operations). And in the Cold War context some mutually supportive relationships were maintained with fairly ruthless regimes (Soeharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile, Hussein in Iraq in the 1980s).

However the source of these problems is complex, including:

  • a global context that lacks effective order and has often been hostile, noting
  • UN and global economic machinery does not work effectively eg
    • debates can be political rather than practical producing ineffectual compromises such as the Kyoto protocol;
    • despotic regimes can be voted into influential positions;
    • global economic institutions (IMF, World Bank, WTO) tend to be biased to economic models preferred by US interests;
  • the impact of the Cold War until the late 1980s, and that in this 'war'  both sides undertook covert operations in many 'neutral' regions and supported unsatisfactory (eg authoritarian / corrupt) allies over overt enemies;
  • the large numbers of (sometimes failed) states that have been emerging that are badly / despotically governed and economically underdeveloped - and whose leaders blame others for their plight (a view that is likely to be more wrong than right - see Competing Civilizations);
  • characteristics of US administrative and political machinery identified by Ellsberg that (at least in the past) supplied distorted information to national political leaders and provided few realistic checks on political judgments about security issues [1] - for which no simple solutions are obvious;
  • the US's tendency to political isolationism and introspection as well as its aversion to 18th and 19th century style colonialism seem to have led to a less subtle approach than the successful colonial powers used in leading international affairs [1].

Israel: the establishment of Israel in the Middle East has disrupted the region.

However this was the result of attempts to right historical wrongs against Jewish peoples. It has resulted in a cycle of mutual injustices in the Middle East that now appears resolvable only by mutual forgiveness or mutual disaster. 

People with Jewish backgrounds and an interest in Israel's welfare have influential roles in Western (and especially US) society, and undoubtedly seek to use that influence to advantage. However there are many competing influences and, in a complex environment it is unrealistic to ascribe a superhuman and infallible influence to any particular faction.

Distorted Perceptions

Conspiracy theories can also reflect distorted perceptions

Conspiracies can can also be created in the minds of observers by various real and imaginary problems.

For example, this might include:

Side-effects of strategy

  • strategic miscalculations can provide fertile soil in which to grow 'grand' conspiracies - especially if those responsible conceal or rationalize their actions;
  • decisions may have to be made on the basis of incomplete information / analysis - which cannot readily be varied without weakening one's position by vacillation;
  • deception of others can be a central element of some strategies - especially of the 'Art of War'  strategies widely studied in East Asia;
  • covert operations continue to be undertaken to achieve geo-political objectives (eg in persuading the Northern Alliance to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan - Eccleston R. 'How greenbacks helped Bushwack the Taliban',  Australian,  20/11/02). When such methods are used, it is very difficult for outsiders to tell that this may be neither the major way in which societies operate nor the actual source of their strength, and to distinguish between fact and grand fictions about such activities (eg consider allegations of US involvement in a conspiracy to remove a democratically elected government [1]);

Complex or changed circumstances

  • the implications of changes may not be considered or understood, eg in the 1970s the US might have valued control of an oil rich Middle Eastern state (like Iraq) for energy security, while quite different considerations may dominate now (see below);
  • problems may arise from domestic conditions (eg the lack of an effective system of political economy, unbalanced education [1, 2]) - rather than from external actions;
  • thousands of factors can be involved in particular situations - and the presence of a particular factor in many harmful events can be assumed to be the 'cause', though other unknown factors may actually have had the determining influence;
  • human brains may not be 'wired' to enable them to effectively assess very complex situations [1]


  • in times of conflict opposing interests may engage in 'propaganda wars' by putting a damaging 'spin' on known facts, or fabricating suggestive 'facts'. For example, the interpretation which extreme Leftists place on Western societies has been suggested as the basis on which they are understood by Islamist extremists [1];
  • persons with ethnic, religious or political prejudices may demonize those they hate - and put a negative interpretation on their actions and fail to consider anything but the most 'demonic' explanations;
  • false allegations about one's own involvement in affairs of state may be made out of a sense of bravado, to generate a sense of importance, or to gain attention in an otherwise dull life;
  • malicious or deranged persons may simply make up stories;


  • provincial communities may simply lack understanding of the global issues that elites need to deal with - and see evil as the motives for their actions. The US's famous isolationism, and the consequent ignorance of its community about what is happening elsewhere, probably explains why conspiracy theories have been so prevalent there;
  • where (as is apparently traditional in East Asia) societies tend to be manipulated internally by hidden groups, there is likely to be a tendency to believe that this must happen everywhere;
  • the facts about what has actually happened can become distorted - and speculative theories or creative fiction can acquire the status of proven facts;
  • harm may be done inadvertently due to ignorance;
  • it may be impossible to publicly reveal key facts, without upsetting the sensitivities of other parties in international negotiations;
  • given a determination to find evidence of wrong-doing, it is possible with sincerity to interpret others' actions as part of the theory (ie to see and hear what one wants to hear) whereas those actions may have entirely different significance. The distortion of information flows to the US administration in the 1960s by administrations' expectations that Ellsberg recorded [1], illustrates the problem;

Conflicting interests

  • national strategies developed with even noble motives can be interpreted as 'conspiracies' by those who see themselves to be adversely affected;

Organizational failure

  • organizations / states may fail to communicate adequately. For example, Australia the effectiveness of public administration has been breaking down through the adoption of centralized / politicized / idealized corporate strategic planning (see The Decay of Australian Public Administration). And government, surrounded by cronies and 'yes men', seems to have been unable to recognize the need for more effective two-way communication with the the broader community;

Naive presentation of theories

  • the media may refuse to report on conspiracy theories (believing that they lack credibility) and this in itself can be seen as further evidence of conspiracy.


  • it may be impossible for governments to reveal intelligence that they are relying on because doing so could endanger sources which have taken years to establish

The complexity of the real and imaginary factors that can give rise to perceptions of 'conspiracy' suggest that others should require a very high standard of evidence - not mere allegations - before accepting accounts of 'conspiracies'.

'Grand' Conspiracies


'Grand Conspiracy' Theories Lack Credibility

'Grand Conspiracy' theories tend not to gain mainstream credibility, perhaps because of:

  • the sheer number and diversity of (often conflicting) opinions that are in circulation;
  • a lack of critical evaluation of points of 'evidence' where such points are seen as closing the argument, rather than as the starting point for analysis [1];
  • the mainstream awareness (which 'grand conspiracy' theorists may lack because of their particular social context) that the high level of social cohesion needed for a 'grand conspiracy' is unlikely to exist in an individualistic society;
  • the unqualified inclusion of claims about some particular aspect that another observer knows to be false - perhaps because of limitations in a theorists' real-world knowledge - devalues everything that they say;
  • a lack of positive proposals about how prevailing problems might be overcome, and an obsession on blaming scapegoats (which seems to be a distinctive characteristic of such theories). The massive efforts given to criticizing others' motives, and little to evaluating their methods, is why it is often realistic to view such theories as mere gossip. As suggested below this may be amplified by a tendency to philosophical 'idealism' and a lack of 'realism'. In particular this is revealed in:
  • a tendency to adopt an unsophisticated (ie thuggish) view of power which demonstrates a clear lack of familiarity with the delicacy and (at-least-superficially) moral motives needed to sustain real-world top-level political and economic influence (eg involving legal process, networking, investment, information flows, people management).    The conspiracy theories may well tell more about the theorists' psychology, limited knowledge and poor prospects of ever gaining real influence than about what is actually happening - as the methods supposedly being used by conspirators would be quite ineffective. This is reminiscent of the most obvious defect in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a late 19th century 'plan' for world domination that has been periodically cited ever since to rationalize anti-Semitism) that was presumably forged by, and thus reflected the methods for exerting power favoured by, the Czar's secret police (rather than the more subtle methods that would be used by those with real political and economic influence).

Fahrenheit 9/11 seems a good illustration of these problems.

It has been variously argued that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (which gives a conspiratorial interpretation of the US administration's 'war against terror'):

  • accurately revealed the greed, cynicism and ineptitude of the US government [1];
  • was a conservative view which concealed the role which the US military plays in empire building by its emphasis on the Bush family businesses [1];
  • effectively communicated to a wide audience some underlying truths about how the system works (links between business, the US government, and the war on Iraq) [1];
  • concealed more than it revealed (eg it hid the drug and gas-for-China connections which are more significant than oil; it did not blame the White House for organizing the 9/11 attacks; and it ignored much evidence which had been sent to Moore [1, 2, 3]). It sought to provoke war with Saudi Arabia, and to get Kerry elected as US president [EMAIL];
  • was incoherent, and also wrong about claimed facts [1];
  • demonstrated that the American people had been lied to in relation to war with Iraq - but (a) it naively or lazily accepted the official version of 9/11 events (b) wrongly explored Saudi responsibility for those events, rather than Israel's and (c) failed to show the extent of bipartisan and media participation in the deception of the American people [1];
  • presented nothing but lies and distortions. Its argument was that George W Bush (a) stole the presidential election, (b) invaded Afghanistan and Iraq to please Saudis who bribed him, the oil companies who hired him and the armament companies who squired him and (c) is fighting a war against the American people rather than against terror [1].

The point is that (irrespective of whether there is any truth involved) credibility suffers because:

  • there is no agreement amongst theorists. Even the above commentaries on Fahrenheit 9/11 are mutually contradictory. For example, The Bush White House can not be both incompetent (in responding to the 9/11 attacks), and super-competent (in secretly organizing them);
  • at least some errors can be demonstrated in what is presented as fact;
  • the realities of the complex geopolitical situation which must influence any decisions by national leaders (eg see The Second Failure of Globalization?) are simply not mentioned - and it is assumed that personal considerations are virtually all that are relevant to decisions;
  • there is only a search for scapegoats, rather than solutions, for global problems.

The overall effect is (as with the 'junk science' in The Day after Tomorrow) to confuse public understanding of important questions.

Another problem that 'grand conspiracies' face is that a high level of social cohesion would be required amongst insiders (as some 'grand conspiracies' imply complicity by people in many different organizations and levels of society) - and such cohesion is implausible in some contexts where 'grand conspiracies' are perceived.

While such cohesion might be possible in some circumstances:

  • to motivate support by people from diverse walks of life a 'grand conspiracy' would need to be founded on an ideology or some other characteristic. This might exist in communitarian societies (ie those where primary emphasis is placed on the capabilities and welfare of the community as a whole). However this is much less likely in relation to more-or-less individualistic societies (ie those, mainly Western societies, where primary focus is on the capabilities and welfare of individuals). Religion in a Western context has not provided a unifying ideology (see below). And a desire to gain power would be insufficient on its own because, under democratic-capitalism, power constantly shifts to others noting both the electoral process and:
    • the 40-50% per decade turnover that occurs in the ranks of the world's largest corporations;
    • the so-called 'Brudenbooks syndrome' which is widely seen as a real reflection of the problem of maintaining family / national wealth (Haigh G 'Fatal delay', Bulletin,  17/12/02-14/3/03). This suggests that the first generation seeks to make money, the second consolidates and the third spends - as the motivation and will-power needed to continue taking difficult entrepreneurial initiatives is lost;
    • similar arguments that all companies eventually fail - because incompetents take over [1]; and
    • the changing character of capitalism - especially the shift towards business ownership by mutual funds which means that 'capitalists' who might attend a meeting as a person to conspire against someone have ever less significance and outcomes are increasingly due to 'capitalism' (an amorphous concept) .
  • the most probable unifying ideology to motivate widespread cooperation will involve public policies. Because they are (usually) not hidden these cannot be seen as conspiracies - though because of the complexity of the issues involved the implications of those policies may only be understood by those who have devoted a lot of effort to study of the 'big picture' (which 'grand conspiracy' theorists tend not to do);
  • any 'grand conspiracy' would be likely to be soon fully exposed by whistle-blowers (not just rumoured) in peacetime societies that promote individualism, commercial competition, a free press and political pluralism [eg 1] - though one credible analysis suggested that this was not the case in the US in the 1960s [1];
  • diversity of opinion, rather than unified cohesion, is currently quite apparent at the highest levels of US administration [1]

Andrew Denton's movie, With God on our Side, implied that unity of action in a US-led war against Islamism might be motivated by evangelical Christians, and presented a 'conspiracy theory' about this in a novel way - ie by encouraging the suspects to speak for themselves. None-the-less there seem to be serious defects in the movie's basic premise.

Geopolitical gossip may arise (and fail to gain credibility) because 'grand conspiracy' theorists do not attempt to (or cannot) realistically understand the complexity of the 'big picture' that powerful individuals face, and concentrate on scapegoating them instead.

An example, The Second Failure of Globalization?, outlines a likely context to events related to the war against 'terrorists with WMD' and related issues.  This suggests that the 'hidden' agenda of the US administration that has attracted endless speculation could be 'hidden' in plain view in its stated policies ie using its power to promote a democratic capitalist system of political economy (which is no different to its agenda over the past half century).

The real problem is that the methods being used probably won't work - yet virtually all criticism focuses on the people involved, and their 'dubious' motives.

Another example: 'Adventure Capitalism: The Hidden 2001 Plan to carve Up Iraq' points out the obvious fact that in planning regime change the US administration established working groups to try to figure out how Iraq's economy could to be made to work - and they (a) based the resulting Economic Plan on the free market theories - involving low taxes / deregulation / privatization - that they believed in and (b) involved their best available experts in devising those plans. It also argues that the resulting Plan was purely oriented to suit the interests of corporate lobbyists.

The problem with such a conspiracy theory is that it does not consider any of the practical / technical challenges involved in creating real-world economic solutions in Iraq - but rather seeks to explain outcomes entirely in terms of the greedy motivations of those who participated in the process. For example:

  • there are good reasons why the way in which Iraq's oil resources are controlled (which 'Adventure capitalism' sees as being 'ripped off' by corporate interests) would be a focus of any well-intentioned effort to create a viable economy in Iraq. Natural resource wealth is a major impediment to the creation of the attitudes and institutions required in a productive economy [1]. However 'Adventure Capitalism' does not comment on, or even show any sign of knowing about, such issues;
  • there are complex technical reasons to doubt that the Economic Plan to create a 'free market' economy could be successful (see Fatal Flaws).

This approach is naive because it (a) requires assuming the existence of all-knowing all-powerful elites who only need to be replaced for everything to come right and (b) fails completely to deal with the real practical problems that need to be solved.

Participants motivations are part of the equation (naturally) but, because of the involvement of professionals in the process also, in a pluralistic society personal profits can seldom impose policy 'solutions' which are obviously technically inappropriate.

Moreover while the democratic process in the US is run-down (eg involves excessive influence by corporate lobbyists) once again any serious analysis would concentrate on the systemic failures that allow this to happen. Trying to deal with such problems by a focus on the actions of individuals who exploit such systemic failures (as conspiracy theorists do) is naive because it can not lead to a solution to the problem either.

Similarly 'The Crime of the Century' pointed in 2005 to evidence that the US administration had decided on invasion of Iraq much earlier than publicly announced, and also argued that:

  • evidence related to WMD was manipulated as part of a marketing campaign for war;
  • the war was not legal, nor was it morally justified as Saddam was not really a threat;
  • the war has had adverse consequences (eg alienating others and creating active enemies; high human and material costs);
  • invasion of Iraq was was simply based on the preferences of the Bush administration;
  • there was very little consideration of the aftermath of invasion; and
  • the mainstream US media is complicit in covering-up this situation - and this threatens the viability of democracy in the US.

This view clearly made valid points about (say): the suspect legality of invading Iraq; the failure to seriously consider the aftermath of invasion; that everything has not gone well; and that there is a need to reinvigorate US democracy.

However the 'Crime of the Century' claim was misleading because:

  • it suggested that claims about WMD were 'lies' even though no one publicly expressed the view that perhaps Iraq did not have these, and WMD were used in 'marketing' the invasion precisely because they were the one matter about everyone agreed;
  • it implied that invasion of Iraq was based on a political whim and gave no consideration to how that decision will have emerged from the situation the US administration confronted.
    • One possible view of the 'big picture' situation was presented in The Second Failure of Globalization?  which suggested that the US administration probably concluded that a democratic revolution in the Middle East (for which the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime made it the prime candidate) was the best available option for defusing the threat posed by Islamist extremists, whose rationale for attacks against the West was the support the West was seen to provide for authoritarian government in the region [Note: it is the present author's view that that conclusion was based on sub-standard assessments of what could be achieved, and there were far better alternatives];
  • no alternative was suggested for dealing with that situation which might over the past few years, or in future, have been better than the path chosen by the US administration; and
  • it ignored the reality that in time of war, governments do not telegraph their intentions to their to their opponents (which means that the public also can not be fully informed). 

Because they are based on blaming someone rather than trying to understand what is going on, 'grand conspiracy' theories can perhaps be likened to primitive man's invention of 'evil spirits' to explain adverse events in the (then) incomprehensible natural world.

Even though there are real problems in the current international order, it seem to the author that there is a general lack of credibility in many of the 'grand conspiracy' theories that have circulated on the Internet since September 2001.

For example:

  • attempting to 'destroy Islam in order to control the world' makes no sense, and no popular commitment to any such political agenda exists. In particular:
    • A Pakistani observer has suggested that this view simply reflects an over-estimation of Islam's importance in relation to much bigger questions about the future world order [1] - see also The Second Failure of Globalization?
    • From a Western viewpoint, Islam involves a belief in submission to God and that this requires strict adherence to a particular set of religious practices. Most would pity (rather than fear) countries in which Islam is dominant because it frequently seems to be associated with strict (sometimes repressive) social rules, political authoritarianism and poorly developed marginalized economies; and be mystified about why those practices seem to prevent its adherents participating in other societies;
    • Few would even be aware that some might see economic globalization as a threat to the existence of their view of Islamic cultures (and thus to the power of some elites);
    • Western societies have not generally seen themselves as being attacked when Islamist extremists direct violence [1] against non-conformists in non-Western countries (eg  around 250,000 Christians in such countries are reportedly killed  each year because of their religion). Furthermore even in the 19th century it was suggested that religion was no longer a significant factor in public policy or a basis for military fervour in Western societies (see Draper's History of the Conflict between Religion and Science - 1873) and in the 20th century the centre of gravity of Christianity shifted from Western societies to developing countries [1, 2]. In any event Christianity's founder encouraged his followers to respond to those who hate them with love;
    • While violent anti-Western intentions of Islamist extremists now cause Islam to be linked with threats (rather than being seen as a credible religious alternative), this is mainly because the difference between Islamism as a political theory and the religion of Islam is not recognized. However few would believe claims by Islamist extremists that they are true representatives of Islam [a perception that could easily be further reinforced if more traditional Muslims were vocal in disputing the extremists' claims];
    • the US's proposal to enforce (UN) weapons sanctions against Iraq involves a state whose government is secular rather than Islamic - and many Christian groups (and some prominent Western nations) have opposed such a move;
  • it seems most unlikely that a rational US administration would propose invasion of Iraq with 'selfish imperialist' motivations because:
    • despite the concerns about security of access to energy resources that arose in the oil crises [1] and instability in Saudi Arabia [1] (which has often been the oil-supplier of last resort), control of Iraq's oil reserves (while one factor in the equation [1, 2]) seems implausible as the major basis for promoting conflict with Iraq - because:
      • access to those resources might have been gained more cheaply and easily by removing trade sanctions on Iraq [1, 2]
      • the value Iraq's oil (for which one estimate the author saw was $US16bn per year) is minute by comparison with the cost (presumably at least $US150bn) of the war and reconstruction process. Furthermore most of that revenue is pre-committed; 
      • oil resources can only be of very short term advantage given: the expected peaking of global oil production in the next few years [1], a fact which has clearly been widely recognized in official circles in US [1]; the oil price escalation that will follow; and the rapid transition this will ensure to non-oil fuel sources (initially natural gas which is more widely available) as soon a prices reach a level justifying general conversion. Many major energy companies appear to have accepted such a transition - and this issue is even being subjected to serious feasibility studies by government in Australia [1]. The Middle East's oil resource may have been a 'stupendous source of strategic power' in 1945 [1] but this seems likely to become much less important over the next few years. Many of those with central roles in the US administration have worked in the oil industry, and would thus be more aware than the public of the implications of these trends;
    • because of the potential effect of a terrorist attack, the US must have a legitimate fear about even slight possibilities that WMD could be made available to Islamist extremists [1, 2] and its administration could have reached the conclusion that a process of changes within 'rogue' states that have such weapons might be unavoidable to control this risk. [Note: Such a conclusion might be invalid because (a) the case of North Korea shows that nuclear armed states can not be attacked [1] (b) the potential for WMD resides in the heads of scientists and technicians rather than in arsenals and (c) there appear to be serious strategic difficulties associated with any attack on Iraq [1]];
    • a plausible case can be made that political and economic reform in the Middle East (though difficult [1]) could dramatically improve people's lives, reduce the tensions that give rise to terrorism and reverse the adverse perceptions of the US in the region. Moreover this option would be far cheaper than a 'selfish imperialism' option, which the US lacks the resources to sustain [Note: the real risk could be that such an idealistic plan contains unrecognised flaws - see the Second Failure of Globalization?);
    • US military forces from top to bottom are clearly convinced that their mission in Iraq involved liberation - because otherwise they would not have behaved as they did. Moreover give that view they would become unreliable and ineffective if at any stage command messages were inconsistent with this view;
    • a UN mandate was sought for the conflict, and such mandate would have ensured UN control of the establishment of any post-conflict Iraqi regime;
    • the US's traditional aspirations and the real limits on its power suggest that 'unilateralism' could well be an exercise in 'gamesmanship' strategically intended to create a situation in which all nations accept the need for the UN to become a serious mechanism to resolve global security problems (and thus allow the US to get on with business without facing high security costs).
  • claims of a neo-con master-plan to 'rule the world' [1] make no sense as:
    • the military / security methods being used by the US in war against terror are fabulously expensive, generate resistance and a far less effective in boosting global US influence than much cheaper civil initiatives to develop an effective multilateral global order consistent with US preferences;
    • a group whose power depends on winning periodic democratic elections are on anything but a secure institutional base for 'taking over the world'
  • the view that the Asian financial crisis was engineered to discredit Asian economic models is implausible. Though that crisis was a complex event, any 'plot' to create a crisis to damage south or east Asian societies required appreciating that they would be vulnerable to a sudden withdrawal of capital. This potential vulnerability appears to arise from the preference for coordinating economic transactions through social relationships rather than through financial outcomes, which makes it almost impossible to achieve economic success when measured in financial terms - see Understanding the Cultural Revolution. In spite of systematically reviewing debate about this issue, the author has yet to see evidence that influential Western financial institutions / analysts really understand the Asian economic models, and without such understanding meaningful conspiracy was impossible.

Another type of problem can be illustrated by the movie Loose Change, a conspiracy theory suggesting that the official account of 9/11 events is flawed, and those events were orchestrated by factions within the US administration.

While such claims are contested on technical grounds, an even more fundamental problem relates to motivation - as, while there are various factions that might have had a motive to orchestrate the 9/11 events, those who developed the US administration's response seem most implausible culprits.

Why: While allegations are made about diverse aspects of the 9/11 events, the only suggestion that seems more substantial than a typical UFO sighting is that the collapse of WTC buildings was assisted by planted explosives (ie because Building 7, which was not hit by an aeroplane, collapsed).

If this theory about controlled demolition has validity, there are a LOT of potential culprits eg

  • al Qaida who wanted to ensure that its aerial spectacular produced serious damage;
  • East Asian factions (arguably the 'other side' in Western societies' only significant 'clash of civilizations') who wanted to divert US attention from their economic and political challenge, and ensure that its administration was dominated by those with inappropriate (ie military) skills;
  • the Mossad who wanted stronger US support for Israel's situation in the Middle East;
  • factions with military / industrial connections who hoped to profit from conflict.

However the US administration, and the neo Con factions who advised its response to 9/11 events, would be most implausible culprits, because there was no obvious link between the 9/11 attack by a presumably stateless terror group and the US's response.

If  administration insiders had wanted to stage a false-flag attack to justify intervention in the Middle East (broader than Afghanistan), they would presumably have done something which directly justified the plan they wanted to carry out. The Neo-con plan (ie seeking political and economic advancement in the Middle East generally through military intervention) could not be easily and directly justified by the 9/11 attacks, and seemed to be adopted mainly because no one else had suggestions about what to do.

The search for 'evil spirits' to blame for prevailing problems has continued for many years in the absence of any realistic understanding of the causes of those problems or of satisfactory solutions.

For example, it has been suggested that the problems confronting US middle classes were simply the result of efforts by elites to enrich themselves at others' expense - a view that reflects a clear lack of understanding of the competitive challenges that arose from the international economic environment and of the logic of the policies adopted to attempt to respond.

The 'game is rigged' for geo-political rather than 'commercial' reasons - email sent 20/3/14

Nick Hodge
Outsider Club

Your article (Game is Rigged, Trust is Waning, Gold is Gaining, Outsider Club, 19/3/14) is undoubtedly valid in suggesting that the ‘game is rigged’ – but totally wrong in suggesting that the ‘rigging’ is simply “a tool to enrich the already uber-wealthy”.

The game is arguably global in scope and amounts to a different (ie financial) form of “Cold War” between liberal and soft authoritarian systems as suggested in Is Bitcoin a Threat? The fact that the nature of the ‘authoritarian’ systems is seldom understood by Western observers (see Babes in the Asian Woods) makes it hard for outsiders to understand what is going on – but does not alter the likelihood that the ‘game is being rigged’ in a financial ‘Cold War’ that can’t be admitted by either side until the ‘war’ is won.

John Craig

Comment on 'Betrayal of the American Dream'

In Betrayal of the American Dream, Donald Bartlett and James Steele suggested that US policy-makers simply acted in the interests of elites in setting policies for taxes, trade and deregulation, and that this explains the problems facing US middle classes (see Review).

This was simplistic, as: (a) similar neo-liberal policies were adopted in many countries; and (b) these reflected what many saw as a necessary response to very real economic challenges that countries such as the US faced some decades ago (eg see a simple account written in an Australian context in Defects in Economic Tactics, Strategy and Outcomes (2000) and The Origin of Neo-liberal Policies, 2009).

Those policies were an inadequate response to the challenges that were faced (eg see Beyond Market Liberalization, 2010+), and this weakness was compounded by defects in political systems (which in the US in particular included too-close political / business relationships) and by actions that were taken as part of the neo-liberal reform agendas which further weakened governments (eg see Neglected Side Effects, 2004). The latter comments were also written in an Australian context, but are likely to suggest parallels.

The problems facing the US middle classes arguably reflected the effect of: (a) competition from emerging economies with much lower wage rates; (b) the inadequacies of policy responses to those challenges (as mentioned above); and (c) the side effects of some apparently-constructive adjustments that were made to boost economic productivity. For example the development in the 1990s to the so-called ‘New American Economy’ (involving networked organisations rather than the hierarchies that had been associated with mass production) was economically advantageous in the shift to a post-industrial economy – but it required fewer middle managers, and thus adversely affected the middle class.

There is nothing unusual in citizen groups seeking to blame elite conspiracies for the effect of inadequate policies. In Australia this arose (for example) with:

  • the One Nation phenomenon in the 1990s. The latter (who blamed a different type of (ie culturally-liberal) ‘elite’ for their predicament) largely reflected those in marginal regions who had been unable to prosper in a liberalised market economy (a problem that seems to be shared by the US’s middle classes), and this movement gained considerable political support and political representation. However having gained representation the movement soon evaporated, because its representatives were put into the position of having to try to justify their claims, and discovered that the situation was much more complex than they had assumed, and that their ideas were not helpful; and
  • the views of senior politician from 2006 which (though seeking to scapegoat different elites) was based on an equally limited understanding of the situation (see A Social Democratic Alternative to 'Neo-Liberalism'? ).

Though the political development in the US has been very much slower, a similar fate presumable awaits the Occupy movement (and the writers of Betrayal of the American Dream) because their apparently-realistic insights only reflect a very small part of a much bigger picture – eg see  New Economics: Some Pragmatic Suggestions (2012);

The real problem seems to be to lie in ‘navel gazing’ by those who attempt to understand problems simply or largely in terms of domestic policies without seriously considering the effect of the international environment (eg see Global Problems Need a Big Picture Perspective, 2012 and Progress Towards Ending the GFC?). As the latter indicates there may be ways to deal with current challenge in ways that would benefit the US's middle classes – but these won’t be discovered by ‘navel gazing’ conspiracy theories.

A narrow understanding of the international environment is also reflected in parallel claims that all that is required to create an effective liberal global order is for the US to cease trying to run the world as its empire.

Beyond a US Empire [Working Draft]

It has been suggested, for example, that the world is coming to reflect an ‘emerging unity of religions and civilizations’ in opposition to what has effectively become a global US empire (eg see Terrence Paupp's Exodus from Empire, The Future of Global Relations and Beyond the Global Crisis).

The US has become more 'imperial' (and thus less effective) as its post-WWII efforts to create a liberal international political and economic order (ie one involving individual rights, democratic governance and independent profit-focused enterprise) have been frustrated. However it is quite inadequate to suggest that this is the sole or primary source of difficulties in creating an effective liberal global order, because it overlooks the (poorly understood) cultural issues involved and the consequent potentially real efforts that some may be making to ensure that a liberal international order does not exist..

One basic question is whether the US sought to establish an ‘empire’ (or did so by accident).

Conventional expectations and claims by supporters about the US’s post-WWII international role involved it: (a) acting as the primary defender of a liberal political and economic ideology; (b) initiating and supporting the development of major global institutions such as the UN, IMF and World Bank that operated on compatible principles; (c) exerting 'soft power' influence through both the visible success of its own institutions and a significant role in entertainment which projected a similar message; and (d) maintaining relatively open markets so as to provide demand to support market related developments elsewhere..

This role led to both advantages (especially including the global spread of increased economic welfare) and problems related to :

  • environmental constraints on global population and economic growth;
  • a Cold War from 1945 to the 1980s with societies who favoured Communist systems (ie systems involving a high level of central economic and political planning and control) - and the latter naturally viewed US-led efforts to globalise a liberal order as 'imperialistic';
  • the difficulties that communities faced in a liberal environment both because of incompatible cultures and the 'curse' of rich natural resources (eg see Problems with Conventional Wisdom in Competing Civilizations):
  • the use of military power to defend liberal ideologies – often without understanding the cultural features that led to resistance to liberal economic and political institutions (eg consider Vietnam's traditional communitarian culture);
  • support (advocated by foreign policy 'realists') for authoritarian anti-Communist regimes that led to a perception of ‘blowback’ against US interests;
  • dis-satisfaction with problems affecting global institutions such as the UN which made them relatively ineffectual (see Fragmentation of the Global Order), and this resulted in advocacy of unilateral US action (eg foreign policy 'idealists' suggested that rather than doing business with authoritarian regimes, military power could be used to reform them with Iraq being the most notable example) and brief post-911 neo-Conservative claims that the US could be an ‘empire’,

Since then various prominent observers (eg Peter Dale Scott, Chalmers Johnson, Michael T. Klaresuch as well as Terrence Paupp ) have suggested that a US 'empire' is real, and sought to explain global problems as a by-product. The driving force behind the 'empire' seems to be perceived to be a US military industrial complex (which some have described as an 'iron triangle' involving close linkages between military, industrial and political factions that allows private interests to have significant influence over US policies).

While this complex exists (as a by product of WWII and subsequent Cold War security pressures), distorts US government and results in the over-use of at-times counter-productive methods in foreign affairs, the real problem seems to be that no one has come up with serious / credible alternative proposals for creating a satisfactory global order.

For example in the post-911 environment, the option of invading Iraq seemed to be accepted as a response to attacks by Islamist extremists because no one put forward a sensible alternative (see Diplomacy Failed).

An aside: A very-sketchy proposal that the present writer then had a hand in developing about a possible way to create a workable global order (while taking account of the profound effect of different cultures) was A New 'Manhattan' Project for Global Peace, Prosperity and Security (2001)

The problem with focusing on the US's role as a (possible) 'empire' in now constraining the development of a liberal global order is like the problem with the IPCC's initial focus on only anthropogenic possible causes of climate change (ie it deals with only part of the problem). Messy US efforts to deal with presenting problems have only been part of what was going on, and the agendas that others were pursuing seemed to be neither considered by those trying to suggest ways to reform the international order nor necessarily well-intended / beneficial.

It is noted in passing that US President Obama's major first term agenda was apparently to unwind the more ham-fisted of the US's international efforts, while desperately trying to cope with the financial and economic consequences of international developments that were neither anticipated nor understood by those who saw the US as a potential ‘empire’ (eg see Structural Incompatibility Puts Global growth at Risk, 2003+).

An (undoubtedly inadequate) view of the cultural complexities involved in creating a workable liberal global order is presented in Competing Civilizations and The Second Failure of Globalization?.

The latter started by considering the ‘war against terror’ as a threat to the liberal order that international institutions were established in 1945 to support. The military / security approach that was adopted to defeat Islamist extremists (in the absence of any credible alternatives) distracted attention from the second issue addressed in The Second Failure of Globalization? - ie the even bigger risks associated with a financial crisis. In relation to these issues it is noted that:

Competing Civilizations draws attention (for example) to the radically different intellectual foundations of East Asian societies with an ancient Chinese cultural heritage – which involve a rule of man, rather than a rule of law (and disregard the notion of universal truths / law / individual rights), and are based on a social hierarchy rather than any ideal of equality / democracy. Moreover these ways of thinking / using information are hard for Western observers to to interpret accurately (see Why Understanding is Difficult), and are incompatible with the notion of a “future world order based on law, equity, …” that Terrence Paupp apparently expects to emerge if only the US 'empire' gets out of the way. 

The sort of international order that would seem likely to be sought on the basis of East Asian traditions might be along the lines suggested in Creating a New International 'Confucian' Economic and Political Order? This would certainly be a regional, rather than a world-wide order (which Paupp suggested would be desirable in The Future of Global Relations). However it would be incompatible with the sort of liberal international order that he seemed to be hoping for.

It is noted that that Paupp's Beyond the Global Crisis was supported by a Japanese peace activist, and this raises questions in the present writer's mind because his own encounter with a Japanese 'peace activist' (ie Ryochi Sasakawa, who was perpetually lobbying for a Nobel Peace Prize) was anything but reassuring (see The Dark Side of Japan in Australia?). This has led to a somewhat jaundiced view of Japan (eg see Broader resistance to Western Influence? and The Dark Side of Japan). While such ‘conspiracy theories’ (about ongoing efforts to win WWII and ultimately defeat the US using traditional Art of War tactics) may or may not be valid, it is understood that many in Asia traditionally think in terms of conspiracies when they are dealing with Japan, and the US is virtually alone in viewing Japan as an ally.

As suggested in Options to Resolve the Fiscal Cliff and Reduce Military Spending a lot of hard work is needed to overcome external obstacles to creating a world based on law, equity and so on.

Analysing and criticising inadequate official US efforts to create such a world (which seems to be most of the content of Paupp's The Future of Global Relations) are necessary and useful, but are unlikely on their own to achieve that outcome. Likewise it is not sufficient to try to get a consensus on the character of a liberal 'world order (eg in terms of  (say) nuclear abolition, international human rights, environmental issues, economic development, the conflicting agendas of the Global North and the Global South), without considering the cultural obstacles that may exist to such an order.

Theories were developed suggesting that terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2025 were by jihadiists who are supported by US as a means for exerting influence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Political reactions to Paris killings illustrate selective compassion, hypocrisy and historical blindness of politicians / media. ISIS did not arise from 'blowback' (ie an an unintended consequence of policy). Rather it was an intended product of policies intended to overthrow governments who don't support Washington agenda - and related control of natural resources. In the 1970s Operation Cyclone involved US training of jihadist fighters (Mujahedeen) to attack secular / socialist government in Afghanistan and Muslim-majority regions in Soviet Union and China. This also gained access to heroin producing regions to benefit CIA. Afghanistan was invaded after Taliban refused to allow a pipeline to be built by US companies. Decision to do so was made 2 months before 911 attacks - allegedly by CIA alumnis Osama bin Laden - which was nominal justification for attack. In the decade before 911, US and allies had mounted siege war against Iraq - which led to 1/2 m deaths. Iraq was then invaded on pretext that it had WMD - and there has been resistance to inquiry into Australia's involvement in that war. This lead to many death and breakdown of civil society. Iraq is failed state. ISIS controls large areas in Iraq and Syria. Libya was also attacked in 2012 on pretext that Gadhafi was killing own people. It had, however, a high living standard and excellent health / education. It is now also a failed state - where civil wars breed radical jihadists. Libya also has large oil reserves and wanted to trade these for 'gold dinars' - which would have countered US agreement with Saudi's about trade being only in $US. Saddam Hussein made a similar fatal error by trading Iraqi oil in euros. Saudi Arabia armed by US is trying to defeat Shi'ite Houthis - and US supports this ongoing attack on Yemen. Bulm and Chomsky have estimated that US has bombed, invaded or overthrown over 70 nations since WWII - with millions of deaths resulting. Economic and political assassinations of key leaders / scientists, sabotage / insurrection under cover of Arab Spring have occurred in Middle East and elsewhere. Iran was often a target - through US-supported MEK terrorist groups. Direct US involvement in Iran dates from 1953 CIA coup against Mossdeq government. US strategy in Middle East has three main driving forces: (a) control of resources (eg invasion of Iraq and support for Saudi Arabia); (b) protection of Israel - despite its appalling record (invasions, defiance of international law and suppression of Palestinians); and (c) excluding Russian gas from Europe (while favouring that from Qatar). Russian gas goes through Ukraine which is why US staged a coup there in 2014 and helped Ukrainians shoot down MH17 flight. When Syria's president refused in 2011 to agree to US proposal for Qatari gas to go through his country - he turned from being an ally who tortured on behalf of US to a demon who allegedly committed crimes against his own people.  US and allies pretend that Assad's opposition are moderates. But Assad has won fair elections during war. Russia insists that Syrian people must determine any change of government in Syria. US has supplied Syrian rebels either directly or through regional allies. Turks and Saudis have helped US by providing sales outlets for stolen oil, and treating wounded jihadists, and (in Turkey's case) bombing Kurds who have successfully fought against ISIS. US has pretended to bomb ISIS targets - but actually targeted Syrian infrastructure. Russian intervention radically changed the situation - by bombing ISIS at request of Syrian government. This thwarted plan to use jihadists as proxy in overthrowing Assad. Russia's successes has forced talk of the need for a political solution.  Russia has hypocritically been accused of attacking the wrong terrorists. The destruction of a Russian plane compounded problems. ISIS claimed responsibility - but the key question is who is behind ISIS. It, like other terrorist groups, is just a tool of US foreign policy. Until the true history of western support for terrorism as an instrument of state policy in confronted, there will be many repetitions of what happened in Sinai and Paris. (O'Neill J., Who is behind the Paris Attacks, 17/11/15)

CPDS Comment: This theory covers a great deal of territory. It suggests that numerous US actions in Middle East have been motivated by a desire to gain economic advantage - especially in relation to oil and gas resources - and that terrorist activity has been largely a front for the US in achieving those goals.

There is no doubt that the Middle East is a mess - and that US interventions of various sorts have contributed to this. However at times I have collected reports on debates about such actions by those in US who planned those interventions, and these strongly suggest that misunderstandings and mistakes were a major factor. And:

  • the article's implication of a coherent / consistent US agenda over many decades is strange given the lack of continuity of the holders of political and economic power in the US (and of their goals);
  •  domestic ineptitude and abuses of power in the Middle East would be a factor in what has happened in the region. In particular there are reasons that the influence of Islam in the region has been a significant source of problems (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems)

There is also no doubt that the Paris attacks will provide a major opportunity for the US and its allies to mobilize worldwide support in dealings with the Middle East (and other regions affected by Islamist extremism). However:

  • similar potential advantages for the US were created by the 911 attacks - but: (a) these were obviously not arranged by the then US administration; (b) the US administrations response to that opportunity was ham-fisted;
  • the alleged motivation for US-orchestrated abuses of power and support from Islamism extremists (ie making economic gains from control of oil and gas resources) is no longer anything like as strong as it may have been because of: (a) the development of major oil and gas fields in US using fracking technologies; and (b) the likely substantial replacement of fossil fuel energy sources over the next few decades because of dramatic improvements in renewable energy technologies (eg solar power and battery technologies).

Another key question that would need to be considered in relation to O'Neill's theory is how jihadists could be motivated to commit terrorist acts which frequently involve suicide by the perpetrators.  The latter implies a religious motivation which, for Muslims, would hardly seem likely to be compatible with creating advantage for a Western power.  There is no doubt that US supported Mujahedeen in Afghanistan - but the latter at that time were motivated by desire to repel an invading power - not by religion.

My overall impression is that the Paris attacks were carried out by extremists who are promoting their own (ie Islamist) political agenda, and have naively created major opportunities (especially for the US) to unite the world against them. History suggests that this opportunity won't be exploited as much as it might be.



Geopolitical  gossip and philosophical 'idealism'

As implied above, 'grand conspiracy' theories (whose authors are not limited to radical Islamists) seem to reflect a lack of access to real-world information and / or understanding about how mainstream economic and political affairs are handled in practice.

There seems to be some merit in the view that conspiracy theories emerge mostly in disenfranchised cultures - ie that where people lack ability to witness chaotic workings of machinery of power they can easily believe that political affairs can be driven by sinister, implacable forces. [1]

Conspiracy theorists also seem to adopt the (Marxian?) view that economic success must be the result of exploiting others and to be intent on finding someone to blame for problems, rather than seeking practical alternative policies and programs.

An example:

"We who investigate and articulate the causes and sources of the world's problems (in the manner exemplified by ....) ALREADY KNOW what the positive solutions and alternatives to those causes and sources are; but we also know that we cannot do ANYTHING to eliminate those causes and sources!

We are not so naive as to think that the mere articulation and discussion of alternatives is sufficient to achieve those alternatives.

We ALREADY KNOW how simple the solutions and alternatives are, .... We already know that there is NOTHING more simple than brotherly love, brotherly comradery, brotherly compassion, brotherly unity, brotherly equality of access to the goodnesses of earthly existence, and brotherly interest in the equal dispensation of justice, resources, and rights".

[Source: email response to suggestions about the need to discuss positive policy options rather than develop conspiracy theories]

Unfortunately such idealism is not realistic. Since the earliest emergence of complex human cultures (say) 40-60,000 years ago most of humanity has not simply lived on the natural fruits of the earth. The writer of Genesis stated a long time ago that humanity has had to work ever since rebelling against God by 'eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil'.  Moreover:

  • there are ways that are working that are better, and others that are worse;
  • the human population is now around 6bn, yet it may reasonably be estimated that the earth would only sustain (say) 50m working as hunter-gathers and (say) 500-1000m in agrarian economies. Survival by the majority (ie urban populations) and the living standards of all now depend on humanity's ability to creatively and sustainably process large quantities of material and energy.

So now it is really not sufficient to say that all that is needed is 'brotherly equality of access to the goodnesses of earthly existence'. And there are policy options (eg related to improving economic leadership capabilities and institutions) that could promote real equality  (see above).

Another example: Saddam Hussein reportedly reads extensively and has broad interests - with particular emphasis on Arab and military history. He also watches TV - and enjoys movies featuring intrigue. He has not traveled widely and relies on such sources for his knowledge of the world. Movies feed his inclination to believe broad conspiracy theories (Bowden M., 'Tales of the tyrant', Bulletin,  4/2/03)

The latter example suggests that one factor in geopolitical gossip may be the impact of the over-simplification of reality that is unavoidable in the mass media (and the need for drama in entertainment) on those without practical experience of how the world works .

However philosophical 'idealism' (ie the concept that knowledge is mainly assessed against individual or cultural preferences and has political implications) may be an even more significant factor in the origin of 'grand' conspiracy theories.

'Idealism' is the philosophical opposite of 'realism' (ie that knowledge is primarily assessed against empirical tests). The latter view was arguably a key cultural factor in the strength that Western societies acquired (eg as the foundation of science). However in recent decades there has been significant change in emphasis by students of the humanities. This has been described as 'post-modernism' [1], or post-structuralism or relativism and seems partly justified by (but also a massive over-reaction to) some limitations in philosophical 'realism'. 

Where opinions are given equal weight with empirical evidence (and practical considerations are neglected), unwarranted conspiracy theories are easy to generate - by building ever more elaborate speculations on a foundation of untested guesses.  Moreover those who expect ideas to originate in politically-motivated attempts to manipulate others, may ascribe their own motivations to everyone, including those seeking (imperfect) empirical knowledge.

The author understands that both philosophical idealism (in the sense that abstract ideas are not seen to adequately represent reality) and conspiracy theories are more prevalent in East Asian than they are in Western societies.   'Paranoia' may also be more justified in that region due to the indirect means for causing change that emerge from those same epistemologies.

Philosophical idealism also appears to have become the foundation for important schools of Middle Eastern studies under the influence of Edward Said's suggestion [1] that Orientalism (a term he coined to describe earlier Western studies of the Middle East) was purely a means of justifying Western control. Said has been seen to have created the intellectual basis of 'Muslim rage' [1] - on a basis which took no account of the practical impact of cultural assumptions on the ability of a society to be materially successful (see Competing Civilizations). His analysis appeared be based on a study of documents, and limited by the lack of cross-disciplinary support in assessing what in those documents was empirically valid.

Furthermore for centuries the world of Islam seems to have turned its back on empirical (scientific) knowledge - because it raised theological difficulties.

Taking an 'idealist' view can lead to a political interpretation of 'facts' and knowledge (ie that they reflects the arbitrary claims of elite groups to rationalize their dominance over others, rather than a genuine attempt to say what happened or understand cause-effect relationships). Moreover, complex situations can be oversimplified and not realistically understood. For example:

  • it may be concluded (without consideration of how political and economic machinery works in practice) that material prosperity is simply dispensed by political power. Though if this were so, then market-oriented initiatives would be pointless, while in practice the economy of any nation that acted on this assumption would be weak.
  • 'grand conspiracy' theorists appear to:
    • dismiss (rather than seek ways to improve) all proffered 'public' arguments while relying on 'private truths' (ie suspected 'facts' that only they acknowledge) - and thus never gain 'public' feedback about their claims;
    • have a biased approach to evidence. The author has observed that conspiracy theories tend to ignore the possibility that any evidence they rely on might have been manufactured for propaganda purposes (or be the result of mistakes), while asserting that ALL contrary evidence was manufactured. At least one case can be identified where a distressed observer misinterpreted what was happening, and their allegations were then cited as 'evidence' [1].
    • prefer blaming scapegoats to suggesting how to improve the economic and political order; and thus focus on identifying any possible self-interested motives. However, even if they do identify dubious motives, they thus:
    • lack the 'big-picture' view and the understanding needed to suggest practical reforms (ie they may be unable to see the forest because of all the trees). For example, it is impossible to understand the behaviour of powerful individuals by study of those individuals. Rather it is necessary to study the policy issues that they are concerned with and motivated by - such as the future global order (eg see The Second Failure of Globalization?);
  • 'conspiracies' can be perceived where problems arise from unintended consequences, or problems resulting from the normal behaviour of economic, political or administrative organizations, or from incompetence in those organizations (ie from the effects of 'Murphy's Law') or from a large number of other sources;
  • even though all prudent organizations and states develop strategies (and some do develop immoral / hidden conspiracies) this does not mean that their efforts are successful in the face of competing influences and a complex environment;
  • complexity and rapid changes in the real world (a) make it impossible for any elite to understand causes and effects well enough to form an effective 'grand' plot and (b) ensure that unintended consequences are a constant feature of any initiatives. These factors tend to prevent 'plots' by Western elites [who would try to base 'plots' on understanding] having pervasive long term influence.

For all of these reasons 'grand conspiracy' theorists generally seem to have little to contribute.

However a most dangerous consequence of philosophical idealism (ie the 'relativist' view that knowledge is mainly assessed against individual or cultural preferences and has political implications) has been a general lack of analysis or discussion of the practical (eg economic) consequences of different cultural assumptions and institutions which:

  • makes it almost impossible for disadvantaged communities to improve their position;
  • encourages some in those communities to see 'grand conspiracies' or to blame 'oppressors' for their problems (see Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict, and [1]). This can make the situation worse by (a) providing a kind of 'moral' basis for ethnic prejudice (b) encouraging attacks against 'oppressors' who are not actually the main source of their problems which lead to reprisals;
  • increases the risk that outsiders might inadvertently damage such communities (eg as appeared to be the case with the Asian financial crisis - and with the IMF's role in Indonesia in particular).

The prevalence of 'grand conspiracy' theories appears to be only one of many practical problems and dangers associated with the post-modern confusion about the 'realism' of knowledge.



The fact that 'grand conspiracy' theories (a) are often (though not always) imaginary (b) tend to encounter official brush-offs because of the way they are presented and (c) are none-the-less influential in breeding more theories and political extremism, suggests that more constructive ways of responding to the phenomenon are needed.

It is in the interests of the community (and those who encounter evidence of real official mis-deeds) than the 'noise' represented by torrents of geopolitical gossip be reduced. It is the 'noise' which makes it harder to identify real criminal misdeeds when they occur.

Useful steps that those who circulate conspiracy theories could take to build credibility might involve:

  • setting very high standards in critically assessing 'evidence', and doing so in an organized way; and
  • seeking practical options for future political and economic arrangements that would inhibit mis-behaviour - as creating an effective political and economic regime is much more likely to be effective than speculative gossip (or terrorism).

The futility of 'protest': Mass protests can have major effects. Marches seeking reconciliation with indigenous people's have produced changes in people's attitudes - but still aborigines' health, economic and social difficulties have increased. All one can do with a rally is be for or against something - which will not produce solutions. How can peaceful protests overcome armies. The world has become more ruthless over the past decade with regimes in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Africa slaughtering more people than marched in opposition to war against Iraq. Those who advocate peace need to think through how to support democracy in Iraq, and dismantle weapons of mass destruction. However there needs to be solidarity amongst the great powers (ie UN Security Council support) before military action is taken (Botsman P,. 'If war is the problem, are slogans the solution?', A, 20/2/03)

Practical alternatives to blaming scapegoats might be available through:

  • proposing practical reform to prevailing systems of democratic capitalism so as to create an environment in which all might reasonably hope to succeed (see Defusing a Clash  in Competing Civilizations for preliminary speculations); and
  • Discouraging Pointless Extremism by exposing the fact that the 'spiritual leaders' of those who advocate terrorism (who it seems tend to be influenced by conspiracy theorists) have no practical alternatives to propose;

From November 2002

Attachment A: Articles

Attachment A: Some articles about conspiracy theories (in reverse date order)

There is a widespread perception in Pakistan that recent arrests related to terrorism plot were an attempt to distract attention from Israel's aggression in Lebanon. Like all conspiracy theories this draws on paranoia and a desire to shift the blame. There is profound belief in the West's ingenuity - and ability to mastermind events - despite failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is assumed to be because the US wants civil war in Iraq to give it an excuse to stay. Another fact in conspiracy theories is awareness that Pakistan's' media do not tell the truth. Corruption is widespread. People know there are real problems, yet the media tries to tell them different. (Nazeer K 'Those cunning westerners', FR, 1/9/06).

The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories (McConnachie J and Tudge R) provides an outline of world according to conspiracy theorists. Authors suggest that in post-modern world one version of history is supposed to be as good as any other. But conspiracy theories emerge mostly in disenfranchised cultures - where people lack ability to witness chaotic workings of machinery of power they can easily believe that political affairs can be driven by sinister, implacable forces. Where there is a lack of understanding of history, conspiracy theories fill the vacuum. Conspiracy theories are increasing - especially on internet. There is no censorship or fact checking. Most conspiracy theories come from conservatives - especially those linked to religious fundamentalism (Tyler H 'Keep yourself in the loop on conspiracy theories', CM, 21-22/1/06).

There is nothing but lies and distortions in Fahrenheit 9/11. What is shocking is that some in the audience were impressed. The basic argument in the film is that George W Bush (a) stole the presidential election, (b)  invaded Afghanistan and Iraq to please Saudis who bribed him, the oil companies who hired him and the armament companies who squired him and (c) is fighting a war against Americans rather than against terror. The film portrays Democrat candidate Gore celebrating under a Florida victory sign, when Fox News breaks in to say that Bush has won. This was said to be achieved because (a) Bush campaign secretary (Harris) was also in charge of vote counting (b) people who were likely to vote against Bush were excluded from rolls - on basis of race (c) Supreme Court friends ban recounts which would have shown Gore to win. However (a) video of Gore celebrating was taken before election (b) it was Bush-opposed CNN which first said Gore hadn't won - not  Bush-supporting Fox (c) Harris was not in charge of vote counting (d) convicted felons (not blacks) were excluded from voter rolls and (d) 6 month study by Left-leaning media showed that Gore would still have lost if disputed votes had been counted. (Bolt A 'False Prophet', SM, 25/7/04)

Robert Jensen, University of Texas, has argued that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 panders to the lies Americans tell themselves about the US military protecting Americans' freedom, rather than projecting US power abroad. The film is conservative, rather than a far-Left view, and by emphasizing the business dealings of Bush family, obscures the empire building which is a regular feature of US foreign policy (Gowans S., 'Critiquing the critique', 6/7/04)

Fahrenheit 9/11 reveal the cynicism, greed and ineptitude in the U.S. government. It shows Bush as clueless in responding to 9/11 attack. Moore tackled corporate greed (Roger & Me) and gun control (Bowling for Columbine), and now strips the facade from a bully and a cabinet that is beginning to look like the Third Reich. He accuses them of lying about motivations for war against Iraq, which never threatened America, killing thousands of civilians, although no terrorists were from Iraq, and killing over 800 Americans. He shows Bush (a) justifying US atrocities against Hussein by saying, "He tried to kill my daddy." (b) pursuing a war that is losing the "hearts and minds" of even those fight it  while earning the U.S. global hatred even from long-standing allies (c) being on vacation 42 percent of the time (d) never asking the right questions - but emphasizing fear and born-again religious ideology (e) having his car pelted with raw eggs on election night (f) sneaking into the White House through a back door. He reveals the $1.5 billion in profits the Bush clan has made from oil interests of the bin Laden family  - and how the latter were allowed out of the country without interrogation (after 9/11) - because the family has denounced Osama. He reveals Dubya's dubious military records - which included protecting a friend who ultimately managed the bin Laden U.S. financial investments and bankrolled the Bush family. When Bush was investigated by SEC, the man who helped him out was appointed as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Moore charges that the administration is hiding evidence of stupidity by censoring part of the independent report by the 9/11 commission. Bush welcomed Taliban to the State Department (the man who bombed the U.S.S. Cole). An underground pipeline through Afghanistan was planned by a company owned by the Vice President. All of this has been unreported by press. Saudis have $860bn invested in US business. Diversionary tactics are alleged to prevent attention to war dead and lack of WMD. Many people are shown voicing doubts the war which is said to defend freedom - which the movie alleges is just about making money. The movie was seen as a blockbuster documentary in Cannes. (Reed R. 'Moore's Magic: 9/11 Electrifies", The New York Observer, 28/6/04)

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is moral frivolity pretending to be serious. He makes no effort to be objective. The movie makes the following points: the Bin Laden group (if not Osama) has business relationship with Bush family; Saudi investment in US is significant; a Texas company discussed gas pipeline across Afghanistan with Taliban; Campaign in Afghanistan involved too few troops so many Taliban / al Qaida escaped; Afghan Government's only troops are American. These points do not cohere. Either Saudis run US policy or they don't - and either too many troops were sent to Afghanistan (Moore's view in 2002) or too few. The film fails to mention emerging Afghan army and NATO involvement. No pipeline has yet been built - but a highway which will inhibit warlordism has been. Secular Left in both Afghanistan and Iraq are in favour of regime changes. Innuendos are made about allowing bin Laden family out of US soon after 911 - yet this was done solely by Richard Clark. Bush is accused of taking lazy vacations - but as evidence is shown with UK PM. Bush's delay in responding to attacks on 9/11 is seen as evidence that he knew attack was coming. Iraq was shown as a peaceful place before coming of terror weapons of US imperialism. The fact that they are aimed at Saddam palaces is not mentioned. Insurgency is presented as justifiable outrage, while 30 years of Baathist war crimes are not mentioned - except in relation to earlier US support of Saddam. It is suggested that Iraq never threatened any American - though it was long home of Abu Nidal - who had blown up airports. In 2001 Saddam's regime was the only one in region to celebrate attack on US. If Bush and Saudis are allied, then how come Saudis forced US to shift its bases to Qatar. Why could they not stop US eliminating clone regime in Kabul and their oil competitor in Iraq? Moore quotes from Orwell's Nineteen Eight-four about contrived war between superpowers - but ignores Orwell's view that some pacifists are not humanitarians, but rather opponents of Western democracy and admirers of totalitarianism. (Hitchens C. 'Sneers and jeers', WA, 26-7/6/04) 

"Fahrenheit 9/11" show that the American people have been lied to in the push for war. There were no WMD. Saddam was not a threat. Iraq had no link to 9-11. Iraq was not supporting Al Qaeda. The government of Iraq under Saddam killed fewer Iraqi people than the government of Iraq under Bush. The Kurds were actually gassed by Iran. Far from being the champion of human rights, the US is willing user of torture on often-innocent prisoners. But, Moore has either fallen for disinformation, or not done his homework, and accepts without question the official story of 9-11. He considers whether Saudi Arabia was responsible for 9/11. But why should they do it? Mossad agents were near when WTC collapsed. Passports of those on planes were of Saudi men - but these were fakes, so no one knows who was involved. Israeli companies received warnings of attacks before planes even left ground. If Saudi Arabia was a partner with Al Qaeda for 9-11, why is Al Qaeda carrying out terror attacks against the Saudi Royal family now? US provides huge help to Israel - and any nation that helped fake justification for war of conquest in middle east could use that fact for blackmail. "Fahrenheit 9/11" is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a (bipartisan) indictment of the entire US Government and the media. ('The Part of the 9-11 story Michael Moore Missed', 25/6/04)

Theories about Jewish conspiracy to take over the world have re-emerged - with Malaysia's PM claiming new 'elders of Zion' now rule the world by proxy. Anti-Semitic attacks have increased since fall of Berlin Wall. Rising hostility to Israel is part of the cause. But a backlash to globalisation (which can produce economic stress that can be blamed on financial institutions presumed to be Jewish controlled) is a bigger issue. In the Middle East, Islamists portray globalization as US-Zionist plot to subjugate Arab world. Bin Laden is seen as the man who says 'no' to globalization. In developing world, where 1997 Asian financial crisis revealed how contagion can spread, financial institutions are blamed - creating new equivalents of 19th century scapegoats such as Rothschilds. Anything bad that happens is blamed on IMF / World bank - who are seen to be US oriented, and controlled by Jews. Far right politicians in Europe blame Jews for their country's problems. Anti-globalisation activists have have to fight on two fronts - against WTO, IMF and World bank and against far right extremists who gate-crash their rallies. Neo-Nazis masquerade as anti-globalization protestors. Movement attracts anti-Semiticism by peddling conspiracy theories - that globalization is not a process but a plot hatched behind closed doors by unaccountable bureaucrats and companies. Underlying protestor's humanistic goals of promoting justice is the view that major institutions are exploiting the developing world and threatening sovereignty. Conspiracy theorists must have a conspirator - and these are often seen to be Jews. The far-right and new-left are thus now closely aligned. Far-right nationalists and fascists now closely study the work of left-wing anti-globalizers (such as Monbiot and Cholmsky). Mahathir claims Jews invented socialism to allow them to achieve equal rights with others. But he then re-invented an old idea that blames Jews for the ills of capitalism. (Strass M 'The oldest hatred fuels conspiracy theorists', FR, 25-6/10/03)

The media implies that anti-Americanism dominates the world. But while it exists everywhere, it is only deep rooted in the Muslim world. At present it is also widespread in some major countries. US popularity has declined significantly over the past 2 years - but it was very high before that. There are many countries in which Americans are admired as people, and as a nation. Australia is tied to US by self-interest and sentiment. US support has been sought for protection in an unstable region. But there is also shared values: love of democracy; liberty; rule of law. A common language is shared. The anti-Americanism that exists in Greens, and elsewhere is alien to majority views. Anti-Americanism is not involved in criticism of policy - but is a systematic ideological outlook - characterized by view that US foreign policy is always motivated by malevolent self-interest, and is the principal source of evil in the world. Its leaders are always lying to mobilize support for their evil policies. The basis of this view is US support for right-wing dictators in Cold War - which was true to a point. But when USSR collapsed, elections were held in countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvadore and Cambodia - and US enemies did not win. Anti-Americans are not noted for intellectual consistency or moral purity. Often they have supported dictatorial regimes, and ignored human rights abuses. Today US faces complicated challenge from fanatical movement whose goals are not equitable settlement of Israel-Palestine question - but liquidation of Israel and all Jews and Christians, and the creation of Islamic theocratic dictatorships world wide. Violence is not only directed against the US. One can't accuse US of lying about WMD in Iraq ignores the fact that everyone (including opponents of invasion) believed such weapons existed. When the US military has triumphed, prosperity and freedom have emerged (Morris S 'America, a valued friend', A,  23/10/03)

There is a rise of anti-Americaism, and a tendency for all problems to be blamed on US. This is nothing new. It existed at time of Vietnam war  in support for various liberation movements which have since disappeared. Anti-Americanism has now been transformed into equating neo-cons with fascism, and 'Dubya' with terrorists. But those who do this are the most 'American' of all - because of their brash idealism. The US has always stressed political high-mindedness (eg Woodrow Wilson at Palace of Versailles). In the Quiet American it was US political idealism that was seen to lead to West's blunders - and the world would be much safer in hands of more cynical European colonists. US critics now take its traditional high-minded road. Those who are most critical of America are US liberals. They don't criticize tyranny elsewhere (eg in Soviet Union, in Islamist extremists) because they expect nothing better of them. Before Iraq war, it was seen to be about oil, and France and Russia (who profited most from Saddam Hussein's regime) were seen to be high-minded. . The problem is that the international battle lines are starting to force a more manipulative US foreign policy  (Burchell D 'Paradox of anti-Americanism', A, 22/10/03)

Across Europe conspiracy theories are all the rage. Books that have been published show a deep mistrust of the US in Europe eg The CIA and September 11 - which suggests that CIA and Israeli intelligence blew up World Trade centre from the inside  ('9/11? It never happened', Bulltein, 23/9/03)

The US went to war against Iraq because it needed to - because the economy was sinking and various institutions (eg corporate integrity, FBI and Catholic Church) had suffered a loss of face. The administration knew it had an effective military - which were used to build the white male ego. Justifications were fabricated. Even better reasons for military action were the reverses that male egos had experienced at women's hands over the last 30 years. There were no longer any white sports stars.  (Mailer N 'Washington went to war to boost the white male ego', A,  5/5/03)

A Palestinian Christian souvenir trader in Jerusalem finds that sales have stopped as a result of Iraq war - and argues that Jews provoke the war in order to destroy competition in selling souvenirs. To Arabs the shifting of power in Iraq from Saddam to Bush is a matter of shame - and is ascribed to conspiracy. Hussein is believed to now be with Bush in private golfing estate in US. Collapse of Iraqi army was not seen as due to its outdated army, but to dirty deals. Americans will be blamed for everything that goes wrong while they are in Iraq.  The 911 attacks are seen as work of Bush and the CIA (or Mossad) - because it was impossible otherwise for 4 planes with terrorists aboard to have taken off simultaneously. (Riminton H 'Jerusalem's lot', Bulletin,  29/4/03)

US far right argues that US government is seeking to engage country in wars that are not in US interests - in collusion with Israel. This will alienate friends worldwide. This view (from a person who objects to non-white migration) is shared in Europe - that US policy is influenced by Jewish lobby. But are are no Jews in major roles in administration; Jews give more support to Democrats than republicans. Bush's main Middle East vote base came from Muslims. Some advisers do support Israel - but this does not prove that they don't also see this in US interest. They argue that Arab world uses Palestinian problem to avoid facing up to their own need for reform and democratisation. - and that many extremists are aiding anti-Israeli terrorism. A new regime in Baghdad might move region along quickly. Many Jews and Jewish organisations also oppose the neo-con analysis. The US's motives are obvious. Irsael's enemies are also its enemies. And it always prefers democratic regimes. The war is against Islamist terrorism (Sullivan A 'Paranoids point to Jewish conspiracy but proof is hard to find' A, 17/3/03).

Allegations of financial support from Iraq to French political parties have continued to be made - and denied (Vickers M 'French elite suspected of putting on a brave two faces\', A, 10/3/03)

Gore Vidal’s book Dreaming War: Blood For Oil And The Cheney-Bush Junta (a) complains about the Bush / Gore election debacle (b) spends a great deal of time making reference to the oil connections of every member of the Bush administration and Bush family but devotes no effort to backing this up with verifiable sources or explaining what the depth of the involvement is or why it matters. He outlines four major cover-ups of our time. (a) Bush allowed 9/11 to happen because an offensive in Afghanistan was already being planned (b)  FDR deliberately provoked the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor (c) Truman nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though the Japanese had been trying to surrender for over a year and (d) America was responsible for starting the Cold War by victimizing Stalin by reneging on agreements made at Yalta. He suggested (a) that the Soviets “stabbed us in the back by folding their empire in 1991” (b) “the American military currently gets over half of each year’s federal revenue,” - the actual figure being 17% (c) the Gulf has been the US's main source of imported oil - the actual figure being 10% (c) Politicians are merely puppets of big corporations; (d) polls showing support for Bush are rigged; (d) Bush will be impeached any day now; (e) corporate interests control the media; (f)  New York Times peddles disinformation; (h) Germany and Japan paid for the Gulf War; (i) NATO was created not to protect Europe from the Soviets but so the US could dominate Europe; (j) millions of Americans agree with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who, like bin Laden, was provoked to violence by the misdeeds of the US government.  (Townsley S, 'Dreaming Gore', Cornell Review, Feb 2003)

It is hypocritical of France and Germany to claim that US proposed war in Iraq is based on oil - and to object on moral grounds. The basis of their objection is self interest - and lucrative deals with Hussein that could be lost. France and Russia have greater oil driven motives for opposing removal of Hussein than US has for proposing it (Baume M 'Oil drives opponents of war', FR, 24/2/03)

America has entered its worst period of historical madness. The reaction to September 11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for. As in the McCarthy era the freedoms that made America the envy of the world have been eroded. A compliant media and vested corporate interests have stifled debate. The war against Iraq was planned years before bin Laden struck. Without the latter, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain its election, Enron, its favouring of the rich, its disregard for the world's poor, ecology, its abrogation of international treaties and favouring of Israel in contravention of UN resolutions. But shifting the focus from bin Laden to Iraq was a conjuring trick. Religious cant is being used to justify war, the policies that the US favours and Bush's connections - who have had extensive oil involvement. To be in, one must believe in absolute good and evil. The key issue is oil, not an Axis of Evil. Iraq is no threat to the US or even to its neighbours - and any weapons of mass destruction it has are inconsequential. The real issues are: US economic growth; US need to demonstrate its military power; and to show who rules America at home; and who America will rule abroad.  (le Carre J. 'Bush might be riding with God but he's driven by Iraqi oil', A, 20/1/03)

Intellectuals divide themselves into camps to score points off each other rather than grappling seriously with issues. A SMH editorial on 27/2/02 argued that military action against Iraq would be motivated by greed for Iraqi oil. This Chomsky-Pilger like cynicism implies that political leaders in US, UK and Australia are lying - and is stated without proof or analysis. If US had been concerned mainly with oil it could have invaded Iraq at time of first gulf war, or now made commercial deal with Hussein. An article by Manne summarized all the politics of the year as evidence of Howard Government's reactionary agenda - which presents his own views as pure and anyone else's as evil. (Sheridan G. 'That petroleum emotionalism', A,  2/1/03)  

Common conspiracy theories include (a) the moon landing were faked as there were flaws in pictures of moon landing - which NASA blames on poor quality of film in 1960s (b) Russia's leadership planted bombs pre elections in 1999 to blame Chechen terrorists - noting that Russian secret servicemen were found to have been running 'training' exercises with real bombs which suggests that the theory was correct (c) Clintons arranged a murder - a theory that has been thoroughly investigated and disproved (d) Dianna was murdered - for which there are many theories, especially in Arab world, though no plausible motive (e) Muslims / Jews were warned to stay away from WTC on 911 - of which there are two opposing versions (Hari J 'Well, they would say that, wouldn't they, FR, 31/12/02).

Some claim that Neil Armstrong's moonwalk was faked - so NASA could get more US government money. Mainstream Islamic fundamentalist opinion about the war on terror is more extreme. C4 explosives were used for the Bali bombing - and these can only be obtained by the military. As US navy visited Bali before the bombing, it is presumed to have provided explosives. Osama bin Laden is said to be dead, and that there is only a pretence by the US that he is still alive to allow the war against terror to continue. A Central Committee member of the Malaysian Islamic Party implied that the US navy was responsible for the Bali bombing, because it was well planned and organized, and very professional - and doubted reports about JI, or the existence of a Malaysian extremist group of the government has arrested 70 members. The attacks of September 11 were unlikely to have been organized by al Qaeda in a corner of Afghanistan - without communications being detected. Western media always talks about Islamic terrorists, but never other types. (Sheridan G. 'Conspiracy theories thrive in Islamic hothouse', A, 25/11/02)

Jakarta papers speculated that the latest suspect in the Bali bombing was a CIA agent. As soon as police come up with any new suspect, someone absorbs it into a theory that blames everyone but Muslims and Indonesians for the bombing. Observers suggest that the motive can be as crude as selling more newspapers in a newly liberalized press. Others suggest that it is inevitable that people speculate about the possibility of foreign involvement. (Greenless D 'Conspiracies point to all but Muslims', A, 20/11/02)

Efforts by Bush administration to take control of Iraq - by war, military coup or otherwise have led to various analyses of motives. Anatol Lieven (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) suggests this corresponds to classic modern strategy of endangered right-wing oligarchy to divert mass discontent into nationalism through fear of external enemies. The administration's goal is unilateral world domination through military superiority - and this is why much of the world is frightened. [MORE] (Chomsky Noel, 'Lesser of two evils can save US a lot of trouble and lives',  A,  18/11/02)

A US senator who was involved in a close contest for control of Senate with Republicans, was killed in a plane crash. Within days an article appeared in a left-wing publication suggesting that this was political murder - and the view gained further endorsement with the view that Bush was capable of anything. Another conspiracy theory against Bush administration at same time involved Gore Vidal's view that the administration knew of September 11 attack in advance and allowed them to go ahead so as to be able to suppress domestic civil liberties, and wanted to invade Afghanistan the gateway to resource rich central Asia. The media is supposed to assume that there are no conspiracies in American public life - and this is seen as the reason it doesn't act on evidence of such problems. But the reality is that many people have the view that US public life is riddled with conspiracies. Hilary Clinton said in 1999 that her husband was the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy. 40 years ago Richard Hofstadter wrote about 'The paranoid style in American politics' - involving a long history of conspiratorial fantasies in the US. Since the 18th century, angry minds have been obsessed with fiendish plots by Masons, Catholics, Jews and others (even the Bavarian illuminati - a group of Enlightenment idealists). There are real conspiracies in history - and some current theories involve elements of truth. However the 'paranoid style' believes that there are rarely any accidents, and that events are always the outcome of vast sinister organizations with the power to carry out such deeds without being called to account. When Hofstadter wrote the major 'paranoid' style was on the extreme right - eg the John Birch society which saw President Eisenhower as a dedicated communist, and that water fluoridation was to damage people's minds to make them susceptible to communism. Right wing conspiratorial fantasies still exist today - but in Western societies they are on the margins. But on the Left conspiracy theories abound. Those who object to the term 'axis of evil' being applied to Iraq, Iran and North Korea are quite happy to believe that Bush administration would murder domestic opponents etc and get away with this despite free press, independent judiciary and the houses of Congress. (Brunton R 'They're all in it together', CM, 2/11/02)

A theory is being circulated that the CIA was responsible for the Bali bombing - to justify its war against Islam and intervention in Indonesian affairs. Such views gain support because the US did intervene covertly in Indonesia in the 1950s and 1960s. This shows the need to discriminate amongst hypothesis rationally - not simply label others as silly.  (Monk P, Austhink, 'Silly, Mr Downer? Keep thinking', FR, 1/11/02)

Bashir (spiritual guru of Jemmaah Islamiyah) reveals world-view that is capturing hearts and minds of young, educated and militant Indonesians. From this view the US and Zionism have been plotting for decades to destroy Islam and dominate the world. To achieve this, the US engineered WTC attack, to justify global assault on enemies. More recently they claim that infidels perpetrated attacks in Bali. Bashir is a conspiracy theorist - seeing the world as in eschatological war between forces of Allah and US Great Satan. [MORE] (Jones D. 'Regional delusion and the Kuta bombing', FR, 25/10/02)

Almost everyone [in the school where Bashir taught] knows that claims of Bashir's links to Al Qaida are are fabrication because the Indonesian government is under pressure. His life consisted of teaching and praying. He had lived in Malaysia after repression of potential Muslim enemies of Soeharto regime. His group's aims included introduction of Islamic law into Indonesia, and the formation of an Islamic community. (Powell S. Teaching Allah's boys', A, 23/10/02)

There are mainstream objections to question of whether US should attack Iraq (eg world doesn't want to; Iraq hasn't attacked first; Middle East might be destabilized). But there is a more cynical anti-war leftist critique that the war proposal is really about oil - and US policy should not be dictated by this. This marginal view is pervasive outside the US, and has received little mainstream attention. The most sophisticated version is that: Iraq after Saudi Arabia, has the largest oil reserves. For the past 11 years, Iraq has pumped much less oil than previously - and in conjunction with Russian or European firms - not US ones. The US firms want a share - and want to be able to break OPEC production quotas by flooding the world with oil. However there are problems with this argument. Those who claim that the US wants war to get cheap oil, also claim that war could send oil prices sky high. However in the long term Iraq's production could perhaps increase to 6m barrels per day and reduce US dependence on Saudi Arabia. But if all the US wants is more oil (and talk about WMD is just a smokescreen) then why not just lift sanctions. Attacking Hussein entails huge costs - and lifting sanctions could achieve the same outcome. The US oil lobby has for years wanted an end to sanctions - not war. Lefties point out that vice-president Cheney had past links with an oil company - and use this as evidence of the oil industries support for war. But in that company, Cheney had sought removal of sanctions. For the first nine months in office the Bush administration favoured reducing sanctions - and only changed to proposing an attack on Iraq after September 11. And if oil was all that the US was after, then it wouldn't be promising to protect the Russian and French oil interests in a post Hussein Iraq (Beinart P 'A smokescreen in oiliness',  WA,  5-6/10/02)

Hau J. 'Hooked on paranoia',  Financial Review,  27-28/4/02

An overwhelming majority of Muslims said that they did not believe that Arabs carried out the September 11 attacks on the US and disapprove of US led military campaigns in Afghanistan. Though news reports indicated that 15 of 19   911 terrorists were Saudis, many blamed Israel or the US. Poll respondents overwhelmingly described the US as 'ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked and biased" ('Poll shows Muslims distrust arrogant US',  Courier Mail,  28/2/02)

Addendum: The Weirdness of WikiLeaks Addendum: The Weirdness of WikiLeaks (Notes only)

In November 2010 WikiLeaks caused a minor sensation when it started releasing confidential US State Department documents apparently with a view to preventing 'authoritarian conspiracies' by disrupting the international diplomatic process.

Background on WikiLeaks: WikiLeaks was said (by Wikipedia) to have been founded in 2006 by Julian Assange (and unnamed 'Chinese dissidents, journalists and start-up company technologists') to publish otherwise unavailable leaked documents, Its stated primary goal was to expose oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East - though it would reveal unethical behaviour by governments or corporations anywhere. Notable early leaks from WikiLeaks concerned: apparent assassination order by Somali sheikh; business corruption; Guantanamo Bay procedures; Scientology 'bibles'; Sarah Palin's emails; British National Party Membership lists; 'climate-gate' emails; internet censorship lists; reports on Bilderberg Group meetings; Peru oil scandal; nuclear accident in Iran; taxic dumping in Africa; information on bank failures; UK protocol on avoiding leaks; pager messages from 9/11; US Intelligence report on WikiLeaks; Bagdad air-strike video (Collateral Murder); war diaries from Afghanistan; 'love parade' documents from Germany; and Iraqi war logs.

Examples of leaks said to be significant in relation to US are:

Background on Julian Assange:

Julian Assange (born in 1971 in Townsville) was said by Wikipedia to have started computer hacking at age 16, and joined a group called International Subversives. He had a solid involvement in the development of ISPs and related software, and helped write Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier which detailed his involvement with International Subversives (which mainly dealt with the mechanics of computer hacking). He reportedly attended six universities and studied physics, mathematics (at Uni of Melbourne) as well as philosophy and neuroscience. In 2006 Assange founded WikiLeaks and wrote two papers on its philosophy (State and Terrorist Conspiracies, 10/11/2006 and Conspiracy as Governance, 3/12/06).  Jacob Applebaum's address to HOPE Why the world needs WikiLeaks

 In 1994 Assange complained furiously when a filmmaker betrayed him by revealing information Assange wanted kept confidential. Assange seems as obsessed with his own security, to the point of paranoia. However many hackers were, because they feared arrest - though they saw themselves as freedom fighters. Assange boasted on obtaining computer passwords by 'phreaking'. The information that he didn't want others to reveal about him, was that he 'technically' faced 290 years in jail for hacking into computers. Assange then lectured the filmmaker on non-disclosure  (Tacon D and Hyland T 'Portrait of the hacker as a paranoid and secretive young man', The Age, 12/12/10

Julian Assange was described as a brilliant, socially-awkward crusader, a 'hard core geek' who preferred interacting with machines, but wanted to change the world. The source of this was intensely guarded, as many of Assange's friends are. Assange is seen as humanist, a man who serves no masters, who decided world is not fair and that internet provides a way of creating more level playing field in terms of justice. Assange used to hold to Left politics, but became disillusioned with their fuzzy thinking. He is most closely aligned with libertarian values of Right. Assange faced court in 1996 charged with hacking, and three years before founding WikiLeaks he registered a domain name leaks.com. Assange had hacked from 1987 under name Mendax ('untruthful). Court noted Assange's unstable personal background; his inability to get formal education qualifications. When Assange founded WikiLeaks he had personally left the world of hacking, with its risks, behind. Magnetic Island where Assange spent his youth had attracted non-conformists and hippies. As a child he was seen to not fit in, keep to himself and have a nurturing approach. He was home-schooled much of the time, because his mother did not want his spirit broken by the school system. In the 1990s Assange studied widely without any intention of graduating - working towards the idea that became WikiLeaks. The common theme amongst the hackers Assange associated with - gifted kids exposed to poorly equipped teachers, who spent nights educating themselves. Assange cofounded a company in 1998 dedicated to software to prevent hacking - but it failed in 2002. One friend noted Assange's passionate commitment to justice and creating a better world. [1]

Assange suggested (in 'State and Terrorist Conspiracies') that there is a need for clear / bold thinking - because regimes don't want to change. First the aspect of government / neo-corporatist behaviour to change must be identified, and this can be achieved decided. He described a state such as US as an authoritarian conspiracy, and then reasons that combating conspiracy requires degrading its ability to conspire by inhibiting effective communications amongst conspirators. He thus seeks to oppose the power of the state by impeding communication. He suggests that conspiracy and authoritarianism go hand in hand, as authoritarianism produces resistance to itself - and can only continue to exist by preventing its intentions / actions from being generally known. It thus has to become a conspiracy. Government conspiracy then requires secrecy / control of information. It must articulate its goals (or be unable to advance them), but not be too open to avoid resistance. This is not like the views of traditional 'conspiracy theorists' whose 'conspiracies' are usually mere fantasies, and thus easily dismissed.  Assange views any network of associates who hide their concerted association from outsiders as a conspiracy. This might be something as dramatic as an association conspiring to start a war with Iraq, or quite banal and routine. He pays a great deal of attention to the way such associates interact - and to the fact that it is never possible to map or describe the network - as, if the network were not opaque it would be easily identified. He draws analogies between US state and terrorist organisations - noting Battle of Algiers where terrorist groups protect themselves by separating cells, and French counter-terrorist police focus on finding those links between cells. In breaking the ability of conspirators to conspire Assange is not interested in finding the people in charge and getting rid of them (as this would only eliminate a specific version of the conspiracy). Rather it is necessary to attack the process, before that allow conspiracies to develop in the first place. He wants to reduce the total conspiratorial power of the whole system by reducing its ability to share information within itself. The success of a conspiracy depends on the ability networks provide to improve its ability to think. Thus reducing the effectiveness of a conspiracy requires reducing the quality of its information. People tend to be convinced by their own propaganda. No one in possession of the facts could have believed that Iraq had WMD - but people may none-the-less act on the basis of bad information. Assange concluded that the best way to deal with this would be to make leaks a permanent part of such an organisations environment - rather than to focus on specific leaks. This destroys conspiracy by make it so fearful of itself that it can no longer conspire. Secretive and unjust systems would be far worse affected than open, just systems. Thus leaks are only the first stage in expected effect - with conspiracies ultimately turning off their own brain as a consequence as it tries to plug holes. Most of the material is not particularly significant. Assange is correct in suggesting that US government has conspiratorial functions (as many operate on the basis of information that is not generally available). Assange doesn't want to provide a scandal that will lead to reform, but rather to strangle the links that make conspiracy possible. And it seems to be working - diplomacy won't be possible as it was in the past. But Assange goes further in looking at the 'invisible government' behind the the nominal government (destroying which Theodore Roosevelt described in 1912 as the primary goal of statesmanship). However there is a need to be concerned with higher things, and simply being a muck-raker can be evil. Assange is trying to do more than this. The US state, like all states, is doing a lot of shady things - but revealing this is not necessarily a good thing. Assange always emphases the ethical question of what exposing secrets will accomplish - and Wikileaks goal is to impede the production of future secrets. (Bady A., Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy: To destroy this invisible government, 29/11/10)

The Road to Hanoi, 5/12/06

Selected items from IQ.org

The net will win against deception

WikiLeaks cyber war: pro-Assange Anonymous v US nationalists

An Unrealistic Tactic

From one viewpoint Wikileaks seems like a case of the 'pot calling the kettle black', ie its activities appear to be based on Julian Assange's view that the world is in trouble because self-appointed elites run secretive conspiracies directed against the common good. However Wikileaks itself constitutes a self-appointed group engaged in a secretive conspiracy - noting the lack of any significant disclosure about the Wikileaks organisation or of its internal communications.

Assange's writings (see brief outlines above) have a traditional 'grand conspiracy theorists' character (as do the ideas of diverse totalitarian dictators, as well as Norway's accused mass murderer, Anders Behring Brevivik).

'Grand conspiracy theorists' seem to have limited practical experience or knowledge of how the world works, and create an imagined 'world' which justifies radical action. Assange's published theories (like those of Brevivik) could be seen as a symptom of social alienation.

As noted above, 'conspiracy' (ie having a strategy that is not revealed to the world at large) is characteristic of all sophisticated human organisations and factions. This characteristic is not likely to be reduced by eroding the confidentiality of internal communications within particular factions (eg those connected with the US State Department). .

While the adverse effect of leaking internal communications might be worse for secretive, unjust organisations - most of the secretive, unjust organisations in the world are not covered by WikiLeaks efforts. How much is coming out of North Korea or Iran or Ecuador, for example?  And direct personal communications (rather than written communications) which are more important in East Asia (where the core of traditional strategy towards outsiders involves deception) are simply beyond being leaked on the Internet. Assange's 'world' almost (though not quite) starts and finishes with the US as the home of authoritarian conspiracy.

Also Animal Farm made the point that when one set of elites is displaced, another arises in its place  and can be even worse. There is no point is targeting a particular elite. A far more effective strategy is to develop and promote better / positive alternative options for those (and other factions) to direct their 'strategies / conspiracies' towards.

Unintended Outcomes: Or Maybe Not

Some observers have suggested that Wikileaks' disclosures have had adverse impacts, eg

  • While disclosure of confidential information can be of value in exposing government malfeasance, "The real problem with the publication of the WikiLeaks material is that it impacts upon current operations, undermines important current strategic relationships and, worst of all, puts the lives of many people who have been assisting the United States and its allies at risk". [1]
  • Collateral Murder identifies the consequences that can follow from war, and thus suggests that more effective diplomacy is needed. As Wikileaks has sought to undermine effective diplomacy, it has thereby increased the risks of war;
  • WikiLeaks has itself generated collateral damage, it harm to innocent people (see WikiLeaks is fuelling McAnarchy)

However, despite such short term inconvenience, the longer term effect of selective action to expose the internal communications of  particular factions  must be to increase their resistance to exposure - and this can be expected to confer a competitive advantage on the factions that are most exposed by Wikileaks (as a result of a sort of immunisation effect).

Furthermore in practice the main effects of Wikileaks' revelations has apparently been to:

  • embarrass particular individuals in diverse countries (often those US agencies have noted to have been involved in dubious activities);
  • discredit the 'grand conspiracy theories' that have been ascribed to major US institutions (particularly since 2001). The leaked documents have shown the world that (mainly) US diplomatic and other communications contain more of less what would be expected and no evidence of 'grand conspiracies'; and
  • facilitate identification of individuals who are likely to 'leak'.

As a consequence, and perhaps for other reasons, it has periodically been suggested that Wikileaks has been a front for (or the pawn of) a US counter-intelligence operation.

Examples include: Spencer R., Is Wikileaks a front for the CIA or Mossad? 29/11/10; Is WikiLeaks a CIA/Mossad Front? , 31/3/10; Wikileaks’ Founder Seeks Refuge in Ecuador; Is Wikileaks a CIA front? Is Assange Patsy or Fool?, 23/6/12; and consider "Many of Assange's early associates have since left WikiLeaks. Cryptome founder John Young stepped down from the organization in 2007, accusing WikiLeaks of being a CIA conduit." [1]

On the other hand, if Wikileaks is simply what it purports to be, then spreading rumours that it is a CIA counter-intelligence operation could be an obvious counter-intelligence option.